Saturday, 31 May 2014

I’m proud that the last Labour government introduced the National Minimum Wage

I’m proud that the last Labour government introduced the National Minimum Wage. This boosted pay for millions at the bottom without leading to a loss of jobs and now most people can’t imagine a Britain without it.

But the issues we face today are different to those we faced at the end of the last century. The minimum wage was originally designed to prevent extreme low pay and abuse. Today, the challenge is to help hardworking people that earn above the minimum wage but are still living in poverty or dependent on benefits. Over five million people, or one in five employees, are low paid.

This has got worse under the Tories, with families on average £1,600 a year worse off since David Cameron became Prime Minister. And the value of the national minimum wage has declined by five per cent over the same period.

Nicky's Whisper annual charity football match raises £30,000 for Cystic Fibrosis Trust

Last month I took part alongside many other MPs and celebrities, sporting stars in the annual charity football match to help raise money for vital research to beat cystic fibrosis.

After their shock defeat last year, the CFT XI reclaimed the trophy by a narrow 6-5 margin.

CFT XI skipper Dalton Grant bagged a superb hat-trick in what was an even contest involving Mark McLennan, a 29-year-old with cystic fibrosis.

Other players included Angus Deayton, British high jumper Dalton Grant, Olympic rowing champion Mark Hunter DJ Spoony and Gavin Ramjaun.

Friday, 30 May 2014

'Booze & Fags' culture: New report on cancer and deprivation: Cancer Research UK and NCIN

Last week we had a report that Hyndburn was in the top 10 areas for alcohol related deaths. This week a report form Cancer Research that levels of deprivation correlate to tobacco related diseases. 

There is no doubt there is a fags and booze culture in this area. An acceptance that excessive drinking is good and smoking is a pleasurable activity. The reality is of course is both run a very high risk of related illnesses and premature death. In short, they are both killers. 

That is why I support plain packaging (called for by Cancer Research) and minimum unit pricing of alcohol. Ot's not just the personal consequences for the individual but also their family and particularly their children. GPs are telling me they are seeing people with early symptoms of  illnesses in people in their 40's they would normally expect to see in people in the 60's.

There is an economic impact too. This area cannot afford to have a swathe of workers struck chronically ill or sick, dependent on the council, public services, the NHS and the state. The reality is employers want a healthy workforce.

From: Harriet Adams []
Sent: 29 May 2014 16:51
To: JONES, Graham
Subject: New report on cancer and deprivation: Cancer Research UK and NCIN

Dear Mr Jones,

A new report from Cancer Research UK, in partnership with the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), has revealed that more than 19,000 excess deaths are linked to levels of deprivation each year in England. An excess death is the difference between the number of deaths observed in more deprived groups and the number of deaths that would have occurred in that group if it had the same death rate as the least deprived population.

The report also found that every year there are more than 15,000 cancer cases linked to economic deprivation and that we need major action if we are to reduce the number of people receiving a cancer diagnosis linked to deprivation.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Haslingden Task Force update

Yesterday was the second meeting of the Haslingden Task Force. Labour colleagues on Rossendale BC have earmarked £100,000 to help kick start the regeneration of Haslingden. The meeting is attended by members of both main political parties, the police, the council's regeneration team, local community groups and voluntary organisations and the next meeting will see local traders represented at the meeting.

At the previous meeting it was agreed a consultation exercise would take place with local traders and that the results of this consultation will help shape the future work of the group. 53 local businesses responded to the consultation and a further 17 have expressed an interest in taking part in the consultation at a later date. Any regeneration of Haslingden must involve local businesses and it's good to see a strong response from traders and the task force should be commended for this engagement.

The Task Force also received presentations from the Princes Trust and the Somewhereto_Project who work with young people in the area and can help regenerate some empty properties in the town. Like businesses in the town, it's vital that young people have a stake in the regeneration of the town.

Finally the group discussed the public realm plans that have been previously discussed with regards to Haslingden and the group was asked if there was a consensus about proceeding with a public realm project. To help assist any project, there was also a suggestion that the group should receive information about Heritage Lottery funding that the £100,000 could lever in to strengthen the project.

I know that my update is slightly whistle stop but it's great to see people working together to improve Haslingden and I'm looking forward to seeing the plans progress. Rossendale BC should be praised for making this commitment and for working to improve Haslingden and I'm sure residents will see further consultation and will be able to have their say on any proposals.

Calling all local export businesses!

I strongly believe that the future of Hyndburn and the wider North West economy is closely tied to private and business consumption in China. We are one of the few areas in the UK where manufacturing is still responsible for the majority of employment, and new markets for new products are the way to ensure our future prosperity.

I have been working with the Manchester-China forum, which is a business group aimed at forging further links between Greater Manchester and the surrounding areas, and China.

In an effort to link the region up to new export opportunities China, the Manchester-China Forum is trying to link up local businesses with Chinese students currently studying at universities in Manchester. The intention is that the student gets some experience working in business, and in exchange the company will get a native speaker, cultural and business knowledge as well as market insight which could otherwise be costly and difficult to attain.

If you are interested in the possibility of linking up with a Chinese student through the Manchester-China Forum, and could host a placement, please get in touch with the Forum via – or if you would like more information do not hesitate to contact me directly via

Hyndburn Windfarm extension Public Consultation a week Tuesday (3rd)

I was asked on Twitter what my feelings are on this application and I thought I'd jot down some issues that people may consider at the public meeting.

Aesthetic. Does it spoil the countryside or doesn't it? There are mixed views on this and it is a bit like marmite. Of those expressing an opinion I have to say, they tend to fall into loathing or liking and I'd take a guess there is no clear majority. Will adding 4 more make any visual difference? Everyone will have their own view.

I personally don't mind them and standing underneath them as I have done is quite something. If we are going to say turbines are a blight then why isn't their a similar campaign to get rid of electricity pylons. They are unsightly by comparison.

Subsidy. The current twelve 12 turbines I believe receive a subsidy somewhere in the region of 40% ( I was told higher but I don't have any actual figures) which is very high. However they will last for 25 years and the question also has to be asked - and I put this to John Redwood in the House of Commons - what will be the price of the gas then and crucially, will the UK have energy security or be threatened by Putin's Russia and volatility in countries that provide oil and gas?

Then there is the thorny question of base load and storage. In short we can't store electricity in huge quantities, we need it on tap and if the wind isn't blowing there's no electric. However it is reasonable to presume - and one hi-tech Accrington company I believe is developing compression technology - that mass electricity storage will be possible in the future.

Environment. There is a clear advantage to wind in this respect. Once built, it requires no fossil fuels or any other investment. It localises energy rather than the long distances from large electricity producers to customer's on the national grid where significant energy is lost in transmission.

Developing wind farms also allows us to advance our knowledge and in the long run reduce costs. It's just a shame Germany is the home to green jobs and green technology.

One big plus has been the reversal of the destruction of the peat more. Over decades of use it was drying out, destroying the peat as I understand and needed to be re-flooded. Money form the wind farm has led to the funding of improvements in water retention and removal of man made water drainage (for sheep farming I presume) have eroded the land. 

Access. There is also a big issue around access. There is none. The previous Council did not negotiate any and EnergiKontour only lease the land of several private land owners with no access rights. This is wrong. Anyone who has I presume trespassed like I have will appreciate the hardcore 'roads' that connect the turbines have opened up the Oswaldtwsitle moor.

From an inaccessible site to a walkers paradise. From the top you can see Blackpool Tower. Its not a long walk but it's solid, doesn't require walking boots, exercises the lungs. When you consider the ill-health the site should be become a local nature area with pen access to the public. It truly is fantastic. I have already made my feelings known on this issue to Prospects, the Council and EnergiKontor. Access is a big issue.

Baxenden. Clearly there was a local impact of he twelve turbines. The weak Winter Hill TV signal was refracted/distorted and it knocked out Free-to-Air TV to thousands of households. The Council had failed to set aside compensation from the developer for any problems that needed mitigation. The science says perversely the peaks and troughs of signal will be flatter with more turbines cancelling each others refraction out.

Having had to intervene on the issue last time, it is important that new Labour Council takes into account these past mistakes and ensures there is scope in the 106 for any mitigation, seen or unforeseen.

Community payments or 106 monies. Under the last development agreement for the twelve turbines, it was agreed to give Prospects Foundation £100,000 each year. I have spoke with Prospects and questioned their ability a small voluntary charity to deliver big green energy changes in Hyndburn. In my view it would have been better if a partnership had been established between the Council and Prospects.

It's just a thought but for example subsidies for solar panels to Hyndburn residents? We have numerous public and charitable buildings, think of churches where Solar PV would generate savings for Hyndburn's community organisations. Subsidies for insulation or installation of community combined Heat and Power units to get the renewable energy ball rolling locally and save residents money? Or the installation of ground source heat pumps to kick start their uptake? Big projects that will take Hyndburn forward in an uncertain energy world.

It will be the planning committee that has the final say but it will be the executive who make these agreements prior to that final decision. I am just glad it is Labour Council and that the leader is well aware of these issues.

Windfarm policy. Putting turbines up the most windy of places you would have thought is obvious. Oswaldtwistle moor is windy.

I have with Labour colleagues asked for a draft planning policy that prohibits small single turbines on non-windy sites and their sporadic development. If we are to invest in wind one site should be chosen, not everywhere. We don't want all the hills of Hyndburn splattered with a random assortment of small turbines that produce a fraction of the energy that a commercial development would produce.

Finally. This application will be given to the Mod as a consultee. The same MoD who last year turned down a large wind turbine application from a farm right underneath the existing twelve on the ridiculous grounds that it would interfere with flight paths of military planes from Wharton. This current application protrudes more into the skyline so it will be interesting to see the MoD response to this submission for four more.

I probably haven't covered all the issues but here are just some that I thought important as the application progresses.

The advert for the consultation is below.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

Record numbers of disputes – as people look for honest answers

Sent: 20 May 2014 19:53
To: JONES, Graham
Subject: record numbers of disputes – as people look for honest answers

Dear Mr Jones,

The Financial Ombudsman Service – the independent organisation that settles disputes between consumers and financial businesses – today published its annual review of 2013/2014.

I thought you might be interested in some of the key facts and figures, which I've pulled out below or if you'd rather watch the video, you can find it here.

During the year:

· We handled over 2.3 million initial enquiries and complaints from consumers – 40,000 every week. This is a 9% increase on the enquiries we received last year. Almost a quarter of the enquiries we received were about general financial problems and concerns – and weren't product-specific.

· Around one in five initial enquiries turned into a formal dispute – a record 512,167 new complaints. We settled a record 518,778 disputes – which is more than double the amount of disputes settled last year. In 58% of the cases we resolved we found in the consumer's favour.

· Four of the UK's largest banking groups accounted for 63% of all complaints we received.

· Payment protection insurance (PPI) made up 78% of all cases, with the number of PPI complaints rising 6% to 399,939. Other than PPI, we resolved seven out of ten (71%) complaints within six months.

· People from Widnes were the most likely to phone us and consumers from the North East more likely to complain about PPI.

· We handled 601 parliamentary enquiries – and answered over 30 ministerial questions. We hosted 45 training days across the UK for community advice workers and for businesses who we received few (if any) complaints about.

· 77% of people surveyed said they were aware of the ombudsman service and 70% said they trusted the organisation.

You can find the full review online.

There are early indications that some businesses seem to have begun to make a positive change to the way they treat consumers with a problem. However, trust in financial services continues to be very low. But by providing upfront and honest answers, to what are often difficult questions, we have helped people make sense of things and feel that their concerns have been listened too.

If you have any questions about information in the annual review – or about the ombudsman service more generally – please get in touch.

Many thanks Emma

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Shelter can help people at risk of eviction or repossession

From: Martha Mackenzie []
Sent: 21 May 2014 09:03
To: JONES, Graham
Subject: Shelter can help your constituents

Dear Mr Jones, I wanted to let you know that today Shelter are publicly promoting the advice we can offer to people who are facing high housing costs and are at risk of eviction or repossession.

We are encouraging those at risk to seek advice early as this can make all the difference and increase people’s chances of keeping their home.

Shelter’s helpline receives too many calls from people on the brink of losing their home when problems have piled up. New statistics show that one in over 4,000 households in England are at risk of losing their home every week. Yet worryingly, a third of people (31%) don’t know where to go for free expert independent advice to help with their housing costs.

To this end, we have sent a poster to your constituency office that details the ways that your constituents can access professional advice:

-Through our online advice- You can also use this link to find a local face to face service near you.

-Through our free helpline 0808 800 4444, which is open 8am-8pm Monday to Friday and 8am-5pm Saturday and Sunday 365 days a year.

Shelter helps three million people a year with housing problems, through online, phone and face to face advice. We’re here so that no one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own.

If there is any further information or any other materials that I can send you please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Labour will call time on clock-watch care

This week Labour announced new plans to call time on clock-watch care and 15 minute home care visits which mean our loved ones aren’t getting the care they need.

Ed Miliband has promised to improve the quality of care in this country - to ensure vulnerable people and carers get a better deal.

HMRC figures reveal that a big part of the problem lies with unscrupulous care companies who exploit their employees and 50 per cent of the care providers HMRC inspected failed to pay the minimum wage, let alone the living wage.

Far from supporting care workers to look after vulnerable people, these companies owe a staggering £1 million in unpaid wages and refuse to pay workers who stay longer than the time limited 15 minute visit even if the person they are visiting needs them to stay longer.

The Government should be standing up to companies who fail to meet their legal duties, and should start by immediately naming those concerned. HMRC must take action in each case where it finds non-compliance, and dedicated care workers must get what they are owed.

This is a chance for the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition to act now - but if they fail to do so the next Labour Government will.

Labour has already set out detailed policy to strengthen the enforcement of the National Minimum Wage and end exploitation of zero hors contracts, and will work with councils and care providers to raise standards in the industry.

The current situation is completely unacceptable and will be a shock to most people, particularly those with loved ones in care.

Labour’s plans to ban unfair letting fees and deal with the housing crisis head on

The Tory-led Government voted against Labour’s amendment to ban unfair letting agent fees this week which will dismay ‘Generation Rent’ - the nine million people in this country including 1.3 million families who live in rented accommodation for whom housing is already insecure, uncertain and a strain on family finance.

Labour is standing up for private renters who are being hit hard by David Cameron's cost-of-living crisis and we will continue to push for letting agent fees on tenants to be banned.

The average up-front fees are £350, but in high demand areas these fees can be much higher.
A Labour government will ban letting agent fees on tenants as well as introducing long- term stable tenancies with predictable rents.

There is a housing crisis in this country as confirmed by this week’s house building statistics which show that we’re building less than half the homes we need to keep up with demand.

David Cameron has failed to tackle the growing housing shortage which is central to the cost-of-living crisis. Under David Cameron the number of homes built has fallen to the lowest level in peacetime since the 1920s.

Labour is clear that you can’t deal with the cost-of-living crisis without building more homes. That’s why Labour will deal with the housing crisis head on and has committed to getting 200,000 homes a year built by 2020.

Another letter to Stephen Hammond about the lack of trains for the Todmorden Curve

Monday, 19 May 2014

Only Labour will tackle the scandal of low pay

The introduction of the National Minimum Wage is one of Labour's greatest achievements – it boosted pay at the bottom without leading to a loss of jobs, and has wide industry support as a result. But the NMW was designed to prevent exploitation and extreme low wages. Today, the challenge is the large number of people that do a hard day's work but are still living in poverty. Britain has a bigger problem of low pay than other advanced countries. Over 5 million people are low paid, and more than a quarter of a million people are still estimated to earn less than the legal minimum wage. Things have got worse under the Tories: average wages are down by over £1,600 a year since 2010, and the value of the NMW has declined by 5% over the same period.‎

We need a new approach to the NMW, with an ambitious target to increase the minimum wage over the course of the next Parliament. This is how we ensure there is a bond between the wealth we earn as a nation and the wages that people earn for a hard day’s work.

The next Labour Government will strengthen the minimum wage. We will set a target to raise the minimum wage to a higher proportion of average earnings over the course of the next Parliament. It will be the Low Pay Commission's job to meet that target.

Britain is one of the lowest paid advanced economies. Labour will restore the link between hard work & decent pay for working people.

Under Labour workers on the minimum wage will not be left behind - hard work should mean decent pay.

"Labour will raise minimum wage: Ed Miliband's pledge to 'significantly' boost pay" from today's @MirrorPolitics

v.important announcement by @Ed_Miliband on how @UKLabour will strengthen the minimum wage we established in office

We have to reduce the incidence of low paid work in Britain and our plans to strengthen the minimum wage will help us do that.