Friday, 28 February 2014

Business conversation event with Lancashire businesses

This morning I took part in a business conversation event with Lancashire businesses at Ewood Park, Blackburn. The event was organised by Downtown Business and attended by local businesses, higher education providers and local entrepreneurs.

Michael Taylor was the host and following a brief introduction about how my grandmother ran her own business whilst my granddad worked for the same company all his life, I fielded questions from the audience.

We spoke about HS2, local transport infrastructure, the importance of education and training, addressing the imbalance of UK Plc towards the south east and how we in East Lancashire can be ahead of the curve in competing for the skills and jobs of the future.

During my time in office I have worked hard to make sure I listen to small and medium enterprises in the constituency and to do what I can to make the case for East Lancashire businesses in Westminster. We have a lot to be proud of and great opportunities to grow further and it's for politicians to make sure that the right infrastructure, right skills and right strategy are in place to harness this potential.

Thank you to Downtown for organising the event, Ewood Park for hosting the event and to the businesses that attended for their questions and time this morning.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Proposed closure of GP practice at Accrington Victoria - my letter of objection to NHS England

Dear Martin Clayton,

I am writing to you regarding Accrington Victoria Health Access Centre's GP Service.

I am incredibly passionate about raising health levels in Hyndburn, health levels which are significantly below what they should be and deteriorating amongst those on lower incomes. I am anxious therefore about the possibility of a reduction or cancellation of the provision of this service by NHS England north west group. Moreover I have been contacted by a number of constituents, including the patients' group highlighting their concerns.

I am resolutely opposed to the closure or a reduction in the level of service offered at the GP Service. I am fully supportive of the patients' group and the local authority in this respect. People use this service because there is an existing demand which the NHS has a responsibility to meet. It primarily helps hard working families, who find the hours and accessibility of the surgery fit around their working lives.

Moreover I share the concerns of the patients' group that the length of the consultation is frankly too short. The letter to registered patients was sent out on the 29th January, and the closing date was the 19th February – I only received the copy of the survey document on the 17th – 2 days before it closed. There is a sense that NHS England has decided that this closure is simply going to go ahead, and the consultation process is merely a formality – I sincerely hope this is not the case, and would appreciate this being made clear.

As you know, East Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group is already considering the future of the walk in centre on the basis – more or less – that too many people use it. This is perverse logic which makes absolutely no sense in a modern NHS, and I hope that it is not one which is in any way informing the decisions surrounding the GP Service.

I realise that the contract is up for renewal, and I do not oppose this formality, however I urge you to look at the facts, the real existing demand, the health inequalities and the value for money which is offered by the GP service at the Health Access Centre.

The Government has consistently stated that the NHS budget would not be cut, and if financial pressures are playing a role in this decision making I would be incredibly concerned. Across Hyndburn I see the health service contracting, and ministers must explain why services are being reduced, a fact which was made abundantly clear on my recent visit to my local A&E at Royal Blackburn.

Yours sincerely
Graham Jones MP

Low pay, part time work, life on the breadline the realities of life in East Lancashire

David Cameron and his out of touch Government like to claim that things are getting better, and that the actions they have taken have led to a booming economy shared by all. However the reality behind this spin is very different, and some new figures have shown that the North West and Hyndburn is facing a different situation to the one painted by David Cameron.

According to the Office for National Statistics, all five of the Parliamentary constituencies in East Lancashire have more people on low pay, in every type of employment, than in the rest of the country.

In Hyndburn 27.1% of the workforce are earning an hourly rate which is below the living wage – £7.65 outside of London. This is the wage which someone needs to earn in order to cover the basic costs of living.

But it becomes much more concerning when you look at the detail and makeup of the workforce. For instance, the proportion of females who earn less than the living wage is even higher, at 35.9%.

Though 21.1% of full time workers are earning less than the living wage in Hyndburn, amongst part time workers this is a staggering 52.7%. Though there are some reasons for this in some instances such as those doing very casual work, in most cases people working part time want to work more hours and more money. It is therefore very worrying that over half of my constituents in part time work are not earning a living wage.

Under Cameron, we are working longer hours, for less money.

It is a continuation of what we saw in 2012 when Accrington made national front page news because we have the highest proportion of people who are living on the breadline. 30% of people were one unexpectedly high bill away from being put into official poverty.

These new figures give some explanation as to why that is the case, and puts some of David Cameron's claims that we are all in it together, and that we are all benefitting from an economic recovery in perspective.

Labour will scrap the 'Bedroom Tax'

The effects of the Bedroom Tax are being felt around the country, hitting over 660,000 claimants, 400,000 of whom are disabled, who are now losing £720 annual through no fault of their own. For the vast majority of those affected, there is nowhere smaller to move to, hitting vulnerable people through no fault of their own.

Polls conducted by ComRes indicate that in the last year, public support for the Bedroom Tax has been waning, as the majority of the public believe that the tax should be abandoned in its entirety. 55 percent of the population also believe that the "Bedroom Tax" shows how out of touch the Government is with the lives of real people (http://www.comres.co.uk/poll/898/the-people-bedroom-tax-poll-april-2013.htm).

Increasing, this cruel and unfair tax is unravelling as a policy. It has recently been discovered that a loophole in the Government's legislation exempts individuals who have been claiming housing benefit at the same property continuously since 1996. While the Government has claimed that only 3,000-5,000 people fall into this category, but Freedom of Information investigations carried out by the Shadow DWP team suggest that the number could be far greater and some housing experts believe that the figure could be well over 40,000.

Labour is seeking to prevent the government from closing the recently discovered loophole. Instead of scrambling to close loopholes in its own legislation and bringing more people within reach of the tax, the government should be reversing it. If this Tory-led government doesn't repeal the Bedroom Tax, the next Labour government will. To ensure that it can be reversed without any additional borrowing, funds have been earmarked from reversing recent tax cuts benefiting the wealthy and addressing the tax loss from disguised employment in construction. Labour will deal with under-occupation by funding local authorities who are able to help people with the costs of moving to suitable accommodation, using the funding set aside by the Government through Discretionary Housing Payments for dealing with the problems caused by the Bedroom Tax.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

UNICEF UK: At least ten children are trafficked into the UK every week



Dear Mr Jones, At least ten children are trafficked in the UK every week to face violence, exploitation and abuse, the physical and psychological scars of which can last a lifetime. However, the data on child trafficking is limited and we fear that the actual number of trafficked children is substantially higher.

Last week UNICEF UK launched a campaign on child trafficking in the UK, which calls on the Home Secretary to ensure that children are at the heart of the Modern Slavery Bill. The campaign has already received strong support from the public and some of our celebrity ambassadors including Ewan McGregor and Robbie Williams.

We strongly welcome the proposed Modern Slavery Bill. We believe it has the potential to transform the lives of trafficked children - and those at risk of trafficking - and set a gold standard for anti-trafficking legislation globally.

While we support the attention the Bill gives to prosecution, we believe the Bill needs to go further to include measures to protect children and prevent trafficking.

Please read our short parliamentary briefing f or more details about our priority calls for the Bill.

We look forward to working with you over the coming months to ensure this critical piece of legislation achieves real change for the most vulnerable victims of trafficking - children.

Zara Taylor-Jackson
Government Relations, UNICEF UK

UNICEF is the world's leading organisation for children, working in over 190 countries, including the UK. For further information regarding any area of our work please contact parliamentaryteam@unicef.org.uk.




UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary contributions; we receive no funding from the UN budget.



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Registered charity no. 1072612 (England and Wales) SC043677 (Scotland)

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Branching Out Project Update: One Planet are promoting a series of events during Fairtrade Fortnight.

We’ve been busy at One Planet making plans for Fairtrade Fortnight and here it is!

It’s been a bit like planning for Christmas – where you think you’ve got loads of time and then suddenly it’s upon you and you’ve still got some last minute jobs to do!


Anyway, a few Sunday’s ago Kerry and I went along to Preston Minster to celebrate Preston’s 10 year anniversary as a Fairtrade city. It was a wonderful and inspiring service, which included a presentation from Barbara Crowther, Director of Policy at the Fairtrade Foundation in London. She is a very engaging speaker and also a ‘Northern Lass’, who is very proud that the Fairtrade Towns movement started in Lancashire (in Garstang of course!) and now Lancashire is aiming to become a Fairtrade Region!!


Thursday, 20 February 2014

DAVID CAMERON’S CHILDCARE CRUNCH IS HITTING PARENTS AND HOLDING OUR ECONOMY BACK

There is more evidence that the cost of childcare is adding to David Cameron’s cost of living crisis and acting as a drag on our economy.

According to a new study around two-thirds of mothers say the cost of childcare is an obstacle to them working more.

Families facing a cost of living crisis are struggling to cope with soaring childcare costs - up 30 per cent under the Tories and five times faster than wages. As well as a squeeze on places, there are hundreds fewer Sure Start Centres thanks to David Cameron.

This childcare crunch has gone on long enough. But David Cameron is completely out-of-touch and cannot see that childcare is adding to the cost of living crisis that parents are facing. He has no plan to support parents with the rising costs or poor availability of childcare in this Parliament.

Labour would extend free early education for three and four year olds with parents in work from 15 to 25 hours, worth £1,500 per child. We would also tackle availability of before and after school childcare by introducing a primary childcare guarantee to help parents.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Putting fairness back into local government finance

It is families and businesses in local communities that are paying the price of George Osborne and David Cameron’s failure nationally on growth and the deficit.

The next Labour government will not be able to stop the cuts or turn back the clock. We can, though, offer hope to local government that we both understand the depth of the financial challenge that councils face and are committed to finding a way forward. We will start by putting fairness at the heart of the relationship between central and local government and our approach to local government finance.

We will acknowledge the difficulties councils face. We will respect the decisions they make at a local level about how to use resources, and not criticise and carp from Whitehall as Eric Pickles does about everything from levels of reserves to bin collections. The next Labour government will, of course, want councils to meet the needs of communities, whether in adult social care or raising educational standards, but our approach will be one of partnership, underpinned by fair funding.


LET’S GIVE PATIENTS AND PARENTS MORE POWER OVER LOCAL SERVICES

For too long patients and parents have been shut out of decisions on the future of local schools and hospitals.

We all want the best for our family. But it can be enormously frustrating when decisions on local facilities are taken without properly consulting those that use them.

I think that’s wrong. That’s why the next Labour government will take measures to empower patients and parents. We will invoke the principle that every user of a public service has something to contribute, and that decisions should be made by public servants and public service users together.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Accrington Observer Column

With New Year now firmly upon us I thought I’d write a piece about the future - the long term future of this area.

I have been visiting businesses in the constituency finding out what they do, what issues they have and how I can help both in Parliament and here in Hyndburn - from policy to planning. It is surprising just how many innovatitive as well as highly competitive SME’s we have.

The big issue I raise with them is the export support available to them for through the governments UK Trade and Investment department which has offices around the world.


FOBT's - A BetFred managers' concerns

I received a letter today from the manager of a betting shop who understandably wants to remain anonymous. I had recently commented about the industries refusal to provide live data from FOBTs. This individual informed me that the industries don’t want any research done and that their assertion that they want to minimize harm is completely false. In fact, the insider reported that he had been present in meetings where the term ‘getting them hooked’ has been used in terms of selling machines. “I can tell you that one of the biggest fears of those higher up in the company is research being done.”

The store manager went on to say that managers are given the task of speaking to customers that they consider as having a problem, despite the fact that the only training they have received “amounts to a couple sheets of A4.” Clearly harm reduction is not high on their agenda when it comes to FOBTs – as you would expect the case to be when these machines are such effective cash cows.

The manger went on to describe his experiences with problem gamblers. “I’ve personally seen a customer wet himself rather than leave a machine to go to the toilet. I’ve seen women and men crying and the violence that stems from the machines is scary…Those that work in the shops all know they're addictive. We all hate them for the problems they cause us. Shops are staying open longer and staff are not being employed to cover the hours. 14 hr shifts are not uncommon and they constantly break the rules regarding an 11 hour minimum break between shifts. All so we can stay open for the machines.”

This insider concluded by saying, “Believe me when I say, that if it costs me my job to ensure these parasitic machines are kicked into touch, I for one will have no complaint. And I know others that feel the same.”

The experiences of this manager support what I’ve longed believed to be the case. The industry is using the addictive nature of FOBTs to exploit problem gamblers. Despite their claims that FOBTs are not addictive, they refuse to provide data about FOBTs and fear what research would reveal. As such, they have repeatedly rebuffed Cambridge University’s request to examine a FOBT machine. It is shameful that they industry knowingly continues to exploit gambling addicts for profit. It is therefore necessary that we continue to pressure the industry to provide access to data, and campaign for greater powers for local authorities to deal with the clustering of these machines and the social problems which result.

The betting shop manager who contacted me is incredibly brave for speaking out, and I encourage anyone who works in betting shops and has similar stories to get in touch with the Campaign for Fairer Gambling.

LABOUR WILL TACKLE RISING INSECURITY AT WORK

Recent figures show that the number of people feeling insecure at work has almost doubled from 6.5 million to 12 million since David Cameron became Prime Minister.

This is a shocking legacy of his time in power. That is why I voted for his government to take action to stop this rising insecurity in a special parliamentary debate on Wednesday.

There has been a rise in the number of employees on zero-hours contracts since 2010, with some figures estimating there could be as many as 1 million people now employed on them. The number of people working part time, but who want to work full time has risen by more than 350,000 to over 1.4 million over the same period. Many of these people are paid the National Minimum Wage which has declined in value by almost 5 per cent under David Cameron.

We’ve got to put a stop to this. That’s why Labour announced plans to ban zero-hours contracts where they exploit people, to end the scandal of false self-employment, strengthen the National Minimum Wage and incentivise employers to pay a Living Wage through ‘make work pay’ contracts.

Labour will always stand up for hard-working people, and the next Labour government will tackle rising insecurity at work by ensuring that Haslingden and Hyndburn is properly equipped to earn its way out of the cost of living crisis.



Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Please Help Reduce Childhood Brain Tumours in Your Constituency

Dear Colleague, As Chairman of the Brain Tumour APPG, I am writing to you to seek your support for The Brain Tumour Charity’s HeadSmart campaign to raise awareness of the symptoms of brain tumours in children. I would also like to take this opportunity to ask you to write to your local councils to request that they distribute the charity’s free awareness cards to schools and health practices in your constituency.

Around 500 children each year are diagnosed with a brain tumour and a quarter will die as a result. Many more will survive but with life-changing disabilities caused by radical treatment. Brain tumours are the biggest cancer killer of children in the UK – killing more children than leukaemia - and are the biggest cause of preventable blindness in children.

Energy Bill Revolution Campaign

Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution
Mervyn Kirk, Director of Isothane, Huncoat

Last week I attended a Parliamentary lobby held by the Energy Bill Revolution Campaign. This is a campaign comprised of 180 organisations calling for more help for people struggling to keep warm this winter. This is a fantastic campaign I am more than happy to give my backing.

As you can see from the photos, campaigners brought me a scarf knitted by supporters of the campaign to highlight the point that some people are forced to take drastic steps to keep warm in their own home. The scarf was one of hundreds knitted by supporters of the Energy Bill Revolution campaign to mark “Cold Homes Week” – a series of events and activities designed to focus attention on the shocking state of many of the UK’s homes, and the terrible effect they have on the people left shivering inside them.

Cold Homes Week also saw the release of new fuel poverty figures showing 7 million people in England are in fuel poverty – that is they cannot keep their homes warm at a reasonable price. This includes 2.2 million children growing up in cold homes. The shocking figure is based on a new Government definition of fuel poverty for England which, when introduced, classified far less people as fuel poor than the previous definition.

The campaigners point to other countries, such as Sweden, where incomes and fuel prices are broadly similar to the UK, but better housing means far fewer people cannot afford to heat their homes. This is an incredibly important issue in places such as Hyndburn, where we still have a huge amount of pre-1919 housing stock, which is particularly at risk during the winter, and is also more expensive to insulate.

One of the organisations supporting the campaign is Isothane, based in Huncoat, which amongst other things work to insulate hard to treat homes such as the many in the constituency. It was great to meet with Mervyn Kirk, Director of the company at the Parliamentary lobby last week – and I am glad they are on board with the campaign.

The Energy Bill Revolution campaign has identified billions of pounds in “carbon taxes” already being paid by bill payers that currently disappears into the Treasury, and has called on Government to recycle this money into help for households to become more efficient. Such a policy would end fuel poverty in 10 years, and could also provide help for better off families to cut their bills. The Energy Bill Revolution Campaign is calling on the Government to take decisive action to tackle the terrible problem of fuel poverty. We believe that the Government should use the revenues from carbon taxes – averaging £4 billion a year for the next 15 years – to invest in a major infrastructure programme to make the UK’s homes highly energy efficient.

Ed Matthew, Director of the Energy Bill Revolution said “We welcome Mr Jones’s support for the Energy Bill Revolution. It is clear that the lasting solution to this crisis is to stop homes leaking heat. This must be UK’s number one infrastructure priority, it will save families hundreds of pounds on their energy bills and end fuel poverty once and for all.”

TORY CHAOS ON IMMIGRATION MEANS WORKING PEOPLE ARE FORGOTTEN

Last week the Tory-led government had the opportunity to do something positive for the British people on immigration, but they blew their chance and gave us chaos and in-fighting instead.

The government's Immigration Bill is already weak on the problems of border control. The number of people stopped at the border has halved since David Cameron has been in power and fewer people who have broken the rules are being returned.

But with many local communities struggling with the cost of living, I'm alarmed that amidst the chaos, the government voted down serious proposals from Labour on minimum wage enforcement which aimed to stop the exploitation of migrant workers undercutting local jobs and wages.

This is a major issue for many people locally which should not be overlooked. With David Cameron refusing to rule out giving millionaire's another tax cut, ordinary working people really need the government to show that it is on their side and understands the day to day cost of living pressures they face.

Labour wants a sensible debate and swift action on immigration - not the chaos we've seen from the government this week, because Britain deserves better than this.

POLITICS MUST CHANGE TO BEAT THE WORST COST-OF- LIVING CRISIS FOR GENERATIONS

While millions of families across Britain face the worst cost-of-living crisis for generations, this Tory-led Government listens only to a privileged few.

We need to change that. That's why I'm backing Ed Miliband's big reform to the Labour Party announced this week.

In order to form a truly One Nation government, which gives more power over to people to better shape their communities and the decisions that affect their lives, we have to start by opening up and changing the Labour Party itself.

Politics and political parties need to change, and with these proposals Labour is leading the way.
The changes are designed to ensure One Nation Labour is a party that reaches out to all the people of Britain. They are bold, and will strengthen our connection with people and communities throughout our country.

By bringing more people into the Labour Party and showing them why we are different, we are telling them who we are as a Party and how we aspire to govern.

Labour's proposals for change include:

- Giving trade union members a real choice over the payment of affiliation fees to Labour for the first time;

- Giving people who wish to become affiliated supporters a real voice within a genuinely One Nation Labour Party;

- Giving everyone who wants a direct individual relationship with the Labour Party a vote in leadership elections according to the principles of One Member, One Vote, in which everyone is treated as equal in worth to anyone else;

- Giving Londoners the chance to engage in politics with a primary introduced for the selection of Labour’s candidate for mayor;

- A guarantee to communities that Labour's process for selecting candidates is free from manipulation and fair to everyone.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Smoking in Cars

Cancer Research UK spends £12 million a year on research into curing lung cancer but we can’t beat lung cancer without reducing smoking uptake. Smoking kills one in two long term smokers, and with eight in ten smokers starting this potentially fatal addiction before the age of 19 it is vital that we act now to reduce the uptake of smoking and therefore reduce mortality rates.

The incidence of lung cancer is significantly higher in Hyndburn than in the rest of England, with 60.6 cases per 100,000 people as compared to 47.7 per 100,000 elsewhere. Given the high levels of lung cancer, I believe that comprehensive tobacco control measures must be taken.

One such measure is standardised tobacco packaging. Peer-reviewed research has shown that standardised packaging reduces the attractiveness and appeal of tobacco products, particularly for young people, and increases the prominence and effectiveness of health warnings. Evidence from Australia, which was the first country to introduce standardised packs in December 2012, has been compelling.

70 percent of Smokers using standard packs reported that they found their cigarettes less satisfying and 81 percent using standard packs were more likely to rate quitting as a higher priority in their lives.

I therefore support the enabling amendment to the Children and Families Bill on standardised packaging of tobacco products, as well as amendments on proxy purchasing and sales of nicotine products (including e-cigarettes) to under 18s, and a free vote on enabling legislation to ban smoking in cars with children.

WHEN ORDINARY FAMILIES ARE STRUGGLING, IT’S WRONG TO GIVE THE RICHEST ANOTHER TAX CUT

After four years of the Tory-led government, most people are working harder, for less. And yet, instead of dealing with the cost of living crisis, David Cameron wants to give millionaires ANOTHER tax cut on top of the £100,000 he gave them last year.

David Cameron has refused to rule out further tax cuts to the richest one per cent of taxpayers - a kick in the teeth for most of us struggling with an unprecedented cost of living crisis.

Labour has been clear that when the deficit is high and ordinary families are seeing their real incomes fall, it simply can’t be right to give the richest people in the country a massive tax cut.

The next Labour government will create a fairer tax system, ensuring that everybody plays their part in getting the deficit down.

When you're taking difficult decisions to get the deficit down and working families are struggling, it’s really important that people feel the burden is shared. That’s why we will restore the top rate tax to 50p for the next Parliament, and would bring in a lower 10p starting rate of tax, to help make work pay and cut taxes for 24 million people on middle and lower incomes. We will also crack down on tax avoidance and reverse the government's out of touch tax cuts to hedge funds.

Cutting tax for the top one per cent won't help get the deficit down and it’s deeply unfair, so join me in urging the Prime Minister to make fairness a central part of deficit reduction and rule out a further tax cut for the wealthiest.


Free School Milk under threat?

Are the Government taking 'Raising the Particpation Age' seriously?


WHY DAVID CAMERON IS FAILING WOMEN ACROSS THIS COUNTRY

They say a picture tells a thousand words. At Prime Minister's Questions this week there wasn't a single woman on the government's front bench. David Cameron runs his government like an Old Boys Network. No wonder he is failing women across this country.

As ordinary, hard-working people struggle with the cost of living crisis, women are being hit hardest by David Cameron’s failure to act.

Under David Cameron, the gap between men’s and women's pay increased for the first time in five years and issues affecting women's pay like affordable childcare and the exploitative use of zero hours contracts are brushed aside.

David Cameron promised he would modernise his party so he could stand up for women, but he has failed on both counts.

Just 5 out of 33 people attending his Cabinet are women compared to 14 out of 32 sitting around Ed Miliband's Shadow Cabinet table.

Having women at the top of the Labour Party makes a difference to how we think and what we do. It shows women across the country how we aspire to govern.

Labour will fight for a new kind of One Nation politics, because we believe Britain is strongest when everybody's voice is heard.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Q&A at my old school - St Christopher's High School

I was at St. Christopher's School Sixth Form Centre this afternoon for a Question Time event organised by Hyndburn Borough Council. The event was opened by Cllr Judith Addison, the Mayor of Hyndburn who spoke about the Accrington Pals and those who made a sacrifice for the borough and our home town.

The panel included Miles Parkinson, leader of the council; Dave Parkins, Independent Cllr for Huncoat and Peter Britcliffe and Marlene Howarth the Conservative Party leadership in Hyndburn. The event was chaired by the school's Headteacher, Mr. Jones and the questions came from the A-level students.

The questions ranged from why I was a Labour politician, what do politicians actually do, is coalition a better form of government, should the UK constitution be changed, was Russell Brand correct to suggest that young people shouldn't vote and why should students want to stay in Lancashire after their education.

I always enjoy taking part in these events and I'd like to thank the school and the council for organising the event. We have bright and intelligent young people in the area and I'm proud to represent them and hear their views.

No trains for the new train line. Only the Tories could achieve this.

I have written to LCC as the PTA responsible and received a reply on the shambles that engulfs Accrington's new direct rail line to Manchester.

At transport questions yesterday Craig Whittaker MP asked about the line; and the "£8 million in the reopening of the Todmorden curve railway line between Todmorden and Blackburn, which is due for completion in May", asking the Secretary of State whether a diesel train can be found "so that the service can start before December?"

Last month Jack Straw MP (on his and my behalf) asked* a similar question of the minister Philip Hammond MP who said he hoped to make a statement in January.

Having now entered February it was left to Patrick McLoughlin MP (Secretary of State) to admit that the government has no idea when it will get a train to run on this new line. There may be rolling stock available (hand me downs) from the Manchester to Liverpool electrification. The government have built the line and simply forgotten about ordering trains to run it.

"I know that Northern Rail has been working on how best to deliver those services, including the provision for rolling stock. A small number of diesel trains from within the current northern fleet may become available for use on this service from December 2014 when the electric trains are due to start operating on some services between Liverpool and Manchester".

* As transport whip I can't ask transport question on the floor of the house.

I did write to LCC - the passenger transport authority responsible and received this more detailed reply.

Thank you for your letter of 4 December 2013 regarding the Todmorden Curve and Quality Contracts.

Unfortunately, the talk in the media about delays to the new service between Blackburn/ Accrington/ Burnley and Manchester due to there presently being insufficient rolling stock is true.

The physical works to restore the Todmorden West Curve are proceeding well and the infrastructure should be completed and commissioned by April 2014. The new rail service had originally been planned to start with the May 2014 timetable as an extension of the Todmorden terminating service from Wigan Wallgate via Manchester Victoria.

However, due to changes forced on Northern Rail by the diversion of the Trans Pennine Express Scotland/Barrow/Windermere services away from the Chorley/Bolton corridor to the newly electrified Chat Moss line in December 2013 has meant that additional capacity has had to be found to boost the remaining, largely Northern, services between Bolton and Manchester. This means there are now no spare units available to provide the additional diesel unit required to extend the Todmorden service to Burnley and Blackburn from May 2014.

Northern Rail has done a national trawl to see if it could spot hire a unit for 7 months from another train operating company. Unfortunately, no unit could be spared for so long a period which confirms the generally recognised situation that the diesel multiple unit fleet is fully committed with little or no flexibility in the event of heavy overhaul or accidents.

As a result of the NW electrification programme diesel units will be progressively released as services transfer to electric operation. For Northern the first conversion takes place in December 2014 when the Manchester to Liverpool service becomes electric. One of the diesel units released by this will be used to provide the extra resource required to enable passenger services to be extended from Todmorden to Burnley and Blackburn. On this basis the service should start on Sunday, 7 December 2014.

Yours sincerely
County Councillor John Fillis
Cabinet Member for Highways and Transport

 

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Crisis Shut Out campaign to help those sleeping rough.

I was recently contacted by Crisis about their new Shut Out campaign.

They point out that homelessness is rising and younger adults are at particular risk. In the last three years the number of young people sleeping on London’s streets has more than doubled and new figures show 8% of 16-24 year olds report recently being homeless.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

What is David Cameron & the Tories problem with women?



It is well known that the Tory party has a problem with women, and David Cameron’s Government is having the effect that you would expect from one that is run like an Old Boy’s Network.

When he became the Tory leader, he promised to modernise the Tory Party, but in realist is going backwards – half of the Tory women ministers from 2010 have resigned or been sacked from office.

Just five out of 33 people attending Cabinet are women, and out of 122 ministers just 25 are women, of whom 18 are Conservatives. There are now 55 Labour women frontbenchers out of 138 in total – 40%. In the Shadow Cabinet, there are 14 women out of 32 in total – 44%. The picture above speaks a thousand words, not one female face on the frontbench.

It is absolutely astounding that there are as many Cabinet Ministers who went to Eton or Westminster, as there are woman in the cabinet. This Prime Minister said he was going to lead the way on women’s equality. But under him for the first time in five years the gap between men and women’s pay has increased. According to the ONS, from 9.5% last year to 10.5% this year.

What would you expect from an unrepresentative, male-dominated Government such as Cameron’s?

Agapao: The Public Accounts Committee has today concluded the Charities Commission is ‘not fit for purpose’

The Public Accounts Committee has today concluded following an inquiry into its operation, that the Charities Commission is ‘not fit for purpose’. The report focuses principally on issues to do with gift aid and tax relief, but it also touches on general governance issues which are relevant to the case of Agapao.

The Commission is not failing because of complacency, but because of the way it is constituted – indeed the majority of the PAC’s recommendations were in fact recommendations for HMRC. It simply does not have the power to do what we would expect a regulator to do.


Hill Top, Baxenden scheduled for demolition.

3m
Hill Top, Baxenden scheduled for demolition. Contractor will be on site on 10th February.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

My Visit to the Mary Hindle Centre, Haslingden & update on former owners Agapao.

On Friday I visited the Mary Hindle Centre in Haslingden to see how Veterans in the Community have transformed the building into a fantastic community asset and to discuss Haslingden and its future with some local community volunteers.

You will recall that we organised a huge campaign to return the building to the community following its demise under Agapao International. Here's just a few articles on the issue:

http://www.lancashiretelegraph.co.uk/news/rossendale/haslingden/10694216.Haslingden_s_Mary_Hindle_centre_to_be_transferred_to_veterans__group/

http://hhgrahamjones.blogspot.co.uk/2012/12/letter-to-letter-to-free-press-agapao.html
http://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/news-headlines/78711/troubled-charity-sets-up-home-in-rochdale

And today I was delighted to see that VIC and their volunteers have transformed the building into a real community hub that helps them deliver to veterans and non-veterans alike. It was great to witness an art class being delivered by veterans to local residents and to learn that VIC have sustainable plans to keep the building going and for providing services to the local community.

Former owners: Agapao International (charity)

I have been extremely disappointed with the actions of Agapao International; trying to sell of the Mary Hindle Centre, a £300,000 public asset and disappointed in its activities in Uganda where it has been involved in community projects. I have reported the Charity’s activities to the Government minister responsible and notably the Charity Commission who as a result placed several demands on the Charity. My local campaign signed up 50 new members with the intent of taking over the charity at the AGM and transfer the Mary Hindle Centre back to the people of Haslingden. In the end it appeared that the public pressure was too much and Agapao gave up, took the building off the market and transferred the building to Haslingden charity ViC and facing a crowd of unsympathetic new members, dissolved the Charity. I am not delighted but actually quite sad that it has had to come to this but I have always said I would pursue the charity relentlessly for the people of Haslingden.

Agapao's mismanagement of the building was a blight on Haslingden and to work with the people of Haslingden to bring the building back into use has been a huge relief. I'd like to thank all the volunteers who helped in the campaign and Veterans in the Community for their renovation work and I look forward to supporting them in their plans for the future.