Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Regeneration: MP invites major private sector developer to Woodnook

Last Friday I invited a major private sector developer, Mark Hines and associates to Woodnook to discuss potential plans.

Having discussed Woodnook previously, this visit further pushed the discussions on to opportunities for the area. Whilst in early stages, it was helpful to see the regeneration of the area through private sector eyes. It is clear that part of any private sector regeneration is desirability rather than just refurbishment and this sets a whole new, far more ambitious agenda.

Particular emphasis being on sustainability and making the area a premier neighbourhood to live. Clearly major changes must occur for this to happen and Mark Hines plans do match those ambitions.

In order to secure profitability it is necessary and it is Council's lack of accountability to the market which has been the undermining factor in housing market renewal. Markets equally distort negatively housing and balance which Mark Hines and Co respect, must be struck.

From my perspective desirability, marketability, contemporary, ground breaking, energy efficient, community linked and yes after all that, bang for buck should be the backbone of such ambition. Otherwise cost overruns will equate to inevitably more public subsidy.

A key concern was the Council's current master plan which lacks ambition and stability for such an investment with the likelihood of a change of Council leadership come May's elections.

Clearly Mark Hines recognises these fault lines and the housing offer, if he manages to get it to market will be second to none.

Woodnook offers advantages over other sites the developers have visited.

It's all a long way off but every effort must be made to rid this Borough of the decrepit, substandard, unhealthy housing that blights the lives of our fellow citizens.

Westminster: School Sports Partnership - Cameron does a u-turn

Andy Burnham MP, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, commenting on the partial u-turn by the Conservative-led Government on school sport, said:

"David Cameron and Michael Gove have spent weeks seeking to justify a bad decision with dodgy statistics. Gove's overruling by the Prime Minister is a victory for thousands of young people, teachers and athletes, and is a warning to this Tory-led Government that it cannot simply do what it likes. But this package from the Conservative-led Government, after weeks of scrabbling round for funding to save something it branded a "complete failure", only raises one cheer at best.

"So today, in conceding the success of Labour's School Sports Partnerships, the Government has nevertheless failed to put in place a proper funding package that will allow us to capitalise on the excitement of the 2012 Games. We are still looking at the prospect of fewer children playing sport in the run up to the Olympics, and no answer on what will happen to school sport following the Games."

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Empty Properties: Why the Government will fail at the expense of Haslingden and Hyndburn

I have much scepticism about recent housing proposals put forward by the Government.

On balance they will have a negligible impact on the total number of 738,000 empty properties there currently is.

The recent and much trumpeted New Homes Bonus is a mechanism designed to deal with under supply. Its affect in under supply housing areas will be negative on housing. Council's have been top sliced to fund this and housing growth will be greatest in the greater South East, in areas that do not need extra government funding.

The money being removed from northern and urban areas where new build will not be as required and the payments significantly less.

The scheme undermines further these areas with its criteria. It deducts (short term) demolitions from total new build.  However long term voids/vacants demolished are exempt and produce no net change. However there are few areas with a continuum of long term voids and any regeneration programme would be hampered by deductions for occupied and short term vacant.

It encourages the abandonement of long term voids.
The use of national average Council Tax bands is a regressive North to South shift of finance, the south having a higher proportion of Band D+ plus properties. Areas which incidently have the least problems and isolates housing solutions from broader issues. Giving areas with high numbers of Band A properties less is likely to increase sub regional poverty and increase the residulisation of welfare and dependency.

In the North oversupply will at its core, negate new build. Stagnant or declining populationsin certain twons and cities and more specifially in low demand and undesireable areas will put the skids under new additional housing.

The incentives in the NHB are insignificant set against the cost of bringing empty properties back in to use, all against a backdrop of declining populations.

Innovative two in to ones or three into one conversions and small scale clearance by private sector companies looking to seize on small site and corner plot locations for example. Regeneration schemes tend not only to deal with empties (long term voids) but short term voids and occupied properties, the latter two being a deduction from the new homes bonus.

There is no clarity on whether new homes brought back into use will attract the £350 (paid for affordability) or any other top up payment. In any case, the same issue that blights EDMO’s, the upfront cost of making a place habitable being the barrier to use.

The £100million is for just 3,000 houses at £33,000 each and was until recently only available to RSL’s.

There has been no roll up of complex legislation and scrapping the national landlords register will have an adverse effect. As well relaxing HMO licensing. The Coalition are also looking at removing second charging for values under £25,000 which could make ineffective blight laws (T and C Planning Act) and other measures leveraged by enforced sale.

EDMO’s have proved fruitless with only a handful of LA’s using them odd occasions averaging nationally around 20 per year. Hardly a breakthrough with 738,000 empties.

Housing market renewal has been scrapped and changes to Housing Benefit will increase sofa surfing and hidden homelessness correspondingly increasing vacants.

Hyndburn’s population has declined by around 50 units per year so as a LA it starts at minus 50 as far as NHB is concerned.

In summary it is likely that long term voids will increase and stock condition will fall depreciably.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Woodnook: More Council broken promises

Back in 2003 The Council were told they would receive almost £10million every year to regenerate 9 areas including Woodnook, Peel, Spring Hill, Church.

None of these have received a penny up to last year.

Back in 2003 Woodnook councillors were on show with fancy plans of new houses and tree lined streets with a display of dazzling displays of new plans presented to residents on Sandy Lane at Accrington College.

Since then: nothing but empty and broken promises. No fight. No lobbying. Just approval for every penny to spent (and some schemes involved huge waste) in one area; Blackburn Road. That area could have seen more generation for less money had the money been spent wisely.

It is not the officers who are to blame. It is the Councillors who have voted to waste £millions. I note cabinet member Peter Clarke's letter dated the 6th December 2010 to Councillor Wendy Dwyer which states
"despite a significant cut
in our funding (all funding has been cut), we will still proceed with the masterplan albeit at a much slower pace (laughable)" and
"the emphaiss on the (Regional Growth) fund is creating new jobs and funding if secured, will be significantly less than housing market renewal."
Broken promises to Woodnook;
- Guaranteed investment of tens of £millions,
- Development plans as early as 2004,
- Personal promises claiming 'pressure on the Council leadership
- Guarantee that it will all start in 2010 and Woodnook would get around £30million

False claims;
- Claims of involvement in HomeFront Lottery scheme
- Totally false claims of Government interference
- Claims that The Council had been told to do just one area at once (when ELEVATE colleagues Pendle, Burnley, Blackburn are doing 3 at once)

Today we see Woodnook councillors issuing future broken promises in a Council leaflet;
1. The Council remains committed to completing phase 1 of the Woodnook masterplan within existing resources.
Phase 1 requires £30million to be completed. This Conservative Government has cancelled that £30million. There is no money and Phase 1 will never mind be completed, very little will happen. See question 7. 
2. We will buy and demolish four terraced blocks 2 - 24 Booth St, 53 - 85, Boyds St, 54 - 86 Royds St, 1 - 33 Augusta St.
Using the £1.5million of the last £7.7million given the Council. Has the Council spoken with the opposition who look likely to take over in May?

3. We will treat and protect the resulting cleared site with well planned environmental works
When was this ever consulted on and is this the best use of resources. See question 7.

4. We will acquire in full 2 - 32 Augusta St, refurbish and bring it back into use for affordable housing
Owned by whom? Has the Council discussed what residents want? Has the Council spoken with the opposition who look likely to take over in May or are residents to be let down again?

5. We will face lift adjacent terraces i.e Clement and Hudson St
6. We will also seek further funding to proceed with the Woodnook masterplan including bids from the new Regional Growth fund, the New Home Bonus and Empty Property funding from the Homes and Communities Agency
Regional Growth Fund does not allow for housing regeneration bids. The New Homes Bonus is nothing to do with Woodnook AND in the first few years will raise very little money. Any demolitions will reduce that income stream too. The Empty Property Fund is £100m for the whole of the UK and for Registered Social Landlords only.
7. Discussions have already started with partners from the private sector and Housing Associations to bring in additional resources.
No discussions have taken place between the Council and a major private sector investor. That has happened via myself last Friday. The truth is this sort of investment is a million miles away and should not be part of any promise.  

Notably however, should they invest, they do not like The Council’s master plan and would redraw it throwing doubt over just what the Council itself is proposing.
Housing Associations are stretched having had their income cut.
Below is the letter the Council wrote to residents regarding acquisitions and demolitions in the area.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Pennine Reach "Alive and Well" LCC announce.

Lancashire County Council cabinet member just confirmed Pennine Reach Bus scheme in Hyndburn is 'alive and well' and LCC fully behind new bid.

Lancashire Telegraph

There are three issues with the Pennine Reach scheme; bus stops and stations, public information, a more timely service.

There is a consensus that Accrington needs a new bus station and that improved 'real time' GPS bus stops and satellite bus terminus's would improved the service and bring it into the new millennia.

The controversial issue surrounds a more timely service. Pennine Reach being a business led bid, an effort to improve transport in this part of East Lancashire.

Whilst bus lanes would improve times they would remove private on street car parking and remove car parking for passing retail trade to shops particularly in Oswaldtwistle.

Smart pre paid cards would have a greater effect, removing cash many payments getting on the bus's. Having just bus lanes at traffic lights and roundabouts gaining priority where possible would also contribute to significant time saving.

Thirdly revamping Traveline which is 50% owned by the County Council would help. It is a marvellous service but lack's real time, is not user friendly and only works on large screen PC's.

GPS trackers on buses should not only provide real time info at stops but also facilitate easy live information on smart phones.

Traveline currently tells you how to get between property A and property B in Lancashire. The nearest bus stop to you, where to change and what bus's to catch where with arrival several time options. See Londons journey planner here.

This needs real time GPS adding to a new smart phone interface like Trainline or the National Rail app.

Fourthly and not something that Pennine Reach aims to tackle but which will make a difference to a belief in bus services; a reliable timetable with improved services. The current de-regulated free-for-all serves no-one.

I have encouraged the County and they happy to work across Party on re-regulating bus services by bus franchising. Where local people set the timetable's and auction bundled timetables, such as services that are peak but include perhaps an axed off peak service.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Pensioners and young children living in freezing conditions


Recent research by the government has shown that fuel poverty is still on the rise, with National Energy Action – a fuel poverty charity – estimating that in the UK there are over 5.4 million households living in unacceptable conditions. Hyndburn has a particularly high concentration of problem housing, with low levels of insulation and 39% of houses not meeting the government’s Decent Homes Standard.

“With the housing situation the way it is in Hyndburn, it is vital that we do not get complacent this winter. Fuel poverty causes misery and can aggravate health problems, so we must do everything we can to protect those vulnerable members of society who cannot afford to properly heat their homes. Pensioners trapped at home and young children living in freezing private rented accommodation causes me deep worry.”

Fuel poverty is defined as the need for a family to spend more than 10% of their total income on heating their home.

This week saw a rogue landlord in Rossendale charged with leaving a tenant in fuel poverty. Joseph Heyworth was prosecuted after environmental health inspectors described the flat as “barely habitable”. Excess cold is classed as a category 1 hazard – the most severe category – under the Environmental Protection Act. 38.6% of houses in Hyndburn contain hazards of this kind.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

The Hardest hit list: Councils losing 8.9% for two consequetive years

Great Yarmouth

Source: Dept of Communities

Supporting the Warm Homes Campaign 2010

I am backing the National Energy Action’s Warm Homes Campaign 2010 which is stressing that a national energy efficiency drive is vital in combating rising levels of fuel poverty.

The support comes after recent Government statistics revealed that the numbers of households in fuel poverty is continuing to escalate, with NEA estimating that the figure in England and Wales has reached over 4.1 million.

In Hyndburn fuel poverty levels are high with poor levels of insulation and 39% of homes not meeting the Decent Homes Standard. In the private rented sector the statistics are chronic with many poor people, familes and particularly children facing freezing conditions in costly and inadequate housing where incomes do not allow for energy saving measures.

This is a hugely imporant issue to me.

The Warm Homes Campaign highlights that there are still millions of people who are simply struggling to keep their homes warm and protect their families from the ill effects of the cold. Fuel-poor households experience a number of detrimental health impacts and reductions in general wellbeing as a result of cold, damp living conditions. Whilst this is unacceptable, the campaign also demonstrates how help is available. It also underlines how important it is that future government schemes are able to target support for the most vulnerable households effectively.

The most important message this year is that there is help out there for vulnerable households. I urge everyone to contact the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99 to get help and advice on staying warm in their home this winter without the fear of fuel debt and ill health.

Accrington Bus Station - Pennine Reach 'not dead yet' part 2

I wrote in October about the misundertsanding that existed over Accrington Bus Station project which is wrapped up the wider Pennine Reach funding bid to Government.

That it has not been scrapped but put in a reserve pool awaiting a revised bid from Lancashire County Council.

The County Council have stated this week in response to land issues on the site:

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Woodnook Regeneration - Let's think again about the way forward given the government savage cuts

Sent via Mobile
The Government have surprisingly axed all housing market renewal funding (HMR) just as Woodnook was about to begin a six year £40million facelift.

A decision that has caught everyone out as it had been anticipated since the election HMR would have faced reductions.

The Housing Minster had talked positively about the scheme and the Prime Minster had stated in a series of speeches and visits that people in areas of urban regeneration would in future turn confidently towards the Conservative Party.

Locally the Council Leader boasted of correspondence he had received giving assurances that funding would not be cut. That letter was never released and is not available to be scrutinised.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A Sad Day For The Future of This Country

This evening the division bell rang out across the Parliamentary estate calling MPs to the lobbies to vote on the highly controversial measures to treble tuition fees. For some MPs I imagine the division bell sounded more like a death toll.

After their decision to back such an incredible blow to young people across the UK I cannot see any other way for Liberal Democrats other than down. Down in the estimation of those people who voted for them in the general election and down in the estimation of those students that the Lib Dems pledged to support.

Over the past weeks and months we have seen waves of reforms across all departments introducing some of the deepest cuts we have seen in generations. The issue of Tuition Fees has without doubt been the most contested of them all and today saw students protesting outside the House of Commons in Parliament Square in a final attempt to make both Lib Dem and Conservative MPs see sense on this issue.

All around Westminster the audible pleas of this country’s future generation of scientists, artists, engineers and doctors could be heard from most MPs offices. As the division was called Government MPs called just as forcefully in the Commons in support of their proposals that will act as nothing more than a disincentive to thousands of students across the UK to pursuing further study. Today I spoke with a student who told me they had hoped to be able to go on to study at university but that they now felt that they simply wouldn’t be able to afford it.

Optimism for a Pennine Lancashire LEP

Yesterday I spoke with ministers and feel confident that a Pennine Lancashire LEP will be given the green light.

It has become clear that Pendle, Hyndburn, Blackburn and Burnley Councils are opposed to the incomplete Lancashire County Council LEP proposal.

The minister has always expressed concerns over a lack of agreement and the coverage of the whole of Lancashire. In absence of any leadership at Hyndburn Council, The Mayor has written the Minister confirming Hyndburn Council's position.

Though a 'reaffirm vote' was defeated by the 17 Conservatives, the absence of indeopndent members opposed to a LCC's proposals still leaves it difficult for Hyndburn Council to get through a vote to reverse the Councils position adopted earlier this year in favour of Pennine Lancashire LEP.

There is a question that given such vociferous opposition to the LCC proposal whether any support, financial or otherwise, would be given to a wider Lancashire LEP.

I have lobbied continually in Parliament to ensure that we have a sensible two LEP solution. Hyndburn's best interests in my view lie with a local Pennine Lancashire LEP.

Things look very encouraging.

More job cuts at BAe systems

This a disaster for the employee’s and their families. The Coalition’s plans for growth are a shambles designed to trick ordinary people.

The Tories can give money for Irish banks but not defence contracts to support British workers and British companies. Osborne’s defence cuts put over a thousand highly skilled engineers out on dole in October and now a further 1,300 of skilled people will be put on out of work benefits.
The cuts in the Harrier programme mean will aircraft carriers with no aircraft on until 2020. There are many highly advanced engineering local and regional companies who will affected by the knock on consequences.

The government has no policy for growth and the cuts are too fast and too deep. Unemployment will result in the deficit growing, not shrinking. Worryingly the loss of Saudi Arabian contracts adding to the job losses blows a hole in the Government’s of building up high skilled manufacturing and exporting our way of the deficit to offset the 500,000 public sector job cuts.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Pennine Lancashire LEP looking more likely

Today was the final day for resubmissions of LEP bids for Lancashire. Speaking to both ministers responsible tonight there have been two. Pennine and Lancashire County Council.

Pennine Lancashire's proposal is the only one that covers the whole of Lancashire with a complete two LEP solution, comprehensively covering all the people in Lancashire unlike the County's proposal.

The minister was troubled by the level of opposition to the County's bid and the rumours of 'skullduggery' and political meetings reported in the press seem to have hampered the LCC bid.

Today the minister received representation from Hyndburn Council via the mayor's office, Blackburn and Burnley Council' making the case for a Pennine LEP. Pendle, like Hyndburn, has confirmed that that is its position despite a minority Conservative adminsitration's change of political view.

Public outrage at being sold down 'the river of political gai'n has surfaced in response to the article in the Lancashire Telegraph. I am confident that if the County cannot find an agreeable and acceptable solution with the East Lancashire M65 authorities, then the a two LEP solution is the way forward.

I am very confident we will have a Pennine Lancashire LEP.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Tuition Fee's - I will vote against unfair tuition fees

This week parliament will vote on proposals to treble tuition fees for students – making them the highest of any public university system in the industrialised world. Labour will be campaigning more than ever to oppose them. I will vote against the Government on Thursday because their plans are not necessary, not fair, and not good for higher education.

Such high fees are not necessary. They are going up so much because the Government has chosen to cut funding for university teaching by 80% - when other public services are being cut much less. Labour would not make such big cuts to Higher Education teaching grants.
The government’s decision to shift the burden of funding higher education onto students is driven by ideology and not economic necessity. The need to get the deficit down does not justify a long term change in higher education funding which will be bad for universities and not save any public money.

These high fees are not fair because graduates will now have to pay much more over a longer period with middle income earners hit hardest. Graduates will be forced to pay the whole cost of most degrees (to replace the cut in funding), instead of sharing the costs with the state. As a result, graduates will pay much more overall, and pay back for up to 30 years.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Home Heat Helpline

Despite tough economic times and the cold weather, millions of people are missing out on free help with their energy bills because they don’t think the assistance on offer is meant for ‘people like me’, new research commissioned by the Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) has shown.

According to the research, published by the New Policy Institute (NPI) on behalf of the Home Heat Helpline, there are 5.2 million households across the country that could claim free insulation grants and reduced tariffs from their energy companies. But despite the fact that people could typically save £260 a year on their energy bills, only 12% have actually claimed free help.

The Home Heat Helpline (0800 33 66 99) is a free, not for profit phone line set up by Britain’s energy companies to help customers who are struggling to pay their energy bills and keep warm.

Constituents can also access the service online by visiting

The Helpline is managed by the Energy Retail Association and paid for by contributions from Britain’s major energy companies. The service is backed by a range of support organisations including Age UK; Citizens Advice; National Energy Action; Energy Saving Trust; Counsel and Care and Gingerbread.

The Helpline’s trained advisers can provide eligible customers with access to one or more of the following services:

Grants for free cavity wall and loft insulation;
Reduced or ‘social’ tariffs;
The Priority Service Register which provides extra services for people who are elderly or disabled including bills in large text or Braille, security passwords and an annual gas safety check ;
Flexible payment options for customers in fuel debt;
Benefits entitlement checks.

If you would like further information about the Home Heat Helpline and the services that it can provide for your firends or family then feel free to contact them.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

PCSOs are more important than the government is giving them credit for

At the moment, PCSOs are currently 75% funded by the Home Office; because this money is a ring fenced ‘neighbourhood policing grant’, police constables must spend this money on visible policing in the form of PCSOs . This ring fence will expire in March 2011, when the government must decide to whether it wants to renew it or not.

If it does not, and the neighbourhood policing grant becomes is merged into the annual policing budget, the government’s cuts to policing are going to become a real problem. If the Home Office plans go ahead, then the annual police grant is going to be cut by 20%. If this happens then the first thing to go with be the PCSOs, and the second will be the public’s sense of confidence in the police. Remember, the Chief Constable of West Midlands police said that cuts to the police grant of more than 12% would mean “radical” changes to the way neighbourhood are policed.

Policing is an example of the government saving money in the wrong places. The fact is, the public don’t want it, and neither does anyone who seriously looks at the issue. The report of the Home Affairs Select Committee in March this year commended what the previous Labour government were doing with policing, noting in particular the efforts made to “maximise frontline and visible policing”. While the facts have stood still the world has moved around them. While visible policing is still a priority for the public, it is apparently no longer for this government.

Supporting the Campaign for an AIDS Free Generation.

To mark World AIDS day on the 1st of December, I took part in a charity football match to raise awareness of the campaign to end mother to child transmission of AIDS by 2015. Mother to child transmission of AIDS afflicts 500 000 babies each year, but it can be prevented by easily available and low cost drugs.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Grant Shapps says This blog is a must read for housing!

Having bumped into the affable and warm Grant Shapps, housing minister in the tea room I was informed his reading of choice was this blog.

Such high compliments I am sure!

A friendly discourse of course but I am pleased to say Mr Shapps has agreed to visit Hyndburn. During 2011 was as good as he'd say though I must stress - as he reads this - the people of Woodnook cannot wait that long.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Woodnook residents let down by Council

The Council have decided to renege on promises due to Government cuts. Promised purchases of homes on Wilfred Street will now not go ahead. Residents planning on moving have been notified that any agreed in principle sale will now not be continued. One couple had already agreed a purchase price on a house elsewhere.

It’s an absolute disgrace. Cameron promised people that urban regeneration schemes were safe in Tory hands and housing minister Grant Shapps stated that housing market renewal areas were priority schemes that he was impressed with.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Last night’s debate showed a solution to Lancashire’s LEP woes remains distant

In last night’s Westminster Hall debate, Lancashire MPs and the Minister of State for Business and Enterprise – Mark Prisk – discussed the future of Lancashire’s Local Enterprise Partnership bid. I was left feeling optimistic that the possibility of a Pennine-Lancashire LEP, which reflected the economy and wishes of business, is still alive and well.

I secured the debate because the current situation is becoming untenable, both East and West Lancashire are losing out due to the absence of a serious proposal. But I simultaneously wanted to challenge what is becoming the consensus as to how to solve this; the so-called pan-Lancashire proposal.

A pan-Lancashire proposal would not reflect local economic realities, and does not have the support of business or local councils in the region.

As I said last night: “With a population of more than 500,000 people, the area is greater in size than many major UK cities and is similar in size or greater than some of the LEPs already approved. The area is characterised by a strong manufacturing base and entrepreneurial people. More than 21% of employment in the area is in the manufacturing sector, compared with 10% in the UK as a whole. Self-employment rates are significantly higher than regional and national levels. Despite not having a dominant city centre, the area collectively contributes more than £6 billion gross value added to the economy each year.”

There is a clear case to be made for Pennine-Lancashire as a separate LEP, socio-economically, East Lancashire functions well independently of the whole of Lancashire. As the very purpose of a Local Economic Partnership is to replace the arbitrary boundaries of Regional Development Agencies (RDAs) with bodies reflecting ‘natural economies’, a Pennine-Lancashire LEP would fulfil the very purpose of replacing RDAs with LEPs.

Moreover, independent analysis has shown there to be over 200 high growth businesses that have achieved at least three years of continuous growth in East Lancashire, this is a massive success story, and something a Pennine-Lancashire Bid could support, in a way a pan-Lancashire bid would obscure.

But beyond this argument, there are also massive problems with the proposed county-wide bid, namely the fact that it is not county wide.

As I said last night: “I do not accept that there is a pan-Lancashire solution because Blackburn refused such proposals and had the common sense to look south to Manchester. Blackpool is hesitant on the matter. I shall come on to some of the conflicts that exist. We do not have a pan-Lancashire solution; we have a proposal based on three separate areas. The problem is that three proposals are being labelled as one proposal. We will all lose out. There is no pan-Lancashire solution-there never has been and there never will be. There is Lancashire county council, Blackburn borough council and Blackpool borough council.”

This is why I have referred to the pan-Lancashire proposal as a Swiss cheese proposal, because it is full of holes, it is not pan-Lancashire in any recognisable sense, and we must move away from this simplistic and emotive opposition to the breakup of Lancashire.

The fact is economically, Lancashire already functions in two halves. And as I noted in the debate last night, there are already two British Chamber of Commerce accredited Chambers of Commerce operating in Lancashire, one in the East and one in the West.

A pan-Lancashire proposal simply does not reflect the realities and desires of businesses on the ground. Indeed there is cross-party agreement on this, as my Conservative counterpart, the Honourable member for Pendle noted: “Lancashire is an historic county and there are many things that we can do by working together, and I applaud the work of the county council, but if LEPs are supposed to reflect natural economic areas, the case for Pennine Lancashire is fantastic. I hope that the Minister will set a decision date, and I urge him to bring the issue to a head.”

The good news is that the Minister of State has heard the concerns raised by myself and my counterparts in East Lancashire, and is willing to listen to alternatives to the pan-Lancashire proposal. Mr Prisk said: “I am mindful of the challenge.

Overall, we feel that the pan-Lancashire bid has some strong elements, but that the Pennine Lancashire bid also has good arguments in its favour. Neither is without its flaws. Like many hon. Members, I am keen to bring the matter to a conclusion without undue delay, so the Government are today asking partners involved in the competing bids to submit revised proposals no later than 8 December.”

I am glad that the Minister understands the value added by the Pennine-Lancashire bid, and I will continue to lobby for two independent LEPs operating in Lancashire. I am also glad that Mr Prisk sees the urgency in the need to resolve this issue, reflected by the December 8th deadline.

A full transcription of the debate is available at:

Time to end Lancashire’s LEP confusion

Graham Jones MP writes for E-Politix about the potential effects of a pan-Lancashire Local Enterprise Partnership on businesses in the region.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Labour's Stance on Housing Benefit Reforms

Labour is in favour of reforms to Housing Benefit. In fact it is only two years since we introduced the Local Housing Allowance to reform the system and in the March Budget Alistair Darling moved to change the way that rent entitlements were calculated so that big increases in house prices at the very top of the market didn’t skew spending on Housing Benefit.

Government deregulates Houses in Multiple Occupation - Real concerns for streets like Avenue Parade

Last week the Government removed legislation brought in by the last government on licensing and planning of residential properties with 4 or more occupants.

This is a backward step for Haslingden and Hyndburn in the battle to prevent private landlords purchasing family sized terraced properties and creating 4 unwanted and undesireable bedsit flats. They are unwanted and undesireable because the market tends to steer landlords towards larger houses in poorer areas.

Three years ago residents fought a conversion at the bottom of Avenue Parade and whilst car parking provides some planning protection, an explosion of unregulated and HMO's would have considerable adverse consequences.



Graham Jones, MP for Haslingden and Hyndburn today urged volunteers and community sector groups in East Lancashire to take advantage of an offer to meet the Minister for Civil Society and express their concerns over how the government’s cuts are affecting their work.

“Today I received a letter from the Minister for Civil Society with an offer to meet representatives from local voluntary and community sector organisations. In the face of cuts to the government funding which is vital to so many of these groups, I wish to extend this invitation to the volunteers of Haslingden and Hyndburn.”

The future of our local post offices are under threat with the Coalitions Privatisation plans

The Postal Services Bill means post offices could lose all their Royal Mail business (a third of their income)

o Coalition has also dropped Labour’s plans for a Postbank – another LibDem manifesto pledge broken

o The promises of extra government work meaningless without bankable contracts – no guarantee even of getting DWP contract renewed

o With this outlook subpostmasters will be looking to get out as soon as possible, with nothing to attract in new entrants – a backdoor closure programme.

New survey: Police Forces shut door to new recruits

Almost every police force in England and Wales has shut its doors to new recruits, research published by Labour’s Shadow Home Secretary Ed Balls reveals today.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Channel 4 Exclusive: Spending cuts have abandoned tens of thousands of people in derelict areas such as Woodnook

Cathy Newman Political Correspondent
Exclusive: Tens of thousands of homeowners are marooned in derelict streets after the government decided to save money by stopping an ambitious housing regeneration scheme.

Channel 4 Exclusive News Video - 

Graham Jones:  The Government is in chaos on this issue. Any simple introspection reveals a policy of human neglect, political naivety and ideological salesmanship.

Right from the very top there is no clear pathway for progress with the savage regeneration cuts to housing market renewal funding and perverse incentives in the New Homes Bonus Scheme.

The Prime Minister, some might argue cynically, has turned 180 degrees away from every promise he made before the election and his ministerial appointments are standard bearers in the that volte face.

Midstream in to a 15 year clearance programme of some of the worst of the 770,000 unwanted Victorian homes in the North, the Coalition have pulled the plug without notice or any plan B. Contrary, the schemes had been encouraged by positive comments from housing minister Grant Shapps.

Royds Street, Accrington

Swing the axe on all the HMR funding has left councils halfway through schemes and with communities hung literally out to dry with no possible substitute funding. Unwanted and untouchable as far as private finance is concerned, areas partly in private ownership, partly in the local council ownership, blighted with crime misery and excess to local housing need, there are few if any options with Councils facing 30% cuts in budgets.

Areas like Woodnook where midway means the Council own some of boarded up properties whilst many properties in between are not in Council ownership and lie abandoned by their owners. 'Tinned up' either unrentable, unsellable, usually squalid and often the motoring equivalent of a 'write off' they have no value except the estate agents speculative value or worse, the libility of council blight.

Residents living in the remaining houses face at least a decade of misery.
The Conservatives have let down Woodnook which has had £50million of promised regeneration cut. David Cameron on a visit to Liverpool in 2006 'pledged his commitment to regenerating Northern Cities'.
Cameron said "We want to make our cities better for people to live in. It's part of my programme of getting the Conservative Party back in every part of our country and taking cities and urban regeneration seriously."
And in August 2008 David Cameron reaffirmed his commitment to northern housing schemes saying again; “The Conservative Party policy will continue the good work of regenerating cities right across England, including northern cities.” David Cameron MP, 13 August 2008
Broken promises which have left ordinary people living in ghetto's. As one resident put it "although I voted Conservative at the last election and even convinced my friends to as well, I wouldn't vote Conservative again, never."
Grant Shapps housing minister says they can bid the Regional Growth Fund available to every area of the Country. A paltry £1.4billion already ten times oversubscribed on all sorts of schemes from the affluent to deprived, the north to the south.

It's criteria don't even allow for housing regeneration bids and Mr Shapps assertion that the new homes bonus will also fill the gap shows how out of touch he is. For every bonus payment for new build, there is an equal bonus deduction for demolition and Mr Shapps is arguing that in abandoned areas, this will be of benefit? His argument is utterly stupid and clearly does understand what it is he is doing.

Now there will be no demolition and for those homeowners trapped between the rows of privately abandoned properties and those the Council has managed to acquire the next prospects for the next decade seem to nil leaving areas like Woodnook looking like a slum landlord’s ghetto. A paradise for arson, crime, drugs and misery and for those trapped in negative equity, a return to the early 1800's when the working class were dispensable.

It is now paramount we return a Labour Council able to assist in some way with these issues.

BT: a year's free broadband for community groups in Hyndburn

I promised to keep you updated on opportunities for groups in your constituency, so I wanted to let you know that BT has today launched a scheme which allows eligible community groups in your constituency to apply for a year's free broadband.

Hyndburn suffers some of the highest government cuts in Britain? Official DCLG statistics?

George Osborne says 'we are all in this together' and Lord Young tells us 'we have never had so good'.

There is talk of 'leaked' DCLG figures showing that Hyndburn will face a 30 to 38% cut in funding over the CSR period at the very same time as other councils such as South Cambridgeshire, West Oxfordshire, Tonbridge Wells, Uttlesford, Reigate and Banstead, Dartford and Harborough will get a 25-37% increase. 

Many other authorities in the North West are predicted to lose around 25 to 29% - so we appear to be amongst the very hardest hit.

We await with worry but it seems that not only have the LibDems misled the nation but teh Tories are at it too. The Tory Council Leader contuinues to remain silent on the issue and it would appear only the MP's office is 'batting for Hyndburn'.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

New Homes Bonus Scheme - Empty Homes and The Consultation - chaos

On Friday The Coalition launched the consultation for the new homes bonus scheme. This is a totally flawed gimmick that will hit the north hard. It will hit the construction industry hard.

In simple terms, East Lancashire's population is declining very slightly. The proposal pays an allowance from the government to the council for each new additional house built. Why would the Council  build new houses?

Monday, 15 November 2010

Music licensing on Warner Street takes a new turn

Last week I received a letter from the PRS and PPL requesting a meeting to explain music licensing and defending their right to collect royalties from traders on Warner Street.

This week I have recieved correspondence from RadioCentre, a group who identify with the problems experienced by retailers on Warner Street.

As your MP I will be in contact with both sides and have posted the correspondence you will find below to the traders who have made representations to me.

Why the proposed increases in Tuition Fees are abhorent - Labour favours a Graduate Tax

• Labour will be opposing the Government’s proposal to increase fees to £6,000 with a maximum cap of £9,000 a year from the 2012/3 academic year.

• The Government’s proposals will make our universities some of the worst publicly funded and with the highest fees of any public university system in the industrialised world.

Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill - Public Inquiries and Boundaries

Public Inquiries
This note is provides additional information on the value of public inquiries in the boundary review process.

Clause 10 of the Bill proposes to abolish the right to hold a local public inquiry into the recommendations of a Boundary Commission.

Are we all in this together - Tory ministers splash out adorning office walls with art, paintings and carpets


This report makes public each item of artwork that has been moved into ministerial private offices since the Coalition Government took office on 12 May. The information was obtained using the Freedom of Information Act.

The items of artwork listed are all on loan from the Government Art Collection. In total, £19,652 has been spent on transporting, installing and removing works of art from Government Departments since the Coalition took office.

Friday, 12 November 2010

LEPs elsewhere given green light to bid, Lancashire left out in cold as Tory infighting continues

Tory squabbling about who should be in charge of Lancashire's economic regeneration, Pennine Lancashire or Lancashire County Council has hit the hopes of local communities wishing to bid to Government for grants through the regional growth fund.

Defending the Future Funding of the BBC

This week I spoke out in defence the BBC World Service in Parliament and raised concerns over the future funding of the service following the Coalition Government's Comprehensive Spending Review.

The BBC is a fantastic and unique institution and we must do everything possible to preserve the quality of programming and editorial independence which has made it the envy of the world.

Below is a transcript of my addition to the debate in Parliament:
Graham Jones (Haslingden and Hyndburn) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) on securing this vital debate. We all recognise the role of the BBC in the world. The then shadow Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (David Miliband), said that the World service is an independent

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Baroness Warsi, zealous cutter and arch Cameronite walks past Hyndburn's poor

This week Baroness Warsi marched in to Hyndburn. Parliamentary courtesy to the sitting MP reduced to a hastily one line email dispatched the night before with the illuminating text, 'Following Parliamentary protocol (on courtesy), Baroness Warsi will be in Hyndburn tomorrow'.

Courtesy there was though for those of correct political persuasion; Hyndburn's great and blue were attendant with abundant catering awaiting, resplendently organised.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Postal Services Bill 2010

It is my view that Post Offices have been used as a political football, the strongest element of which is the excuse of the pensions deficit created by the Government, as a reason to privatise.

The Post Office is a public service that is prevented from operating on a level playing field subsidising private mail companies with uncommercial and restrictive door step delivery charges.

The Post Office network, described by many Conservatives as a socail service and/or the community hub in many rural communities has been undermined by aggessive market testing and withdrawel of services with no policy for growth of within business, or recognition of it's community role.

I am wholly opposed to privatisation and support the modernisation process within the context of 'more than just a business'.

1) Key Points - Postal Services Bill 2010

• Wholesale privatisation The Conservative – Lib Dem Coalition Government’s plans for the Royal Mail threaten to turn a public service into a private monopoly, with a maximum of 10% reserved for an employee share ownership scheme.

How the Tories have hit pensioners incomes hard

Despite misleading comments towards pensioners such as Nick Cleggs ridiculous Triple Lock Guarantee, pensioners have been hit hard by this Coalition Government. The Tories have had little to say leaving it the the LibDems to do the explaining and carry the can.

To add to this list are Housing Benefit reductions. 2,000,0000 pensioners are currently in receipt of Housing benefit.

The Government’s Boundary Reform Proposals

Executive summary

• The Labour Party agrees with the principle of creating equal-sized seats, which has long been written into the law and which is the main purpose of the Boundary Commissions’ work.

• But the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill pursues the objective of a rigid equalisation of seats in a way that will mean millions of eligible voters – predominantly younger people and those from lower income groups – are ignored from the Boundary Commission calculations, distorting the results.
• The inflexibility of the proposed new rules for drawing parliamentary seats will mean that local authority boundaries will be breached and pointless anomalies created. For example, they will probably make it impossible for local electoral wards to continue as the building blocks for constituencies.

• Boundary Commissions will no longer be required to take account of history, local ties or geography (with the exception special protections for seats in the Scottish Highlands and Islands) as the electoral quota will trump all other considerations.

Strategic Defence and Security Review Debate

There are 9 key points:
• National security is the primary responsibility of government, and the Coalition’s decision to conduct a strategic defence review is welcome, a commitment that Labour had also made in our 2010 manifesto. Labour will work responsibly and in co-operation with the government on all areas concerning national security and the welfare of our armed forces.

• The Government’s number one security and defence concern is the war in Afghanistan. The Government has the Labour Party’s full support in pursuing military operations complemented by a political strategy for reconciliation and lasting peace. We will work constructively where possible and scrutinise where necessary. We welcome the Government’s commitment to ensuring the SDSR will not impact on frontline operations in Afghanistan. We pay tribute to all men and women serving overseas.

Young People's Trust for the Environment & Naomi Wilkinson & Dermot O'Leary

I met X Factor celebrity Dermot O'Leary last night at a Reception held in the Palace of Westminster. Together with Naomi Wilkinson (presenter of BBC's 'Live n Deadly')  in Parliament last week to raise awareness of the work of the Young People's Trust for the Environment, of which they are both committed Presidents of.

Guests at the event, which was hosted by Jessica Morden MP, heard about how the Young People's Trust is supporting and encouraging young people to carrying out a huge range of brilliant work to help protect the environment for the future.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

National Housing Federation has today slammed the Government’s decision to cut the affordable housebuilding budget

The National Housing Federation has today slammed the Government’s decision to cut the affordable housebuilding budget by 60% – with ministers looking for social housing tenants to pay much higher rents to make up for the shortfall.

Police Officers - Ed Balls on cuts to Police numbers

Responding to reports that three police forces have been given approval to forcibly retire officers who have thirty years or more service, the shadow home secretary Ed Balls said:
“The Tory-Lib Dem government is putting chief constables and police authorities in an impossible position.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Residents’ fears for Accrington ‘ghetto’ areas

Residents’ fears for Accrington ‘ghetto’ areas (From Lancashire Telegraph)

Back in 2004 I spoke about the wreckless risk the Council was undertaking to only regenerate one area at once. The Government had highlighted many areas the Council should have intervened in and the Council paid lip service.

Crucially Woodnook, probably the most run down area was told by the Council it had to wait seven years until 2011 but only after a presentation that alluded to immediate funding. The balance of the Council then was Conservative 18- Labour 17.

The Government last week cut the £9mllion as year housing market renewal funding with littl e money having beeing spent in Woodnook. The Council Leader talks of new funding bids but this is back to square one, if not further back with a government hell bent on cutting spending at all costs.

The outlook for Woodnook has never been bleaker.

Success: Minister accepts empty properties should be included in New Homes Bonus Scheme

The Empty Homes Agency and myself have lobbied Housing Minister Grant Shapps several times to make the case that empty homes should be included in the New Homes Bonus Scheme.

I caught Grant behind the speakers chair on Tuesday night and he has accepted our campaign to include empty homes is worthwhile and they will now be part of the scheme.

I have raised issues about this particular scheme on the floor of the house of commons.

This is great news for Haslingden and Hyndburn which has some 2500 empties and therre is no need to build new homes with some exceptions. Elderly and displaced social housing.

Further consultation will take place and we will be campaigning to ensure the scheme makes sense and works for the people of the area and of areas blighted by empty properties.

Parliamentary Question : Tenants in Private Rented Sector hardly ever get their day in court

The number of defendants proceeded against at magistrates courts and found guilty at all courts for the unlawful eviction of an occupier and the unlawful harassment of an occupier under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 in England and Wales from 2004 to 2008 (latest available) is given in the following tables. Figures are provided by police force area as the Ministry of Justice court proceedings database does not hold details of offences by authority area.

Data for 2009 are planned for publication on 21 October 2010.
Court proceedings data held centrally in an aggregated format do not separately identify individual offences under the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Similarly it is not possible to separately identify specified offences under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System, and the Housing Act 2004.
Information under the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998 is not collated centrally by the Ministry of Justice.

Parliamentary Question Police: Accountability - Costs of Elected Police Commissioners spirals

In other words it is anoither cost the Government hadn't considered and will have to paid for. Add in salaries, entourage, the cost of keeping the Police Board, renamed Panel and other huget election costs. £1.4million in Lancashire just for the voting procedure plus £1.4million recall or Council Tax referendum.

Written answers and statements, 11 October 2010 Next answer »

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what her estimate is of the cost of (a) administration of and (b) distribution of election literature free of charge in relation to the election of a police commissioner for Lancashire; and who will meet these costs.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 11 October 2010, c206W)

Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
The Government are still consulting on the detail of the policy for Police and Crime Commissioners, and no decision has yet been made on these issues.

Transport: Bury-Rawtenstall Railway Line

Transport: Written answers and statements, 11 October 2010 

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)

To ask the Secretary of State for Transport if he will take steps to ensure that the development of the Bury to Rawtenstall rail extension proceeds.

Hansard source (Citation: HC Deb, 11 October 2010, c46W)

Theresa Villiers (Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport; Chipping Barnet, Conservative)

I would be happy to work with Rossendale borough council, Lancashire county council and Greater Manchester Passengers Transport Executive on the Bury to Rawtenstall rail extension scheme should studies that they are currently undertaking confirm that a new rail service is the best way to meet the transport needs of the corridor between Bury and Rawtenstall.

However, all programmes will be subject to affordability and constraints of the outcome of the autumn Spending Review.

New Homes Bonus Scheme in chaos - Lobbying for concessions and clarifications

I have urged Grant Shapps, Housing Minsiter on the floor of the House of Commons to resolve the problem of removing funding from Councils, only to give it back to them as housing incentives in the New Homes Bonus Scheme.

Hyndburn Council grants planning permissions and Lancashire County Council has the biggest budget and would have seen the lions share of funding removed  funding from for example childrens services, to pay for house building in wealthier areas of Lancashire (raher than Hyndburn) where housing demand is greatest and a unfair extra hit on County Councils who fo not grant new house building permissions.

The minister has given way to a 80:20 split after lobbying. There is also the inclusion of empty homes in the New Homes Bonus Scheme is welcome so long as they are classified as affordable, with a 'national Council Tax rate' incentive rather than local rates. Also welcome is the 125% incentive on affordable homes.

Paying Housing Benefit direct to tenants

There is a conflict of opinion ojn this issue. Drug users who don't pay the landlord. Landlords who like direct payments becvause they don't have to listen to tenants complain about broken heating, damp, infestations or dangerous electrics.

And strategically, landlords are free from responsibility to upkeep the property assured of income, mop up poperties in the cheapest, most run down areas to minimise their cost base and maximise their profits.

Direct payments to tenants means choosy tenants who have the power to demand better housing, have the control to terminate tenancies on their terms and relocate to better housing.

My view if not apparent is that payments should go to tenants and landlords shopuld be held more accountable by having to respond more procatively to tenants requirements. Landlords can after around eight week scan seek direct payments to them if there are arrears.

As part of this debate I have published the House of Commons Library Notes on the matter which are very informative.

House of Commons Library Note, Standard Note: SN/SP/3211
Last updated: 29 October 2010, Author: Wendy Wilson

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

In conversation with the Housing Minister Grant Shapps about investment in Hyndburn

I managed to grab a conversation with Grant Shapps, the housing minister last night.

In summary;
- there will be no advantage to housing market renewal areas bidding to the new Regional Growth Fund in 2012.

- housing market renewal ends in 2011 and there is a 12 month gap even if a bid was successful.

- after lobbying, the new homes bonus scheme will include empty properties - consultation to which I will be responding is coming forward this Friday.

- the new homes bonus scheme will be based on average rateable values offering (as Mr Shapps suggested) an advantage to northern towns.

- the empty homes £100m fund is also going out to consultation this Friday?

I will be leading the charge to return government investment in Hyndburn. Sadly I have had no support from the ruling Conservative Group on the Council.

Private Landlords leaving many of their tenants in fuel poverty - Government to act

As part ofthe Governments 'Green Deal', private sector landlords who do not take up the governments free offer to insulate their houses can be fined by local authorities £5,000.

Hyndburn has chronic housing problems in areas of concentrated private rented accocomdation. Fuel poverty in Peel and Barnfield is the highest in the Borough.

Supporting Hyndburn Citizens Advice Bureau

I am a supporter of voluntary and charitable organisations and it was a pleasure to speak at a recent CAB event. They receive £56,000 from Hyndburn Council and the Governments 28% cuts to local authorities will mean that voluntary services have their grants reduced.
On behalf of myself and the Board of Trustees, I’d be grateful if you could pass on our thanks to Grahm for your speech at our 70th anniversary event last Friday. It went very well and we got a lot of positive feedback and your attendance certainly made an impact. I really appreciated your presence and the fact that you stayed around to talk to people afterwards despite the demands on his time. It’s good to know that we have your support in such uncertain times.

Hyndburn CAB, New Era Centre, Paradise Street

Lancashire County Council to make £142million of cuts - End of LCC as it stands now


COUNTY council services are set for unprecedented cuts of up to £142 million after bosses revealed a massive financial black hole.

The worst-case scenario figures represents 20 per cent of Lancashire’s budget. The best case would still see £79million of spending slashed.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Urgent Business Question - Helping Hyndburn Exports

Last week I took the opportunity to stand up in the House of Commons and ask for a statement on helping British exports fight subidies other Governments provide to their companies.

In this case the Germans who are offering low loans to Russian companies in return for buying rival German machinery when British is best, but factoring in the cheap German loans is more expensive. The good news is that through hard work of one or two individuals in the Export Credits Guarantee Department, Hyndburn may have secured a large export order.

Britains Export Credits Guarantee Department has been excellent at trying to resolve the matter for two comapnies in the area. However there is no policy and it is all being done
1) by the seat of our pants;
2) in a complex manner;
3) with a laissez faire principle where our banks (rather than Government) seem unwilling to participate in the lending process.
British exports and Hyndburn manufacturing are of vital importance to this area and they are a top priority to me because they represent well paid, highly skilled jobs.

Graham Jones (Haslingden & Hyndburn): Will the Leader of the House ask the Secretary of State to make a statement on the Export Credits Guarantee Department strategy on supporting British exports?

I have two companies in my constituency trying to export high-value products to Russia—Emerson and Renwick and Grahame and Brown. German Government grants are undercutting the loan value and it is impossible for us to export in those conditions so we do not have a level playing field. I hope that the Secretary of State can give a statement on the issue.

George Young, Leader of the House
I am entirely in favour of firms in the hon. Gentleman's constituency winning export orders and providing jobs in his constituency. I will raise with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills the issue of there perhaps being an unlevel playing field and ask him to write to the hon. Gentleman.

Tory Council takes no action against cuts in Hyndburn

Tory Lead Hyndburn Borough Council Makes No Objection to Cuts In Westminster

A Parliamentary Question asked by Graham Jones, MP for Haslingden and Hyndburn, has revealed that Hyndburn Borough Council has made no official objection to the ongoing cuts in public spending.
I have asked the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, if he had received any representation from the Tory lead council on the issue of cuts. The Department revealed that it had not.

I have written to Tory Leader of Hyndburn Borough Council, Councillor Peter Britcliffe to ask why the council has failed to represent the interests of the people of Hyndburn and to invite the Tory Leader to meet with him in Westminster to discuss how the Council can better represent the borough in Parliament on this issue.
This comes as the Office of Budget Responsibility, which was created by George Osborne, has today revealed that cutting too much too soon will actually cost £700m in extra dole payments.
It is absolutely vital that the voice of our local communities, through their elected representatives, is heard in Government.
We are seeing some of the deepest cuts to be seen in a generation. The cuts to public spending have left the poor languishing while the rich have barely felt the pinch of the recession. I have seen the devastating effects of these cuts already as families struggle to make ends meet. For Hyndburn Borough Council not to have made any representation to the Government on this issue is utterly disgraceful.
I have written to the Leader of Council several times in the hope that together we can put a good case forward in Westminster. To arrange meetings with ministers. All I have been offered is a meeting at Scaitcliffe House at a time to suit the Council Leader. It just gives the impression they aren't bothered about Hyndburn.

Times have changed. Back in 2005, the Council Leader was leading the charge that 'Hyndburn was being shortchanged by Government', over what is now a paltry £300k. The Council Leader marched to London demanding a rebate. my predessor Greg Pope facilated Westmninster meetings and the opposition Labour leader jopined in the cross party appeal in Parliament.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pennine Reach: A scheme still alive and kicking despite media reports as to it's premature demise.

Whilst having a deferential opinion on the wider Pennine Reach scheme, my continued interest lies in seeing a new bus station in Accrington. A major part of the Pennine Reach scheme put forward by business leaders.

The death of Pennine Reach is much exaggerated. Its architects, the business community silent as Council officials scramble towards words of condolence on its apparent demise.

The Government is giving up on growth

John Denham MP, Labour's Shadow Business Secretary, responding to the Government’s Local Growth White Paper, said:

“Just when action to promote jobs and growth is essential, the Government has shown it has no real plan for regional growth. The Regional Growth Fund is a pathetic fig leaf to cover the absence of any plan for growth.

NHS Ambulance Trust: Hyndburn MP visits Ambulance Service

Press release from the North West Ambulance Trust.

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones paid a visit to North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust (NWAS) on Friday 29 October to hear from staff about their work.

Mr. Jones met with senior representatives from NWAS to discuss the Trust’s progress and future plans before being given a tour of Lancashire’s emergency control centre in Broughton near Preston to see first hand how 999 calls are handled.

NWAS’s Chief Executive, Darren Hurrell said: “We invited Graham to visit us to make sure he is fully informed on our developments, initiatives and the steps we are taking to provide an excellent emergency care and patient transport service to people in the North West.

Landlord Licensing: Burnley landlord fined £2,000

A CRACKDOWN on unsuitable landlords in an area of Burnley has led to one property magnate being fined £2,000 by magistrates.

Landlords who own a house in the Trinity ward have been warned that they need to be licensed by the borough council.

Under a selective licensing scheme, housing bosses have been trying to weed out unsuitable landlords and ensure basic standards for rented properties.


Transport: Railways: Bury

Written answers and statements, 19 July 2010

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Transport what recent progress he has made on the Bury to Rawtenstall rail extension project.

Theresa Villiers
(Minister of State (Rail and Aviation), Transport; Chipping Barnet, Conservative)
The Bury to Rawtenstall rail extension project is being promoted by Rossendale borough council in partnership with Lancashire county council, Bury council, Rochdale metropolitan borough council and Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive (GMPTE).

GMPTE has commissioned a study from Atkins to look at public transport on the A56-M66 corridor between Bury and East Lancashire which includes the reinstatement of commuter services between Rawtenstall and Manchester as an option. This study is due to be completed in October 2010.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Housing Market Renewal axed

The Government despite the empty noises in support of housing market renewal have axed funding from April 2011.

After cuts, HMR funding has been shifted to the national regional growth fund open to bids from any area for any project ending ring fencing for HMR areas and direct housing funding.

Post Office privitisation is wrong - it is a service, not just a business

The Postal Services Bill 2010 was debated in the House of Commons today. The Bill would see amongst other reforms the Privatisation of Royal Mail, something to which both Labour and many Lib Dem MPs have for a long time been opposed.

It was Labour MP's who scuppered plans by the Gordon Brown to move towards a private sector solution in the last parliament.

The current 'Conservative Party' Bill would end the link between Royal Mail and local Post Offices and has raised concern over the future of many post offices across the country.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Panorama - Rogue Landords ripping off the taxpayer

Last nights Panorama on poor landlords who are using Housing Benefit to rip off the taxpayer was only one side of the horror story.

The other was the misery of the victims. Helpless, sentenced to deprivation by profit for uncaring slum landlords.

Last nights programme may have focused on Newcastle and Tameside but it could well have been Hyndburn and whilst the BBC were innacurate in explaining the legislation, the thrust was correct.

Panorama on bbc website
Panorama on BBC iPlayer- The_Great_Housing_Rip_Off/

Monday, 25 October 2010

INSIDE HOUSING: Planning shake up sees 300,000 homes axed by The Government

4 October 2010 | By Rhiannon Bury

The latest figures from Tetlow King Planning, for the National Housing Federation, suggest the number could reach between 280,000 and 300,000 by this time next year.

PANORAMA TONIGHT: Housing Rip-Off - Housing benefit going to bad landlords

From the BBC website

There are fears public cuts will force people into substandard rentals.
Reporter John Sweeney discovers that by one estimate housing benefit money totalling as much as £3.5bn a year is going to private landlords deemed bad or neglectful.

In his analysis, Sweeney says the result is that some of Britain's poor are now living in 21st century slums.

BBC Website Panorama Story in detail

Watch Panorama - The Great Housing Rip Off?  - Monday (tonight), 8.30 BBC One

Stronger sentencing has reduced crime

Hearing constantly the flow of negative statistics about reoffending rates amongst prisoners I tabled a question on reoffending rates for offenders given community sentencing.

The table of evidence is not conclusive however it highlights high rates reoffending for those given non custodial sentences.

My enquiry was picked up by the Mail and carried on the front page a week last Friday.

Double Click to Enlarge

East Lancashire's BAE Systems in 'mixed deal'

From the Lancashire Evening Post.

AROUND 2,000 jobs at BAE Systems in East Lancashire were yesterday effectively safeguarded – but hundreds more have been placed at risk.

The Government announced plans to order more Eurofighter Typhoons, all but securing the future of around 2,000 engineers who work on the project at the defence giant’s Samlesbury plant.

But 1,000 Samlesbury employees working on the rear fuselage of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter face uncertainty as ministers look set to slash the UK’s order of the aircraft.
On Friday I wrote to Liam Fox for urgent clarification of MoD orders for the JSF.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Tories gerrymander constituency boundaries to fix next general election

As many people will be aware, The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats this week have been pushing through the Constituency Boundaries Bill to reduce Parliament from 654 MPs to just 600 and equalise all the seats to around 76,000.

Hyndburn as you can see from the table below would lose Great Harwood but gain parts of Blackburn and Burnley.
Table at foot contains the Electoral Reform Societies (Lancashire) interpretation of the new constitutency boundaries (by ward) for 2015 General Election.

Councils power to reclaim tax payer's money on delapidated buildings under threat

Written answers and statements, 19 October 2010

The Government is considering removing Councils power to reclaim tax payer's money on delapidated buildings from forcing the property to be sold so the money can be reclaimed from absent owners.

This would seriously limit the Council's scope to tackle blighted buildlings knowing any money spent could not be recovered.

I hope the Government, quite rightly in trying to protect owner occupiers finds two solutions that serve best the needs of both scenarios.
Photo of Graham Jones
Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
To ask the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government what his policy is on 'enforced sale' (on delapidated buildings the Council has had to repair) on unsecured debts of less than £25,000; and what assessment he has made of the likely effect this would have on bringing (a) empty and (b) visually-blighted residential properties back into use.
Photo of Andrew Stunell
Andrew Stunell (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Communities and Local Government; Hazel Grove, Liberal Democrat)
The Ministry of Justice has responsibility for the legislation which would be affected by this coalition agreement proposal.

Officials in Communities and Local Government are working closely with the Ministry of Justice to ensure the right balance is achieved between protecting homeowners from losing their home as a result of modest unsecured debts, and maintaining the powers local authorities need to tackle dangerous or visually blighted properties, including empty homes.

Shelters Response to the Spending Cuts

Housing has been the biggest loser in the CSR. The coalition, like previous governments, has failed to meet the aspirations of a generation of people who are seeking decent, secure, affordable housing.

This briefing provides a summary of what has been announced, the likely impacts of these announcements, and Shelter’s response.

Shelters response in summary

The fight to save our PCSO's

Below is a letter sent to civic leaders in Lancashire regarding the recent cuts (CSR) and the impact on PCSO's. I have written today to the Minister to point out how this Government is failing the people by going soft on crime.

Last Friday's Daily Mail carried a front page article which I instigated highlighting the dangers of relaxing a tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime stance that has seen crimnal behaviour for the first time in 60 years fall and by a staggering 40% under Labour.

PCSO's are the backbone of the police service and that 40% reduction in crime and this is acknowledged in Pennine and Easter Divisions (broadley East Lancashire) by Divisional Commanders when I have spoken with them.

Without PCSOs the vital intelligence the police gather with go from a flood to a trickle. CID, Environmental agencies, Council's rely on partnership intelligence. Joined up thinking as part a 'total place' strategy preventing criminals from evading relevant authorities as easily and helping develop a broader picture of just who they are and what they are doing. Drug users tend not to put out their wheelie bins for example.

New Homes Bonus Scheme in Chaos, Housing Market Renewal to continue?

Photo of Graham JonesGraham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
Will the Minister not accept that the new homes bonus scheme is in chaos? Can he explain what the incentive will be for local planning authorities, which according to the policy that the Government have set out will receive only 15% of the receipts, with 85% being returned to the shire authorities outside unitary areas, which are not involved in the planning process? Will the incentive be 15%, or will it be greater?
Photo of Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps (Minister of State (Housing and Local Government), Communities and Local Government; Welwyn Hatfield, Conservative)
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is so confused about this. It is actually a very simple scheme, unlike ones such as the local housing delivery planning grant, which his Government used. That was so complex that literally nobody understood it or had any idea how much money would come in. Our scheme is simple. For every home built, there will be match funding for six years at the actual band price at which it is built. By the way, if it is affordable housing, 125% of receipts will be provided. We will consult on the split between district and upper-tier authorities, but something like 80% is likely to go to the planning authority. That will be a massive incentive for this country to get out and build the homes that Labour failed to build during its 13 years.
Photo of Gordon Birtwistle
Gordon Birtwistle (Burnley, Liberal Democrat)
Can the Minister confirm that housing market renewal pathfinder funding will continue in the short or medium term, to enable the removal of all unwanted and uninhabited properties in the pathfinder areas? The acquisition and removal of those properties will clear inner areas of our towns and cities to enable the new affordable homes that we desperately need.
Photo of Grant Shapps
Grant Shapps (Minister of State (Housing and Local Government), Communities and Local Government; Welwyn Hatfield, Conservative)
I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman. I have visited pathfinder schemes on many occasions, and some were very good and some had some problems. We will complete all the committed HMR schemes, and we will then roll the funding up into the regional development fund to continue the good work.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Speaking in favour of votes at 16.

The extension of votes to 16 year olds is something that I passionately believe in. Like others I too was 16 once. MPs have claimed that young people would rather be on the X-Box than putting an X in the box but I’m not sure I agree. Important decisions are being made right now that will affect the future of young people in this country and I think they should be allowed to have their say.

Here is a short snippet of my speech in the House of Commons on this issue:

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
This is a unique and momentous moment, as it could open the door to votes for 16-year-olds in all elections. I would welcome that. We are in danger of marginalising young people, and we have to give considerable thought to which way we vote on this proposal, because we do not want to send out the wrong message to them. When I look around at young people, I see that they are growing up faster, certainly in my area.

We have a more diverse economy and young people have different career prospects: they expect to change jobs several times, and they are more interested in the future than they ever have been. A more uncertain future gives them more interest in the changing job situation. In my constituency, 15, 16 and 17-year-olds want to be involved in that debate. We see it in the schools and colleges where all the young people are involved in debating-more so than I can ever remember in my lifetime, and perhaps before that on the basis of what I hear from other people.

Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)
I do not mean to disparage 16 and 17-year-olds, but most of them want to be on the Xbox, not putting in the X in the box. Since the hon. Gentleman has been a Member of Parliament, how many 16 and 17-year-olds have written to him demanding the franchise at 16?

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
That is a very cynical and jaundiced view to take towards 16 and 17-year-olds. The hon. Gentleman will not get many votes from 16 and 17-year-olds in his constituency, and he is probably in desperate need of some election training. However, I will leave that to his constituency: if he is going to lose it to 16 and 17-year-olds, I am quite happy about that.

Young people in general want to be involved in politics and take more interest in it. With issues such as climate change, politics has jumped a generational gap to 15, 16 and 17-year-olds, who are very interested in that because it is their planet that is being polluted. It is not just about climate change or jobs, but a series of issues that people of an increasingly young age seem to be gravitating towards. For example, there are big issues of teenage pregnancy. Decisions are being made about them in their formative adult years, and they want to be involved.

It is good to hear that young people are joining trade unions; Labour Members certainly welcome that. The TV debates encourage us to extend the franchise-I think that we all agree that young people in our constituencies were energised by them. The medium and the mode meant that young people could see politics in a different light, and there was an increase in interest and participation. I went around the polling stations in Hyndburn when I was elected, and many more young people were in the polling booths. I think that that contributed to the higher turnout at the election.

Let me extend the argument about extending the franchise, because I believe that it should apply to all elections. We have a by-election in Baxenden on 18 November, and our candidate, if I can plug him, David Hartley, was 18 only days before nomination. He cannot suddenly have become politically aware; he has built up to that. We should encourage young people into politics, and it is good that a young person has come forward. We must be clear that to be politically aware at 18 requires a build-up of knowledge, and 16 and 17-year-olds should participate.

Although the amendment is about the AV referendum, the principle is clearly broad. It is a watershed moment because if we give 16 and 17-year-olds the vote for the referendum, it opens up the argument for the future. Let us consider tuition fees, which my hon. Friend Chris Bryant mentioned. That assists the argument for extending the franchise. Parliament is discussing the differential charging of students. We could go back to the old debate about taxation without representation, but if we intend to subject young people to differential charging based on background, not ability to pay, we should extend the franchise to them. Today could be the day we start extending it.

The major argument against extending the franchise is lack of knowledge and experience among young people, but that is ageist and not based on young people's cognitive processes.

Charles Walker (Broxbourne, Conservative)
I know that the hon. Gentleman is making a heartfelt plea, and I quite like children-I have three of my own. Why cannot we leave them alone to let them get on with being children? They are not obsessed with getting the franchise. Sixteen and 17-year-olds want to chase girls, drink beer and have a good time. Let us stop accelerating the ageing process.

Graham Jones (Hyndburn, Labour)
Given that the hon. Gentleman is now encouraging his constituents aged 17 and under to vote against the Conservative party, I hope that he has more children.

It is claimed that young people do not have the experience and knowledge to vote. When my grandmother was 95, she had serious Alzheimer's, yet she still held the right to vote. Nearly all young people are far more informed than my grandma was in her later years, but we never thought about taking the vote from her. Saying that young people are not experienced or knowledgeable enough is not a strong enough argument. It does not reflect real life or how people experience it.

Indeed, I believe that 16 and 17-year-olds are often in a better position to make an informed judgment. There is no principled or consistent argument that justifies denying the vote to young people.