Thursday, 20 December 2012

Rock the House 2013

I am calling on local musicians and small venues in Makerfield to enter Rock the House 2013, Parliament’s biggest competition which celebrates up-and-coming British artists and the live music venues that support them.

Applications opened on November 30th 2012, and will close on March 1st 2013.

The competition is open to all music lovers who fall into the following categories: solo artist, band, under 19 solo artist, under 19 band, and best small live music venue.

Rock the House is a great opportunity for aspiring artists of any age looking to find a way into the industry. I am excited to listen to the tracks that local musicians can come up with, and hope to receive as many submissions as possible.

Mike Weatherley MP, founder of Rock the House said, “This competition is the perfect opportunity for talented artists to promote their music, and win some life-changing prizes in the process - from guitars and amps, to slots at gigs and festivals. It will also put MPs in touch with musicians and small venues in their constituencies. We’ve discovered some great talent in the past, and can’t wait to see who we find this year!”

Brian May, Queen guitarist said, “It is a great honour to back Rock the House. The UK is a hotbed of musical talent from all genres, and if the British music industry is going to grow and thrive then musicians need to be able to make a living from selling their product."

“This competition gives all musicians, from all backgrounds the chance to get out there and make live music – one of the things Brits do best.”

I will nominate my favourite from each category, after which a judging panel made of international music industry experts will chose the finalists. The finalists will compete in a live battle of the bands, and the winner of each category will then perform live on the balcony of the House of Commons on the evening of the 26th of June 2013.

Rock the House was founded by Mike Weatherley MP to raise awareness of intellectual property theft and live music issues in Parliament.  In 2011, the competition was part of a campaign which successfully persuaded the Government that venues with a capacity of 200 people will no longer need a license for live music.

The launch party on Monday 26th November saw the first ever amplified gig in the State Speaker’s Room with British rock band the Young Guns, Rob Damiani from Don Brocoand Bernie Marsden from Whitesnake attending the launch.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Flood Relief for homes in Platt Bridge


Learning about the scheme design with UU engineers
I visited the site of a £700,000 investment in flood relief to see how work is progressing on a sewer scheme in Platt Bridge on a cold and wet Friday morning (14th Dec).

I was given a tour of the construction work by United Utilities engineers at the Liverpool Road site.
   
The water company is laying a huge new sewer through the open land at Amberswood to store more water during heavy rain and take the pressure off the main sewer in Liverpool Road.

A section of the new sewer piping
(1.5m in diameter)
 which will store excess rainwater during heavy rainfall
   




United Utilities project coordinator Gareth Jones told me that this scheme is about bringing peace of mind to local families who have had to put up with the misery of sewer flooding. he confirmed that work is progressing well and that this was a good example of how United Utilities were investing the money from customers' water bills to improve services in local communities.  

Work began at the beginning of November and I visited during phase II of the works which is the biggest part of the construction process with the laying of approx 60m of 1.5m diameter sewer pipes to store rainwater following prolonged rainfall.

The tour demonstrated the size of the works that United Utilities are undertaking and because this particular scheme is gravity fed, then there is no need for complex electrical or engineering solutions, which means that once complete ongoing maintenance is kept to a minimum providing value for money.

The Makerfield constituency has suffered the misery of flooding too often in the past decade so I warmly welcome schemes of this type which will take the blight of homes in this area.


Tory Britain shame on Housing and Rough Sleeping



The latest figures from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that rough sleeping in the North West has risen by a shocking 49% and the Tories have an equally poor record on statutory homelessness which is up by almost a third since they came to power in 2010.

These failures are a consequence of their disastrous economic policies - in its bid to cut the deficit too far and too fast, the government slashed the budget for building new affordable homes by 60%. They have also cut local council budgets by 28% nationally, putting real strain on many rough sleeping support programmes across the country.

It is an absolute tragedy that in the weeks before Christmas so many people will be sleeping rough. But it is no accident; they are paying the price for David Cameron’s failed economic and housing policies.

House building is down, homelessness is up, we have a mortgage market where people can’t get mortgages and rents are unaffordable for too many in the private rented sector.

And the most heartbreaking consequences of the Government’s failure on housing is the rise in homelessness and rough sleeping.

What we need is a One Nation approach to the economy and housing, including genuinely bringing forward infrastructure investment, a temporary VAT cut and a plan to fund a real increase in social homes and a jobs guarantee for young people. The government might then be better placed to tackle the biggest housing crisis in a generation and be able to help all those sleeping rough out in the cold this Christmas.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Spirit of Christmas alive and well in Ashton in Makerfield

Nobody in Ashton in Makerfield should have to go without food this Christmas thanks to the incredible generosity of local church goers in the town.

A Food bank scheme launched in September is gearing up for the festive period, providing food and drink to hard-up families who would otherwise have to go hungry.

The church going community's donations has exceeded expectations and I joined Andrew Bullen (Oasis Community Food Bank Co-ordinator) today to publicise the food bank’s presence in the town.  

The non-perishable items, which vary from cereal, coffee, tea to tinned fruit/soups and pasta sauces, will be distributed from the Food bank’s stall (provided free by Wigan Council) located on Ashton Market to anyone in dire need of help.

Supported by local churches of various denominations has allowed the food bank to operate every Friday morning. Together with the food donations from the recent Harvest Festivals, Andrew Bullen expects donations to cover the festive period.

The Food bank is open to residents who live in the Ashton, North Ashton, Garswood, Bryn and Golborne areas of the Borough.

Recipients are referred to the food bank by partner organisations that have identified them as being in crisis such as;

• Job Centre Plus
• Wigan Independent Advisory Centre (WIAC)
• Wigan & Leigh Citizens Advice Bureau
• Ashton Clinic
• Police
• Local GPs

It is not intended that recipients will become permanently dependent upon the scheme; each entitled to a maximum of three parcels while their present emergency situation is addressed.

It's a sad reflection on the state of our economy that food banks are needed in 21st century Britain and for many people this Christmas will be a difficult time.

I was delighted to meet with volunteers to hear more about their important work helping families in need.  Christmas is a time for families to come together and celebrate, but the reality is that many people are suffering as the poor economic outlook continues to bite.

Andrew Bullen, Oasis Food Bank Co-ordinator said, “We are extremely grateful to Yvonne for the support she gave to us in getting the Food bank off the ground and for the further help, advice and donations she has given that have played a part in our success."

“And of course without the wonderful weekly donations that continue to be provided by the local church members, none of this would have been possible.”

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Chance to be Chancellor

I am supporting ‘Chance to be Chancellor’ and am calling on all young people across Wigan to take part.

Organised by educational charity Citizenship Foundation in partnership with Aviva, Chance to be Chancellor is a part of 'Paying for It', an educational programme that provides a free range of resources to develop economic awareness amongst young people.

Chance to be Chancellor is open to all 14-18 year olds and the initiative challenges participants to grapple with issues that face the Chancellor ahead of the official Budget in mid-March 2013. Students are required to learn about, and share their opinions on, a selection of possible policies detailed on the Chance to be Chancellor website.
 
Students can also enter a national competition by creating a short video (max 90 seconds) arguing their choices with a chance to win an iPad. All entries will be collated to produce the ‘Youth Budget’, a report launched in anticipation of the official budget to give the voters of the future a platform for their views on important economic issues.

Chance to be Chancellor is a fantastic way of bringing the current economic challenges into schools in Wigan. It’s also a great opportunity for students to have their say on what they think should be included in Budget 2013.
 
I encourage as many students as possible to get involved and submit their ideas on how to tackle the current economic challenges; a particularly difficult challenge in the current climate.  I wish all entrants the best of luck.

Chance to be Chancellor 2013 runs until Friday 15 February 2013.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The Christmas spirit marks the inaugural Makerfield Veterans’ Luncheon


Pic with me from l-r: Mr John Hurst, The Mayor - Cllr Myra Whiteside,
Cllr Clive Morgan,  Mr Lawrence Powers & Mr Mel Lee

On Saturday, 8th December I hosted my inaugural Christmas Veterans’ Luncheon at St Matthews Parish Hall, Highfield  and was joined by over 170 veterans from across the Makerfield Constituency.

I was also delighted to welcome special guests to the luncheon including the Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Myra Whiteside and her consort, Mr John Hurst as well as Sir Ian McCartney and Lady Ann McCartney.

Councillors from across the political spectrum representing wards in Makerfield were also present.

Cllr Clive Morgan,  a former Welsh Guard and veteran of the 1982 Falklands War, was the MC for the day. The Vicar of St Matthews Parish, Revd Bob Pearson was on hand to open the event with prayers followed by the Exhortation led by Mr Mel Lee (Royal British Legion) and Mr Lawrence Powers (Burma Star Assoc).

Tucking into award winning pies kindly provided by event sponsor Pooles Pies guests were also entertained by the music of Mr Tony Bostock, including a medley of wartime anthems and music hall favourites for everyone to sing along to.

At the event, and on behalf of the whole community across the Makerfield constituency, I wanted to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution made by the men and women present both at home and abroad. It was also fitting that as we approach Christmas, we celebrate the role that veterans continue to play in community life.

Neil Court-Johnston, Chief Executive of Pooles Pies said, “Pooles is delighted to be able to support the Christmas Veterans’ Luncheon with our award winning pies. We are proud to support the men and women who have served their country and our community.  We extend best wishes for the festive season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year."

Friday, 30 November 2012

A special school assembly for Christmas Card Competition Winner

Today, I proudly announced the winners of my 2012 Christmas Card Design Competition at Hope Special School, Kelvin Grove, Marus Bridge.

Joining me at the presentation was Headteacher, Mr Peter Dahlstrom, pupils, teachers and parents.

Now in its third year, the competition attracted entries from across the constituency with all of the designs being carefully judged by me.

The winning design will be sent to a number of distinguished people in the political world, including both the Prime-Minister, David Cameron and the Leader of the Opposition -  Ed Miliband. The card will also be sent to individuals across the public and private sector in the Wigan Borough including the Borough’s first citizen and Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Myra Whiteside.

It was an absolute pleasure to present Kacy, Maisey and Libby with their prizes. It was a great design and they have clearly hit the right note, so I’m sure people will enjoy receiving the card in the run up to Christmas.

I know everybody at Hope Special School will be very proud of them and I am too.

With Caitlin, Olivia and Daniel

We had a fantastic response from local schools. The children clearly put a lot of effort into their art-work so it made my job of picking the winner extremely difficult. But I’d like to thank all of the children and their teachers for taking part.

Yvonne also handed out prizes to three runners up whose designs all feature on the back of the card. Mr Peter Dahlstrom said, “I am delighted for Kacy, Libby and Maisey. It is a proud moment for Hope School that we have won such a prestigious competition.”

Christmas Card Competition Winners 2012

The winning design

Winning Entry

Kacy Entwhistle, Maisey Gallagher and Libby Jarret
Early Years
Hope Special School

Runners Up

Olivia Harrald
St Wilfrid’s RC Primary
Ashton in Makerfield

Caitlin Molyneux-Winrow
Hindley Green Community Primary

Daniel Carr
St Oswalds RC Primary
Ashton in Makerfield




Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Mainstream Lenders must respond to mounting credit card debt crisis

In the two years since my election to Parliament, readers of this site will know that I have campaigned extensively on debt related issues - and later today, (Tuesday, 27th November) I will introduce a 10 minute rule motion that once a borrower has paid out interest equivalent to three times the amount borrowed, all further payments should go to reducing the principle.

I want the 10 minute rule motion to highlight the role played by credit cards in getting people into chronic debt, where they can only afford to pay interest with no realistic prospect of reducing the principal.

At a time when the media spotlight has fallen on the high interest rates charged by payday lenders, I maintain that mainstream credit card companies are not immune from responsible lending as the numbers of people in debt continue to rise.

Research commissioned by Step Change suggest that there are at least 3 million households presently in financial difficulty and a further 3 million at risk. They further suggest that credit cards play a significant part in their predicament.

Credit cards, though undeniably often useful and convenient, are a major cause of agony for many people, particularly those struggling with everyday finances. The number of people seeking help with credit card debt has risen sharply in recent years, but the recession has seen it rise even further.

Whereas people may have once used credit cards for luxury or exceptional purchases, many are now using them simply to make ends meet and –  what is more – committing to further credit card borrowing when one card is ‘maxed out’, in order to ‘plug the gap’ in household finances. Indeed, multiple credit card debt is becoming a feature of life in the 21st Century and figures disproportionately in cases of the most intractable debt problems. 

The result of using one credit card to pay off another is a viscous cycle of increasing debt, as interest and other charges are added to the initial capital sum. This can lead to a real sense of hopelessness and despair as the balance hardly reduces over time.

The important thing is to reduce the speed of the pay down.  And my Bill will achieve that. It may still take time for the magic ‘three times’ threshold to be reached but at least borrowers will be able to see, for the first time, light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Autism Challenge for local schools

I am supporting a nationwide charity challenge to help raise awareness of issues affecting pupils with autism and am calling on all local schools to take part.

The Anderson Schools Challenge is a joint campaign between The National Autistic Society (NAS) and the Anderson Foundation, which asks schools to complete 50 fun and easy tasks in celebration of the NAS’ 50th Birthday.

The tasks, which range from fitting 50 items into a Smarties tube to holding an autism-awareness assembly, can be undertaken by 50 individual pupils or a whole class, unless any pupils fancy taking on all 50. The money raised will help the NAS to provide much-needed services and support for people affected by autism across the UK.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

I’m delighted to be supporting the Anderson Schools Challenge and am calling on all local primary schools to do their bit and help raise awareness of autism. School can be a real struggle for many children with the condition, but better understanding among teachers, school staff and other pupils can make a real difference. This is a fun and easy way to improve awareness of autism and raise vital funds for the NAS, so that it can continue to support individuals and families across the UK.

Local Schools can sign up for the challenge here.            



Monday, 19 November 2012

Budding social entrepreneurs given tips on how to grow

More than 50 social enterprises in Wigan have come together to learn the best way of growing their businesses.

A special event was held on Wednesday (14th November) to give enterprises looking to expand practical advice and tips on how to develop. Organised by Wigan Social Enterprise Sector Network, I was part of a panel who participated in a “Question Time” event, answering questions from budding entrepreneurs. Subjects covered included funding, partnerships, social impact measurement and ways to engage with customers in the public sector.

The theme of the event, organised as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week and held at the DW Stadium, was to pass on practical help and support needed by start-ups and individuals who are considering taking the plunge.

Gillian Bishop, corporate director at Wigan Council said, “Social enterprises play an important role in the economy of Wigan Borough. This event was an excellent example of what can be done to help promote their development and growth. It’s clear there’s a lot of encouraging work taking place across the borough and Wigan Council is keen to offer support where it can.”

This is an exciting time to be a social entrepreneur with a Bill to strengthen the sector making good parliamentary progress. If enacted, it would signal a further expansion of the role of social enterprises in public sector markets. Currently the government spends more than £236bn procuring goods and services –  making sure it does so with social value in mind could be enough to radically alter the economy ensuring that growth serves people and local communities.

Wigan Social Enterprise Network hosts bimonthly meetings. For more information contact Sylvia Pearson here.                                         

Wigan Social Enterprise Sector Network is part of the Wigan Borough Network of Networks. It is led by the School for Social Entrepreneurs North West and empowers, represents and supports its members and coordinated activities primarily for social enterprises across the borough. A whole spectrum of sector representation attends the network to promote a real partnership approach to business.

The “Question Time” panel members also included:

• Charlotte Young, National Chair of School for Social Entrepreneurs
• Paul Corcoran, Managing Director Agent Marketing & Chair of SSE North West
• William Greenwood, North West Region Head of Service Development for NHS Direct
• Liz Brooks-Allen, Director, The Connectives
• Andy Darron, Executive Director of Groundwork Lancashire West and Wigan

Monday, 12 November 2012

Christmas Veterans Luncheon

I have today announced details of the inaugural Christmas Luncheon for the veteran community in Makerfield.

I will be hosting the luncheon on Saturday, 8th December 2012 commencing at 12noon at St Matthews Parish Hall, Billinge Rd, Highfield, Wigan WN3 6BL.

As we approach the festive season this will be an opportunity to pay tribute to our veteran community and to thank them for the sacrifices that they have made in order to make our country and the world a safer place to live.

It will also be a chance to celebrate the contribution that veterans continue to make to the life of communities across the constituency.

If you are a veteran and reside in the Makerfield constituency then please confirm your attendance by calling my constituency office on 01942 824029 or by email no later than Friday, 30th November.

Friday, 2 November 2012

The UK's first zero-energy business park open for business in Hindley Green


Armstrong Point, the brainchild of local property owners Dave and Mike Armstrong are calling on the small business sector to ‘seize the opportunity’ provided by their latest development, the UK’s First Zero- Energy Cost Business Park, located on Swan Lane, Hindley Green.

I joined Leigh MP, Andy Burnham in a joint visit today.

The former derelict building which was previously occupied by Britvic Soft Drinks has now been transformed into a new, vibrant, Business Park, offering all tenants zero-energy Bills. This was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Armstrong Properties (NW) Ltd have developed and completed 6 Industrial Units with 5 units already taken. At present there are no other industrial developments in the UK harnessing as many Low and Zero Carbon (LZC) technologies.

The Armstrong Father and Son Team hail the park as the ‘best value business park in the North West’ and occupiers and developers understand how such LZC technologies combined can lower energy bills for tenants and cut their CO2 emissions. The technologies used will raise the standards in industrial developments that other developers will need to embrace and replicate. Such technologies include, wind turbine, photovoltaic panels, solar hot water heating, transpired solar collector heating and cooling systems, air source heat pumps, heat recovery ventilation and energy efficient control systems.

Dave Armstrong is also the managing director of Carbon Consultancy Company, the energy consultants who provided their knowledge and expertise in low and zero carbon and sustainable development.

Dave Armstrong said, “We are very pleased to welcome Andy and Yvonne to our Hindley Green base, to showcase our development which offers the latest renewable energy technologies affording tenants the first zero-energy cost business park in the UK.”

“We are delighted by the interest the park has generated across the UK, even in these difficult economic times and with only 3 units remaining we hope that interested businesses will seize the opportunity that Armstrong Point offers.”



Thursday, 1 November 2012

Don't forget the Flu Jab this Winter!

I attended the Westminster Flu Day, a flu vaccine clinic held in the House of Commons, to highlight and encourage constituents to get this season’s flu vaccine in line with Government recommendations.

Last year, 74% of people over 65 years and 53% in the at risk groups were vaccinated against flu in the Makerfield constituency compared with the national averages of 74% for the over 65s and 51.6% for those ‘at risk’.

The seasonal flu vaccination is important to help protect those people who are more susceptible to serious complications or even death from flu. I would encourage all those that are over the age of 65 or are in one of the ‘at risk’ groups to visit their surgeries and get vaccinated.

The NHS has a very successful seasonal flu programme. The uptake rate for flu vaccines in those aged 65 and over reached 74% in 2011/12, which is just below the WHO target of 75%. The Department of Health, however, wants to improve the uptake rates for those people under 65 years of age with clinical conditions which put them more at risk from the effects of flu. This currently stands at 51.6%, and the Department hopes to increase it to 70%. Uptake among pregnant women in 2011/12 was only 27.4%. 

According to the influenza immunisation program 2012/13, influenza vaccination should be offered to:

• All those aged 65 and over
• All those aged over 6 months in the following clinical ‘at-risk’ groups:
• Chronic respiratory disease and asthma that requires continuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission
• Chronic heart disease
• Chronic renal disease
• Chronic liver disease
• Chronic neurological disease
• Diabetes
• Pregnant women
• Those living in long-stay residential and nursing homes or other long-stay facilities
• Those who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill. Vaccination should be given at the GP’s discretion.
• Healthcare workers in the NHS are being encouraged to take up vaccination, especially those employees directly involved in patient care.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Stop cuts to Criminal Injuries Compensation

Pic with David Williams of Usdaw

I have called on the Government to confirm that they will not go ahead with plans to slash compensation for 90% of injured victims of crime.

The Minister for Justice withdrew proposals to drastically cut the budget of the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme following criticism from MPs on all sides at a Committee meeting on 10 September.

However, the Government have since stated that they are still “committed to reforming the criminal injuries compensation scheme to put it on a sustainable financial footing” (Government jargon for cutting the budget) and have re-tabled the changes to the Scheme to be put to Parliament by 22 October.  This would mean that, if passed, the cuts would affect any claim made after 5 November.

The Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme is the only means by which many victims who are seriously injured by a criminal can gain any compensation to help them through the difficult time and to make up for wages they may have lost.

The Scheme also helps the dependant children of murder and manslaughter victims.

The proposals which the Government are trying to carry would:

Abolish all compensation for almost half of victims deemed to have suffered injuries such as a broken hand, facial scarring, multiple broken ribs, or a dislocated jaw.
Cut compensation awards by up to 60% for more serious injuries such as permanent brain injury, fractured joints, or a punctured lung.
Cut compensation for loss of earnings to the level of Statutory Sick Pay – £85 a week - and impose conditions that would make it ‘practically unattainable’.
Impose the same cuts and conditions on compensation for the loss of a parent’s earnings by the child dependants of murder and manslaughter victims.
Prevent victims of dog attacks from receiving any compensation under the scheme, no matter how seriously they were injured.

The Tory-led Government’s plans to cut financial support for the innocent victims of crime, shows how out of touch this Government is.  It is hard to believe that the Government are still determined to cut the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme after MPs from both sides criticised the cuts and the effect they would have on the injured victims of crime and on the children of murder victims.

I have therefore signed an Early Day Motion calling on the Government to drop these cruel plans immediately and to do more to help the innocent victims of crime.

John Hannett, General Secretary of Usdaw said, “Usdaw members who are unfortunate enough to suffer a criminal attack that leaves them injured rely on Criminal Injuries Compensation.  They often lose wages when they cannot work due to their injuries.  Innocent victims of crime should not have to suffer twice – once in an attack, and also financially."

“It is just not fair to ask injured victims of crime to bear the brunt of austerity.  Usdaw and our members are very grateful for Yvonne’s support in the campaign against these unjust proposals.”

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Power to suspend welcomed


I am delighted that the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has today announced that it is consulting on how it proposes to use a new power, which will allow it to suspend consumer credit licences with immediate effect.

Regular readers of my site will know that this is an issue on which I have campaigned for many years.

The industry is currently operating in a manner that can and does penalise vulnerable consumers. Voluntary regulation has failed miserably and the new power to suspend gives the OFT the power to crack down on the irresponsible actions of an industry making huge profits on the back of vulnerable and low income borrowers.


Monday, 22 October 2012

Good news in fight to protect greenbelt at Winstanley & Hawkley Hall


Campaigners gathered to welcome news that Wigan Council is set to confirm that there are no exceptional circumstances that can justify the release of Green Belt land for housing at Hawkley Hall and Winstanley.

In July, Government appointed Planning Inspector, Kevin Ward, surprised observers when he suspended his examination of the Wigan Core Strategy because he concluded that insufficient land had been identified (a total of 2,500 homes) for the Borough’s housing needs to 2026.

Mr Ward instructed planners to consider ‘all of the options’ for meeting the shortfall leading to green belt land having to be considered as part of the option appraisal.

Over 2,000 objections to the use of green belt in Wigan were received by the consultation’s closing date. Typical objections to the release of green belt included;

Urban sprawl would result as the townships of Ashton/Bryn  and Hawkley Hall/Winstanley moved closer together
Brownfield and Safeguarded land should be developed as a priority ahead of green belt
Given the quantity of safeguarded land available, no exceptional circumstances could be demonstrated for releasing green belt for housing.

I have consistently led calls for green belt status to be retained and welcome the proposals, in so far, as they relate to land at Hawkley Hall and Winstanley.

This is welcome news and a shot in the arm for residents across Hawkley Hall and Winstanley who have worked very hard during this process to demonstrate that no exceptional circumstances exist to release land from these two areas of greenbelt for housing. This is the first hurdle cleared and we must now redouble our efforts to convince the inspector to confirm this decision.

Ward Councillors have also welcomed the report to be considered by the council on 7th November.

Cllr Lynn Holland representing Worsley Mesnes said, “The Council have been placed in a difficult position by the planning inspector’s decision that all options had to be consulted upon including green belt. This has led to further stress and anxiety for residents, but I hope that going forward the inspector will do the right thing and protect these two areas of green belt.”

Campaigners are also aware of the original proposal contained within the Core Strategy to remove green belt status from land south of Winstanley for commercial development.

The proposal was subject to scrutiny at the public hearings held earlier this year which I attended along with campaigners including the M6 South of Wigan Group before the inspector suspended his examination.

Cllr Clive Morgan representing Winstanley Ward said, “We will seek to defend any attack into the local green belt. Given the availability of commercial sites across the borough this does not warrant releasing further land from green belt, nor the resulting increase in traffic congestion and impact on the quality of life of residents.”


Friday, 19 October 2012

Northern Feathers supporting employment opportunities

Kerry Claxton, Dean Cartwright & Pam Lythgoe
I visited Northern Feathers in Ashton in Makerfield to see for myself the partnership between the company and Wigan Council’s Supported Employment Service.

Northern Feathers manufacture duvets and pillows for the Snuggledown brand. Acquired by the John Cotton Group in 2000 considerable capital investment has enabled further innovation and development of bedding products.

Wigan Supported Employment Service is a professional employment and training provider, securing paid employment opportunities for people who have a disability. The aim of the service is to create a truly diverse workforce which reflects the local community and offers equality of opportunity to all. They are an Ofsted rated “outstanding" grade 1 service, and their service users include people who have a number of barriers into employment such as having a learning disability, mental health issue, an acquired brain injury or a physical or sensory impairment.

Sharing a joke with Dean Cartwright
Working with Northern Feather the service has placed 5 people in paid employment and I was able to meet with and talk to employees about their experiences and the opportunities that secure employment provides.

Kerry Claxton, Employer Engagement Officer for Wigan Supported Employment Service said, “Northern Feathers have been in partnership with Supported Employment Service for the past six years, they have at the moment five paid employees, whom are all valued members of the workforce. They all have targets to achieve daily to ensure production is met."

“Pam Lythgoe the factory manager has been very supportive of our service and we need more companies within the borough to follow Northern Feathers and employ people with disabilities.”

Firms like Northern Feather make a valuable contribution to jobs and the local economy and I applaud their support for a diverse workforce. It was great to meet and talk to staff and learn that they have support and training opportunities and that their contribution is valued by the company.

Local Businesses interested in more information about supported employment can contact Kerry on 01942 828439

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Boundary Commission releases revised proposals

The Boundary Commission for England  has today released its revised proposals which will reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600.

I am pleased that the Commission has listened to the very many people who have strongly objected to the initial proposals as they related to the Borough of Wigan.

Under the revised proposals the parliamentary constituencies of Leigh, Makerfield and Wigan will remain on the same boundaries as used for the 2010 General Election.

There is to be a further round of consultation. However, given the announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister that the Liberal Democrats will vote against the implementation of the review it seems to me to be a waste of tax payers money to continue progressing this matter at a time of savage cuts to public services.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Major Sports Coaching open for business in Ashton

Major Sports Coaching (MSC) was established back in 2007 working as a small business in the Wigan area teaching 105 children per week with a team of 2 coaches. Over the past 5 years the company has grown to a work force of around 35 coaches teaching a wide variety of sports from tennis to handball, and dance from ballet to Zumba. They are currently teaching over 5000 children per week across 30+ schools in the Wigan, Warrington, St Helens and Salford area.

I joined Ashton Councillor, Nigel Ash in welcoming MSC to their new base in Ashton today.

MSC boast an apprenticeship scheme for 10 young up and coming coaches to be a part of a great opportunity for young coaches to gain good qualifications and learn the hands on side of the industry at the same time.

Their vision for the future with the help of their new specialist sports shop is to support elite athletes, young athletes striving to be the best they can be and people who are just looking to improve themselves in their chosen sport. They are looking to give the sports players and dancers in the local community the best possible equipment and training to help them achieve their personal goals from competing in local teams/competitions to competing on the bigger stage at national and international level.

The company welcomes everybody to pop into their shop based at 74 Gerard Street and get some advice on any of their equipment and services from their team of coaches.

It is always important to me to support local businesses, and MSC are doing such fantastic work in the community that I wanted to drop in to say a personal thank you and congratulations on their ongoing success. In an uncertain economic climate, we need to celebrate our successful local companies and I hope that MSC will continue to grow and provide great opportunities for our young people.

Cllr Nigel Ash said, “I am very pleased that this prestigious company has chosen Ashton town centre to locate its business, especially in these difficult times. Major Sports Coaching will be an asset to the town and their coming here will send a clear signal to other businesses that Ashton is a good place to be situated. I hope to see other businesses follow suit to help the regeneration of the town centre.”

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Labour launches Police Crime Commissioner Election Campaign in Wigan

Pic with Tony Lloyd MP, Lord Smith &Kate Green MP
Tony Lloyd MP, Labour candidate for Greater Manchester Police and Crime Commissioner  today launched his Wigan campaign. Tony was in Wigan to meet local people and tell them about the new role, his campaign and to hear their views about, the Police, crime and the wider justice system.

Tony said, “Crime effects us all. We all want to be secure in our homes and our families to live in safe communities, secure in the knowledge that our home and streets are safe at night.

“The Tory/Lib-Dem government is targeting our communities in Greater Manchester, cutting nearly 3,000 Police jobs, the largest cuts in the country. Senior police officers warn that the Government is cutting the policing budget too far, too fast, taking risks with public safety."

“The Police and Crime Commissioner is an important new role but many people don't know that we're going to be voting for someone to run our Police in November. I've worked hard throughout my years in Parliament to represent the people of Greater Manchester. I know that the best way for me to represent the views of local people is to listen to their experiences and what matters to them. That's why I'm here in Wigan today to talk to people about the new role and their priorities.”

When it comes to policing, David Cameron and this Tory-led Government don’t get it. The people who brought us the millionaire tax cut while raiding pensioners’ pockets are just as out of touch when it comes to the police.

Tony Lloyd won’t stand by and let Tories and Liberal Democrats become cheerleaders for police cuts across Wigan and Leigh. He will stand up to protect this community and fight crime.

Tony Lloyd’s Campaign pledges;

• To stand up for communities against the Tories’ 20 per cent cuts to policing and the loss of nearly 3,000 police and civilian posts in Greater Manchester (and 16,000 police officers nationally).
• build the community partnerships which make neighbourhood policing work and keep police on the beat not hand policing over to private companies.
• ensure that the anti-social neighbour and the local yob know the police will stop them from terrorising our communities. Victims will get a response within 24 hours.
• make sure victims of crime are at the centre of events from early investigation, kept in touch with progress and treated with the dignity they should expect.
• tackle domestic and sexual violence and exploitation of children as a top priority.
• build partnerships with community groups and the local councils and across the criminal justice system to tackle and prevent crime.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Million Meal Food Drive

The Million Meal Appeal where shoppers can donate food to help local people in crisis is being organised by charity FareShare and Sainsbury's stores across the country, including the Worthington Way store at Goose Green. As part of the appeal over the weekend of Saturday 6th and Sunday 7th October, I visited the store (Saturday) to support staff and encourage donations.

Donations will be collected as shoppers leave the store. FareShare will then deliver the donated food to over 700 charities and community projects across the UK to help families in need. Sainsbury’s will match the level of food donations collected over the weekend.

The Million Meal Appeal comes as the economic crisis deepens and the rising costs of living hits households in Wigan hard. Food prices rose by more than four per cent over the last year and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimate that around 5.8 million people in the UK struggle to afford everyday essentials like food.


The Million Meal Appeal will help local families struggling with rising living costs and cuts to tax credits. It is a sad fact that the number of food banks is rising despite the fact that we are the 7th richest country in the world. I am supporting the Million Meal Appeal and I hope that shoppers dig deep to help those families who are struggling at this time.

Last year the Million Meal Appeal collected food for 1.2 million meals for disadvantaged people with Sainsbury's customers buying an additional item of food for FareShare, which the charity then distributed to hostels, day centres, breakfast clubs and local projects.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Whizz-Kidz

I pledged my support at Labour Party Conference for an initiative launched by charity Whizz-Kidz, to gather young disabled peoples’ hopes for the legacy of the Paralympics.

The findings from the ‘Generation Inspired?’ consultation will help ensure that those charged with delivering the Paralympic legacy are fully informed about what young disabled people want – and expect – following the Games.

I met 22 year old wheelchair-user and Whizz-Kidz Ambassador, Chris Tickle who told me that attending the Conference was a great opportunity to discuss the legacy of the Games with MPs – and it was brilliant to get support for Generation Inspired.

The Paralympics showed the potential for changing attitudes to disability across the whole of society. Now we need everyone to play their part in improving accessibility and changing attitudes so that young disabled people like me can fulfil their potential.

The full link to Whizz-Kidz’s Generation Inspired survey can be found here.

More than just a Cinema

With Nicola Wood and Norman Brown
I visited the Empire Cinema in Wigan to see for myself the role cinema plays in bringing employment and enjoyment to local people.

Cinema is a major contributor to our economy, directly employing some 17,500 people across the country. Here in Wigan, General Manager Nicola Wood took me on a special behind-the-scenes tour. I was able to see first-hand how a modern cinema operates, and to hear how cinemas help contribute to a vibrant local economy.
 
Cinemas across the country are currently in the midst of wholesale conversion to digital projection technology after decades of relying on celluloid. Almost three-quarters of UK screens already show films in this new format. When the digitisation process is complete in the UK, the need annually to use around 109,000 miles of film – enough to circle the Earth four-and-a-half times – will disappear.

I really enjoyed the visit and was pleased to see how Empire is investing in the latest technologies like digital and 3D cinema and the innovative role that it plays in the local community through its many promotions aimed at bringing the enjoyment of cinema to all sections of the community.

Nicola Wood said, “Here at Empire Wigan we are committed to providing affordable cinema to all. We have a number of money saving initiatives in place that really do cater for everyone.  Local families looking for a family-friendly cinema trip can take advantage of Empire Juniors, showing some of the greatest classic family films and recent releases every Saturday and Sunday morning."

"All our schemes support Empire Wigan’s position of being the best value cinema in the area and demonstrate our commitment to offering our customers access to the latest new releases at economical prices.”

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Sink or Swim

You can view my online Progress article on the Social Market Foundation Report 'Sink or Swim' here.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Macmillan Coffee Morning

Pic with Chris Lawrenson and Cllr Nigel Ash
A big thank you to the Ashton in Makerfield branch of Barclays Bank for hosting a Macmillan Coffee morning.

Coffee drinkers and cake lovers from all over Ashton have been digging deep and tucking in to raise money for this very special cause in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support.

The event today is Macmillan’s biggest fund raiser and is looking to build on the success of 2011, when a record £10 million was raised after 51,000 people signed up to take part.

Thanks to Barclay's Ashton Branch Manager Jane Trafford and Chris Lawrenson for making the event possible and to Barclay's customers for digging deep!

Friday, 21 September 2012

On the side of the motorist in the car park

I am supporting a parliamentary Bill seeking to improve signage and ticketing technology in car parks. It calls for clear and unambiguous signage, so motorists know if they are entering a pay and display car park, know what they will have to pay and are offered simple ways to pay.

The Bill aims to make it as easy as possible for motorists to pay the right amount for the hours they park, without falling foul of car park rules and finding a parking charge notice of up to £100 delivered in their post some days later.

I know that motorists are feeling the pinch from high petrol prices. So when they park they need to know they won’t be hit by ‘hidden’ parking charges.

If we want more shoppers in our high streets and town centres; we need accessible and affordable parking. Clear signage and easy ways to pay will help the motorist comply with car park rules and pay the right amount for their parking space.

My parliamentary colleague Nick Smith MP introduced the Bill. He said, "Private car park operators made 1.57 million requests to the DVLA last year for driver details. They use these details to issue parking charge notices to motorists for alleged breach of car park rules. Motorists can be hit with an extra charge of up to £100. My Bill aims to make it clear to motorists when and what they have to pay, so they can’t be treated as a soft touch.”

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Planning changes will trigger disputes between neighbours


Last week the Government announced that it will be launching a consultation on doubling permitted development rights in back gardens. This would allow home-owners to build single storey extensions of up to 8 metres on the back of detached houses without planning permission (6 metres for terraced and semi-detached properties). 

This could leave neighbours unhappy with developments in the next door garden with no grounds for recourse and could increase the number of legal but inappropriate developments.

Already, among the most common causes of disputes between home owners are planning applications for extensions, conservatories and garages.

My constituency postbag already paints a picture of neighbour disputes arising from, for example, noise pollution but I fear that my postbag and those of local councillors will grow bigger as some people seek to take advantage of the change to secure extensions previously refused planning consent by the local authority.

While the current planning process may seem cumbersome for small developments like conservatories and garages, it does provide a mechanism for concerns about the impact of extensions to be properly considered.

Home owners who may previously have been refused planning permission for legitimate reasons may now decide to exploit the proposed planning permission ‘holiday’ to go ahead with these schemes.

This latest half baked idea will inevitably lead to disputes and ill feeling between neighbours.

The Government are set to consult on the proposals.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Wigan Core Strategy - My Letter to Wigan Council

Ms. Gillian Bishop,
Corporate Director,
Places Directorate,
Wigan Council
Places Directorate,
PO Box 100, Wigan.
WN1 3DS

5th September 2012.

Dear  Gillian,

The Core Strategy – Housing Needs Shortfall

I have considered the options within my constituency put forward by the Council to meet the shortfall of land for new housing identified by the Planning Inspector and wish to make the following comments.

1) Landgate, Ashton :

An area of the land at Landgate Bryn is currently used as a playground site which is cherished by the local community. This playground area should therefore be excluded from any proposal for housing or indeed any other development.

2) Green Belt land around Wigan.

Included in this option is land South of Winstanley and South-East of Hawkley Hall and I have objection to the use of both areas of land because of their Green Belt status.

I support the Council’s overall presumption that exceptional circumstances for housing development in the Green belt do not exist at the current time. Exceptional circumstances cannot be demonstrated to justify housing development on Green Belt land when there are alternative sites without that protection. Development on Green Belt land must be seen as a last resort.

The Borough’s Green Belts were last defined in the Local Development Framework of 2006. I understand there is a general expectation that such policies will apply for a minimum of 25 years unless there is exceptional need to make amendment and that is not the case in respect of the Green Belt land South of Winstanley and South-East of Hawkley Hall.

Also, although there is a presumption in favour of sustainable development within The National Planning Policy Framework, the five purposes of the Green Belt remained unchanged and areas of land designated as part of the Green Belt are not overridden by this presumption.

The new Planning Minister Nick Bowles also confirmed in an interview on Newsnight on the 6th September 2012 that Green Belt protection was not changing as a result of any proposals that have been announced.

a) Land South of Winstanley:

I have already made representation on the reasons why the Green Belt Status at Junction 25 should not be removed to allow its use for employment purposes and much of that argument applies in relation to any housing development proposal.

The Green Belt Status was introduced on this site with a set of objectives. Those objectives are no less necessary today as they ever were.  The removal of the Green Belt at this site will cause harm.

i) Give rise to Urban Sprawl. Currently the Green Belt designation stops the sprawl of the existing settlements of Winstanley and Goose Green and the settlement of Ashton. To agree its removal would be to accept unrestricted sprawl of large built up areas.
ii) Encroachment of the Countryside. This site is the community’s green space. It is used and valued by the surrounding townships. It contributes to the health and wellbeing of the local community and its loss would be felt deeply and is unacceptable.
iii) Merging of neighbouring town. The gap between Wigan and Ashton is already narrow and this development would result in a reduction that would make it ineffective.
iv) Urban Regeneration. Urban renewal policies are given little chance to be effective if development is allowed on alternative green field sites in the Urban fringe.  It can be easier to start afresh on a green field site than to take the preferred sustainable development route and improve existing, albeit sometimes difficult sites, already allocated for development.

b) Land South East of Hawkley Hall:

As with land South of Winstanley the Green Belt status on land South East of Hawkley Hall was applied to prevent a set of circumstances that would be detrimental of the area should that status be removed.

i) Give rise to Urban Sprawl. Currently the green belt designation stops the sprawl of the existing settlements of Hawkley and Bryn/Ashton.  To agree its removal would be to accept unrestricted sprawl of these large built up areas
ii) Encroachment of the Countryside. As with the land South of Winstanley, this site too is the community’s green space. It is used and valued by the surrounding townships. It contributes to the health and wellbeing of the local community and its loss would be felt deeply and is unacceptable. The chipping away of our Countryside, which we believed was protected by its Green Belt status, is unacceptable.
iii) Merging of neighbouring towns. The divide between Hawkley and Bryn/Ashton is maintained by this green space. Development would result in a reduction that would make it far less effective particularly as the new development would encroach further towards Landgate leaving only an approximate 0.3k gap between the boundary of the proposed development and the edge of the Landgate community. This proposal should also be viewed in the context of the Council’s employment and housing development proposals of this area of Landgate that have already gone through consultation and are going through the current consultation on housing land shortfall.
iv) Urban Regeneration.The same urban regeneration points relate to this site as they do to the South of Winstanley site outlined above.

Whilst other concerns have been raised with me by constituents about possible housing development on these two sites, for example inadequate local services and the effect on the traffic infrastructure, the impact of the removal of Green Belt protection is in itself, I believe, sufficient reason to abandon these proposals.

It is important that the Council adopts a Core Strategy as a matter of urgency. Without an updated plan, when determining planning applications in the future, more weight will be put on the National Planning Policy Framework and its presumption in favour of development, because of a weakened existing development plan that has not been revised. This is not in the best interests of the community and I do hope this matter can be resolved as soon as possible.

Yours sincerely,

Yvonne Fovargue
Labour Member for Makerfield.

IPSA publishes MPs’ business costs and expenses for 2011/12

The details below provide a summary of the costs incurred by me in carrying out my Parliamentary duties in 2011/12. MPs can only claim for costs which are within the rules set out in the MPs' Scheme of Business Costs and Expenses.

The figures released this week by IPSA provides constituents with a breakdown of the costs of running a busy constituency office and the expenses incurred in travelling and the costs of accommodation in London.

I want to provide my constituents with an open and accessible constituency office and with over 2,000 individual cases a year it is essential that they have access to a staffed office and over 82% of the expenditure incurred relates to the direct costs of office accommodation and staff salaries.

In addition to these costs, IPSA also cover the costs associated with travel to and from London when parliament is sitting and accommodation during the week and this accounts for the remaining 18%.

As a new MP elected in 2010, I continue to monitor closely the costs associated with fulfilling my duties and welcome the annual publication, where you can view details of my business costs and expenses, by IPSA.

Friday, 7 September 2012

Government should withdraw cuts to victim compensation scheme

I have added my name to a parliamentary motion calling on the Government to withdraw planned cuts to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme (CICS).

The scheme is the only means of recompense for almost 40,000 seriously or fatally injured victims of crime every year and research by the shop workers trade union, Usdaw have revealed the extent of the proposed cuts to victims of crime.

The cuts would mean:

• 48% of victims currently eligible for compensation would receive nothing in future, even for quite serious and permanent injuries.
• 35% would see their compensation reduced by between £1,500 and £2,000.
• Only 17% of victims will be eligible for the same tariff level of compensation –  those with the most severe injuries or who have suffered abuse
• Payments for loss of earnings will be drastically cut for those with long-term and permanent disabling injuries and for dependants of fatally injured victims.

I do not believe that the innocent victims of violent crime should bear the brunt of this Government’s austerity, or that the £50m projected savings are necessary as the current Scheme is both financially stable and sustainable.

Take the case of a 34 year old female shop worker held at gun point and injured during a robbery and later diagnosed with post traumatic stress. The CICS made a four figure award to that victim; under the new proposals she would receive nothing.

The full text of the parliamentary motion can be viewed here.

Most Usdaw members are shopworkers and unfortunately, like many public facing workers, they are particularly vulnerable to the risk of criminal assault. An analysis of around 100 cases recently supported by Usdaw showed that 67% would no longer receive any compensation under the revised scheme. 22% would see their compensation halved and 11% of the most seriously injured would have their compensation significantly reduced because of the new loss of earnings calculations. In 27 cases involving members injured or traumatised in an armed robbery, 22 would no longer be eligible for any compensation.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Share the Warmth

It’s tough times at the moment for everyone. Homes are facing increasing costs of living in food, fuel and energy. Charities across the Wigan Borough find it harder to find the resources to help people who are in need.

British Gas have announced something that may be able to help both those who are struggling to meet the cost of living and for charities trying to help  them.

The British Gas “Share the Warmth” offer. If a charity finds someone that meets their criteria for free insulation, British Gas will give them £50 for their troubles. They’ll also insulate the house of the vulnerable customer, and then give them £50 as well. No one needs to be a British Gas customer to take advantage.

If you’re not a charity and you know someone that could benefit from free insulation then you can get £50 as well too. If you’re a charity you can register here

If you’re an individual that knows someone that can benefit all you need do is get your friend or relative to call 0800 975 1195. 

This is a great opportunity for our community to come together and help those that need help. This offer ends in November so I hope you’ll be able to find someone who can access this programme. To find out more click here.


Thursday, 30 August 2012

Luncheon Club success for Community Payback Team

Today, I visited a popular luncheon club run by Greater Manchester Probation Trust’s Community Payback team.
The club, which caters for the over-50s and runs six days a week from 12pm, has up to 30 regular attendees and serves healthy and hearty food, as well as providing a social environment. Offenders cook two-course meals, serve the food and tidy-up at the venue, which is at Worsley Mesnes Community Centre.

Community Payback is a punishment for breaking the law, rigorously supervised and enforced by probation. The luncheon club was first started in 1983 and has become a permanent fixture in the lives of scores of people. I met with Jane Frappola, Community Payback Officer and was introduced to both offenders and the beneficiaries who attended.

Offenders have the opportunity to learn cookery, first aid and hygiene qualifications. Representatives from the National Careers Service, Campaign for Learning and Training to All also attended.

It was fantastic to see the luncheon club in operation and at the forefront of encouraging offenders by providing training and the opportunity to learn new skills to help them back into the working environment, leaving crime behind. The Community Payback Team working with offenders are doing a great job and judging by the number of empty plates on show today, they know a thing or to about cooking!

Monday, 9 July 2012

'Raw Deal' for college students

16-18 year olds from a disadvantaged background who study at a Further Education or Sixth Form College do not receive free meals at lunchtime whereas their counterparts in school sixth forms, Academies, Free Schools and University Technical Colleges do receive free meals.

I visited Winstanley College on Fri, 6th July to meet with staff and students who are calling on the Government to extend free meals to students at College as part of the No Free Lunch? campaign.

I believe that there are three reasons why dealing with the anomaly is even more urgent now than it was in the past;

1. The removal of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA) - an initiative that transformed the lives of individual students from disadvantaged backgrounds. It had a direct impact on attendance, retention, achievement and progression. The removal of EMA has exposed not being able to access free meals even more than before.
2. With the raising of the participation age, all students will now progress on beyond age 16
3. The advent of academies, free schools and university technical colleges - If a new post-16 free school or post-16 academy is set up, it can offer free school meals, but a 16-to-19 sixth-form college or further education college cannot

This is clearly unfair and needs to change. Eligibility for free meals should be based on need, not on where you choose to study.

This anomaly needs to be addressed. The Government acknowledges this so now is the time for it to act and put an end to this raw deal for students at Winstanley College.

Jo Bailey, Principal of Winstanley College said, “All young people should be able to make a free and fair choice about where they study post-16.  The provision of a hot, nutritious lunch-time meal should be available to all students from a disadvantaged background, not just those staying on at school. We are campaigning to end this injustice to such students at Winstanley, and at other colleges.”

79% of Colleges agree that free meals in colleges for 16-18 year olds would encourage participation.
You can pledge your support for this campaign by signing the petition and by using the hashtag #nofreelunch when you tweet about this issue.

Friday, 6 July 2012

A special celebration for Unify Credit Union

Congrats to all the team at Unify CU
Unify Credit Union today celebrated its 10th anniversary of providing low cost, ethical financial services to the Wigan Borough.

Unify was established in 2002 by the formation of three small community credit unions. In 2009 the last remaining community credit union, Worsley Mesnes Credit Union, joined forces with Unify – making it the largest credit union in the Borough.
Credit Unions are community savings and loans co-operatives, owned and run by its members. Membership is available to anyone who lives or works within the Wigan Borough.

Members save with Unify and those savings are then used to give low cost loans to members. Any profits at the end of the financial year are given back to the members in the form of an annual dividend.

Today, Unify has grown to more than 6000 members and over £2.6million in assets. Unify has two local branch locations in Higher Ince and Leigh and 14 local collection points across the Borough.

Unify’s growth is echoed in figures released recently by the Financial Services Authority which show that the British credit union sector, offering its ethical and inclusive brand of financial services, goes from strength to strength with a 12% increase in deposits, 14% increase in lending and 15% increase in assets in 2011.

As a member of Unify I was welcomed to the Higher Ince HQ today by General Manager, Angela Fishwick as the celebrations were well underway.

For Angela today marks a special milestone in the history of the credit union movement in the Borough.
She said, “So many local people have given their time freely to developing the credit union in Wigan, and to see us reach this milestone and be so strong is great news for everyone involved.

“Unify is continuing to grow and develop services with the aim of becoming the main financial service provider for members; providing instant access savings, loans and bill payments.”

Access to affordable credit is a major issue for many people, especially where they need small sums to make an emergency purchase or to tide them over for a short period.

The collapse of the UK banking system and the proliferation of legal loan sharks has led many to conclude that credit unions are a viable alternative. Unify is run by its members for its members demonstrating the power of co-operation and concern for the community in which it operates.

I congratulate Angela and all who have worked to make Unify the success story that it is today and I will continue to promote the credit union movement as a safe and ethical alternative.

Summer Reading Challenge

I am supporting a campaign run by The Reading Agency to encourage all primary school children to join their local library and take part in this year’s Summer Reading Challenge - the UK’s biggest reading promotion for primary school children.
The Challenge which begins on 14 July is for every child aged 4-11 years to read six books of their choice from their local library during the summer holidays. Children earn stickers along the way and will be given a certificate or “Olympic style” medal when they complete the Challenge. This is the 14th year of the Challenge and this year the theme is “Story Lab” which is set in a city hosting the Olympic Games.

Over 20 popular children’s authors are supporting the campaign including children’s laureate Julia Donaldson and fellow award-winning writers  Malorie Blackman, Charlie Higson,  Anthony Horowitz, Michael Morpurgo, Michael Rosen and Jacqueline Wilson.

I hope parents and carers in Makerfield will take their children to their local library this summer and if they aren’t already members sign up and do the Summer Reading Challenge.  It’s free and makes reading fun, a vital ingredient in building literacy. Last year 2500 children in the Borough took part in the Challenge. I hope we will beat that figure this year and show local libraries how much we value them.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Let's get behind our Armed Forces community

I attended an event at the House of Commons to promote the creation of Community Covenants across the country, organised by The Royal British Legion, the event highlighted the importance of local communities getting behind the Armed Forces community in their own area and honouring the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant in practice on the ground.

Launched last year following a successful campaign by the Legion, the Community Covenant scheme is helping to transform the relationship between local communities and serving and reservist Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families, for the benefit of both communities.

The Legion is encouraging local authorities to sign a Community Covenant as their own unique commitment to develop mutual understanding, meet the needs of the Armed Forces community and identify opportunities for closer working in their area. More than 50 Community Covenants have been signed so far, and another 50 are in the pipeline.

Signing a Community Covenant is an excellent way for local authorities to demonstrate that they are doing their bit to support the Armed Forces Covenant locally. It also offers access to a £30M Government funding stream, the “Community Covenant Grant Scheme”, for local projects that strengthen ties or mutual understanding between the Armed Forces Community and the wider community.

The Legion campaigned successfully for the principles of the Armed Forces Covenant to be written into law. The principles recognise the unique nature of Service and state that no disadvantage should arise from it, such as in accessing public services, and that special treatment should be allowed where justified.

Community Covenants are a fantastic way for local authorities and the wider community to show their support for our Armed Forces and their families. These Covenants are about securing real improvements in the welfare of Armed Forces personnel, veterans and their families in constituencies across the UK. I am pleased that so many local authorities are signing up. Now all of us need to ensure the commitments made really make a difference where it matters – on the ground.