Thursday 29 July 2021

Friday 6 March 2020

Raise the Rate debate

Wrong side of the Tax – Why Council tax debt collection needs to change

Council tax is important. It’s the largest property tax in England, and the revenue it raises accounts for 32% of local government funding. But for households, it is also a growing source of debt.

As of March 2019, the overall level of council tax arrears stood at £3.2 billion - 7% more than the year before. Last year Citizens Advice helped 83,000 people in England with council tax arrears. It is the most common debt they see, impacting more than 1 in 4 of all those they help with a debt problem.

Not so long ago the main reason why people fell into debt was because of credit cards, payday loans or expensive bank overdrafts. But that has changed. Yes, people still get into financial difficulty repaying those loans, but tougher regulation in recent years has limited charges and given borrowers far more protection.

It is far more likely these days to see people struggling to pay their everyday household bills, and in particular their council tax. Helping people with council tax debt is now, by a long way, the most common debt issue that Citizens Advice deals with. In fact, someone sought help from them with a council tax issue every 90 seconds in 2019.

And recent research published by the charity has laid out in stark terms what this means for people. On average, someone they help with council tax debt has just £7 left over at the end of the month after paying their living costs. Shockingly, 42% of these people have no money left at all and these people are more likely to be women, or under thirty, or have mental health problems.

Despite this hardship, government regulations push councils into taking harsh routes to recover debts. People who miss just one payment become liable for the whole annual bill in one go, and that could mean having to pay thousands of pounds. They’re often forced to pay extra court fees and to face bailiffs threatening to take their goods. The result is often huge stress and anxiety for people. It should also be remembered that non-payment of council tax is a criminal offence and there is evidence that both councils and bailiffs are quick to threaten imprisonment.

This heavy-handed approach is meant to encourage people to pay, but it doesn’t allow for the many hundreds of thousands who just do not have the funds. Intimidated by a stream of threatening letters, emails and text messages from bailiffs, it’s little wonder that people are flocking to charities like Citizens Advice for support with debts.

The Government has the power to change this. Councils want to be able to collect council tax fairly, without locking people in debt, and to give greater support to vulnerable people struggling to pay arrears, but the government regulations make it far harder to do so.

The government needs to listen and act now by giving councils the tools they need. It also needs to give the green light to an independent regulator of bailiffs and bailiff firms, as well as a user-friendly complaints mechanism. This is now the only way to stamp out the threats, intimidation and other bad behaviours that are all too common in the bailiff industry and which only add to the misery of people struggling to pay their council tax arrears.

Thursday 21 February 2019

Hunting Act 2004

This week, I demonstrated my support for strengthening the 2004 Hunting Act. 

Fourteen years after the introduction of the Hunting Act, a key accomplishment of the last Labour government, the Labour Party is campaigning for the eradication of loopholes, such as ‘trail hunting’.  

Trail hunting has arisen since the ban on hunting was introduced, and is an entirely different practice to drag hunting, which is a traditional and legitimate pursuit that does not use animal scent or involve the killing or chasing of wild animals. 

To address some of the loopholes currently open to exploitation, Labour announced last year that in government they would consult on bringing forward the following amendments to the Hunting Act 2004:

1. Review sentencing to ensure effective deterrence includes the use of custodial sentences in line with other wildlife crimes.
2. Strengthening the criteria on which research licenses are issued.
3. The removal of the exemption “Use of dogs below ground to protect birds for shooting”, as it risks fights between dogs and wild mammals.
4. The introduction of a ‘recklessness clause’ to prevent trail hunting from being used as a cover for the illegal hunting of live wild animals.

A recent poll by Survation found that only 16% of those living in rural areas believe hunting with dogs is a reflection of countryside values, while 67% do not. It also showed that a mere 4% of people living in the countryside ever take part in hunting with hounds.  In contrast, 91% said they thought observing nature was a greater reflection of countryside values.

I know from my postbag that Animal welfare is something my constituents feel very strongly. On the 14th anniversary of the introduction of Labour’s Hunting Act, we must look again to ensure that any loopholes currently open to exploitation through newly developed practices are closed. The next Labour Government will be committed not just to maintaining the hunting ban, but to strengthening it.

Thursday 24 January 2019

Increase funding for VI Form Colleges

I spoke in a debate on VI Form funding this week. You can learn more about the campaign at

Wednesday 12 December 2018

Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Lunch

I hosted my annual lunch for veterans with the support of Wigan Council and councillors representing wards in the Makerfield constituency.

Tuesday 4 December 2018

Police cuts

Recently I spent a day with GM Police in Ashton in Makerfield and I raised their concerns about cuts to police numbers since 2010. Ministers will still not acknowledge the impact on frontline policing.

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Prime Minister's Questions

The #RaisetheRate campaign aims to lobby Government to increase the funding rate for sixth form students that has been frozen at £4,000 per student, per year since 2013.

The campaign uses recent research from London Economics to press for a £760 per student increase to sixth form funding that is raised in line with inflation each year.

The associations behind the campaign state that “only a significant increase in the national funding rate for 16 to 18 year olds will make it possible for the government to meet its objectives for a strong post-Brexit economy and a socially mobile, highly educated workforce.”

The £760 increase is described as the “minimum required” to increase student support services to the required level, protect minority subjects such as languages that are at risk of being dropped, and increase extra-curricular activities, work experience opportunities and university visits.

Winstanley College and St John Rigby are two award winning colleges that deliver fantastic results in challenging circumstances as cuts erode their core budgets. The reality is that without proper funding in place, then something has to give and it is our students who ultimately pay the price with courses cut and reduced opportunities for enrichment through pastoral care.

Wednesday 16 May 2018

Greenbelt land at Junction 25, M6

I have received confirmation that a planning application will be submitted in the summer to develop greenbelt land at junction 25 Bryn/Winstanley. The development will comprise of 1.44 million sq ft of floorspace across 8 warehouses.

Let nobody be in any doubt, this application will destroy greenbelt land in the Bryn and Winstanley area and will have a huge impact on residents in nearby local communities. I do not believe that any ‘exceptional circumstances’ warrant release of greenbelt land at this site and I will be calling on the Planning Committee to reject this application.

I would encourage residents to attend the public drop in event to be held on Thursday, 24th May at St Aidans Social Centre between 4pm and 8pm or on Friday, 25th May between 5.30pm to 8pm at The Deanery High School, Frog Lane.

Friday 2 March 2018

Fairtrade Fortnight

St Aidan’s Church, Winstanley invited people to take a step for Fairtrade today and join them at their annual Traidcraft event.

The event was organised by parishioner Patricia Boyle and attended by local residents and members of St Aidan’s Church congregation. Pupils from St Aidan’s Primary School also popped along to learn more about Fairtrade.

Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

To tackle poverty you need to increase trade as well as give aid. Fairtrade helps millions of people in the developing world. When we choose to eat, drink or wear fair trade products we help change the lives of millions of farmers, workers and their families in developing countries.

I back Fairtrade Fortnight because it encourages people in Wigan to consider the power they have as consumers which does play an important part in changing lives for the better.

Friday 9 February 2018

I support campaign for UK ivory ban to protect elephants

I attended an event at Westminster organised by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Endangered Species to highlight the elephant poaching crisis and public support for a UK ivory ban. I was able to view some of the many ivory items recently donated by members of the public to IFAW’s UK ivory surrender.

IFAW invited people to surrender their own ivory to be destroyed as part of a campaign to close the UK’s ivory market and save this iconic species from the threat of extinction. The surrender has received overwhelming support from the UK public with almost 500 ivory items weighing around 150kgs donated in just a few months.

IFAW has run previous successful public ivory surrenders in the UK in 2004, 2011 and 2014, but has received far more donations in the recent surrender which ran from mid-July last year to the end of January. Items received range from whole raw and worked tusks to statues, carvings and jewellery.

Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW told me that there is clearly huge public momentum in the UK for an ivory ban.

With elephant populations at an all-time low and the species facing extinction due to the ivory poaching crisis which is killing at least 20,000 elephants each year, it is fantastic to see so many people keen to give up their ivory. We thank everyone who has surrendered ivory as well as the huge number of politicians who are supporting the campaign for a UK ivory ban.

Polling commissioned by IFAW reveals that the vast majority of the UK public want to protect elephants with a UK trade ban and do not wish to purchase ivory themselves. An overwhelming 95% of respondents polled by YouGov stated that they would not be interested in purchasing antique ivory. A YouGov survey of MPs also found 97% of MPs to be supportive of either a total ivory ban or a ban with some exemptions.

Time is running out for elephants and we must act now before it is too late. It is shocking seeing all this donated ivory when in reality each piece of ivory represents a dead elephant, shot or poisoned for its tusks. Clearly from the amount of ivory donated to IFAW’s ivory surrender more and more people recognise that ivory should only be valued on a live elephant. It is very good news that all this ivory will be put beyond use.

The Government recently announced that it had received more than 70,000 responses to its ivory ban consultation, one of the largest ever public responses to a Defra consultation, with the overwhelming majority analysed so far supportive of a ban.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

Let's bring clear vision to the 2.5bn people worldwide denied it

Clearly - Glasses On - UK Politics from Clearly on Vimeo.

A campaign to bring clear vision to the 2.5 billion people worldwide denied it as quickly as possible came to Parliament this week.

The Clearly campaign has had support from celebrities such as Annie Lennox, Lenny Henry, James Corden, Brenda Blethyn and Niall Horan from One Direction. They have called on Commonwealth leaders to put poor vision on the agenda of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in London in April.

Shockingly, a third of the world’s population, 2.5 billion people, suffer from poor vision, which is the world’s largest unmet disability.

Nine out of 10 of these people just need a simple pair of glasses – a solution that has been around for centuries and can be produced for as little as £1.

I wouldn’t be able to do my job or go about my daily business without my contact lens/glasses, and I know many of my constituents feel the same. The ability to get a simple sight test and buy glasses is often taken for granted in the UK but it is something that so many around the world are unable to do.

I’m joining the Clearly campaign and calling on the Government and Commonwealth countries to put ‘vision for everyone’ on the agenda of their Heads of Government Meeting in London in April.

More info at

Monday 4 December 2017

Makerfield Christmas Veterans' Lunch

On Saturday (2nd Dec 17), I hosted my annual Christmas Veterans’ Lunch at St Matthews Parish Hall, Highfield and was joined by over 120 veterans from across the Makerfield Constituency.

I welcomed Mr Mark Dumican, Headteacher – St Edmund Arrowsmith High School and Deputy Leader of Wigan Council, Cllr David Molyneux as my special guests. 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 Rev Sian Gasson was on hand to open the event with prayers followed by the Exhortation led by Mr John Burns (Chair – Ashton in Makerfield Royal British Legion) and Mr Lawrence Powers (Burma Star Assoc).

Tucking into a traditional 3 course Christmas lunch provided by H&H Catering Ltd, guests were also entertained with a musical performance by pupils of St Edmund Arrowsmith High School.

Monday 6 November 2017

Opening of Winstanley Warriors FC Sports Hub

I was joined by former Wigan Athletic FC defender Emmerson Boyce to officially open Winstanley Warriors FC’s new sports hub on Friday 3 November. The project was made possible thanks to a grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund, which is delivered by the Football Foundation.

The grant has enabled Winstanley Warriors FC to install a new floodlit third generation (3G) artificial grass pitch (AGP) and refurbish their existing changing pavilion. The new 3G AGP, which caters for 7v7 and small-sided play, is in addition to the club’s three existing full-size grass pitches, 9v9 grass pitch and a training area.

The pitches and changing pavilion, which comprises two refurbished team changing rooms and a large officials’ room, will be used by the club’s 28 teams ranging from the Under-7 level upwards. Local clubs and schools, including the Hope SEN School and Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School, will also be able to use the facilities.

Winstanley Warriors FC has close ties with Wigan Athletic FC, with players having been scouted by the Latics in the past. The Wigan Athletic Community Trust will take advantage of the facilities at the upgraded sports hub, to deliver a range of community outreach programmes. These will include ‘Every Player Counts’ sessions for disabled pupils from local schools, helping them to get involved and enjoy football, and Premier League Kicks.

The club worked in partnership with the Lancashire FA to secure a £418,714 grant from the Premier League & The FA Facilities Fund with support from Wigan Council and local ward councillors in Worsley Mesnes and Winstanley.

My thanks go to Winstanley Warriors FC for inviting me to help open their new all-weather pitch and improved changing provision. It is excellent to see the new facilities already in use – a real boost for grassroots sport in the area. It is great news that the improvements made to the sports hub is going to increase football participation.

The club have worked really hard to make this project a success, with the support of the Football Foundation – funded by the Premier League, The FA and the Government, through Sport England. The Foundation delivers great facilities like this all over the country, and I’m sure that this one is going to encourage local people to get involved in sport and enjoy themselves.