Wednesday 21 December 2011

Makerfield Labour Party Christmas Dinner

Lisa Nandy MP, Tony Lloyd MP & Sir Ian McCartney
A long-serving Labour Party stalwart was honoured at a function held in Wigan Town Hall on Friday, 16th December. Guest speaker was Tony Lloyd, MP for Manchester Central and Chair of the Parliamentary Labour Party.

Alderman Mrs Joan Hurst was the guest of honour at the Makerfield Labour Party dinner held in the Charter Suite.

Former Makerfield MP, Sir Ian McCartney and Cllr David Molyneux, Deputy Leader of Wigan Council were on hand to present Joan with a ‘Long Service’ certificate inscribed with the words;

Alderman Mrs Joan Hurst, Sir Ian McCartney & Cllr David Molyneux

‘To honour a lifetime’s commitment to the Labour Party and the people of Wigan.’

The certificate is signed by Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband and General Secretary, Iain McNicol.

Joan Hurst represented the Ince Ward on Wigan Council 1997-2011. She was the first citizen of the Borough in 2000/01 in her Mayoral year. Her Grandfather, John Parkinson was the Labour Member of Parliament for Wigan from 1918 until his death in 1941. His tenure was the first of an unbroken chain of Labour MPs to the present day.

Sir Ian McCartney said, "Joan has been a community fighter and activist all of her life. She served with distinction as one of Wigan's few women mayors. She is a Labour stalwart who deserves this recognition.

Cllr David Molyneux added, “Joan has always give 100% to the Labour Party and the Community where she lived and worked. This award is in recognition of that dedication and is well deserved.” 

Rugby League Group to challenge cuts to BBC Local Radio

The Parliamentary Rugby League Group are to challenge the BBC’s proposed cuts to local sports coverage.

At a recent meeting in Westminster, the group heard from RFL Chairman Richard Lewis, veteran broadcaster Ray French, Head of BBC Sport for English Regions Charles Runcie and BBC London rugby league producer and commentator Ian Ramsdale.

This meeting brought home just how significant the proposed changes to BBC local radio are.  There have been debates in Parliament on the cuts to local radio services, but for rugby league – which is recognised as one of the most community-focused sports in the UK – the consequences could be devastating.

If all the proposals made in the consultation are enacted, it will result in:

• The loss of local programmes on weekday afternoons, with programmes being shared with neighbouring stations;
• The loss of all local programming between 7pm and 10pm. This means the end of any sports magazine shows, in-depth discussion about sport and the opportunity to have options heard, engage with clubs, officials and others involved in the game;
• Significant loss of live commentary as there will be a massive reduction in the number of games covered and with the reduction in the number of commentators at games that are broadcast any local flavour disappears;
• The loss of all local programming between 1am until the start of the breakfast show. All stations would broadcast Radio 5 Live;
• The loss of a wide number of locally-split breakfast programmes; and
• Huge costs to any local station that wants to offer live coverage of more than one game matches of any sport as stations will be charged to use the medium wave band.

As Secretary of the Group, we are challenging the way the BBC has gone about consulting with the public on such an important issue as well as the proposals they are suggesting. We have written to Mark Thompson from the BBC and Chris Patten from the BBC Trust and have contacted other sports-related Parliamentary Groups asking to join us to raise these issues directly.

For more information, visit the Group’s website.  

Friday 16 December 2011

Unify Credit Union welcomes newest member

Unify’s Angela Fishwick was on hand to welcome me as a new member of Wigan’s biggest credit union at the headquarters of the Higher Ince based Unify Credit Union Ltd.

Cllr Keir Stitt also joined us. Keir is the Chair of Wigan & Leigh Cooperative Party and a staunch supporter of credit unions. He is an existing member of Unify.

Angela Fishwick said, “We are really pleased that Yvonne recognises the good work that Unify Credit Union does within the borough and that she wants to be part of that success."

“As well as providing low cost loans, Unify members are encouraged to save and receive a good return on their savings (2.5% in 2010).  All members’ savings and loans are also insured at no cost to the member, meaning that the loan dies with the member and savings could be worth twice as much.  This service is not provided by any other financial organisation.”

Her membership comes in the month that a report from R3, a trade body for insolvency professionals, has found that 45% of the population struggle to make it to pay day each month before running out of cash and that 3.5 million adults are considering taking out a pay day loan in the next six months.

Pay day loans provide access to small sums of money until a person’s next pay day but are controversial because of the rate of interest that they charge which can, in some cases, be as much as 4,000% APR.  Whilst such borrowing can be useful for immediate one-off emergencies, critics point out that when loans are rolled over – only the interest is paid and the capital left for repayment at a later date – interest costs can quickly spiral out of control.

The report also raises the spectre of ‘zombie debtors’ who can afford to only make interest payments on their borrowings and finds that one in six now finds themselves in this position.

As Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Credit Unions I know that Credit Unions offer a safe and reliable way to save and they play a vital role in helping people through difficult financial circumstances.

Too many low income borrowers face extortionate rates of interest, but credit unions provide loans at low cost and help to keep the loan sharks away from the doorstep.

Credit Unions also support the growing appetite amongst the public for mutual alternatives to banks.

Monday 12 December 2011

Home Heat Helpline

As we approach the coldest time of the year, the challenge that many households face in keeping their homes warm only becomes greater. Unfortunately, many people do not know where to turn for help.

I am therefore writing to urge anyone in Makerfield who is concerned about staying warm to call the Home Heat Helpline on 0800 33 66 99. It is a free, independent service which helps people to find out whether they are eligible for help.

Around 6,600 households in the Makerfield Constituency are entitled to some form of assistance with their fuel bills, which on average can be worth £250. People have nothing to lose from calling the helpline and potentially a lot to gain.

At this time of year, we must also think of others who may be struggling to keep warm. If you know anyone elderly or who you think may be having difficulties please urge them to call the Home Heat Helpline. Let's try to keep every home warm this winter.

Monday 5 December 2011

Cameron's NHS plans will cost £22million across Wigan

New figures obtained by Labour has revealed the hidden cost of the Government’s wasteful NHS reorganisation in Wigan. New guidelines will force the local NHS to put aside £22.1million from their budget this year and next to pay for a costly NHS restructure that David Cameron repeatedly ruled out.

These shocking new figures show the Government’s reorganisation is costing the NHS even more than we first feared. It is scandalous that they are telling our local NHS to hold back millions of pounds for their own reckless plans whilst thousands of nursing jobs are being axed.

Our local area has already seen a 40% increase in the number of patients waiting longer than 18 weeks for treatment since Cameron became Prime Minister. Before his plans are even fully through Parliament, David Cameron's reorganisation is hitting the NHS hard and costs are now topping £3.4bn across the country for the first time. Spending this amount on an unnecessary reorganisation is totally unjustifiable when every single penny should be focused on maintaining standards of care.

At the election Cameron ruled out top-down NHS reorganisations. But only weeks after entering Number 10, he ripped up his own words and ordered the biggest and most dangerous upheaval of the NHS since it began.

The financial request is buried in the Government’s new NHS 'Operating Framework' document and takes the nationwide cost of the NHS reorganisation above previous estimates of £2-3bn, with Primary Care Trusts now holding back £3.44bn over two years.

This month leading doctors from the British Medical Association voted to call for an immediate halt to the Government’s costly and controversial Health Bill.

The country did not vote for it and our doctors, nurses and patients have already expressed huge concerns at the plans. Yet Cameron is ploughing on with his Health Bill, ignoring public and professional opinion. The time has come for him to listen, put the NHS first and drop his dangerous Bill.

£22million should be focused on proving health care for patients not a needless reorganisation.

Friday 2 December 2011

Christmas Card Design Competition

Picture credit - John Rowbotham
Today I proudly announced the winner of my 2011 Christmas card competition today as Aleyna Adamson (aged 10), a pupil of St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary School, Ashton in Makerfield.

I presented Aleyna with a framed copy of her winning picture and a set of books by famous childrens’ author Jacqueline Wilson during the school’s morning assembly. 

The design competition attracted entries from across the constituency with all of the designs being carefully judged.

It was an absolute pleasure to present Aleyna with her prize. It’s a great design and she’s 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 St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary School will be very proud of Aleyna and I am too.

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.

Aleyna's winning design
 I also presented a prize to the runner up, Shanice Galloway (aged 10), a pupil attending St Paul’s CE Primary School, Goose Green. Shanice’s design features on the back of the card.

Aleyna’s winning design will be sent to a number of distinguished people in the political world, including both the Prime-Minister 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 Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Joy Birch.

Thursday 1 December 2011

Work Capability Test faces scrutiny

Controversial medical tests by a private sector company at the centre of the government’s drive to cut the benefit rolls are failing genuine claimants.

In the week that it emerged that ministers have been forced to spend millions of pounds hiring more than 80 new judges to tackle a costly backlog of welfare claimants appeals (Salary £101,000 pro rata) against the loss of their benefit, I tabled a parliamentary question to the minister which confirmed that;

• Of 667 cases heard 218 or a third of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) appeals were decided in favour of the appellant on appeal (1st April-30th Sept 2011)
• Of 119 cases heard, 38 or a third were decided in favour of the appellant on appeal during September 2011
• 741 individual cases were not determined within the Dept Work & Pensions 35 day target (October 2011).

Across the UK welfare appeals are up a colossal 72% on 2008/09.

Charities and individuals have criticised the “work capability assessment”, which has determined entitlement to benefit.

I am not surprised by the figures as Charities, Law Centres and Citizens Advice have all criticised the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). My concern surrounds the poor decisions by those carrying out the WCA is fuelling appeals which are conducted by Atos Healthcare, a private company.

Some cases are taking up to a year to go from lodging an appeal to having the final tribunal hearing date according to Duncan Lewis Solicitors, the UK’s biggest benefits legal department.

I am calling for a regular audit to ensure that the decisions about eligibility “are consistent, robust and evidence-based”.

The Government are failing far too many genuine benefit recipients who are forced to appeal due to an unacceptable high degree of poor decision making. This is further compounded by the slow appeal process leaving people in limbo at a time of stress and anxiety.

At a time when funding to advice agencies is being cut the figures demonstrate that people need increased access to advice in order for them to claim the benefits to which they are entitled.

Monday 28 November 2011

Borsdane Precinct Update

I know that a lot of hard work has contributed to today's announcement that the council has entered into an agreement with a developer over the future of Borsdane Precinct, especially when many developers are not looking to commit to projects in the current economic uncertainty.

Wigan Council and the developer are to be congratulated on arriving at this agreement and I remain optimistic that this decision will lead to a brighter future for Borsdane and lift the blight that has been a feature of this area for far too long.

Deputy Leader of the Council, Cllr David Molyneux said, "I am delighted that we have progress on Borsdane Precinct. The condition of the site has long been an issue for the community as well as being a centre for anti-social behaviour. This opportunity for a fresh start is good news for everyone and although we are only at the very start of the scheme, things are now in progress and I feel confident that we can look forward to major improvements to the precinct in 2012.”

The Developer has six months from now to satisfy the conditions of the arrangement, after which the council will transfer title to the retail element of the scheme and grant the building licence of the residential site at the same time.

Friday 18 November 2011

Hindley Green Community Primary School

Today, I was delighted to open the new school building along with Leigh MP, Andy Burnham.

Cllr Sue Loudon informed guests that this has been an 8 year project leading up to today's official opening and parents and pupils were on hand to tour the new buildings.

Congratulations to staff, governors, pupils and parents for their hard work and patience during the planning and building works.

Tesco voucher scheme provides local schools with equipment worth £8,000

Since 1992 Tesco, through the voucher collection promotions, has provided UK schools with access to around 4 million free pieces of equipment worth £170 million.  Last year, 36 schools and clubs in Makerfield collected a total of 230,542 vouchers, with 31 of them ordering equipment worth £8420.

I enjoyed meeting staff and pupils from local schools and hearing what they have been able to do with the vouchers they have collected.

Staff at Tesco Hindley are to be commended for their support.  It is a worthwhile scheme and it has been going a long time bringing significant benefits to many local schools.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

On Sunday, I attended the Remembrance Service at St Thomas & St Luke's Church in Ashton in Makerfield.

On behalf of the people of the Makerfield constituency, I laid a wreath at the cenotaph to mark the contribution of those service personnel who have paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Thank you to all those involved in the arrangements on the day and in particular to the members of Ashton Royal British Legion.

Monday 14 November 2011

An essential service for Wigan and the nation.

On Wednesday 9 November, I pledged support for the future of funding for the Citizens Advice service at a event held at Parliament to re-launch the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Citizens Advice, hosted by the Group's new Chair, Stephen Lloyd MP.

Citizens Advice Chair, John Gladwin, called on Parliamentarians to pledge the following: "I will do all I can to ensure that the Citizens Advice service has the funding it needs to continue providing vital and high quality advice and advocacy in my local community and across the country."

Every year Citizens Advice Bureaux help over two million clients with over seven million problems, providing support to people who often have nowhere else to turn, from over 3500 community locations across the UK.

Funding cuts pose a significant threat to the Citizens Advice service and bureaux capacity to provide help to those who need it. This financial year Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales have already seen a seven per cent drop in the total number of people they were able to help as a direct result of cuts to funding.

Parliamentarians from across the political spectrum work closely with the Citizens Advice service both in their local communities and at a national level.

At a recent Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron responding to my question said that the Citizens Advice service, 'is probably the finest organisation in our country for helping people' and is the charity he works with most closely in his constituency.

In my constituency, working with my local Citizens Advice Bureau, I see on a daily basis how advice really can change people’s lives. Even people at crisis point can find their situation swiftly improved if they seek advice. I’m delighted to be able to pledge support for the Citizens Advice service.

The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information click here. 

Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 7.1 million problems from April 2010 to March 2011. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable. (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).

Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,300 service outlets across England and Wales.

Thursday 10 November 2011

Campaign Against Police Cuts

Lisa Nandy MP and Paddy Lillis
The shopworkers' Union Usdaw has launched a campaign against the police cuts branding the Tory-led Coalition's attack on police budgets a threat to the safety of all shopworkers.

The Union has produced a leaflet and petition against the cuts and will use its annual Respect for Shopworkers Week, which takes place between this week, to urge shoppers and members of the public to back the campaign and sign Usdaw's petition.

I joined Usdaw Deputy General Secretary Paddy Lillis and Lisa Nandy MP at the launch in the House of Commons.

Paddy Lillis said, "Every minute of every day another shopworker is assaulted, threatened or abused. That is why one of Usdaw's major campaigns is called Freedom From Fear.  Shopworkers should be free from the fear of violence, threats and verbal abuse and it should never be accepted as just a part of the job.”

"Under the Labour Government, violent incidents against shopworkers halved because Labour invested in 12,000 additional uniformed police officers.  Does anyone really believe that by cutting frontline policing, crime will continue to fall - as it did with Labour?  That is not the logical conclusion I draw.  I fear that when these cuts bite we will be left with a much less effective police force that will be grossly under-staffed and terribly demoralised.”

The first duty of Government is to protect us all.  That is where this Tory-led Coalition will fail us with their unprecedented cuts in funding that will affect frontline policing.  Don't just take my word for it - the Police Federation are saying that '20% cuts to policing are criminal'. With a predicted loss of 2,944 frontline police officers in Greater Manchester, I am very concerned about the effect on local crime levels.

You can sign Usdaw’s petition against police cuts here.

Tuesday 8 November 2011

Here's to Pubs!

I joined with Wigan MP, Lisa Nandy and dropped in on Landlord Ian Thorpe at The Anvil on Dorning Street to celebrate British Pub Week.

Pubs inject an average of £80,000 into their local communities and pay over £100,000 in tax. The industry employs over 540,000 people directly and 380,000 in associated trades and account for 35% of the ‘eating out’ market (Source: The Publican).

Landlord Ian Thorpe welcomed us and spoke about the unique challenges facing the industry, including over regulation, alcohol tax hikes and the effect cheap booze sold by the off licence trade has on the pub.

Well-run pubs are the bedrock of community life – They deserve support and government needs to back pubs and reform the beer tie to deliver a fairer deal for consumers.

Lisa Nandy MP said, "Wigan boasts some top class pubs which provide a vital social and leisure service to the town. As a fan of real ale I was delighted to be able to sample some of the brews on offer at the Anvil.”

Unsung Heroes of our Emergency Services

Photo courtesy of Chris Tennant of Bolton MRT

I recently visited Bolton Mountain Rescue Team (MRT), a group of 40 volunteers who for the past 40 years have been helping to rescue people in trouble.

Bolton MRT territorial area of operation includes the Wigan Borough I attended MRT’s operational HQ at Ladybridge Hall on Chorley New Rd, Bolton on Friday, 4th November.

The visit was arranged by Bolton MP, David Crausby for the following purposes:

• To introduce the work of the Bolton Mountain Rescue Team, and the liaison at a local level with the Statutory Emergency Services.
• To thank local Members of Parliament for the recent Government announcement of national financial support for civilian mountain rescue teams in the UK, via an equipment grant to be administered by Mountain Rescue England and Wales.
• To highlight the work of Mountain Rescue in assisting the Statutory Emergency Services via partnership multi agency responses to emergencies within our local communities.
• An opportunity to display the new emergency vehicle livery Bolton MRT have adopted for all five Emergency vehicles.
• To discuss with the Members of Parliament present the ongoing issue of gaining VAT exemption for all equipment purchases made by mountain rescue teams.

Photo courtesy of Chris Tennant of Bolton MRT

I learned that the modern day MRT was much more than just a mountain rescue operation. From looking for missing persons in urban areas to assisting the Police, Fire and Ambulance services during the bad winters of the last two years, Bolton MRT is on hand to support and assist the statutory agencies 365 days a year.

They have done this heroic work without statutory funding, relying on donations and grants for 40 years, so I was pleased that national funding for equipment will relieve some of the financial pressures that they face. We should all be proud of our MRT - they really are the unsung heroes of our emergency services.

Monday 7 November 2011

Curry House 'Highly Commended' in Lyca Tiffin Cup

Hindley’s Mahabharat on Market Street is celebrating after it was announced that it had been ‘highly commended’ in the Lyca Tiffin Cup 2011.

The Lyca Tiffin Cup is a competition to find the best south asian restaurant in Britain. MPs from across the country were asked to nominate a restaurant in their constituency.

The name ‘Tiffin’ is given to the containers that transported light meals. The tiffins, or tiffin boxes, are made up of three porcelain or metallic round trays with handles and lids in which lunches are delivered to workers.

A complex network of Dabbawallahs deliver the tiffins to workers. The practice is still in use in India today.

The judging panel included BBC Comedy Goodness Gracious Me star Nina Wadia.

I nominated Mahabharat earlier this year. The judging process included a mystery diner who sampled the cuisine, decor and ambience of Mahabharat.

Mahabharat received a certificate and embroidered Lyca Tiffin Cup 2011 chef jacket to mark their achievement in this year’s competition today.

This is a prestigious award and to be honoured in this way by the judging panel is testament to the fantastic efforts of all the staff. If curry is your favourite cuisine, then pop along to Mahabharat. You will be assured of a warm welcome.

St Leonards based Indian restaurant Taj Mahal finished as winners of the national Tiffin Cup competition. The Taj Mahal was nominated by Hastings MP, Amber Rudd.

Thursday 3 November 2011

Type 2 Diabetes Test is quick and simple!

At a special MPs testing event held in Westminster, I took the quick and simple Type 2 diabetes test to help raise awareness of the need for public testing for the disease.

I was also issued with a Silver Star Pedometer to measure the amount of steps taken during a Parliamentary Week as part of the 50 day challenge.

The NHS spends £1 million per hour on diabetes related illnesses and it is estimated that more than one million people in the UK are unaware that they have the condition.

Silver Star launched in January 2007 is a registered charity campaigning to raise diabetes awareness. The Charity runs Mobile Diabetes Units (MDU) that carry out important diabetes testing. They seek to promote culturally sensitive healthcare, with particular regard to the high prevalence of diabetes in the major towns and cities of Britain. The Units travel to local community centres, schools, work places and other organisations.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

Winstanley Community Primary School

I was very pleased to be asked by the Head Teacher, Mrs Jones and Governors to officially open Winstanley Community Primary School new build extension earlier this month.

Friday 21 October 2011

Ex-Battery hens get the ‘Good life’ thanks to Lucky Hens Rescue

The biggest revival in hen-keeping since the Second World War is under way in Britain and leading the ‘good life’ in Wigan is LuckyHens Rescue run by Alison Thorpe with the support of her husband Dane.

I visited the rescue centre today see for myself one of the fastest growing activities in the UK.
Around 700,000 of us now keep hens, saving money in tough times by having our own supply of eggs.

The boom in grow-your-own fruit and vegetables has spilled over to keeping hens, which was common in Britain during the war when eggs were rationed.With the credit crunch still biting, the fun of keeping hens and the prospect of having freshly laid eggs for breakfast by simply popping out to the garden has become more appealing.

Alison Thorpe told me that when LuckyHens Rescue receive the hens they are often in a terrible state caused by the stress of living in cramped cages, unable to walk, spread their wings, perch, scratch for food or even enjoy natural daylight, everything a normal hen should be able to do.

Once the hens have settled into their new surroundings at LuckyHens Rescue they start to lay again. Hens are flock animals and it is important that when they join a new home that they are kept together in small groups.

LuckyHens Rescue are also developing links with the local community and schools and are working with Greater Manchester Police and the Youth Offending Team to provide educational activities for young people.

Thursday 20 October 2011

Bill to promote free debt advice

Yesterday, I introduced a 10 minute rule bill in Parliament to require fee charging debt management companies to inform potential clients of the availability of free advice.

The  Press Association and my speech in Hansard provide more information on the Bill.

Monday 17 October 2011

Wigan Business Expo Twenty11

The FSB champions small business owners
Following a successful inaugural event at the DW Stadium last year, the Wigan Business Expo was held at Leigh Sports Village on Friday, 14th October.

Over 1,000 companies descended on Leigh Sports Village to network, sell, buy and promote business in the Wigan Borough.

Congratulations to Wigan Council and the local Chamber of Commerce for organising the event. In the current difficult economic climate it is the businesses present at the Expo that will be the engine for the recovery and job creation.

Setting up and running a business can be a daunting prospect. But the spirit of entrepreneurship can lift people out of poverty, create wealth and put our economy back on track. That's why I was pleased to support the Federation of Small Business (FSB) 'Real Life Entrepreneurs' Pledge at the Expo.

Thursday 13 October 2011

A day of Judgement for this Tory-led Government!

In Makerfield there are nearly 11 people chasing every job. Across the Borough there are over 8,900 people claiming JSA. Our Borough now needs a change of direction from this Government.

Labour's 5 point plan for jobs and growth would get our area moving again. We need to get people back to work and off benefits, or the scar of unemployment will do long term damage. At the moment we are stuck in a vicious cycle, with more people on benefits and out of work the deficit is harder to get down.

Official figures reveal that 2,293 people are claiming JSA in Makerfield chasing just 219 vacancies across the constituency at Sept 2011.

Tuesday 11 October 2011

Victims of Farepak collapse speak out

This morning I took part in an interview with Victoria Derbyshire - Radio 5 Live and the victims of the Farepak collapse.

Scroll to the 7 minute mark to listen to the interview in full which is available for the next 7 days on BBC iplayer.

Monday 10 October 2011

Labour's new Shadow Frontbench team

Ed Miliband's new frontbench team has been announced in full today and I am delighted that Ed has asked me to join the frontbench team in Parliament.

My new role will be working in the Opposition Whip's Office with Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton MP.

Thursday 6 October 2011

Wear it Pink and let's tackle Breast Cancer

This month I am joining forces with Breast Cancer Campaign to raise awareness of its biggest fundraising event, wear it pink day.

On Friday 28 October 2011 supporters in schools, colleges and businesses throughout the country are encouraged to don an item of pink in support of the campaign and each donate £2 to fund innovative world-class breast cancer research.

Last year hundreds of thousands of people took part to help improve survival rates for the one in eight women who experience breast cancer during their lifetime.

Every year in the UK, around 48,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in women. Although it is rare, men can also suffer from breast cancer, with around 340 men diagnosed each year. I know people who have lost friends and family members to the disease and I would like to encourage everyone in Makerfield and throughout the country to support wear it pink on October 28, to raise valuable funds for breast cancer research.

To take part in the UK’s original and best pink day visit wear it pink and register to receive your free fundraising pack now.

Friday 30 September 2011

Citizens Advice Annual Conference 2011

Below is the text of my speech to the Citizens Advice Conference held in York earlier this month.

'Thank you for inviting me here today to speak at your annual conference.  It’s lovely to see old friends again and to meet new people coming into the service still dedicated to the ideals of CAB.

I have to say if I could have seen into the future at my first conference in 1986, I would not have believed I’d be standing here today and a lot, if not all, is down to the experiences and lessons I have learnt through working 23 years as a CAB Manager/Chief Executive in St. Helens – I must be a slow learner to need such a long apprenticeship.

Although when I review the knowledge that CAB has brought to me it probably is not all that surprising and CAB work is an excellent foundation for political activity.

When I was asked to speak, I thought I would review some of the history of the CAB, looking back at our challenges as well as forward to the future and I re-read a lovely little book titled ‘The Story of the Citizens Advice Bureau’ published for the Silver Jubilee in 1964 – no I wasn’t actually there then.

And, I was struck by a comment made by the Home Secretary at the 1959 conference, 'Whilst all of us in public work are there because we are interested in the social improvement of our people, we differ from you in that we have so little intimate knowledge of these subjects'.

I don’t think you’d find a politician today who would admit that quite so frankly.

That is why the social policy role of the CAB is so important and I don’t mind admitting that, since my election, I have often felt very guilty and regretted not making a larger contribution to that work when I had the chance.

My predecessor as M.P. for Makerfield, Sir Ian McCartney, a previous recipient of CAB Parliamentarian of the Year and a man for whom I have huge respect, once said to me that  the best legislation is founded in constituency casework citing the example of the legislation he introduced regarding the flammability of foam furniture that had resulted from a tragic death in the constituency.

However, this is not a view universally shared by MPs and, indeed, constituencies do vary dramatically, so the pivotal role of a national service giving actual examples of cases, snapshots of people’s lives, is vitally important – and very difficult to refute.

The parliamentary briefings prepared for debates and committees are well respected and immensely useful raising the profile of the service and also making legislators stop and think about the effect that the legislation has had and will have on the lives of people throughout the country.  It can be a very strange and almost sheltered life in Parliament and I am always happy to return home and get back to helping people with their real lives but the CAB briefings take those real lives to all parliamentarians, and give examples from all types of areas, rural areas, urban areas, wealthy areas, areas of deprivation that we cannot possibly all experience.
I think that’s my plug for the social policy work over, so I would now like to turn to the future.

I think the word I hear most often is ‘challenging’ and I wouldn’t disagree with that but I also believe there are opportunities.

As I said, I have been re-reading our history and there have been major challenges in the past, in fact all government funding was removed for a short time but the service still survived and has grown in both scope and influence.

The CAB and local Bureaux are almost sacrosanct – everybody from David Cameron through to new backbench M.P.s praises the work of their local Bureau and relies upon their services.

However, whenever I hear this praise, I am reminded of one of my AGMs in the early 1990s when the local Mayor, who was also the member for funding the voluntary sector, was the keynote speaker.  Naturally, he was fulsome in his praise of the service. The vote of thanks was given by one of the older volunteers, a wonderful feisty person who had been with the service a considerable time and she thanked him for his kind words, then saying, ‘But, in an old phrase, fine words butter no parsnips and what we need is the money to keep providing the service and not the grant freeze you have proposed’....... We did get the money.

It feels a bit like that now and part of the reason is the complex funding structure of most Bureaux and the interdependence of each strand. It is difficult because there is no one government department that provides all the funding and takes the responsibility and there is even some confusion about where the national grant is spent.

That’s why, besides contributing to social policy work, the other thing I would urge you to do is go back and talk to your politicians both local and national.  Explain the effects of cuts – your Bureau may not receive legal aid funding directly but may have a specialist who comes to the Bureau from a central unit. Leave your M.P. in no doubt what would happen should that service be withdrawn.

The CAB service is talking the language politicians want to hear, in fact the minister in the Legal Aid bill committee stated that he wanted to ‘empower’ individuals to deal with their problems. Well local Bureaux have been doing that for years and doing it very efficiently and cost effectively.

No politician can imagine a world without their local CAB but they need to have demonstrated not only the cases that are helped but the efficiency and cost effectiveness of the service and the collaboration with other agencies so this myth of ‘duplication of services’,   would that  there were in my area,  can be well and truly scotched.

You have a great brand –which everyone believes they understand.  I remember someone saying to me – when I said I worked for CAB,  “I know what you do – you tell people where to go” – Perhaps that’s why I went into politics, to actually do that!

But, actually they don’t understand.  Inform them and keep informing them.

You have a great volunteer base who do incredible and professional working, supported by dedicated teams of paid staff – tell them how it works – explain the costs of volunteering as well as the benefits.

Keep your public profile high and keep inviting politicians to the Bureau and sending them short, sharp snappy profiles of your work.

Research them – what are their interests, what select committees are they on, how can you help them?
I can’t tell you how much the service is valued – it is a much loved institution – but equally it is not fully understood particularly on a local level.  I’ll do my bit to keep the service in the spot light and correct any misconceptions.... but really it’s down to you.  The door is open – keep pushing it!

I began with a quote from the fascinating and quaint 1964 history and I would like to end with one which I believe is still true today. It is from the 1963 Minister of Pensions and National Insurance, who said, 'Surely we have come to recognise that human needs can be met in full only by a partnership between the statutory and voluntary services. Each needs the other if the highest standards are to be achieved; they will not be achieved if we work in isolation. That’s as true now as it was then and the CAB service will continue to adapt and change but it will always be needed.'

Thursday 29 September 2011

Free Debt Advice Bill

A leading North West forum held a one day conference at the Wigan Investment Centre, supported by the Money Advice Liaison Group (MALG). The conference brought together leading practitioners in the money advice, consumer credit and personal debt sector including advice agencies, banks, local authorities and charitable trusts.

Wigan Evening Post 26th Sept 2011 

I was pleased to address the meeting and announce that I had secured parliamentary time to introduce a Bill to require fee charging debt management companies to inform potential clients of the availability of free advice on debt management.

In my speech, I also attacked the extortionate rates of interest that Pay Day Loan companies offer.

Whilst payday loans can offer a solution to people who need a short term fix, they often offer it at extortionate rates of over 2000% APR and this can lead to spiralling and unaffordable debt by allowing customers to keep borrowing to pay off the original loan.

There is another option available for people offering a pathway out of debt – the free advice sector with trusted organisations like Citizens Advice and Law Centres across the country offering impartial advice and a network of Credit Unions like Unify and Welcome, here in Wigan who provide secure savings and cheap loans to members.

Monday 19 September 2011

Support for bereaved Armed Forces families

David Murray is the RBL's County Manager 
I recently attended an important event in Parliament to highlight the importance of supporting bereaved Armed Forces families.
At the event, I was told about the Royal British Legion’s work to improve the welfare of the Armed Forces family in the local area and the Legion’s concern that the Government should support bereaved Armed Forces families by appointing a Chief Coroner to improve investigations into deaths of Service personnel.

David Murray, the Legions County Manager for the Greater Manchester area told me the Legion  spends nearly £1.4 million a week on helping both the serving and the ex-Service communities, including their families. The Legion is currently celebrating its 90th Anniversary Year, and this campaign is calling on the Government to do all they possibly can for bereaved Armed Forces families.

I was really pleased to meet David and tell him that just as the Legion supports bereaved Armed Forces families, so do I. The Legion does very important welfare work for some of my most vulnerable constituents in both the serving and ex-Service communities. It is vital that we, as a nation, are there for those serving in current conflicts, and especially for the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. I was grateful for the opportunity to learn more about how, in its 90th anniversary year, the Legion stands shoulder to shoulder with all who serve, including bereaved Armed Forces families. They deserve as much support as we can give them.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Question Time at Winstanley College

Mark Hage is pictured with college students and myself.
I recently attended a question time session with Winstanley Sixth Form College students.

I talked about my role as a MP as well as answering some very good questions on a range of issues important to young people like tuition fees and the recent riots.

Tom Owen (16) said, “Watching the debate on current topical issues was fascinating. I learnt about labour’s position on tuition fees and student debt.”

Amy Nash (16) said, “It really brought home to me the complexity of issues MP’s have to consider and how relevant politics is for young people such as myself.”

The event was part of the current affairs enrichment program at Winstanley College, headed by Law teacher and Current Affairs Coordinator Mark Hage who said, “This debate is typical of the high quality events students at Winstanley participate in as they were able to talk authoritatively on a wide range of current issues affecting them and society. This was democracy at its best”.

Monday 12 September 2011

C-TEC - A fine example of manufacturing excellence in Wigan

Yvonne is pictured with Andrew Foster
I visited a world class manufacturer of life-safety products on Friday, 9th Sept.(Fri, 9th Sept) having nominated Goose Green’s C-TEC for the ‘Made by Britain’ initiative, as an example of manufacturing excellence in my constituency.

Made by Britain was launched this summer by Secretary of State, Vince Cable MP and the Associate Parliamentary Manufacturing Group (APMG), to showcase examples of manufacturing across the UK. Every MP has been asked to nominate a company or a product that is manufactured in their constituency today.

C-TEC manufacture an extensive range of fire alarm control panels, disabled persons toilet alarms, staff protection systems, third party approved EN-54 compliant power supplies, induction loops and nurse-call systems.

Based at two sites on Stephens Way, Goose Green, C-TEC are celebrating 30years of manufacturing, employing over 120 people and exporting to over 80 countries.

The company will relocate later this year following the purchase of a new factory on Wigan’s Challenge Way industrial estate. Measuring a massive 75,000ft (the size of 3 football pitches), the new facility will provide manufacturing, office and storage space to facilitate further expansion and the recruitment of staff.

Each MP’s nomination will feature in the APMG’s Made by Britain showcase to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Great Exhibition. The project has been partially funded by the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851.

I enjoyed the tour of the factory and meeting with senior management and chatting to shop floor employees.

Despite the current economic climate that faces UK PLC, it is still the case that we are a nation that has a proud manufacturing base and too often we forget just how many successful and innovative businesses we have around us.

C-TEC is one such company with ambitious plans for the future and a commitment to Wigan. They boast a range of innovative products including the new ‘Hush Button’ fire alarm system which will reduce the incidence of false alarms in flats and apartments, potentially saving thousands of lives and placing them as a world leader in the field.

Andrew Foster, C-TEC’s Managing Director said, “I am delighted that C-TEC has been nominated for such a prestigious and important initiative. 2011 marks our 30th year of manufacturing world-class life safety products and I can think of no better way to celebrate than by flying the flag for not only the UK but also Wigan as a centre of manufacturing excellence. I am incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication of everyone at C-TEC and hope the publicity generated by the initiative will attract yet more hard-working and talented people to join the team.”

C-TEC can be found on the web here.

Monday 5 September 2011

Christmas Card 2011 Competition

Today I have written to local primary school headteachers inviting them to submit pupils’ designs for my 2011 Christmas Greetings Card.

Following last year’s inaugural competition, I am calling on pupils to submit a traditional Christmas or New Year themed design that will grace the front of my 2011 card.

Last year over 250 entries were received from pupils across the constituency. The entry by Molly Fisher of RL Hughes Primary School, Ashton in Makerfield, was judged the winner and Molly’s winning card design was sent to a number of distinguished people in the worlds of politics, business, sport and charitable sectors, including both the Prime-Minister and the Leader of the Opposition, as well as many local people working in Wigan’s public services such as the NHS and Wigan Council.

In this year’s competition, I hope that my office receives a fantastic response from local schools. Judging by last year’s entries, the children clearly put a lot of effort into their art-work so it made my job of picking the winner extremely difficult. So, I hope that the standard is even higher this year.

Submissions from Makerfield’s primary school aged children are welcomed and should be forwarded no later than Friday, 28th October 2011 to:

Yvonne Fovargue MP
Elizabeth House
Pottery Rd
Wigan WN3 4EX

Designs should be submitted on plain paper no larger than A4 size. 

Tuesday 30 August 2011

Well done Wigan Warriors

Thomas Leuluai
What a great weekend for Wigan!

I saw reports that over 30,000 Wigan Warrior fans attended the game and they made themselves heard turning Wembley into a home game for the day!

I stayed over in London on Saturday night before returning for the homecoming at the DW Stadium.

I was very lucky to be able to meet the players and congratulate them, but their focus was already turning to Sunday's game with Warrington. Sam Tomkins told me that they were reporting for training the following day. I have been fortunate to attend Challenge Cup finals but I have yet to see a finer try in the final than Joel Tomkin's length of the field effort on Saturday.

Friday 26 August 2011

Anthony Nolan Stem Cell Register

Today, I am calling for young men aged 18-30 in Makerfield to do something special by joining the Anthony Nolan stem cell register.

Anthony Nolan is a pioneering charity that saves the lives of people with blood cancer. Every day, they use their register to match remarkable donors willing to donate their blood stem cells to people who desperately need potentially lifesaving transplants. 

However, there is a shortage of young male donors on the bone marrow register. Men aged 18-30 account for 80% of donations, but make up just 19% of the register. Presently, Anthony Nolan can only find a matching donor for half the people who come to them in desperate need of a lifesaving transplant so this summer they are aiming to recruit 10,000 more young men to the register.

Young men interested in the chance to save someone’s life should go to the Anthony Nolan website and enter the code CUU2.

There are 1600 people in the UK in need of a potentially lifesaving stem cell transplant. By joining the Anthony Nolan Register, these young men will be offering patients the chance of life and a new hope to their families.

I found the story of 15 year old Alice Pyne inspiring and felt that if she can dedicate her life to recruiting donors then I should take part in that.

The young people I have met in my constituency are often gushing with altruism. I know many of them will relish the chance to step forward and join the Anthony Nolan register.

If every MP recruited just ten young men to the Anthony Nolan register, that would make up 6,500 new recruits towards the charity’s ten thousand target. These new donors could be saving lives by Christmas.

Anthony Nolan provides two potentially lifesaving transplants every day, but for every patient they can help, there is another for whom, sadly, no match can be found. On average, 65 people a day in the UK are diagnosed with a blood cancer – that’s one person every 23 minutes.

There are nearly 1,600 people in the UK in need of a bone marrow transplant.  This is usually their last chance of survival. 70% of patients will not find a matching donor from within their families.
80% of donations take place via PBSC (peripheral blood stem cell collection).  This is an outpatient appointment and is similar to donating blood.

Most donors talk about how wonderful it is to have saved someone’s life.

Thursday 25 August 2011

Parkinson's UK

Parkinson’s UK – the support and research charity - is committed to improving life for everyone affected by Parkinson’s.

Members of Parkinson’s UK in Makerfield met with me this week at the Wigan and Leigh Carers Centre in Hindley to talk about the issues that affect people with Parkinson’s and their carers.

Parkinson’s UK campaigns for people with Parkinson’s to have access to the health and social care they need, for scientific research into Parkinson’s to easily take place, and for people to have the financial support to stay independent and pay for their medication.

Katherine French, Influence and Service Development Officer of Parkinson’s UK said, “We invited Yvonne  to visit the branch, so we could tell her what we wanted her to do for Parkinson’s in her capacity as MP."

“We were delighted that she took the time to meet with us and listen to our concerns about the changes to the benefits system, prescription charges and the replacement of the Parkinsons Nurse who is leaving her post shortly. People said after the meeting how important it was to be able to talk open and honestly and have their views listened to and thanked her for taking time out to meet with them.”

Meeting people with Parkinson’s face-to-face has been a real eye-opener. I can now see the problems faced by carers and people with the condition. I want to do everything in my power to make sure people affected by Parkinson’s have all the support they need.

In particular, many people present were very concerned about the impact of the provisions of the Welfare Reform Act and the effect it will have on both them and their carers as it may mean they will wait longer for benefits and have the additional stress of being retested every year despite knowing that their condition will not improve.

For information and support call the Parkinson’s UK free confidential helpline on 0808 800 0303 or visit Parkinson's on the web.

Friday 15 July 2011

I'm backing the World Cup Bid

East Lancs Rd, Golborne
Today, I was pleased to assist in raising awareness of Wigan's bid to be a host town for the 2013 Rugby League World Cup.

I joined Deputy Leader of Wigan Council, Cllr David Molyneux and Wigan Rugby League legend Kris Radlinski as new signs were erected at the entrances to the Borough, backing the World Cup bid.

Earlier this year, I intervened when the North West Development Agency (NWDA) were set to renege on contracts entered into with the Rugby Football League, casting doubt on the tournament's viability.

Alongside the All Party Group on Rugby League, we were successful in persuading the NWDA to honour its commitment.

For me, it is inconceivable, that Wigan should not play a significant role in the World Cup, but I know that all involved in the bid are not taking anything for granted and are working hard to ensure that international Rugby League will grace both the DW Stadium and Leigh Sports Village.

Self regulation is simply not working

This week, I was called by the Speaker at Prime Minister's Questions and I used this opportunity to call on David Cameron to regulate the Debt Management sector and ‘beef up’ the powers of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) to deal with rogue companies.

Debt management is a lucrative business. Over the past decade, countless firms have sprung up – many using dubious tactics to acquire customers. Misleading advertising and a procession of inflated claims about how easy it is to write off your debts are just a few tactics some companies have been caught resorting to – and almost all of them charge high fees.

There is growing support in the country and within parliament for change and I am spearheading the campaign as the new chair of the All Party Group on Debt & Personal Finance.

In his reply, David Cameron acknowledged Ms Fovargue’s experience in this area and undertook to consider the issue.

The OFT’s recent review of the market revealed shocking results. When it conducted 168 compliance visits and mystery shopped 172 providers, 129 firms were told to take immediate action or risk losing their credit licence.

It is little wonder that one in four UK adults, according to research organisation Mintel’s September 2010 debt management report, think that debt management companies (DMCs) ‘prey on the desperate’ and ‘are just rip-off merchants’.

DMCs must hold a consumer credit licence issued by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT). As an unregulated industry, two trade bodies DEMSA and the Debt Resolution Forum are aiming to raise industry standards.

Nonetheless I remain unconvinced. Self-regulation has failed tens of thousands of people in this country and in the absence of a regulatory framework, many people are receiving poor and inappropriate advice with front loading of fees from many DMCs they contact for help.

The OFT has no power to stop a company trading while they investigate, which is on average two years and, ideally, the best solution is to expand free debt provision from agencies like CABs so people aren’t paying to get out of debt.

Thursday 7 July 2011

National Transplant Week

Join the Register

Over 7,500 people in the UK are currently waiting for an organ transplant and furthermore, on average, 3 people who need a transplant die every day whilst waiting.
Transplant Week, which takes places between 4th - 10th July, aims to increase awareness of organ donation and the issues that surround it by focusing on how long people are currently waiting to receive a transplant.

Last week, I met with The Kidney Alliance during National Transplant week to discuss the affect of the government’s Health Bill on patients suffering from kidney failure and requiring regular dialysis.

There is still much work to be done to encourage people to donate their organs.

At the moment only 29% of people have joined the Organ Donor Register, even though 96% would take an organ if they needed one. 

The average person in the UK spends an hour waiting every day - whether it's in traffic, on public transport or in a queue. But for those waiting for a life-saving organ transplant, for which there is often no alternative, the wait is on average up to three years.

For Transplant Week this year, I want people to think about that wait and take action by signing up to the Organ Donor Register and join the 16 million citizens whose details are registered. If I could magically change one thing to help save more lives, it would be to make sure everyone took a few minutes to let their family know their wishes regarding organ donation

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Citizens Advice Parliamentarian of the Year Award

Yvonne is pictured with Jane Mordue of Citizens Advice
 I was very surprised to learn this morning that I was to be this year's recipient of the Citizens Advice Parliamentarian of the Year.

Gillian Guy, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Yvonne was selected for her tireless championing of the Citizens Advice service and our clients in Parliament, since being elected in 2010."

“While still a relatively new MP, the sheer amount of time and determination she has put into keeping the issues Citizens Advice work with high on the political agenda, and the effective way in which she has secured the support of so many colleagues, on both sides of the House has had a huge impact on the Service and on our clients."

“Yvonne’s successful leadership is evidenced in her work as Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Legal Aid and the new Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance. In these latter roles she has secured several debates on the impact of legal aid reform and on the impact other public spending cuts will have on the future of funding for free debt and welfare benefits advice."

“As a member of the Welfare Reform Bill Committee Yvonne spoke in favour of several proposed amendments to the Bill to expose and try to mitigate the negative impact some of the proposed changes will have on CAB clients and other vulnerable members of society."

“Together with other members of the APPG on Debt and Personal Finance, she has
been campaigning for more effective regulation of fee-charging debt management plans – a huge issue for our clients, and one we fully support.”

These awards acknowledge either a Peer or an MP who we have worked closely with in Westminster – and in the case of MPs, their constituency – to deliver real change for our clients. Previous winners include Yvonne's predecessor Sir Ian McCartney in 2009 and Vince Cable, Liberal Democrat Business Secretary and MP for Twickenham in 2008.

For me, as a former Citizens Advice Bureau manager, receiving this award is extra special and I’m delighted to be recognised in this way by the service that I worked in for so long. My experience with St Helens CAB was the best possible grounding for my work as an MP, both in terms of dealing with constituency casework and as a legislator. I continue to meet regularly with my local Wigan & Leigh CAB. This contact, in addition to that which I have with Citizens Advice head office, is vital in helping me effectively represent my constituents, especially those struggling with debt, benefits and legal problems. The Citizens Advice service’s understanding of the issues facing individuals and communities across the country is second to none.

Friday 1 July 2011

Fishy goings-on down at Spring View

Today I visited an innovative project for young people not in education, employment or training in Spring View.

Cast North West runs accredited fishing-based training courses for young people in an effort to reduce offending and anti-social behaviour. In addition, the charity also runs various educational workshops on a range of subjects, including Maths, English and IT.
One of the UK’s leading grant makers, the Lloyds TSB Foundation for England and Wales funds small to medium sized local, regional and national charities working at the heart of communities to tackle disadvantage.

The two year £24,900 grant awarded to Cast NW will help the charity deliver its accredited ‘Introduction to Fishing Management’ course. I was given a tour of the facilities by Project Founder, Neil Farnworth and David Pye, Asst Co-ordinator and met with some of the young people benefitting from the course.

I was very impressed by Cast NW's plans for the future and I have pledged my support and assistance. 

Neil and his team are to be applauded for their work with our young people providing them with important life skills and boosting their self-confidence. For many young people life can be a challenge. It’s easy to make the wrong choices but with projects like this they can realise their true potential and make a positive contribution to their community.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

New National Report Reveals False Claims of Tobacco Companies.

Wigan Evening Post 18th June 2011
A new report published this month reveals that UK based tobacco manufacturers knowingly misled stakeholders, highlighting the false claims and contradictions that underly the Tobacco Industry’s attempts to stop tobacco legislation, which is aimed at reducing the 80,000 deaths every year in the UK caused by smoking.

The report, entitled ‘Tobacconomics’, cites that tobacco manufacturers claimed that banning the display of cigarettes in Ireland led to half a billion pounds loss in government revenue, when in fact the Irish Government stated that it increased by £50m.

The report goes on to explain in detail how the tobacco industry uses pseudo economic arguments to divert attention away from the health consequences of smoking and protect its revenues, commonly repeating the same three themes: standing up for small businesses and defending workers jobs, raising the alarm about counterfeit and smuggled tobacco and denying the effectiveness of tobacco control measures.

We are constantly being told that display bans and plain packaging laws would be the end and cause small retailers to close. But although tobacco sales account for up to a third of a small retailer’s turnover, the profit a shopkeeper makes on a packet of cigarettes is very small – less than 5% on a packet of 20.

It is this kind of smokescreen from the Tobacco Industry that we have to see through to get to the truth.

This report clears up the myths that the Tobacco Industry so readily peddle in their attempts to prevent or water down important legislation designed to save lives. The economic arguments, especially around the impact of display and plain packaging, do not hold water yet the Industry are very slick at presenting these as fact.

I welcome this report and its expose of false claims by the Tobacco Industry and its front organisations – all of whom have a vested interest in keeping people smoking. The North West carries a considerable  burden of ill health and death from tobacco use; the public in the North West need to know the truth.

Monday 27 June 2011

Regulation required for companies making money out of people in debt.

I have lent my support to a cross-party campaign calling for fee-charging debt management companies to face greater regulation after it was revealed that many are flouting rules meant to protect consumers.

The campaign for better regulation wants to stop consumers getting a bad deal from the private companies who charge those in debt to negotiate with and/or set-up payment plans with creditors.

The cross-party call for more effective regulation includes:

• an immediate ban on cold calling
• an immediate ban on the charging of upfront fees for debt management
• effective auditing of for-profit debt management companies

In March, a super-complaint to the Office of Fair Trading, made by Citizens Advice, highlighted the harm done to consumers by widespread misleading marketing and excessive charges. In some cases fees are not even passed on to creditors.

In May, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Debt and Personal Finance submitted its call for more effective regulation to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills’ Consumer Credit and Personal Insolvency Review. This followed the publication earlier this year of the Office of Fair Trading’s own investigation into compliance with existing rules. The review found that breaches of its guidance were widespread with misleading advertisements and poor levels of competence among their front line staff commonplace.

I’m calling on the Government to take urgent steps to introduce more effective regulation of the companies who make money out of people in debt. All too often these companies are not debt management companies but debt exploitation companies.

Of course, not all fee charging companies break the rules but the whole sector needs reform so that consumers know that they can trust those companies offering to help them with their debt.

If anybody is worried about their debt they should seek free advice from their local Citizens Advice Bureau. I know from working with my constituents that the Citizens Advice Bureau’s free debt management help can really change people’s lives: so if you need help, visit the CAB.”

The Early Day Motion on “Regulation of fee-charging debt management companies” is available here.

Friday 24 June 2011

Legal Aid Bill cuts a further blow for the poorest

Severe cuts to Legal Aid will go ahead virtually unchanged, as the Sentencing and Legal Aid Bill was published this week by Justice Secretary, Ken Clarke MP.

A coalition of groups joined forces today at Wigan & Leigh Magistrates Court including Wigan & Leigh Citizens Advice Bureau, Stephensons Solicitors and representatives from the local Law Society calling on the Government to ‘think again’.

Free legal advice helps families stay together in their homes, in work and education. Over 650 000 people will lose out on this vital help through reforms to legal aid alone, at a time where other funding streams for free advice are under threat.
Reforms to Legal Aid will decimate the capacity of CAB, Law Centres, legal aid practitioners and other community advice agencies to help the most vulnerable people with serious everyday problems with issues like debt, employment, housing, benefits, immigration, clinical negligence and family matters.

The Bill also has profound implications for litigation funding and costs with proposals to reform "no win no fee" Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs).

Legal Aid was responsible for winning compensation for the miners in the 1960-70s, helped the Thalidomide children in the 1970s, and more recently, allowed the Gurkhas to win the right to live in the UK in 2008.
Over half a million people will lose out on advice, according to the Government's own figures, as the legal aid budget is cut by £350 million.

The proposals will very seriously restrict what advice legal aid funds, especially in social welfare, family and education law and who can get legal aid.

New figures demonstrate the impact on the Wigan Borough. Government proposals will see a 76% cut in the number of cases currently eligible for Legal Aid equating to over 2,300 fewer cases compared to 2010 with a total loss of funding of £428,000 to Legal Aid providers in the Borough.

The government should have listened to ‘thousands of dissenting voices’ and introduced reforms that would make the necessary savings without simply transferring costs to other parts of the public sector.

Legal Aid provision will be decimated in Wigan if Ken Clarke’s proposals remain unchanged. At some point in people’s lives they will need access to help currently funded by Legal Aid.

Legal Aid is a vital public service that we don’t often think about in the same way as the NHS or schools but it provides a lifeline for people who require professional advice on a wide range of issues from welfare benefits to clinical negligence.

The government's proposed cuts will make access to justice the preserve of the rich and powerful.

Ann Harrison, Chair of Stephensons Solicitors said, “Legal Aid is a fundamental right in any democratic society. It allows the poor, the vulnerable and the oppressed to have a voice and to be represented against large commercial organisations. We undermine our Legal Aid system at our peril.”

Chris Harris, Manager of Wigan Borough Citizens Advice Bureau said, “There is a powerful business case for Legal Aid funding for social welfare law advice, but, more importantly, the issue at stake is the access to justice for the most vulnerable."
“Effective face-to-face legal help, provided at the earliest opportunity, makes a vital contribution to preventing future problems such as homelessness, spiralling debt, family breakdown or stress, mental illness, as well as supporting people when they leave prison and helping refugees to settle more successfully into life in the UK."

“There are considerable needs for debt and welfare benefits advice, and we expect this to increase in the current economic situation, at a time when many people will be facing redundancy, and as the Government’s plans for radical changes to the welfare benefit system and the cuts to specific benefits are implemented.”

Visit here for full details of the Bill.