Friday 28 January 2011

'Pass IT On!' Technology Challenge

Working alongside e-skills UK, the fifth year of the Make IT Happy competition has been launched, a UK-wide technology challenge for primary school students aged 9 to 11. The competition is run by the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM) and e-skills UK, the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology.

The competition recognises and rewards the excellent and inspirational work primary schools do with IT, particularly how they use it to reach out to their wider communities. This year’s Make IT Happy theme of “Pass IT On” calls for schools to use IT to connect with people to make a positive impact on their lives.

The judges will be looking for entries that demonstrate innovative ways in which pupils have used technology to forge links with others. Projects could be as simple and local as helping other members of the school community, such as younger children or support staff, to use IT. Equally, they could involve children linking up with schools or organisations in other parts of the country to share skills and experience. Projects could even be international, since many schools have close connections with British forces serving overseas, or with schools in the developing world.

£1,200 will be awarded to each of the regional competition finalists with the overall winning school taking home an additional cash prize of £4,000. Winners will also be invited to attend an awards ceremony to be held at the Houses of Parliament in London in June 2011.

This week I have written to local primary schools encouraging them to get involved.

The closing date for entries is April 10th, 2011.

For further information and details of how to enter, visit the website here. 


The Parliamentary Information Technology Committee (PITCOM) provides a forum for MPs, Peers, senior civil servants, academics and ICT professionals to exchange information and opinions. It has evening meetings in a Committee Room of the House of Commons on the policy implications of new technologies, and holds receptions and an annual dinner in the House of Lords. The Committee also provides in-depth briefing papers for Members of Parliament.

About e-skills UK

e-skills UK is the Sector Skills Council for Business and Information Technology, rated ‘outstanding’ in the relicensing of Sector Skills Councils in 2009.  We work on behalf of employers to ensure the UK has the technology skills it needs to succeed in a global digital economy. Our work covers software, internet & web, IT services, telecommunications and business change.

Find out more here.   

Thursday 27 January 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day

Today I pledge my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day by signing the Book of Commitment in the House of Commons to honour those who perished in the Holocaust.

With 27th January marking the 66th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons to give MPs the opportunity to remember those who were persecuted and murdered during the Holocaust – and to support the sharing and safeguarding of ‘Untold Stories’, learning from survivors’ experiences to help create a future free from hatred and prejudice.

In doing so, I have paid tribute to those remarkable individuals who survived the appalling events of the Holocaust and have since dedicated their lives to educating younger generations about the dangers of allowing persecution and intolerance to take hold in society.

Thousands of events are being held across the country to commemorate all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis during the Holocaust and in subsequent genocides. The aim of the day is to motivate people – individually and collectively, to ensure that the horrendous crimes, racism and victimisation committed during the Holocaust are neither forgotten nor repeated.

As antisemitism, racism and prejudice are still present in our society, learning from the extraordinary ‘Untold Stories’ of those who survived gives us the opportunity to reflect on the evil that was perpetrated during the Holocaust and other genocides and pledge to create a brighter future.

Friday 21 January 2011

Warm Homes Campaign

The National Energy Action’s Warm Homes Campaign is stressing that a national energy efficiency drive is vital in combating rising levels of fuel poverty.

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

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

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

NEA is the UK’s leading fuel poverty charity campaigning for affordable warmth in the homes of vulnerable people. For further details, visit here. 

Fuel poverty is defined as when a household is required to spend more than ten per cent of its income after housing costs on total fuel use.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

Justice for All Campaign Launch

Update - I have secured a parliamentary debate to discuss the government's proposals - date to be determined.

A coalition of groups opposed to proposed cuts to free legal advice will converge on Westminster today for the official launch of the Justice for all campaign.

Over 1000 legal and advice agencies, including Citizens Advice and the Law Centres Federation, charities including Kids Company and Scope, politicians, trade unions, community groups and members of the public have already signed up to the campaign.

They will be at Westminster today lobbying their local MPs and urging them to oppose the cuts and sign an Early Day Motion tabled by me calling on the Government to rethink the provision of legal services for the poorest in society.

Half a million fewer people will be helped through legal aid funded advice on social welfare law and family problems, according to Ministry of Justice figures, as part of a package to reduce the legal aid budget by £350 million.

Advice funded by legal aid will be cut entirely to welfare benefits and education law. It will be restricted to housing and debt cases with an ‘immediate risk’ of homelessness and employment cases involving discrimination. Much of legal aid on family law will be limited to cases of domestic violence.

Access to justice for all is one of the cornerstones of a free and civilised society, It is vital that everyone – particularly the most vulnerable - is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live.

Visit the campaign website here.

EDM 1194 

That this House welcomes the Justice for All campaign launched in the House of Commons on 12 January 2011; supports the aims of the campaign which are to raise awareness of the vital importance of advice and representation on legal matters for the most vulnerable in our society and to ensure that everyone is treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are, how much money they have or where they live; recognises that the strength of feeling is reflected in the fact that the campaign is a broad coalition of legal and advice agencies, trades unions, charities, community groups and members of the public; regrets that the reduction in spending on legal aid, through restrictions in scope and eligibility and the blanket 10 per cent. cut in the lower fee paid to providers of legal services, is having a detrimental effect on access to justice and on the well-being of the most vulnerable people; questions the real cost savings to the public purse that this budget reduction will achieve, given that early advice on legal matters saves money by keeping families together in their homes, and in work and education; believes that free, independent advice and representation on legal matters is essential to achieve justice for all; and calls on the Government to rethink the provision of legal services for the poorest in society.

To listen to a report of the launch of the campaign on Radio 4's Today in Parliament (scroll to 23min 20sec mark for start) click here.

The programme will be available on BBC iplayer until Saturday, 22nd January.

Monday 10 January 2011

Rethink required on Woodland sell-off!

I am calling on the coalition government to think again about controversial plans which could see local woodland sold off to the highest bidder.

Government proposals to sell off parts of the Public Forestry estate in England contain no assurances on who can own the land and how it will be managed once in private ownership.

Uncertainty remains about rights to public access and the maintenance of biodiversity in woodland once sales go ahead. Before any sales go ahead we need to know what these plans involve and what safeguards will be put in place so that local woodland is protected.

There are 28,000 hectares of Forestry Commission land in the North West and 153 hectares in the Wigan Borough. It would be a tragedy if the Government’s plans result in a forestry fire-sale.

Rather than putting a “for sale” sign over Wigan’s woodland the Government should be consulting local people about what their plans mean in practice.

Ministers should be talking about how we secure the future of our national forests for the next generation. Instead we have heard nothing so far. Until the Government comes clean over their plans the public will rightly remain sceptical.