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.