Tuesday 31 January 2012

A Hindley Green success story!

Pic Sean Moloney
Local constituency visits are one of the most useful ways to learn about the issues facing people and business. Last week, I visited Belmont Packaging Ltd to celebrate the continuing success of the company which was a finalist for the 2011 Wigan Chamber of Commerce Business of the Year Award.

Since its inception in 1978, Belmont have recognised that as the market place demands change then so must the company to meet and adapt to the needs of the market in which it trades.

Central to this understanding is the ethos that drives the company forward; It actively encourages the co-operation, involvement and participation of all staff, calling on everybody's abilities, skills and experience for the good of the company and for the wellbeing of all those involved and associated with the business.
Belmont draws on the strengths and knowledge of all its partners to ensure it is continually experimenting, innovating, evolving and developing to meet the increasing demands of the market place and expectations of its customers and the benefit of all stakeholders.

Operating to 'LEAN MANUFACTURING' principles and standards Belmont specialise in the printing and converting of corrugated fibreboard products with our ‘in house’ skill base and years of practical experience backed up by an extensive range of modern machines, technology, equipment and systems.

I spent time talking with Managing Director, Sean Moloney and was pleased to learn that Belmont has become the largest corrugated products producer on Ebay UK.  A true diversification success.
Belmont’s customer base derives from all sectors of industry given the omnipresent and crucial nature of the cardboard box in today’s supply chain, both as a transit devise and point of sale tool.

Supplying the whole of the UK and Ireland Belmont makes full use of its reputation as a highly invested, modern and efficient manufacturing Plant, nowhere better is this demonstrated than in the fact that over 20% of its Sales are made to customers within its own industry, due to abilities Belmont have that others do not.

Sean Moloney said, “We pride ourselves on continual high investment in equipment and skills in the interests of efficiency, competitiveness and diversification, within an increasingly competitive market. Continual downward price pressure from the Retail sector makes this a prerequisite to success in the modern supply chain if done correctly. Belmont’s ability to ensure this in recent years has been second to none”.

“Unfortunately, as many manufacturing and agriculture companies are finding in the UK at present, imbalance in the allocation of “wealth” within the supply chain can put pressure on suppliers retaining and employing staff.”

“Once full efficiency has been installed the only costs that remain are those of labour. This imbalance must be changed if the economy in the UK is to recover via true wealth creation rather than continuous high retail sector profits, subsequent rising high unemployment and public sector cost cutting. Tax burdens increase if more of the population are unemployed and social provision demands increase. The problem of rising unemployment as a direct consequence of too much Retail power must be remedied if our economy is to become truly self-sustaining without the misguided solution of “over borrowing”, as has been the case over the last 40 years in the UK. Adding value to create wealth via Manufacturing must be a key part of the UK’s future.”

Monday 30 January 2012

Customer Satisfaction fuels expansion as Handelsbanken opens for business in Wigan

Pic with Alan Bowers and Miranda Barker
 A strong local presence due to a nationwide network of 118 branches and a long-term approach to customer relations place Handelsbanken in an enviable position.

Founded in 1871 in Sweden, Handelsbanken specialise in providing highly personalised and competitive banking services to both corporate and individual customers.

Handelsbanken’s branch in Wigan, based at Pemberton Business Park, is now open for business with a motivated team of private and corporate bankers wishing to assist strong local businesses and professionals.

At a difficult time for the global banking sector, Handelsbanken continues to grow and customers are satisfied with their service; a recent survey of British bank customers rated Handelsbanken top for the third year running. Handelsbanken’s financial strength has also been noted with the bank recently rated the second strongest in the world by financial information provider Bloomberg.

I visited the Wigan Branch last Friday to meet with Branch Manager, Alan Bowers and staff, along with Wigan Chamber of Commerce President, Miranda Barker.

Alan Bowers said, “We are delighted to welcome Yvonne and Miranda to our new Wigan branch to meet staff and to learn about our ethos and values."

“We hope to become the bank of choice for the Wigan business and professional community. Our approach to banking is a return to traditional values, seeking to serve the needs of the customer rather than product push and an environment where the relationship is key. Our business model is based on simplicity and high levels of service where the customer always comes first.”

“Whilst we do not have targets or bonuses, our appetite for good quality business is strong and we are keen to develop long-term relationships. One of our key strengths, we believe, is that we employ local people with good market knowledge. All key business decisions are taken on a local level at the branch, which leads to good outcomes, both for the customer and the bank. I believe banking is a people business, run by people, for people and we are committed to providing a truly bespoke solution to both corporate and private customers.”

Handelsbanken’s presence in Wigan is good news for the local economy given their unique approach to banking.Despite the global economic crisis, Handelsbanken has increased its market presence by adopting a financially sound and cautious approach. It chooses to develop personal relationships with customers and its policy of not paying bonuses to staff and chasing targets allows it to have developed a long-term approach to banking that existing customers’ value and which is attractive to potential new customers.

For further information visit the Handelsbanken website.

Friday 27 January 2012

YourBigYear Finalist hails from Orrell.

I met with Orrell resident Sarah Davies today to wish her well as she represents the UK in the YourBigYear competition.

Over 60,000 (8,000 from the UK) applied to be a global ambassador with an all expenses paid trip around the world for 12 months, taking part in volunteer projects across 5 continents.

Applicants have been whittled down to a final 16 and Sarah will be asked to compete in an 'Apprentice' style challenge until a winner is announced.

Liverpool based Smaller Earth launched the competition. Sarah informed me that the company arranges work/travel and volunteering opportunities across the world.

I know that the whole community will get behind Sarah and we are all very proud of her achievements to date.

'Speak Out' against prejudice

This week I signed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, in doing so pledging my commitment to Holocaust Memorial Day and honouring those who died during the Holocaust.

Today will mark the 67th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp which is the site of the largest mass murder in history – and in the weeks running up to the day, the Holocaust Educational Trust placed a Book of Commitment in the House of Commons, giving MPs the chance to honour those who were persecuted and killed during their Holocaust and encouraging constituents to actively speak out against prejudice and bigotry today.

In signing the Book of Commitment I have paid tribute to the extraordinary men and women who having survived the Holocaust, work to educate young people about what they endured, through the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Outreach programme.

Thursday 26 January 2012

Tory-led Government should rethink its approach to Policing

Today, I am calling on the Government to rethink its approach to policing after figures show that Police numbers have fallen to the lowest for a decade, including the loss of 492 in Greater Manchester since March 2010.

The figures show that there are now 8,000 fewer officers on the streets, at a time when personal crime, which includes theft and violence, has gone up by a startling 11 per cent - the biggest increase in a decade.

People across the Borough will have real concerns about the loss of 492 officers here in Greater Manchester. The deepest cuts to policing budgets will hit this year and HMIC estimate the loss of 16,000 officers through this Parliament.

Local communities value the work that police officers do and I will be voting against the Government’s police cuts next month.

Labour is calling for the Government to reopen the police funding settlement when it is debated in Parliament next month. Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper MP: said, "The scale of government cuts has led to the biggest fall in national police numbers in decades at the same time as we are seeing the biggest increase in personal crime."

“David Cameron and Theresa May are letting down communities and turning their backs on the police. They should be battling to cut crime, but they are just cutting the police instead."

“Police numbers have fallen to the lowest for a decade, with 8,000 fewer officers since the election and 6,000 since last year alone. At the same time personal crime including theft and violence has gone up by 11 per cent -- the biggest increase in a decade."

“The Home Secretary's 20 per cent cuts go much further than the 12 per cent recommended by the independent inspectorate and supported by Labour."

“The Prime Minister's decision to cut policing too far and too fast when many crimes are increasing is putting communities at risk. MPs of all parties should vote against the scale of Government’s cuts to their local police force in Parliament on February 8.”

When Labour left office there were record numbers of police on the street, over 16,500 more than in 1997 in addition to over 16,000 new PCSOs; helped by the record number of police officers, crime fell by 43 per cent under Labour and the chance of being a victim of crime was at the lowest since records began. Labour had a clear plan to find savings of around 12% over the course of this Parliament, which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary said could be achieved without impacting on the frontline. The Conservative Government is implementing cuts of 20% which is too far, too fast.

Tuesday 17 January 2012

Big Energy Week

Rising fuel bills are stretching household finances and people are looking for ways to save money on their energy bills.

Help is at hand through Big Energy Week (16-21 January 2012) which is being run by Citizens Advice.

During Big Energy Week you can get practical advice on cutting your fuel bills and help to see if you are getting all of the financial support you are entitled to.  You can pick up a leaflet with tips and advice on cutting your fuel bills at your local Citizens Advice Bureau.
A new website is full of tips on how to cut your energy bills. I joined Citizens Advice Teresa Perchard  in Westminster who said, “We know hikes in prices have put extra pressure on people’s budgets at a time when money is already tight. Day in day out local Bureaux are helping people who can’t afford their fuel bills."

“We’re worried that some people are struggling unnecessarily because they’re not on the best deal; live in homes that haemorrhage heat or are not getting all of the financial help available to them.”

Monday 16 January 2012

Age UK Winter Pledge

I joined with Lisa Nandy MP in the fight to save lives this winter in the Borough by signing up to the Age UK Winter Pledge.

Last year nearly 22,000 people aged over 65 in England and Wales died unnecessarily during the winter and Lisa and Yvonne agree with Age UK that this figure is a disgraceful waste of life. In the North West there were 3920 excess winter deaths.

Lisa Nandy MP said, “We have one of the worst levels of unnecessary winter deaths in Europe – with each day on average over 200 succumbing to the effects of the cold weather. The number of older people who do not survive the winter here is far higher than in most European countries, including those where the weather is far colder.”

By both signing the Age UK pledge, we are committing to working with the charity to help ensure all our older constituents are prepared for winter by knowing the dangers of cold weather and how they can guard against them.

John McArdle, Chief Officer of Wigan Age UK said, “We are delighted that Lisa and Yvonne have joined our fight to reduce this shocking waste of life.  We know that behind the excess winter deaths figures lie deep-seated social issues with over 5 million households living in fuel poverty and one in three older people living in housing that is poorly insulated.”

By signing up to the Age UK pledge Lisa and Yvonne are committing to:

• Raising awareness of the dangers to health of cold weather and cold homes
• Working with their local Age UK to tackle the local priorities for older people
• Challenging energy providers to produce simple tariffs to make it easier for people to lower their bills.
• Promoting preventative measures that older people can take before a cold spell
• Encouraging all sectors of the local community to make tackling excess winter deaths a priority
• Ensuring that all their constituents are prepared for winter

Age UK is working in partnership with the Met Office to alert vulnerable older people when a cold snap is expected, sending out key messages on how to keep warm and well.

The pledge is part of Age UK’s annual Spread the Warmth campaign. The Charity and its local and national partners are aiming to make winter warmer for 360,000 older people by providing information, advice and practical services to help keep warm and well in the colder winter months, preventing many thousands from being left isolated and alone. These include getting warm and nutritious meals to older people, helping to keep homes warm, and giving free information and advice 365 days a year.

There will be lots of ways to help Age UK Spread the Warmth this winter. People can make a donation simply by calling 0800 169 87 87 or via the web.

Monday 9 January 2012

Financial education in schools should be compulsory

I am backing better financial education in schools by putting my name to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Financial Education for Young People report on Financial Education and the Curriculum launched last month. The report recommends the Government should promote the provision of high quality financial education in schools in England.

Around one in four economically active adults is functionally innumerate. A survey by the UK Payments Council has found a notable lack of knowledge around the meaning of some of the most common financial terms, for example, only 36% of people understand that the term APR relates to payments. Moreover, lack of financial education has cost Brits nearly £250 million in charges and penalties alone, with almost a quarter (24%) having been hit by charges because they don't understand the terms and conditions of financial products, according to research from uSwitch.com.

A survey carried out by the inquiry found that in schools across England the existing provision of personal finance education is ad hoc, with only 45% of teachers reporting that they have ever taught the subject.

The report recommends that:

• Financial education should be compulsory in every school’s curriculum and assessed.
• Every school should have a dedicated ‘champion’ to coordinate financial education drawn from the senior leadership team.
• Banks and businesses can play an important role, particularly the British Bankers Association.
• Primary schools should continue to teach financial education using a cross-curriculum approach, but teachers must be able teach basic maths and money skills.
• Secondary schools should use a cross-curriculum approach grounded in maths and personal social health and economic (PSHE) education.
• PSHE should cover finance education as one of four strands with clear outcomes, and improved training and assessment.
• All teaching materials should be quality marked by a trusted body.

In and ever increasingly complex financial world it is important that young people are fully equipped to make informed financial decisions. I support the improvement of the provision of personal finance in schools and call on the Government to include these recommendations as part of their review of the National Curriculum.

I also spoke on this subject in parliament as a result of an epetition by Martin Lewis.

Martin Lewis of MoneySavingExpert.com, whose e-petition has now had the magic 100,000 sign it said, "For once, thankfully, we have a bunch of politicians who aren't pussy-footing around.  They're actually using the C word – compulsory.  We need compulsory financial education in our schools. Our nation is financially illiterate, for over 20 years we've educated our youth into debt when they go to university, but never about debt. Breaking this cycle will mean less mis-selling, fewer bad debts, better consumers and could save the public coffers a fortune."