Friday 30 November 2012

A special school assembly for Christmas Card Competition Winner

Today, I proudly announced the winners of my 2012 Christmas Card Design Competition at Hope Special School, Kelvin Grove, Marus Bridge.

Joining me at the presentation was Headteacher, Mr Peter Dahlstrom, pupils, teachers and parents.

Now in its third year, the competition attracted entries from across the constituency with all of the designs being carefully judged by me.

The winning design will be sent to a number of distinguished people in the political world, including both the Prime-Minister, David Cameron 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 Borough’s first citizen and Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Myra Whiteside.

It was an absolute pleasure to present Kacy, Maisey and Libby with their prizes. It was a great design and they have 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 Hope Special School will be very proud of them and I am too.

With Caitlin, Olivia and Daniel

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.

Yvonne also handed out prizes to three runners up whose designs all feature on the back of the card. Mr Peter Dahlstrom said, “I am delighted for Kacy, Libby and Maisey. It is a proud moment for Hope School that we have won such a prestigious competition.”

Christmas Card Competition Winners 2012

The winning design

Winning Entry

Kacy Entwhistle, Maisey Gallagher and Libby Jarret
Early Years
Hope Special School

Runners Up

Olivia Harrald
St Wilfrid’s RC Primary
Ashton in Makerfield

Caitlin Molyneux-Winrow
Hindley Green Community Primary

Daniel Carr
St Oswalds RC Primary
Ashton in Makerfield

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Mainstream Lenders must respond to mounting credit card debt crisis

In the two years since my election to Parliament, readers of this site will know that I have campaigned extensively on debt related issues - and later today, (Tuesday, 27th November) I will introduce a 10 minute rule motion that once a borrower has paid out interest equivalent to three times the amount borrowed, all further payments should go to reducing the principle.

I want the 10 minute rule motion to highlight the role played by credit cards in getting people into chronic debt, where they can only afford to pay interest with no realistic prospect of reducing the principal.

At a time when the media spotlight has fallen on the high interest rates charged by payday lenders, I maintain that mainstream credit card companies are not immune from responsible lending as the numbers of people in debt continue to rise.

Research commissioned by Step Change suggest that there are at least 3 million households presently in financial difficulty and a further 3 million at risk. They further suggest that credit cards play a significant part in their predicament.

Credit cards, though undeniably often useful and convenient, are a major cause of agony for many people, particularly those struggling with everyday finances. The number of people seeking help with credit card debt has risen sharply in recent years, but the recession has seen it rise even further.

Whereas people may have once used credit cards for luxury or exceptional purchases, many are now using them simply to make ends meet and –  what is more – committing to further credit card borrowing when one card is ‘maxed out’, in order to ‘plug the gap’ in household finances. Indeed, multiple credit card debt is becoming a feature of life in the 21st Century and figures disproportionately in cases of the most intractable debt problems. 

The result of using one credit card to pay off another is a viscous cycle of increasing debt, as interest and other charges are added to the initial capital sum. This can lead to a real sense of hopelessness and despair as the balance hardly reduces over time.

The important thing is to reduce the speed of the pay down.  And my Bill will achieve that. It may still take time for the magic ‘three times’ threshold to be reached but at least borrowers will be able to see, for the first time, light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday 26 November 2012

Autism Challenge for local schools

I am supporting a nationwide charity challenge to help raise awareness of issues affecting pupils with autism and am calling on all local schools to take part.

The Anderson Schools Challenge is a joint campaign between The National Autistic Society (NAS) and the Anderson Foundation, which asks schools to complete 50 fun and easy tasks in celebration of the NAS’ 50th Birthday.

The tasks, which range from fitting 50 items into a Smarties tube to holding an autism-awareness assembly, can be undertaken by 50 individual pupils or a whole class, unless any pupils fancy taking on all 50. The money raised will help the NAS to provide much-needed services and support for people affected by autism across the UK.

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.

I’m delighted to be supporting the Anderson Schools Challenge and am calling on all local primary schools to do their bit and help raise awareness of autism. School can be a real struggle for many children with the condition, but better understanding among teachers, school staff and other pupils can make a real difference. This is a fun and easy way to improve awareness of autism and raise vital funds for the NAS, so that it can continue to support individuals and families across the UK.

Local Schools can sign up for the challenge here.            

Monday 19 November 2012

Budding social entrepreneurs given tips on how to grow

More than 50 social enterprises in Wigan have come together to learn the best way of growing their businesses.

A special event was held on Wednesday (14th November) to give enterprises looking to expand practical advice and tips on how to develop. Organised by Wigan Social Enterprise Sector Network, I was part of a panel who participated in a “Question Time” event, answering questions from budding entrepreneurs. Subjects covered included funding, partnerships, social impact measurement and ways to engage with customers in the public sector.

The theme of the event, organised as part of Global Entrepreneurship Week and held at the DW Stadium, was to pass on practical help and support needed by start-ups and individuals who are considering taking the plunge.

Gillian Bishop, corporate director at Wigan Council said, “Social enterprises play an important role in the economy of Wigan Borough. This event was an excellent example of what can be done to help promote their development and growth. It’s clear there’s a lot of encouraging work taking place across the borough and Wigan Council is keen to offer support where it can.”

This is an exciting time to be a social entrepreneur with a Bill to strengthen the sector making good parliamentary progress. If enacted, it would signal a further expansion of the role of social enterprises in public sector markets. Currently the government spends more than £236bn procuring goods and services –  making sure it does so with social value in mind could be enough to radically alter the economy ensuring that growth serves people and local communities.

Wigan Social Enterprise Network hosts bimonthly meetings. For more information contact Sylvia Pearson here.                                         

Wigan Social Enterprise Sector Network is part of the Wigan Borough Network of Networks. It is led by the School for Social Entrepreneurs North West and empowers, represents and supports its members and coordinated activities primarily for social enterprises across the borough. A whole spectrum of sector representation attends the network to promote a real partnership approach to business.

The “Question Time” panel members also included:

• Charlotte Young, National Chair of School for Social Entrepreneurs
• Paul Corcoran, Managing Director Agent Marketing & Chair of SSE North West
• William Greenwood, North West Region Head of Service Development for NHS Direct
• Liz Brooks-Allen, Director, The Connectives
• Andy Darron, Executive Director of Groundwork Lancashire West and Wigan

Monday 12 November 2012

Christmas Veterans Luncheon

I have today announced details of the inaugural Christmas Luncheon for the veteran community in Makerfield.

I will be hosting the luncheon on Saturday, 8th December 2012 commencing at 12noon at St Matthews Parish Hall, Billinge Rd, Highfield, Wigan WN3 6BL.

As we approach the festive season this will be an opportunity to pay tribute to our veteran community and to thank them for the sacrifices that they have made in order to make our country and the world a safer place to live.

It will also be a chance to celebrate the contribution that veterans continue to make to the life of communities across the constituency.

If you are a veteran and reside in the Makerfield constituency then please confirm your attendance by calling my constituency office on 01942 824029 or by email no later than Friday, 30th November.

Friday 2 November 2012

The UK's first zero-energy business park open for business in Hindley Green

Armstrong Point, the brainchild of local property owners Dave and Mike Armstrong are calling on the small business sector to ‘seize the opportunity’ provided by their latest development, the UK’s First Zero- Energy Cost Business Park, located on Swan Lane, Hindley Green.

I joined Leigh MP, Andy Burnham in a joint visit today.

The former derelict building which was previously occupied by Britvic Soft Drinks has now been transformed into a new, vibrant, Business Park, offering all tenants zero-energy Bills. This was part funded by the European Regional Development Fund.

Armstrong Properties (NW) Ltd have developed and completed 6 Industrial Units with 5 units already taken. At present there are no other industrial developments in the UK harnessing as many Low and Zero Carbon (LZC) technologies.

The Armstrong Father and Son Team hail the park as the ‘best value business park in the North West’ and occupiers and developers understand how such LZC technologies combined can lower energy bills for tenants and cut their CO2 emissions. The technologies used will raise the standards in industrial developments that other developers will need to embrace and replicate. Such technologies include, wind turbine, photovoltaic panels, solar hot water heating, transpired solar collector heating and cooling systems, air source heat pumps, heat recovery ventilation and energy efficient control systems.

Dave Armstrong is also the managing director of Carbon Consultancy Company, the energy consultants who provided their knowledge and expertise in low and zero carbon and sustainable development.

Dave Armstrong said, “We are very pleased to welcome Andy and Yvonne to our Hindley Green base, to showcase our development which offers the latest renewable energy technologies affording tenants the first zero-energy cost business park in the UK.”

“We are delighted by the interest the park has generated across the UK, even in these difficult economic times and with only 3 units remaining we hope that interested businesses will seize the opportunity that Armstrong Point offers.”

Thursday 1 November 2012

Don't forget the Flu Jab this Winter!

I attended the Westminster Flu Day, a flu vaccine clinic held in the House of Commons, to highlight and encourage constituents to get this season’s flu vaccine in line with Government recommendations.

Last year, 74% of people over 65 years and 53% in the at risk groups were vaccinated against flu in the Makerfield constituency compared with the national averages of 74% for the over 65s and 51.6% for those ‘at risk’.

The seasonal flu vaccination is important to help protect those people who are more susceptible to serious complications or even death from flu. I would encourage all those that are over the age of 65 or are in one of the ‘at risk’ groups to visit their surgeries and get vaccinated.

The NHS has a very successful seasonal flu programme. The uptake rate for flu vaccines in those aged 65 and over reached 74% in 2011/12, which is just below the WHO target of 75%. The Department of Health, however, wants to improve the uptake rates for those people under 65 years of age with clinical conditions which put them more at risk from the effects of flu. This currently stands at 51.6%, and the Department hopes to increase it to 70%. Uptake among pregnant women in 2011/12 was only 27.4%. 

According to the influenza immunisation program 2012/13, influenza vaccination should be offered to:

• All those aged 65 and over
• All those aged over 6 months in the following clinical ‘at-risk’ groups:
• Chronic respiratory disease and asthma that requires continuous or repeated use of inhaled or systemic steroids or with previous exacerbations requiring hospital admission
• Chronic heart disease
• Chronic renal disease
• Chronic liver disease
• Chronic neurological disease
• Diabetes
• Pregnant women
• Those living in long-stay residential and nursing homes or other long-stay facilities
• Those who are the main carer for an elderly or disabled person whose welfare may be at risk if the carer falls ill. Vaccination should be given at the GP’s discretion.
• Healthcare workers in the NHS are being encouraged to take up vaccination, especially those employees directly involved in patient care.