Monday 15 December 2014

Bomber Command Veteran recognised as daughter presented with campaign medals

Pic with Flt Lt Mike Barton, Cllr Susan Loudon,
Kenneth Talbot and June Talbot
A special presentation ceremony was held on Friday, 12th December to honour the contribution and sacrifice of Sgt Gerard Joseph Talbot.

Alongside Deputy Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Susan Loudon we presented Sgt Talbot’s daughter, June Talbot with four campaign medals awarded to Sgt Talbot for his service with 99 Squadron during WWII (part of the famous Bomber Command) in the presence of Flt Lt Mike Barton, Sergeant Mike Bevan and Chief Technician Andrew ‘Ruby’ Murray of 99 Squadron who had travelled to Wigan from RAF Brize Norton to honour Sgt Talbot.

Sgt Talbot's younger brother Kenneth was also in attendance.

Sgt Talbot’s family had never received his campaign medals and this led me to make representation to the MOD on behalf of Mrs Talbot following a conversation with Mr David Williams of the local Royal British Legion Branch in March 2013. Following due process the campaign medals were issued to my office in November 2014.

The medals awarded were are as follows:

1939-45 Star
War Medal 1939-45
Aircrew Europe Star
Bomber Command Clasp

Sgt Talbot was a rear gunner with 99 Squadron and the crew of the Wellington Bomber were lost without trace on the return from a sortie to Berlin on 9th May 1941.

On 8 September 1939, No 99 Squadron entered WWII with the first of many leaflet-dropping missions over Germany. The first bombing raids were launched on 17 April 1940 during the German invasion of Norway. European bombing operations continued until January 1942.

I am pleased to have played a small part in securing Sgt Talbot’s campaign medals for his daughter, June and I know that she is very proud of her father and his service to his country.

It was a long time to wait, but I know that today means a lot to the family and to today’s 99 Squadron who made the journey from RAF Brize Norton to honour and commemorate their fallen comrade.

Granada Reports ran the remarkable story of Sgt Talbot on its Friday bulletin. You can view the video here.

Sgt Gerard Joseph Talbot, aged 22 was killed in action returning from a sortie to Berlin on 9th May 1941. Sgt Talbot was part of the 99 Squadron of Bomber Command and was a rear gunner flying on the famous Wellington Bomber.

The son of Joseph and Elizabeth Talbot he left a wife, Belinda Park Talbot of Wigan. He was born on 28th April 1919.

Sgt Talbot is remembered with honour at the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey. The Air Forces Memorial commemorates by name over 20,000 airmen who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves. They served in Bomber, Fighter, Coastal, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands, and came from all parts of the Commonwealth.

Friday 12 December 2014

A special school presentation for Christmas Card Competition Winner

Jasmin Whittaker
Today, I proudly announced the winner of my 2014 Christmas Card competition Jasmin Whittaker a pupil at Winstanley Community Primary School. I presented Jasmin with a collection of books during the school’s morning assembly.

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

It was an absolute pleasure to present Jasmin 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 Winstanley Community Primary School School will be very proud of Jasmin and I am too.”

In this the competition’s 5th year, 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.

Mrs Karen Thompson, Headteacher Winstanley Community Primary School said, “We submitted many high quality designs, hoping that one of ours would be chosen by Yvonne Fovargue for her Christmas card, so were very pleased when Jasmin’s was selected. We are extremely proud of her and the fact that our school name will now be featured on cards sent to so many important people!”

Yvonne also handed three runner up prizes to Rebecca Herbert, Tom McAllan (Tom was ill so thank you to Mrs Cardwell from Landgate School for attending. Get well soon Tom!) and Ana Kemp. All three designs feature on the back of the card.

Jasmin’s 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 Wigan Borough including the Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Phyll Cullen.

2014 Christmas Card Competition Winners

1st Prize

Jasmin Whittaker
Year 6
Winstanley Community Primary School

Runners Up

Rebecca Herbert
St Wilfrid’s Catholic Primary School
Ashton in Makerfield

Tom McAllan
Landgate School & College

Ana Kemp
Worsley Mesnes Community Primary School

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Christmas Veterans' Lunch

St Matthew’s Parish Hall in Highfield was the setting for the now annual event attended by veterans from across the Makerfield constituency on Saturday, 6th December.

Attendees tucked into a traditional Christmas Turkey dinner provided by H&H Catering and Pemberton Brass band provided the entertainment.

MC for the day was former Welsh Guard and Falklands War veteran, Cllr Clive Morgan.

This year’s event was especially poignant given the 100th anniversary of the commencement of hostilities in WWI.

On behalf of the whole community across the Makerfield constituency, I want to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution made by the men and women present today both at home and abroad.”

The First World War was a conflict that changed Britain forever. It touched every family, affected every community and fundamentally altered our country’s place in the world.

The centenary anniversary is a unique opportunity for us to commemorate those who served and sacrificed for us on the frontline and the home front, and to think about the profound impact the war had on our society.

In a special gesture tickets for the forthcoming Wigan Athletic v Rotherham Utd match on Saturday, 20th December were made available to veterans attending the lunch.

Cllr Clive Morgan said, “This Christmas also marks the 100th anniversary of the unofficial ‘Christmas Truces’ on the Western Front as German and Allied forces played football across the battlefield and it is a wonderful gesture that later this month Wigan Council working with Wigan Athletic will commemorate this event at the DW stadium in the home game versus Rotherham Utd.”

Monday 8 December 2014

Small Business Saturday

On Saturday, I visited Sportsline, a small business in Ashton in Makerfield to celebrate the contribution of small firms in Wigan as part of this year’s Small Business Saturday.

Sportsline is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses and I was joined by Mark Fergusson, Chairman of FSB Wigan, Warrington, Widnes and St Helens and branch committee member Ed Meeks.

Small Business Saturday is a grass-roots campaign that encourages people to shop locally and support small businesses in the local community. Last year it was the biggest celebration of small businesses in the UK and gave a boost to local shops through extra trade of nearly £500m.

The campaign is supported by all three major political parties and activities were taking place across the country to promote Britain’s small businesses.

It is so important that we support our small and independent businesses. They are a vital part of our local economy and local community and we need to get behind them. They matter to our town, like Sportsline. They add character to the High Street and are a source of local jobs and investment in the community.

There’re lots of great businesses in Wigan and the campaign is a great way of raising awareness and helping boost trade.

So many local businesses are doing a fantastic job. They give us greater choice and that something a little bit special. We all need to put our hands in our pockets to back our local businesses.

Sportsline owner, Ron Hart was formerly a PE Teacher. After leaving his teaching post, Sportsline moved to its current location some 10 years ago and are now in the 25th year of trading. A trusted local business, lines include traditional sports such as rugby, football, racket sports, ski and Sportsline is official stockists for local schools uniform requirements.

More information on Small Business Saturday here.

Friday 5 December 2014


David Cameron and George Osborne have failed every test and broken every promise they’ve made on the economy.

They promised we’d be all in this together but then they gave millionaires a huge tax cut. They promised people would be better off but most people in Wigan are not feeling the recovery and working people are now £1,600 a year worse off under the Tories.

And this cost-of-living crisis is why the Chancellor had to admit that his key promise – to balance the nation’s books by next year – now lies in tatters.

Because wages aren’t rising and too many are stuck in low-paid jobs, the tax revenues we need to get the deficit down aren’t coming in.

Unlike Labour, the Tories don’t understand the fundamental link between the living standards of everyday working people in Wigan and Britain’s ability to deal with the deficit. George Osborne has now borrowed a staggering £219 billion more than he planned and the economy is set to slow down next year after forecasts for wages have been revised down again.

Yet the Chancellor still tries to claim that the economy is fixed and his plan is working. How out of touch can you get? What we needed yesterday was the better and fairer plan Labour has set out.

Labour’s plan will raise the minimum wage, expand free childcare for working parents, scrap the bedroom tax and cut business rates for small firms. We will balance the books in a fairer way, starting by reversing the Tories’ £3 billion a year tax cut for the top one per cent of earners.

Changing stamp duty to help people on middle and low incomes is welcome, but we also need to get more homes built and we need a Mansion tax to help save and transform our NHS. With an extra £2.5 billion a year on top of Tory spending plans we can get the extra 20,000 nurses and 8,000 GPs we need to help transform our NHS and save it from the Tories.

The Tories promised to eliminate the deficit by 2015 but with less money coming in because of their wrong economic decisions, they’ve broken their promise, failed their own economic test and its hardworking people who are paying the price. It’s time for an economic recovery for the many, not just a few.

Friday 21 November 2014

I Voted to Protect Our NHS

The NHS is one of Labour’s greatest achievements and Britain’s most important institution. But it’s under threat from a Tory-led government which puts privatisation before patient care.

Labour’s mission is to make Britain work for everyday people and that means having the NHS there when you need it .

Now more than ever we need action to save our NHS. That’s why this week I voted for a Labour Bill which would scrap David Cameron’s new market framework for the NHS and ensure NHS patients are always put first.

I’m delighted that we won the vote and now the Tory-led Government needs to act to make sure patients are put before profits.

The NHS has never been more vulnerable than under the present government. The Tories wasted £3 billion on an unnecessary and damaging top-down NHS reorganisation. The new rules allow hospitals to earn up to 49 per cent of their income from private patients, which risks pushing NHS patients to the back of the queue.

Labour will invest the millions of pounds saved from scrapping unnecessary competition red tape in ensuring people can get a GP appointment within 48 hours, or on the same day if they need it.

I had no hesitation in voting for this bill as it will make sure patients in Makerfield are put first once again.

The Tories haven’t just destabilised our health service; they’re holding it back from meeting the challenges of the 21st century as well. This new Bill will end the creep towards NHS privatisation, bureaucracy and red-tape, and put patients back at the heart of the NHS. Now it’s time for the Tories to listen and put this bill into action so that patients in Wigan are prioritised once more.

Thursday 20 November 2014


We hear a lot of talk from the government about the economic recovery but there is little of this talk in Wigan.

Instead, people talk to me about how they are worried about their jobs, their wages and their children’s futures. I’ve lost count of the number of young people who’ve told me that they are able to make a decent living but unable to afford to buy a house.

And other people have asked me why they are on zero hours contracts while some at the top seem to get away with paying zero tax. It’s time to end that zero-zero economy that’s created a deeply unequal, deeply unfair, deeply unjust country that says ‘as long as those at the top are doing ok, our country is doing ok too’.

The Tories’ view is that low pay is the only way we can compete in the world and that insecurity is the way you make working people work harder. They believe that markets will always get the right outcome, even if that means powerful interests like energy companies and banks have all the power.

And UKIP think that working mothers aren’t worth as much as men, that life was easier when there wasn’t equality for gay and lesbian people and that the NHS would be better off privatised

But you can’t build a vision of the future if you don’t believe in equal rights. You can’t succeed as a country if you try to close yourself off from the world. And you can’t make a fairer country if you try to destroy our National Health Service.

These are failed ideas which are neither inescapable nor inevitable. The Tories don’t have the answers because they don’t understand the problem. There is an alternative and the next Labour government will make it its mission to change our economy so it works for everyday people, and not just a privileged few at the top.

I believe that we can make a real difference in local people’s lives. With Ed Miliband as Prime Minister we’ll create an £8 minimum wage, ban exploitative zero hours contracts, freeze energy bills until 2017, cut business rates, create extra apprenticeships and build thousands more new homes every year.

Labour’s vision is one where everyone who works hard is rewarded and where broken markets are reformed so that vested interests serve the public and not the other way round. We want to ensure that the next generation does better than the last and that wages are protected and not undercut by immigration.

Like every country round the world, Britain is susceptible to waves of change which create opportunities as well as challenges. The question is who is best to control these forces on behalf of everyday people. The answer is Labour.

Friday 14 November 2014

Christmas Veterans' Lunch 2014

The 2013 Annual Veterans' Lunch
I will be hosting the third annual Christmas Veterans' Lunch on Saturday, 6th December at St Matthew's Parish Hall, Billinge Rd, WN3 6BL commencing at 12noon - 2.30pm.

Veterans of HM Armed Forces who reside in the Makerfield constituency are invited to confirm their attendance by email or by calling 01942 824029.

I expect that the event is likely to be oversubscribed so places will be allocated on a first come, first served basis. Applications close on Friday, 28th November.

Once again I am delighted to confirm that Cllr Clive Morgan will act as MC and entertainment will be provided by Pemberton Brass Band.

Thursday 13 November 2014

Freedom From Fear

Pic with me l-r: Graeme Lee, Gaynor Kirk,
Linda Lowe & Brian Topping
In the last twelve months over 300 frontline retail staff were assaulted every day, just for doing their job.

Today I visited shop workers at the Tesco Xtra Store, Cross St, Hindley to support the local Usdaw trade union ‘Freedom from Fear’ campaign week (10th -14th Nov).

This week Usdaw General Secretary John Hannett revealed that over 300 frontline retail staff are verbally or physically assaulted every day, just for doing their job.

Verbal or physical abuse is not part of the job description for staff working in retail. Shopworkers should not have to put up with harassment or abuse from customers, when they are trying their best to serve the public.

Talking to shop workers on the frontline today revealed just how difficult it can be. Asking for age identification can lead to abuse from customers who get frustrated and a refusal to serve can be a real flashpoint for threats or even violence. That’s why I am asking the shopping public to show respect and understand that the shopworkers are only doing what they’ve been told to do.”

John Hannett said, “Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand together and ask people to keep their cool and respect shopworkers."

“In the course of their duties, shopworkers are expected to enforce the law. Whether that is preventing under-age purchases of products like knives, tobacco or alcohol, or detaining shoplifters until the police arrive, they can be put in real danger."

“Parliament has given shopworkers the duty to enforce the law and Parliament should provide the necessary protection. So it has been disappointing to see Tory and Liberal MPs, on four occasions in the last couple of years, combine to vote down additional legal protections when proposed by Labour.”

Usdaw (Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers) is the UK's fourth biggest and the fastest growing Trade Union with over 431,000 members. Membership has increased by more than 17% in the last five years and by nearly a third in the last decade. Most Usdaw members work in the retail sector, but the Union also has many members in transport, distribution, food manufacturing, chemicals and other trades.

Tuesday 11 November 2014

Cap welcomed on the amount payday lenders can charge customers

Payday loan rates will be capped at 0.8% of the amount borrowed a day, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) have announced.

In total, no one will have to pay back more than twice what they borrowed, and there will be a £15 cap on default charges.

The loan restrictions will start from January the regulator said.

I have campaigned for tough action on payday lenders since my time as Chief Executive of St Helens Citizens Advice Bureau before I entered Parliament in 2010.

It’s a beginning not an end. The industry is very fast moving and the FCA need to be vigilant to ensure they do not find loopholes and invent new products that disadvantage vulnerable consumers. The effect of the cap and other rules need to be reviewed on at least a yearly basis.

Looking to the future greater choice in the market is needed. People who are in a position to borrow need a responsible short-term credit market. A vital part of this is the choice that is offered. That is why the mainstream High Street banks and Credit Unions should seize the opportunity to meet demand and offer their customers a better alternative to payday loans.

The price cap plan - which includes both interest and fees - remains unchanged from proposals the regulator published in July.

Monday 10 November 2014

Remembrance Sunday 2014

I laid a wreath at the Cenotaph at the the Remembrance Sunday Service in Hindley. This year's commemorations are particularly poignant because they mark the one hundredth anniversary of the start of the First World War, in 1914.

It was an incredible tribute to our servicemen and women and veterans, and their families, to see such a high attendance at the Cenotaph. It was an indication that as we reflect on the loss of that generation who went to war in 1914, we are also keenly aware of those who currently serve, most notably those who are returning home from Afghanistan.

Wigan is a patriotic town that is proud of our Armed Forces and veterans and their families. Their bravery and dedication deserves no less.

Friday 31 October 2014

Wigan Healthwatch takes views to Westminster

Representatives from Healthwatch Wigan travelled to London to join forces with more than 100 fellow local Healthwatch organisations to raise the real life concerns of people using health and social care services.

Attended by more than 80 parliamentarians, as well as key decision makers from across the health and social care, the event provided an opportunity for us to speak with myself and parliamentary colleague, Julie Hilling MP, about the work they have been doing to shape local services on behalf of the citizens of Wigan and Leigh, including:

  • Voicing the public’s concern about the Healthier Together proposals and recent consultation about changes to hospital services in Greater Manchester
  • Working with local Healthwatch in Greater Manchester to investigate the Non-emergency Patient Transport Service and demanding improvements
  • Providing an opportunity for children and young people to share their views and concerns about health and social care services

For more information visit Healthwatch Wigan 

Thursday 23 October 2014

Campaign to protect shopworkers from violence, threats and abuse

Pic. with John Hannett,
Usdaw General Secretary
I have joined with members of the retail union Usdaw to campaign for respect for shopworkers as part of the Freedom From Fear Campaign, which seeks to prevent violence, threats and abuse directed at retail staff.

Attending a campaign event in the House of Commons, I pledged to support a protection of workers bill that would introduce a specific offence of assaulting a worker serving the public.

Too often retail employees are confronted with violence, threats and abuse and it is really important we stand together and ask people to respect shopworkers.

I’ve been very disappointed to see Tory and Liberal MPs, on five occasions in the current Parliament, combine to block this measure when proposed by Labour.

Making the assault of a worker serving the public an offence in its own right would simplify sentencing. Under existing guidelines, assaulting a worker is an aggravating factor, but there are concerns this is not being applied when decisions are made about prosecutions and sentencing.

I will continue to campaign with Usdaw for a change in the law to ensure that proper punishments are given out. We must give a clear message that assaulting workers who are serving the public is totally unacceptable.

Respect for Shopworker Week 2014 takes place on 10 – 14 November. It is an annual event where shopworkers talk to the public about the problems of violence threats and abuse, asking customers to ‘keep their cool’. Part of the campaign will be encouraging shopworkers not to accept abuse as just being part of the job and report incidents to their manager.

Friday 10 October 2014

World Mental Health Day

This World Mental Health Day I am echoing the call of Citizens Advice staff and volunteers and urging people to seek advice for their debt, benefits and employment problems.

New national research from Citizens Advice finds:

2 in 3 Citizens Advice clients feel stressed, depressed or anxious as a result of the problem they came to the charity for help about

Almost three in four people (73 per cent) seeking debt help from Citizens Advice said their money worries were making them feel stressed, depressed or anxious

After debt problems benefits are the issue second most likely to damage people’s mental health (67 per cent)

Employment problems are third most likely to cause people distress (65 per cent).

After getting advice, 4 in 5 people said they felt their mental wellbeing improved as a result of the help they received from Citizens Advice.

The purpose of today is to give voice to the millions of people across the UK who will experience mental illness this year and to speak out against the stigma that tries to silence them.

Friday 26 September 2014

Let's build an economy that works for the many

We’ve had almost five years of the Tories’ so-called economic plan, and it’s failed working people with a recovery that just works for a privileged few. There are thousands of people across the Borough who are struggling to stay afloat and who feel the economic recovery has passed them by. They simply can’t afford another five years of Tory failure.

That’s why this week at Labour Party Conference we have set out our plan to transform our country by rewarding work, building more homes, raising the minimum wage, creating more apprenticeships and saving our NHS.

We’ll tackle the cost-of-living crisis by helping working families so, when the economy grows, the wages of everyday working people grow as well.

People in Wigan tell me that there are not enough high quality apprenticeships available for school-leavers. So we will give all young people a shot in life by ensuring as many school-leavers go on to apprenticeships as go to university.

For many people in our area the dream of home ownership is just that: a dream. So to meet demand for new homes, Labour will double the number of first-time buyers getting on to the housing ladder each year.

One in five British workers do the right thing and work long hours but still find themselves struggling on low pay. So the next Labour government will raise the minimum wage to £8 by 2020, a move that will put an extra £3,000 a year in the pockets of Britain’s lowest paid workers.

And we’ll create a £2.5 billion Time to Care fund to pay for 36,000 new NHS staff to save and transform our health service so it’s fit to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The next Labour government will balance the books by the end of the next Parliament so the Time to Care Fund will not be paid for through more borrowing or by raising taxes on everyday working people. Instead, the money will be raised by asking those living in houses worth over £2m to pay more tax, a co-ordinated crackdown against tax avoidance, and asking the tobacco companies to contribute towards the costs they impose on the NHS.

These policies are the pillars supporting Labour’s national mission to build a new Britain that rewards everyday working people. If we work together, we have an opportunity to create the change our country so desperately needs. Let’s seize that opportunity.

Friday 19 September 2014


I support the principle of a right to recall where an MP has been involved in serious misconduct as I believe this would provide greater accountability and it would further empower constituents. The right of recall could also increase public engagement in politics and help to restore public trust.

The previous Labour Government had plans to introduce a right of recall and there was broad cross-party support for this at the last General Election. The Government has now brought forward a Bill. Whilst late in the day, it is to be welcomed.

I am not in favour of a system of recall that simply enhances the House of Commons' internal disciplinary procedures. There is a real risk that such a system will be seen as the political establishment closing ranks and could lose the confidence of the public.

In addition, any system of recall has to be designed in such a way that will avoid powerful vested interests from taking action against MPs, where no wrongdoing has happened, but they simply dislike the way a politician has voted on controversial issues.

I will therefore be judging the Government's Bill on the basis of these two conditions.

Recall could play an important role in giving people a bigger say if we get the detail right.

Thursday 4 September 2014

Blind Veterans UK

Veterans in Makerfield should not have to battle blindness alone. Blind Veterans UK, the national charity for vision impaired ex-Service men and women, are raising awareness of the charity’s vital support and services, and to highlight its beneficiary recruitment campaign which seeks to reach more veterans who are eligible for its support.

The work Blind Veterans UK does is vital in supporting veterans in Makerfield and across the UK. I am pleased to help raise awareness of their vital services and to pledge my support to ensure that every veteran with severe sight loss in Makerfield will not have to battle blindness alone.

The charity’s No One Alone campaign is reaching out to the estimated 68,000 veterans with vision impairment in the UK who could be eligible for support but are not currently receiving it.

Blind Veterans UK’s ‘Living the Pledge’ report which sets out the current difficulties faced by the veterans’ community, and called on MP’s, local authorities and NHS healthcare professionals to improve referral pathways to the charity so that veterans are signposted to support as a matter of course, once they are diagnosed with severe sight loss.

If you are, or know of, a veteran with severe vision impairment and would like more information about Blind Veterans UK’s or call freephone 0800 389 7979.

Friday 11 July 2014

Spell out your organ donation decision

New figures out this week show that just 45% of families agree to organ donation going ahead if they are unaware of their loved one’s decision to be a donor but this figure rises to 95% when they know the decision. During National Transplant Week (July 7-13), I am highlighting the importance of telling family and friends your donation decision.

I attended a recent event at the Houses of Parliament organised by NHS Blood and Transplant and the British Kidney Patient Association. The aim of this year’s Transplant Week campaign is to get people to ‘spell out’ their donation decision to increase awareness that families will be asked to agree to organ donation and to encourage more people to join the NHS Organ Donor Register.

I am on the Organ Donor Register myself and have seen at first hand the impact of organ donation. My Father in Law received a donated Kidney following years of kidney dialysis.Organ Donor

Letting your loved ones know you want to be an organ donor is so important. It is devastating for families when someone they love passes away so it’s not fair to expect them to have to make the decision for you. If you talk openly to your family about your decision to donate your organs it could save them a great deal of stress when you die.

On average 3 people a day die in need of an organ transplant in the UK because there aren’t enough organs available. Despite the thousands of life-saving transplant operations which take place every year, around 10,000 people are currently in need of a lifesaving organ transplant.

For further information about National Transplant Week and to register visit this weblink.

You can view statistics by council area and parliamentary constituency here.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

Wigan Armed Forces Day 2014

Wigan Town centre was packed on Saturday to witness Armed Forces Day. People up and down the country gathered to recognise, remember and pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the British Armed Forces community. Our Service personnel work around the world in some of the most dangerous situations to defend Britain’s interests and national security. Just like those before them, they do so with unequivocal commitment, enduring professionalism and resolute courage. But the sacrifice associated with military life is rarely endured alone – we must not forget the impact on the friends and families of those who serve too. They provide invaluable support to loved ones away from home and the contribution they make to local communities should never be underestimated.

Monday 30 June 2014

Let's get Bradd on the plane to Poland

An impressive haul of medals at national and international level would demonstrate a long and successful career for any sportsman but for one youngster from Ashton in Makerfield his career is only just beginning.

Bradd Parfitt, aged 14, only started Karate in 2008 but is already a Black belt 1st Dan and is working towards 2nd Dan.

Bradd is improving all the time with training at the Rising Sun in Ashton-in-Makerfield and with the GB squad in Bury. He also has private lessons and has won numerous awards in competitions at National and International level. Last year Bradd gained a bronze medal in The European Championships which took place at the English Institute of Sport, Sheffield. He also won a gold, silver and two bronze at the 1st Kizuna World Cup.

Bradd is set to realise his dream of representing his country at the WUKF World Karate Championships in Szcecin, Poland, this October.  He needs to raise £2000 to cover costs for this and other International Championships over the next 12 months.

Bradd’s mum, Dawn contacted me about the funding difficulties faced by Bradd. Karate is not funded by the Lottery or Sports Council. Dawn strongly believes that it is imperative that GBs top athletes compete on the world stage at the earliest opportunity and Bradd is undoubtedly one of the best athletes in the country.

Dawn Parfitt said, “Bradd has been competing at the highest level for the past three years, and has managed to place in every competition with the exception of his very first one.  He has shown consistency throughout at his own age as well as higher age groups. We are so proud of his achievements to date, and look forward to many more in the future."

If anyone would like to sponsor Bradd on a permanent basis they can contact Dawn on 07717054572.

Bradd is working hard raising funds himself and is set to take part in the Big Fun Run in Sefton Park, Liverpool during August. His dream is to compete at the highest level and he is working hard to be the best that he can be but he needs the support of the local community to give him a financial boost.

Wigan is a hot bed of sport and I know that people will want to get behind Bradd and make sure he is on the plane to Poland later this year.

You can pledge a donation here.

Thursday 26 June 2014

National Care Home Open Day

HC-One Ashton View Care Home on Wigan Road, Ashton in Makerfield, threw open its doors by taking part in the second National Care Home Open day on Friday 20 June.

I dropped in for a for a cuppa and cake and was given a tour of the facilities by Home Manager Andrea Nicholson and the opportunity to chat with Residents.

The idea behind the day is to encourage local people to visit care homes in their neighbourhood and work together to develop strong relationships between the home and the community.

As part of the Open Day Ashton View hosted afternoon tea for Residents and visitors with a sing along to classic ‘rock n roll’ hits of yesteryear. Andrea Nicholson, Home Manager at Ashton View said, "This is a great way to showcase the excellent services on offer and the fantastic work that goes on at Ashton View. Some people still have misconceptions about care homes so we are keen to dispel any myths that are out there and for people to come and have a look around."

All too often we hear about the negative aspects of care but today I met with dedicated staff who are working hard to support residents.

Opening the doors to the local community provides the ideal opportunity to shout about all the positive things that are happening within the care home, that help to ensure older people continue to live a full and meaningful life.

Friday 6 June 2014

I am urging local schools to visit Commonwealth War Graves in Wigan

Pic with Chris Hawes
I am urging local schools and constituents to visit their local Commonwealth war graves to gain a greater understanding of the scale and magnitude of the Great War and the impact that it has had on today’s society.

My call follows a national initiative spearheaded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the All-Party Parliamentary War Heritage Group and the ‘In From The Cold Project’ that maps over 300,000 Commonwealth war dead by each Parliamentary constituency. Today I visited Commonwealth War Graves with Chris Hawes of the CWGC.

The Centenary of the outbreak of the First World War is a time, not just for reflection and commemoration but also an opportunity to educate a new generation of young people about the extraordinary events of a hundred years ago and to bring to life some of the personal stories from this remarkable time.

Working with local groups and students gives us all an opportunity to explore how we would like to secure this legacy for generations to come.  Visiting the graves of the fallen is a simple but profoundly important way to commemorate the outbreak of the war.

Chris Hawes said, “The Centenary is an opportune time for us to re-engage and connect with local communities and young people, and explain how the people who are buried in our graves got to be there, who they were, and where they were from.  More than 300,000 Commonwealth servicemen and women are commemorated in the UK. Many died in military hospitals whilst being treated for their wounds or fell victim to the flu pandemic as the conflict drew to a close. Their graves reflect both the local impact of the war but also its wider historical significance."

“To highlight some of the personal stories of those who are buried or commemorated in our graves, we are installing over 100 visitor information panels throughout the UK during the Centenary.  The panels incorporate QR codes which, when scanned with the latest smartphone technology enable visitors to read these stories and understand the historical context.”

At the Education Show in mid-March, CWGC launched an online Virtual Cemetery education portal that provides schools and teachers with a comprehensive range of resources and support materials linked to the graves and memorials in their home town. The virtual cemetery website is an interactive tool which enables pupils and teachers to view images and videos, learn more about CWGC’s work across the globe, and – most importantly – the people that are commemorated in its cemeteries and memorials.

The virtual cemetery resource has been designed to encourage debate and spark pupils’ interest in thinking about the centenary of the First World War and the different ways in which everyone can remember the servicemen and women who gave their lives in the conflict.  The website also supports teachers with curriculum notes, lesson plans and suggestions for classroom activities.

During the tour I visited the following cemeteries with Chris:

Ince-in-Makerfield (Westwood Lane) Cemetery (Over 300 CWGC graves located at this site)
Wigan Cemetery
Goose green (St Paul) Churchyard
Highfield (St Matthew) Churchyard

CWGC maintains the graves of the 1.7 million Commonwealth servicemen and women who died during the two world wars. It also holds and updates an extensive and accessible records archive.

Friday 30 May 2014

43% people in North West region struggle to make it to payday

There is a growing personal debt crisis gripping Britain as research shows 2 in 5 Brits struggle to make it to payday and that millions are now taking out payday loans and debt management plans to cope with the cost of living and debt repayment.

The shocking statistic follows news that a debt management firm has ceased trading in the Greater Manchester area. It is thought that Debt Help & Advice Ltd have around 3,000 customers who have a plan with it or its affiliates Primary Business Solutions and First Step Finance and I am advising Wiganers to cease making any payments to the company immediately. This view is echoed by the Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

Whilst George Osborne may be celebrating, the people of Britain are paying out of their own pockets for this Government’s recovery – with many getting into debt or spending all their rainy day money as a result. Research from R3 shows 43% often struggle to get to payday and that this is due to household bills like energy or rent, or repaying credit cards and payday loans. Many people have no savings and if interest rates rise or rents continue to go up we could see millions of families out on the street or becoming so called zombie debtors- paying just the interest not the capital on their debts – as they stuck in a spiral of debt from which they can never escape.

That’s why it’s vital that we tackle the cowboys making money out of providing debt management advice and the legal loan sharks still profiting from these pressures. As well as action on our energy bills, I’m backing plans to get tough on debt management companies, to make sure people have access to good debt advice and alternative affordable finance.

I am championing the free debt advice services offered by not for profit groups like Citizens Advice, StepChange and the Money Advice Service.

There really is no need to pay to secure a debt management plan. My advice is if you are worried about debt and are finding it difficult to cope financially then seek help from Citizens Advice – it’s free and impartial.

In Parliament, I supported Labour’s amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill to address the fees that debt management companies charge as well as pushing for a levy on payday lenders to pay for debt advice provision.

The R3 Personal Debt Snapshot March 2014 can be viewed here.

Friday 23 May 2014

Emily Bragg set to 'Rock the House'

Today I announced Emily Bragg’s song ‘Under the Sun’ as the Makerfield nomination for Parliamentary competition Rock the House.

Wigan boasts a history of impressive musicians and today’s generation is every bit as talented and it is a pleasure to endorse Emily Bragg’s work to the panel of industry-leading judges who will preside over determining the overall winners. I wish Emily the best of luck as the competition progresses!

Sponsored by industry and supported by a host of celebrity Patrons, Rock the House is a fantastic opportunity for British musicians to gain priceless exposure and win fantastic prizes.

The competition offers the opportunity for the UK’s ‘creatives’ to have their work judged by the leading lights of industry and win prizes ranging from festival slots, studio time and equipment to name but a few!

Emily Bragg (aged 20) lives in Ashton in Makerfield and is a singer/song writer. Her musical influences include Adele, Amy Winehouse, Eva Cassidy, Pink and Kelly Clarkson.

Emily Bragg said, 'I first heard about the competition online. I thought this would be a great opportunity to get my music heard in different circles. The chance of playing to MPs in the House of Commons was a big draw as this is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s not always easy to get gigs and your music heard, especially in the current economic climate. Who knows, applying for this competition and taking chances just may give a musician a break they need!'

Emily’s portfolio of songs including ‘Under the Sun’ can be accessed here.

Thursday 1 May 2014

The challenge facing our generation

Only Labour can make Wigan Better Off

People in Makerfield have an important choice to make on 22 May: vote for the Tories and their Lib
Dem allies who only stand up for a privileged few, or vote for a Labour party that puts
hardworking families first.

This Tory-led Government claims that people are better off. But that’s totally out of touch
with local people on middle and lower incomes who are still not feeling any economic recovery
at all.

David Cameron, George Osborne and Nick Clegg simply don’t understand what hardworking
families in Wigan are going through at the moment. That’s why David Cameron has allowed
energy companies to put prices up yet again this year when people are already struggling to
pay their bills.

The truth is Britain is facing a cost of living crisis and hardworking people are £1,600 a year
worse off. Under David Cameron we’ve seen rising prices, stagnant wages, long hours, falling
living standards, and declining opportunities for the next generation. That is a shocking legacy
of his time in power.

The Tories can’t solve the cost of living crisis because they put the privileged few before
working people. The Liberal Democrats can’t be the solution because they are part of the
problem. Only Labour can make Britain better off.

The elections on 22 May are your chance to tell this Tory-led government to put hardworking
people first and make the big changes we need to tackle the cost of living crisis.

Only Labour is prepared to make these big changes because we understand that Britain is
stronger and more successful when everyone has a chance to play their part.

So Labour will get young people back to work through our Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, back
small firms by cutting business rates and balance the books in a fairer way by reversing David
Cameron’s huge tax cut for the richest one per cent.

We’ll also freeze energy bills, fight for our NHS, expand free childcare for working parents and
help 24 million workers with a lower starting rate of income tax.

Only by voting Labour on 22 May can you send a message to the Tories and Lib Dems that
hardworking people in our area are ready and waiting for the big changes we need to deal
with the cost of living crisis.

Friday 25 April 2014

Universal Credit a disincentive to work

Pic with Mark Payne.
I joined Usdaw activists in the House of Commons on their campaign to persuade the Government to change Universal Credit rules that mean working people will only be allowed to keep 24p in every extra pound they earn.

Shopworkers trade union leader John Hannett believes that the huge 76% claw-back of additional earnings from workers on Universal Credit is unfair and a massive disincentive for people to look for ways to increase their income and work their way off benefits altogether.

Usdaw are right to highlight this problem with the Government’s Universal Credit and I hope Ministers will listen and act before the scheme is fully rolled out. Many working people will be clobbered by this 76% marginal deduction rate for taxpayers on Universal Credit. That will put off claimants from working longer hours and potential second earners from working at all, perpetuating the poverty trap for families on low pay.

I was shocked to meet Usdaw members who will be thousands of pounds worse off under Universal Credit, and concerned that thousands of my hard-working constituents would also lose out under the Government’s current plans.

Whilst I support the principle of Universal Credit which should make it easier for people who are unemployed to move into some work, I am calling on the Government to reduce the net earnings claw-back to ensure that the aims of Universal Credit are fulfilled so that extra work will always pay and to support hard working families.

I am pictured with Mark Payne who lives with his partner Agnes with their three children, aged 11, 9 and 2. Mark is a driver for one of the large supermarket chain’s home delivery service.  He works full-time and earns just under £14,000 a year.  Agnes works 11.5 hours at a local supermarket each week where she earns £7.28 per hour. They currently receive Child Tax Credit of £180 per week.  Under Universal Credit, this would be reduced by £12.80 a week – a reduction of £665.47 per year. A reduction in their annual income of £665 is going to have a significant impact on their family budget which is already stretched.

Monday 7 April 2014

English Tourism Week

I visited one of Wigan’s most popular countryside spots during English Tourism Week.

Three Sisters Recreation Area offers visitors everything from picnic and play areas to one of the most versatile race circuits in the UK. It is also home to a major wetland and Local Nature Reserve; and the tranquil lake on site provides a home for a variety of wildfowl. The bird feeding station which is managed by the Friends of Three Sisters is locally famous for the birdlife it attracts which includes woodpeckers, the rare Willow Tit, Bullfinch and lots of other species.

We have some wonderful attractions in Wigan borough, from beautiful green spaces to heritage centres such as the Museum of Wigan Life and Trencherfield Mill. English Tourism Week is all about celebrating these gems on our doorstep and I look forward to spending some time taking in the sights at Three Sisters.

English Tourism Week (29 March-6 April) is a week-long celebration of events showcasing the quality and vibrancy of the visitor experiences and the value our industry brings to our nation.

Find out more about local attractions managed by Wigan Leisure & Culture Trust here.

Friday 4 April 2014

Visit to Winstanley College

Pic. with Conor Edwards and Louise Tipping
I visited Winstanley College today to meet the new Principal, Louise Tipping and to discuss a range of issues, including education funding for sixth form colleges, the introduction of free school meals for students over the age of 16, on which I have campaigned nationally and transport issues relating to Northern Rail’s recent proposal to alter the train service between Swinton and Orrell which will adversely affect some of the college’s students.

Tuesday 25 March 2014

Support For Mums & Families

Mother’s day is the day we say thank you to our mums for everything they do. I know that now more than ever mums need a break. When the cost of everything from energy bills to childcare keeps going up and up while wages stay the same, suddenly mums are facing difficult decisions to make ends meet.

One of the biggest problems that face parents is the cost of childcare. Support for parents has also been cut with some parents getting £1500 less help with childcare support through working tax credits. This is having a real impact on the ability of mums to go out to work and for work to pay.”

Yet mums calling out for help with childcare now will have got little comfort from the budget. Whilst new support through tax free childcare is a good start, families struggling now won’t see any benefit until after the election.”

Labour’s plan to extend free childcare for working families with three and four year olds by an extra ten hours, to 25 hours a week, 38 weeks a year is a real step forward. This will mean that for the first time a second earner will be able to work part time without having to worry about paying for childcare. This increase in childcare support is worth £1500 per child and will help mums to get back to work or work the hours they want.

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Northern MPs call for Osborne to ‘bring councils back from the brink’

On the eve of the Chancellor’s budget speech, MPs representing some of the UK’s most impoverished councils gathered in Parliament to call on George Osborne to use his Budget speech to spread any benefits from an upturn in the economy beyond those areas in the South East, whose local economies are already improving.

The group of SIGOMA MPs, all representing local authorities outside the prosperous South East, have joined together to demand an immediate stop to further cuts in their councils’ budgets, which have seen some services in many boroughs stripped to their bare essentials and the most vulnerable and poorest put under increased pressure to make ends meet.

During the Chancellor’s almost four years in office many SIGOMA councils have seen significant and annual cuts to their budgets, with some councils losing over 25% of funding. The burden of the cuts has been specifically targeted to those with the highest levels of spend without recognising that that spend relates directly to the areas with the greatest levels of need and poverty.

The divide between councils representing prosperous areas and those with less well-off economies has also widened further as the Government has allowed councils to keep more of their business rates. Meaning those prosperous authorities receive yet more funding as business rates increase on the back of the economic upturn, but those with more struggling economies are left further behind.

SIGOMA councils are calling for a full evaluation of the total impact of the funding cuts since 2010 and seek to re-establish the link between the costs of services and the funding Central Government provides to run them. They argue that revenue cuts since 2010, and a greater level of top slicing of the Revenue Support Grant has left many SIGOMA councils desolate in comparison to many South East authorities which have borne little of the brunt of the funding cuts.

If we are ‘all in it together’ then those struggling to get out of poverty and facing increasing financial hardship should be getting  an increase in funding based on the economic upturn. Now is the opportunity for the Chancellor to bring some of these hard hit councils, including Wigan back from the brink.

Friday 14 March 2014

Let’s tax bank bonuses to fund jobs for young people in Wigan

This week, I called for a tax on bank bonuses to fund jobs for young people in Wigan.

Under Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee, every young person out of work in Wigan for more than 12 months will be given a paid starter job which they will have to take up or lose their benefits.

If Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee were introduced today over 350 young people would benefit in Wigan and 6,700 would benefit in the North West.

Too many young people in Wigan are struggling to find work and not seeing any economic recovery at all.

We risk losing the energy and talents of a generation and repeating the failed Tory mistakes of the 1980s. That’s why I support Labour’s Compulsory Jobs Guarantee to get young people in Wigan back to work learning new skills and helping to cut the cost of unemployment through the social security system.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Labour calls for Defence Cyber Security Charter

Yesterday, in a parliamentary debate I called on the Ministry of  Defence to introduce a cyber security charter for companies it works with.

Labour is calling on the government to ensure that every company working with the Ministry of Defence, regardless of its size or the scale of its work, signs up to a cyber security charter. This will ensure hackers can’t use small suppliers to get into the systems of the major defence companies or the MoD itself. The risks to Britain from cyber attacks are huge and growing. We need to do everything we can to protect against them.

The UK faces up to 1,000 cyber attacks every hour, which are estimated to cost £27 billion annually. Cyber attacks are now a constant reality, with government, the private sector and citizens all under sustained cyber attack from both hostile states and criminals. Maintaining effective cyber security and combating the growing threats must be a key objective for the government to ensure Britain’s defence and security.

Thursday 27 February 2014

Scheme connects with military life

The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (AFPS), set up in 1989, is an initiative developed to give Members of Parliament the opportunity of experiencing for themselves the ethos and culture of the Defence community, and in particular challenges facing our Armed Forces at home and on operations overseas.

I have enrolled in the 2014 AFPS and have opted to ‘join’ the RAF. I am joined in the 2014 cohort by MPs from across the political spectrum including Conservative Col Bob Stewart MP and Labour’s John Mann MP.

Founder and Chairman, Sir Neil Thorne, believes AFPS has a key part to play in providing parliamentarians with the background and knowledge for informed comment.

“In times when we are asking our young sailors, soldiers and airmen to undertake hazardous duties on our behalf, it is vital that members of parliament should ensure that they are fully aware of how the service system operates. The Shrivenham programme is especially helpful in that it introduces members of parliament to life in an officers mess, shows them how to put on the uniform that they are required to wear in order to fit into the service family, helps them to understand the ethos of service life, including the necessity for a military covenant, and introduces them to the small arms and heavy equipment currently in use.”

Throughout the two-day programme I attended a series of presentations on the role of the military in a democracy, the strategic context for defence, and how forces are generated to achieve military strategic objectives.  Discussions focusing on the realities of conflict and contemporary operations were mixed in with practical sessions on handling weapons and equipment.  A packed itinerary included the opportunity to observe a small-arms weapons demonstration before taking part in a practical firing session on the Academy’s Explosive Research & Demonstration Range.

The visit offered parliamentarians the chance to meet a number of Defence Academy personnel, both serving military and civilian, for informal discussions across a range of issues, as well as including briefings from representatives of Service charities including SSAFA and Help for Heroes.

Upon signing up for the scheme, parliamentarians are asked to choose which of the Services they wish to be assigned to.

You may ask yourself why someone who has spent their working life in civvy street ends up undertaking the Armed Forces ParliamentaryScheme? My father was in the army during WWII so I grew up with his stories of the war and marvelled at how service personnel coped. After my appointment to the shadow defence team, it felt like the right thing to do.

As shadow defence minister the programme for the two-day course looked good and the AFPS gives members of parliament the chance to learn, see for themselves and share some of the experiences first-hand with military personnel. It was invaluable! I learnt a lot and am looking forward to future events.

Friday 7 February 2014

Wigan & Leigh Hospice celebrate £3,000 award from Lloyds Bank Community Fund

The Wigan and Leigh Hospice based in Hindley is celebrating today alongside Annette Barnes, Regional Ambassador for the North Region at Lloyds Banking Group, after having been awarded £3,000 from the Lloyds Bank Community Fund.

Staff from the hospice will be hosting a celebration to thank the public for voting for them to be awarded the vital funds.

In 2013, over 1,500 community groups in nearly 400 communities across the UK benefited from a Lloyds Banking Group Community Fund Award. The hospice made it onto a local shortlist and members of the public were then asked to vote, either online or in branches of Lloyds, to decide which deserving causes would receive a grant.

This was an inspiring visit.  I was pleased to learn how the award will be used to support the services provided by Wigan & Leigh Hospice. It provides a vital role in the Borough and in an era when access to funding can be difficult the support from Lloyds Bank Community Fund is welcomed.

Lloyds Bank has committed to continue the Community Fund in 2014 as a result of the overwhelming response and engagement from communities during 2013. Further details will be announced shortly.

Monday 3 February 2014

Fair Funding for Wigan

The unfairness of the Tory-led Government’s funding cuts to our area is now clearer than ever. New figures from the latest local government finance settlement show that the council and local residents are getting a raw deal under David Cameron.

Between 2010/11 and 2015/16 Wigan will face a reduction of 17.4% in spending power per household, while councils in some of the wealthiest areas in the country will actually see an increase in their spending power per household over this period.

David Cameron and Eric Pickles are living in a world of their own and stand up for the wrong people.

It’s just not fair that Wigan will face a reduction of 17.4% in spending power per household, while councils in some of the very wealthiest areas in the country will actually see an increase.

But the unfairness is also mirrored in health and welfare cuts which together with the reduction in spending power present a dramatic cut in support for our area.

It tells you all you need to know about whose side the Tory-led Government is on. It’s immoral and we need a fair deal for the people of Wigan.

Monday 27 January 2014

Visit to busy GP Practice

NHS general practice is never far from the headlines and the subject of intense debate, with changes and pressures affecting many aspects from out of hours care to workload and patient access.

The British Medical Association’s (BMA) GP Visit Scheme invites MPs to spend some time in a local practice to find out at first-hand what is the reality on the ground for both patients and GPs.

In a packed schedule, I spent the morning (Friday, 24th January) at the Dr Alistair Partnership at Kid Gove House, Golborne.

I met with practice staff and patients including the Patient Partnership Group and key staff members including Dr Al Thompson, Assistant Practice Manager - Kathryn Winston and Practice Manager, Helen Maung.

with practice patient Mr John Stokes
I wanted to get to the chalkface by visiting a busy local practice that really plays a key role in our community.
There are real challenges facing local practice, not least moving care away from hospitals to local practice and the upheaval of the NHS reorganisation.

However, I was very impressed by the real go-ahead approach from GPs and practice staff and a willingness to innovate and work to solve problems when they arise. Patients clearly value the services provided by the practice and the enthusiasm and professionalism of the staff.

The Dr Alistair Partnership now boasts 5,880 patients compared to 3,900 patients in 2008 with aspirations to top 6,000 patients by 2014

The practice covers Ashton-in-Makerfield, Abram, Leigh, Bryn, Orrell, Hindley, Hindley Green, Lowton, Platt Bridge and employs 26 staff members.

Thursday 23 January 2014

Holocaust Memorial Day

Marking Holocaust Memorial Day, I signed the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Book of Commitment in the House of Commons this week, honouring those who died during the Holocaust as well as the extraordinary Holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people about what they endured.

Monday 27th January will mark the 69th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, the site of the largest mass murder in history and is an important opportunity to remember the victims and survivors of the Holocaust. I encourage all constituents to mark the day and to join people across Wigan in the fight against prejudice and intolerance.

In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events will be arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the Holocaust and subsequent genocides.

Monday 13 January 2014

Christmas Veterans' Luncheon

Pic used with the kind permission of the Wigan Observer.
I hosted my second annual Christmas Veterans’ Luncheon at St Matthews Parish Hall, Highfield on Sat, 7th December and was joined by 150 veterans and their guests from across the Makerfield Constituency.

I also welcomed special guests to the luncheon including the Mayor of Wigan, Cllr Billy Rotherham and Deputy leader of Wigan Council, Cllr David Molyneux.

Cllr Clive Morgan,  a former Welsh Guard and veteran of the 1982 Falklands War, was the MC for the day. The Vicar of St Paul's, Goose Green, Revd Neil Cook was on hand to open the event with prayers followed by the Exhortation led by Mr Mel Lee (Royal British Legion) and Mr Lawrence Powers (Burma Star Assoc).

Tuesday 7 January 2014

2013 Review

Looking back over 2013 it must be said that this has been a year of mixed fortune for local people - ‘the best of times, the worst of times’, as Charles Dickens once wrote.

There have been many things to celebrate, not least our sporting prowess. In 2013 Wigan effectively became the sporting capital of the country, with three major trophy wins. First off, Wigan Athletic won the FA Cup for the first time in their history. Just three months later Wigan Warriors took the Challenge Cup for a record nineteenth time and then, in October, made it the double with the Super League trophy.

The fact is, though, that we punch above our weight in all sorts of ways. Take education, for example. With Winstanley College we have the 4th best Sixth Form College in the country. This year almost 40% of students achieved A* or A grades, well above the national average of 26.6%, and a record for the College.  I am proud of that, as I am sure you are.

I am also proud of improvements to our environment and to the quality of local services. The greenbelt at Junction 25 of the M6 has been successfully defended, after being removed from the Local Development Plan by the inspector, following local meetings which I attended with residents’ and campaign groups. It is also good to see that the redevelopment of Borsdane Precinct in Hindley has finally got underway.

These are positive gains for the community. I wish I could say the same about the new health centres in Ashton and Orrell, which have been held up because of the botched reorganisation of the NHS, but I will continue to fight for them.

But in many other ways 2013 has been a tough year, and one which none of us will miss. While we are constantly told that the economy is at last on the up, the fact remains that so many people continue to struggle in their daily lives. Debt levels are rising, wages stagnating and food banks have made a shocking reappearance in our community.

I went into Parliament to raise the kind of issues which face ordinary people - and which I also dealt with when I ran a Citizens Advice Bureau – and I continue to do so on a daily basis.

In this past year I have spoken out against some of the most iniquitous polices which this Coalition Government has introduced, such as the unfair and misguided bedroom tax. As chair of the All Party Group on Debt and Personal Finance, I have also been able to increase awareness of problems of high cost credit and of the unsavoury methods used by some payday lenders. Of course, the Government has undergone something of a u-turn on the issue of regulating this market, which at the moment resembles something out of the old ‘wild west’ and I think the Group, and its supporters, can claim real credit for helping ministers to see sense.  

As many of you know, I am now a shadow minister for defence.  At first I was shadow transport minister, but moved to defence in October. In some way I have traded buses and bikes for tanks and helicopters. It is a very different brief, of course, but one which still directly impacts on the lives of so many people, not least the many hundreds of veterans who live in the constituency. Service personnel and ex-service personnel face exactly the same issues and problems as everyone else and I will do all I can to serve their needs – and the needs of all constituents – as we move into 2014.

A merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!

This article first appeared in the Wigan Observer 24th Dec issue.