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.