Monday 5 December 2016

Junction 25 M6 and The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)

Last month I held a public meeting in Winstanley to consider the proposals to include land off junction 25, M6, for ‘new industrial and warehousing’, in the draft Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. Many residents will recall the successful campaign in 2011/2012 when together with the M6 South of Wigan Action Group we stopped this proposal from being included in the Wigan Core Strategy. However, due to devolution of power to Greater Manchester, the potential removal of the Greenbelt status for this site is again being considered.

As far as I can see, nothing has changed in relation to this proposal since the inspector upheld residents’ objections in 2013.  I, therefore, will be objecting again to this proposed development of our greenbelt and will be including, for your information, the following issues of concern:

The purposes of including this land in the Green Belt are still relevant. The need to stop urban sprawl, the merging of neighbouring towns and encroachment of the Countryside.
The argument to remove the greenbelt status from this site is not sufficiently exceptional or strong enough to release this land for development. Nothing has changed in this respect since the Planning Inspector agreed recently this was the case.
Adverse amenity impact and disturbance for residents due to air pollution, loss of wildlife, loss of open land/recreational site, noise nuisance. Any amount of safeguarding carried out by developers cannot alleviate the detrimental impact on residents.
Traffic: – Proposed development will result in a massive increase in traffic volume in the already problematic areas of Bryn/Ashton, Pemberton and Orrell.  As Junction 25 is not two way, northbound vehicles will have to seek alternative routes through the local community to the M6. Creating a two way junction 25 is no more than an aspiration.
The Planning Inspector just 3 years ago agreed that the Council’s argument to remove the greenbelt status from land off junction 25 was not strong enough and supported residents’ objections. Nothing has changed since then other than the area of the land under consideration has been increased, exacerbating the negative impact on the local community.

Should you wish to submit your own objections then comments must be made by 5pm on Friday 23rd December 2016.  

I did ask for an extension to this date but was advised that the consultation period was already two weeks longer than the guidelines require.

Those constituents wishing to object can use the concerns I have listed if you wish, but I would also encourage you to include your own views on the impact of this proposed development.  I encourage people to also view the M6 South of Wigan website for updates and suggested content for writing objection letters.

An update meeting convened by the M6 South of Wigan Action Group will be held at St Aidan’s Social Centre, Highfield Grange Ave on Thursday, 8th December at 7pm. 

Tuesday 8 November 2016

Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

Today, I have launched a campaign calling for the retention of greenbelt status on land identified in the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF) as suitable for ‘industry and warehousing’.

The land in question is located at Junction 25 of the M6 motorway in the wards of Bryn and Winstanley.

I led a campaign with the support of residents to retain the current greenbelt status of the land in the early part of the current decade when the then emerging Wigan Council Core Strategy sought to remove greenbelt status. A Government Independent Inspector in early 2013 confirmed that the site would remain in greenbelt up to 2026. Wigan Council adopted the amended Core Strategy later that year.

Residents are invited to attend a public meeting on Tuesday, 15th November at St Aidan’s Social Centre, Winstanley commencing at 7pm. 

The GMSF identifies the potential for Wigan to provide over 1.2million sq metres of ‘industrial and warehousing’ floorspace as part of a 8.1million sq metres indicative capacity for the Greater Manchester region.

This proposal will give rise to the loss of open space and urban sprawl that will see Winstanley, Goose Green and Ashton/Bryn merge together.

Brown field sites should be prioritised for development and we need a GMSF plan which reflects this.

There is no doubt that residents living in the vicinity of the site will shudder at the thought of huge warehouses with HGVs clogging up an already busy A49 corridor that struggles to cope with current traffic loads and the impact on air quality.

I am not prepared to see the communities I represent subjected to this proposal and I am calling on residents to join me in the fight to protect our greenbelt.

Wednesday 21 September 2016

I'm backing a new campaign to target the cruel UK puppy trade

I have lent support to a new public awareness campaign launched by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to target the growing problem of the illicit and cruel UK puppy trade.

The puppy industry is booming, but with many UK breeders and puppy smugglers across Europe producing puppies solely for profit, all too often these animals suffer serious illness or behavioural problems later in life. Others, sadly, do not survive.

IFAW has devised a useful guide, P.U.P.S, for anyone looking to buy a puppy, to ensure they know what to look for to avoid buying an unhealthy, possibly puppy farmed animal. The P.U.P.S mnemonic, below, is accompanied by a kitsch, online mock advert for a children’s toy, the Suzy puppy. The short film depicts a young girl’s delight at her new toy puppy, but mirroring the grim reality of the puppy industry she quickly discovers that her seemingly perfect pup is in fact suffering a great deal.

I am very pleased to support this important IFAW campaign to help make people aware of the potential pitfalls before buying a puppy which may have been farmed in squalid conditions and taken from its mother too soon, before it is eight weeks of age.

It is terrible to think of these puppies being transported a great distance by dealers with little or no thought for their health or welfare. The mothers suffer greatly too, being made to produce litter after litter of puppies until they have outlived their usefulness. I encourage everyone to watch and share IFAW’s film and to remember P.U.P.S.

Parent – Is the puppy with its mum?
Underage – Has the puppy reached the legal age for sale?
Papers – Are all of the puppy’s papers available and in order?
Sickness – Is the puppy healthy and energetic?

IFAW’s P.U.P.S film can be viewed here.

Wednesday 14 September 2016

National product recall register

Yesterday, I participated in a debate in which I supported calls for the Government to introduce a national product-recall register so people know where to check if white goods like Tumble Dryers pose a risk.

It came after the deaths of two adults in 2014 after their Hotpoint caught fire and more recently a fire linked to a faulty dryer was started in a 18-storey tower block narrowly avoiding multiple deaths.
The incident saw more than 100 families evacuated and 26 forced to relocate to temporary accommodation in hotels.

Many consumers may not even be aware that their tumble dryer poses a risk to their life and property, which is why the campaign for greater safeguards for consumers on product recall is essential.
Latest fire data shows that five tumble dryers a day, of all brands and manufacturers, are bursting in to flames.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Wear It Pink 2016

Wear it Pink is back for its 15th year, calling on supporters across the country to add a flash of pink to their wardrobe for the day and raise money for Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving breast cancer research.

I joined fellow parliamentarians in wearing it pink in Westminster this week to encourage people across the UK to get involved and help Breast Cancer Now towards their ambition that, by 2050, everyone that develops the disease will live.

Wear it Pink raises close to £2 million each year for world-class research into breast cancer, and this year it’s going to be pinker and more fun than ever before. Anyone can take part, whether at work, at home or at school. All you have to do is wear something pink and donate what you can.

When you join the hundreds of thousands of people who take part in wear it pink, you become part of a collective force of scientists, supporters and people affected by breast cancer, passionate about putting an end to deaths from the disease.

50,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK, and sadly around 11,500 women and 80 men will lose their lives to the disease. Together, we must put a stop to this.

Through cutting-edge research, Breast Cancer Now are tackling the disease from all angles to ensure that, by 2050, everyone that develops the disease will live. But we all need to join forces and act now, and in wear it pink there is a fun and simple way for everyone to get involved.

As a Breast Cancer Ambassador I am particularly passionate about standing up for the women and families affected by the disease in Makerfield and I am very proud to take part in Wear it Pink. I hope everyone in the local community will join me by wearing it pink on Friday 21 October and show their support for Breast Cancer Now.

Sign up to wear it pink on Friday 21 October to support Breast Cancer Now’s life-saving research.

Thursday 8 September 2016

Start a conversation today and help turn an end into a beginning

How would you start the conversation with your family and loved ones that you want to be an organ donor after your death? Um, ah, ooh or err? It doesn’t really matter how you begin to the conversation - it’s just really important that you do. In Makerfield there are 16 people waiting for an organ transplant, waiting for the chance of a new beginning. But not enough people are agreeing to be organ donors and telling their loved ones and families about their decision. People give many reasons for not having talked about it. Some of the most common are that it didn’t come up, that people don’t really want to talk about death, or that they just haven’t got around to it yet. Organ donation can be a delicate subject to bring up with your family, but NHS Blood and Transplant, the organ donation organisation for the UK, has provided some handy hints and tips showing it is easier than you think.

If your family don’t know about your decision, they may not agree to donation. But they are more likely to agree if they know that is what you wanted. Many families say that donation helps with their grief. They feel enormous pride in knowing their relative went on to save lives after they died. So, please talk it over and help your loved ones to support your decision.

Thursday 9 June 2016

Yvonne Fovargue MP tells multinationals to “showmethemoney”

I have backed an amendment to the Finance Bill to end the secrecy around multinational companies’ taxes.

I believe the tide of opinion is moving towards openness, after the Google tax affair and the release of the Panama Papers.

People in Wigan want successful companies in the UK, but they want them to pay tax fairly.  Too many multinational companies seem to be choosing the tax they want to pay, rather than paying the tax they should pay, via complicated international arrangements.

We cannot have one rule for UK businesses that pay their fair share, and another for multinationals able to shift their profits around the globe.  Our message to the Chancellor and the Government is – take a lead and back our amendment.

MPs from nine different parties are backing the amendment. The campaign is also supported by Tax Justice Network, Global Witness, business-led Fair Tax Mark, and key groups from the development lobby, including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Action Aid, Save the Children and CAFOD. Charities say that developing countries lose more in taxes unpaid by big business every year than they receive in aid.

MPs will have the opportunity to vote on this measure on 28th June, when the Finance Bill is debated in the House of Commons.

Tuesday 10 May 2016

Government must make Universal Credit work for children

Today, I have called on the Government to reverse their cuts to Universal Credit, as they are set to drive children in to poverty.

I joined Labour calls during a parliamentary debate for the reversal of cuts to the Universal Credit work allowance and a revised impact assessment on the policy in light of huge cuts to its budget.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has projected that relative child poverty will rise from 17.8% in 2015–16 to 25.7% in 2020–2. This would almost entirely reverse the progress which was made under the last Labour Government.

By the time it is fully rolled out 32,000 households across the Wigan borough are expected to be entitled to Universal Credit and across the UK more than 50% of children will be in families who are entitled to UC.

Universal Credit was originally designed to support and reward work and progression, but a recent report by the Resolution Foundation said that, “the latest series of cuts- announced at last year’s Summer Budget – risk leaving UC as little more than a vehicle for rationalising benefit administration and cutting costs to the Exchequer.”

There were two major cuts to in-work support in the 2015 Summer Budget – one for tax credits and one for their replacement, Universal Credit. Only the cuts to tax credits were reversed and the cuts to Universal Credit came into effect on April 11th.

It is now clear that the cuts to Universal Credit have completely undermined its original purpose. By 2020 thousands of working families across the borough will be £1,600 a year worse off and some single parent families will lose as much as £2630 per year. It is no wonder that across the country 600,000 more children are expected to be pushed into poverty.

Lifting over a million children out of poverty was one of the last Labour Government’s most important achievements. It is appalling that this Government look set to reverse that progress. It is not too late for them to think again, to reverse the cuts to make Universal Credit work for children.  I am committed to tackling child poverty and I will continue that fight by opposing cuts to Universal Credit.

Monday 25 April 2016

Cancer Care Centre Official Opening

An award-winning endeavour by Wigan, Wrightington & Leigh NHS Trust (WWL), the Cancer Care Centre building has been operational for patients for just over a year and celebrated its first birthday in January. The building was made possible by a solid partnership between WWL, The Christie NHS Foundation Trust and MacMillan Cancer Support. It opened to patients in January 2015.

The purpose of the centre is to provide the people of the Wigan Borough a place where they could undergo chemotherapy treatment closer to home, rather than having to travel to Manchester. It cost £5 million to build and the ground-breaking development project was carried out by Barnes Construction.

I was delighted to attend this special event alongside Madam Mayor Cllr Sue Louden, former Mayor Cllr Phyllis Cullen and Lisa Nandy MP. There to officially open the building was Dr Andrew Wardman MBE, who has worked at WWL since 1988.

Also at the event, WWL was able to unveil its brand new Sensory garden, designed to give chemotherapy patients a place to relax whilst they undergo their treatment. Cllr Phyll Cullen was invited to open the garden, as her role as a donor to the centre has been crucially important in ensuring the project has been completed successfully.

Monday 28 March 2016

House Magazine Article - March 2016

Science is absolutely vital to our future in every sense. Not only does research and development lay the foundations for economic success, allowing us to compete and prosper in an increasingly competitive world, but it also promises us greater health and wellbeing through medical breakthroughs, such as cures for cancer and heart disease.

Science is an investment in the future, which is why I was so gratified when just two weeks’ ago I took part in a Parliamentary Q&A session for Voice of the Future 2016.

The audience was made up of young scientists and engineers and their penetrating questions to me – on issues ranging from dealing with outbreaks of infectious diseases to whether there should a sugar tax to combat obesity to increasing the participation of women in STEM subjects – spoke of an enthusiasm for science among young people which was infectious and inspiring.    

Of course, we have long punched above our weight in science. The fact is that the UK is very good at research. With only 0.9% of the global population and 3.2% of global R&D expenditure, the UK still has 4.1% of global researchers, and 15.9% of the world’s most highly cited research articles.
This standing is also reflected in our ability to secure research funding from the EU. According to a recent ONS report, the UK contributed €5.4 billion to EU research and development over the period 2007 – 2013 while receiving €8.8 billion in direct EU funding for research, development and innovation activities.

The EU helps UK universities to pursue cutting edge research. New figures show that nearly 1,000 projects at 78 UK universities and research centres receive funds from the ERC and would be put at risk if the UK were to leave the European Union.

We gain in other ways too. The EU makes working across borders easier for UK and European researchers, who are able to pool their knowledge, infrastructure, data and resources.
But for all the prestige of British science, and for all their success in leveraging European funding, everything in the garden is far from rosy. The fact is that we are falling further and further behind our competitors when it comes to investing in research and development.

Ministers in BIS spoke out about protecting the £4.7 billion science budget in the Comprehensive Spending Review, in the face of cuts elsewhere. But this disguises the reality which is that this is only 0.49% of GDP, and it palls in comparison with our competitor nations.  For example, UK government spending on R&D is the lowest among the G8 countries.

This is why The Royal Society has called for it to be raised to 0.67%, which will match the OECD average.  The CBI has gone further and argue that it should be doubled.

It is not just a problem of public money, of course. British industry spends less on research as a share of GDP than France, Germany, the US and China, all of whom are increasing their commitment to science and technology.

In their recent report, the Science and Technology Select Committee warned of the risk to competitiveness, productivity and high value jobs of low level investment and have proposed that combined public and private R&D investment should rise from around 1.6% to 3% of GDP.

The Government has a role in leveraging such private funding as it knows all too well. BIS Minsters have rightly quoted the fact that for every £1 spent by Government secures £1.36 of private investment and raises productivity by 20%. But so far they have been silent on the need to raise investment.

In their response to the Science and Technology Committee’s report, the Government point to Innovate UK, which encourages research-industry partnerships. This is a good idea, but turning £165m of grants into loans the Government has simply created additional risks for researchers which will be counter-productive. It is not surprising that both the CBI and the Federation of Small Businesses have raised concerns.

What is missing from the picture is a roadmap. We cannot simply rely on the historic prestige of British science anymore. We need a real plan that recognises the need to secure the kind of funding already enjoyed by our economic competitors, one which entwines both public and private investment. Without such a roadmap we will lose our cutting edge.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Rent To Own is an expensive way to buy goods

It is not difficult to see why Rent to Own is popular with many low income families. Stores like BrightHouse are attractive and they provide customers with many of the essentials of modern living, such as washing machines, sofas and televisions.

These are things that many of us take for granted, but for those on low incomes they can seem frustratingly out of reach most of the time.

But as the All Party Parliamentary Group of Debt and Personal Finance which I Chair found in its inquiry into the Rent to Own Market there are downsides to this, and for the most part it comes down to money.

Rent to Own is an expensive way to buy goods – so expensive that many customers never even get to own the goods they pay for, but see them repossessed for non-payment as their arrears build up.

Not only are the prices of Rent to Own goods inflated, but customers are also often required to pay an additional premium for a bundle of services which they almost certainly don’t want or need, such as extended warranties and insurance. With a high interest rate added to that, customers of Rent to Own can easily find themselves paying three times as much for goods and services than they would from more conventional retail outlets, whether on the High Street or online.

But all too often the customer has no real choice but to take the Rent to Own route, despite the eye watering prices. The APPG has been pressing the regulator, the FCA, to curb the worst excesses of the market, including the compulsory bundling of services, the lack of transparency over prices, and the absence of effective forbearance policies. We are waiting to hear what the new requirements on the sector will be, and we hope they will be stringent. However, whatever happens the customers of Rent to Own will continue to pay inflated prices for the goods they buy and receive poor value for money. That is, until they can find a viable alternative.

Which is why I am so pleased to see this report from the Financial Inclusion Centre. In many ways it picks up from where our inquiry left off, looking at some of the alternatives to Rent to Own provided by social enterprises. Some of these are fledgling enterprises, yet to fully establish themselves in the retail landscape. They are not all the same and there is a real sense that the way they operate – how they raise capital, form partnerships or attract customers – reflects local experiences and needs. But they do have one thing in common, they want to break the stranglehold of these firms, by helping people on low incomes to buy the goods they want and need without paying a poverty premium.

This report is very much a starting point on developing viable alternatives to Rent to Own and I am the first to concede that there is no magic bullet. So we need to work together – MPs, local authorities, social landlords, voluntary organisations, social lenders - to ensure that people have access to essential goods at a price they can truly afford.

Thursday 4 February 2016

Government must act to end pension injustice of women born in the 1950s

Courtesy of  The Wigan Evening Post
The 1995 Pensions Act increased the state pension age for women from 60 to 65 between April 2010 and 2020, to bring it in line with that of men. But in 2011 the coalition government moved the goalposts. They decided to accelerate the rise in the women's state pension age from April 2016 so that it reached 65 by November 2018, then rising to 66 by 2020.

The impact of the 2011 Act to State Pension Age has been laid bare as figures reveal that over 12,000 women in the Borough born in the 1950s have been hit by the accelerated timetable, with significant changes to their State Pension age imposed without an appropriate notification period.

The women affected fall into three categories:

women born between 6 April 1950 and 5 April 1953 will have a pension age of between 60 and 63 by March 2016 (women born between 6 April 1951 and 5 April 1953 thus do not qualify for the new single-tier state pension whilst a man born on the same day does);
women born between 6 April 1953 and 5 December 1953 will have a pension age of between 63 and 65 by November 2018.
Finally, men and women born between 6 December 1953 and 5 April 1960 will see their pension ages be between 65 and 66 by October 2020.

Throughout the last Parliament the Pensions Act was a ticking time bomb for women across the Wigan Borough and the country. The Government knew that women born in the 1950s would be asked at very short notice to make alternative financial arrangements. The reality is that they simply could not do this in such a short time with the changes beginning to be introduced from this April.

Iain Duncan Smith has gone back on his promise to look at this issue and he now faces a backlash from women across the country who are only now beginning to realise the devastating impact on their future finances.

This is an injustice that the Government must now put right.

A petition organised by campaign group WASPI can be signed here.

Thursday 28 January 2016

Chancellor’s cuts put supported homes for elderly and vulnerable people in Wigan at risk

This week I supported a vote to halt Conservative plans to cut housing benefit support for thousands of elderly and vulnerable people across the country, which could put at risk supported homes in Wigan.

Supported housing provides specialist care for groups including the elderly, the homeless, disabled people, veterans, people with mental health problems, young people leaving care and women fleeing domestic violence.

Experts say that across the country 156,000 supported homes are at risk of closure due to the Chancellor’s cuts.

In Parliament Labour called on George Osborne to exempt supported housing from his housing benefit cuts and to consult with charities, councils and housing associations to safeguard this vital accommodation. However, Conservative MPs voted down Labour’s motion to protect these homes.

During the debate I made reference to the extra care scheme on the former Abraham Guest School site at Orrell. The scheme is just about to start, but the government benefit changes potentially undermine the revenue stream going forward and not surprisingly this has put this £13m scheme in jeopardy.

Cutting across all these categories, one of the largest effects of this new government policy will be the disruption and uncertainty it has brought to the provision of new accommodation in this field.

Wigan Council and partners have the following social housing development pipeline. All of these are either funded or with outstanding bids to Housing and Communities Agency.

Currently on site, Wigan and Leigh Housing have apartment blocks for older people at Town Yards, Hindley and a sheltered plus scheme at Little Lane, Goose Green potentially providing over 60 new homes.

In addition to the Abraham Guest site (130 homes) Extra Care Sheltered Housing schemes currently proposed include Whelley Hospital (80 homes) and at Hilton Park (Leigh 121 homes)

I am angry that if the benefit proposals are not fundamentally changed it is unlikely that any of these schemes will proceed. This would have disastrous effects on Wigan Council and its partners strategy of Connecting Housing and Care and its links with the wider Public Reforms and Health Agenda.

One of the largest effects of this new government policy will be the disruption and uncertainty it has brought to the provision of new accommodation.

The long lead in times to deliver projects of this type mean that providers need certainty. So I am calling on the Government to provide clarity in order to avoid delay and possible cancellation of much needed housing in the Wigan Borough.

Wednesday 20 January 2016

Maintenance Grants provide vital support for Students

The government are to scrap maintenance grants for students from poorer backgrounds, replacing them with additional loans.

This change would mean that the poorest 40% of students going to university in England will graduate with debts of up to £53,000 from a three-year course. It will impact on students studying at further education colleges, and will especially affect students from BME, disabled, older learners and women.

In 2014, 266 students at Wigan & Leigh College were eligible for a maintenance grant totalling £919,311.

These sweeping changes – which were not in the Conservative election manifesto - were attempted to be forced through in committee rather than on the floor of the House of Commons, hidden away from public scrutiny.

Yesterday, Labour held a debate and a vote on the floor of the House of Commons, to challenge the government and try and halt their decision to scrap maintenance grants for loans.

Maintenance grants provide vital support for students from lower income backgrounds from Makerfield, and ensure that poorer students do not leave university with greater debts than their more privileged peers. But this could change if the Tories force through their plans.

The government should be doing all it can to ensure that those from the poorest backgrounds reach their full potential. This change would do the opposite, and could make poorer students think twice about going into higher education due to the considerable debts they will rack-up in the process.”

The Labour motion to stop the abolition was voted down by Tory MPs.

Monday 18 January 2016

Blue Monday can be an opportunity to sort out your Post-Christmas finances

Here is something to cheer everybody up – Blue Monday is upon us, the most depressing day of the year.

Post-Christmas blues? New Year’s resolutions in tatters? Debts racking up and it’s dark winter nights, cold and wet with the sun in hibernation.

The third Monday in January has been dubbed Blue Monday. It's supposedly a combination of the weather, debt problems, low motivation, a return to work after Christmas and abandoned New Year resolutions.

Demand for debt advice will spike as credit card and other bills hit the doorsteps. This can be a difficult time of the year for people in the Borough because as post-Christmas bills and credit card statements arrive people can often feel weighed down.

According to Aviva family debt is now at its highest level since 2013 and has risen by £4000 in the last 6 months.

With household debt across the country on the rise, more and more people are finding it difficult to get their personal finances in order so it is important that people do not allow themselves to enter into more debt by borrowing more.

While it may sound negative ‘Blue Monday’ can be an opportunity to sort out debts and regain control of personal finances.

While there is no magic bullet there is help available. Reaching out to organisations such as Citizens Advice, StepChange Debt Charity and other agencies for free and independent financial advice and assistance can be the first step on getting your personal finances back on track.

When a budget and plan is in place, a clear path to better days is formed which can only help blow away those Monday blues.

Wednesday 13 January 2016