See below a summary of some of the issues I've been working on over the last year. If you would like to contact me about anything here, or about any other matter, please do get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or click here.
Andy’s Man Club comes to Parliament #ITSOKTOTALK
It was a pleasure to last year join all those graduating from Calderdale College at the Victoria Theatre and I was particularly pleased to see Luke Ambler collect the Inspire award for his work on the Andy’s Man Club campaign. It’s heart-breaking that suicide is the biggest killer of men under the age of 45, and Luke’s speech after collecting the award was one of the most moving and heartfelt things I have heard in a very long time. Luke is pushing for more funding for mental health and took his campaign to Parliament, with a staggering walk all the way from Halifax to London. I arranged for Luke to meet with the Minister responsible for Mental Health care, Nicola Blackwood MP when he arrived and have a photo with her showing her support for the campaign outside the Department of Health.
Education Funding Campaign
My campaign opposing the new National Funding Formula for schools (NFF) has gained huge support in Calderdale with my online petition passing 1000 signatures.
The NFF will impact on all primary and secondary schools in Calderdale and comes at a time when school budgets already face extreme pressures. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) have estimated that even before these changes were announced increases in pupil numbers meant that per pupil real terms spending was likely to fall by at least 7 per cent between 2015-16 and 2019-20, or by about 8 per cent if changes in the costs likely to be faced by schools were also accounted for. The proposals would see four of the five secondary schools in Halifax see falls in their budget. You can sign the petition here.
Supporting the Dementia Friends Campaign
I have worked alongside the Alzheimer’s Society in order to support their campaign to raise awareness of those living with dementia, and those closest to them. Having become a Dementia Friend following a workshop in Westminster, I organised an awareness training session at Halifax Library with the Alzheimers’ Society. To become a dementia friend is an incredibly worthwhile experience and the short session can completely change perspectives.
The Alzheimer’s Society then asked if I would undertake the training in order to become a Dementia Champion so that I could deliver a Dementia Friends training session at Labour Party Conference. The conference workshop was very successful, and allowed us to train around 70 new dementia friends. I am looking at ways in which more people in Halifax can become Dementia friends. In order to raise more money for the work of the Alzheimer's Society I organised a collection of foreign coins which people could drop off at the Town Hall in Halifax. It was a great success with notes and coins donated from across the world.
Progress on Kashmir
As a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Kashmir, I have been alarmed by the escalation of violence in the region. The APPG chair David Nuttall MP has written to the new Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on behalf of the APPG, asking him to step-up his efforts to bring about an end to the violence and to ensure that human rights abuses in Kashmir are investigated promptly, thoroughly and transparently. Responses from the Foreign Secretary have so far fallen short of our expectations, however I am working with the APPG to apply for a backbench business debate to raise this issue further in the house, which will force the Government to respond.
In a debate on this issue in January called on the Government to take urgent action to put a stop to human rights abuses in Kashmir and for Kashmiris to be given the chance to determine their own future through the ballot box. Read more here.
Responding to the Boxing Day Floods
From Boxing Day I spent most of the Christmas break in areas such as Sowerby Bridge and Copley assisting with flood recovery. We opened up a pop-up MPs office from Christ Church, Sowerby Bridge to help coordinate volunteers, donations and liaise with the council to offer more specialist advice as and when people needed it. We hosted a visit from then Shadow Secretary of State Kerry McCarthy, who came to visit both businesses and residents and thanked the volunteers.
On returning to Westminster, I raised the issue in the Chamber on several occasions , calling on the Government to commit to both recovery and prevention funding. On Wednesday 20th January last year I secured a Westminster Hall debate which specifically asked the Government to re-think the way its individual departments react to flooding, asking for a much more coordinated approach.
I have been pressuring the Government to reveal what has happened to millions of pounds from the EU which was intended to support communities affected by flooding in 2015. The full answers to this have still not been revealed meaning up to £15m in flood cash has gone missing. Read the coverage of this campaign here.
More locally, I invited the CEO of the new Flood Re scheme Brendan McCafferty to deliver a briefing about the scheme to residents and to answer their questions. We have had some successes in securing affordable insurance for residents, and businesses, however I continue to apply for debates on floods business insurance which remains a problem that the Government has failed to respond to. I commend the work of Calderdale Council’s Floods Commission and will continue to work with all of the agencies involved to protect residents this winter. I recently visited Gorpley Reservoir in order to see the flood prevention work that Yorkshire Water are doing on their land. I think tree planting and natural flood management will play a crucial role in protecting us from flooding in the future.
Campaigning in the European Union Referendum
I actively campaigned for a vote to remain during the European Union referendum campaign - holding street stalls in Halifax town centre and the Halifax gala, helping organise a well attended debate at the Minster, publically debating with Philip Davies MP, and talking to hundreds of local people on Polling Day. Obviously the result was disappointing but we must now focus on getting the best deal for the country and remember that it was not a mandate for a Brexit deal to be dictated solely by the right of the Tory Party. Jobs, workers’ rights and the economy are at risk and Parliament must be allowed to scrutinise the entire Brexit process.
Working to improve local transport links
I have been working closely with The Halifax & District Rail Action Group to lobby the Government and Network Rail for improved rail links. I am optimistic that the new Northern franchise looks set to deliver new trains to replace the pacers as well as new routes from Halifax to Chester and Manchester Airport. I will be monitoring the situation closely to ensure that Arriva, who are running the franchise, deliver on these promises. I have also campaigned against fair rises at Halifax Train Station to raise the public awareness of the increase in fair prices that the whole country has seen since 2010. During the Party’s National Campaign Day I talked to passengers and handed out leaflets explaining how fare rises were making commuters worse off. Earlier this year, I secured a meeting with the then rail Minister and representatives of Calderdale Council to push once more on electrification—that fight continues!
Flooding Documentary Filming
Last year Calvin Robinson, a local film student, asked me to take part in his short film looking at how political decisions taken in Westminster affect people’s lives in Calderdale. You can watch the film online here.
Protecting our Hospital and Local NHS Services
The threat to our A&E and other NHS services has remained one of the biggest local political issues over the past 12 months.
I have continued to meet NHS Chiefs from Calder-dale Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation Trust regularly to stay abreast of developments and to lobby for Calderdale to maintain it’s A&E department.
In the summer I made submissions to the public consultation and the Joint Health Scrutiny Committee (JHSC) which has been tasked with examining the proposals in detail. I raised a number of concerns including the need for clarity around enhanced community services, lack of consultation with primary care providers—in particular GPs—and increased journey times for patients receiving both planned and un-planned care. I also have worries about how Calderdale Royal Hospital would be able to take on the number of additional patients that is being proposed and the knock on effect this would have on parking and congestion on the surrounding roads.
In October 2016 I attended the joint meeting of the local CCGs which decided they would push ahead with their proposals and proceed to a full business case. This is a blow for patients and campaigners particularly in the Huddersfield area.
The hospital proposals form part of the West Yorkshire Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP). It is clear that these plans are financially driven and rather than forcing local CCGs to make cuts the government should be ensuring that any reforms are based on patient need. I recently wrote to Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt expressing my concerns over the financial pressures on our local health services.
I will continue to pressure local NHS chiefs and do what I can in Parliament to ensure that we have a properly funded public NHS that is free at the point of use and fit for purpose.
Opposing Cuts to Community Pharmacy
Thousands of much-valued community pharmacies could close due to cuts that are being driven through by the government.
The Tories are pushing ahead with the plans despite over 2 million people having signed a petition opposing them. It is believed up to 3000 pharmacies could close due to cuts amounting to £300m.
Many local residents rely heavily on their local chemist. This is a short-sighted move given that pharmacies are rightly being asked to help take pressure off A&Es and GPs.
As well as vocally opposing these cuts I have convened a steering group of local pharmacists, met with Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire and made a number of visits to local pharmacies to speak to staff and patients and see first hand the valuable work that they do. The Labour Party called an Opposition Day debate on the matter and have been consistently on the side of our local pharmacies.
Backing ‘Women Against State Pension Inequality’ (WASPI)
I have convened meetings of local ‘Waspi’ women born in the 1950s, who are being adversely affected by an increase in the state pension age, including one with Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for WASPI, Barbara Keeley MP.
WASPI have been campaigning for the Government to rethink the way it has increased the retirement age for women, without sufficient notice. The problems stem from legislation from 1995 which looked to change the age at which women could claim their state pension from 60 to 65, to equalise it with the state pension age for men.
Local women have told me that they were given as little as one year’s notice of up to a 6 year increase to their state pension age. Hundreds of women in the Halifax area have been affected by the changes.
I will continue to support local WASPI women as they take their campaign forward.
Under 25s Living Wage Campaign
The Government’s new ‘living wage’ will not apply to workers under 25 with the Government disgracefully describing them as simply as not “productive” enough. From April last year under 25s on low wage jobs began to earn less per hour than their older colleagues; even those who were performing the same role. There is currently a 45p per hour difference in the minimum rate for those over 25 years of age and those younger than 25.
I have sought to put pressure on the Government to reverse this unfair discrimination against young workers. My Living Wage for Under 25s campaign attracted national media attention when I secured a debate in Parliament on the issue. I also forced the government to admit that they had no proof that workers under 25 were less productive. The debate was well attended yet the Government have failed to respond. I am now working closely with activists from young GMB and promoting a petition by a young worker from Keighley, who is hit by these changes, to include young workers in the ‘living wage’, sign the petition here.
International Women’s Day
I have organised a screening of the brilliant ‘Made in Dagenham’ film at the Square Chapel for International Women’s Day last year and this year a screening of the film Suffragette. The event raised funds for Women Centre in Halifax who celebrated their 30th anniversary last year. They have helped over 100,000 women across our area and their CEO Angela Everson talked to attendees before the screening.
Cakes and Coffee for a good cause!
I held my second Macmillan Coffee Morning this October to raise funds for the cancer support charity. It was great to be joined by friends and colleagues from across Halifax to enjoy homemade cakes and a cup of tea or coffee.
Fairtrade Town Campaign well underway!
The Halifax Fairtrade group celebrated Fairtrade Fortnight in February with a Fairtrade event to showcase Fairtrade produce, tea and coffee, cakes and special guest speakers from Divine Chocolate. The campaign to make Halifax a Fairtrade town is almost complete following two brilliant Fairtrade schools conferences attended by many of our local primary schools and sponsored by Lloyds banking group. In Westminster I have founded and co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Fairtrade and we are working with Fairtrade Foundation CEO Michael Gidney and the Department for International Development to ensure that ethical trading is at the heart of any new trade deals post-Brexit. It was a real honour to be recognised for my work on Fairtrade with a Grassroots diplomat award in the business driver category for Fairtrade Halifax, and a great boost to the campaign.
I have been working to support local charity SmartMove, an organisation providing accommodation for homeless people. Earlier this year I visited with John Healey to raise the awareness of the housing crisis and to raise the profile of organisations like SmartMove. I also joined volunteers from the Labour Party to help decorate the new building on Harrison Road, Halifax after the charity put out a call for assistance with the renovation.
My office also joined Smartmove for a sponsored winter sleep out at the Shay Stadium to raise money for the charity.
Defending our Emergency Services and the Police Officer Safety campaign
Over the summer I spent shifts with all three emergency services to really understand the work that they do, and get to grips with how the cuts have affected them. The Fire service at the Halifax station has been reduced to just one engine following cuts of more than 30% since 2010. DCLG figures show that response times are the longest they have been for 20 years. Despite this, I was impressed at just how proactive and effective the fire service has been in delivering fire safety and prevention work in schools, homes and businesses to manage the risks that this presents. The Ambulance service is stretched like never before and we went from call-to-call all over the area. It was clear that the inability of this Government to deliver both appropriate mental health services and social care, are really impacting on both the Ambulance service and the Police, and they must find the answers as a matter of urgency.
West Yorkshire Police have lost 1,200 officers since 2010, a reduction of 20% of the force. Increasingly they are being asked to respond to 999 calls on their own and we have seen an increase in serious assaults on police officers, both locally and nationally. I witnessed for myself just how vulnerable front line officers are when they are out on their own and rang 999 myself for back-up when the officer I was with became surrounded whilst out on patrol. Following that incident I have worked with the Police Federation to launch a campaign to ensure that there are tougher sentences for those who assault officers and introduced a Private Members Bill which would see tougher sentences and better protections from spitting. I held a ’Protect the Protectors’ day in Parliament and was joined by officers from Yorkshire and many MPs. I held a debate in the Commons chamber the same day to urge the Government to do more to protect our officers and the PLP secured an Opposition Day debate to apply further pressure to the government.
The Tiffin Cup Competition - I nominated ‘The Village’ in Sowerby Bridge for Westminster’s prestigious Tiffin Cup and was delighted when they came second! I joined them at the star studded final in Parliament where guests including Ainsley Harriott judged the competition. It was a fantastic achievement for one of our best loved local restaurants.
Halifax Court Closures - Last Autumn it was announced that the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) had named Halifax’s two courthouses as amongst those to face the axe in a national programme of closures. I immediately joined with local lawyers, Calderdale Council, magistrates and others impacted by the closures to call on the Government to reconsider.
In an open letter to the Secretary of State for Justice we highlighted the increased travel times for court users, the extra costs that would be incurred by local agencies that use the court (the police, Pennine Housing, and the Council to name but a few) as well as the impact the decision would have on Halifax town centre. I met on a number of occasions with the Justice Minister Shailesh Vara, who took the lead on the closures, to directly convey my concerns and challenged ministers in the House of Commons chamber. Unfortunately despite strong local opposition to the plans, and a lot of coverage in our local press the Government chose to close the courts and the Magistrates Court held its last hearing last year.
One final issue relating to the courts was the decision by the MOJ to take many of the antique items from the court which were of huge local importance and put them up for auction. I started a campaign to keep these items in the town and I’m delighted that the MOJ have now agreed to give these chairs, writs and paintings to the council and Bankfield Museum. In the absence of the courts I am working with Police and Crime Commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson and the local police to roll out video enabled justice, having visited a pilot scheme in Kent which reduces the need for vulnerable victims and witnesses to attend court. This work will continue and I am soon meeting with the head of the Courts service to discuss this issue.