Crime and police funding cuts

Every single person has the right to feel safe in their home and community, yet under this Government that is simply no longer the case for many people in Barnsley.I’ve recently held surgery drop-ins across Barnsley East, and from Houghton to Hoyland, one of the issues raised most frequently was crime.And I’m often contacted by constituents complaining about anti-social behaviour, particularly on off-road bikes in more rural areas, frequently in these longer summer evenings.Amongst this crime and antisocial behaviour are some of the incredible police service personnel doing everything they can to tackle it.And following my drop-ins, I met with Chief Superintendent Scott Green, the South Yorkshire Police borough commander for Barnsley, to discuss the issues constituents have raised with me.I was pleased to hear the borough commander reiterate his commitment to neighbourhood policing during our meeting, and to hear that the objective following the recent PCSO review will be to strengthen this by placing new neighbourhood policing teams in our communities here in Barnsley.I also spoke to Chief Superintendent Green regarding the issue of biker groups, and the disruption that such groups can often bring to communities across our area.We discussed a pilot scheme in Sheffield and Doncaster, where South Yorkshire Police have trialled a police off road bike team, who have the training, equipment and authority necessary to pursue bikes both on and off road, as well as the power to seize any bikes being used illegally.Following the pilot scheme, this team is now becoming permanently established.The team has already been deployed in Barnsley, and we will see them continuing to operate across our area, as well as across other parts of South Yorkshire.This could make a real difference in our communities, and is just one example of the brilliant work our hard working police officers are doing against a backdrop of devastating cuts to funding from this Tory Government since 2010 – in the last nine years, South Yorkshire Police have lost nearly 600 officers.That’s fewer eyes and ears on our streets, building relationships with communities and collecting information.But on top of personnel, resources have been devastated too.Wombwell police station is no longer open to the public, for instance.And the nearest police station to residents in Hoyland is Goldthorpe, over 8 miles away.Though South Yorkshire Police continue to do everything they can, communities like ours in Barnsley have been left isolated by this Government.But as much as it is the crime that angers and upsets people, perhaps nothing is as galling as seeing Government Ministers, complicit in the devastation of community policing across the country, now speak openly about the need to increase police resources as they position themselves in the internal Tory leadership squabble.It’s a frankly disgusting state of affairs, where the safety of residents and businesses in Barnsley have been jeopardised for nearly a decade, and is now simply relegated as a political football for Tory ministers’ use to bolster their own individual ambitions.The impact of Tory austerity on crime and neighbourhood policing in Barnsley is clear.As is the message from my constituents to this Government: end the damage to local police services, and make sure our hard working police are properly equipped to keep our communities safe.

Visiting Wombwell Town FC

Great to visit Wombwell Town FC, and to hear from Andrew, the club President, and Carl, the Chairman, about how the club has gone from strength to strength since it was founded in 2018.I know just how important local sports clubs and facilities are in our community.So it was good to chat to Andrew and Carl about the club’s projects to renovate and improve their facilities, and ways I can support them in securing funding for their exciting plans to turn the club into a community hub in the heart of Wombwell.

Supporting a sponsored walk for the Teenage Cancer Trust

Out and about in Hoyland Common today and bumped into a great group of young people doing a sponsored walk to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust​.You can donate here.

Column: Children's Services

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16th August: Children’s services are an absolutely vital support network for new parents and children of all ages. From parenting classes to training on child development, youth clubs to health and wellbeing activities, these services and others like them keep children healthy and happy, and combine to give them the best start in life. But working with the charity Action for Children, I can reveal figures showing that funding for children’s centres in Barnsley has collapsed by over half since 2015. The 53 percent cut amounts to £4.4m in real terms, reducing the overall spending to less than £4m. The statistics also expose the impact of the cuts on local children and families, with a 42 percent decline in under-6s accessing children’s centres. That represents 3,764 local children under the age of 6 who are now missing out on access to a children’s centre. The figures are far worse than the national average, which was a decline of just under a fifth. Action for Children have found that the most deprived local authorities have seen the number of children using centres falling by almost double the proportion in the least deprived. A recent report showed that Barnsley was the local authority worst-hit by cuts to their funding from central government, placing it firmly in that first category. As we have all seen first-hand here in Barnsley, cuts have consequences, and because of decisions made by the Tories thousands of local children and their families are losing out on the support that children’s centres can offer. It flies in the face of all the evidence showing that investment in the early years of childhood is the most effective at giving our children the best chances in life. This should be a priority for every government, and Ministers should be supporting children’s centres, not closing them. Alongside Sir Steve Houghton, I recently handed in a petition to the former Prime Minister at the steps of Downing Street, calling for more funding for children’s services. Since then, the new Prime Minister has said nothing about funding for these services, or the damage done by cuts to them. It’s something I’ll be pushing the Government to immediately address when Parliament returns after summer, to ensure Barnsley has all the resources it needs to provide adequate and effective children’s services.  

Social Mobility and Justice

Back on the steps of Downing Street a few short years ago the former Prime Minister made her now infamous pledge to tackle the burning injustices in our country. She, much like the Government she claimed to lead, has lost its way since then, and those injustices are burning brighter than ever. That was the conclusion of the Government’s own Social Mobility Commission, which in 2017 resigned en masse, in despair that they could ever deliver on that promise. It took Ministers nearly a full year to fill those vacancies but we now have the conclusions of their own hand-picked replacements in their first ‘state of the nation’ report. And what a state they found the government has left this nation in. They spoke of social mobility stagnant, class privilege entrenched, and progress ground to a halt. That will not be news to any of my constituents reading this in Barnsley East, who are too often denied opportunity simply by virtue of the postcode they were born in. As the Commission noted, the figures are stark. But the scale of inequality is really driven home by the comparison between Barnsley and elsewhere. How is it right, for example, that just because someone has lived their life in Worsbrough rather than Windsor they will on average die a decade earlier? Or just because a child is born in Cudworth rather than Chelsea they are five times less likely to go on to university? And just because someone grows up in Barnsley rather than Buckinghamshire, should not mean they have a one-in-four chance of growing up in poverty. Too many people in Barnsley grow up feeling like their future has already been decided. That must change - inequality can no longer be entrenched from birth. When promises about social mobility and justice are made, then those promises must be met for people in Barnsley as much as elsewhere.

School uniform exchange drop-in event

I’ve been blown away by the scale of the donations we’ve received so far as part of my school uniform exchange with Barnsley Council​. I want to thank everyone for their generosity, which could make a real difference to so many families.With donations closing on Friday, it’s now so important that we distribute this uniform to families across Barnsley, and on Tuesday 20th August, I’ll be holding a drop-in event at West Bank House in Hoyland for parents to collect any items they might need, running from 11-12:30.If anyone has any specific requests for uniform, please don’t hesitate to email me at or phone me on 01226 743483 before the drop-in. If you aren’t able to make it to the event, we can post the uniform out or arrange a different time for collection.The exchange is still open for donations until Friday. Information on drop off locations can be found here.

Working Alongside the Armed Forces in Cyprus

As part of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme I’ve spent time over the last year working alongside the Army, seeing first-hand how they operate. So at the start of Parliament’s summer recess I took the opportunity to head out to the British Forces’ Cyprus base to work with the personnel there for a few days. I undertook training exercises with a range of military equipment and exercises, and met with both British armed forces and UN personnel to gain an insight into how our army operates abroad as part of international security efforts. I was also put through my paces in the army’s new physical fitness tests, which set the current physical requirements for those serving in the army. These tests are now gender-free, and set a uniform standard for anybody hoping to serve. Alongside the usual tests of covering various distances weighed down with heavy equipment, the new drills seek to mirror real-world requirements like casualty extraction. I think it’s safe to say that – even despite my recent training to complete the London marathon – I was some way off! Whilst I was out there it was great to meet Corporal Robert Lee, who serves as an engineer with No 1 Air Control Centre, RAF. Robert actually grew up on the same street in Darfield that I live on, and I think our whole community can be proud of the work he and others like him from across Barnsley and throughout our armed forces are doing to keep us safe. The Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme has given me the chance to work closely with our army this year and has provided an invaluable insight into the work they do. I look forward to continuing my support for our incredible armed forces in the future.

Meeting with the Brake charity

I met with the fantastic Brake charity in Parliament recently to discuss the sentences for causing death by dangerous driving, and what we can do to ensure the Government increases maximum sentences – over 20 months since they promised to do so.

Column: school holiday challenges

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd August:As we move into August, the school holidays are in full swing.It should be a really exciting time for children across Barnsley, with the endless possibilities and fun of the six week holidays stretching out ahead of them.But sadly, for so many families across our area, this can be one of the most difficult periods of the year.Because here in Barnsley, families are faced with the twin challenges of food poverty and buying school uniform.School uniform is often far too expensive, an issue constituents frequently raise with me, including one who had to pay £200 for one uniform and PE kit.A number of schools, particularly academies, state that uniform must include expensive logos or embroidery, and can only be bought from one particular supplier.In 2015 the Government promised to change the law to prevent schools having such exclusivity arrangements with suppliers, but this change has not yet been brought forward.These arrangements increase the cost, which is something I’ve raised with local schools and in Parliament.And it’s why I’ve launched my Barnsley East School Uniform Exchange.Boxes have been placed in five libraries and the Town Hall, as well as in my office in Hoyland, for parents to drop off unwanted uniform up to 16th August.This will then be distributed in the run up to the new school year.I’ll continue to push for change so uniform is affordable, but in the meantime, I hope this is something practical which can help families across our area.But sadly, far too many families are also affected by food poverty.No child should go hungry, and I have long believed in and campaigned for the introduction of free school meals for all primary school children. As a former teacher, I have seen first hand just how big a difference this can make to educational attainment and health.But during school holidays, without that nutrition, some families can find it difficult.That’s why I’m pleased that here in Barnsley, FareShare Yorkshire are working with Barnsley Council, community groups and other organisations on a campaign to provide food and activities for local school children throughout the holidays.Campaigns like this are so important, because every child deserves to fulfil their aspirations.But far too often under this Government, our children don’t get that opportunity.Many grow up in poverty – nationally it is 1 in 5, in Yorkshire it is greater than 1 in 4.Under this Government life has become so much harder for children growing up in Barnsley. The children I meet in our community are bright, engaged, and talented.They and their families invest so much time and effort in building their futures.It’s time this Government invested in them, and ensured that no child grows up in poverty.

Yorkshire Day

Happy Yorkshire Day! A day to celebrate all that makes Yorkshire great, from Yorkshire terriers to Yorkshire Tea and everything in between.Here in Yorkshire, we have a history dating back thousands of years that is ingrained in our nation as our wonderful county has shaped its story. Yorkshire has a rich industrial heritage, from the pits of Barnsley, to the steel works of Sheffield, and the motor manufacturing of Bradford – heritage that helped define our social, cultural and political history. In the Moors, Dales, and other wild spaces across the county we’re blessed with scenery and famous landscapes that rightly make us the envy not just of the UK, but the world. Yorkshire has always led the way on culture, too. From Yorkshire puds to parkin, the Brontës to Barnsley FC, and the long history of Yorkshire County Cricket Club to the recent emergence of the cycling as our county’s new favourite hobby, our cultural contribution is unrivalled. All these things and so many more define, in their own way, what makes Yorkshire great.And though it’s important to celebrate our heritage and history, I firmly believe our best days are ahead. But only if we push to make it so, and receive support from a Government that has for too long neglected communities in Yorkshire. We need a Government that delivers on investment in our region, in infrastructure, education, and social services. We need a Government that puts power back into communities, so that decisions from bus services to council budgets are in the hands of local people who know best. And we need a Government that follows through on its promises to make our region a powerhouse again, with a long-term strategy that gives everybody here the chance to maximise their potential. I’m proud to be the Member of Parliament for a Yorkshire constituency, and proud of our distinctive local heritage and our wider Yorkshire identity.But the people of Barnsley East elected me to help build our future, not simply revel in the past. So today as we rightly celebrate Yorkshire’s rich history, culture and heritage, let’s keep working together for the better, brighter future for our great country that we all want to see.