Barnsley Youth Choir Civic Reception

It was a pleasure to the civic reception that celebrated the Barnsley Youth Choir's success in the European Choir Games. They returned from the event in Latvia as European Champions in two categories, and World Champions in two more. Their achievements are a credit to our town, and a testament to the hard work of all of those involved in the choir. It was great to attend the reception, and have the opportunity to celebrate the choir's success with them all.

WEA

I met with the Worker’s Education Association (WEA) in Barnsley. The WEA is the largest voluntary sector provider of adult education courses in the UK, running over 10,000 courses each year for adults of all ages. They work with local community groups and organisations to deliver meaningful and practical training to adults, giving them the confidence to continue into further education. It was fantastic to meet the WEA, and hear about the great work they do in our community.

Brownies

I dropped in to meet the Brownies at Elsecar church hall this week. The girls have recently been working towards their own Parliament and have even elected their very own Prime Minister. I had the opportunity to chat to them about this, as well as my own experiences of being an MP and what the job entails. Importantly, I also talked to them about my experiences as a woman in Parliament, and what they all can achieve in future.

Visit to New Hall Farm

Following the National Farmer's Union's 'Back British Farming' campaign, it was a pleasure to visit New Hall Farm, an 800-acre working farm that also provides educational tours. I was hosted by owners Helen and David, who showed me around the farm. We discussed their experiences of farming, and the educational experiences they provide in a fantastic restored 16th century cruck barn with grants from Natural England the Country Houses Foundation. Details of educational visits can be found here: http://www.newhallfarmardsley.co.uk  

Scrap the cap

This is my column in the Barnsley Chronicle of 15th September calling for the Government to scrap the public sector pay cap. These days in politics it can often feel like there’s less and less that everybody agrees on. But from chatting on doorsteps to meeting constituents in Westminster, one thing it seems that everyone believes is that we should all be paid a fair wage for a day’s work. Whether in the public sector, the private sector, a young person just entering the world of employment, or someone nearing their retirement, we all deserve to be paid a proper amount for what we do. But over recent years, it seems like there are far too many who are falling short of this expectation. The public sector pay cap that has been in place since 2010 has forced many hard-working people here in Barnsley and across the UK to feel a real pinch in their pay packets. Whilst the policy still allows for a small 1 percent pay rise each year, this falls short of inflation rates and results in a real terms pay cut. Our teachers, who are seeing colleagues leave the profession and now oversee some of the highest class sizes in Yorkshire, are around £5000 worse off in real terms since 2010. Our front-line police officers, of which our local police force has lost 18 percent since 2010, have seen real terms cuts of nearly £6000 in the same period. Our firefighters, of whom we have lost nearly 28 percent of front-line staff in South Yorkshire since 2010, have seen real terms cuts of £2500 in this time. Our nurses, including those in Barnsley I was fortunate to meet in Westminster last week, are 14 percent worse off since 2010. And other public sector employees working in difficult conditions are seeing demands and workloads rise and, whilst their resources and real terms pay are slashed. The Government finally conceded this week, claiming an end to the cap and offering a meagre rise for various public sector workers. But the rise for those lucky enough to receive it is still below inflation, and for others the extra money will come from their own already-threadbare budgets. It’s still not good enough. Let’s get on with it, give our hard working public sector employees the proper pay and support they deserve, and finally scrap the cap.

Tackling the Government on Police Pay

Today I confronted the Government on the issue of police pay. After a widely criticised pay offer to officers this week – an offer the Police Federation described as ‘a joke’ – the Government has also not addressed pay inequality between forces. Working as a Police Community Support Officer is a well known route to becoming a Police Officer. Police Pay is now so low that community support officers have to take a pay cut to do so. In Barnsley East for example a PCSO would face a pay cut of over £1000 to start work as a PC just down the road in West Yorkshire. This issue along with continued pay caps nationally has had a damaging impact on police recruitment, and the Government has yet to provide any answers.    

Opposition Day Debates

On Tuesday 14th I attended the House of Commons debate on the NHS pay cap. This debate was brought forward by Labour to discuss the damaging pay cap that has caused a real terms pay cut for workers in our NHS, and was unopposed by the Government. An indication that even the Tories know they have got it wrong on this policy that affects our medical staff, it’s time the pay cap was ended and our hard-working public sector workers are given the pay they deserve and desperately need. I attended the TUC conference earlier this week where this issue was discussed. I know many trade unions have been campaigning for years to make this change. The second of Labour’s Opposition Day debates was focused on student tuition fee rises that the Government plans to introduce. Since 2010, university fees have trebled under the Conservatives, and forced increasing numbers of students to leave university with huge levels of debt. This motion to reverse further rises planned by the Government also passed unopposed. It’s important we ensure young people in education are not burdened with even higher levels of unsustainable debt.      

My Statement on the EU Withdrawal Bill

On Monday 11th, the European Union Withdrawal Bill was brought before the House of Commons for its Second Reading. Understandably, many constituents have got in touch to discuss their views. These are my reasons for voting the way I did.  In last year’s referendum, Barnsley East and the UK voted to leave the European Union, and I respect that result. Article 50 has been triggered, and the UK will be leaving the EU. Monday’s vote on the EU (Withdrawal) Bill was not an attempt to delay or overturn this process. Despite the strong feelings on both sides, that issue is settled. The Bill presented before the House of Commons was not about whether we should leave the EU, but rather how it should be done. The un-amended Bill would put huge powers in the hands of a small number of Conservative Ministers, let them bypass Parliament, and give them the power to slash employee, consumer and environmental rights and protections. That is why I voted against the Bill.  If passed, this Bill would give Theresa May and her Tory Government the power to ignore Parliamentary scrutiny and make sweeping changes to our fundamental rights and protections. Parliament would be powerless to ensure our exit from the EU is in the interests of the people we serve. I am aware that this will be presented by the Conservatives as Labour trying to block Brexit. But this is nothing less than an attempt to disguise and distract from their undemocratic power-grab. Many people voted during the EU Referendum to ‘take back control’. They sought to give power to the British Parliament, and ensure decisions are made by elected representatives in the UK. They did not vote to ignore the Parliament the British people recently elected, and give the Tories unchecked powers to make changes as they see fit. This Bill was in the interests of the Tory Government, not people in Barnsley East, and I cannot support it until it is amended to reflect the reasons people voted to leave the EU, and represents the interests of my constituents. It is vital to avoid a cliff edge economy when we leave the EU in 2019. I subsequently believe we will require a strong transitional deal on the same basic terms we currently enjoy within the single market and customs union that will provide a jobs-first Brexit. However, this transitional period cannot be indefinite and must be time limited, acting as a bridge towards a lasting relationship with the EU.    

Meeting With the US Senate Delegation

I spent last weekend as part of the UK delegation for the British American Parliamentary Group, as we welcomed two US Senators to the UK. We held discussions on a range of subjects including UK and US relations, foreign affairs, and international trade. As well as visiting McClaren who are expanding their operation to South Yorkshire. The discussions were extremely productive, and it was great to represent Barnsley East in important Trans-Atlantic Parliamentary arrangements.

Social Mobility for Barnsley

My column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 1st September addressed the problem of a lack of social mobility in Barnsley. " It’s around this time of year that many students receive their GCSE and A-Level exam results – usually after a summer of pretending that not to be the case. As envelopes from exam boards are opened in schools across Barnsley, these results can often provide the platform for the next stage of so many young adults’ lives. Whether the next step is going to college, undertaking an apprenticeship, heading to university or starting work, it’s a hugely significant moment. But unfortunately, simply by virtue of where you are born, it’s possible that these results may be less significant than another student’s elsewhere in the UK. Too often, too many people are prevented from doing their best and realising their full potential, and can’t progress in life no matter how hard they work.  Of the students finding out their A-Level results in Barnsley, only 9 per cent of those from poorer households will go on to university. When you compare this to the 19 per cent of those from poorer backgrounds across Yorkshire who go on to university, and 41 per cent in London, you begin to see the problem.  More widely, in the Government’s own 2016 Social Mobility Index 72 per cent of the UK’s social mobility ‘hotspots’ – where young people have the best chance of getting on in life – were in the South. There was not a single hotspot in Yorkshire. On the contrary, a third of our region was made up of social mobility ‘coldspots’ – where young people have the least chance of advancing in life – and Barnsley was the 25th worst area in the country. To put it simply: people in Barnsley are not afforded the same opportunities and chances to do well in life that others are, and this has to change. We need a true cradle-to-grave education system that doesn’t leave anybody behind, and gives everybody the chance at training and education throughout their life; proper funding for ruthlessly-cut further education options; and accessible and affordable higher education. Whichever path those receiving their results in Barnsley this summer choose to take, they should have just as much chance of succeeding along it as anybody else."