My Contribution to the Barnsley Chronicle Education Supplement

The following was my contribution to the Barnsley Chronicle's Education Supplement on 21st September: As a former teacher, I’ve been lucky enough to see for myself the positive impact that education has. I’ve seen children inspired and empowered, and adults with too few choices or chances able to re-train and take their next steps. And I’ve seen just how much communities like ours in Barnsley can benefit from an education system that serves us all. In fact, it doesn’t take experience in a classroom to know just how important education is. For many, it’s the difference between having the chance to get on rather than be left behind. Unfortunately, it also doesn’t take that experience to know that our current education system is also facing serious challenges. Here in Barnsley, for example, we have one of the lowest levels of social mobility in the entire country, meaning a child born here has fewer opportunities in life than someone born elsewhere. In areas of London like Kensington and Chelsea, for example, half of disadvantaged young people go on to university. In Barnsley, it is just one in ten. Secondary schools in, Hackney, for example, spend £7,840 per child on average. In Barnsley it is just £4,729. It’s just not right that young people here are denied opportunities simply by being born in the wrong postcode. But this is part of a bigger problem; a system suffering under the strain of relentless cuts. A report by the IFS think-thank this week revealed a system buckling under the strain. Sure Start children’s centres have lost more than two thirds of their funding. Per-pupil funding for schools has been cut by nearly a tenth – and more than a fifth for teenagers in sixth-forms. Further education colleges have been badly hit, there are a million fewer adult learners, and spending on skills is down by almost half. We’ve seen increasing class sizes, teachers leaving the profession in their droves, and letters to parents from schools asking for donations. We must do so much better if we want to prevent a disaster for both society and the economy. I want investment in every aspect of education, with a cradle-to-grave system so learners of all ages get the opportunities they deserve – something the Labour Party has promised with our National Education Service. We should ensure from their earliest years that every child and parent is given support and none slip through the cracks. Our schools need the funding and resources to make sure every pupil reaches their potential, regardless of where they were born. Further education, technical education, vocational skills, and apprenticeships should be accessible to all so that each person can get on and get by. It’s not just the teaching in our classrooms that counts, either. A key part of the education system is ensuring pupils of all ages are provided with the services and support they need both in and out of schools. I recently paid visits to FareShare Yorkshire, for instance, whose ‘Healthy Holidays’ scheme provided meals and activities over the summer holidays, and Netherwood Academy to see how important Barnsley CCG’s MindSpace Initiative that focuses on improving children and young people’s mental health is for young people. Back in those days I spent in a classroom, I saw how a good education can truly open doors for anyone – and everyone deserves that chance.   

Visiting Wombwell Park Street Primary School

I popped in to Wombwell Park Street Primary.It was good to have a discussion with headteacher Mrs Lawson, and lovely to have a tour of the school.

Attending the opening of the Wool Couture Company

Lovely afternoon at the opening of local Barnsley business Wool Couture Company,​ who sell giant knitting needles, chunky wool and DIY kits.I have a few months to work on my Christmas pudding Pom Pom wreath.

Attending the APPG on Industrial Heritage

I recently attended a meeting of the APPG on Industrial Heritage.There was a good discussion on Historic England’s new Industrial Heritage advocacy programme, and how we can protect our rich industrial history in a time of austerity, including local sites from Elsecar Heritage to Worsbrough Mill.

Concerns over Fracking

I attended a busy fracking debate this week in Parliament. There is a lot of concern about the Government’s decision to override local planning authorities and local objections by going against these and granting licenses anyway. Too often, developers' profits take precedence over community priorities. Rather than making changes that will undermine local decision making, we should be giving planning authorities greater powers to put people and communities at the heart of planning. I questioned whether local communities and residents should be asked to take a huge leap of faith, and you can see my question here. 

Column: Tackling Modern Slavery

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th September: As an MP, I help many constituents with terrible problems but among the most serious are the victims of so-called ‘modern slavery’, literally used as slave labour – enduring not just work without pay but life without freedom. Over five thousand people were victims of this barbaric practice in 2017. So I’m proud of the effort made by the Northern College in Barnsley to educate survivors of modern slavery and human trafficking, allowing them to adapt to freedom. In May, they welcomed 14 students to a pilot course to develop functional skills and knowledge, rebuild self-confidence and prepare them for living and working in the UK, or returning to their home country, and in October, they’re welcoming a new group of students to the second run of the course. The students so far range from a graduate with a degree to those yet to experience formal education. Many speak two languages, but need help developing their English. The College has done an amazing job in designing a course that will help all of them develop, despite this diversity. It is fitting that the College is using Wentworth Castle, built on the profits of the historic slave trade, to showcase a different kind of Britain. But that is where we must also address another modern day injustice as well. Recently liberated survivors struggle to access public education. Even if eligible, they are often unable to follow the complicated bureaucratic process or provide the right paperwork, while many colleges simply won’t accept them because even they find the system impossible to understand.The Northern College had to draw on its reserves to fund this course, potentially limiting it in future. I’m calling on ministers to think again and accept a simple solution. Victims of slavery or trafficking are entered into the ‘National Referral Mechanism’. Anyone in that system could be allowed publicly-funded education, preparing them for life again.Next week I will be meeting with Civil Servants from the Department for Education, and tutors from the Northern College, to discuss how we can make progress on this. Denying survivors of slavery and trafficking an education is both cruel and stupid. Empowered with skills and knowledge, they could make a great contribution to society – and we can address a terrible injustice.  

Questioning the Government on Carillion apprentices

It is simply not good enough that 341 former Carillion apprentices have been made redundant - the Government must take urgent action to ensure all former Carillion apprentices are provided with alternative placements.I questioned the Government on this issue in Parliament today. You can see my comments here.

Visiting the Barnsley Brick Project exhibition

I dropped by the Barnsley Brick Project exhibition.You can learn all about Barnsley’s brick making history and design your own brick picture to add to the growing exhibition wall.

Public Spending Inequality

Recent figures on public spending have revealed the extent to which Barnsley and the wider Yorkshire region are being left behind by this Tory Government.Statistics from the Office for National Statistics on public spending in 2016/17 show that an average of £8,898 was spent per person in England, while in London alone, the figure was over £10,000.These figures are a stark contrast to spending in Yorkshire and Humber – just £8,810 was spent per person in our region. It is clear that for far too long, our area has been ignored or neglected by this Tory Government, and these figures show that once again.The impact of this on our area is sadly all too clear. Eight years of brutal Tory cuts have had a devastating impact.This Government have cut council budgets to the bone, with predictable and severe consequences for local services. They’ve left our NHS in crisis, despite the incredible efforts of hard working staff. And they’ve devastated our local police forces, with 21,000 police officers lost since 2010, putting crime on the rise and making us all less safe.It is always area like ours which bear the brunt of this Government’s cuts, while budgets are protected in leafy Tory constituencies in the south of England. This is simply not fair – it’s time we got our fair share here in Barnsley.

Column: fair tips

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 31st August:There’s an old saying that a week is a long time in politics.But it is even longer if you’re a worker struggling at the margins of the economy – that week may be the gap between the bills being due and pay day arriving.Even worse, there are those who don’t get the pay they’re due.There are far too many ways that workers can still be exploited by those they work for.One of the most blatant is when staff are left cash tips by customers as a bonus for good service – only for them to be swiped by the bosses instead, leaving both the workers and the consumers ripped off.All too often this practice is quite legal, however immoral and dishonest.Right now, the waiters and waitresses at TGI Fridays have been forced to go on strike as the only way to get the tips that customers gave believing that they would go to staff – unaware that a hefty slice is carved out by managers instead.When the law doesn’t protect people, it is our job as MPs to change the law.That is exactly what we’ve been trying to do for these workers who are losing out.The government promised they would tackle the problem but so far their words have not been matched by action.Sometimes change can take time but in this case, the excuses are wearing thin – because it is now more than two years since their consultation closed, yet Ministers still cannot tell us what they plan to actually do about it.I recently submitted a Freedom of Information request to ask whether there was even a draft response to that consultation.Incredibly, despite having two years to work on it, they haven’t even started writing one.If a week is a long time in politics, two years is far too long to have nothing to show at the end of it.Rogue bosses have no excuses, but nor does a government that lets them get away with it.Serving staff should keep every penny they’ve earned – they’ve worked hard for it.It’s time that Tory Ministers did the same.