On Wednesday 7th I spoke in Parliament in a debate on local museums and arts/heritage centres. I paid tribute to the Maurice Dobson Centre and the fantastic volunteers who make our local museums what they are. But it’s concerning that cuts to local authority budgets are being passed on to public museums, with 39% of these across the country seeing their funding decrease in the last year. This is bound to have an impact on the experience and services they can provide, and 85% of museums funded by local authorities have reduced their opening hours since last year. It’s so important museums like the Elsecar Heritage Centre and Maurice Dobson have the adequate resources that allow them to continue serving as vital community assets that provide unique experiences to local people.
Civil servants do crucial front-line and back-office work that helps keep our country moving. Yes despite an apparent end to the public sector pay freeze, no progress has been made for civil service workers who are still waiting for a vital pay rise. I’m supporting a pay rise for the fantastic workers in our civil service, which is well deserved and long overdue.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2nd March: It’s so important we do our best to help others in our community for whom day to day life isn’t quite so easy. And one cause of such a challenge in many people’s lives is dementia. From memory loss to orientation problems, mood or behaviour swings, and difficulty concentrating, thinking or speaking, the symptoms are many and each person is uniquely affected. But what is the same for all is that it can have a profound impact on their ability to go about their normal day without assistance. Sadly, it affects so many people both across the country and here in Barnsley. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, around 850,000 people are currently living with dementia in the UK, with this figure expected to rise past 1 million by 2025. Here in Barnsley too, many in our community are affected. Figures by Alzheimer’s Research UK suggest that in Barnsley alone there are roughly 3295 people living with dementia – that’s more than 1 in every 100 people here in our community. So that’s why it’s vital we do what we can to help those living with dementia, and support local organisations like Barnsley Independent Alzheimer's And Dementia Support (BIADS) and Butterflies. BIADS and Butterflies are two fantastic Barnsley organisations who I met last year that provide critical local support for those living with dementia, their friends, families and carers too. And last week I met with the Alzheimer’s Society to discuss how we can make our community more dementia friendly. I took part in an information session to become a ‘Dementia Friend’ and help understand how to create a climate of kindness and understanding. I’ll be taking steps to ensure my office is more dementia friendly and accessible to those living with dementia. And I’ll also be writing to local businesses to make them aware of the ways they can be accessible and open to people with dementia too. It’s crucial we do our best to raise awareness of dementia, and ensure everybody living with it can remain involved and a part of our community.
It was a pleasure to stop by and support the Coalfield Regeneration Trust in Parliament this week. The Trust continues to do a fantastic job improving the quality of life for people in former mining communities like our own. Whether it’s helping people gain new skills, find work, gain qualifications, set up a business or simply the provision of help and support, the Trust does so much in areas which often need it most. I wholeheartedly support the Coalfields Regeneration Trust in their work, and you can read more about it here.
This week I spoke in Parliament on the privatisation of probation services. The privatisation of these services to community rehabilitation companies with payment based on output forced many to struggle when demand was low. This pressed their employees into precarious work with low morale, whilst the standard of probation and rehabilitation services provided dropped. Once again this shows the risk of privatisation; where profit was prioritised over people and public safety.
I recently visited Barnsley Hospital to discuss the ‘Tiny Hearts’ appeal. This appeal was launched in September 2014 and is aiming to raise £1m to support the development of a new Special Care Baby Unit at the hospital. This would support premature babies at the most difficult stage of their lives. I was pleased to see the work the hospital is doing on this issue, and I’m proud to support this important appeal.
Selection for Labour’s South Yorkshire Mayoral Candidate is now underway. My neighbour Dan Jarvis has the passion and vision to take advantage of this crucial opportunity, and help improve the lives of people here in Barnsley and across South Yorkshire. I’ll be backing Dan to drive home the benefits of devolution that our community desperately needs, whilst pushing for the wider Yorkshire deal backed overwhelmingly in Barnsley in the recent community poll. You can read more about Dan's plans here.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16th February: When we discuss employment and work, we frequently concentrate on the numbers. Most often, for instance, we like to know how many people are working, or how many aren’t. But when it comes to working, the quality of jobs is just as important as the quantity. Because it’s just as crucial that people in Barnsley are employed in jobs that are well paid, secure, aren’t exploitative, and allow them to plan for the future. It’s why an assessment – the Taylor Review – was recently undertaken to look at the changing nature of work and the problems new forms of employment like the gig economy or zero-hours contracts provide. Acknowledging these issues with modern work was a vital first-step, but the Taylor Review’s recommendations simply didn’t go far enough in tackling them. Which is why it was even more disappointing that in their response to the Taylor Review last week, the Government failed to meet even the most basic of its recommendations. There’s no sign of banning exploitative zero-hours contracts that leave many without guaranteed income, unable to plan financially past the next rota. There’s little hope for the adequate changes needed on bogus self-employment that requires obedience to unethical companies without any of the rights or protections in return. There’s no ending of the legislation that allows permanent and temporary staff to be paid a different wage for doing exactly the same job. And the pledges the Government did offer were toothless – what good is an employee’s ‘right to request’ changes to contracts when their employers can still say no, for example. Too many hard-working people in Barnsley are trapped in precarious and uncertain work, without vital rights and protections the rest of us enjoy, and unable to plan for their future. The Government had the chance last week to take a giant stride towards tackling the problems of modern working practices and improve the lives and working conditions of these people. Unfortunately, their response was too similar to many of the jobs they offer: lacking in quality.
On Friday I visited Experience Barnsley's 'Strata: Structures, Transformation and Solidarity' exhibition at Barnsley Town Hall. The exhibition includes a film and a series of exhibits, and explores the former coal mining communities of our area, examining the social, economic and cultural significance of Barnsley’s mining heritage. This important exhibition charts an integral part of Barnsley’s heritage, and I was pleased to see the work that Experience Barnsley is doing to preserve our area’s history.
Yesterday I visited the Wombwell Cemetery coffee morning. It was a pleasure to meet so many committed volunteers, to hear about the work they do, and to sign the Cemetery's visitors book. I look forward to supporting the volunteers' work in future.