It was lovely to visit the wonderful Birkwood Primary School with our Shadow Secretary of State for Education Angela Rayner.Thanks to Julie, Ben and Esther for a tour of the school and good conversation on funding and pupil and teacher support.It was nice to meet Elsa the school dog as well!
There’s no understating the significance of recent events in Westminster. I have been clear since the day I was elected that I respect the decision made by the people of Barnsley and the country in 2016. We voted to leave the European Union, and I continue to support that end. Since that vote, Parliament has been locked in paralysis attempting to navigate its way through a complex issue with so much at stake. But we can’t keep on dragging out our exit; the decision was made, and we have to leave. That’s why this week, working alongside colleagues like Dan Jarvis and others from across the parties, I successfully sponsored an amendment to the Bill on ‘no deal’ that would mean any proposed extension could only be implemented to leave with a deal, not as a means to keeping us in the EU indefinitely or undermining the 2016 referendum result. This amendment makes sure we work together to move forward and get on with an orderly and reliable exit from the EU, and we get this issue sorted soon. However, under the new Prime Minister we have seen a reckless approach that threatens jobs, livelihoods, and even the health and security of people in Barnsley. Leaving without a deal, at all costs, has been widely condemned as an unnecessary risk across the board. The Government’s own analysis on the potential impacts of leaving without a deal were staggering. Problems with the supply of vital medicines, job losses, decreases in food choice and an increase in price, rises in public disorder and community tension were all flagged amongst other issues. Boris Johnson and his millionaire cronies may have no problem taking those risks with no deal, but we know full well it won’t be him affected afterwards. Because most of all, the analysis outlined those already vulnerable and struggling in towns like ours are most at risk. Whilst Boris may, I am simply not willing to take these risks for my constituents. And they are the findings of independent experts and specialists in a range of fields. They are not simply ‘project fear’, and to dismiss them as such is irresponsible and blind to the warnings and evidence in front of us. I respect the decision to leave the EU, but we simply cannot do so in a way that poses such a needless threat to people in our community. What’s more, to leave without a deal won’t be the end to this saga. On the contrary, exiting in this way will fire the starting gun on more negotiations, more discussions, more discontent and confrontation, and more Brexit-related issues for years – and possibly decades – to come. But in the meantime, we have a Prime Minister attempting to shut down Parliament, exclude elected representatives, and attack the very principles that hold our democratic system together. Instead, he should be doing everything he can to ensure a prompt exit in a way that does not pose a risk to people in Barnsley and brings the country back together. For me, that means leaving with a deal that satisfies everyone. That means a deal that respects the result, takes back control and formally removes us from the mechanisms of the EU, but also maintains the employment rights, consumer protections, and environmental safeguards that people depend on, and protects our vital public services from a dodgy trade deal with the likes of Donald Trump. With our community and country divided, to chase either remain or no deal risks driving an irreparable schism through society. I’m ready and waiting to back a deal that prevents this, and I want to get this episode over and done with as much as anybody. Because then, and only then, can we really start addressing the issues that affect people’s day to day lives; the devastating damage done to our NHS, local policing, children and early years’ services, and the other public services that have been devastated by a near-decade of austerity under the Tories.
The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30th August: On the steps of Downing Street during his recent speech, the new Prime Minister spoke of answering the ‘plea of the forgotten people and left behind towns’. A bit rich, I’d say, given people here in Barnsley know more than most what it’s like to be forgotten and ignored by this Government. And as much as any, older people in our community have suffered this neglect first-hand. Who can forget the previous Prime Minister’s attempts to introduce the ‘dementia tax’ that did so much to humble her at the last election? Or the gross injustice done to so many women born in the 1950s experiencing inequality and hardship as a result of changes made to the state pension age? And more recently, we have seen the Government break their election promise and fail to protect free TV licences for over 75s, affecting thousands of people in Barnsley. Addressing these injustices would be welcome, but since that speech we have already seen a glimpse of what’s in store for elderly people in forgotten towns like ours. A recent report by a think tank chaired by Tory MP Iain Duncan Smith recommended increasing the pension age to 75 by the year 2035. This is the same Iain Duncan Smith, it should be noted, who dreamt up the disastrous Universal Credit policy which has driven many vulnerable and ill people here in Barnsley to financial hardship and foodbanks. With current life expectancy rates in Barnsley, increasing the pension age to 75 would leave most with barely any time in retirement before they died. It could be worse, too – life expectancy levels in the UK, despite doubling over the last 180 years, have flatlined since 2011. In some places it’s even falling. To put it bluntly, people here would be working till they drop. Forcing people to work for longer and longer, with many already overworked and struggling, is no way to address the issues people in towns like Barnsley face. Warm words from the new Prime Minister about overcoming the injustices levied on communities like ours are one thing. But with misguided, dated and damaging ideas like this from the Tories, it looks like we’ve still got a long way to go.
Great to visit the Hull and Barnsley Railway Stock Fund group and learn about Carriage No.1 in Elsecar. The carriage used to run through Cudworth on the Hull and Barnsley Railway, before becoming a family home for more 50 years and now returning to Barnsley to be restored and used on the Elsecar Heritage Railway – thanks to all the volunteers working so hard on this fantastic project.
Good meeting with Chair and Medical Director of Barnsley CCG. We touched on a range of issues, from waiting times to GP provision, to the challenges our NHS faces, and ways we can support our hard working NHS staff here in Barnsley.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.