Meeting with Barnsley Council on the future of work

I had an important meeting with Barnsley Council​ on the future of work, particularly issues surrounding automation and the impact on different sectors.It’s vital that we invest properly and put our area at the forefront of securing the jobs of the future.

Barnsley Chronicle Education Supplement: T Levels

The following appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle education supplement on 24th May: Barnsley’s schools, colleges and training providers have faced more than their fair share of challenges lately, with government cuts hitting hard just as demand is rising. Yet with the speed of economic change, we need to do more than ever to ensure that the next generation of Barnsley’s pupils, students and workers are supported to succeed. That is a challenge that I’m delighted to see so many educational leaders in Barnsley tackle head on. School leavers once faced a far narrower range of options. But the variety of jobs today mean we must offer a wider range of qualifications and learning to match. I firmly believe that putting vocational and technical education on an equal footing with traditional academic routes is vital in doing so. That’s why I welcome in principle the idea of T-Levels, a technical equivalent to A-Levels. There is little doubt the need is there. The Sainsbury Report into technical education concluded “there are serious problems with the existing system” which “fails to provide the skills most needed for the 21st century”. The report warned of the need for “urgent action” and a “fundamental shift” if we are not to be left behind. The Government has promised that T-Levels will be that shift. A technical qualification designed alongside employers with specific industries in mind, with a mix of learning in classrooms and on-the-job experience, could open the door to better education and skilled employment for many more people. And the addition of a general technical qualification could be vital for the many young people who reach 16 but don’t want to be restricted to either traditional academic education or one particular job. But as ever, the devil is in the detail, and there is little of that. How, for example, will students cross-over to and from T-Levels from academic subjects. And if T-Levels are made to compete with rather than complement A-Levels, they will likely get less take-up. There are even more serious questions over the adequacy of funding, teacher provision, and employers taking on T-Level students for training in sufficient numbers. T-Levels will require at least 45 days of work placement, and that’s quite some responsibility for an employer to provide, especially in areas like construction with obvious safety requirements. Some placements will also depend on postcodes – as the new principal of Barnsley College suggested to me, it will be hard to train as a marine biologist with a placement in Barnsley! But the industries we do have on our doorstep won’t all have T-Levels ready to go. So it’s clear that before their planned implementation by September 2020, there is much the Government needs to do and many fears it needs to allay. T-Levels could be a way to prepare young people in Barnsley and across the country for a changing, challenging, 21st century economy. But warm words to grab headlines are one thing, delivery is another. Without Ministers following up their big promises with the right resources and implementation, it could easily become the latest in a long line of failed reforms; a failure our young people can ill afford.  

Protecting the Environment

I’m proud of the work the last Labour Government did on the environment, with its commitment to introduce fundamental changes in environment policy, adopting an approach based upon whole ecosystems rather than focusing on individual species or habitats, and the commissioning of the UK's National Ecosystem Assessment, to monitor the UK’s natural environment.But sadly, it’s clear that the environment just isn’t a priority under this Government, with Tory pledges on the environment just more broken promises.Here in Barnsley, and right across South Yorkshire, we’re so lucky to have a beautiful natural environment. But if we don’t properly protect and safeguard our environment, it won’t be long before we lose it. As part of my work on this, I’ve recently met with constituents who are members of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust – they are calling for a bill which sets targets in law for improving the environment. This is something I wholeheartedly support. I recently raised this issue in Parliament, and pushed the Government to bring forward their Environment Bill. It’s vital we can see their plans, and properly scrutinise them to safeguard environmental standards and protections in areas like Barnsley.

Campaign to save the 219/219a bus service

On Monday, I launched our campaign with local councillors Dorothy, Jeff and Anita against the proposed changes to the 219/219a bus service in Great Houghton.If carried out, these changes will leave many in Great Houghton with no regular bus services – this would be completely unacceptable.This week, I’ve written to Stagecoach, South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, and the Sheffield City Region Mayor, Dan Jarvis, to outline my opposition to these changes, and my concerns about the way Stagecoach’s consultation has been carried out.You can fill in my survey on this here, and let Stagecoach know your thoughts here.

Visiting The Mill Academy

I popped in to The Mill Academy in Worsbrough recently, and had a really productive meeting with headteacher Ms Gulliver.Great to chat to brilliant staff and students.

Column: Probation

The following appeared as my column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 24th May: Much was made last week of the Government’s decision to finally acknowledge what I and many others have been telling them for too long: that their decision to part-privatise the probation service has been an unmitigated disaster. The decision made back in 2013 under then-Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has proved costly, both to the pockets of the taxpayer and, tragically, human life. Back then, the probation service was broken up and split apart, with private companies tasked with managing low and medium risk offenders in ‘Community Rehabilitation Companies’, or CRCs. There are 21 CRCs in total across the country, responsible for the management of around 150,000 offenders. The service they undertake is absolutely vital, both to the rehabilitation of the many offenders looking to get their lives back on track, and the safety of the communities they serve. But done with the intention of saving money and improving results, quite the opposite proved true. Serious reoffending has soared, with a 22 percent increase in the average number of offences per reoffender. Underqualified and inexperienced probation staff, through no fault of their own, have been overstretched and undervalued, as private companies prioritise cutting costs over performance. And hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer money has been handed over and pocketed by these same companies for the privilege. Here in Barnsley, we saw first-hand the devastation caused by an offender on probation supervision and two others who had recently finished. The tragic death of Jacqueline Wileman last year shows us just how important it is that we get the services that keep our communities safe absolutely right, whatever the cost. Locally, we await an internal review to know what more could have been done in that tragic incident. But nationally, the lessons are already clear. Decisions made by Ministers on public services should be evidence led, not ideologically driven. When the safety of residents here in Barnsley and across the country is at stake, choices should be taken in the public interest, not private profit. Sadly, the failing probation service under this Government will always serve as a stark reminder of what happens when this principle is ignored.

Pressing the Government to support British Steel

There are tens of thousands of jobs at risk, not just in British Steel but in a supply chain that reaches industrial communities across the country, like ours here in Barnsley.In the House of Commons today, I asked why the Government will not use the power it already has to protect those jobs. Why, even at this stage, won’t the new Defence Secretary commit to building the Navy’s new Support Ships here in Britain, using British Steel and providing decent jobs in the communities that desperately need a government that is on their side: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/may/21/british-steel-administration-jobs-government-loan

Campaigning against changes to Great Houghton bus services

I was in Great Houghton today with local councillors Dorothy, Jeff and Anita.We are campaigning against the proposed changes to the 219/219a bus route that goes through the village.You can let bus operator Stagecoach know your views on the changes at: https://www.stagecoachbus.com/promos-and-offers/yorkshire/barnsley-rotherham-and-doncaster-service-changes-august-2019

Probation system has serious questions to answer

The tragic death of Jackie Wileman raises serious questions for the probation system to answer.Important coverage by Look North here.

Visiting the Forest Academy

It was lovely to pop into the Forest Academy in Kendray.I met with Principal Ms Bailey, and had a walk round the school to chat to teachers and students.