To confirm what we have been saying for months now, two statistical reports published this week on the North/South divide show how badly Blackburn is faring after nearly five years under a Tory led Government.
Whilst London and the South East are seeing improvement this is not the case in Blackburn that is failing to share in the economic recovery seen elsewhere.
The Centre for Cities says for every 12 jobs created since 2004, in southern cities, only one was created in cities elsewhere.
The report also shows that Blackburn is in the bottom ten for employment, 61st out of 64 for the lowest employment rate at just 63.4 per cent in 2012/2013, down 2.1 per cent on the previous 12 months.
The Centre for Cities report does contain a glimmer of hope in that business start-up’s in Blackburn, when compared with other city areas, has improved of late and we are in the top five when it comes to innovation (as measured by the number of new patents registered). However, these improvements have been achieved despite us have one of the lowest growth in the number of house start-ups and being in the bottom two city areas when it comes to superfast broadband.
A separate report by economic analysts The Lankelly Chase Foundation is also disappointing as it reveals Blackburn with Darwen borough has the 16th highest proportion of residents suffering multiple disadvantage and deprivation.
It comes as no surprise that 25% of the 25 local authorities reporting the highest level of problems caused by a combination of homelessness, substance abuse and contact with the criminal justice system, high levels of poverty and social isolation, and mental health problems are in the North West. This region has suffered the most since 2010 when the Tory led coalition Government withdrew support for areas like Blackburn where deprivation and poverty is at its most acute.
The Lankelly Chase Foundation calls “for far-reaching changes and a co-ordinated approach” to address multiple disadvantage from government, local authorities and the voluntary sector; a plea unlikely to be heeded by David Cameron and George Osborne whose record show they are only interested in looking after the City chums and vested interests such as the Power Companies and the Media.
The situation so starkly revealed by these reports has been worsened as a result of the Tory Governments policies. For the Tories to introduce austerity in the way they have done by imposing deep and lasting cuts which impact unfairly on northern cities like Blackburn is nothing short of a disgrace.
George Osborne’s decision to wait until the four year in office before making his so called Northern Power House Speech was clear evidence of the Tories being out of touch and also a sign of their panic as the General Election approaches.
On the other hand a Labour Government will cut the deficit by building a strong economic foundation and by balancing the books. It has pledged to fundamentally address the North/South divide by moving resources out of London and boosting decentralised funding to the tune of £30 billion. Such an approach will go some way to addressing the unfairness that is hindering the economic success for Blackburn and why it is vital we elect a Labour Government in May.
The future of the country depends on young people and the outcome of the General Election in May will determine what kind of future young people have.
This Government has betrayed young people, lied to them and let them down but Labour is determined that the next generation does better than the last.
That is why the Labour Party and Ed Milliband have launched a conversation with young people about what their priorities are for the next government. “Shape your future” gives young people up and down the country the opportunity to talk about Labour’s Young Britain manifesto.
The General Election comes down to a choice about which Government runs the country and who they run it for. We need to ask whether we want a country which works for all young people, or just the few at the top in our society. Your future job, your education, your home, your future depend on who wins this election.
A Labour government would tax the bank bonuses and put our young people back to work.
It would guarantee a job for young people who have been out of work for a year or more.
It will improve the quality of work available for young people by raising the minimum wage and supporting a Living Wage.
It’s also not just about work but about education. Labour believes a country can only succeed when opportunities are for all of our young people. That’s why the educational priority for the next Labour government will be apprenticeships and a revolution in vocational education.
A Labour government will make sure that as many young people leaving school are able to do apprenticeships as currently go to university. But we also want to do more for students heading to university, who leave at the end burdened down with debt. And unlike Nick Clegg and the Liberals we will keep our promises.
This election will also decide how easy it will be for the next generation to find a home of their own to rent or to buy. For the first time, Labour will give those renting the security that they need. And Labour will stop letting agents charging tenants, saving young people as much as £500 when they rent. In addition, a Labour government will also stop housing developers hoarding land, and force them to build 200,000 homes a year.
Elections are about choices and in so far as young people are concerned only Labour has thought long and hard how a future Government needs to focus on the needs of the next generation.
Over the next 100 days as we approach the General Election Labour will set out our vision for a better Britain conversation by conversation, street by street, door by door, and the offer we present will provide concrete answers to people’s concernsin Blackburn and beyond.
It’s useful recapping that we’ve already set out many ways a Labour government would change Britain for the better:
•an £8 minimum wage
•an end to the exploitation of zero hours contracts
•freezing energy bills until 2017
•putting our young people back to work
•paying down the deficit and doing it fairly
•reforming our banks so they work for small businesses
•cutting business rates
•building 200,000 homes a year
•scrapping the bedroom tax
•controlling immigration fairly
•tackling tax avoidance
•hiring more doctors, nurses, midwives and carers
•repealing the Health and Social Care Act and putting the right values back at the heart of our NHS
Britain needs a Labour Government and places like Blackburn can’t afford another five years of a Tory Government who unashamedly looks after the interests of the few to the detriment of the rest of us.
The Autumn Statement is when the Chancellor of the Exchequer gives an indication of his long-term economic targets and, in the Autumn Statement released just before Christmas, George Osborne surprised some commentators by saying that his long term aim was to get spending by the state back to levels not seen since the 1930s. Now that’s an interesting target. After the great financial crash of 1929, a major economic depression gripped much of Europe and, indirectly, contributed to the Second World War. Amongst other events, the 1930s is famous for the Jarrow march when unemployed men from the North East of England marched to London to draw attention to their plight. It’s also the time when there was no National Health Service and families had to work out whether they could afford to pay for the doctor before asking for a visit.
The experiences of many ordinary people during that time led to the election of the Labour government in 1945 and to the establishment of what has become known as the welfare state set up to ensure that, when the nation enters a time of economic difficulty, hardship for the individuals and families hardest hit is softened to ensure that there is, at least, some food on the table and some warmth in the house.
Anyone who has been watching the course of events over the last four years will have realised that the coalition government no longer believes that, in times of economic difficulty, hardship should be shared out. The Tories and the Liberal Democrats are quite content for the burden to fall hardest on particular groups whilst other sections of society continue to do very well. That’s why economic inequality is growing at a pace that worries everyone except the rich and their apologists in the government and that’s why bankers are still getting huge bonuses whilst pay rises for ordinary workers are almost non-existent and benefits are being cut.
And now, to cap it all, George Osborne tells us that, instead of the 1930s being a decade of shame, they represent an economic target! If you get the chance to talk to a Tory or a Liberal Democrat, ask them which features of the 1930s they would bring back to support the reduction in state spending so desired by the Chancellor – paying for the doctor, maybe? Soup kitchens for the unemployed? Even deeper cuts in benefits?
In little more than four months’ time, Britain will have the chance to elect a new government. The outcome of the election will not only be critical for Britain but for people in Blackburn who have suffered under the cruel austerity policies of the Tories who are seeking to run the country over the next five years.
From where we live in Blackburn we know that something is deeply wrong in Britain. We have become a country of food banks and bank bonuses, of pay at the top still out of control but a cost of living crisis for everyone else, of tax cuts for millionaires but zero hours contracts for millions. We know that while we must deal with our country’s debts, there is more to a vision for the future than paying down the deficit. We know this election must not be about politicians, or who gets the keys to Number 10. Instead, it is about the chance to turn decisively away from a country run just for a privileged few – and turn towards something better.
As we approach the election the colours of our political opponents will vary more than usual but we will face the usual well-funded onslaught by the Tories supported by the vested interests that own the media.
However, we should focus on the fact that the choice for voters in May is still between two directions:
A bleak vision of Britain where spending on public services is dragged back to the 1930s and the recovery will only ever work for a few.
Or a brighter, Labour vision of Britain that rejects the notion that we cannot afford decent public services when money is tight or that low pay is the only way that we can compete in the world and says that our country only succeeds when working people succeed.
Over the next four months, the Labour Party in Blackburn will ensure Labour’s message reaches voters on every doorstep around the town knowing it will not be easy because people are feeling more cynical about politics than ever before.
We know that as usual we will be outspent by the Tories. We face new and dangerous opponents. But we will not be out-fought by anyone.
We will set out our vision for a better Britain conversation by conversation, street by street, door by door, and the offer we present will provide concrete answers to people’s concerns.
THERE is less traffic on the roads today than there was eight years ago.
Few will believe me. But it’s true.
Across the country, total traffic (measured by ‘vehicle miles’) is down about two per cent in this period. But the regional differences are striking.
In the North West there’s been a three per cent reduction.
In London the drop has been almost nine per cent.
It’s so great that it’s really tangible. One main road between my London home and the Commons used often to be clogged up. Now there are many more people travelling along it by bus or bike than by car.
The reason? A virtuous circle has been created. Car commuting in central London has been discouraged by a £10.50 per day ‘Congestion Charge’. That money has gone on huge improvements to the bus service. London and the South East have taken the lion’s share of the billions of public spending on rail. In turn this investment has helped London’s economy grow faster than anywhere else in the UK.
Meanwhile, as I know from constituents’ complaints, and my own experience as a regular traveller on local services to Preston and Manchester, we in East Lancashire have to put up with less reliable, less frequent, often overcrowded services, and on thirty year old ‘Pacer’ trains – a Leyland bus body on a coal wagon chassis.
Improvements are in hand, it’s true. The Todmorden curve, to link Burnley direct to Manchester is already installed. Track doubling between Blackburn and Bolton should be completed by 2016, to allow for a regular half hour service all day.
But, despite these improvements, I worry that East Lancashire will be left behind. Elsewhere in the North West – Manchester/Bolton/Blackpool for example – electrification is already under way. There are still questions whether we’ll get additional trains (they won’t be new, for sure) to run extra services on our local lines.
My conclusion: we need to campaign now for electrification to be extended east from Preston to Colne, north from Bolton to Clitheroe. It would greatly help our economy – and cut those traffic jams.
Tackling Fuel Poverty under Labour
In the past four years the average energy bill has gone up by a staggering £300 – that’s twice as fast as inflation and four times faster than wages. So it’s no surprise that millions of households now struggle to meet the cost of keeping their homes warm.
That’s why Ed Milliband at last year’s Labour Party Conference set out radical plans to freeze energy prices until 2017, saving the average household £120, and pledged to overhaul the energy market, with a tough new regulator to curb rip-off bills – which will go a long way to towards cutting prices and bringing fairness to the market.
But to keep bills down permanently we need to reduce the amount of energy we consume – and that’s why Labour have now declared war on cold homes with a comprehensive package of energy efficiency measures to keep homes warm.
Homes that lose most heat cost more to keep warm, and there is a strong correlation between a property’s energy efficiency rating and the likelihood of a household being in fuel poverty. Britain has some of the least energy efficient housing stock anywhere in Europe – and that means even consumers in colder countries with higher energy prices can have lower bills.
In Blackburn alone, there are currently 6,236 people living in fuel poverty, the highest percentage inLancashire which is an absolute disgrace and has to be urgently addressed.
Under Labour plans, households in fuel poverty – and those at most at risk of falling into it – would receive a ‘whole house’ energy efficiency retrofit – upgrading their energy rating to band C and cutting bills by an estimated £273 a year on average. This is a huge difference to the present system, where not all the funds raised for energy efficiency go to the most in need. In addition, rather than just install a particular measure in a home, we will for the first time be improving the whole property. This is how we will make serious inroads into fuel poverty.
For those in the rented sector, we will go further by working to ensure there is a decency standard to improve housing quality and cut energy bills by 2027.
In Government, Labour will act quickly to address the inequalities and profiteering within the energy market by reforming the market and introducing a price freeze. But we will also go further to keep bills low by cutting the amount of energy we use and therefore tackling the roots of fuel poverty in the years ahead.
IN July 1995 a gas bottle exploded at a Paris Metro station, killing eight and wounding 80.
A key suspect was Rachid Ramda. He was arrested in London in November 1995, on an extradition warrant from the French, accused of funding, and part-organising the plots. He denied any involvement (as he has continued to do).
Mr Ramda was not finally transferred to France until December 2005, ten years after his arrest.
He and his lawyers spent the intervening period making every conceivable legal argument as to why he would never get a fair trial in France. As Home Secretary, the case landed on my desk more than once.
I did everything I could – as my successors did too – to ensure that he did get sent back to France, and he stayed in jail meanwhile in England. We managed this in the end – though at times it was touch and go whether British judges would set Mr Ramda free.
Despite his continued denials, Mr Ramda was convicted by a French court, receiving the maximum 10 year sentence. I thought it was ludicrous that we could allow such challenges to the fairness, not of some banana republic’s legal system, but that of a country – France – at least as advanced as ours. These days, such nonsense couldn’t happen. We have the European Arrest Warrant (EWA), which means that extradition for serious offences in the European Union is now a straightforward matter.
It cuts both ways. Many criminals wanted in the UK have been brought back to face justice – including some in East Lancashire. Before the EWA, some of these could sit it out, for example in the “Costa del Crime”, in Spain, living it up on the proceeds of crime, mocking their victims.
There have inevitably been some problems with the EWA – especially where it has been used for relatively minor offences. They can, and are being sorted out. But they are no reason for turning the clock back to the days when terrorist suspects, or drug barons could avoid paying the penalties for their crimes.
A snapshot of Cameron’s NHS in Blackburn
I spent an hour and a half in Barbara Castle Health Centreyesterday waiting for treatment. As I sat in the busy waiting room a number of patients came over and said hello. The stories I heard from fellow patients were awful and put into context what is happening on the ground as a result of the Tories top-down re-organisation of the NHS.
One case in point was Jean who is 75, riddled with arthritis, needs her leg dressing twice a week after hurting it months ago. She has to carry the dressings to the Health Centre and struggles due to the arthritis in her hands. She used to have a district nurse call at her home but it was stopped and she was told she had to make her own way to the Health Centre, at £ 7 for taxi’s each time she is struggling.
I asked her why the home visits stopped. She told me that sherecently had to open a bank account so got a taxi to town. When she told the nurse that she had been in town she was told that if she could get to town she could get to the Health Centre. Surely this is wrong, for a lady who has worked hard all her life to be treated this way. I am sure the stress emotionally and physically cannot be good for her.
There was another lady, with both legs heavily bandaged and on two walking sticks, she was obviously in a lot of pain. She had a similar story, only she had to go to her father when he died. Subsequently she was told that she obviously was not housebound so could get to the health centre. She says not only was it expensive to get to the health centre but also very painful.
I am organising an event at King Georges Hall in November and inviting older people for a cup of tea, cake and some entertainment. The idea is to tackle social isolation and help people have some enjoyment and make friends they have yet to meet. I am now worried that I will be encouraging people into a situation that could cause them to lose medical services they currently receive.
Surely people should be helped to leave their home occasionally and not be worried they will lose support they need.
Now is the time for fairness in the Middle East
If you believe in a two state solution in the Middle East we need to support the recognition of a Palestinian state. If you want the UK to recognise the state of Palestine, then vote for Labour at the next General Election. This isn’t a mere pitch for votes but a factual statement that has become all the more obvious in recent weeks.
On 13th October, British MPs got the first opportunity in five years to discuss Palestinian statehood. The debate was significant not just because it came in the aftermath of the horrific attacks on Gaza this summer, and after Swedenbecame the first major European country to recognise Palestine, but because MPs were able to vote that the UKGovernment should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as part of a two state solution.
In 2012 the Tory-led government shamefully abstained at the UN General Assembly where countries overwhelmingly voted to give Palestine a non-member observer status. As theShadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander said at the time: “Palestinian statehood is not a gift to be given, but a right to be recognised.”
This view is shared by Ed Milliband who called on Israel to recognise the Palestinian right to statehood in his first speech after being elected leader in 2010. He also said he would “strain every sinew” to push for the Gaza blockade to be lifted. So the landmark vote gave Labour an opportunity to hold the government to account for its unwillingness to adequately condemn Israel for the slaughter of hundreds ofPalestinian civilians just a few months ago.
If Britain fully recognises Palestine, it would spur other major countries across Europe to do the same. The EU could then act as a broker for peace in the Israel-Palestine dispute with much more legitimacy. It would also send an important signal that democratic and peaceful political process is important and can deliver without resorting to violence.
Britain needs to take leadership in the Israel-Palestine conflict because the United States has failed to do so. And if we don’t, then we give legitimacy to extremists who say Palestinians can only achieve justice through violence. The rise of ISIS illustrates this point to brutal effect.
Although the recent parliamentary vote was largely symbolic, the Labour Party used the opportunity to send a signal to the world and provide the necessary leadership to end the grave injustice in the Middle East. From the reaction within Israel it was a significant move and a sign that it is time we stated unequivocally that Britain is also on the verge of recognising Palestinian statehood.