Michael Dugher MP

Working hard for Barnsley East

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The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 October 2016:

Did you know that the word ‘parliament’ is derived from Anglo-Norman ‘parlement’, from an old French verb to ‘parler’ or ‘talk’?

I bet you’re not surprised: it’s well known that politicians like to talk!

But, importantly, being an MP is also about listening. Many of you will have seen I’ve been campaigning against cuts to our community pharmacies. I was first alerted to the crisis by Steve Lo last December.

Steve grew up in Hoyland Common and now runs ‘Lo’s Pharmacies’ across Yorkshire.

A reckless plan by Ministers to cut millions from the NHS pharmacies budget has put up to 3,000 pharmacies across the country under threat, including around 300 – or one in four – across Yorkshire and Humber.

Since Steve’s warning, I have been fighting against the Government’s plan.  And 2.2 million people signed the largest ever healthcare petition. Some Tory MPs even criticised the Government’s plans.

We know these planned cuts are a false economy because many people who can’t get medical advice or help from their pharmacy are likely to turn up at our already overstretched GP surgeries and A&E units.

I have seen at first hand how pharmacies support our communities and our NHS during visits to chemists in Worsbrough, Wombwell, Kendray, Shafton, Grimethorpe, Hoyland, Cudworth and Darfield.

Last week, I forced a Government Minister to come to the House of Commons to explain their plan which could devastate our network of community pharmacies.

The Minister had to admit that he simply “didn’t know” how many pharmacies are likely to close or where the axe will fall.

The Government says it will ease the pain of these cuts with their ‘Pharmacy Access Scheme’. But my research revealed that barely one in ten pharmacies nationwide are eligible. Just seven chemists in Barnsley will be helped – out of 42 across the Borough.

That’s why I’m now demanding a vote in Parliament against these cuts that threaten the future of our vital pharmacies.

So enough of talking. It’s now time the Government listened.

Pharmacy cuts: Where will the axe fall?

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 28 October 2016: Did you know that the word ‘parliament’ is derived from Anglo-Norman ‘parlement’, from an old French verb to ‘parler’...

The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 26 October 2016:

 

Writing in the Yorkshire Post over the summer, I warned about the devastating impact that Government cuts to pharmacies could have on our local communities and our NHS. And I invited the new Minister, David Mowat, to re-think the plan.

In September it seemed that the Government might be listening when the Minister told a conference of pharmacists that he was shelving the cuts programme so he could “spend the time…to make sure we are making the correct decision, and that what we do is right for you, right for the NHS and right for the public more generally”.

Hear, hear, we said.  Mowat was right to look again at this. After all, his predecessor as health minister, Alistair Burt, admitted that that up to 3,000 pharmacies – one in four of those across the country – could shut under the drive to slash millions from pharmacy budgets between now and April 2018.  That could mean the closure of 300 chemists across Yorkshire and Humber, forcing many frail and elderly people to make longer journeys to get the medicines and expert advice they need.

The National Pharmacy Association has condemned them as a “dangerous experiment”.

And the public made their opposition loud and clear when the largest ever healthcare petition – now signed by over 2.2 million people – was handed into Downing Street last May by me and cross-party campaigners.

But last week the Government announced it is pressing ahead with a bumper package of cuts that will reduce pharmacy funding by £113 million for this financial year and by a further £95 million in 2017-18 – a 22 per cent hike on the original £170 million earmarked for cuts.

Last week I forced Mr Mowat to come to the House of Commons to answer an ‘urgent question’ from me about these cuts to the crucial frontline service provided by pharmacists.

The Minister, a chartered accountant before he became a Tory MP, admitted that he just “didn’t know” how many pharmacies will close or which areas will be the worst hit. The Department of Health’s own impact assessment similarly stated that “there is no reliable way of estimating the number of pharmacies that may close as a result of this policy”.

Whilst such candour and clarity from Ministers is refreshing, it is appalling that the Government appears determined to drive through these cuts without any understanding or thought for the consequences.

Equally, the Government were unable to say – when I asked them – what the downstream costs to other parts of the NHS might be if pharmacies closed. Evidence from ‘Pharmacy Voice’ shows that one in four patients would seek a GP appointment if their local chemist faced closure. In areas of higher deprivation, like in my own Barnsley East constituency, that figure rises to four in five. This just piles on even more pressure on our already overstretched NHS at a time of another looming winter crisis.

The Government claims to have come up with a ‘Pharmacy Access Scheme’ that is supposed to ease the impact of the cuts for pharmacies that are not in so-called ‘clusters’. But my research has found that only around one in ten pharmacies nationwide are likely to be eligible for any help – and even those who do so will still have to make cuts.

That’s why I am now demanding an urgent vote in Parliament against these cuts.  If the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his ministers are so confident that they have devised such a brilliant plan for our pharmacies, why not give MPs a vote on the issue?

The reason is that they might just be in for a nasty shock.  It’s not just Labour MPs who have supported the campaign about the threat to thousands of pharmacies.  Several Tory MPs spoke out in the Commons last week against the cuts.

Colne Valley Tory MP Jason McCartney compared the potential closures to the losses of the last bank branches in rural towns and villages.  Of the Government’s plan, he told Ministers: “I am sorry but I just do not have confidence in it.”

In Yorkshire and Humber, there are 1,266 community pharmacies that dispense almost 10,000 prescription items every month, as well as supporting public health and providing invaluable medical advice and support on a range of issues. Every pharmacy that is forced to shut its doors will mean hundreds of often frail and vulnerable people having to make longer and more expensive journeys to get the help they need.

If Ministers are so confident that these cuts to community pharmacies are “the correct decision”, let’s have a vote in the House of Commons. But we should do so before it is too late and we see many of our pharmacies closed for good.

 

* Michael Dugher is the Labour Member of Parliament for Barnsley East and a former member of the shadow cabinet

Pharmacy cuts will only add to pressure on creaking NHS blog

The following piece appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 26 October 2016:   Writing in the Yorkshire Post over the summer, I warned about the devastating impact that Government cuts...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 14 October:

One of the few things Theresa May has announced since becoming prime minister has been a backwards step towards grammar schools.

For all the foggy nostalgia, to go back to a system of grammar schools is to return to a golden age that never was. And it is an enduring myth that grammars increased social mobility.

From the mid-1950s to the mid-sixties, only around one in four kids got the chance to go to a grammar school.  In the early 1960s, just 0.3 per cent of all those achieving two A-levels or more at a grammar school were children from the ‘unskilled working class’.

There are still parts of the country with grammar schools. But as was the case years ago, when it comes to getting your kids into a grammar school: money talks.

Only three per cent of pupils in England’s 163 grammar schools receive free school meals – compared to 15 per cent across all state schools. Grammar school entrants are four times as likely to have been privately educated than to be entitled to free school meals.

Families with the deepest pockets also game the system by paying for years of private tuition before their child sits the ’11 plus’. And on the basis of one exam, kids are then segregated.

To illustrate how bad the system still is, poorer children in areas with grammar schools today perform worse than pupils in non-selective areas and are less likely to get good GCSEs.

What we want is world class education, taught in well-led state-of-the-art facilities, available to all children, not just a privileged few.

This year, the proportion of Barnsley pupils getting five good GCSEs increased to 55 per cent – the Borough’s best ever results.

We want to keep on improving so we are amongst the best in the country – with a zero tolerance approach to underperforming schools.

The reintroduction of grammar schools risks this progress. Our new PM should look to the future, not hark back to the past.

The golden age that never was…

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 14 October: One of the few things Theresa May has announced since becoming prime minister has been a backwards step...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 September 2016:

Compared to so many other issues, the Boundary Commission’s proposals to alter parliamentary constituencies probably seem like the last thing to worry about.

Previously, the Boundary Commission would carry out periodic reviews to reflect shifting populations. They did this entirely independently of government or politics.

But that’s not what is happening now. The government legislated to enforce an arbitrary one size for all and to cut the total number of constituencies by 50.

This has left us with a complete dog’s breakfast.

Penistone West has been put into Colne Valley in West Yorkshire. Penistone East goes into a Sheffield seat stretching down to the Derbyshire Dales. The two Dearne wards are split up, with one going into a Doncaster seat.

Barnsley East will take in parts of Wakefield and the two Hoyland wards go into a largely Rotherham seat.

To make matters worse, the new boundaries have been drawn up based on how many people were on the electoral roll last December – not how many are on today.

That means up to two million people who registered earlier this year so they could vote in the EU referendum have been ignored. The new boundaries don’t reflect the actual number of voters living there.

These plans were David Cameron’s idea before he decided to leg it.

He said cutting MPs would save money. Yet, at the same time, he has packed more of his unelected cronies into the House of Lords. So in fact we’re spending more money on more politicians – except peers don’t have to serve a local constituency and they are completely unaccountable.

And surprise, surprise, these boundary changes disproportionately take seats off Labour and, overall, benefit the Tories. So, it also looks like a gigantic gerrymander.

These changes are bad for our democracy and bad for Barnsley. People certainly do have more important things to worry about. But the ability of MPs to represent people and to focus on the things that do matter to them is under threat.

Boundary changes are a dog’s breakfast

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 30 September 2016: Compared to so many other issues, the Boundary Commission’s proposals to alter parliamentary constituencies probably seem like the...

Jeremy Corbyn was elected as our leader last weekend. I nominated Owen Smith, as did Barnsley East CLP, but I fully accept the outcome of the result and I respect the right of our members to choose Jeremy to lead us at this time. Jeremy won a clear majority of our members, affiliated supporters and registered supporters and I congratulate him for that.

But the challenge we face is that, if we’re being honest, our party is more divided today that at any point certainly in all my 25 years of party membership. Analysing the results from last weekend, it is clear that whereas newer members of our party voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy, the majority of our long-standing members voted for a change of leadership. The majority of young members voted for change, but Jeremy won the majority support of all other age groups. Different parts of the country voted differently too: for instance, Owen Smith won the majority of members in Scotland, but Jeremy had a big lead in most of England and Wales, though members in London were more evenly split. Many of our great trade unions nominated Jeremy, like Unite and Unison; others, like the GMB or Usdaw or Community, supported Owen. And after a summer where it was clear that the leadership had lost the confidence of the vast majority of MPs and shadow ministers, we now have to find ways to come together, work together and be a proper functioning opposition for the good of the country.

I am sure that whichever way party members voted in the leadership election, we all want to see a party that is capable of beating the Tories and making the country a stronger, better, fairer, more decent and more equal place. We know we have a lot of work to do to get more in touch with the public and be more trusted on important issues like immigration, the economy or defence. But it is absolutely essential now that we try and build some unity across the party. And the best way to do that is to focus our efforts on the Tories.

That is why I will continue my campaigning locally and in Westminster on issues ranging from the threat to our NHS, cuts to local public services, child poverty, the need for more jobs and better opportunities for our young people, my opposition to fracking and my repeated calls for an inquiry into Orgreave. Already this year, I secured a u-turn from the Government by forcing Ministers to pause and hopefully re-think their planned cuts to community pharmacies.

As a constituency MP, the number of people who come to me for help goes up and up every year. So far, in this year alone, I have dealt with more than 1,700 new cases of people coming to me, often in the most desperate of circumstances, for help with anything from benefits to housing. That work, along with the help I am able to provide to a whole range of local organisations and good causes, goes on.

We know we face challenges as a party as we move forward. But for all of our differences in recent months, to quote my friend, the late Jo Cox MP: “We have far more in common than that which divides us”. Jeremy himself said this week in his Conference speech that we have “a mountain to climb”. But I believe we must all now try and climb it together.

I accept the result and respect the members’ decision – now we must find ways to bring the party together and unite against the Tories

Jeremy Corbyn was elected as our leader last weekend. I nominated Owen Smith, as did Barnsley East CLP, but I fully accept the outcome of the result and I respect...

The following piece appeared in the Daily Mirror on 19 September 2016.

 

With a new Prime Minister this summer, it looked like we might finally get the public inquiry into Orgreave.

The new Home Secretary Amber Rudd met campaigners this month and positive signals from the Government finally gave the victims and their families hope of justice after more than thirty years.

Yet it now looks like Ministers have betrayed them after Government insiders signalled this weekend that there would be no proper inquiry.

And, to add insult to injury, these cowardly Tories seemed to have sneaked out at the news when Parliament is not sitting – to avoid proper scrutiny.

We’re told that an inquiry would take too long and be too costly.

But you can’t put a price on justice and there’s no ‘best before’ date when it comes to righting a wrong.

At the time of the Miners’ Strike, I was a young lad living by the Yorkshire Main Colliery in South Yorkshire.

I had family and friends on strike.

Our next door neighbour was at Orgreave.

Today I know the deep sense of injustice that is still felt over what happened at Orgreave.

It is not enough for Ministers to try and palm us off by releasing a few more documents.

Until we get to the truth with a proper, Hillsborough-style inquiry, what happened at Orgreave will leave a stain on British justice and policing forever.

This is an opportunity to finally do the right thing after all these years.

Instead, we may have a new PM and a new Home Secretary, but it looks like we’re getting the same old excuses.

Only a full inquiry into Orgreave will deliver justice

The following piece appeared in the Daily Mirror on 19 September 2016.   With a new Prime Minister this summer, it looked like we might finally get the public inquiry into Orgreave....

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16 September 2016:

 

Hospitals are facing staff cuts, charges for patients and the “draconian rationing” of treatment unless there is an urgent injection of funds.

That warning came last week not from the unions or politicians like me, but from the head of NHS Providers, the group representing those that actually run the hospitals.

Despite the brilliant efforts of our superb NHS staff, we are now witnessing the NHS buckling under pressure.

This Government is guilty of the gross mismanagement of our NHS – and it’s communities like ours that will pay the price.

After 2010, Ministers wasted £3 billion on a top-down reorganisation that nobody voted for and one that cost £18 million in Barnsley.

The latest big worry, as Chronicle readers will know, is that Barnsley Hospital’s children’s surgery services are now under threat – meaning children and parents could have to travel to hospitals miles away for some treatments.

This is partly because the number of children’s doctors coming through medical schools is set to fall by 45 per cent between 2012 and 2017 – a big drop in frontline staff.

Shockingly, the UK is now ranked bottom out of 25 industrialised countries for children’s wellbeing.

Standards are dropping elsewhere too, with Barnsley Hospital’s A&E unit seeing 91.4 per cent of patients within four hours this July – missing the Government’s own target of 95 per cent.  What we used to call the ‘winter crisis’ in our A&E units seems to have become an all year-round crisis.

Other important targets are also being missed. The percentage of patients seen by a specialist at Barnsley Hospital within two weeks of a cancer diagnosis – a key Government target and a legal right for patients – stands at 94 per cent, down from 98.5 per cent barely a year ago.

Across the NHS in England, 80 per cent of acute hospitals are now in financial deficit, compared with just five per cent three years ago.

The warning signs are there for our NHS. It’s time the Government urgently got a grip and delivered a long-term joined-up plan to rescue our NHS.

Massive concern for children’s services at hospital

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 16 September 2016:   Hospitals are facing staff cuts, charges for patients and the “draconian rationing” of treatment unless there is...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2 September 2016:

As many of you might have read recently in the Chronicle, the fracking firm INEOS, which has a licence to look at fracking in Barnsley, is expected to lodge up to 30 applications to drill test wells across the North of England in the next six months.

This news served as another stern reminder that fracking is a real threat in Barnsley and that the Government’s is determined to give fracking the go-ahead across the country.

My opposition to fracking is clear. I believe fracking should not be allowed in my constituency in Barnsley East, or in any other part of the country, whilst there is so much uncertainty about its effects.  The Government and the fracking firms have simply not done enough to address people’s legitimate concerns about it.

These concerns include the suggestion that fracking can also cause methane leaks and can lead to water contamination.  And even that fracking has been linked to earth tremors and explosions.

In addition to these potential environmental effects, there are worries that fracking could damage the local property market. An internal report published last year by Defra showed fracking could cost home owners up to seven per cent off their house price.

This is why I wrote to the Secretary of State for Energy last year to call for an immediate halt to fracking. I also spoke to Barnsley Council about my concerns.  And a few months ago I had meetings with INEOS and Cuadrilla, companies that both have fracking licences for Barnsley East and other parts of the Borough.

I made it clear that the residents and our local communities needed to be listened to.

Of course Barnsley Council must ensure they comply with Government planning rules and guidelines.  I respect that.

But as far as I’m concerned, on behalf of my constituents I will keep making my position clear: fracking should not be given the go-ahead in Barnsley.

‘Fracking companies not welcome in Barnsley’

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 2 September 2016: As many of you might have read recently in the Chronicle, the fracking firm INEOS, which has a licence...

The following article appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 30 August 2016:

When I was on holiday recently, I did a lot of cycling with my kids. At one point when I overtook my 10-year-old daughter, feeling very pleased with myself and to the understandable embarrassment of my children, I ludicrously claimed: “That was like Jason Kenny in the Olympics!”

But, joking apart, it strikes me that all over the country this summer, people – especially our youngsters – will have been inspired by Britain’s Olympic success in Rio. Who would have thought we could have topped our achievements from four years ago in London?

Team GB finished second in the final medals table – ahead of China for the first time – and it would be uncharacteristically modest if we didn’t also acknowledge our contribution here in Yorkshire. Competitors from God’s Own County won 14 medals including five golds. Athletes like Ed Clancy, Jessica Ennis-Hill, Jack Laugher and Nicola Adams not only did us proud, but they have the power to inspire the next generation of Olympic heroes. And just as importantly their achievements can encourage more people to get active and involved in sport.

Yet despite the brilliant results of our top athletes at the London Olympics four years ago, the depressing reality is that participation in sport here in Britain has actually fallen in recent years. The Government’s own figures show a significant drop in sport participation across the board. Fewer primary and secondary school children are taking part in sports than there were in 2010, both in and out of school. Among five to 15-year-olds, less than one in five (19.2 per cent) play competitive sport outside school.

Participation has risen in just three of the 26 Olympic sports since the 2012 London Olympics, and has dropped in 15 others. Last year, 800,000 fewer people took part in swimming than did in the year of the London Games – the steepest fall in any of the Olympic sports.

Over 750,000 more adults were completely inactive last year than there were in 2012/13. Among the poorest social group, 365,100 fewer people participated in sport – a fall of almost three per cent.  In Yorkshire and the Humber alone, the number of people taking part in sports and exercise at least once a week has fallen by 67,100 since the 2012 Olympics.

Many of these damning statistics are the result of short-sighted Government decisions, including scrapping Labour’s target of ensuring at least two hours of participation in sports for every child each week. The Government also cut £162m in annual funding for the School Sports Partnerships, a successful programme set up under Labour which linked specialist sports colleges with primary, special and secondary schools in the area.

Since the London Games, there have been significant cuts to grassroots sports. Continued massive cuts to local authorities make it near impossible for many of them to create and maintain the infrastructure needed.

Research has shown that people who participate in sport have a 30 per cent lower risk of developing dementia. Sport can also be a factor in reducing youth crime and reoffending. On top of this, participation in sport can help improve social cohesion and increase educational attainment.

The previous Labour government recognised the vital health and social benefits of a proper sport strategy and made enormous progress. In 2002 estimates indicated only 25 per cent of school children took part in at least two hours of PE and sport a week. By 2010, after years of effective Labour policy on sports, over 90 per cent of school children were doing two or more hours of sport – and 55 per cent was doing three hours a week or more.

Despite the positive legacy left by Labour, it took the Conservatives over five years to come up with an actual sports strategy – finally publishing one in December last year. As the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport at the time, I welcomed this. I thought it was good news that they had ‘borrowed’ many of the ideas we had been putting forward in Parliament.

This Government should learn from their mistakes. In 2012, they had a unique opportunity to capitalise on the success of the London Olympics to inspire people across generations. It proved to be an opportunity squandered.

With the tremendous success of Great Britain’s sporting heroes at the Rio Olympics, this Government now has a chance to do better. It remains to be seen if they will act to turn around the decline in sports participation.

 

Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and a former member of the shadow cabinet.

 

We need a sports policy fit for purpose

The following article appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 30 August 2016: When I was on holiday recently, I did a lot of cycling with my kids. At one point...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 19 August 2016:

As a patron of the Barnsley Independent Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support (BIADS) charity, I know how mentally and physically debilitating dementia is.

Going to the shops, visiting hospital or the GP can all be stressful for dementia patients and for family and the carers who often have to drive them there.

And we know that dementia is a growing problem in society, with the number of people with dementia set to rise from 850,000 this year to over two million by 2051.

Across Yorkshire and Humber alone, there are now over 60,000 people living with dementia. In my own constituency of Barnsley East, the figure is around 800.

So I was shocked to learn that having a form of advanced dementia is not listed in the eligibility criteria for the Blue Badge parking scheme.

 

The scheme helps less mobile people park cars closer to their destinations, in special parking bays, to make trips out easier.

But people with dementia cannot qualify for a Blue Badge on the grounds that they have dementia alone. The symptoms, like cognitive impairment and confusion, are not always covered in the eligibility criteria in the same way that physical disabilities are.

 

And different local authorities have different rules, which leads to a postcode lottery for dementia patients.

This can mean a lengthy, complex and confusing application process which can end in failure simply because of where you live.

That’s why I’m calling on the Government to change the rules so that the Blue Badge scheme is fully opened up to dementia patients – something that’s supported by BIADS and the Alzheimer’s Society.

This small change to the rules could make a massive difference to people with dementia by streamlining the application process and meaning if you have dementia, you are able to apply for a Blue Badge no matter where you live.

It’s really important that we act to support people living with dementia. Opening up access to the Blue Badge scheme is a simple and practical way we can help.

Bid to open up scheme to dementia sufferers

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle on 19 August 2016: As a patron of the Barnsley Independent Alzheimer’s and Dementia Support (BIADS) charity, I know how mentally and...

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