Michael Dugher MP

Working hard for Barnsley East

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The following article appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 12 August 2016:

The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) has just closed a public consultation about changes they are proposing to local bus services.

Suffice to say, their plans include yet more cuts. Although I ensured that as many local residents as possible made their views known, once again there seems little we can actually do about it.

The prospect of yet more cuts to bus services has left people who rely on them understandably worried and angry. Local buses are a lifeline for thousands across the county who rely on them to get to work or college, go shopping, or visit friends and family.

But these latest changes, set to be introduced by SYPTE in January next year, mean that in my Barnsley East constituency the 8 and 8a service through Worsbrough would be scrapped, with just a partial replacement. The 37 bus through Cudworth, Shafton and Grimethorpe will be cancelled on Saturdays. In other parts of the borough, the 23a,24, 25 and 300 bus services serving Penistone could alsoface the axe.

These cuts come on topof the recent collapse of Tates Travel bus company which abruptly folded in February, leaving many passengers in Barnsley and Rotherham in the lurch.

And according to the Campaign for Better Transport, there was a cut of almost 10 per cent in the amount South Yorkshire spent on supported bus services in the year to April 2016. Across Yorkshire and the Humber, the amount spent on supporting local bus services had dropped from £46.9m in 2010/11 to £32.6m in 2015/16 – a drop of 30 per cent.

Nationally, more than 2,400 services have been withdrawn or reduced under this Government, while bus fares have shot up 61 per cent on average in the past decade. Unsurprisingly, passenger numbers have slumped as Government support to subsidise bus services in England and Wales fell in real terms by 17 per cent over the last three years.

All this makes it harder for people to get to work or find employment. It makes it more difficult for people to stay in touch with friends and family, increasing the sense of loneliness and isolation some people feel, particularly elderly people or those living in more rural areas. And it hits local businesses too as trade suffers.

But the latest cuts in bus services in Yorkshire does highlight once again the real need for changes.

Last year, when I was Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary, I led a “Passenger Power” campaign to give people a far greater influence on the services they use and help to fund. At the moment, bodies like SYPTE can run public consultations.

But, despite all the public money that goes into funding our bus services, the bus market remains “deregulated”. There is nothing that compels them or the private bus companies to respond to the wishes of the public.

The Competition Commission has estimated that failures in the bus market are costing taxpayers up to £305m every year. That’s why I argued that we needed to give combined local authorities the powers to set routes andfares to deliver better bus services.

A model for this exists. In London, the bus market is “regulated” in this way. In London, bus passengers pay £1.50 per trip and there is a daily cap of £4.50 for a limitless number of bus journeys. Payment is on an Oyster card or a contactless payment card, like a debit or credit card, to help cuts queues and help speed up journeys.

I’m not against bus companies turning a profit. But at the moment the incentive is for them to run services on the profitable routes, like the buses packed with shoppers heading to places like Meadowhall, but to run down the bus routes that make little or no money – like vital buses picking up old folk from sheltered accommodation or trips to the local hospital.

I’ve argued that we should be “cross-subsidising” whereby the profitable routes help keep alive the other routes that are essential in terms of providing a much-needed public service.

But it’s not just about keeping fares reasonable or protecting important local bus routes. It’s about having a transport system as a whole that is properly joined up. For instance, there should be more powers to ensure bus and rail timetables are integrated.

Thankfully, the Government has finally responded to some extent to the campaign for more passenger power. If the new Sheffield City Region gets underway, the directly-elected mayor will have the power to award bus franchises and help facilitate smart ticketing.

But the question is: do these new powers go far enough? The test will be whether or not these new powers actually deliver the changes bus users need. Andthat means reversing the recent trend of cuts to routes and fare rises.

Michael Dugher MP is Labour MP for Barnsley East.

Passenger power over profit is the route for buses

The following article appeared in the Yorkshire Post on 12 August 2016: The South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) has just closed a public consultation about changes they are proposing...

The following piece by Michael was published in the Yorkshire Post on 5 August 2016:

 

Much of the focus on Theresa May’s first reshuffle as Prime Minister was understandably on her new Cabinet. We watched as the high political drama unfolded, with the sacking of George Osborne, the promotion of Boris Johnson to Foreign Secretary (Minister for Diplomacy?) and other top-level changes.

But further down the ministerial food chain, there was another significant move. Namely we now have a new Minister at the Department of Health, with responsibility for community pharmacies. Out goes Alistair Burt. Enter David Mowat.

It’s fair to say that David Mowat, MP for Warrington South, is not exactly a household name in Yorkshire. Without being too unkind, he’s probably not a household name in his own household. The same might be said for me.

But this is a very important appointment. The Yorkshire Post’s readers might not have heard of David Mowat, but many will have heard about the Government’s plan to cut £170m from our community pharmacies. Ministers have admitted themselves that this real terms budget cut of six per cent will force up to 3,000 local chemists – a quarter of all those in the country – to be closed.

Across Yorkshire and Humber alone, there are 1,266 community pharmacies that dispense an average of 9,483 prescription items to patients each month. If our new Minister presses ahead with this damaging cut, it could mean around 300 local chemists closing in our region.

This is a very real threat to people’s access to healthcare, which is why I have campaigned against the cut with a cross party group of MPs, patients and pharmacists. In May, we delivered a petition against the plan, signed by 1.8 million people – the most signed healthcare petition in history – to 10 Downing Street.

I also led a House of Commons debate opposing the cut and pharmacists from across the country travelled to Westminster to tell their MP just how important community pharmacies are. And they are growing in importance. There are 1.2 million health-related visits to community pharmacies every day. The average person visits a pharmacy 14 times a year. Since 2005, the number of prescriptions dispensed in the community has risen by 50 per cent, with just over a billion items issued last year alone.

Community pharmacies are often a first port of call for patients with minor ailments, where they can receive free medical advice and access over-the-counter medicine.

And a strong network of community pharmacies plays a vital role relieving pressure on our already overstretched A&E departments and GP surgeries. We know A&E units are under enormous pressure on this Government’s watch and that millions of people are waiting longer for a GP appointment.

By cutting community pharmacies, our NHS could be pushed to breaking point as more patients head to A&E or try to see their GP. Polling by YouGov from April shows that one in four people who would normally visit a pharmacy for advice on common ailments would instead make an appointment with their GP if their local pharmacy faced closure.

In areas of higher deprivation, like in my Barnsley East constituency, the research shows that as many as four in five people would visit their GP if their local pharmacy closed.

So cutting community pharmacies is also a complete false economy for our NHS. It will only create more downstream costs for the NHS and more pressures on our already over-burdened services.

One of the arguments the previous Minister fell rather belatedly upon was the need to tackle so-called ‘clusters’ or groupings of chemists close together on high streets.

This may be an issue in London and other urban centres, where there are sometimes several chemists in close proximity, but for the small towns and villages, like in my own constituency, there is often just one pharmacy serving the whole community.

An arbitrary budget cut across the board won’t do anything about so-called clusters. When I have challenged the Government to tell me which community pharmacies face the axe, of course they can’t tell me. It might be one in a cluster. Or it might be potentially closing the only chemist serving an entire village.

If the Government wants to do something about clusters, they need to be much more targeted. And there should be local guarantees of protected, minimum access to community pharmacies.

The new Minister does have a chance to think again and listen afresh to concerns. The Government is still in private consultation with the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee and there is still time to drop this cut before it is too late.

All new Ministers like an early win.They like to hit the ground running, grab a few good headlines and make a name for themselves. People here in Yorkshire may have not heard of David Mowat. Yet. But if he proves to be a good listener and has the courage to change the Government’s plans to cut community pharmacies, we may well be seeing a lot more of him.

Cutting local pharmacies would be a very bitter pill

The following piece by Michael was published in the Yorkshire Post on 5 August 2016:   Much of the focus on Theresa May’s first reshuffle as Prime Minister was understandably...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 5 August:

One of the best things I’ve done recently was to visit the beautiful Broomhill Flash, in the Dearne Valley, to open a brand new two-storey hide for the Garganey Trust.

The Trust is a local charity that was formed 18 years ago, to ensure the conservation of local wildlife and to enable people to enjoy and learn from local natural heritage.

Four years ago, the Trust came up with a proposal for a new two-storey hide to replace the original hide at Broomhill Flash. After years of hard work and fundraising, it’s now open.

The Trust’s inspiring Chairman, Jeff Lunn, described Broomhill Flash as one of a “string of pearls” along the Dearne Valley between Barnsley and Doncaster. And he’s not wrong.

The new hide is a brilliant facility which offers amazing panoramic views in a warm, spacious environment.

The Garganey Trust worked with a range of partners including GFB & Salt Architects, Greenbank, the Environment Agency, RSPB, Dearne Nature Improvement Area, Barnsley Council, Dearne Valley landscape Partnership, Natural England, private donors and friends and amazing supporters of the Trust to build this new hide.

Over the years the Garganey Trust has had some great success at the reserves it maintains. You probably didn’t know that over the past 13 years, 24 species of ducks, geese and waders have made 3,430 nesting attempts in the nature reserves the Trust manages!

The Trust has also transformed Clegg’s Meadow, to the west side of Broomhill Flash, into a hay-meadow which houses an abundance of grasses and flowers.

Work like this is crucial because wildlife is still in steep decline across the country. We have seen a 97 per cent decline in the population of species like the turtle dove nationally.

Organisations like the Garganey Trust also help children learn from a young age about the need to protect and enjoy our countryside and wildlife.

The hide is open from dawn till dusk. If you get chance this summer, pop along.

 

Trust is doing fine work for our wildlife

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 5 August: One of the best things I’ve done recently was to visit the beautiful Broomhill Flash, in the Dearne Valley,...

The following piece by Michael was published in the Mail on Sunday on 24 July 2016.

Gordon Brown’s failure to call an early General Election back in 2007, when he was riding high after a buoyant start to his premiership, was arguably the biggest political blunder in living memory. The same dilemma faces new PM Theresa May.

With a Commons majority of just 12 MPs, May’s brutal reshuffle – when she culled the ministerial allies of David Cameron and crushed the ambitions of other Tory ‘modernisers’ – has increased her fragility when it comes to potential backbench rebellions.

And despite her stealing Ed Miliband’s talk of a Britain that doesn’t just work for ‘a privileged few’, the reality is that she has assembled a Cabinet made up of Right-wing has-beens, anti-European headbangers and Norman Tebbit groupies.

However, as things stand, I’m convinced she won’t make the same mistake as Brown.

So far, May says she has ruled out going to the polls before the 2020 date set under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

But I think she’ll be persuaded to seize the chance to go to the country sooner rather than later – maybe as early as October – if Jeremy Corbyn is still Labour leader after the September contest.

If that happens I fear we could see the Tories get a majority of a 100 seats. Indeed, Labour could be looking at decades in the political wilderness, which would be a disaster for Labour areas like mine in Barnsley.

I was Gordon Brown’s chief political spokesman before 2010 but back in 2007, I was working at No 12 Downing Street in the Government Whips’ Office.

I remember talking to my friend Tom Watson – now Labour’s deputy leader – who was convinced there would be an early Election in 2007.

Brown asked the whips to ring round Labour MPs to get their thoughts. I recall one senior Labour MP being against an autumn Election on the dubious grounds that his large majority might be trimmed.

Brown was given conflicting advice from his inner circle in September 2007 and eventually ruled out a snap poll. Looking back, it was Brown’s and Labour’s best shot and we blew it.

Some people say May is too cautious to call an Election. It’s true that she is in many ways a modern-day equivalent of Stanley Baldwin, the Tory leader in the inter-war years who, with his slogan ‘safety first’, was a hero of John Major’s. In the turbulent 1920s, the mantra stood the Tory Party in good stead.

But the riskier move would be not to call an Election. Brexit means political and economic uncertainty.

And May, like Brown, would be permanently branded both an ‘unelected’ Prime Minister and a ‘bottler’.

The clincher is that, as long as Corbyn remains Labour leader, May is like a gambler with a big pile of chips after a winning run at the casino table – and every instinct will be telling her to cash out while her luck is in.

One recent YouGov poll has support for Labour at just 29 per cent. At the same point in Ed Miliband’s leadership, the same pollster had Labour riding high on 44 per cent.

An Ipsos MORI poll this week found just 23 per cent thought Corbyn had what it takes to be PM, compared to 55 per cent who were backing May.

Other polls have shown that large numbers of people who voted Labour at the 2015 General Election would now prefer May, and say they can’t vote for a party led by Corbyn.

Of course, if Labour does make a change at the top and elect Owen Smith as our new leader, the party could unite. And that just might make Theresa May ‘do a Gordon Brown’ and put off an early Election.

Labour’s fate is in our own hands.

Labour’s fate is in our own hands: Michael’s Mail on Sunday piece

The following piece by Michael was published in the Mail on Sunday on 24 July 2016. Gordon Brown’s failure to call an early General Election back in 2007, when he...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 22 July:

When Tates Travel collapsed with just 24 hours’ notice earlier this year, my postbag was rightly full of bus passengers complaining they had potentially been left high and dry.

People were understandably frustrated and angry. But there might be more bad news to come for all those people who rely on our local bus services.

Because the South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive (SYPTE) is now consulting on major changes to Barnsley’s buses.

This would see the 8 and 8a service through Worsbrough scrapped, with only a partial replacement. Another proposal is the cancellation of the 37 bus through Cudworth, Shafton and Grimethorpe on Saturdays.

And in other parts of the Borough, the 23a, 24, 25 and 300 buses serving Penistone could face the axe.

Cutting bus routes is something that’s happening across the country. Under this Government, over 2,400 bus routes have been reduced or withdrawn altogether. And as well as routes being cut, fares went up by 61 per cent on average in the last ten years.

That’s why I led a campaign last year as Shadow Transport Secretary for what we called ‘Passenger Power’. This was about giving local residents and passengers more power over routes and fares, and for local authorities to be able to negotiate comprehensive contracts with bus companies.

We don’t have that at the moment. That’s why it’s so important for local residents and passengers here in Barnsley to have their say on the bus services that matter to them.

The SYPTE consultation is open until 31 July and I strongly urge people in Barnsley to submit their views online at www.travelsouthyorkshire.com/bbp. You can also find details online about drop in sessions if you want to have your say in person.

Bus users deserve a better deal. I still believe in ‘passenger power’. That’s how it works in London. And if it’s good enough for Londoners, it should be good enough for folk here in Barnsley.

People left ‘high and dry’ by Tates Travel

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 22 July: When Tates Travel collapsed with just 24 hours’ notice earlier this year, my postbag was rightly full of bus...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 8 July:

Last week I took my wife and children to Serre in France to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and to pay tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of the Barnsley Pals.

The memorial to the Barnsley Pals at Serre now includes a special new plinth which was unveiled last week and will provide an improved and fitting monument to those who fought and died.

The sheer scale of what happened is still shocking: there were 57,000 British casualties on the first day – more than 19,000 of whom were killed.  The battles raged for four and a half months in which more than a million men would be wounded and killed.

But what struck me last week was all those personal stories and connections behind the statistics. Many present last week talked about their own relatives who had also fought on the Western Front.

I laid a wreath to the Barnsley Pals, but so too did the Barnsley Chronicle chairman, Sir Nicholas Hewitt, who is the grandson of the first Commanding Officer of the Barnsley Pals, Joseph Hewitt.

In the service we held at Serre, the Bishop of Sheffield, Steven Croft, talked about how a member of his family survived the Somme, but how he had fought and lay wounded for three days in the Battle.

Graham Walker, a journalist in Sheffield, tweeted that amongst the 297 Barnsley Pals who were killed on the first day was his great grandfather, Fred, who died on 1 July 1916, as did Fred’s brothers Charles and Ernest.

Alongside the new memorial at Serre last week, some people from Barnsley who had made the journey to France had pinned poppies to a tree by the old frontline.  Each poppy had the hand written name of one of the Barnsley Pals that had been killed.

I thought it was a wonderful tribute – and it was as powerful and as moving as any large memorial or TV documentary.

‘Serre service was wonderful’

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 8 July: Last week I took my wife and children to Serre in France to mark the centenary of the Battle of...

In his regular column for the Barnsley Chronicle, Michael has written about the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Awareness Week and the important work Barnsley Hospital does for local people affected by this tremendously difficult disease. A

As a proud patron of the Barnsley Independent Alzheimer and Dementia Society (BIADS) and a long-time supporter of Alzheimer’s Society UK, Michael is delighted that Barnsley Hospital will participate in Dementia Awareness Week next week. Dementia Awareness Week is an important initiative that draws attention to a tremendously difficult disease.

 

‘800 of my constituents live with Dementia’

In his regular column for the Barnsley Chronicle, Michael has written about the Alzheimer’s Society’s Dementia Awareness Week and the important work Barnsley Hospital does for local people affected by... Read more

Later this month, Michael will be joining Pharmacy Voice to deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street against government plans to cut £170 million from the community pharmacy budget in England. Michael has written a blog for Chemist + Druggist on why the government must pay attention when it receives the funding petition. You can read Michael’s blog here.

 

We must fight the Government’s £170 million community pharmacy cut

Later this month, Michael will be joining Pharmacy Voice to deliver a petition to 10 Downing Street against government plans to cut £170 million from the community pharmacy budget in...

As Sadiq Khan said in his acceptance speech in the early hours of Saturday morning,voters in London chose “hope over fear” by voting for a Labour mayor and for the capital’s first Muslim mayor.  But his triumph also provides a glimmer of hope amid a deeply depressing set of election results for Labour.

It’s the first time that an Opposition has failed to increase the number of councillors for over 30 years (that was in 1985 – we’d just lost two general elections and Labour went on to lose two more).  This was also the first time in modern history that any leader of the Opposition has lost seats in their first year. No leader of the Opposition has gone on to win a general election without winning seats in local elections in their first year. Average council gains for a party of opposition in non-general election years are 434. And if you’re an Opposition leader destined to win a future general election, it’s 526.

Last Thursday, Labour suffered losses in the local elections in England. We went backwards in Wales and we saw an electoral catastrophe in Scotland as we were beaten into third place by the Tories.  Jeremy Corbyn celebrated by saying we’d “hung on”, but in crucial bellweather seats like Nuneaton where we did hold onto the council Labour suffered an 11 per cent swing to the Tories.

And let’s not forget the context. The Conservatives are undoubtedly in a worse state than at any point since the years of John Major and ‘Tory sleaze’ in the mid-nineties.  Rising jobless figures, a junior doctor’s strike, a crisis in the steel industry, a Cabinet resignation, bitter splits over Europe and a series of shambolic U-turns over tax credits, disability payments, child refugees and academies.

Facing the political equivalent of an open goal, Labour should have scored a hatful of goals and won hundreds of seats, putting us on a clear trajectory to win the 2020 general election.

But thankfully it was a very different story in London.  Sadiq Khan fought an energetic, principled and dignified campaign that secured him a huge victory.  He took on a nasty, divisive and well-funded Tory election machine and a largely hostile right-wing media and won handsomely.

He did this by showing that Labour was in touch with Londoners by focusing on the issues that matter to them like housing and transport. He knew that it wasn’t enough for Labour just to mobilise its base. That’s why he reached out to people who were not natural Labour supporters with a positive, popular and inclusive campaign that resonated with Londoners and, crucially,  chimed with their sense of aspiration.

And Sadiq knew the fundamental importance the voters attach to leadership. He was able to articulate his vision to Londoners based on his own personal story of the bus driver’s son who’d done well in the face of adversity. He also demonstrated strong leadership. When it came to the row over anti-Semitism, Sadiq dealt with the issue swiftly and decisively by condemning offenders unequivocally and calling for action.

Like the more resilient and successful candidates in last week’s elections, additionally he moved to mitigate against – how can I put it? – less popular elements of the Labour Party nationally by running on key local issues like his fares freeze (as opposed to banging on about Trident or the Falkland Islands).

This is an emerging truth from other places where Labour did well.  So many successful local campaigns threw overboard the dead weight of the national party and ran ultra-local campaigns that tried to command broad based appeal – like the one Ben Bradshaw has talked about that saw the biggest ever majority in the Exeter city council elections.

Sadiq’s success in London, firmly rooted in the centre ground, is in stark contrast to Labour’s approach in Scotland. Jeremy Corbyn was convinced that his anti-austerity, left wing, anti-Trident ticket was the key to transforming Labour’s fortunes North of the border. We tried to outflank the Scottish Nationalists from the left, but our policies were rejected overwhelmingly in what turned out to be a hideous disaster.

Labour’s shadow Scottish Secretary Ian Murray, who knows a thing or two about winning a difficult fight after holding a marginal seat in the face of last year’s parliamentary wipe-out in Scotland, summed it up by saying that the public simply didn’t view Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour as “a credible party of future government”.

As a South Yorkshire MP, I often complain about the disproportionate amount of attention that London gets.  But there are huge lessons for Labour to learn from Sadiq’s victory in London.

If Labour is to win back the millions of votes we need, we need to stop talking to ourselves and preaching to the converted – and we need to reach out beyond our core vote and our comfort zone.  We need to dump the obsession with fringe issues by showing that we understand and share the concerns and aspirations of ordinary voters.

Understandably Jeremy likes to talk about the mandate he received from 250,000 party supporters.  But fundamentally it was a mandate to win power.  Just because someone passes their test and is given a driving licence, it doesn’t entitle them to drive the car into the nearest brick wall.

Sadiq Khan has just won a historic mandate from the public, not just from the party faithful, of more than 1.3 million votes.  Labour has an opportunity to show that his victory in London was not something that bucked the trend, but something that started a trend. If we do that, there will indeed be hope.

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

Lessons from London - Sadiq's triumph should give Labour hope

As Sadiq Khan said in his acceptance speech in the early hours of Saturday morning,voters in London chose “hope over fear” by voting for a Labour mayor and for the capital’s first Muslim...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 29 April:

This weekend I’m stepping up my campaign to save our community pharmacies in Barnsley.  The Government wants to cut funding by £170 million over the next year, which Ministers themselves admit could force up to 3,000 chemists – or around a third of all chemists – to close.

This is not just bad news for our local communities, it’s bad news for our NHS too.  These cuts will be a false economy as they could end up costing the NHS more.

That’s because community pharmacies are an increasingly vital part of our healthcare system. Whether it is picking up a prescription, providing free advice on minor ailments or getting your flu jab, local pharmacies prevent as well as treat illnesses.

False economy of pharmacy cutbacks...

The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 29 April: This weekend I’m stepping up my campaign to save our community pharmacies in Barnsley.  The Government wants to cut... Read more

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