The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 23 December.
I’m willing to bet all my Christmas presents that hardly anyone reading this column has heard of something called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP for short.
TTIP is a trade deal being negotiated between the EU and the US. Perhaps surprisingly, quite a few constituents have contacted me about this but for good reason.
Trade is incredibly important to jobs and growth in Britain, including here in Barnsley. Most of our trade is with the EU, which is one of the big reasons why we need to stay in the EU but fight for a better deal for Britain.
TTIP has the potential to bring massive benefits to our economy – with one estimate showing the average household stands to gain up to £400 per year because of reduced consumer goods prices and increasing wages.
But there are some big issues at stake. As well as promoting trade, we need to protect our public services.
Most importantly, we need to make sure the NHS is exempt. We need to ensure TTIP doesn’t, for example, allow a foreign health company to sue the Government for potential loss of earnings if it can’t get an NHS contract. That’s why Labour Members of the European Parliament voted against this part of the deal.
Trade should be about boosting growth and competitiveness, but TTIP must also avoid a race to the bottom in hard-won labour, consumer, environmental and safety standards by placing them ahead of company profits.
If done right, this deal between Europe and America has huge potential to grow our economy and potentially open up great opportunities for people in Barnsley. But we need to make sure it’s the right thing to do.
That’s why so many of you have written to me about this and that’s exactly what we need to do.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 23 December. I’m willing to bet all my Christmas presents that hardly anyone reading this column has heard of something...
You might have missed it, but this week the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, published a strategy for sport on behalf of the Government. That’s right - up to now they hadn’t got one. But unlike many of her predecessors before last May, Tracey is a sharp cookie and thought it might be a good idea to have one.
As it’s Christmas and the season of goodwill etc, Labour welcomed much of what the Government said. It’s a step in the right direction and better late than never. Also, many of the ideas the Government are proposing have been stolen from Labour’s excellent Shadow Sports Minister, Clive Efford, so it would be churlish not to welcome them now.
But a strategy was certainly much needed given how the Tories’ record on sport since 2010 has been little short of dismal. Tracey Crouch was typically kind and generous when she described sport participation rates under this Government as having been “stalling” or “stagnating”. The truth is things have been going backwards.
The Government’s own “Taking Part” figures show that across the board we have seen a drop in the percentage of children taking part in sporting activities in and out of school since 2010. This is the case for both primary and secondary school children.
The number of people in lower socioeconomic groups playing sport has decreased and the number of inactive people doing no exercise at all has increased. Almost six out of 10 adults are now playing no sport at all in a typical week.
Much of this is a consequence of the well documented, short-sighted decisions the Government made back in the early days of the last Parliament. They cut grassroots sport, watered down regulations on school playing fields, scrapped Labour’s target for school children to do at least two hours of PE and sport in school each week, and they removed funding for the successful School Sports Partnerships.
So getting the right strategy in place is vitally important. People who engage in regular sport and physical activity have a lower risk of dementia, cardiovascular heart disease and diabetes. And alongside the economic and health benefits, it has been shown that sport can be used to tackle youth crime, reduce reoffending, increase educational attainment, improve social cohesion and reduce the number of those not in employment, education or training.
The previous Labour government had decent record. Back in 2002 it was estimated that just one in four school children were taking part in two hours of PE and sport each week. Under Labour’s School Sports Partnerships, this situation improved dramatically. By 2010, over 90 per cent of school children were doing two hours or more of sport and 55 per cent of pupils were participating in three hours of PE and sport.
Within 10 years under Labour, the vast majority of school age children were taking part in substantial amounts of high quality sport and PE.
So it is good news that it now seems the Government is finally grasping the importance of early intervention and Labour welcomes the decision in the new strategy to focus on getting younger children active, with investment starting at the age of five. We also welcome the move to make public funding for sporting bodies more conditional on good governance and for there to be more co-ordination across Whitehall departments.
But Ministers do need to go further in a number of key areas. Labour said at the last election that we should ensure that every child participates in a minimum of two hours of organised sport every week at school. This is clearly the right thing to do and the Government should get on and adopt it.
The Government will also need to do more to ensure that people at the grassroots level are empowered so that they can use their local expertise to get the best value for money. Only this will bring about a real breakthrough in participation.
Labour welcomed the fact that the Premier League has said it will increase the amount it gives to grassroots football each year to more than £100m. But this is still a drop in the ocean when you think that the Premier League is on course to bring a staggering £8 billion from TV rights. The Government must ensure that the Premier League delivers on its original promise to invest five per cent of its television rights into the grassroots.
But perhaps the area of biggest concern is the impact that massive cuts to local government will have. The central grant from the Department for Communities and Local Government is set to fall by 56% by 2019/20. In the same way that this will have a potentially devastating impact on access to arts and culture locally, the Government’s continued large-scale cuts to local council budgets will hit the very facilities and local resources needed to implement the Government’s sports strategy.
In the last Parliament, there was no strategy for sport to speak of. That once in a generation opportunity to inspire people to become more active and play sport following the success of the Olympics in 2012 was squandered. So it is good news the Government has finally produced a strategy.
But Ministers must also will the means of delivering this strategy. With the scale of cuts from local government likely to hit grassroots sport, I fear the Government may be setting itself up to fail. And that would be a real shame for sport in this country.
Michael Dugher is Labour MP for Barnsley East and Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport
You might have missed it, but this week the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, published a strategy for sport on behalf of the Government. That’s right - up to now they...
This weekend sees the anniversary of the 1866 Oaks Mining Disaster in Barnsley. This was the worst colliery disaster in England.
On 12 December 1866, men and boys were working at the Oaks Colliery, near Stairfoot, when a huge explosion ripped through the workings. The following morning, the shaft exploded for a second time, killing rescuers who had volunteered to help the trapped and injured.
In total the explosions killed 361 workers – including boys who were handling the pit ponies – and 27 rescuers. Sadly a number of the victims’ bodies were not recovered and remain underground to this day.
The Dearne Valley Partnership, which aims to commemorate the tragedy in in the local community, is holding an illustrated talk on the disaster by Stephen Miller on Saturday 12 December at Christ Church, Ardsley, between 2.00pm and 3.00pm.
Local campaigners have long argued that the disaster deserves a permanent memorial. That’s why earlier this year I was honoured become a proud patron of the Oaks 150th Anniversary Disaster Memorial Fund Campaign.
Created by a small group of ex-miners and supported by the NUM, the campaign is raising money for a statue, designed by Barnsley sculptor Graham Ibbeson, to be erected next year during the 150th anniversary of the disaster.
Last year I visited the Welsh National Mining Memorial and Garden in Senghenydd. Located at the former pit head of the Senghenydd Colliery, this beautiful memorial was unveiled to mark the centenary of the worst mining disaster in the UK.
Campaigners here in Barnsley are equally determined that an Oaks Memorial will also be seen as an important monument of national significance. In that way future generations can not just remember our mining heritage, but also reflect on the huge sacrifices that were made by our people in that industry.
This weekend sees the anniversary of the 1866 Oaks Mining Disaster in Barnsley. This was the worst colliery disaster in England. On 12 December 1866, men and boys were working...
Voting on whether or not to take military action is the most serious decision any MP can take. All MPs, whatever decision they reach in the end, rightly think very deeply about all the issues involved.
It is the first duty of the Government, and indeed the Opposition, to defend our national security and to do everything we can to keep the public safe. ISIL/Daesh present a fundamental threat to that safety. Their barbarity knows no bounds and the heinous crimes that they have committed around the globe have inflicted shock and horror in equal quantities.
We know that ISIL/Daesh has killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc and 130 people in Paris. Crucially, they are plotting more attacks on the UK and other countries from their headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. These terrorists are determined to wreak destruction on the values that we hold dear. Yesterday, I voted to extend airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh from northern Iraq into Syria.
I listened closely to the Government’s case for airstrikes and have discussed this widely with colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party, members of my Constituency Labour Party and, importantly, with the wider public.
As a result of the incredibly complex situation in Syria, it is absolutely vital that the Government’s proposals were subject to full scrutiny. I was very disappointed when the Government decided to ignore Labour’s call to hold a debate in the House of Commons over two days. We should have had more time to question to Government about its plans for military action.
Before David Cameron set out the case for airstrikes, Labour had outlined a series of tests at the 2015 Party Conference, which included political, diplomatic, humanitarian, and other dimensions besides the military element of action against ISIL/Daesh.
Specifically, in our emergency motion at the Labour Party Conference, Labour called on the Government to ensure that any military action met four key tests. I believe that all these tests have now been met.
First, Labour’s resolution stated that a clear and unambiguous authorisation for a bombing campaign would be needed from the United Nations. The unanimously passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 2249 specifically calls on member states to take all necessary measures to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, repeated attacks by ISIL/Daesh against British citizens and our allies gives the UK a right to self-defence, which is lawful under Article 51 of the United Nations Charter.
Second, Labour called for a comprehensive and EU-wide plan to be implemented to provide humanitarian assistance to the increased number of refugees that even more widespread bombing could to lead to. More than €4.4 billion has now been allocated for relief and recovery assistance to Syrians in their country and to refugees and their host communities in neighbouring Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Egypt. The UK is leading the way in providing humanitarian assistance to refugees.
Third, Labour Conference stipulated that any bombing should be exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with ISIL/Daesh. The Government’s motion authorises the use of airstrikes exclusively against this group.
Fourth, the Conference resolution sought to pursue military action only within a wider international diplomatic effort to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, since only a broadly-based and sovereign Syrian government can effectively govern its territory and prevent the spread of terrorist groups. An intensified diplomatic effort is now underway and important progress was made by the International Syria Support Group in Vienna in both October and November. The major powers of the world are united in a common vision to destroy ISIL/Daesh and to bring the wider Syrian civil war to an end.
Voting on whether or not to take military action is the most serious decision any MP can take. All MPs, whatever decision they reach in the end, rightly think very... Read more
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 27 November 2015:
Last May, 38,517 people living in the Barnsley East constituency voted in the General Election. I’m proud to say than 21,000 of them chose to re-elect me as their MP.
But it’s worth remembering that only 55.7 per cent of people actually voted at all. That means nearly half them didn’t.
And the problem with people not voting is set to get much, much worse. Very many people won’t be able to vote at the next election, not because they don’t want to, but because they aren’t on the electoral roll.
The Government has rushed through a change to the voting registration system called Individual Electoral Registration (IER). Previously, registration was done by household. One person filled in a form, entered the details of everyone who lived at a property, and those eligible were then registered to vote. Simple.
From now on you and anyone you live with has to register individually. Labour estimates around one million people have dropped from the electoral register.
Falling off the electoral register has consequences. If you don’t register to vote, you might find it harder to get affordable credit, change your energy supplier, get a mobile phone contract, credit card or passport.
Our local area might get less public services than we deserve – such as school places, medical services and public transport – because not everyone is being counted.
And that is to say nothing of the fact that it’s much easier for any government to ignore you and the things that effect your life if you don’t have a voice.
Getting on the electoral register only takes a couple of minutes viawww.gov.uk/register-to-vote. Remember: no vote, no voice.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 27 November 2015: Last May, 38,517 people living in the Barnsley East constituency voted in the General Election. I’m proud to...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 13 November 2015:
Here’s a statistic for you: in my Barnsley East constituency, nearly two-thirds of working families – or 63 per cent – receive tax credits.
These are people who are doing the right thing, working hard, but who can sometimes struggle to get by on lower pay. So tax credits are there to help.
But here’s some bad news for you: the Government plan to cut tax credits in April next year. This will leave working families on average £1,300 a year worse off.
People in Barnsley are understandably furious about this. They see tax cuts being given to big business (who often pay low wages) and to people at the top. So why are working people on lower incomes being clobbered?
Introduced in 1999 by the previous Labour Government, tax credits were created to ensure that work pays.
But from next year, the income threshold for Working Tax Credits will be cut from £6,420 to £3,850 a year. This cuts by nearly a half the amount you can earn before your working tax credit starts to reduce.
What this really means is that some 6,400 working families in Barnsley East will be worse off. It also means that some 9,300 local children in my constituency will suffer as a result.
I have voted against the Government’s proposed cuts to tax credits repeatedly in the House of Commons. Last month, the House of Lords voted for a delay in the introduction of these changes, demanding that George Osborne fully reveal the impact of the cuts.
During the general election, David Cameron was asked by a member of the public on TV if he’d cut tax credits if he got elected. He replied, no.
Well, for the sake of so many working families in Barnsley, I think we should hold Mr Cameron to his promise.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 13 November 2015: Here’s a statistic for you: in my Barnsley East constituency, nearly two-thirds of working families – or 63...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 16 October 2015.
Last Saturday I was with Mayor Brian Mathers at Oakwell to help launch this year’s Poppy Appeal with the Royal British Legion (RBL). Thanks to Barnsley FC, we went on the pitch at half time with veterans and cadets – and we got a great reception from the crowd.
Last year was a record year for donations to the RBL across Barnsley. Even in tough economic times, the generosity of our people knows no bounds.
The Poppy Appeal was originally created to help those returning from the First World War. A century on, the Poppy Appeal still helps veterans and their families in much the same way – whether coping with bereavement, living with disability, or finding employment. Their work today has never been more relevant.
Every Remembrance Sunday, I support a different local branch of the Legion. Last year I was in Grimethorpe. Previously I’ve been in Wombwell and Hoyland. This year I’ll be in Darfield. Barnsley folk always turn out in large numbers.
Sadly, despite the fantastic commitment of so many volunteers, some of our local RBL branches have struggled in recent times and some have even had to close. Many stalwarts of the Legion – some of whom served in the Second World War – have passed away in recent years.
That’s why as well as buying a poppy and putting money in the collection box – as important as that is – it would be great if more people would consider joining the Legion here in Barnsley. Most people don’t realise, but anyone can become a member. You don’t have to have served in the Armed Forces.
Membership costs £16 a year. If you can afford it, why not go on the Royal British Legion website or call 0808 802 8080 and join today?
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 16 October 2015. Last Saturday I was with Mayor Brian Mathers at Oakwell to help launch this year’s Poppy Appeal...
The following piece appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 October 2015.
Last week, I joined over 150 British artists and authors, including JK Rowling, Tom Holland and Simon Schama, in backing a new network promoting co-existence and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.
This was about saying that rather than boycotts, it is dialogue and interaction that will promote greater understanding and mutual acceptance and ultimately play a part in moving towards a resolution of the conflict.
But, depressingly, just days later, in a step diametrically opposite to this positive move to build bridges, over 300 British academics pledged in an advert in the Guardian to boycott Israeli academic institutions.
Attempts to boycott Israeli academia are not new and have already been shown to be completely misguided. Boycotts do not soften policies of the Israeli government nor improve the lives of Palestinians – they are just counterproductive and only serve to perpetuate the conflict.
People, of course, can question or criticise the Israeli government. I am a friend of Israel, but I don’t support settlements in Palestinian territories and I don’t consider myself a friend of the current Israeli government.
As a Labour politician and a supporter of the Israeli Labor party I naturally have different values to those of Benjamin Netanyahu.
But we, in the UK and elsewhere, need to support initiatives that help rather than hinder constructive engagement. The sad irony is that the attempts to censor Israeli academia targets the very elements of society that anyone interested in fostering dialogue should be working to strengthen.
How does it make sense to boycott places of collaboration? How can it be helpful to harm the education of thousands of Israeli Arabs and Palestinians who attend Israeli universities?
In the spirit of academic freedom, British academics should be the ones seeking to promote forums for academic and cultural exchanges between Palestinian and Israeli universities.
Indeed, as venues for constructive discussion appear to shrink away in the current turmoil in the region, academics around the world should be focussing on creating bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, rather than burning them. This is precisely where civil society and academia fulfil their role as safe-heavens for constructive debates.
I, like many others, want to see a negotiated two-state solution, with Israel safe and secure in her borders alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state.
Those who truly care about building the foundations for reconciliation and peace should join initiatives like Culture for Co-existence, work to open up spaces that foster dialogue and reject these counterproductive campaigns that help no one.
The following piece appeared in the Jewish Chronicle on 29 October 2015. Last week, I joined over 150 British artists and authors, including JK Rowling, Tom Holland and Simon Schama,...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 16 October 2015.
Did you know that Friday 16 October is ‘Restart a Heart Day’? Probably not. Well neither did I until last week when I visited the brilliant staff at the Ambulance Station in Hoyland.
On ‘Restart a Heart Day’, ambulance staff and volunteers will visit 91 schools across the county, including here in Barnsley, to teach CPR (heart resuscitation) to more than 20,000 children in what will be the biggest event of its kind ever seen in the world.
Throughout Europe, the aim of the day is to improve the very low numbers of people surviving out-of-hospital cardiac arrests by teaching members of the public how to help restart the heart of someone who has suffered a cardiac arrest.
In Parliament I’m vice chair of the All-Party Group on Heart Disease. In this role, I work really closely with the fantastic British Heart Foundation (BHF) but the health statistics from Barnsley are alarming.
According to NHS Barnsley CCG, in 2013 more than 70 per cent of us adults in Barnsley were classed as overweight or obese and more than a third of all adults in Barnsley take no exercise.
The BHF estimates that just in my constituency 13,700 people suffer from cardiovascular disease. Nationally around 50,000 men and 32,000 women have a heart attack each year in England.
CPR is a first aid technique that can be used if someone’s heart has stopped by using chest compressions to keep blood and oxygen circulating in the body. By improving CPR knowledge in our community, the NHS estimates survival rates increase by two to three times.
It’s amazing to think that during an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times. But did you also know that coronary heart disease is the biggest killer in the UK? That’s why I’m backing ‘Restart a Heart Day’ and trying to raise awareness.
To find out more, go to www.restartaheart.yas.nhs.uk.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 16 October 2015. Did you know that Friday 16 October is ‘Restart a Heart Day’? Probably not. Well neither did...
The following column was published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 4 September 2015.
One of the best things about Barnsley is the pride we take in supporting our armed forces. Whether that is the thousands who mark Remembrance Sunday, the fundraising we do for the Royal British Legion or ‘Help for Heroes’, or turning out for ‘freedom parades’ by our own Yorkshire Regiment.
That’s why earlier this summer I chose to volunteer for something called the ‘Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme’. This commits MPs to spend a few weeks a year in uniform with our Armed Forces.
The majority of MPs today have never served in the forces. Historically, most senior politicians – prime ministers from Churchill to Callaghan – had seen active service in one of the world wars. That’s why we’re lucky in Barnsley to have ex-Army Major Dan Jarvis who brings important experiences and insights to Parliament.
This summer I was with British forces in Cyprus. It was incredibly humbling to meet the crews of Tornados conducting combat operations over Iraq. I saw the Black Watch patrolling the UN ‘buffer zone’. I saw a fantastic display from medics serving in the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment on how they care for wounded soldiers.
I also got to spend time with some amazing people from the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment. They were just finishing a tour of duty in Cyprus and were looking forward to coming ‘home’ to Catterick.
Parliament often debates and votes on our defence policy, how we fund our armed forces, and the most important decision for any MP – whether or not to take military action.
My time with our Armed Forces is about gaining more knowledge and understanding. But it’s also an opportunity to say thank you to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces. And I know that’s something that proud people of Barnsley would wholeheartedly support.
The following column was published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 4 September 2015. One of the best things about Barnsley is the pride we take in supporting our armed forces. ...