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. ...
The following column was published by the Barnsley Chronicle on 18 September 2015.
Last month, I revealed that the Government’s mismanagement of our NHS has resulted in Barnsley Hospital having to pay for hundreds more costly agency nurses to plug staffing gaps. This is a shocking waste of vital finances and yet another example of the growing crisis facing our NHS.
These figures, obtained by my Freedom of Information request, showed that Barnsley Hospital employed 246 agency nurses last year at a cost of £497,417, compared to just 65 in 2010 at a cost of £67,383 – an increase of 638 per cent.
Hospitals around the country are being forced to rely on expensive agency nurses to maintain safe staffing levels following the Government’s decision to cut nurse training places by 13 per cent between 2010 and 2013.
But this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the Government’s mismanagement of our NHS.
During the winter months of December – February 2014/15, Barnsley Hospital failed to meet its target to see 95 per cent of patients within 4 hours in A&E because of continual underinvestment by the Government.
Our local NHS Trust plans to cut its mental health budget to just 9 per cent of its total spend this year, despite a clear demand for local mental health services with an estimated 15 per cent of the population in Barnsley having a mental health issue.
Nationally, one in four patients now wait a week or more to see a GP. Waiting lists for treatment are at the highest level for seven years. And cuts to elderly care are making it harder for older people to get the care they need at home.
We desperately need to see more investment and big changes to improve services. People in Barnsley shouldn’t have to suffer because of the mismanagement of our NHS by Ministers in Whitehall.
The following column was published by the Barnsley Chronicle on 18 September 2015. Last month, I revealed that the Government’s mismanagement of our NHS has resulted in Barnsley Hospital...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 2 October 2015.
At Westminster, it’s my job to hold the government of the day to account. This includes voting on legislation affecting my constituents and scrutinising the Government. But this is only half the story.
As an MP I also deal with individual constituents who need my help. And many do. Since 2010, I’ve tried to help some 7,000 constituents.
It used to be that MPs were mainly contacted by constituents by post or in person at a surgery meeting. But over the years an MP’s postbag has got smaller and the email inbox larger. The vast majority of cases – just over thirty per week – now arrive via my website or email.
And an increasing number now contact me via Twitter or Facebook too.
People contact me on a wide range of issues – from housing problems to passport application delays. One even came to me at a surgery and asked for two teas with no sugar (he’d got the wrong room – the coffee morning was next door!).
Not surprisingly, following the Government’s budget cuts, many people come to me with problems to do with cuts in benefits and local services.
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 2 October 2015. At Westminster, it’s my job to hold the government of the day to account. This includes voting... Read more
The following column was published by the Barnsley Chronicle on 14 August 2015.
The horrific death of Cecil the Lion at the hands of a big game hunter in Kenya, who paid £35,000 to hunt and kill this magnificent animal, has put hunting for ‘sport’ in the limelight. But it’s not just a problem overseas, it’s a problem here too.
Earlier this summer, over 300 constituents wrote to me asking to keep the fox hunting ban. That’s the biggest number of people contacting me about any issue since the election and I couldn’t agree more.
Fortunately the vote was called off but supporters of animal welfare must remain alert to attempts to roll back progress on animal rights.
Unfortunately there some who don’t share this view. David Cameron wrote in Countryside Alliance magazine earlier this year that “the Hunting Act has done nothing for animal welfare”. I suspect foxes up and down the country would profoundly disagree!
In fact, the vast majority of the British public disagree with the Prime Minister, with one poll last year showing that 80 per cent of people want to keep the ban on fox hunting.
The Hunting Act, which was passed by the Labour government in 2004, introduced a ban on hunting with dogs to prevent animals suffering pain and fear during a chase. Yet, despite the ban’s overwhelming support from the British people, many Conservatives are determined to repeal it.
I am absolutely committed to defending the ban. We have a proud track record of standing up for animal welfare in government which, as well as the banning of hunting with dogs, includes the banning of fur farming and securing an end to cosmetic testing on animals.
So, to the hundreds of people who share this view in Barnsley, let’s keep up the pressure and consign fox hunting to the past where it belongs.
The following column was published by the Barnsley Chronicle on 14 August 2015. The horrific death of Cecil the Lion at the hands of a big game hunter in...
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 1 August 2015
Today is Yorkshire Day. Now we Yorkshire folk are not normally afraid to sing our own praises. Other counties might be more modest, but they have got a lot more to be modest about.
Yorkshire has a lot to be proud of. Take sport for example. Yorkshire is officially recognised by FIFA as the birthplace of club football with Sheffield FC in 1857.
The founding meeting of Rugby League was held in Huddersfield in 1895. We have the oldest classic horse race with the St Leger in Donny.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club have won the county championship a record 33 times and their President is Barnsley’s own Dickie Bird, one of the great icons of the game.
Who can forget that if Yorkshire was a country, we’d have been ranked 12th in the world table at the 2012 Olympics with stars like Jessica Ennis.
Yorkshire is also a beacon for the arts. David Hockney is rightly considered one of the most influential British artists of the 20th century. Yorkshire-born people are the recipients of nine Oscars. And our idioms are world-famous thanks to Barnsley poet Ian McMillan.
Yorkshire people are also scientific and industrious. We have won seven Nobel Prizes. The first Briton in space was Yorkshire’s Helen Sharman. And it was our mills and coal that powered the industrial revolution, whilst Joseph Locke pioneered the construction of the railways. Yorkshire is still a great place to do business.
Every year, more than 200 million visits are made to Yorkshire. We have breath-taking countryside throughout the county. There’s no shortage of things to visit, including here in Barnsley – my personal favourite being the award-winning Elsecar Heritage Centre.
But if you really want a breath of fresh air, talk to our people. After all, it’s people that make a place. So let’s sing our own praises and say Happy Yorkshire Day!
The following column appeared in the Barnsley Chronicle published 1 August 2015 Today is Yorkshire Day. Now we Yorkshire folk are not normally afraid to sing our own praises....
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle:
Last week, George Osborne delivered what he called his “emergency budget”. Well after looking at what he announced, I think sirens should be going off across Barnsley.
Because of the Government’s changes, over 5,000 working families in my Barnsley East constituency will be worse off and 300 18 – 21 yr olds in Barnsley could lose out on receiving any Housing Benefit.
Working families – people doing the right thing, working hard – rely on tax credits to help make work pay.
Osborne called it a “fair” Budget. Fair?
Not if you’re looking to go to university without facing a mountain of student loan debt because the government has scrapped your maintenance grant.
Not if you’re looking to catch a train that uses outdated 1980s rolling stock with the plug pulled on the electrification of vital rail routes in the Midlands and the North.
Yet again, the Government is pretending to give with one hand whist taking away much more with the other. Even with increases in the minimum wage – what the Government laughably called the ‘National Living Wage’ – hardworking people are worse off because of the raid on their tax credits.
This Budget shows the Tories still want to look after their own. At the same time hardworking families have been clobbered, Osborne spent nearly £1 billion diving an inheritance tax cut that will benefit just 26,000 wealthy people in the whole country.
And we also heard the news from George Osborne last week that public sector workers – nurses, teaching staff, police officers – are facing the grim reality of a decade of pay cuts.
We needed a Budget that worked for everyone rather than just a privileged few at the top. Osborne’s emergency con trick didn’t do that. It was a bad budget for Barnsley.
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle: Last week, George Osborne delivered what he called his “emergency budget”. Well after looking at what he announced, I think sirens...
The following column was published in The Mirror on 11 July 2015:
Some elections have memorable moments – like John Major on his soapbox in 1992 or John Prescott chinning that bloke in 2001.
Other times you think: when was the moment when the election was lost?
In 2010, it was probably when Gordon Brown was caught on a microphone saying that a working class woman from Rochdale – Mrs Duffy – was “bigoted” because she expressed anxieties about immigration.
It made Labour look like we just didn’t get it.
Looking back at the 2015 campaign, the most uncomfortable night for Ed Miliband was when he was being grilled on BBC Question Time about Labour’s economic record, the prospect of “Ed Balls being back in Downing Street” and about the note left behind at the Treasury in 2010 saying there was “no money left”.
This just reinforced the doubts people had that Labour hadn’t really changed and we still couldn’t be trusted with the nation’s finances.
Andy Burnham rightly says we should be proud of many of the things Labour did in government, like building new schools and hospitals.
But he also said, right at the start of his Labour leadership campaign, that whilst Labour spending didn’t cause the global financial crash, Britain would have been better prepared for it if we had reduced the deficit during the boom years.
The following column was published in The Mirror on 11 July 2015: Some elections have memorable moments – like John Major on his soapbox in 1992 or John Prescott... Read more
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle:
This weekend sees the return of the free music festival LIVE in Barnsley. Now in its third year, this annual event has become an essential fixture in the Barnsley calendar.
It’s a great honour to be patron of the event this year. Music royalty will also be supporting the event, as former Undertones singer and number one selling artist Feargal Sharkey – the man who gave the world ‘Teenage Kicks’ – is returning once again to join me as patron.
Last year over 5,000 people turned Barnsley town centre into one big festival site. This event was the brainchild of volunteer festival organisers Dave Pearsall and Steve Clifford, who put so much hard work into organising the day. Their astonishing levels of determination, drive and commitment to promote local music has enhanced Barnsley’s reputation as the home of some of the best and most talented musicians in the region, rightly attracting recognition through national award nominations.
The family-friendly festival is funded solely by the venues, sponsors, advertisers, and from the sale of festival T-shirts and programmes. There is even a festival beer – ‘LIB Ale’ – brewed especially for the event and on sale during the day. All money raised from a charity collection on the day is split between Barnsley Hospice, Creative Recovery and Muscular Dystrophy Campaign.
This year the festival has also attracted the support of Barnsley Council who have kindly agreed to allow the festival to use Barnsley Pals Centenary Square for the Creative Recovery piano stage, where musicians of all ages can come along and play and sing along with the Creative Recovery team.
With 126 local bands and solo artists appearing at 14 official venues, there truly is something for everyone. And if you are really desperate, you can see me playing an acoustic set at the White Bear on Church Street at 12:30 – but don’t let that put you off coming along!
LIVE in Barnsley really shows Barnsley at our best. It puts our town in the limelight for all the right reasons. It attracts visitors into the town centre, it supports local businesses and most of all it is a real showcase for local talent.
I hope to see you there on Saturday.
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle: This weekend sees the return of the free music festival LIVE in Barnsley. Now in its third year, this annual event...
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle:
This week sees a memorial service at St Mary’s Church as Barnsley pays tribute to one of our greatest sons, namely Lord Roy Mason who sadly passed away recently.
I was privileged to attend Roy’s funeral last April. It was a moving service, made more memorable in that it concentrated on Roy’s life as a devoted family man, rather than dwelling on the extraordinary career he had as a public figure.
Roy Mason was as much a product of Barnsley as the coal he once dug as a miner. He was passionate about Barnsley and though his time as a minister took him all over the world, he never forgot where he came from. He never lost touch and he spent his working life dedicated to making life better for ordinary folk.
When first elected as a Barnsley MP, he found himself in the company of former and future prime ministers such as Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. Years later, Mason recalled that the only suit he had available to wear on his first day in Parliament was the one he’d got married in.
In his first speech in the Commons in May 1953, he highlighted that maiden speeches are supposed to be brief and non-controversial. Clearly a true Yorkshireman, he said: “The first may prove easy, but the second may prove more difficult”. Ever the Barnsley man, he even he managed to squeeze in a reference to his beloved Barnsley Football Club.
To this day, one of his ministerial red boxes and a bulletproof vest from his time as Northern Ireland Secretary are all in our Town Hall – a reminder of his many achievements. And when Roy was elevated to the House of Lords, he still spoke regularly about issues close to Barnsley hearts.
Despite his title being ‘Baron Mason of Barnsley’, we were told at Roy’s funeral that when he went into the care home in the latter months of his life, the manager had asked what the staff should call him. “Call me Roy”, was the immediate response.
One of the readings at Roy’s funeral was Kipling’s ‘If’. It has the famous lines asking whether a person is able to “walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch”. That might have been written for Roy Mason.
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle: This week sees a memorial service at St Mary’s Church as Barnsley pays tribute to one of our greatest sons,...
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle
If any of you watched coverage of the General Election night on TV, you’d be forgiven for thinking elections are all about the political parties and the politicians – who the winners and losers are. But the truth is they are about the public – or at least they should be.
First of all I want to say a big thank you to all the people who voted for me. Seeing all those votes for me piled up at the Metrodome was a very humbling experience. Thousands of people put their trust me and voted for Labour. I am absolutely determined to repay that trust and work hard every day for the people of Barnsley East.
Equally, I am determined to work hard for all the people who didn’t vote for me – I’m still their MP and I will represent everybody to the best of my ability in the House of Commons.
During the last parliament, I directly helped over 6,000 people living in the Barnsley East constituency. The good thing is MPs are more accessible than ever before. People contact us via email and even social media like Twitter. The bad thing is, especially in recent years in Barnsley, people have been really struggling and many have come to see me as their MP in very desperate circumstances. I’ve lost count of the number of people who have been in tears at one of my surgeries.
So as I looked at the pile of votes I had secured on election night, as well as being pleased with my own result, where we increased our vote and my majority, I also felt very down. That’s because so many people had voted Labour because they wanted a change of government and different policies. By the time my result was declared, I knew that Labour had lost and I knew that we had let people down.
The following article appeared in this week’s Barnsley Chronicle If any of you watched coverage of the General Election night on TV, you’d be forgiven for thinking elections are... Read more