This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 28th April.
Last week I announced, with some sadness, that I would not be standing for Parliament again at the forthcoming general election.
It was not an easy decision and, like most big decisions, there were a number of reasons behind it.
The most important was that I want to try and do what is best for my wife and young children. Being an MP is a huge privilege, but at the same time it is a demanding job that puts considerable pressure on family life.
As someone who grew up in a South Yorkshire pit village very close to Barnsley, I have been proud beyond all words to represent the great people of Barnsley East.
People make a place and Barnsley folk are amongst the most wonderfully generous, decent and down-to-earth people I know. I cannot thank them enough for the honour of representing them in Parliament.
I hope I have gone some way to repay their support. In the past seven years, I have helped over 11,000 people - that's a big increase on the number of people who came to their MP for help in 2010.
I know I have been outspoken about Jeremy Corbyn of late. But that's only because I want Labour to be more in touch with working class people and to get into government again so we can really start to help people.
The truth is on polling day you aren't being asked to vote for Mr Corbyn or any other party leader. You are being asked to choose your local MP. I hope people remember that.
Talking of which, whoever is my successor as MP for Barnsley East will have my full support. I know it's a tough job and nobody likes a backseat driver. They will no doubt do the job differently to me, but good luck to them.
It's time now for me to make a difference in life outside of politics. I might be saying "si thee" to the House of Commons, but I'll still be around for a pint in the Milton Arms in Elsecar from time to time, so maybe I'll see you around.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 28th April. Last week I announced, with some sadness, that I would not be standing for Parliament again...
Of all the issues I’m contacted about by constituents in my Barnsley East constituency, animal welfare is amongst the most frequently brought up.
Animals hold a special place in all of our lives, giving so many of us unconditional comfort, companionship and happiness.
It’s why there are an estimated 20m pets in the UK, with 1 in 2 households – including my own – shared with a pet.
I’m extremely proud of the previous Labour Government’s record when it comes to animal welfare.
This includes Labour’s 2006 Animal Welfare Act, described by the RSPCA as the single most important piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly 100 years.
But it’s also why I feel so sickened every time I hear about the shocking number of animal cruelty cases committed across the country.
Every year, the RSPCA investigates around 150,000 cases of alleged animal cruelty UK, giving an indication of how widespread this shocking act is.
Indeed, in South Yorkshire the number of complaints investigated in 2016 was 4,806. This demonstrates a disconcerting rise of nearly 8% from 2015, in which there were 4,466 complaints.
Calls to the RSPCA’s 24-hour cruelty hotline also rose last year by nearly 4%, meaning on average a report of animal cruelty was made every 27 seconds.
These figures are shocking, and a stark indication that animal cruelty still remains a problem in Barnsley and across South Yorkshire.
But it’s important to note that the increase in reported acts are also cause for optimism.
The rise in complaints shows people are less willing to stand by, and are increasingly prepared to report allegations of animal cruelty where they suspect it.
The RSPCA do a truly incredible job, but they can’t do it without our help. That’s why it’s heartening to see so many people are not willing to let this distressing problem continue.
For every criminal who perpetrates such an act there are countless more who want to bring them to justice and stop the cruelty to our beloved pets and animals.
So I commend those who help, whilst acknowledging we still must do more. I would urge anyone who thinks animal is suffering to call the RSPCA’s cruelty line and help put an end to this shameful practice.
People can report cruelty towards an animal to the RSPCA by calling the charity’s 24-hour hotline on 0300 1234 999.
Of all the issues I’m contacted about by constituents in my Barnsley East constituency, animal welfare is amongst the most frequently brought up. Animals hold a special place in all...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th April 2017.
It’s rare that one of our local villages gets to celebrate two pieces of great news in quick succession.
But Elsecar is in just that fortunate position after landing a share of a £1.2 million grant - and being recognised as one of the country’s first ten areas to get special heritage status.
Thanks to a partnership between Barnsley and Rotherham councils, Elsecar and Wentworth will share the cash from the Lottery-funded 'Great Place' scheme to lay on activities and events based on the rich history of the villages and boost economic growth in the area.
Elsecar has also been selected as one of England’s first ten 'Heritage Action Zones'. That means Historic England will work with the BMBC and local groups to fully unlock the village’s potential to draw in even more visitors.
Elsecar Heritage Centre is one of the jewels in Barnsley’s cultural crown, attracting thousands of visitors. And Elsecar Heritage Railway, of which i'm the proud patron, is another gem that has exciting plans to expand.
The promise of investment and expertise to build on their rich history should bring more money and tourists to the area. I hope it will also mean more opportunities for locals and people in Barnsley.
The recent success of Elsecar is down to those who worked so hard including the local groups and our local councillors Robin Franklin, Tim Shepherd and Mick Stowe.
It’s been quite a turnaround since the 1980s when Elsecar Main shut down under the Thatcher government and left us facing massive challenges.
Like any other village in Barnsley, of course Elsecar has its fair share of problems and need for continued improvement. But I'm really proud of the area.
It shows what can be achieved when we draw with pride on our heritage, but work together and look with confidence to the future.
I'm often quick to point out the problems we face in our area and where I think the Government is letting us down or leaving us short-changed. That's my job in Parliament. But it's also my privilege to be able to celebrate success.
So well done Elsecar.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 13th April 2017. It’s rare that one of our local villages gets to celebrate two pieces of great news...
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 5th April:
Last summer, I wrote in The Yorkshire Post about the threat of closure facing hundreds of our local community pharmacies due to the Government’s proposed cuts in funding.
Now I don’t know if Prime Minister Theresa May reads The Yorkshire Post – I hope she does – but we’ve recently learnt that it was around that time that she privately raised her own concerns about pharmacy cuts with ministers and ordered a secret review of the policy.
Sadly, the review did not lead to a change of heart. The Government decided to press with its plans to cut £208m from the community pharmacies budget over the next two years.
Those damaging cutbacks could result in very many of the 1,266 pharmacies in Yorkshire and Humberside closing or reducing their hours and services. This can only add pressure to a National Health Service already in state of crisis, as even more people turn up at GP surgeries and hospitals.
But what precisely will the impact of these cuts be? The truth is it is impossible to know just how many pharmacies are at risk because of the stark contrast between what Government ministers have said in public and what we have recently discovered they’ve been saying privately.
In response to my questions in the House of Commons on October 17, Health Minister David Mowat stated the cuts might not even result in a single closure. He announced: “We do not believe that any community pharmacies will necessarily close as a result of these cuts.”
Indeed, the Health Minister denied three times the likelihood of any closures when questioned in Parliament. However, thanks to a High Court challenge to the closure plans in recent weeks, the Government’s web of deceit has become clear after private letters became public during the hearing.
In one previously private letter from Jeremy Hunt to Theresa May on August 2 last year, the Health Secretary warned the cuts could mean “500-900 pharmacies will close”.
In the letter, copied to Chancellor Philip Hammond, Hunt added: “We cannot know exactly how individual pharmacies will be affected by the funding reductions and there is a risk that some pharmacies may close as a result.”
Hammond went even further in a second private letter on August 11, telling Mrs May he supported the subsidy cut to what he described as an “inefficient and over-subsidised market” to move chemists “away from the traditional bricks-and-mortar business model”.
It is a similar story over the information that the Government has published about community pharmacies and the data that ministers chose to keep secret. One published Impact Assessment (IA) about pharmacy closures said: “The potential impacts in this IA are assessed on the basis that there is a scenario where no pharmacy closes… It is not the Government’s intention to reduce the number of community pharmacies.”
Yet we have learnt that, in September 2015, one of Jeremy Hunt’s senior advisers wrote a secret memo actually welcoming the prospect of closures. The Department of Health’s deputy director of procurement and efficiency wrote: “We must remember that there are an estimated 25 per cent too many pharmacies, so some level of closures would not necessarily be a bad thing.”
And an unpublished impact assessment, that has only now been made public, saw the Government admit the plans meant there “may be a disproportionate effect on deprived communities”.
All of this follows recent official figures that I revealed showing how cuts could see people having to travel much further to access a community pharmacy. Ministers claimed last October that any changes in journey lengths that may result from these cuts would simply be a matter of “tens of metres”.
Yet an independent study by the House of Commons Library revealed that Government cuts could actually force 1.3 million people to travel more than a mile farther if their nearest pharmacy shut, a total of 920,419 people could have to travel between one and 2.5 miles farther, and 297,384 people could have to travel between 2.5 and 5 miles extra.
Ministers also claimed that they would ease the pain with extra cash under the Pharmacy Access Scheme.Yet every one of the 78 applications for help made so far has been rejected.
Opposition to the Government’s plans has been huge. We had the biggest petition in NHS history against these cuts. But equally gargantuan has been the scale at which ministers have been prepared to mislead the public so cynically and so comprehensively.
The NHS under this Government is in crisis. If you’re reading The Yorkshire Post today, Mrs May, then can I forcefully suggest it is time to do something about it? And you can begin by asking your ministers to start telling the truth about cuts to community pharmacies.
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 5th April: Last summer, I wrote in The Yorkshire Post about the threat of closure facing hundreds of...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 31st March 2017:
"When I drove into Parliament earlier this week I saw the thousands of flowers that had been left on Carriage Gates, close to where PC Keith Palmer had been tragically murdered in last week’s terrorist attack.
A few yards away was where the terrorist had mowed down so many members of the public.
Westminster is often referred to as a village. Sometimes this is derogatory, meaning that the place is small, remote, insular and inward-looking. But, like any village, Westminster is a real community.
The 650 MPs mingle day-to-day with over 2,000 other people who work there. These include our staff, as well as cleaners, catering workers and so many others. And it also includes the many police officers whose job it is to keep us all safe.
The word ‘hero’ is often banded about in tabloid newspapers to refer to celebrities like pop stars and footballers. But PC Keith Palmer was a real hero. By bravely tackling the armed terrorist, he undoubtedly saved the lives of other people.
Keith Palmer had served in the Army before becoming a police officer. He went to work last week and never came home, leaving a wife and a five year old daughter. That’s why we must never, ever forget him.
The attack last week was not just an attack on Westminster. It was an attack on all of us – on our way of life, our values, our freedoms and our democracy. As a country we must do whatever is necessary to beat these terrorists.
Our police and security services do a magnificent job and they deserve our complete gratitude. We should be united as country in condemning terrorism. But the police and security services also need our help to be vigilant – and they need the resources and powers to do the job.
As I drove through the gates of Parliament this week, passed the floral tributes, by total coincidence my iPod in the car played ‘All You Need is Love’ by the Beatles. If only that were true."
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 31st March 2017: "When I drove into Parliament earlier this week I saw the thousands of flowers...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 17th March 2017.
For days in advance of budget day, the Government like to leak (or "trail") certain announcements to favourite newspapers and to carefully 'manage expectations' - either good or bad.
On the day itself, we have the customary photo of the chancellor outside No 11 holding up his red briefcase and then the House of Commons endures an hour of painful soundbites and political knockabout.
But in the days that follow a budget, independent experts pour over the budget - combined with other measures - to see what it all actually means.
So what does it mean for folk back in Barnsley? Well according to the independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, working families with children are on average £1,400 a year worse off.
When it came to the self-employed, the Tories tried to break their manifesto promise as the Chancellor launched a £2 billion tax raid on them with his hike in National Insurance Contributions (NICs).
In Barnsley, that would have meant 5,300 self-employed people would have seen their tax bills rise.
However, such was the unpopularity of this pledge, the Government were forced into an embarrassing U-turn this week.
But the Budget still falls short. For example, it did little to ease the NHS crisis. The promised £2 billion for social care was a classic case of giving a little bit with one hand, whilst taking a lot more with the other, and will do little to plug the £4.6 billion already cut since 2010.
Despite promises of extra cash and 'fairer funding', Barnsley schools are already struggling under huge Government cut backs. Their budgets shrink by up to £6.6 million by 2020.
But of course there are always some winners on budget day. Big business continues to get big tax cuts and the Government is still pushing ahead with a £1 billion cut in inheritance tax for the wealthiest estates.
So when it comes to government budgets, the devil is in the detail. We've had one U-turn. I'll be campaigning for a few more.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 17th March 2017. For days in advance of budget day, the Government like to leak (or "trail") certain...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 3rd March 2017.
Theresa May and her minsters have talked a lot about improving mental health services. But so far that’s all it is – talk.
Away from the world of fanfare Government speeches and 'announcements' that turn out to be just more vague promises stuck on repeat, the reality is very different.
New figures from Barnsley Child and Adult Mental Health Service (CAMHS) provide a stark illustration of the problem, particularly among young people.
A shocking 465 children waited for anything up to 18 weeks for treatment - that's four months - according to Barnsley CAMHS. Some 13 children in Barnsley had to wait longer than 30 weeks.
Of those treated from the start of April 2016 to the end of June 2016, three out of four young people waited more than 12 weeks for treatment. That is simply not good enough.
Mental health charities do some fantastic work, but what they do is hamstrung by the Government’s failure to follow up their promises on mental health with more cash.
Funding has fallen by eight per cent over the last Parliament. There are now over 6,000 fewer mental health nurses than there were in 2010 and many patients can’t get mental health care close to their home.
When it comes to children’s mental health, one in ten has a diagnosable condition. Children with behavioural disorders are four times more likely to be drug dependent, six times more likely to die before the age of thirty and twenty times more likely to end up prison.
Charities like CLIC Sargent do fantastic work helping young cancer patients who are among those who could suffer mental health problems as they undergo treatment. They want the Government to do more to help schools assist children with mental health issues, including young cancer patients, which is a good idea.
Mental health should not be a party political issue. But we do need action, not words, when it comes to improving mental healthcare for everyone in our society - and that includes our young people.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on Friday 3rd March 2017. Theresa May and her minsters have talked a lot about improving mental health services. But...
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17th February 2017.
No one should have to endure being attacked, spat at or abused as they go about their job.
But it’s even more unacceptable when the targets of that abuse are the police and emergency services whose work involves serving the public and saving people’s lives.
Did you know that attacks on police in Barnsley have risen sharply? Up from 27 in 2015 to 31 assaults in just the first nine months of 2016.
I have always worked hard to support our local police. Whether that's voting against cuts to police numbers in Parliament or volunteering to join them on shift locally. Recently I was out and about with police in Kendray, talking to residents about efforts to crack down on anti-social behaviour.
So now I'm supporting the Police Federation’s 'Protector the Protectors' campaign after shocking national figures revealed an officer is assaulted every four minutes.
We must do more to deter the tiny minority of thugs who think it’s okay to attack members of the emergency services.
That’s why I was glad to support fellow Labour MP Holly Lynch last week by co-sponsoring a Bill in Parliament. The Bill proposes new laws to bring in much tougher sentences for people convicted of attacking a police officer, firefighter, doctor, paramedic or nurse whilst they go about doing their job.
Anyone who assaults an emergency services worker should be punished by tougher sentences, particularly repeat offenders.
The new law would also tackle the disgusting and growing problem of offenders who spit at police and others from the emergency services. It would become a specific offence and perpetrators would be forced to have a blood test to check for any infection risks.
The dedicated men and women of our emergency services frequently go above and beyond their duties to look after us. It's time we looked after them a bit better. I hope the Government will back the campaign.
This article appeared as a column in the Barnsley Chronicle on 17th February 2017. No one should have to endure being attacked, spat at or abused as they go...
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 14th February:
George Osborne was uncharacteristically candid last week when he admitted his fear in a major speech that the so-called Northern Powerhouse could be a “casualty” of the new regime in Downing Street. Of course, the word “casualty” implies that something is alive and well to begin with. I beg to differ.
But Osborne was right when he made the broader observation in the first report of his Northern Powerhouse Partnership that too often in government and politics “yesterday’s initiative is too easily dropped and the circus moves on to the next news bulletin or latest tweet”.
His comments followed Theresa May’s recent announcement – one that ran all day on the TV news - of £556m for the Northern Powerhouse. Yet, on closer inspection, it quickly transpired that the cash boost for our region was simply part of a £1.8bn Local Growth Fund that had already been announced in last March’s Budget. It shows, I suppose, that a Government that once vowed to be the ‘greenest ever’ has not given up completely on recycling.
There is a worrying pattern emerging when it comes to what the Government say and what they are actually doing when it comes to the Northern Powerhouse. Osborne first mentioned a ‘Northern global powerhouse’ as long as go as 2014 in a Tory pitch to voters in the region ahead of the 2015 election. The Yorkshire Post’s readers may recall he promised big investment and better transport links that would allow Northern cities “to take on the world”.
So, three years later, what has actually happened? The substance is very different from the spin.
When it comes to major rail links, latest reports suggest the HS2 project could run out of money before the Yorkshire stretch of the route linking the North to London is built, while there appears to be little Government impetus behind a proposed HS3 link to connect Liverpool with Hull.
This isn’t the first failure when it comes to rail improvements for the North. Just seven weeks after polling day in 2015, the Government announced it was shelving the electrical upgrades to the Midland Main Line and TransPennine route.
In contrast, it was good to hear that a future Labour government will deliver on HS3 – dubbed a “Crossrail for the North” – that could create 850,000 jobs by 2050. As part of our plan to transform the region’s economy, Labour will also set up a new funding formula – a “Barnett Formula for the North” – to make up for years of Tory neglect.
Before the general election, the Tories also promised the North would grow as fast as the rest of the country from 2015 to 2020, with economic growth of £13bn by 2030 and 100,000 new jobs. Yet since 2010, London has enjoyed economic growth of 24 per cent compared to only 10.7 per cent in Yorkshire. The net change in employment is around 2,000 jobs, which means it would take around 60 years for the Government to hit its target.
And who could forget the Government’s infamous decision to close down the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills office in Sheffield and move it to London with the loss of 247 jobs?
When it comes to education, contrary to recent explicit claims from Ministers that areas like my constituency would get extra money under a new funding formula, it now transpires that schools in Barnsley could be £6.6m worse off by 2020. This bleak outlook was confirmed in the first report from Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse Partnership think tank last week. It warned that “urgent attention” must be given to improving education in the region.
And the Government is also pressing ahead with cuts which are in many parts of Yorkshire disproportionate – despite hitting areas of higher need.
For all its talk of the £556m investment for the North, the cash allocated to the more prosperous South-East was not much smaller at £492m.
Theresa May’s apparent scepticism about the whole Northern Powerhouse project is well-known in Westminster. Some have suggested she wanted to refocus the Government’s attention on Birmingham and the Midlands, home of a number of Tory marginal seats. Even Osborne was forced to admit last year that the woman who sacked him had a “wobble” over his plan – hardly something to inspire confidence among business, investors or indeed the public.
It is simply not good enough for the Government to keep making big promises that don’t amount to anything and re-issuing press releases about plans for the North. People want to see action and shovels in the ground when it comes to new homes, new roads and rail links.
This month, Osborne wrote that the North of England was “at a turning point”. A crossroads might be more accurate. It is now time for Theresa May to show us that the promised Northern Powerhouse is more than just an empty Northern PR-house.
You can read the article here.
The following piece appeared in Michael's column for the Yorkshire Post on 14th February: George Osborne was uncharacteristically candid last week when he admitted his fear in a major speech...
Last week, the fantastic Barnsley LGBT Forum launched the 'Pride over Prejudice' festival, which celebrates 50 years since the
decriminalisation of homosexuality.
It will be the biggest ever LGBT festival in Barnsley and marks the anniversary of one of the most important social reforms in British history.
I am proud to support equal rights for the LGBT community. That's why I voted for equal marriage when I was first elected to Parliament, enabling two people that love each other to make a legally binding commitment to one another and have equality under the law.
As a community here in Barnsley, it is also important that we celebrate our diversity and it is why I am keen to support the family-friendly POP festival. Across the month of February, events will be taking place across Barnsley that give us an opportunity to take part in a programme that has something for everyone - from talks, film screening, exhibitions, live performances, community-art projects and much more.
The festival culminates in the POP Goes the Festival event, which will take place at Elsecar Heritage Centre on 25th February and will bring together all parts of our town in celebration of the rights that have been hard fought for and hard won by members of the LGBT community.
Find out more here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/pop-goes-the-festival-tickets-31150683533
Last week, the fantastic Barnsley LGBT Forum launched the 'Pride over Prejudice' festival, which celebrates 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. It will be the biggest ever LGBT festival...