This week has been an incredibly busy one in both my Constituency and in Westminster, with some important developments in Durham as well as a Summer Garden Party.
Last Friday (25th June) I was delighted to speak at the County Durham Society for the Blind and Partially Sighted’s AGM. The charity and all its volunteers work incredibly hard to maintain quality services despite the challenging times through fundraising street collections and coffee mornings. I was honoured to be invited and am very proud of my involvement with such a worthwhile charity. I will continue to fight on behalf of the voluntary sector against Government cuts which threaten society’s most vulnerable members.
Two days later, I hosted Durham City CLP’s summer Garden Party to raise money for the Constituency Labour Party. The event was a wonderful success and it was fantastic to see so many local people attend. I would like to extend my gratitude to all those involved with the organisation of the event, including those who set up stalls and games for everybody to enjoy in the sunshine. The Labour Party is lucky to have so many dedicated members.
Durham Market Place was officially opened on Friday (1st July). I felt that given my long-standing concerns with the redevelopment and my dissatisfaction with the end result it would be inappropriate for me to attend the opening. I have received numerous letters and emails from constituents and I have passed these on to Durham County Council for comment. As a result of these concerns, I have arranged a Public Meeting to be held to discuss the numerous issues surrounding the new Market Place. Officers from Durham County Council will be at the meeting to address the people’s questions. The Public Meeting will be held on Thursday 21st July at 6.30pm for a 7.00pm start at St Nicholas Church, Market Place, Durham, DH1 3NJ.
On Wednesday (6th June), Durham County Council announced its decision to keep open three of the four leisure centres threatened with closure in my constituency. Whilst I am very pleased indeed that Coxhoe, Deerness and Abbey Leisure Centres are to be kept open, I have serious concerns about the closure of Sherburn. I am really disappointed that the bids for Sherburn were not made compliant with the legal framework the Council is working to. The fact that three of the community bids have been successful is a huge testament to the hard work of all the people involved a real testament to Durham’s strong community. The action groups in all areas were superb at bringing local people together and I look forward to working with them in the future as they seek to put their business plans into action.
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It has been equally as eventful in Westminster this week. On Tuesday (28th June) I spoke in the House of Commons Chamber on the Finance Bill, a debate that went on well into the early hours! I argued in favour of an assessment which would consider increasing consumer confidence through a temporary reduction of VAT. Every single sector in Durham has been negatively affected by the rise in VAT that was brought in by the Coalition government. The economic strategy of the parties in Government shows no understanding of the links between spending in the public sector and the private sector and is detrimental to many businesses in my area. I would like the Government to consider reducing the VAT as a way of pushing down inflation boosting job creation in Durham and throughout the country.
My role as Shadow Minster for Civil Society also keeps me busy and I was delighted to speak at the Social Policy Association’s Annual Conference on Monday (4th July). The conference was hosted by Lincoln University and was a great success. I spoke on the subject of the ‘Big Society’ and the challenges currently facing the voluntary and community sector. The four re-launches by the Prime Minister demonstrate how the Big Society concept still has little traction with the public and how the Government has failed to give a clear idea of what the Big Society really means. I am concerned that the Government is using the cover of the Big Society to redraw the boundary between the state and the individual and confuse the arena in which some of our most fundamental debates about public services play out. I am very grateful to Lincoln University and all those who made the Conference such a success.
Most recently, I chaired a lunchtime lecture on Wednesday (6th July) on the subject ‘Empowering Women as Agents of Social, Economic and Political Change’. This is a subject of particular interest to me and it was a pleasure to be able to be so deeply involved with the debate. The number of women working in both politics and business has been steadily improving over time; however it still remains too few and is increasing too slowly. Earlier this year, the Royal Commonwealth Society published a report ranking the countries in the Commonwealth based on where it is best to be born a woman, and the UK was in joint 8th place. Needless to say, it is important that we continue to try and improve this ranking by allowing women full access to jobs across every spectrum. Although only 22% of MP’s in Parliament are women, I personally believe that women are an key force in British politics and that we should strive to make these figures reflect the percentage of women living in Britain.