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Archive for July, 2015

Durham Miners Gala

It goes without saying that one of the best days of the year, not only for the residents of Durham, but people up and down the country is the annual Durham Miners Gala. This year was the 131st meeting, and it was an absolute pleasure to attend.

As well as being a great day for all the family, the Miners Gala is a symbolic event with a key message, reminding us of the importance of trade unionism and our mining heritage.

All in all, the gala was well attended, and I was delighted to see so many key figures from the Labour movement there, including the four candidates standing to be the next leader of the Labour Party. It was a great chance for members of the public to speak to the candidates and get to know them, which I believe is so important when choosing a new leader.

However, it is ironic to me that as we celebrate the work of trade unions in securing better rights for workers, the government are pushing ahead with a bill that will dismantle the rights of workers and damage the support network that they currently have in the form of the trade unions.

The Trade Union Bill, which was presented to the Commons on Wednesday, will impose a minimum of 50% turnout and public sector strikes would need the backing of at least 40% of those eligible to vote. This is conveniently coupled with the government’s refusal to allow electronic ballots.

The legislation would also require workers to give 14 days notice of strike action, and allow employers to bring in agency staff in the event of a strike. The Government claim that this bill is aimed at protecting working families from strike action, despite the fact that strikes are at historically low levels. More working days were lost to labour disputes in 1926 than in the 37 years combined between 1974 – 2011, and the number of days lost to strikes has also decreased dramatically since the seventies.

Of course, strikes should always be a last resort, and I certainly don’t enjoy mass scale disruption, however trade unions are a vital part of society in protecting the rights of workers. Let’s not forget, without their existence we would all be working a sixty hour week on very little pay.

 

This bill is an ideological attack, an attempt from this government to silence their critics. The legislation could also cut the amount of money unions have to mount campaigns – or donate to parties such as Labour – with members actively having to “opt in” to pay the so-called political levy, which is currently automatic unless members opt-out.

This attempt to bankrupt the Labour Party is extremely one sided, as there are no parallel proposals to insert more democratic requirements on company donations to parties. I can assure all those who attended the Miners Gala, and all my constituents, that I will continue to stand up for the rights of workers and to oppose this bill.

 

 

 

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It has been a busy couple of weeks for me, as you can imagine. Of course, more than anything I was disappointed with the General Election result, but it is now time that we move forward and focus on positive change for the future.

I am, as always, grateful to have been re-elected as the MP for Durham City, and I relish the opportunity to continue representing and standing up for all my constituents. Alongside my role as an MP, I also continue in the Shadow Communities and Local Government team, where I will be focusing on planning and housing.

With these two factors in mind, last week I wound up the Opposition Debate on Housing. The debate was scheduled by the Labour Party in order to force the government to recognise that there is a growing housing crisis in this country, and that we must bring forward a comprehensive plan to tackle the housing crisis, setting out concrete steps to build more homes, including badly-needed affordable homes, boost home ownership, improve the private rented sector and reduce homelessness and rough sleeping. This government have presided over the lowest levels of home building since the Second World War, and the homes that do exist are too often unsuitable to live in. One of our basic needs is to live somewhere safe and warm, and in 2015 it is appalling that for too many people this is an unattainable goal.

Unfortunately, this government have so far failed to recognise that if no new homes are built, there simply won’t be enough places for people to live. We need 245,000 homes to be built every year in England alone, just to keep up with demand, but only 125,000 new homes were built in England between April 2014 and March 2015. And the areas in which new homes have been built are not necessarily the areas where houses need to be built.

The government’s “Help to Buy” policy is seriously flagging, and the government seem to have failed to understand the importance of infrastructure in shaping our economy and society.

I also took the opportunity this week to take part in the debate on the skills crisis in the UK. The UK is facing the worst skills crisis for a generation, with skills levels failing to support the diversity of the modern economy and secure job opportunities and investment for the future. It is vital that we invest in skills, as it is one of the biggest barriers posed towards the growth of the economy, and nowhere is this more evident than in the North East. In my speech on Wednesday I talked about the report from the local enterprise partnership last year, which set out the challenge very clearly, stating that, for the north-east, it “is not just the number of jobs but the quality of these jobs”

Improving the quality is fundamental to its plan. It says: “the area needs to increase the volume of skills at a higher level to address a changing demographic, in particular higher skills required by employers of younger people and those moving into and between work”. Young people need to know that it is not simply a choice between University and nothing; instead we have to improve training and skills for our school leavers and young people, in order to keep up with our ever changing and diverse economy.

Particularly we need to improve the number of women in skills training, as these levels are particularly poor.

I finished my speech by asking the Minister what he will be doing to sustain investment in the infrastructure supporting education and skills development to ensure that those opportunities are spread into the most deprived areas of our country.

You can watch both my speeches here:

http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/1f7ba9fa-fe73-458c-a44f-56ccab7a7ab6?in=15:02:57&out=15:1

http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/7960ae8e-606f-4582-97b7-d6a94164d0fd?in=16:11:20

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