Last week I attended the launch of SHOUT campaign in Parliament. Shout stands for Social Housing Under Threat and I am glad to be a part of it. Social Housing is something I have always campaigned on and it is something I feel very strongly about.
Shout is campaigning for an affordable, flourishing and fair social housing sector. One of its key aims is a target of 100,000 new social rented homes built each year as part of delivering the 200,000 or more total new homes the country requires. Alongside Shout wants to see the government setting a target on surplus public land to be made available for social rented housing at low cost and develop robust mechanisms for releasing land and assembling sites in local areas.
I spoke at the Parliamentary launch about the need for Government to take the leadership and adopt the aims of Shout but for the campaign to truly reach its aims local authorities need to play a role too.
Government after Government have preferred to throw money at subsidising rising rents than building new homes. It is the easy option but I want to see a movement from benefit to bricks. There are huge knock on effects in building social housing, obviously there is the huge job creation in the building industry but it goes much deeper than that. Having a high housing supply reduces the bloated prices across the board in both social and private rented sector as well as raising standards in the private sector.
It also helps any first time buyers wanting to climb onto the property ladder by easing pressure on the demand for homes preventing another housing bubble.
Social housing has been undermined and undervalued by successive governments for years and that culture has spread to local councils too.
Here in Manchester, the Labour Council refused to allow a scheme ahead on Darley Avenue in Chorlton Park, stating there is too much social housing in the area.
Manchester’s poor record on social housing was highlighted recently in Centre for Cities 2014 outlook report. Centre for Cities reported that in 2011/12 Manchester was the fifth lowest city in the UK with only a 0.2% growth in housing stock. It is a record Manchester should be ashamed of, but there is the opportunity to turn it round by working with Shout and the Government to deliver residents the social housing they deserve.
In last month’s local elections we lost a group of extremely hardworking Councillors and I want to pay tribute to their work for and with our community.
Bill Fisher defended our Library in Burnage; Andrew Taylor battled to fix our roads; Mark Clayton defended Marie-Louise Gardens from the council’s partial sell off plan. Victor Chamberlain’s successful council motion means 20mph zones in residential areas are implemented in parts of our city. James Hennigan established the ‘Levenshulme means business’ campaign to boost trade in the area and Mary DiMauro backed Northenden Library. Simon Wheale worked tirelessly to tackle antisocial landlords and fix local roads, and Norman Lewis was there for every single person in his area.
These councillors stood up for their local area when the council got it wrong. Sadly we now no longer have any opposition councillors at all to speak up for us.
Unlock Democracy launched a petition highlighting that, despite four in ten people not voting for Labour they have 100% of the Councillors. In my constituency Labour failed to get half of the votes, but hold every single councillor.
The 1980s was the last time Manchester City Council was so dominated by Labour. We saw every council building re-mortgaged by Labour, which took 25 years to pay off, and they doubled council house rents. We see hundreds of thousands of pounds wasted on VIP pop concerts and iPads – and new examples of waste appear frequently. We even saw Labour hand back a hardship fund of £600,000 for those struggling with paying their rent. This waste will just get worse without a strong opposition to hold them to account.
Whether you support a political party or not, Labour holding 96 out of 96 Councillors is bad for democracy. Last year the Manchester Evening News reported the Electoral Reform Society highlighting the danger of a one-party state. Labour’s stranglehold on Manchester was compared to one-party states like North Korea and Town Hall bosses think they are ‘untouchable’ and given ‘carte-blanche’ to act as they wish.
As the only elected representative in Manchester that is not Labour, I am determined to continue to give local people a voice in Manchester Labour’s one-party state.
It is to the eternal credit of the families of the 96 that they
would not allow the memory of their innocent family
members to be stained by lies and cover ups.
Next week, on the 15th of April, it will be the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster. There are expected to be thousands at the service at Anfield and it is being filmed and shown live at Goodison Park.
Over this weekend, all fixtures will start at 3.07pm to honour the 96 Liverpool supporters who lost their lives as a result of the catastrophic events of April 15 1989 in Sheffield. The game, between Liverpool and Nottingham Forrest, was stopped at six minutes past three. Then there will be a minutes silence.
Despite the tribal nature of football, there is huge support for the families of the 96 and their campaign for justice.
I heard about the disaster travelling back from a Manchester City away game against Blackburn in the Old Division 2. City had lost 4-0 and I was feeling sorry for myself- then I heard about what had gone on in Sheffield.
It is scandalous that the families of those killed have had to wait so long for the truth and I hope the recently started fresh inquests in Warrington will give the families what they need- truth, justice and some kind of closure.
Imagine seeing the events of the day played out on television. The hours of not knowing whether your loved one was one of the injured or dead. The horrible news when it came.
The hurt of seeing the Sun and the police blame the fans for the disaster. The ridiculous “accidental death” verdict of the coroner.
And then 25 years of campaigning to uncover the truth.
It is absolutely clear from the Hillsborough Independent Panel Report that Hillsborough was not an accident.
It is absolutely right that a new inquest into the deaths of the 96 innocent supporters who died that day should take place in light of that report, which drew together the medical evidence available, exposed the manipulation of police statements as well as the attempts by the Police and emergency services to defect blame on to the fans.
It is to the eternal credit of the families of the 96 that they would not allow the memory of their innocent family members to be stained by lies and cover ups.
From the Manchester Ship canal, built thanks largely to Irish ‘navvies’ in the 19th century, to the thousands of Irish fans who throng to Manchester at the weekends to watch Premier League games, the cultural, economic and sporting contribution of the Irish to the city has been immense. From McAlpine’s Fuesiliers to the Busby Babes, the Gallagher brothers and the GAA, the Irish have helped make Manchester the city it is today.
So, cead mile failte (one hundred thousand welcomes) to everyone enjoying Manchester’s 19th Annual Irish Festival. The 11 day event started last Friday and runs until St Patrick ’s Day on Monday 17 March and stands as one of Europe’s largest Irish festivals. With over 200 events, most of which take place in south Manchester, it is a time for Manchester to celebrate its connections with the Emerald Isle. Last year I was delighted to be invited in my role as Liberal Democrat spokesperson for Culture to take part in the Manchester-Mayo Gathering and help them launch the event in Parliament.
The nine day event in the west of Ireland was the biggest tourism event that anyone in the UK had ever staged. It was a great advert for what Manchester's Irish community can achieve and I was delighted to be part of it. One of my local Irish pubs “The Farmers Arms” in Burnage is celebrating the 25th anniversary of its independent pub company owners - The Levenshulme Pub Company and I hope to pop in to raise a glass of the black stuff to celebrate its anniversary.
The Festival is one of many cultural events Manchester has all year round and one of Manchester’s key strengths is its rich diversity. Manchester Councillors Victor Chamberlain and James Hennigan are hoping to build on this by pushing for Manchester to be nominated as Europe’s Capital of Culture for 2023. If successful, it would boost tourism bringing millions of people into Manchester celebrating everything it has to offer including the brilliant events like the Didsbury & Chorlton Art Festivals, Rusholme’s Mega Mela, Moss Side’s Caribbean Carnival and the Levenshulme Festival & FAD Fest.
There is something for everyone in the Irish Festival this year and I hope everyone enjoys all the Irish events and remember that you don't have to be Irish to join in the party. For a full line up of the events visit the official website at www.manchesteririshfestival.co.uk or follow them on Twitter @mancirishfest. Most of the events are free of charge and there is everything from learning how to speak Gaelic to the best of Irish Comedy.
Tomorrow is International Women's Day. Mancunians should be proud of the role their city played in the movement for women's equality and with so many events happening this weekend, from exhibitions to tour guided walks and seminars to film screening, I would encourage everyone to get out and participate and find out more about the history and contemporary relevance of the movement.
You can find a list of the events in and around Manchester here
The Council has chosen a theme of “Women as PeaceMakers”, and have helped organise lots of events.
A full list of those events are here
International Women's Day is a day to look back and see how far women's rights have come over the years due to the role played by both women and men in striving to achieve what they knew was right but also a day to re-evaluate the here and now and focus on the work that still needs to be done, not only in Britain but all over the world.
A moment of reflection allows us to picture the future we wish to live in and reflect on how we as individuals and as a society can actively strive to shape and inspire change in others to help achieve that future.
Events like Reclaim the Night not only highlights the continuing injustices being felt by women but also shows how by coming together as a society we can help tackle these issues and continue the movement in the footsteps of brave women and men before us.
The First World War started one hundred years ago. It was supposed to be the ‘War that would end all wars’, but, unfortunately, this wasn't so.
Many British and Commonwealth soldiers, many UK and overseas people gave their lives during the 1914-1918 period. They made an incredible sacrifice that should never be forgotten.
Last October I took part in the launch
of the BBC World War One Centenary
season , a programme that will last for four years, until the centenary of the end of WW1. Over that time the BBC will show us some of the sacrifices made by those who fought for the allies, and how the great war changed the UK forever.
What the BBC is doing, in conjunction with the Imperial War Museums, is the right thing. It is important that the BBC makes the programmes that commercial TV cannot make. It is an excellent example of what publicly funded TV can achieve.
Can you imagine for a moment a commercial TV channel organising a four-year event like this; with different local stories for each region, and special websites for many cities like Manchester
, with videos and blogs telling the story of WW1, with debates among historians like Sir Max Hastings and Niall Ferguson on the timeline and decision-making process to enter the war.
Commercial TV channels must follow market rules, and a WW1 event, lasting for four years, could never get funding. It's not a criticism of commercial TV, just a reason to have a range of suppliers of TV both public and private.
This WW1 event is also important because it tells us lots of interesting local stories. On BBC local TV,
I have already learnt about the women's football team from Sutton Bond munitions factory in St Helens, and the Mayor of Preston, Harry Cartmell, sitting on a committee who decided who should go to war.
When the BBC makes mistakes, politicians are quick to stick the boot in. It is equally important to praise them when they have done the right thing, like their coverage of the centenary of World War One.
If, like me, you a fan of multiple sports, the past two weeks of Winter Olympic sports will have made great viewing. The sporting action, however, will not end on Sunday with the closing ceremony, because the Winter Paralympics are due to start on 7 March. 15 UK Paralympians will be setting their hopes on winning Britain its first ever Gold Winter Paralympic medal.
According to Sport England, 15.5 million people played sport once a week in 2013, 1.67 million of whom have a long term limiting illness or disability, the highest rate recorded. We have come a long way but there is still a lot that can be done to improve access to sports opportunities with 52% of all adults still playing no sport at all.
That is one reason why I was pleased to support the FA’s new Disability Football Development Fund in Parliament. In fact as part of the fund’s launch, I was lucky enough to be able to try my hand, or rather my foot, at blind football with Dan English and Lewis Skyers from the England Blind Football team.
The fund aims to encourage more than 30,000 new participants to disability football, including a £95,000 project in Manchester working with City and United as well as Bury and Oldham Athletic Football Clubs. This new fund will open up access to thousands of people across Greater Manchester and the rest of the UK.
A little closer to home Fletcher Moss Rangers, have recently partnered with Manchester MENCAP to offer community-based football opportunities for those with learning disabilities. Didsbury’s Toc H RFC has recently completed their £1million renovation project, allowing the club not only to introduce “Disability Tag Rugby”, but will also see it act as a sports hub, providing new opportunities for the whole community.
With initiatives like this, I hope it will not be long until everyone, regardless of their background or ability, can enjoy the many benefits that sport has to offer.
Last week, I hosted a visit by Nick Clegg to Manchester. Before the main speeches, I spent some time with the alumni of UpRising.
UpRising is a charity who aim to open pathways to civic society and create future leaders in political and public life.
The free programme is open to young people across Greater Manchester. The 2014 programme is due to start in March, and the deadline for applications is a week today, the 21st February. This is your chance to make a difference in your local area!
The programme is part time and takes place in the evening in order to fit around your work, study and other commitments. During the programme you will take part in seminars and workshops in order to gain valuable skills and knowledge and will also be assigned a personal coach and a mentor to help you along the way. The programme culminates in the design and delivery of a social action campaign where you work with fellow UpRisers to tackle a real social issue in your area.
This is a great opportunity and I would encourage anyone who is eligible and thinking to apply to go for it! UpRising is a fantastic charity and the alumni I have met have had nothing but positive experiences to share about their time.
For more information visit http://www.uprising.org.uk/
At the last election, we promised to raise the income Tax threshold to £10,000. Both Gordon Brown and David Cameron said it could not be afforded. But in Government the Lib Dems have delivered this pledge.
That has taken 14,000 Manchester workers out of paying income tax at all, and given a £700 tax cut to 133,800 Manchester workers.
A couple of weeks ago, Ed Balls promised to reintroduce the 50p income tax rate for top rate tax earners. Do not get me wrong, I have not forgotten that Labour’s top rate of tax for 12 years 11 months was 40p. Or that the 50p rate was a cynical last-ditch attempt by Gordon Brown and Ed Balls to appeal to Labour’s so-called “core vote”.
I have not forgotten the 10p tax rate that hit the poorest workers hardest or that the gap between richest and poorest got wider under Labour.
The Tories wanted to reduce the top rate of tax to 40p, and had no interest in raising the personal allowance until they realised its popularity. The reduction in the 50p rate was a compromise to deliver our priority to raise tax thresholds.
The problem is that slashing income tax for people earning over £150k was seen as unfair with millions of average and lower paid people who hear “we’re all in it together”, but then see their wages frozen for 3 years. It does not matter that all the other tax changes mean that the 10% richest are now worse off.
The best way to distance ourselves from this top rate tax cut is to commit to reintroducing it at the next election. Most people I speak to believe it is the right thing to do. Opponents of the 50p rate argue that it does not raise any money, or at best, very little. Rather than take the view that people will simply avoid paying it, HMRC should do their job properly and levy the tax that is due. Another line being peddled that the rich are not paying their fair share is just not true. Thanks to the Liberal Democrats in Government, changes in the tax system now mean the richest are paying more tax not less.
Just this week, the Tories have been strongly pushing the re-introduction of the 40p rate again. Danny Alexander MP has said that will never happen whilst Lib Dems are in the coalition.
What the reintroduction of the 50p rate would do is show a symbolic commitment to fairness on tax and it is something the Liberal Democrats should be advocating.
I am a big supporter of the NHS. I am very proud that the Lib Dem pledge not to cut NHS funding made it into the coalition agreement. I am also proud that the Government have given £150million to support the Christie and Cancer research in the constituency.
When the last Government closed our A and E department at Withington, local people had to go either to Manchester Royal Infirmary or Wythenshawe Hospital.
Last week, the Manchester Evening News rightly highlighted some of the delays at Wythenshawe A and E since NHS Greater Manchester downgraded Trafford A and E. A similar spike occurred at both MRI and Wythenshawe when Withington Hospital was downgraded.
Over the summer, I helped lobby successfully to get a £12million grant to improve A and E at Wythenshawe, but there are obvious short term problems that need to be addressed.
The NHS regulator Monitor recognised these short term pressures, but also issued a long term warning about the financial viability of Wythenshawe Hospital. That was because of the PFI scheme signed off by the last Labour government.
According to official figures in 2010, the value of the PFI was £83million, with the costs of servicing the loan at about £29million per year. A guaranteed return to the private sector providers of 8.5% per year. Overall, the trust will be repaying 16 times what the buildings cost over the lifetime of the loan.
Nationally, the NHS is paying £63billion over the lifetime of PFI hospital contracts which would have cost £11bn. That’s £52billion of NHS money going to the private sector.
I don’t blame the hospital, or local patients, or even the Council, for wanting new facilities, particularly as at that it was the only way to get them at the time.
I blame those who now call for no private sector involvement in the NHS, but at the time were happy to let £29million of NHS resources per year to go straight into the hands of shareholders.