Yesterday afternoon I attended an event hosted by The Northern Way to promote the Northern Hub (previously known as the Manchester Hub). The proposals being put forward by Network Rail would help transform the rail network, not just in Greater Manchester, but for the North of England (hence the renaming). To ensure that the economy of the north can grow, we need to ensure that the Northern Hub is funded.
By coincidence I was being interviewed this afternoon about the massive gap in funding of public transport between London and the rest of the country. The North West receives per capita about a third of that of London. This must change, and a good start is ensuring that the Northern Hub is fully funded.
You can find out more about The Northern Way initiative here: www.thenorthernway.co.uk
This morning I met with a group of home educating parents and their children who had come down to London to visit Parliament.
There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding home education, and parents who choose home education for their children are frequently treated with suspicion, rather than being supported for their 100% commitment to educating their children.
My office arranged for them to have a tour of Parliament and then I showed them around the bits you don't see on the tour.
I recently answered five quick fire questions for ManchesterStopWar.org
, the Greater Manchester Website for the Stop the War Coalition.
Here's the full article:
John Leech MP, and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Manchester Withington responds to our five questions to candidates.
1. Do you agree that we should bring British soldiers back from Afghanistan now? - Yes
2. Are you opposed to the Trident replacement? - Yes
3. Will you call for an immediate end to the siege of Gaza? - Yes, and to all acts of violence
4. How will you help stop the tide of anti Muslim hatred?
I have argued for the banning of EDL marches, put my name to letters, and joined others protesting against the desecration of Muslim graves in my Constituency.
5. How will you strengthen our right to protest?
I will always support the peaceful right to protest, so long as it does not infringe on the liberty of others. I took part in the "illegal" reading out of the names of the war dead in Parliament Square, and I believe that people should be able to protest outside Parliament.
The Full article can be viewed here:
I have heard first-hand from teachers how reducing class sizes would have an instant and positive impact on the class environment. Schools in England have some of the largest class sizes in the developed world and teachers are often less able to even give enough attention to individual pupils, which naturally has an impact on their achievement.
We can see evidence of this in figures that show that children from less well-off families are not as likely to get five good GCSEs as their better-off classmates. Only one in five pupils who qualify for free school meals gained five A-C grade GCSEs in 2007. Clearly there needs to be targeted investment at schools so they can support children better.
A central part of the Liberal Democrat manifesto is to give every child a fair start in life. We propose spending an extra £2.5bn on schools, guaranteeing them the money they need to support children who might be struggling. This cash can be used to cut class sizes or run catch-up classes, both of which will ensure all pupils get the support and individual attention they need to achieve their potential.
How much money each school gets in this new ‘Pupil Premium’ will be calculated according to the number of pupils eligible for free school meals. On current estimates, this equates to around £2,500 per pupil nationally.
In Manchester Withington, this would mean 27 of 32 schools would benefit, at an average of £298,304. The five schools that would benefit the most would be Chorlton High School (£1,135,000); Parrs Wood High School (£962,500); Burnage Media Arts College (£795,000); The Barlow RC High School (£597,500); and Old Moat Community (£415,000). Full details of what each school would get can be found above in the attached image.
Nick Clegg was on the Political Slot introducing the Pupil Premium recently, you can see the video of him talking about it here: budurl.com/cleggpupilpremium
This morning I attended the offical opening of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Unit
at The Christie
This is an innovative project between some of the worlds top clinicians and scientists, led by Tony Howell (Director of Breakthrough Research Unit, Manchester) together with the University of Manchester because of the University’s leading reputation for cancer research. It is based within the Manchester Cancer Research Centre in the Paterson Institute for Cancer Research and is adjacent to the Christie Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Didsbury.
I found the presentation fascinating as it delivered a clear message that Research and Treatment experts collaborating in such a way can drastically improve chances of survival of this terrible disease by integrating reseach and treatment studies on one site. They aim to find treatments which work in a totally new way – by stopping cancer cells using healthy cells to grow and spread.
The Research Unit has been set up with an initial £500,000 donation but money is needed to support this groundbreaking project over the next five years and the Breakthrough Research Unit are launching a £5m appeal for the Research Unit tonight at Manchester's Town Hall.
It is really important that The Christie is continued to be given this freedom of research in order remain as one of the world's top research centres in fighting Cancer. I spoke with Breakthrough at the last Lib Dem conference about their plans and its great to see their plans working out. It is also brilliant to see more experts and researchers in the field coming to work at this Research Unit.
It was unfortunate that due to a vote in Parliament this afternoon, I could not spend more time there talking to the enthusiastic staff and supporters.
To find out how to help Breakthrough Breast Cancer reach its £5m target, visit breakthrough.org.uk/manchester
or call 020 7025 2400.
This afternoon I attended a meeting of PACTS (the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety), of which I am a member. These are always well-attended meetings, although I was one of only two MPs at the meeting.
I have always argued that we should reduce the drink drive limit from 80mg to 50mg, and after a long campaign in Parliament, the Government changed its view. I have always suspected that this was due to a change of Ministerial personnel, as the former Minister Stephen Ladyman had been a staunch defender of the 80mg limit.
Sir Peter North has been placed in charge of reviewing drink and drug driving and he had met with PACTS on 27th January. One of the issues for discussion was the penalty for drink driving between the 50 and 80mg limit, and whether there should be a variable penalty regime.
I argued in the meeting that it would be a mistake to have lower penalties for those caught driving between 50-80mg. In my view, one of the reasons why we have managed to reduce the levels of drink-driving is because of the guarantee that a person would lose their license. Under no circumstances should we send out any message that might be misinterpreted as suggesting that being slightly over the limit is less serious than being significantly over the limit. Any drink-driving conviction should result in being banned from driving.
Chorlton Leisure Centre has been given a face-lift as part of a city-wide programme of improvements across lesire facilites in Manchester. Improvements were made to upgrade the sqash courts, refurbish the health and fitness suite and install a new filtration system for the pool; amazingly the old filtration system had not been working effectively for 15 years!
The Leisure Centre, built in 1929, is one of the oldest in Manchester but has been left behind by this Labour council.
Cllr Paul Ankers called for a report on the state of Manchester Leisure Centres last year and as a result secured significant investment for Chorlton Lesire Centre. The report also concluded that Chorlton Leisure Centre was 'in the lowest quartile for customer satisfaction'
The Chorlton Leisure centre has been subject to a number of complaints recieved from concerned residents addressed both to me and Chorlton Lib Dems.
Victor Chamberlain & Cllr Paul Ankers have been working very hard alongsige me campaigning to give Chorlton the Leisure Centre it deserves. We carried out a number of surveys and voiced the concerns of local residents.
The recent investment did see a great deal of money spent of the centre but much of the work carried out was essential repairs. This recent investment in the Leisure Centre is certainly welcome however we feel it is not enough and Chorlton needs a proper Leisure Centre for the 21st Century.
I have been contacted by a number of constituents via twitter and email about my views on the Robin Hood Tax concept; I also attended the Parliamentary briefing on the tax last week.
The Robin Hood Tax concept is also known as the "Tobin Tax" as it was proposed by economist James Tobin.
The basic concept of the "Tobin Tax" would mean that governments take 0.05% from international bankers' transactions and this would create hundreds of billions of pounds a year to be spent on vital services and help fight global poverty and climate change both at home and abroad. Initial estimations have reported that by taking 0.05% of speculative banking transactions, around £263 billion would be raised globally every year, which would be split with half spent in the country where it was generated and the other half going to developing countries
The Robin Hood Tax campaign has develoved a great deal of momentum recently with over 120,000 fans on Facebook and almost 3,000 followers on Facebook. On the campaign's website (www.robinhoodtax.org.uk) 61,000 people have voted in favour of the tax with 6,100 voting against. Along with this online support, over 80 domestic charities, faith organisations and unions including Oxfam, Unicef UK and Bernado's have pledged their official support.
The concept of a financial transaction is a good idea in principle and it is something that the Liberal Democrats would be happy to persue. Although I am told it would be technically possible to levy such a small transaction tax on sterling transactions alone, it would be much better to have a common approach by leading financial centres including the US, German, French and Swiss governments. These proceeds could then be used for funding overseas developments.
The 'Tobin Tax' concept has been hampered by a number of issues ranging from techincal problems with its implementation and conflicting arguments about how best to use the revenue.
In the meantime the Liberal Democrats have proposed to create an immediate new levy on bank profits at the rate of 10% in recognition of the taxpayer support the banks have recieved. This proposed banking levy would be expected to yield around £2bn next year and could be used to tackle the UK structural deficit.
This lunchtime I went "head to head" with Labour on the Politics Show. We were discussing the use of new media and how this is influencing the local campaign. New media is important, but it is no substitute for traditional methods of engaging with constituents. I might have only a few hundred Facebook "friends", but in my 5 years in Parliament I've helped over 20,000 constituents with individual cases, and that's before you add on all the campaigns where I am contacted by several hundred people all about the same issue. New media can also land politicians in hot water. I remember the reaction of people in Chorlton when one of Labour's local election candidates for the Constituency compared them to the fictional residents of the Chatsworth estate in the Channel 4 series "Shameless". It amazes me that he has been allowed to stand for the party after the "Chatsworth" gaffe.
We then went on to discuss about the issues that will matter the most in the next election. I said that the election in Withington is about who will stand up for South Manchester and protect local services. Where were Labour when I was campaigning to save Ewing School with the parents, teachers and Governors and Lib Dem councillors? They were supporting the decision of the Labour Council to close it! The same can be said for the closure of Burnage Walk in Centre when I challenged Gordon Brown on the decision to close it. So much for standing up for local people.
The final discussion was about the impact of the student vote. I reminded Arif, the interviewer, that when we'd spoken at Conference I had assured him that despite the economic climate we would still maintain our manifesto commitment to abolish tuition fees. Our manifesto is all about fairness - a fair start for young people, whether it's the pupil premium to target extra resources where they are needed, or a commitment to free education. The stark choice for students will be a Lib Dem commitment to abolish tuition fees, or a Labour Party that will increase them after the election.
This afternoon I attended the AGM of Withington Civic Society at Withington Methodist Church. The AGM is always very well attended; Roger Smith the Chairman gave an update on the year's work, including a discussion on the successful campaign to tackle the spread of Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in South Manchester. It's interesting that Labour have tried to claim the credit for the proposed changes, when Roger reminded everyone how he had come down to Parliament with Lib Dem Councillor Simon Wheale and we had met up with the Minister to argue the case for a change in the law. I don't think we can overstate the energy and effort by Roger and other members of the Civic Society in forcing the Government into changing the law, and it is people like Roger that deserve the credit, not the Labour Party.