I recently tabled a parliamentary question to Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, on the bonuses that his department is paying out to consultants. I was shocked yesterday when the answer came through telling me that one consultant was paid £84,563 last year - as a bonus! When you consider all the complaints that have been made about the lack of equipment, helicopters, body armour, etc, that our troops are having to endure and the shoddy justifications that have been coming from the government, it's frankly appalling that the MOD should be paying out bonuses like this. It’s also worth bearing in mind that this comes at a time when the Tories are proposing no pay increases for public sector workers on wages over just £18,000 and Labour are planning to restrict public sector pay rises to just 1% - effectively a pay cut.
To make matters worse, the average consultant's bonus in the department has quadrupled from £7,243 to £31,890 in just the last five years! So that means that whilst the government was launching an illegal war in Iraq, MOD bonuses were rising – to the point now that the average MOD consultant is paid twice as much in bonuses each year as a squaddie earns for fighting on the frontline. To me that's completely unacceptable.
There's more coverage of this on the Daily Mail's website here
and the full response to my question is published in Hansard (parliament's official records) here
Since entering Parliament I have been an active member of the PCS Union All Party Parliamentary Group. It has been a tough time for public sector workers, with thousands of job cuts in recent years. I attended a meeting this afternoon for an update on the current situation, and there are real concerns over job cuts at the British Council, particularly in Manchester. A meeting is being arranged for me to talk with local union officials to see how I can help to protect local jobs.
Meanwhile the Government seems hell bent on pushing ahead with changes to the Civil Service compensation scheme, which will see a lots of lot of moderately paid staff lose out if they are made redundant. In my view it is simply wrong to take away an entitlement that has been in place for years, particularly when staff have often worked for lower wages than other people in similar jobs.
This morning the Transport Select Committee visited The Manchester Ship Canal and Mersey Ports, as part of our enquiry into the proposal for a National Policy Statement on ports. Ports in the north of England are currently under-utilised, while ports in the South East have become more congested in recent years (although all ports have been hit by the recession). At the same time around 60% of goods coming into South East ports head north of Birmingham, clogging up the motorways and churning out lots of unnecessary CO2.
I would like to see a national policy statement that encourages growth of ports in the north, rather than simply allowing the market to decide to increase capacity and congestion in the South East.
During the visit to Peel, we were taken along the Manchester Ship Canal to see the potential for growth of water freight along the canal and at the Mersey Coast. At the moment the Ship Canal is only using 5% of its capacity, and the potential for increasing freight movement via the canal is enormous, and the environment benefits would be huge.
This morning I went to support the coffee morning at Manchester Road Methodist Church in Chorlton in aid of relief fund in Haiti. We have all seen the horrors of devastation following the earthquake, and the small number of heartwarming stories of people being rescued from the rubble still alive. The generous response from around the world has been heartening, but the difficulty in getting the aid to the people in need has been incredibly frustrating.
If you want to donate to the Disaster Emergency Committee's appeal for the disaster you can do so here
or by clicking on the image above this post.
Update - At church yesterday we were told that the coffee morning had raised getting on for £400 towards the Haiti appeal.
This morning I visited Manchester Airport to discuss security issues and see the controversial new full body scanners. After the attempted terrorist attack over Christmas there has been further tightening of security at airports and there is now a real prospect of making the full body scanning compulsory.
Personally I have no objection to using the full body scanner, but at the same time I also don't have a problem with being physically searched by a member of staff. I was a bit disappointed that they wouldn't put me through the scanner, but of course the scanning has to remain anonymous, and if I was the only person going through, it would have been pretty obvious that it was me.
There are clearly some people who really object to the scanner, and there are some questions being asked about the legality of children going through it, but the general view seems to be that it will become compulsory (if you want to fly), whether we like it or not. I would be really interested to hear what people think about this.
I don't know about anybody else, but I am very disappointed to hear that the Board of Cadbury (my favourite chocolate!) have now recommended that shareholders accept a takeover by Kraft. MPs were sent an email by Alex Cole the "Global Corporate Affairs Director" of Cadbury who tried to explain the decision that "the Board has a clear legal duty to secure value for shareholders". The fact that this will lead to job cuts and unemployment for Cadbury employees clearly isn't a consideration.
Nick Clegg raised the issue of the takeover at PMQs. Kraft are borrowing money from the Royal Bank of Scotland to fund the takeover, so taxpayers' money is being used to buy a British company and then to put people out of work.
"When British taxpayers bailed out the banks, they would never have believed that their money would now be used to put British people out of work, isn't that just plain wrong?"
Personally I think it stinks!
This morning I attended the Muscular Dystrophy All Party Group meeting. We have been urging the North West Specialised Commissioning Group to carry out a review of services to improve service provision across the North West following the publishing of the Walton Report into access to Specialist Neuromuscular Care. Last year I tabled a parliamentary motion - Early Day Motion 1704
- welcoming the launch of the North West Muscle Group, which is led by local families and people affected by muscular dystrophy and related neuromuscular conditions who campaign to improve access to essential specialist care and support. And few weeks ago I had been invited to speak at their meeting in Manchester and to hear from MD patients and carers about the problems and difficulties in accessing services.
At the All Party meeting I was delighted that Jon Develing, the Chief Officer of the North West SCG confirmed this morning that he would be recommending a review, and that if this was approved, he would expect it to be carried out in the first 6 months of the new financial year. This is an important step forward in ensuring that all people in the North West with MD will have access to the right services
This afternoon I had a meeting with my colleague Norman Baker and the new Chairman of Network Rail, Rick Haythornthwaite. We were discussing the future of the company and the priorities for Mr Haythornthwaite's chairmanship.
Unfortunately I was late for the meeting - and the reason - MY TRAIN WAS DELAYED! Generally the Virgin service is okay between Manchester and London (although there always seem to be toilets not working!), but when there is a delay it always seems to be very late, and when you really need to be on time!
Yesterday morning there was a gathering on the Meadows for the South Manchester Reporter to take a photo for this week's paper. Loads of local people turned up, and a lot of people are clearly still on "cloud nine" over the result.
A number of people were asking me about a letter they have received from the Labour Party which suggested that the application had been refused and that the developer might appeal. I can't understand why the Labour Party have sent out this letter, because the application was not refused in the end because the club withdrew the application. This means that they cannot appeal the decision. Of course that doesn't stop them from submitted another application at some point in the future.
As has been reported by today's South Manchester Reporter
, the planning application to build on Chorlton Meadows has been withdrawn by the developers. Once they realised that the committee members were going to reject the proposal, the developers withdraw it rather than have a rejection on the record.
This is a great result and is all thanks to the hard work of the Save Chorlton Meadows
campaign, who have worked incredibly hard to drum up support against the plans.
We all want to see improvements in our local area's amenities, but unfortunately these plans just weren't right for Chorlton Meadows. I spoke at today's committee meeting and raised residents' concerns about the impact that the development would have on the local environment and on local residents. It's clear from speaking to local people that there was massive opposition to the plans, so I'm delighted by this result.