After my surgery at Withington library I didn't have far to go for "Christmas in Withington". It seemed strange for Don Berry not to be there, but Roger Smith (the Chair of Withington Civic Society) did an excellent job in his absence.
The Lord Mayor (and Withington Councillor), Alison Firth was able to attend, as well as lots of kids from the local schools. Father Christmas also found time to drop in, despite his very busy schedule!
Some people know that I play for the Parliamentary Football Team. Each year we raise tens of thousands of pounds for charities, including cystic fibrosis, which has been the main beneficiary. A while ago we decided to also support local charities in the areas that the MPs involved represent. I have a constituent who is involved in football for people with mental health problems, and so HARP became the first local charity to receive a £500 from the Parliamentary Football team. This morning I went along to present the cheque, and met some of the footballers who will benefit from the donation.
I have been involved for a long time in the campaign to allow Adela Mahoro Mugabo to stay in Britain. She is an asylum seeker from Rwanda who is HIV positive, and would be unable to access life-saving drugs if she was deported back to Rwanda. I've raised the issue at Prime Minister's Questions, I've had a meeting with Phil Woolas, the Immigration Minister, and I've submitted a petition on the floor of the House. Unfortunately she still faces the threat of deportation but surely Adela's is exactly the type of case that the asylum system was designed for?
Campaigners have continued to collect signatures to support her claim, and this morning I was presented with a further 1300 signatures, which I will submit next week.
Adela has also made a video, 'Put Yourself in my Shoes'
, of her experiences in the UK as an asylum seeker. It was made in conjuction with the African HIV Policy Network.
After leaving Busy Bee I went to Burton Road for the West Didsbury switch-on and launch of XmasWestFest. Once again the businesses and the West Didsbury Residents' Association have done a great job of promoting West Didsbury and encouraging people to come to the Burton Road local centre.
As a member of the Busy Bee Toy Co-operative I was invited to a special members' night this evening at Busy Bee Toy Shop on Wilbraham Road in Chorlton, and it gave me the chance to finally start my Christmas shopping! For those of you who don't know the shop, it is the FIRST toy co-op in the country, and is, for the most part, run by volunteers.
As with many other small businesses, the run-up to Christmas is vital for the business, and it was great to see plenty of people coming into the shop and buying Christmas presents.
This afternoon I went to meet with Laura Roberts, the Chief Executive of NHS Manchester, to discuss their plans to close Burnage Walk-in Centre. Burnage Lib Dem councillors John Cameron and Rod Isherwood joined me in objecting to the axing of the walk-in centre, and we were all very critical of the total lack of consultation, both with us as local politicians, but also (and more importantly) with the local Burnage community. It is simply not acceptable to axe a front line service without any consultation.
This is simply a cost-cutting measure, and is completely at odds with the Government's claim that front line services will not be affected by cuts. Unfortunately we were given no assurances that the PCT would review the original decision, and they still intend to press ahead with the closure, despite the massive opposition.
One of the most enjoyable things about being an MP is having the chance to visit local schools and speaking to the children. I remember the first time I visited a school I spent a few minutes explaining the role of an MP, and then I took questions from a classful of 6 year olds. I said that they could ask me anything, and then the first question I got was "How much do you earn?"
I've visited a lot of schools since then, and this morning I was at Didsbury CofE to present a bike to Lydia Butt who won my 2009 Christmas Card competition. The runners-up also got a House of Commons pencil case (made from recycled tyres) and HofC coloured pencils.
At the Transport Select Committee this afternoon we were discussing the draft report on the future of aviation. The Lib Dems have been very critical of the position taken by the Labour Government in blindly supporting the third runway for Heathrow, and we have ruled out supporting further runway expansion throughout the South East. The draft report is far too supportive of a third runway and I put down a lot of amendments to change the report. Unfortunately the vast majority were rejected, and so I voted against the overall report. All the Labour members voted in favour of the expansion plans, and the Tories were all over the place. The one Tory on the committee who is completely in favour of the third runway failed to turn up, one voted with me, and one abstained. In the end I lost the vote 3 to 2.
After the private part of the meeting we had evidence from the Secretary of State, Lord Adonis. I challenged him on why the excess revenue from Northern Rail couldn't be reinvested in the North West to try and redress some of the imbalance of London and the South East having so much more investment per person than the regions. The Northern Rail franchise has overperformed, and surely the North West should see some of the benefits?
I attended a meeting this evening with Greater Manchester ITA and other Greater Manchester MPs to get an update on when we will see "new" rolling stock in Greater Manchester. I say "new", but in fact it won't be new at all - we'll be receiving refurbished rolling stock from Thameslink. Northern Rail should have been receiving 182 extra carriages, but this figure has gone down, and the decision to electrify the Manchester to Liverpool line means that the demand for more diesel carriages is much-reduced. Nevertheless we are now likely to only see between 80-100 carriages in phase 1, with no guarantee of any more, and even these carriages are dependent on there being no delays with the cascading of carriages from Thameslink.
There has been enormous growth in rail travel in Greater Manchester over the last 10 years, and in fact the highest growth has been on the Styal line through the constituency with 94% growth between 1998-2008, with a whopping 258% growth at Mauldeth Rd station.
This morning I played for the Parliamentary Football Team. This was probably the best turn-out of MPs during my time in Parliament playing for the team. I started on the bench and we were three down in the first 15 minutes, before I'd even had the chance to get on.
It was a pretty one-sided game and the Chefs deserved to win and they regained the cup that we'd won from them last year. Every time I play I realise that I'm not getting any younger, but at least I avoided picking up an injury this time.