• My Equal Marriage Bill

    Hundreds of thousands of people in Northern Ireland and across Britain and Ireland who support the right of same-sex couples to marry will be outraged that one Tory MP was able to prevent the progress of my Equal Marriage Bill in the House of Commons last Friday.

    Ministers now need to clarify how they intend to ensure that the right to equal marriage in Northern Ireland – which has the support of the Assembly, Parliament and the public – becomes law. The Government can’t continue to talk out of both sides of its mouth on this issue. It can and should legislate to extend equal marriage to Northern Ireland – because if it’s good enough for my constituents in St Helens and for people in London, Dublin, Cardiff and Edinburgh then it’s good enough for people in Belfast too.

    I will keep fighting alongside and working with the Love Equality NI campaign to get this done. A rally is planned in Belfast on Saturday 2nd June in support of Equal Marriage. My Bill is due to return to Parliament in late October.

    You can watch me being interviewed on The Victoria Derbyshire Show on BBC alongside two fabulous women Cara McCann and Amanda McGurk. This is not going away, and we are not giving up.

  • Bringing Channel 4 to the Liverpool City Region

    I’m joining the bid by Liverpool City Region Mayor Steve Rotheram to bring Channel 4 to the Liverpool City Region.

    With the public service broadcaster looking for a new headquarters, Channel 4 would find a soulmate in our region – and I think St Helens has so much to offer this partnership.

    Channel 4 is also set to increase its spending on shows made by TV production companies based outside London from £169m annually to about £350m a year by 2023.

    This represents a golden opportunity for our borough’s creative sector and is an important chance to show our creative potential in our 150th anniversary year.

    I hope that the bid is successful and I’ll be supporting it any way I can to help the business case for Channel 4 to come to the Liverpool City Region.

  • New train service for Newton Le Willows

    It is welcome news that TransPennine Express services will now call at Newton-le-Willows, creating a direct link to cities in Yorkshire for the first time, including Huddersfield, Leeds, York, Scarborough and even as far as Durham and Newcastle.

    The amended train routes will also mean faster journeys from St Helens and Newton-le-Willows to Liverpool and Manchester, with the inter-city journey time being reduced to 35 minutes down from 52.

    I have campaigned for better services for rail passengers across our borough and worked with the TPE and the Liverpool City Region to ensure these new and faster routes which will help boost jobs and growth in St Helens, with faster journeys creating more economic opportunities.

    In this important 150th anniversary year, it is also a welcome boost for the local economy by opening up our borough to more visitors from other parts of the country.

    St Helens has a proud industrial heritage, particularly in the history of the railways, but too often our region has been left behind, with just £682 per person allocated for transport spending across the North West – less than half the £1,943 per person spending in London.

    These new rail links and improved journey times are a step in the right direction and it is important that passengers continue to benefit from increased connectivity across the North West and beyond.

  • our historic twinning with Stuttgart

    Our creative industries foster strong links between our communities, in art, music, sport and culture, across the country and internationally.

    In our borough’s 150th year, it is important that we renew and strengthen these bonds, as well as ensuring our young people can fully benefit from them.

    The twinning of St Helens and the German city of Stuttgart is an excellent example of what can be achieved for our communities and this is underpinned by our creative industries.I spoke in Westminster to highlight the historic partnership between St Helens and Stuttgart – the first such partnership after World War 2.

  • The increased use of food banks

    New statistics released by the Trussell Trust have shown that between April 2017 and March 2018, more than 5,000 three day emergency food supplies were given to people facing crisis in St Helens North. Of these, nearly 2,000 were given to children.

    It is a shocking indictment of this Tory Government’s cuts to our in-work benefits and our welfare system that thousands of people are turning to food banks in our borough in this day and age.

    Hardworking volunteers and community organisations like the Hope Centre do an excellent job and work tirelessly to support those who need help in our society, but time and again we are seeing that people are being forced to use food banks because of the Government’s failed policies.

    With the botched rollout of Universal Credit now extended to St Helens, I am concerned that more families will be left without – with figures showing food bank referrals have increased at more than double the national average in areas in which already have the Universal Credit Full Service.

    Across the country, the Trussell Trust have found that ‘benefit delays’ account for nearly a quarter of food bank referrals, closely followed by ‘benefit changes’.

    This is simply not good enough for our communities in St Helens or elsewhere in the UK. The Government must act to get a grip of this crisis and stop driving up food bank referrals with its botched welfare reforms.

     

  • Sainsbury’s announcement

    Today’s news of a proposed merger will come as a shock to Asda and Sainsbury workers in St Helens, across the North West and nationwide.

    There is much focus on the fact that the companies have said there are no plans to close any stores but I am concerned that they have not given the same assurances to thousands of staff who work in logistics, distribution centres and delivery, including those situated in St Helens and nearby.

    I have been in touch with local and national trade union representatives and have raised this with Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Rebecca Long-Bailey.

    After months of secret talks, Asda and Sainsbury must now inform staff here in St Helens and across the country of the impact the proposed merger could have on their jobs.

  • A fair deal for St Helens

    One of my top priorities is to fight for a fairer deal for St Helens and to ensure our schools, hospitals and transport system are fully funded and deliver proper services.

    Some of the problems we face and the differences between our area and other regions are laid bare in a recent report by England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield called “Growing up North”.

    It lays out in stark detail some of the challenges facing children in our region and shows that unless we get urgent action from the Government, the gap between children in the North and those in London is likely to widen over the next 15 years.

    Among the report’s findings are that a disproportionate number of children in the North are growing up in communities of entrenched disadvantage which have not enjoyed the same financial growth or government support that have improved opportunities in other parts of the country, especially London and the South East.

    As a result, too many disadvantaged children in our region are being left behind, with many facing an education gap that starts before they even get into the classroom and widens throughout education.

    Too many children drop out of education before they reach the age of 18. The Government needs to do far more to invest in our schools and help transform the prospects of our children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

    As I highlighted last year, schools in St Helens are facing crippling budget cuts of up to £9 million by 2019. The huge Government funding cuts are the equivalent of £386 per pupil and could mean the loss of up to 238 teachers, according to figures compiled by the teaching unions.

    If children in our region are to get equality of opportunity when it comes to jobs and training, we need the Government to reverse its funding cuts to our schools. I will continue to fight to make sure we get the best possible deal for schools in St Helens North so children get the best possible start in life.

     

  • Green Belt land

    I understand the concerns residents have raised about the potential for the Government to weaken protections for Green Belt land. In 2012, the Conservative-Lib Dem Government replaced all existing planning guidance – except on waste – with the publication of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and National Planning Practice Guidance. I believe these reforms weakened the National Brownfield Strategy, promoted in 2003, which actively prioritised building on brownfield sites.

    The Government published its housing white paper in February, along with a consultation seeking views on amending the NPPF to allow local authorities to amend Green Belt boundaries in “exceptional circumstances”. The consultation ran from 7 February to 2 May 2017 and the Government said it expects to announce its conclusions “in due course”.

    I am concerned that the Government’s planning reforms have failed to do enough to promote brownfield development. The Government rejected a Labour amendment to the Housing and Planning Act during its consideration in Parliament which would have ensured automatic planning permission would be limited to housing on brownfield land.

    While local areas should be able to make their own decisions on land use, I believe the NPPF should include a clear brownfield first policy to ensure the planning system allows sustainable growth while protecting green spaces and the natural environment.

    I believe the Government should reinstate Local Authority grants to clean up and reclaim contaminated land to fully support a brownfield first policy, which is of particular relevance to St Helens.

    The wider issue is of particular importance for me in regards to the St Helens Local Plan and I welcome the vision set out in the plan for St Helens to be an attractive place to live, work and visit.

    I fully support the ambition to win investment and create employment in our borough, making the most of the opportunities afforded to us by our location in the heart of the North West situated between Manchester and Liverpool.

     I recognise that the council is required by Government to produce a local plan which must be based on strong evidence of need. Given that the proposals must therefore include the removal of land from the greenbelt, the Council must clearly demonstrate that it fully explores and where possible meets its land requirements for both housing an employment sites from the redevelopment of brownfields sites.

     Many of my constituents have expressed concerns about the amount of greenbelt land the plan proposes to release. If the Council believes and can demonstrate it has no alternatives to the release of greenbelt for housing, then it could address some of those concerns by considering a stepped housing target, with identified land released in phases with a focus maintained on bringing back into use brownfield sites.

    I want every resident of St Helens to have a good quality of life and I welcome recent investments like those in Sankey Canal to open up our borough and provide excellent green spaces and landscapes for recreational and health related activity. Investment in projects such as this alongside parks and areas such as Lyme and Wood Pits Country Park, enhance the natural beauty of our area and accessibility to nature.

     

     

  • Precarious contracts

    I agree that this is an important issue. As War on Want notes, there are too many people on contracts where they cannot be certain what work they will get in the future. Last year, the TUC found that over three million people – one in ten workers in the UK – work in insecure jobs, while polling for the GMB union has shown that – using a wider definition of insecure work – the number could be as high as ten million. I believe it is a national scandal that so many people could be left not knowing how much they will earn from week to week, unable to budget for basic necessities and unsure if they can pay the rent. I therefore agree that we should ensure all workers have the same rights at work, as well as guaranteed hours.

    I share your concerns about the Taylor review of modern employment practices and the Tory response to it. I believe that overall the report itself was a massive missed opportunity to tackle the growing problem of insecure employment. Yet the Government’s response failed to meet even its most basic recommendations – I note, for example, that Matthew Taylor has himself said that he would give the Government’s action on his report so far only four marks out of ten. Rather than introduce the radical new architecture of employment law we need to protect workers, the Government has launched four consultations on the areas covered by the Taylor review. I do not believe this is good enough.

    At the 2017 General Election, I stood on a manifesto that pledged to give all workers equal rights from day one, whether part-time or full-time, temporary or permanent, so that working conditions are not driven down. I can therefore assure you that I will continue to press the Government for real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work and an end to contracts that allow the exploitation of workers.

  • The Held Back Campaign

    The recent report published by the National Autistic Society and the All Party Parliamentary Group on Autism found that 70% of parents of children with autism say that support was not put in place quickly enough for their child. Additionally, fewer than 5 in 10 teachers say that they are confident about supporting a child on the autism spectrum. The report recommended for the Government to develop a national autism and education strategy by the end of 2019.

    I believe that teachers should be given the knowledge and skills they need to be able to identify and support children with autism through the training they receive. Indeed, at the General Election in June 2017, I stood on a manifesto which committed to deliver a strategy for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) based on inclusivity, and which pledged to embed SEND more substantially into training for teachers and non-teaching staff, so that staff, children and their parents are properly supported.

    The manifesto also set the ambition to make our country autism-friendly and committed to make sure autistic people are able to access the whole of their community. All children with autism deserve access to high quality, full-time education.

    The Government has a manifesto commitment to improve standards of care for those with learning disabilities and autism and have stated that they would consider the recommendations of the Autism and Education report carefully. I can assure you that I will hold the Government to account on this.

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