We are now bang in the middle of the Conference season and this week it is the turn of the Labour Party. As I begin to write this column I am on my way to Brighton with every intention of playing a full part in what promises to be a very exciting Conference. The Labour Party is the biggest political party in Europe and this year will be our biggest Conference ever. Thousands of members will attend along with representatives of every profession, business and cause known to man. Politics is all about people, priorities and policies in that order and nowhere more so than at Conference. I have been attending these events on and off for many years but of course as MP it is all very different and as a Shadow Minister different again. Conference is so much more than the debates in the main Conference hall that we all see on our television screens. Each day thousands of members and visitors meet to discuss dozens of issues and to determine policy for a future Labour Government. Fringe events run from breakfast till bed time and in between it’s time to visit the exhibition hall where key organisations ply their wares and look to gain support.
The day kicked off with a round table discussion with the Royal College of Physicians about the future of the NHS. I was pleased to be invited to take part in the discussion with senior doctors and a range of healthcare professionals. The focus of today’s discussion was gaps in the NHS workforce. This is has been an ongoing issue: the fact is the service is desperately short of staff in every department. It is widely acknowledged that morale in the NHS is at an all time low and recruitment and retention levels are a serious problem that to date the government is failing to address. As a result patients often have to wait for days to get an appointment to see their GP. The Government has promised to recruit 5000 extra GPs but the plans are not progressing well and the number continues to fall and in parts of the country surgeries have been forced to close leaving patients with no GP. I was therefore really pleased to accept an invitation to join a panel discussion with the Royal College of GPs to discuss ways of supporting GPs to deliver the best care for their patients in an environment of ever increasing demand. It was then time to turn my attention to community Pharmacy. Government funding cuts to community pharmacy budgets are expected according to the Conservative minister to lead to the closure of 3000 community pharmacies. I am working closely with National Pharmacy Association and the Pharmaceutical Society to extend the range of services provided in community pharmacy. Instead of forcing community pharmacies to close it would make far more sense to work with the sector to enable them to alleviate pressure on other areas of the NHS. With this in mind I was pleased to have the opportunity to speak at an event organised by the NPA.
Today Health is on the agenda in the main conference hall and Jonathan Ashworth who is the Shadow Secretary for Health and my boss will be outlining Labour’s plans for the NHS. I will be cheering him on from the front row. Of course everyone knows Labour is the Party of the NHS, we created it and we will protect it. The most pressing issue is to ensure that a winter crisis is averted. We will be asking the Government to provide additional upfront funding of £500 million for this purpose. Following this our thoughts will turn to the Leader’s speech scheduled for tomorrow. Jeremy Corbyn has inspired millions of people around the country and his conference speech will be eagerly anticipated as people look to him to offer hope and a plan for the many not the few. People in Burnley often ask me if I ever get to speak with Jeremy. Well the answer is yes in fact I have already spoken with him twice in as many days and I’m looking forward to hearing him tomorrow as he outlines our Labour plan for a better Britain. Wherever I am: Burnley, Brighton, Westminster it makes no difference I always keep the best interests of the people of Burnley and Padiham at the heart of everything that I do.
We are now bang in the middle of the Conference season and this week it is the turn of the Labour Party. As I begin to write this...
I want to begin by putting this budget in context for my constituents. We have a Government that has borrowed more in 7 years than the last Labour Government did in 13 years. The deficit that we were told would be gone is still there. The country is just to about to embark on the most serious negotiations since the end of the Second World War and the Chancellor barely mentioned Brexit. The disabled who are desperately trying to gain employment are to have their incomes cut by close to a third next month. Children who are unlucky enough to be the third child in a struggling family will suffer as the withdrawal of child tax credit pushes another 600,000 children into poverty. The truth is that many families are just NOT managing and all they have to look forward to is years of austerity stretching far into the 2020s.
On 13th July last year I along with most of the nation, listened carefully as the new Prime Minister, Theresa May, stood before the world’s press outside 10 Downing Street and made her first speech in her new role. It was a speech consisting largely of a string of promises to the people of the United Kingdom: hinging around the phrase ‘Build a Better Britain’: promises to unite the union, restore social justice, rebalance the criminal justice system, help first time buyers, ensure gender equality in the workplace, to ensure that all children succeed at school and have the chance to reach top professions regardless of where they come from. The promises just kept coming at breakneck speed: more help for the mentally ill, better job security, help for the ‘just about managing’ and, crucially, a promise to be driven by the needs of the many not the privileged few. All laudable, who could argue with such lofty aims.
Sadly, there was no indication of how the Prime Minister attempted to fund her promises, particularly on the back of David Cameron’s manifesto pledge (a bit like a promise but a bit more butch?) that this Tory Government would commit to a 5 year ‘tax lock’ which he said would effectively bar a future Conservative Government from raising taxes. How would she achieve all this I and others asked, clearly more than a Mary Poppins-like click of the fingers and cry of “spit spot” would be required but doubtless the detail would follow.
On 9th March this year however, it became painfully clear that there never was a plan, the promises were, to quote Mary Poppins again, ‘made of pie crust: soon made and easily broken’. But this budget was more than a string of broken promises; it was a betrayal pure and simple of all those who had dared to hope and trusted her to do as she said she would.
So in an era when we are all encouraged to reflect and evaluate our own performance in the world of work, I would like to help the Prime Minister to reflect upon her own performance to date by re-examining the promises she made in that first speech and comparing them to the budget announcements and her recent actions, because my constituents judge us all by what we do not what we say: ‘actions speak louder than words’ as they say. So Prime Minister:
Firstly let’s examine your party’s promise ‘no more tax increases’ – but your actions have been to increase National insurance for small businesses; the hairdressers the joiners, the plumbers, carers, café owners, gardeners the list goes on. The same ‘ordinary’ hard-working people you promised to help - BETRAYED. Contrast that with the cuts your Government has announced to Corporation Tax for the super wealthy, the privileged few (sound familiar?) Add to that the cuts in inheritance tax for that same elite group which you plan to introduce – you will be pleased to know Prime Minister, that a massive 6 people in my constituency will benefit. Oh dear not a good start.
Next your promised to reunite the Union; how’s that going for you Prime Minister? With 48% of the electorate feeling like they simply don’t count post Brexit and the Scottish referendum issue refusing to lie down. Ok let’s plough on with the list.
Your promise was to restore social justice; but your actions were to introduce new criteria for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which will mean a cut of £5 billion and cuts to the Employment Support Allowance Work Related Activity Group of around £30 per week, hitting the disabled and those living with serious medical conditions. Cuts to child benefit for the 3rd child are you tell us going ahead, throwing 600,000 children into child poverty. Your promise of £2 billion extra funding for social care to be stretched over 3 years and not coming close to replacing the £4.6 which you have already cut. A shameful sleight of hand if ever I saw one.
You promised to give every child a good education and the opportunity to achieve jobs in the top field. But your actions, under the guise of ‘fair funding’ (a misnomer if ever I heard one) there will be cuts in spending per child with the majority of schools affected. Under the new school funding formula, funding is set to be cut in Burnley and Padiham by over £400 per pupil. Back to the privileged few however and we see £1 billion pulled out of the carpet bag but mostly for the building of Grammar and free schools. So much for a Government that says it wants all children to have a good education. In Burnley we are already seeing increased class sizes, subjects being dropped from the curriculum, pupils with special educational needs and disabilities losing vital support and teacher and school staff vacancies left unfilled or cut altogether. The introduction of grammar schools will not help the pre-existing schools in Burnley nor will it do anything for social mobility.
Your promise to move towards gender equality; your actions, 86% of YOUR ‘austerity measures’ will hit women and no movement on a fair outcome for the WASPI women and others robbed of their entitlement. They had hoped for better from you Prime Minister; you have let them down.
Perhaps most shameful of all, your promise of extra funding for mental health; there was no mention AT ALL in the budget of extra funding for the NHS or for mental health. Not in the entire budget did it get a mention. Let’s just reflect for a moment about what this tells us about how high the NHS is as a priority for this Government. In contrast I know how very much it means for all those ‘ordinary people’ who use and work in it.
What else did your Chancellor fail to mention Prime Minister?
No mention of investment in digital infrastructure. We are the 5th wealthiest country in the world, yet lagging woefully behind, coming 54th out of 80 in this field. Where will the jobs of the future come from for our children and grandchildren? How will we compete?
No mention of climate change, green energy or environmental protections. Last week I visited Exertis a huge company investing in Burnley and was dismayed to hear that their ambitious plans to install a vast solar roof on the new factory were cancelled due the Government’s scrapping of the solar subsidies. Short sighted and irresponsible decision making Prime Minister and future generations will suffer for it.
There was no mention of public sector pay - again.
There is still no credible plan for Brexit.
So Prime Minister it’s quite simple really; you hugely over-promised on the steps of Downing Street and then under-delivered across the board. Worse than that in many cases you have done exactly the opposite of what you promised. You had your chance and you blew it but you do not have the right to blow the future of my constituents. It is time to change tack and quickly Prime Minister. My job and that of my colleagues is to ensure that you do.
I want to begin by putting this budget in context for my constituents. We have a Government that has borrowed more in 7 years than the last Labour Government did...