Can you afford another five years of David Cameron?

Peterlee Community Life - ASDAI was delighted to kick-start the Summer recess in Peterlee with some of the 11,500 mums who have signed up to be part of the Asda Mumdex panel about the pressures families are facing.

In a wide ranging discussion with the local listening group a number of concerns were raised about the economy, household finances, engagement with voters, the impact of Government policies and social issues.

The cost of living remains the number one priority facing local families with Asda’s Mumsdex report finding that nearly three quarters of mums want the Government to focus on solving the cost of living crisis, with eight out of ten stating it will impact the way they vote.

As I mentioned in this column last week, I am very concerned about the impact of this government’s changes to Individual Electoral Registration, which it is estimated will see almost thirteen thousand mostly poorer people in East Durham disenfranchised. It is vital for our democracy that people register to vote and do not lose their right to have a say on policies that effect their everyday lives.

The Tories and Lib Dems claim they have fixed the economy but things are still tough with the benefits of economic growth not being felt by people and families in East Durham.

The Coalition Government have presided over the slowest recovery for 100 years, on average wages have declined by £1600 a year, while energy bills have increased by almost £300 since the election. The number of households in fuel poverty has risen to over 6000 households in East Durham alone. There is a growing fuel poverty gap, the difference between income and what people can afford to pay, which is approaching £500.

The Government have amassed a remarkable list of disastrous policies which are hurting communities in the North East and worsening inequalities.

Even more worrying the NHS has been put on the road to privatisation with waiting lists rising, access to treatment restricted and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see a GP. Royal Mail has been privatised resulting in huge profits for the city while the taxpayer was short changed by £1.4 billion. There has been tax cuts for the richest in society, while VAT was increased hitting the poorest in society, who have also seen cuts to Tax Credits helping families with children and on low incomes. Community services have been decimated with disproportionate cuts imposed by central government on local government that has cut Durham County Council’s budget by over forty percent.

The sick and disabled have been penalised through the bedroom tax, as well as thousands being wrongly found fit to work by Atos through the discredited Work Capability Assessment.

The Government continue to work with corporate giants like Serco and G4S, awarding them contracts worth billions, despite repeated failings and defrauding the taxpayer of tens of millions through overcharging on tagging contracts for prisoners who were back in prison, overseas, or dead. G4S is the same company that botched the Olympic security, but are to be allowed to take over privatised probation services.

It seems so long ago but it was this government that tripled tuition fees and abolished Educational Maintenance Allowance, which led to mass demonstrations.

Three years ago we saw the total breakdown of law and order with riots on the streets of London, and other UK cities, and while chaos reigned the Prime Minister and the Mayor of London were forced to return from holiday.

This is far from an exhaustive list but highlights how in the last four years the public have been attacked, ignored and treat with distain by a Government who seem to represent a very small and privileged minority.

The next election will be vitally important in shaping the future of our country, and I would ask you to consider a simple question – Can you afford another five years of David Cameron?

No Vote, No Voice – make sure you have your say at the next election. The way you register to vote has changed. To register online please visit: www.gov.uk/register-to-vote

Grahame Morris MP meets Peterlee’s families at local Asda store

Commons ChamberLocal MP Grahame Morris visited Asda Peterlee today (Friday 25th July), where he met customers and heard first-hand about their views on politics and how they are juggling their household budgets.

 

The discussion focussed on the findings from the Asda Mumdex reports, which provides regular insight into how Asda customers feel about the economy and their household finances, Government policies and social issues.

 

Asda arranged the visit as part of its ongoing Community Life scheme, which has seen the supermarket take steps to place its stores at the heart of their local communities, including opening up their doors for use by community groups and fundraising for local good causes.

 

Grahame Morris MP commented:   “Today’s listening event was a great opportunity to chat to local families. The cost of living is a topic that my constituents regularly raise with me, as the Government’s benefits reforms are really beginning to bite and rising bills are hitting hard, so it was particularly useful to see and hear first-hand how families are managing their household finances. I also found it very interesting to hear views on politics and ways in which we could increase political engagement”.

Grahame Morris MP backs new pool campaigners petition to the Prime Minister

New School, New PoolEasington MP Grahame Morris and members of the New School – New Pool (like for like) campaign visited Downing Street to present a petition of 6,700 signatures to David Cameron demanding Seaham School of Technology gets a new pool.

Seaham School of Technology was due to get a new school under the old Building School’s for the Future programme by the last government, however, the scheme was abandoned by the Coalition Government following the election.  Funds from central government have now been released to build Seaham’s long overdue new school, but unlike the previous school, it will not include a pool.

Due to the lack of funds being made available the new school will be unable to set up or maintain a new pool. Without a pool, current swimming lessons for children will be lost, along with other various groups that use the facility.

The campaign organisers believe that it is vital that Seaham’s new secondary school is replaced, like for like, and that it includes a swimming pool. An online and community petition calling for a new pool received in total 6,700 signatures.

Local MP Grahame Morris has supported the campaign which culminated in handing over the petition with local campaigners to David Cameron at 10 Downing Street.

Mr Morris said:

“I’m always happy to support local residents in their campaigns. The organisers have done an amazing job obtaining over 6000 signatures.

Swimming is an important life-skill, a great form of exercise and a wonderful activity for children to partake in.

Somewhere the size of Seaham should have its own pool, and I know Seaham Councillor Eddie Bell and others have spent years pushing for new leisure facilities including a swimming pool for the town.

Ultimately the problem here are the huge cuts to local government funding and to the school refurbishment programme, imposed by the present Government.

I was proud to accompany Seaham residents in delivering this petition to David Cameron in Downing Street and we look forward to his response.”

Seaham Beach Dog Control Consultation

Seaham BeachI have recently received a number of enquiries regarding the proposals to ban dogs from using Seaham Beach during the summer months (April 1 to September 30).

The proposals are part of an effort to boost tourism and keep the beach clear from dog mess and free from dogs running loose.

The ban would not apply to a person who is registered as blind or to disabled persons who use trained assistance dogs, and would not include the promenade or the area of the beach north of Seaham Hall car park.

People would still be able to walk their dogs along the entire beach between October 1 and March 31, and if agreed, the dog control order would take effect in 2015.

Durham County Council are currently undertaking a public consultation in relation to these proposals.

More information, including the consultation documents are available via:
http://durham.gov.uk/Pages/Service.aspx?ServiceId=9549

The consultation survey can also be accessed online via:
https://www.snapsurveys.com/wh/s.asp?k=140481268470

Anyone wishing to comment must do so prior to the closing date – Monday 18th August.

 

Making the case for the coalfield communities

DMGIn the final days of Parliament prior to the summer recess, I took the opportunity to meet with Business Secretary Vince Cable MP to make the case for investment for the former coalfield communities.

The Government’s promise to rebalance the economy has yet to be realised with ambitious rhetoric failing to translate into meaningful action.

We are still too over-reliant on the financial sector and the pre-2008 economic model which led to the global economic crisis. If we are to rebalance the economy both in relation to our over-reliance on the financial sector and the revival of the regions the Government must provide much more targeted support to encourage economic activity through selling goods and services abroad.

This requires investment in education and training to provide the 21st Century skills required to compete in a global market. This will require a more innovative approach than the blanket policies of the past, or funding streams for training courses that provide little benefit. The successful solution will invariably be those which are tailored to the local labour markets. There is no better example of this than the East Durham Employability Trust which works with NEETs (Not in Education, Employment or Training), providing real work experience on real contracts for local businesses. The results speak for themselves, of the 24 work experience placements in the last 12 months 21 young people have secured employment, a success rate of 87.5 per cent.

The majority of our manufacturing base remains in former industrial areas, in East Durham we have world leading companies such as Caterpillar, NSK, and the GT Group, but we need to do more to encourage their development and growth through a tax regime which encourages investment in plant, machinery, Research & Development and skills, as well as incentives for export businesses operating and moving to areas of high deprivation. Local businesses are already working together to attract new investment, companies and employment opportunity into the area and have established the Peterlee Business Park website to highlight the opportunities available. (For more information please visit www.peterleebusiness.co.uk)

The economic recovery has yet to reach beyond London and the South East, but if we are to lead a national recovery we need to unlock and utilise the skills in Britain’s former industrial areas, which represent nearly a third of the population. The coalfield communities have some of the lowest ‘job destiny’ figures in the country with just 48 jobs in the Durham coalfields per 100 residents of working age. The Government have pursued policies they state are to “make work pay”, however, in reality welfare reform and benefit cuts have been counterproductive. They have pushed the poorest households further into poverty, impacting people in and out of work, with figures showing that children below the poverty line are now twice as likely to come from homes with work, than homes without work. Welfare Reforms have done nothing to support the recovery in the weakest local economies with cuts taking spending power out of the area creating further pressure on employment. Cutting benefits will never reduce the number of people out of work until there are more jobs available. In reality, the only sustainable way to bring down welfare spending is through growth in the local economy, and rebuilding our former coalfield and industrial communities has the potential to slash billions from welfare spending.

The Government have an important role to play through public procurement and investment in infrastructure which lays the foundations for economic growth but also provides an immediate jobs boost and a source of new orders for business.

However, infrastructure investment has been focused on London. Research by IPPR North found that where infrastructure projects involve public sector spending, the spend per head of population is £2,595.68 compared to just £5.01 in the North East, which only widens the North South divide. The Governments complacency in this matter can be clearly highlighted by their decision to exclude Scotland and the North East from HS2, which will not reach the region for at least 20 years. If the Government believe HS2 will drive future economic growth there can be no excuse for denying some of the most deprived communities in the UK access to the service. In the meantime, those campaigning for the dualling of the A1 continue to have barriers put in there way despite showing it could generate £376 million for the local economy, and could create 2000 jobs and 12,000 new homes.

Public procurement contracts provide another opportunity to expand employment and training opportunities. While competition laws prohibit awarding a contract to a specific company based on location there is an opportunity to include certain requirements in contracts that would support local communities such as a need to create apprenticeships, recruiting the long term unemployed, a promise to use local supply chains, and a commitment to assign a proportion of sub-contracting business to small firms. It is imperative that we do all we can to support local business and not seek to award contracts based solely on the lowest price, but also the wider benefits they offer.

I welcomed the opportunity to meet the Business Secretary, and was encouraged by his support for developing new employment opportunities in the region. However, after four years of Coalition Government we no longer require empty promises but firm action that is seen and felt in our communities.

Wheelchair Services Review

NHS Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield, NHS North Durham and NHS Darlington Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are undertaking a review of the wheelchair services as they seek to improve the experience of wheelchair users in County Durham and Darlington.

The wheelchair service offers assessment of people with mobility problems and prescription and supply of wheelchair, posture and pressure care to meet individual needs.

Your views are important and they would like to know about your experiences of the service by completing a questionnaire. Please be aware that this questionnaire is only for wheelchair users that require the wheelchair for six months or more.

The survey can accessed online at: www.surveymonkey.com/s/Wheelchairservices2014 or you can request a paper copy of the survey from Gail Whitehead on 0191 374 4167 or via email at gail.whitehead2@nhs.net. Please make ensure that your comments and feedback are returned by Friday 29 August 2014.

The Crisis in Gaza

 

Westminster Hall Debate
Middle East and North Africa
Thursday 17 July

gazaGrahame M. Morris: It is a pleasure, as always, to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sheridan. I think that I explained the reasons why I was late, and I apologise to the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for being late and congratulate him on securing this important debate.

Unfortunately, at this late stage of the debate much of what I was planning to say has already been covered, so I will spare the Minister and the other Members who remain the injustice of hearing the statistics repeated. However, I would like to say that this issue is not only one for the Palestinian or the Arab diaspora here in the UK and in the rest of Europe. I am the MP for Easington and I declare an interest as chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East, because I want to speak about the situation in Gaza and Israel.

This is a social justice issue. I heard many of the comments that Members made today, and frankly some sense was spoken on all sides. However, when someone starts to stretch the truth too thinly, people—even ordinary people and people of limited intelligence such as myself—can start to see through it, and that is starting to happen.

We are at a tipping point for the middle east. The UK Government have a critical role to play, and members of the wider international community could act as honest brokers for peace and take some practical action to tackle the root cause of the conflict, which is—let us be plain about it—the illegal occupation of Palestine. Tackling that would prevent extremism from escalating on both sides.

I will echo the comments not of a member of my party but of the right hon. Gentleman’s party, who spoke during this week’s exchanges following the urgent statement and told the House that he had heard the same responses to the same events for 30 years. I think that was the right hon. Member for Mid Sussex (Sir Nicholas Soames).

Alistair Burt: Yes.

Grahame M. Morris: The right hon. Member for Mid Sussex said that he had heard the same responses for 30 years. I ask the Minister this: is it not beyond time that the international community, with Britain at the forefront, lived up to its obligation to end this humanitarian disaster? For 30 years we have seen this happening, and we are having the same debates over and over again, with no progress to report. We can no longer continue to focus exclusively on negotiations. I will do everything I can—I think I will be protesting outside the Israeli embassy on Saturday—to further the cause of peace and a ceasefire. We have to go beyond focusing on negotiations. We cannot continue to ignore the main barriers to peace, which include the failure to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations. The annexations—

Mrs Ellman: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Grahame M. Morris: I will give way only once, because I am very short of time.

Mrs Ellman: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. There is no doubt that in this long-running tragic dispute there is fault on all sides. However, does he think that the Palestinians are in any way culpable for jeopardising the possibility of peace, when after the Oslo accords were signed the Palestinian Authority—under the leadership of Yasser Arafat—unleashed a series of suicide bombings on the young people of Jerusalem?

Grahame M. Morris: I was going to come on to the Oslo accords and their consequences. I know that my hon. Friend raised issues earlier relating to some of the things that had happened—the reactions and so on—but we have to move on. It is 20 years since Oslo. On the undertakings given, particularly in respect of the withdrawal from Gaza, we are talking about illegal settlements that were set up by Israel and were against international conventions.

The Deputy Prime Minister recently acknowledged the collective punishments dished out to the Palestinian people, which have consequences in terms of brutalising people. As was said earlier, the current military action will, I am sure, degrade the capability of Hamas and other extremist groups to wage an armed campaign against Israel, but sadly it will be counter-productive, because it will radicalise many thousands, or potentially millions, of others in Gaza, the west bank and a number of countries, perhaps even in Europe. The Israelis, who hold all the cards and have all the power and might, have to recognise that the way to peace and justice for both Israel and Palestine is a just and negotiated settlement. We have to tackle the root cause, and we have to hold Israel accountable for its human rights violations, the annexation of Palestinian land and the continued expansion of illegal settlements; they are illegal in international law.

I have had the opportunity to go and see some of these settlements. I was accompanied by Jewish human rights groups, who share the concerns of the international community about some of the things that have been happening, such as the infrastructure network being available exclusively to Israeli settlements and the restrictions on the water resources, which particularly affect the Bedouin Arabs. They have a miserable existence. When I went to see them, I had a vision of a “Lawrence of Arabia”-type situation, with lovely tents and so on, but they live in absolute squalor, moving from place to place, and they are restricted, with the Israeli authorities declaring areas—on a whim, it would appear—to be military training areas or national parks. That is just a clear abuse, and a collective punishment, and it has to stop if we are to see a just and lasting peace.

The Minister is new to his post and I wish him well, because we have had these arguments before, even though I have only been a Member of this House for four years. It is a serious issue and I do not mean to laugh, but his predecessor, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, will know that we have had lengthy debates and informal meetings, and we have tried every which way to push these things forward in a reasonable and businesslike fashion. I want the UK Government to be serious, and I hope that when my party is sitting on the Government Benches in a year’s time, we will be much more proactive.

We need to replace rhetoric with actions and demand an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza. We have heard from right hon. and hon. Members, including those who have visited Gaza, about the suffering of the people, and about the impact on the water supply, the sewerage system, and the hospitals. We must insist on an end to this blockade, and a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth. We must also halt trade with and investment in illegal Israeli settlements in the west bank. We should support a phased approach to ending the occupation of the west bank and East Jerusalem, and have greater international mediation, with a larger role for the EU. Most importantly, the international community must set out clear parameters, targets and consequences to the failure to end violations in order to make progress. I know that targets are not popular with the Conservatives, but those targets should include sanctions when Israel does not comply.

We must understand the crisis in the wider context, which is a seven-year blockade of Gaza that has left its people facing an absolute humanitarian crisis. We had an excellent debate here in Westminster Hall, in which the impact of that crisis was elaborated on, but it is time to go beyond rhetoric. We need action from the British Government; they must take a lead.

 

Beware of misleading websites – Your European Health Insurance Card should be free

EHICAs we approach the summer holidays a number of websites are offering European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) for a charge, despite them being available free to people ordinarily resident in the UK.

The EHIC entitles the holder to free or discounted medical treatment at state run hospitals and GPs in any European Union country, plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland. Each country’s healthcare system is slightly different. Therefore, your EHIC might not cover everything that would be free on the NHS. However, you should be able to get the same treatment as a resident of the country you’re visiting.

For more information about what is covered in each country please see the NHS country-by-country guide

What you should bear in mind when applying for a European Health Insurance Card:

  • Your EHIC should be free of charge
  • If you are being asked to pay for your EHIC, you are not on the official EHIC application website
  • Further information, including how to apply, can be found at www.gov.uk/european-health-insurance-card or by calling 0300 3301350.

If you have been affected by misleading websites you can report them to www.gov.uk/misleadingwebsites, where you can make a complaint to Google and other search engines.

Individual Electoral Registration

IER

The way you register to vote has changed.

 

From the 10th June 2014, the Government have introduced Individual Electoral Registration. This means that each individual is responsible for registering to vote.

 

Government figures suggest that up to 9 million people could fall off the register. This is in addition to the 6 million eligible voters currently not on the register.

 

The groups most at risk of falling off the register are students, young people, BME community, and private renters.

 

You can now register to vote online, all you need is your national insurance number and to answer a few questions about yourself.

 

To register to vote please visit – www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.

 

Live in the Easington constituency? Want to register for a postal vote?

 

Postal Vote Application forms can be downloaded and printed here

 

Completed forms must be returned to:

 

Durham County Council

Electoral Services
Durham County Council
County Hall
Durham
DH1 5UL

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

DMG1This year’s 130th Durham Miners Gala was a huge success.

The weather was perfect, there were over 60 banners from former coalfields across the region and the festival atmosphere was complete with superb brass bands playing everything from miners classics to modern standards.

The Gala remains the UK’s largest annual trade union gathering despite the closure of the surrounding coalfields. This year’s event marked 30 years since the miners’ strike and the predictions of the Gala’s inevitable demise have never materialised with over 100,000 attending the Big Meeting.

The resilience of the Gala has been remarkable. As the coalfields were closed we have been able to maintain our traditions and heritage. The Gala has redefined itself to incorporate the wider trade union movement and the broader community as can be shown by the number of mini-banners representing local schools and community groups.

The Gala is both a political rally and a popular family day out with the communities across the region coming together to celebrate our rich culture based upon our mining heritage.

This year’s event was particularly poignant being the first since the sad loss of Gala favorites Tony Benn, and former RMT Union leader Bob Crow. There passing has left a huge void in the labour movement, and they will be sadly missed by all those who attend the Gala.

From the huge crowds and the success of this year’s Gala it is difficult to imagine that its long term future is under threat. The Gala has been funded for over 140 years through the subscriptions of Durham Miners, however, with the closure of the coalfields, and the loss of income from working miners resources have been depleted. Durham Miners Association (DMA) continues to fund the Gala, but following the loss of a legal battle they are facing court costs in excess of £2 million.

In the short term, DMA are confident they can secure the next few years. However, in the long term they are reaching out to the wider trade union movement and the friends of Durham Miners Gala to safeguard the future of the Big Meeting.

We need to safeguard our heritage, no one else will. There will be no arts funding, or lottery grants to protect the Gala, so it will fall to the communities who created Durham Miners Gala to save it.

I hope everyone who enjoyed this year’s Miners Gala and the celebration of our proud industrial heritage will help to safeguard its future. For more information and to sign up to become a Friend of the Durham Miners’ Gala Society please visit www.durhamminers.org

I hope we can build on this year’s success and that the Durham Miners Gala will continue to go from strength to strength through the support of the local coalfield communities.