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.

Grahame Morris MP commits to help children who need palliative care in East Durham

Shorter Lives TogetherGrahame Morris MP has given his support for children with life-threatening and life-limiting conditions in East Durham at a Westminster event held by children’s palliative care charity Together for Short Lives.

Grahame Morris MP met with Anna Gill OBE, a parent carer of a young person with a life-limiting condition, in addition to representatives from Together for Short Lives, the charity behind Children’s Hospice Week. Mr Morris agreed to write to Durham Dales, Easington and Sedgefield Clinical Commissioning Group and Durham County Council to ask what action they are taking to integrate services for children who need palliative care. Mr Morris also committed to asking health and social care commissioners how they were funding palliative care services supporting children with life-limiting conditions – and their families – in East Durham.

Grahame Morris MP said: “Providers of children’s palliative care offer a vital lifeline to families. Yet commissioning of services, particularly from the voluntary sector, is patchy and inconsistent. Well commissioned and co-ordinated palliative care helps families make to the most of their time together and enables services to develop to meet their needs.

“It is essential that health and social care services work together to ensure that services are joined up and funded fairly and sustainably by the NHS and local authorities to ensure that the excellent care they provide can continue.”

LABOUR WILL GIVE THE ‘FORGOTTEN 50 PER CENT’ OF YOUNG PEOPLE THE SKILLS TO SUCCEED

Technical DegreesFor too long there has been an assumption that the best path to success for young people is via the conventional academic route. That kind of thinking is now out of date.

For a 14 year old following the traditional academic route there is a clear route through GCSEs to A’ levels and on to university. But for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ of young people that do not currently go to university, the alternatives are confusing and, in too many cases, low quality. A fifth of all apprentices receive no training at all and some college courses are seen as second rate by employers.

This situation is failing young people and holding back businesses that can’t get the skills they need to succeed. Local employers tell me they need employees with the skills to help grow their businesses and our future economic success depends on making sure that they have them.

So the next Labour government will create a clear route for the ‘forgotten 50 per cent’ to access high quality training and a successful career, as part of our reforms to build a higher skill, higher wage economy.

We will introduce a new gold standard qualification – the Technical Baccalaureate – for 16-18 year olds and instil real vocational excellence in our FE colleges. We’ll also radically improve the quality and quantity of apprenticeships by introducing new training standards and requiring all firms that wish to bid for a major government contract to offer apprenticeships.

Last week Ed Miliband announced that Labour will introduce new Technical Degrees as the pinnacle of this gold-standard vocational route. Designed and delivered by employers and universities, these degrees will give young people the chance to earn a wage while doing high-level training that sets them up for a high skilled career.

Making such courses available to young people is essential for East Durham and Britain to succeed in the future with a high-skill, high-wage, high-quality economy.

The Tory-led government is incapable of dealing with the long-term economic challenges we face because it’s committed to a race to the bottom built on low pay, low skills, low prospects and low productivity.

Labour knows that the next generation of young people will build the economy we all need to prosper. To do this we need to ensure that there is a real choice between the vocational and academic routes, and that both lead towards successful careers.

Trade Union Heroes: Robert Smillie

Robert SmillieNo deep mines remain in the Durham coalfield but the Durham Miner’s Gala shows that the current of socialism in the North East still runs strong and the hard-fought gains of trade unionism refuse to be forgotten.

On a day in which thousands will march through the streets of Durham carrying banners adorned with renderings of men and women who fought for the interests of the working class, I thought it fitting to write about one of my personal heroes of the trade union and Labour Movement, Robert Smillie.

Born in Belfast in 1857, he was an orphan by the age of three and raised by his Grandmother with whom he and his brother shared a single bed in a one room tenement flat. Aged just fifteen and with almost no education due to the demands of his employment in Belfast’s mills, he left for Glasgow before securing employment in the mines of Larkhall.

It was here that Smillie’s socialist convictions were crystalised. Not by studying the writings of Marx but through years of hard experience Smillie became convinced that only through the solidarity of the working class would the lives of ordinary men and women be improved.

Collectively coal miners were the engine of the nation’s industry, but above ground their fate seemed to be wholly in the hands of the coal-masters. Men would toil for twelve hours a day beneath the ground in dangerous conditions, yet they lived in dire poverty and were subject to arbitrary wage reductions and evictions from their homes. Knowing firsthand the abuses visited upon miners, he made it his life’s work to improve their lot.

Nominated by his peers he became a founder and secretary of the Larkhall Miners Association becoming a skilled and tireless negotiator fighting for the improvement of pay and conditions. This is a recurring pattern in his life, and it embodies some of the traits I admire most in Smillie. He would go on to set up or lead the Trades Union Congress, The Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, the Tipple Alliance, Save the Children, Liberty and the Independent Labour Party, yet he never sought any of these positions. Instead he was always nominated by others who saw in him a tremendous modesty and dedication to the righteous cause of the Labour Movement.

Names such as Smillie’s dear friend Keir Hardie or James Maxton loom large in the history of the Labour Movement but Smillie’s is often forgotten, something I see as a testament to his selfless dedication to those whose lives he sought to better. He is a man who twice turned down Government posts offered by Lloyd George and Ramsey McDonald to better concentrate on the miners’ struggle and who considered securing free school meals as a Larkhall school governor, not his election as a Labour MP, as his finest achievement.

I write about Smillie not just to pay tribute to his unique contributions to the Labour and trade union movement to which we owe so much, but because his virtues of dedication, modesty and selfless humanitarianism continue to serve as an inspiration for our movement moving forward.

Changing the way you vote

IERThe way you register to vote has changed.

 

The Coalition Government have introduced Individual Electoral Registration (IER). Previously, one member of the household could sign up everyone in the property to the electoral register, however, from last month, each individual is required to register, or risk being turned away on polling day.

 

For the vast majority of people currently on the electoral register their details will be transferred to the new register. However, the Government predicts that up to 9 million people risk falling off the register, as their details cannot be matched with details held by the DWP.

 

This will only exacerbate the current crisis in voter under-registration that already exists in the UK. There are already around 6 million eligible voters who are not on the electoral register, with huge disparities between different demographic groups.

 

While 94% of those aged over 65 years old are registered to vote, half of young people aged 18-24 are missing from the electoral register. Only fifty percent of people in private rented accommodation are on the register, compared to 90 percent of homeowners, and fewer people from the BME community are counted compared to white people.

 

These missing voters do not even show up on turnout figures, they are not only disenfranchised, they are invisible.

 

The Coalition Government accelerated progression towards IER in order to guard against fraud, however, according to the Electoral Commission there has been less than 10 proven cases of election fraud. Even, if IER achieves a more secure register, at what cost will it be achieved if millions of voters are disenfranchised.

 

There is less than a year to the election, and we need to ensure our local register is complete to the fullest extent. A new government website has been launched that for the first time allow you to register to vote online. All you will need is your national insurance number, and to answer a few simple questions about yourself. If you need to register to vote, please visit www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.

 

We should be making it easier to vote, and while the website is a welcome addition, our democratic process will be undermined if millions of people are missing from the register and are left disenfranchised from our political process.

 

I would like to see the introduction of IER as a positive step that in the future could enable secure online voting, but more practical innovation would also be welcome, weekend voting or making the General Election a public holiday.

 

Unfortunately, these are currently not on the agenda, and the only mechanism we have to make voting easier and more convenient is postal votes. A postal vote application must be made in writing and forms can be downloaded via the Electoral Commission website – www.aboutmyvote.co.uk.

 

I would like as many people as possible in the Easington constituency to engage in the political process, and to send an important message to government that no matter what changes they make or barriers they create, no one will take your voice or your vote come the next election.