Leveson: Remember our obligations to the victims of Press Abuse.

The Liberal Democrats and Labour have published our Royal Charter proposals. They can be found here

Unlike the Tory plans, our joint Royal Charter:

* Stops editors having a veto over who holds them to account.

* Stops editors from writing their own Code of Conduct.

* Ensures newspapers will have to make an appropriate apology when they get things wrong.

* Ensures third parties can complain about inappropriate press conduct.

 These plans will introduce robust press regulation to ensure that there can be no repeat of the phone-hacking scandal.

The Tories plans  would mean the press could effectively prevent any nominee they wish from joining the board of the regulatory body that will monitor them. They could propose changes to the code of conduct, and the regulatory body would be obliged to accept these proposals. Yet, although the regulatory body would be able to instruct newspapers to apologise publicly in cases of misconduct, it would have no powers to enforce apologies. According to these plans, successive governments could also make changes to these regulations at any time.

The Tories want the press to write their own rules, choose who checks that they are sticking to the rules, and choose their own punishment if they break the rules!

The blueprint drawn out today between the Liberal Democrats and Labour represents a much strengthened version of the Tory plans. Our proposal would ensure that the press regulatory body remains truly independent, and has the teeth to sanction media misconduct, backed by legislation.

Over recent theyear, the press have demonstrated that it is absolutely necessary to have more robust regulation. We must remember the victims of phone hacking, and our obligation to ensure that such wide-scale abuse does not happen again. Our proposals take the right course of action in the wake of media turmoil following years of misconduct. We must ensure that the press acts responsibly, and can restore its reputation in years to come.

Making weak, diluted compromises will not create the lasting change required, and simply creates a regulatory system that is too vulnerable.

National Apprenticeship Week – you should get involved

National Apprentice Week

This week is National Apprenticeship Week.

Across the country businesses, schools, colleges, and universities are working together – with support from the government – to celebrate apprenticeships and encourage young people to take them up.

On Friday I’m jointly hosting a drop-in information event with the National Apprentice Service from 10.30am – 12.30pm for businesses interested in taking on an apprentice, so come and see me.

The drop-in is being held at the Parlour, a gastro pub on Beech Road in Chorlton which took on an apprentice after I contacted them last year.  I contacted over 1,200 businesses in the constituency highlighting National Apprenticeship Week in 2012, which saw the number of apprentices rise from 350 to 630 across my constituency.   I’ve contacted businesses again this year and am hoping for an even bigger increase in 2013.

Thanks to my Liberal Democrat colleagues in government, young people in Manchester have benefited from over 11,000 new apprenticeships since 2010, with nearly 1,500 in my constituency alone. That’s almost double the amount created under Labour.

Apprenticeships are a vital part of the Liberal Democrats’ plan to re-balance our economy away from casino banking. They are also fantastic value for money. Economists reckon every £1 the government spends on apprenticeships boosts our wider economy by £18.

There are some exciting events taking place this week in Manchester – click here if you want to find out more about what’s happening in your area.

Record new company start ups in Manchester in 2012

Last year, a record number of companies were newly registered in Manchester. This is according to a Business Confidence Report from Duport, which you can find a link to here.

According to Duport, a total of 10,603 companies were formed in Manchester in 2012. That’s 13.7% higher than in 2011 and compares well to the UK figure of 8.6% growth on the previous year. These new companies are as varied as they are plentiful, from legal practices and advertising agencies to petrol stations and care services. In more good news for the city, its UK company share rose slightly during 2012, suggesting that Manchester is becoming more and more important to the national economy.

I think that this is fantastic news for Manchester, showing that there is still a huge amount of vitality and strength in our local economy. The Managing Director of Duport.co.uk, Peter Valaitis had this to say about Manchester’s brilliant figures:
“Manchester is an extremely vibrant city with a diverse business base that is helping it to prosper in a difficult economic climate. Our report shows that company formation numbers have been rising sharply since 2008.

“With so many new businesses setting up in the area, the city looks likely to become a very popular location for company formation in years to come.”

Regular readers will know that I am a strong supporter of our city’s growth. Recently, I blogged about the rise in apprenticeships in Manchester, providing hundreds of young people with the skills and experience they need to one day think of starting their own successful companies. I’ve also written about the Lib Dems’ top 10 achievements in government so far, including our creation the Green Investment Bank to unlock billions of pounds of private investment creating thousands more green jobs in Manchester and lots of other measures to boost jobs and growth across the UK like our expansion of the High Speed Rail improvements.

These figures from Duport make for some encouraging reading. They show that Manchester has masses of innovation and potential that need supporting and nurturing, not stifling with higher taxes, unnecessary cuts and irresponsible spending practices by the City Council! I’m excited to see the progress that these companies can make in the next few years, growing and improving as they go. But who knows; perhaps 2013 can be another record year?

SMR Column: Labour making the wrong choices for Manchester

The article that appears in today's SMR was written before Labour's welcome U turn on Withington baths. Congratulations to the @SaveWithyBaths Campaign. But it is proof positive that Labour are making the wrong choices for Manchester.


Manchester’s Labour Party are making the wrong choices in their Council budget. Even though they get £850 per person in grants, compared to £746 per head for Salford and £483 per head for Stockport, they are not spending their money wisely.

Instead of cutting their pet projects and protecting the frontline services, they are doing the opposite.

So £160million is spent doing up the Town Hall. And £12m is spent on new computers, and more well paid lawyers and accountants earning over on £50,000 a year are being taken on. And the Leader’s Chauffeur driven car stays. And they can afford free drinks for footballers and Councillors at an Alicia Keys concert for just under £500k.  And to write off £400,000 owed by other Councils.

And they only collect £92 of every £100 of Council Tax. That equals £52,000,000 owed.

There is £95,000,000 in the Housing Reserves, and £78,000,000 in the General Reserves for rainy days.

Yet front line services are under threat. The baths in Withington, Levenshulme, Miles Platting and on Broadway and the libraries in Burnage, Barlow Moor, Levenshulme, Northenden, New Moston, Miles Platting and Fallowfield could all be saved for £1,688,000.

Yet, unlike Labour run Salford, Labour run Manchester are turning down £1,440,000 which could freeze the Council tax rise at Zero. Labour in Salford think their residents can’t afford a big Council tax increase. Labour in Manchester keep wanting to turn the screw, and put up your Council Tax by nearly 4%.

Before this column is published next Friday, there is a Council Executive meeting.

What has happened in the past two years has followed the same pattern.

First, Labour fiddle the figures to make spending cuts look worse. Then, you cut frontline services. Then, when the community kicks up a stink, you say it’s the Government’s fault. If the community doesn’t believe it, you back down and keep the facilities open.

I think we will have had some Council climb downs before you read this column. Unless, because it is not a Council election year, Labour decide to brazen it out.

This is the third time Labour has done this. In year one, they proposed an extra spend of £30 Million for things like paying more towards a waste levy because our recycling level was so bad, and paying for transport improvements agreed long before this Government came to power. They threatened closure of Levenshulme Baths, the Sure Starts and other front- line services. The community kicked off, and they backtracked.

In year two, they  proposed £50m of extra spending on other projects, and again added them into their  “cuts” figures, And this year, despite the Council admitting that the settlement was “broadly in line” with estimates, they have come up with a claim that more cuts are necessary.

If Labour Manchester collected their Council tax, and took all their grants, and improved the efficiency of their backroom services, they wouldn’t need to close any of these facilities or raise your Council Tax.  They need to make the right choices for Manchester and give Manchester residents the facilities they deserve.

Tory Royal Charter plans will not do what victims, or Leveson, wanted.

Yesterday, the Tories produced their plans for a "Royal Charter" as a response to the Leveson proposals.

I did a Press Conference on behalf of the Lib Dems with Hacked Off, and my comments got  picked up today by The Guardian Channel 4 and the Independent.

I was also interviewed by BBC News 24.

My view is that these plans won’t do the job for those effected by hacking and press intrusion and isn't what Leveson proposed.

There are two major flaws to these plans. First, there is no guarantee in these plans to ensure the Leveson settlement lasts over time. Second, there are elements of the Charter that fall short of Leveson, following discussions between DCMS and the press.

The charter falls short of Leveson in four ways;

1)    Leveson said that the new arbitration process should be free for complainants to use, but this is not guaranteed

2)    Appointments to the regulator - the Charter now allows “influence” from industry where Leveson said explicitly there should be none.

3)    Proposals on the code of conduct, which do not allow the independent board of the regulator to make any amendments to the draft code put forward by the code committee, only to say yes or no to it in totality.

4)    Third party complaints - a high bar is set for a complaint to be considered from anyone other than the affected person.

Hacked Off have done a some analysis of the plans and they think that of Leveson's 30 recommendations only 5 are met, 23 aren't, and two are unclear.




Cllr Simon Wheale: Council Underspend could pay to keep pools open

I have written previously about how Labour in Manchester is making the wrong choices for Manchester.

Unlike nearby Labour Salford, they have turned down £1.5m in grant to freeze the Council Tax, and raised it by a whopping 3,7%. They have reserves of £150million. They are saving just £1.8m trying to close front line services but can still afford to subsidise free drinks for  football stars at an Alicia Keys gig.

I and my colleagues Victor Chamberlain, James Hennigan and Mark Clayton met with the City Treasurer earlier this week to discuss the budget.

In the papers, I noticed that the Council had not spent £1.7m of new Government money for healthy lifestyles in Manchester. This money could save Withington Baths and Leisure Centre, Chorlton Baths and Levenshulme Baths if a plan is put in place to support mass participation in swimming using the extra funding coming into the City Council.

This would be a win-win plan. It would keep the baths open and provide a  physical activity plans for Manchester residents could now be supported from significantly increased Public health grants in the next two financial years.

This funding would go up from £36Million to £40Million from April this year and will then go up further to £44Million from April 2014.

It would be daft for the Council to miss the opportunity provided by this additional money, some of which could be used promote swimming and gym use as good exercise for Manchester residents, if that would also help to secure the future of baths and leisure centres like Withington, Chorlton and Levenshulme.

The City Treasurer confirmed this money could be used to keep these pools open.

Michael Gove's U turn on EBacc exams is welcome.


Yesterday, Michael Gove announced plans to scrap the English Baccalaureate Certificate (EBacc), intended to replace the current GCSE system way of examining.

I welcome the U turn. Whilst I believe that it remains true that we need to reform the system of examinations taken by children at 16, I do not believe that the original proposed plans of introducing the EBacc was the correct approach.

My concerns were shared and expressed across the board by many influential figures from the world of the arts and creative industry, and faced harsh criticism from us Lib Dems, the teaching unions, the education select committee and the qualifications watchdog Ofqual.

It is my belief that it threatened a broad and balanced education. Some arts subjects were being downgraded, with a focus on what was deemed to be traditional, core subjects. It would have seen the exclusion of art, music and drama.

Being a member of the select committee for Culture, Media and Sport, I have seen the important role that creative subjects play in our lives, how it creates growth and jobs for the economy and to have limited the access of these subjects in schools would have been harmful to the many creative industries.

It is in the interest of all pupils to have an examination system that is diverse enough to include subjects from a variety of different topics. The EBacc challenged just that, which is why the revised reforms are a positive compromise.


MP's aren't scaremongering over Disability Tests and ATOS, they are representing their constituents.



There is much coverage this morning about the Audit Select Committee's criticism over disability benefits tests. Unusually, Government ministers have been robust in their defence of the system, and ATOS, the company  who carry out the assessments. They have accused the MP's of scaremongering.

This is simply not true. MP's on the committee are reflecting the concerns I and other have about the rules and recent amendments made to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The assessment system is flawed and I have serious concerns about the ability of ATOS to carry out these assessments properly. But this is not something new. ATOS were taken on by the previous Labour Government and I have dealt with very many cases under both Governments where constituents were wrongly assessed as fit for work.

I have raised my concerns by signing EDM 295,  and have spoken out and criticized the amendments made to the rules in Parliament, including in a general debate earlier this month. I also asked why many of the 40% who have their assessment overturned on appeal, are being recalled and reassessed by ATOS.


Ministers should not be attacking MP's for doing their job. They should be dealing with their legitimate concerns.


Internet Safety Day 2013: How to Stay Safe online

stay safe online

Yesterday was Safer Internet day, but I was too busy voting on the Marriage Equality Bill to blog on it.

I believe we have a responsibility as a society to protect young people and ensure they have a secure and happy childhood. In relation to the internet I think this can be best achieved through parents supervising and communicating with their children.

Although there are pressures to legislate for automatic filters, and force the providers to act, the danger with this is that it lulls parents into false sense of security. There is  a risk that parents will falsely think their children are safe when this is not necessarily the case. No system that can be put in place would be foolproof and there is a danger that some parents would think that the filters mean that there was no need for parental supervision. There is no substitute for being vigilant and engaging with your children and educating them.

Here is a link to the BBC's Newsround Web page, which gives good advice for families to follow.



MEN article: Safe standing will give us more choice and cheaper tickets.


I must begin by declaring an interest. I’ve been a season ticket holder at City for 29 years, and have been to away games at 42 different league grounds over the years. I have seen the highs and lows- relegation to the third tier and away trips to Oxford Utd and Grimsby, and winning the title in injury time last May. It means I am more of a fan than the average MP. I am also a member of the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee

Just this week, my Committee argued that the structure and rules governing the game in England is in drastic need of reform. The report’s recommends establishing a policy on ticket prices, greater representation for supporters and a fairer distribution of funds.

The report calls for football to put its house in order, and to legislate if they don’t.

None of this will come as news to football fans. Everyone with an interest in football knows that the game is too reliant on TV, too obsessed with the premiership and the big clubs, the wealth isn’t fairly spread out, and the fans hardly get a look in at most clubs.

Any system that ends up with twelve out of the twenty clubs in the Premier League ending the season in debt knows that that is not sustainable in the long run.

Last month, after City returned 900 tickets, the Manchester Evening News was rightly critical of Arsenal for charging City fans £62 to watch the game. No-one wants football to become only affordable to the rich, but working class fans can’t afford, or will not put up with having to pay extortionate prices to see their team play.

Arsenal’s argument was that they have a tiered price structure, and now City are champions they were a tier A club. I don’t accept their argument. It is just an excuse to screw over both their home fans and away fans.

A Premier League match costs the same to put on no matter who the opponents is. It is becoming harder for loyal fans to travel to away days and a review of this is long overdue. A ticket for an away fan should be pegged at the same price as the best deal for a home fan. And capped at a reasonable level.

One sure way to reduce ticket prices, and increase choice, would be to introduce “safe standing” at matches. It is supported by many fans groups, including the Football Supporters Federation and Supporters Direct

For Champions League games, UEFA operate an all seater policy, like it is in England for all games.

However, several countries in Europe and worldwide, like Germany, Austria, Sweden, Canada and the United States, have “safe standing” for domestic fixture.

For years, no-one over here would talk about safe standing. A generation of football fans were scarred by the tragedy at Hillsborough, when 96 innocent Liverpool fans died.

After the Hillsborough tragedy, the metal fences, put up as a result of hooliganism in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, came down, and all-seater stadiums were introduced. But the recent report into Hillsborough did not blame the disaster on the fact that there were terraces, they rightly blamed poor decision making by those in charge of the emergency services.

Last December, I went to see City play Borussia Dortmund at their stadium. For league games, Dortmund operate safe standing, with tickets from about 14 Euros (£12.50) and this gives them a capacity of 80,600 (15,000 more than for Champions League Games).

I genuinely believe that safe standing would be better than the current arrangement when people stand up in seated area for most of the game.

Surely, safe standing is an idea whose time has come. More fans, more choice, cheaper seats, better atmosphere. That would be one reform I would support.



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