This afternoon I spoke with staff at Barnado's and their charity partner Royal Mail. I heard about the success that they have had in getting young people who had dropped out of education into training and learning new skills.
One Barnado's member of staff told me about the Wheels project that has successfully trained a number of young people in car mechanics and maintenance, with 93% of young people getting jobs or entering further education or training.http://www.barnardos.org.uk/news_and_events/celebrity_news/celebrity_news_wheels_project.htm
I'd like to take the opportunity to wish everyone a very happy St Patrick's Day, particularly to the many Irish and people with Irish connections across Manchester.
It's great to see so many events going on across the area during the 15th Irish Festival. Wherever you are going to celebrate the big day, I hope you enjoy the craic!
I willl be toasting the significant contribution that the Irish have, and continue to play in Manchester life - Beannacht Lá Fhéile Pádraig
For more information on the festival log onto manchesteririshfestival.co.uk
I attended a reception held by the Vote Cruelty Free campaign where I learnt about the work that the group is doing.
Vote Cruelty Free is a coalition of five different animal welfare charities: BUAV, Compassion in World Farming, IFAW, League Against Cruel Sports and Respect for Animals and covers a broad range of animal welfare issues. They oppose animal experiments on ethical grounds and call on the Government to ban testing of household products on animals as well as banning the use of dogs in research.
Public support for the hunting ban has been strong and recent prosecution figures show that the Hunting Act is very much enforceble. Support for groups such as Vote Cruelty Free is essential to ensure cruel treatment of animals is prevented and strong support for the ban is maintained.
I am against any repeal of the Hunting Act and would actually like to see the law strengthened so that any loopholes that still allow people to hunt are closed. I also support strengthening legislation in the future to make sure that the Act is enforced properly.
More information about Vote Cruelty Free can be found here.
Last week AstraZeneca announced it would be axing up to two hundred jobs from their European Business Services Centre in Chorlton. This is a big blow, particularly as the economy's recovery still appears to be weak and as unemployment in the area remains at a high number.
The jobs that are to be lost are skilled accounting and finance positions and those affected will have to either apply for other posts or be redeployed elsewhere.
I have written to the CEO of AstraZeneca asking if there is anything that can be done to mitigate the job losses. While I understand that in these difficult times companies feel the need to restructure to cut costs, it is imperative that such highly skilled people are supported and their skills retained where possible.
The full article can be read on the Manchester Evening News Website here:
Image source: http://worksmarternotharder.wordpress.com/
I recently received a confirmation letter from Lord Adonis, Secretary of State for Transport about the Government's plans for a High Speed Rail network.
High Speed Rail has been around for a while now - we are all familiar with the high speed network in France and Germany and the benefits they have brought. I believe High Speed 2 can bring similar benefits to the UK as well. The traditional railway network has been allowed to become overcrowded and expensive, encouraging people onto cheap but much more polluting short-haul flights. A high speed network would help alleviate these capacity problems.
High Speed Rail services typically travel at or above 250 km/h (155mph) and under current estimates, this would put London within 80 minutes of Manchester. Considering current journey times, this is much better than flying. A well-planned high speed network will encourage people off planes and onto rail, saving a lot of time and cutting plane emissions.
Most importantly High Speed Rail typically has a very high passenger capacity - frequent long distance high speed trains have the ability to provide up to around 15,000 seats per hour in each direction into London, which far out-strips short haul flights in and out of London's airports. Capacity on the current network would then be freed up for more freight services or local and regional passenger services. It could also operate in a more capacity-efficient manner, with greater harmonisation of operating speeds and stopping patterns. The biggest benefit of all would be that, as passengers shift to High Speed Rail, short-haul domestic flights can be reduced, removing the need for airport expansion in the South East.
A further review will follow Lord Adonis' announcement and a full public consultation will be launched in the autumn. More information on High Speed 2's proposals can be found here, while the MENs coverage of the issue can be accessed here.
This afternoon I attended the All Party PCS group to get an update on progress in trying to resolve the issue of the Civil Service Compensation Scheme.
The Government wants to restrict the compensation payable to civil servants in the event of redundancy. They argue that the new conditions will still mean that Civil Servants have favourable compensation terms in the event of losing their jobs.
What it doesn't consider is that these conditions were previously agreed and it is simply unfair to change the goalposts years down the line. Public sector workers shouldn't have to pay the price for the mistakes of the banks and the Government, but they seem to be considered to be an easy target.
To make matters worse, 1000s of public sectors workers have taken voluntary (and in some cases compulsory) redundancy in recent times. Others have volunteered for voluntary redundancy and have been turned down - these same staff will lose some of their redundancy entitlement and then probably face compulsory redundancy under the new, worse conditions.
This morning I met with a group of children from Cavendish Primary (where I am a school Governor) and two teachers, including the headteacher Janet Marland.
The children are members of the school Council and it was an opportunity for them to visit the House of Commons and see the workings of Parliament. My office arranged for the group to have a tour of Parliament and I took them round other parts of the building that they wouldn't see on the tour.
It was great to see the enthusiasm the children had and their inquisitive nature kept me on my toes!
I was disappointed to see the results of the national report published by the police inspectorate at the end of last week, which ranked Greater Manchester Police alongside Notthinghamshire and Lincolnshire as the lowest-performing of all 43 police forces in the country.
Particularly concerning was the fact the force was rated as ‘poor’ in crucial areas such as ‘solving crimes’ and ‘public confidence’. This is in addition to the recent news that the GMP is planning to cut the number of officers, and criticism in another report that highlighted the lack of strategic planning for policing in the region.
While there is no question that local police officers here in South Manchester do a brilliant job in helping to keeping people safe across Greater Manchester, the organisation itself faces serious questions as to whether it provides police officers with the appropriate support that they need to do their jobs. GMP has been starved of the money it needs to police our streets - that's why the Lib Dems have pledged to put an extra 3000 police officers on our streets nationwide.
For more on the GMP’s recent problems, see the following links:
- GMP to lose 300 officers in budget cuts – MEN – 03 December 2009
- ‘Missing £80m’ from war on crime – MEN – 29 January 2010
- Cops watchdog gets a mauling from inspectors – MEN – 25 February 2010
- GMP: A struggling force for concern – MEN – 10 March 2010
Last night as I was leaving my office I bumped into someone who wanted to talk to me about Bob Graham.
Some people may remember that about three years ago there was a story in the MEN and South Manchester Reporter about how I had managed to locate the whereabouts of the Bob Graham Memorial trophy for his mother Peggy Graham.
In 1967 Bob - a talented footballer who was courted by Manchester City - died while playing for Barclays' Manchester and District XI. Bob, who was 24 when he died, played for Runcorn in the non-league and captained the Barclays team.
The following year the bank set up a competition in Bob's honour called the Barclays Bob Graham Trophy, which was contested by bank teams from all over the country.
The annual tournament came to an end in 1993, and the trophy itself ended up in a Barclays bank in Northamptonshire, where it was closeted away in a cupboard and left to gather dust for 14 years.
I'd bumped into Peggy and she had asked me about the trophy's whereabouts. After contacting Barclays the trophy was found in a cupboard in one of the Barclays branches, and the trophy was returned to Peggy and this was reported in the papers.
The person I spoke to last night was telling me how he had sent the press cuttings to an old friend of Bob Graham in South Africa, and that he had been in touch and wanted to contact Peggy. He asked me if I knew where Peggy was now. Unfortunately Peggy has passed away, but it was nice to hear that news of the Bob Graham Memorial trophy had reached another continent!
Last night Catherine and I went to the Withington Civic Society quiz night at St Paul's in Withington.
It was a great evening and amazingly our team (made up of me and Catherine and Rob Mackle and the Old Moat Lib Dems) won! I don't think that I've ever won a "pub style" quiz before, mainly because there are usually loads of music questions and my knowledge of music is terrible.
The quiz included a picture round, with aerial photos of places in Withington, and a geography round with a map of Manchester.
Fortunately we had a couple of people on our team who had encyclopaedic knowledge of TV programmes and theme tunes, because the only ones that I knew were Bergerac and Question Time!
Congratulations to everyone involved in organising the event, which everyone really enjoyed.