Chorlton Leisure Centre Revamp

Chorlton Leisure Centre has been given a face-lift as part of a city-wide programme of improvements across lesire facilites in Manchester. Improvements were made to upgrade the sqash courts, refurbish the health and fitness suite and install a new filtration system for the pool; amazingly the old filtration system had not been working effectively for 15 years!
The Leisure Centre, built in 1929, is one of the oldest in Manchester but has been left behind by this Labour council.
Cllr Paul Ankers called for a report on the state of Manchester Leisure Centres last year and as a result secured significant investment for Chorlton Lesire Centre. The report also concluded that Chorlton Leisure Centre was 'in the lowest quartile for customer satisfaction'

The Chorlton Leisure centre has been subject to a number of complaints recieved from concerned residents addressed both to me and Chorlton Lib Dems.
Victor Chamberlain & Cllr Paul Ankers have been working very hard alongsige me campaigning to give Chorlton the Leisure Centre it deserves. We carried out a number of surveys and voiced the concerns of local residents.

The recent investment did see a great deal of money spent of the centre but much of the work carried out was essential repairs. This recent investment in the Leisure Centre is certainly welcome however we feel it is not enough and Chorlton needs a proper Leisure Centre for the 21st Century.

Robin Hood Tax?

I have been contacted by a number of constituents via twitter and email about my views on the Robin Hood Tax concept; I also attended the Parliamentary briefing on the tax last week.
The Robin Hood Tax concept is also known as the "Tobin Tax" as it was proposed by economist James Tobin.
The basic concept of the "Tobin Tax" would mean that governments take 0.05% from international bankers' transactions and this would create hundreds of billions of pounds a year to be spent on vital services and help fight global poverty and climate change both at home and abroad. Initial estimations have reported that by taking 0.05% of speculative banking transactions, around £263 billion would be raised globally every year, which would be split with half spent in the country where it was generated and the other half going to developing countries

The Robin Hood Tax campaign has develoved a great deal of momentum recently with over 120,000 fans on Facebook and almost 3,000 followers on Facebook. On the campaign's website (www.robinhoodtax.org.uk) 61,000 people have voted in favour of the tax with 6,100 voting against. Along with this online support, over 80 domestic charities, faith organisations and unions including Oxfam, Unicef UK and Bernado's have pledged their official support.

The concept of a financial transaction is a good idea in principle and it is something that the Liberal Democrats would be happy to persue. Although I am told it would be technically possible to levy such a small transaction tax on sterling transactions alone, it would be much better to have a common approach by leading financial centres including the US, German, French and Swiss governments. These proceeds could then be used for funding overseas developments.

The 'Tobin Tax' concept has been hampered by a number of issues ranging from techincal problems with its implementation and conflicting arguments about how best to use the revenue.
In the meantime the Liberal Democrats have proposed to create an immediate new levy on bank profits at the rate of 10% in recognition of the taxpayer support the banks have recieved. This proposed banking levy would be expected to yield around £2bn next year and could be used to tackle the UK structural deficit.

The Politics Show at The Metropolitan

This lunchtime I went "head to head" with Labour on the Politics Show. We were discussing the use of new media and how this is influencing the local campaign. New media is important, but it is no substitute for traditional methods of engaging with constituents. I might have only a few hundred Facebook "friends", but in my 5 years in Parliament I've helped over 20,000 constituents with individual cases, and that's before you add on all the campaigns where I am contacted by several hundred people all about the same issue. New media can also land politicians in hot water. I remember the reaction of people in Chorlton when one of Labour's local election candidates for the Constituency compared them to the fictional residents of the Chatsworth estate in the Channel 4 series "Shameless". It amazes me that he has been allowed to stand for the party after the "Chatsworth" gaffe.

We then went on to discuss about the issues that will matter the most in the next election. I said that the election in Withington is about who will stand up for South Manchester and protect local services. Where were Labour when I was campaigning to save Ewing School with the parents, teachers and Governors and Lib Dem councillors? They were supporting the decision of the Labour Council to close it! The same can be said for the closure of Burnage Walk in Centre when I challenged Gordon Brown on the decision to close it. So much for standing up for local people.

The final discussion was about the impact of the student vote. I reminded Arif, the interviewer, that when we'd spoken at Conference I had assured him that despite the economic climate we would still maintain our manifesto commitment to abolish tuition fees. Our manifesto is all about fairness - a fair start for young people, whether it's the pupil premium to target extra resources where they are needed, or a commitment to free education. The stark choice for students will be a Lib Dem commitment to abolish tuition fees, or a Labour Party that will increase them after the election.

Withington Civic Society AGM

This afternoon I attended the AGM of Withington Civic Society at Withington Methodist Church. The AGM is always very well attended; Roger Smith the Chairman gave an update on the year's work, including a discussion on the successful campaign to tackle the spread of Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) in South Manchester. It's interesting that Labour have tried to claim the credit for the proposed changes, when Roger reminded everyone how he had come down to Parliament with Lib Dem Councillor Simon Wheale and we had met up with the Minister to argue the case for a change in the law. I don't think we can overstate the energy and effort by Roger and other members of the Civic Society in forcing the Government into changing the law, and it is people like Roger that deserve the credit, not the Labour Party.

Injured birds and the RSPCA

This evening I rescued a bird from outside my office that was lying injured in the road. I know that sometimes they just go into shock and then recover, but there is no way that it would have survived in the middle of the road - it would either have been squashed by a car, or easy prey for a cat.
Unfortunately the bird has not recovered fully and I had no idea what to do. Fortunately the RSPCA are going to pick the bird up and hopefully nurse it back to health. It's times like this that you appreciate the work that charities do.

NHS Cuts

This morning I was at a meeting of the Associate Parliamentary Health Group for a discussion about the the financial challenges facing the NHS. Sir David Nicholson, the Chief Executive of the NHS has recently highlighted the need to find "efficiency savings" of between £15-£20 billion, (which equates to about £1 billion in Greater Manchester).

I was shocked to hear members of the panel, including the Acting Chair of the Care Quality Commission, arguing that politicians should take "tough decisions" and support the closure of frontline services - whether it be A&E departments or walk-in centres or even hospitals! I'm all for cutting the ridiculous costs involved in a new IT system, but not cutting vital local health services.
I will certainly NOT be supporting the closure frontline services. Unlike the Labour Party I didn't stay silent when Manchester PCT decided to close Burnage walk-in centre at the end of last year; nor did I stay silent when the Strategic Health Authority reviewed services at the Christie before the last election and doctors raised concern about the impact this would have on the future of The Christie.
People in South Manchester can be assured that any attempt to cut further frontline services in South Manchester will be vigourously opposed by me.

For more on the NHS cuts, see the following links articles:

NHS chiefs told to slash spending by £1bn - MEN - 25 February
Where NHS axe will fall to save £950m - MEN - 8 March

RNIB and Audio Description

This afternoon I supported an event held in Parliament by Royal National Institute of Blind people (RNIB) about extending audio description (AD). AD is an additional commentary that describes action, body language and movement that someone with sight loss would miss. It's available on digital TV, on DVDs, in the cinema, at galleries and museums and even major sporting venues and exhibition centres.
At the moment the Communications Act 2003 only requires 10% of TV programmes to be audio described, which limits access to people with sight loss. In 2006 Ofcom concluded that they could not recommend an increase to the 10% target for programmes with AD, but after much campaigning from RNIB Ofcom repeated their Access Service Review, and this is likely to recommend increasing AD to 20%.
The event in Parliament this afternoon was to raise support from politicians to ensure that if Ofcom do recommend an increase, that the necessary change to the legislation will be implemented after the General Election. I'm certainly committed to it, and the Lib Dems will support the change in legislation to make sure that we increase TV access for the blind and partially-sighted.

Liquid Scanning

This morning I met with the Chief Executive of a company called Kromek to discuss the issue of scanners at airports. They have developed a scanner that can identify liquid explosives without opening the container. The liquid is placed in a specially designed container in the scanner, which then scans the molecular structure of the liquid and is able to identify explosives within 25 seconds.
This technology could help to resolve the problem of passengers having to dispose of their liquids before going through security.

Burton Road Botch up!

After eight months of campaigning by myself and local campaigner Rob Mackle, the Highways department have finally admitted that the pedestrian safety issue had not been solved by the construction of the island, outside of the Old House at Home pub, Burton Road, in Spring 2009.
The Highways department have contacted me to inform me they are actively looking at installing a new zebra crossing or pedestrian island further up the road.
Rob Mackle and I had recieved a number of complaints from local residents, it was clear the new island was dangerous and completely ineffective at improving road safety.
Simply put, the island needs to be removed and a proper pedestrian crossing installed, possibly just yards down the road. Public safety should be worth the money, especially since we have been campaigning for this for many months and several accidents have already happened.

Campaigning in Chorlton

I spend the morning in Chorlton delivering leaflets, before we went out canvassing in the afternoon. Again on the doorstep we had some very positive feedback which is always a great to recieve.
I was given special permission to leave early to go and watch the City v Liverpool game, but I felt more than a little guilty leaving the rest of the team knocking on doors in the snow! Another uninspiring performance from City and a nil nil draw.

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