SMR Column: Supporting local Apprenticeships.


Just last week, along with Chorlton Park Councillor Norman Lewis, I had the pleasure of meeting some of the new apprentices at Southway Housing Trust. The trust is one of the many organisations doing good work and getting involved in providing apprenticeships to help create jobs in our area.


Since 2010 the Liberal Democrats have helped the private sector to create 1.4 million new jobs in the UK and we aim to create 1 million more by 2015. We have also led to a record rise in apprenticeships, including 1500 new apprentices in our area, up 80% on 2010.

After meeting with the apprentices at head office we went off to meet other apprentices working on the new Merseybank Community development that is being built by Wates, which will encompass the new community centre and library along with new social housing apartments, which are so desperately needed in our area.   This development is particularly close to my heart since I first put forward the idea of joint service centre over a decade ago after our library was tragically burnt down.


The development has certainly been a long time coming and has been made possible through Southway commitment to providing more affordable housing. I was very impressed with the enthusiasm of the staff at the development, and particularly the apprentices themselves. I met apprentices like Sean, Leighton and John, who are local lads, for whom this apprenticeship has given them the opportunity to learn new skills and has given them step-up in life.


But this is only a start. Although unemployment is down on the 2010 General Election level; more needs to be done. There are still too many local people out of work.  That is why I want to continue to support job creation in South Manchester and support organisations like Southway who are doing their bit to employ and train local young people.





Cut the cost of motoring, but not at the expense of safety.

As a former member of the Transport Select Committee and road safety charity Brake’s MP of the year I support today’s Government announcements to cut the cost of motoring across the UK.

In July 2012 I wrote of the need to clamp down on fraudulent compensation claims which are costing Manchester motorists thousands each year. This is why I welcome the Governments plans to enforce more robust medical examination for whiplash claimants.

The UK suffers a disproportionately high number of whiplash cases per year compared with the rest of Europe, many of which are thought to be bogus. These false claims drive up car insurance premiums adding £118 to each policy according to a report by Aviva.

This is unfair on the majority of safe drivers and the Government is right to act. I also support the freezing the maximum cost of an MoT at £54.85 until 2015.

In addition there will be a pilot a scheme to put fuel price comparison sites on major roads and motorways. This will give the customer a better chance to get the best deal and will create more competition amongst petrol retailers which will put a lid on rising fuel costs.

This is on top of cancelling Labour’s planned rises in petrol duty from their 2009 budget which would have seen a yearly rise in petrol duty of inflation plus a penny. Petrol is now 10p a litre cheaper than if Labour would have been in power. These measures are all designed to save money for the 30 million drivers in the UK.

Improving transport in South Manchester has been one of my top priorities since I first entered politics. This government has finally delivered Metrolink locally, after Labour cancelled it twice. HS2 will help boost the Manchester Economy and create jobs.

I introduced a private members bill to improve road safety Local Chorlton Councillor Victor Chamberlain successfully got the Council to adopt the Twenty’s Plenty campaign. Cycle users in Greater Manchester are getting a £20 million boost to improve cycling safety across the area combined with these new initiatives shows that we are making great strides in making our roads safer and more affordable for everyone.

Speech on the Future of the BBC: 21st October 2013

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair for the first time since you were elected, Madam Deputy Speaker. I find myself saying, for the first time in my eight-and-a-half years in Parliament, that it is a pleasure to follow Chris Bryant.

I agreed with almost everything he said, which is a fairly uncommon occurrence.

I am delighted to speak in this important debate about the future of the BBC. It is particularly timely, given that the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee is soon to begin a major inquiry into its future. No doubt, this debate will help to set the scene for our inquiry and to show the wide range of views of politicians on both sides of the House on what the BBC should look like in the future.

I make no apology for expressing my full support for the BBC and for being committed to supporting the long-term future of its top-quality public service broadcasting, but as my predecessor as Lib Dem spokesperson for Culture, Media and Sport, the now Comptroller of Her Majesty's Household, my right hon. Friend Mr Foster, so rightly said, because it is funded by everyone, it is in the unenviable position of having to please everyone, which is impossible.

Unfortunately, it has become increasingly fashionable to attack the BBC, particularly in the light of recent revelations about payoffs to senior executives, allegations of bullying and question marks over the handling of the Jimmy Savile affair.

The BBC cannot be immune to criticism and its detractors are right that it is not perfect and sometimes gets it wrong. For instance, spending £25 million on severance payments for 150 senior managers—an average payout of £164,000—simply cannot be justified, and people were rightly mystified to hear of a £500,000 payment to the former director-general, George Entwistle, given that he had apparently resigned and that this exceeded his terms and conditions.

Having said that, however, under the leadership of Tony Hall, the new director-general, there are clear signs that the BBC is rising to the challenge and addressing these shortcomings. For instance, the £150,000 or 12-month salary cap on redundancy payments is very welcome, as is the commitment to removing so-called gagging clauses from BBC contracts and compromise agreements.

The BBC needs to draw a line under these damaging revelations and concentrate on what it does best: providing top-quality programming and completing its efficiency savings without damaging its position as the best public service broadcaster.

Nobody can doubt that the six-year freeze created a massive challenge for the BBC—a real-terms 20% budget cut over the period—at the same time as it had to take on responsibility for £340 million of spending, including the World Service, S4C, local television and the roll-out of superfast broadband, but at the same time, the BBC was guaranteed its funding over that six-year period, which provided much-needed certainty.

As we move forward, it is vital that this certainty be retained and that the BBC be in a position to plan for its future well into the next decade.

The cuts have certainly not been easy: good-quality local programming has been lost in the regions, including in Manchester with Radio Manchester, while more than 2,000 jobs have been lost, on top of the thousands that went under the value-for-money, cost-cutting exercise.

The number of senior management posts has been reduced by 30% since 2009, while the National Union of Journalists has raised serious concerns about the loss of investigative journalists and the potential impact on the quality of programming; and that is before recognition from management that further savings still need to be made.

By 2017, the BBC will look radically different from the one that began this process of cost cutting, but despite the significant cuts, the BBC has maintained its popularity: 96% of the UK population access BBC content in an average week; audiences spend on average almost 19 hours with the BBC each week across all its services; when asked which media provider they most trusted, 58% of people said the BBC, which was well ahead of its nearest rival, which was ITV on 14%; 78% of the public are glad that the BBC exists, up from 71% in 2008; and 76% of the public think the BBC maintains high standards of quality, up from 66% in 2008.
Unfortunately, Dame Tessa Jowell beat me to it, when she said that those are the sort of polling figures that politicians can only dream of.

Despite its challenges and the resistance from some, the move to Media City has also been a great success and was achieved under budget. It has been a massive bonus for the north-west economy and an engine for further economic regeneration for that part of Greater Manchester. Investment in Cardiff and Glasgow has brought about similar success in Wales and Scotland.

Stephen McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak, Labour)

While it is good that we can point to investment in Glasgow, Cardiff and Manchester, are other parts of the country not entitled to a similar return, and have Birmingham and the midlands not done badly out of the distribution of spend so far?

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

I recognise that Birmingham has done badly out of the move to the regions, but the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, as a Manchester MP, for welcoming investment in Greater Manchester. Nevertheless, I accept his point.

If the BBC is to continue to succeed and maintain its position and reputation, the Government must commit to its long-term future. It is unrealistic for the BBC to expect a real-terms increase in its funding after 2017, but at the same time it is unrealistic for the Government to expect that further real-term cuts can be sustained without damaging the BBC and compromising the quality of programming.

Steve Brine (Winchester, Conservative)

Although it might be unrealistic to expect those things, further to the point I made to the Chairman of the Select Committee, does the hon. Gentleman accept that it might be realistic for the BBC to stop doing some things, in certain creative spaces, and focus on doing what it is good at and what a “public broadcaster” should be doing?

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman, because there is strong evidence to suggest that the BBC producing such content actually drives quality in the commercial market. There is little doubt in my mind that further funding cuts would be seriously damaging to the future quality of programming.

Alun Cairns (Vale of Glamorgan, Conservative)

I find it strange that the hon. Gentleman thinks that further cuts would damage the BBC’s output. Have several examples not been aired already during this debate of significant waste? The digital media initiative cost £100 million, while the payoffs to BBC executives also cost significant sums—£329 million to 7,500 members of staff. Those are examples of money that has not gone into broadcasting, which is the purpose of the BBC.

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

Certainly, there are examples of money not going into broadcasting, but I think the new director-general has got a grip of what has gone on in the past, and I would expect it not to happen in the future. One good example is the restriction of payoffs for senior executives to a year’s salary or £150,000, which is line with senior civil servants. My biggest concern is that future cuts to BBC funding would be most severely felt in local and regional broadcasting.

If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to make a little progress, I will give way.

The cuts have already seriously stretched resources in local and regional broadcasting, and no doubt further cuts would have a severe impact, which is why we must ensure that there are no further cuts to the BBC after the six-year licence fee freeze comes to an end.

Gareth Johnson (Dartford, Conservative)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his patience. Does that not effectively mean saying to doctors, nurses, police officers and firemen, “You can’t have any more salary”, but to the BBC, “Here you are BBC, here’s an increase”?

John Leech (Manchester, Withington, Liberal Democrat)

That is not what I am saying. Had the hon. Gentleman let me continue for two more seconds, he would have heard me say that we should commit to inflation-linked rises in the licence fee after 2017, with a similar commitment to maintaining inflation-linked rises for at least the next five to six years.

I realise that that would not be popular with some hon. Members, who believe that the licence fee should be scrapped altogether or reduced, but the current £145.50 fee works out at about 40p a day to watch the BBC, compared with around four times that amount for Sky.

Furthermore, about a quarter of Sky viewing involves BBC programming that people have already paid for. The BBC is good value for money.

Good quality public service broadcasting sets the bar high and ensures good quality commercial broadcasting, because the commercial quality needs to be good to compete.

Where public service broadcasting is poor, the commercial sector does not need to provide high-quality programming to gain market share. The BBC sets the bar high, and needs to continue to do so. Recent research shows that public service broadcasting raises audience expectations and forces the commercial sector to raise its game too.

Enhanced quality in the commercial sector then challenges public service broadcasters to achieve ever-higher levels of quality and investment to sustain public service broadcasting’s distinctiveness.

Some hon. Members have questioned whether the BBC needs to continue to create certain programmes when commercial broadcasters such as Sky are now producing good-quality content. I would argue strongly that Sky is now doing that precisely in order to compete with the BBC, rather than the other way round.

Owing to time constraints, I have concentrated my brief comments on the future funding of the BBC. I make no apology for doing so, because that funding is vital to its long-term future.

If I had had more time, I would have liked to cover many more of the BBC’s opportunities and challenges. I shall briefly mention four of them.

One opportunity relates to the success of BBC Worldwide and the need to encourage it to do even more. It generated more than £1 billion in revenue in 2011-12, and there is plenty of scope for improving on that figure.

Secondly, I would have liked to talk about the BBC’s role in sport, and particularly its role in enhancing and showcasing women in sport.

Thirdly, we need to end the anomaly whereby the BBC pays Sky to have its programmes on Sky’s platform. That is a ludicrous situation and it needs to come to an end. It should be the other way round, because Sky benefits from having BBC programmes on its platform. At the very least, the arrangement needs to be cost neutral; the BBC should not be paying.

Finally, there is a need to protect public service broadcasting through guaranteed positioning on the electronic programming guide. That is a bit of a geeky issue, but I hope that the Select Committee will look into it as part of our BBC inquiry. The electronic programming guide could become even more important as television changes in the coming decades, and we need to set it in stone that public service broadcasting will have the prominence that it deserves on the electronic programming guide.


16,000 job boost for Manchester Airport

My top priority as a local MP is to help create local jobs. So there is some great news for Greater Manchester today with the announcement of 16,000 plus jobs at Manchester Airport.

This announcement has not happened by chance, and it should not be viewed in isolation.

The Airport sits at the heart of the  Government’s Greater Manchester Enterprise Zone, which means companies coming to the Airport get reduced business rates and cheaper rental cost.

This “Airport City” adds to the 60,000 new jobs HS2 will bring to the area and go even further in bridging the North-South divide.  Since 2010 the Liberal Democrats in Government have helped to create 1.4m new private sector jobs in the UK and aim to create a million more by 2015.”

HS2 and “Airport City” will give South Manchester businesses both large and small the chance to expand into overseas markets and thrive. In addition, we have the City Deal, which Manchester’s Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein rightly described as a “game changer” for Manchester.

The City Deal allows local accountability, and will create 6000 new apprenticeships. This on top of the doubling of apprenticeships under this Government. We also have the £200million Regional Growth fund, which is helping small Businesses like Ruk-Bug create local jobs

And In addition, there were over 10,000 new business start-ups in Manchester last year, cutting local unemployment by 6%, and a £1.4bn investment in an improved Metrolink service Labour twice cancelled when they were in power.

All this means that local unemployment is down on where it was at the election in 2010. All this is positive, but more still needs to be done to create more jobs for local people in south Manchester.

Guest Blog: Tom Mellor – Why the UK Should Say No To A Winter World Cup in 2022.

Hi I’m Tom Mellor. I am volunteering at John Leech MP’s office for the next few months. Part of my training is to write a blog on something I feel strongly about. Here is my guest blog about the 2022 World Cup finals.

Three years ago FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar was met with a mixture of surprise and curiosity. The oil rich Middle Eastern nation is not renowned for its sporting history and serious concerns were raised over the practicality of playing a football tournament in the middle of summer in a desert nation.

Qatar officials were quick to dismiss these fears promising fully air conditioned stadiums and “cloud creating” technology which would ensure the World Cup would go ahead safely. Now just three years later FIFA officials are giving serious consideration to switching the 2022 World Cup to the winter making a mockery out of the entire bidding process.

At the start of October John Leech called for a switch in hosts if a Qatar would be unable to deliver a summer World Cup. I couldn’t agree more.

When Qatar bid for the 2022 World Cup they were competing against the USA, Japan and Turkey to deliver a summer World Cup. Now that there bid has been accepted they should deliver what was promised. If they can’t do that then they cannot host the tournament and the UK government should join John Leech in that very clear.

Claims over mistreatment of migrant workers building the un-air conditioned stadium raise further questions over Qatar’s eligibility to host such a prestigious tournament, all the more reason for the UK to put pressure on FIFA to explain their decision.

There are additional reasons a winter world cup would not be feasible. The FA has suggested a winter world cup would create “at least three years” of disruption with the league having to adjust its schedule well in advance to accommodate a winter world cup. This would also affect player’s contracts and the transfer window, if that is still in place by then.

There is also the question as to whether the winter World Cup would be held in January 2022, clashing with the Winter Olympics and disrupting the 21/22 football season, or November/December 2022, disrupting the 22/23 football season. Such uncertainty is bad for fans and teams alike and FIFA has created a huge problem for itself by entertaining the idea of a Winter World Cup.

I hope for the fans sake that FIFA, the FA and all the relevant bodies reject a winter world cup. In the meantime the UK should take the lead in putting pressure on FIFA to ensure common sense wins the day and World Cup 2022 takes place in the summer where it belongs.

SMR: Didsbury business Ruk-Bug creates 40 local jobs

As I have said before in this column, my job is to be there to help local people when they need me.

Last week, Didsbury’s Russ Clifton got some good news. His company, Ruk-Bug, got a £250,000 loan from the Government’s Regional Growth Fund to develop its first product, Migration. This loan is being matched by the banks

This means they will be creating 40 new jobs across South Manchester.

This is great news for the local economy and reflects a wider trend of local unemployment dropping. It is now at a lower level than at the General Election in 2010.

The Ruk-Bug is a lightweight pram designed for functionality and safety which can be easily carried as a rucksack, keeping parents hands free.  You can read more about the company at

Russ spent three years developing the Ruk-Bug and another two years seeking funding to launch the product.

In this time Russ faced numerous challenges and blockages to getting funding for his company as banks were extremely reluctant to invest in business following the financial crash of 2008.

I was happy to be at the end of the phone to support Russ when he needed it through the bidding process.

I met with Vince Cable to discuss Ruk-Bug and ask him to make the bidding process more user-friendly in the future.

Ruk-Bug is an example of the £3.2bn Regional Growth Fund working to support small and medium-sized businesses. Almost half a million jobs have been created as a direct result of the Fund

Since 2010 the Liberal Democrats have helped the private sector to create 1.4 million new jobs in the UK and we aim to create 1 million more by 2015.

We have also delivered locally on apprenticeships. Last year, apprenticeships in Manchester went up from 2580 to 4760, an 84% rise. In Withington Constituency, the figures went to from 350 to 630, an 80% rise.

There are 86% more apprenticeships now than when Labour left office.

Of course, big projects like HS2 will help create Manchester’s Growth in the future. 60,000 new jobs. But local entrepreneurs such as Russ are just as essential for this country’s recovery and I make no apologies for fighting their corner in government.


Supporting the National Energy Action Community Award Scheme

In the past I have campaigned hard for more to be done to alleviate fuel poverty in the UK so I would like to invite local people  to get  involved in this year’s NEA Community Action Awards.

The Community Action Awards aim to reward projects throughout England which demonstrate excellence in the field of tackling fuel poverty and improving energy efficiency.

The awards are looking for community groups to come up with innovative ways of tackling fuel poverty across vulnerable or hard to reach groups such as the elderly or disabled.

The scheme is supported by the Department of Energy and Climate Change and British Gas and offers 15 prizes of up to £3,500 to develop local energy-saving projects.
Winners will also receive additional financial and practical support to run a community engagement event to showcase their project and share best practice with others.

In 2012 over 4 million people were in fuel poverty in the UK. The government has introduced several policies to help the problem, such as the Green Deal and Smart Meters and this number is falling but more action is needed. With the help of innovative members of the public we can help make fuel poverty a thing of the past.

No person living in the UK should have to fear whether they will survive the winter months and no one should have to make the choice between buying food and heating their home.

That is why I whole heartedly support the Community Action Awards and I hope you will get involved too.

Closing dates for the first application are October 31st. For more information on how to apply please check the NEA website or by contacting Nina Dunlavy ([email protected], 0191 2692935).


Supporting Black History Month in Manchester.


Today marks the start of Black History Month in the UK. A month dedicated to a time when we as a community can celebrate and reflect on the contributions of black people throughout Mancunian, British and worldwide history.

Since the first major voyage of Caribbean people to the UK in 1948, Manchester has benefited from the rich cultural diversity that has been introduced to the city over the years.

This year’s Black History Month is offering a wide array of events at venues across Manchester including the Contact Theatre and Salford’s Working Class Movement Library.

From comedy to hip-hop, from theatre to poetic exploration I believe there is something for everyone to sample and enjoy.

It is an opportunity to take the time to learn and consider the great contributions and accomplishments that black people have made towards making Manchester the exceptional city it is today.





In Tribute to Chorlton's Harry Goodwin


Harry Goodwin, who died last week, was Chorlton born and bred.

Born in 1924 Harry rose to prominence for his photography work for Top of the Pops.

He first photographed The Beatles performance at the Manchester Apollo in 1963 which started a strong relationship between him and the band. So strong in fact that Sir Paul McCartney phoned Harry at Trafford hospital during his prolonged illness.

In 2007 Yoko Ono unveiled a permanent exhibit of Harry’s photos at John Lennon airport. An exhibition of his work was held earlier this month at The Lowry.

In 2009 Harry Goodwin received the lifetime achievement award from the Lord Mayor of Manchester and former Withington Liberal Democrat Councillor Alison Firth.

Harry was well known and often seen around  Chorlton and he will be sorely missed. Here is a collection of some of his work.

SMR Column: Support "Wear it Pink" on October 25th for charity

Last week I was proud to be able to host the launch of the Wear It Pink Breast Cancer campaign in Parliament.   Wear it Pink takes place on Friday 25th October and helps raise vital funds for Breast cancer campaigns lifesaving research with people coming together in schools, colleges and businesses throughout the UK.

Wear It Pink is a day of fun with a serious objective: to lead to a life without cancer.  Every year in the UK around 50,000 women and around 400 men are diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly 12,000 women and 80 men die from this disease. Wear it Pink has raised an amazing £23,000,000 in the ten years it has been established in the UK.

Thankfully we are lucky in our area to have one of the world’s best Cancer Hospitals in the Christie and last Saturday Didsbury’s Old Bedians rugby club held a charity day in support of the great work they do.

Old Bedians held their own fundraising day swapping their traditional blue and white shirts for a dashing pink kit for their first game of the season on Saturday.  They decided to hold the day as a way of giving back to the local community in support of the fantastic work they do at the Christie.  With donations still coming through the total they raised is well over £2,000 which is brilliant.

So I am giving plenty of notice to get planning your very own contribution to raising vital funds to help fight breast cancer by joining me in wearing something pink and donating £2, it’s really as simple as that.

Last year, hundreds of thousands of you got together, put on something pink and raised over £2.1 million to fund breast cancer research, let’s double that this year and fight for a future without cancer together.  For more information log onto and

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