Child Poverty has become the ‘norm’. This must change.

According to new figures released by End Child Poverty, around one in three children in Greater Manchester live below the poverty line.

In Manchester the figures have our region as one of the highest for Child Poverty, with around 40% of children living in poverty. This is further exemplified within my own constituency, as Werneth and Coldhurst have been identified as areas with the highest levels of Child Poverty.

I want every child in Oldham to have equal opportunity to succeed, and the fact that government policy is to decrease these opportunities to excel and limit our children to what they have always known deeply troubles me.

Child Poverty seems to be becoming the norm in our society. A total of 14 million people in the UK were in poverty in 2017/18. This includes 4.1 million children, a rise of 500,000 since 2010/11. This must change, our children deserve better than this.

The policies which have led to this are clear for all to see; Universal Credit, two child restrictions on benefits, the loss in the real value in children’s benefits as a result of the 4-year freeze and the link between benefits and inflation being ignored by the government and families being forced to use food banks.

 This coupled with the governments record on in-work poverty, with around 4 million workers in poverty, this shows that the answer is not cuts, not austerity, the answer is investment. Investment in our children, constituents, and country.

The New Economics Foundation has found that 100 billion has been lost from the economy as a result of this government’s austerity policies. That money could and should have gone toward our children and their futures.

We need a radical overhaul of the way this government deals with child poverty and poverty overall.

We need ambitious and credible alternatives for both reducing and then eradicating Child Poverty in Oldham, Manchester and the UK.

Labour will reverse the cuts and investing in children’s services such as mental health, education, childcare and social care. We will invest in our future and create a new Child Poverty Strategy to eradicate the problem.

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Financial Exclusion and its impact on Oldham and Royton

Earlier this week, I participated in a debate surrounding financial responsibility and exclusion stemming from the closing of bank branches and charges being placed on ATMs in our regions.

Access to appropriate and fair financial services is a key requisite for participation in today’s society due to its centrality to everyday life. Access to a bank account, savings and affordable credit are essential, however a significant minority lack access to these products and even those who do are now being cut off from accessing them.

Its staggering to think that since the mid 1980’s we’ve lost over 10,500 banks and building societies and 9,700 post offices, with the real impact on the High Street we have seen across the constituency.

And although over that period the number of cash machines has increased year on year, for the first-time last year we saw the first reduction in cash machines 20 years.

Cash machines around the UK are now closing at a rate of 300 a month, and there are over 3,000 communities in Britain that no longer have a single bank branch, especially in smaller towns

Although habits are changing it is still the case that 1.3m do not have a bank account at all, and for a precinct like Royton the market is heavily dependent on access to cash for its customers.

This is why we must act on financial exclusion and the charges being put on ATM’s. Our local businesses are at serious risk if we cannot access the cash to put into our local economies. Losing branches, cash machines and having charges put onto ATM’s is reducing customer choice, forcing local people to shop at chains where they will always accept card.

This will kill local independent shops and markets not just across Oldham, but country wide. This cannot be allowed to continue.

There was an agreement in place between Yorkshire Bank in Royton and a local convenience store to move the ATM into the store, with access to cash to be free. However, just a year into this agreement we have seen a charge implemented and enforced for anyone using the machine.

These agreements are banks taking advantage of a local community that has no other choice. We need to change the law now, to protect our communities and put the emphasis back on the communities who rely on free to use ATM’s and bank branches and who keep the local economy going.

A formal review of ATM charges should take place, with a view to reforming them or abolishing charges altogether. Alongside establishing a minimum standard of banking in communities for financial accessibility and fairness, every community must have access to a branch with free ATM’s.

The move toward a cashless society is a danger to communities such as Oldham where so many of us do not rely on using cards. So, Local Councillors and I are working together, particularly in Royton, to tackle these unjust charges on our own money.

Response to Greater Manchester Spatial Framework

Local MP Jim McMahon MP has published his response to the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework plans that have been drawn up to develop land across the borough for residential use and employment space starting in 2037.

Jim McMahon has raised concerns to the inclusion of additional housing in our borough despite the opposition voiced by himself and local leaders and residents in the original 2016 plan.

The new plan would see the development of entirely new sites such as Thornham Old Road in Royton and the sites in Medlock Vale have been met with increasing opposition from local people.

Continue reading “Response to Greater Manchester Spatial Framework”

Bus Services in Greater Manchester

I secured a debate in parliament on Bus Services in Greater Manchester.

I spoke about the impact of bus service reductions in Greater Manchester, the opportunities that arise through bus franchising and the need to bring about a new settlement for bus users in our City Region.

Following an employee buyout GM Buses South was sold to Stagecoach and GM Buses North sold to First Bus, both still operating for its inherited depots which split the city region in to.

Rather than creating active competition it created two private sector monopolies with differential ticketing, pricing and approaches to routes.

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This was explored in the Competition Commission report during a two year investigation, which found that nationally there were high levels of market concentration and a number of barriers to entry into the commercial market, not least of all in establishing depots, buses and routes.

The same report found that head to head competition was uncommon, and that the cost to passengers of the lack of competition was between £115m and £305m nationally.

While we need to be doing much more to get people out of cars and onto public transport the truth is that between 2009/10 and 2017/18 annual bus use has decreased by over 32 million journeys a year in Greater Manchester alone.

Here in Greater Manchester in the last decade we have seen twenty million fewer bus journeys with fares up by over 55%. For many families it can be cheaper to get an Uber to visit friends and families than rely on infrequent and expensive buses. But that is not a realistic regular option for the low paid and those looking for work. In my constituency many job seekers are effectively cut off from seeking work at the employment hubs of Manchester Airport and Media City. Across Greater Manchester 37% of job seekers say that lack of access to affordable and reliable public transport are key barriers in gaining employment.

And it’s even more expensive for those who need to cross from the North to the South where a System One ticket now costs £5.80 a day and £19.00 a week just for bus use.

If you need to use the tram on top that will cost £9.00 a day for a peak ticket or £38.00 for a weekly ticket. Compare this to London where the weekly bus and tube ticket is £21.20.

With weekly tickets 179% more there can be no other conclusion than travellers in Greater Manchester are literally being taken for a ride.

It has been evident Whitehall has little interest in bus users and especially those outside the capital. Private companies have been allowed to focus on profit and return to shareholders and the consequences have been drastic.

It was in the 2014 Devolution Agreement that Greater Manchester leaders, of which I was one at the time, agreed to bring forward plans to franchise bus services in Greater Manchester. This would allow greater power over routes, frequency, operating hours, fares and standards.

Funding has already been spent; £6m to date with a further £3.5m and £2.25m for bus reform towards 2020, totally £11.25m. Incidentally, that’s dwarf by Stagecoach profit of £17.7m last year alone and I expect those margins account for some of the nervousness we seen – it provides a healthy fighting fund if they choice to fight against it rather than working in partnership for the benefit of taxpayers and bus users.

But Greater Manchester must now recognise that with every week, month and year that passes it is the millions of people in our city region who will be paying the price of delay.

And that comes me to exploring the willingness to ‘do it Greater Manchester’s’ way.

When it became common knowledge that First Manchester were seeking buyers for its four depots in Manchester, Oldham and Bury together with its fleet of 500 buses and 2,000 employees it was a once in a generation opportunity to bring some order and sustainability to bus services covering some of the poorest communities in Greater Manchester.

I took this opportunity to raise this in my letter to the Mayor of Greater Manchester on 6th February, and I would still urge action on this.

Unfortunately we now learn that the Queens Road depot together with its 163 buses has been sold to Go-Ahead for £11.2m, separating it from the three remaining depots including Oldham.

While I accept that the new operator will work with other operators through the OneBus Partnership it is my belief that carving up the North of Greater Manchester to a range of new operators will likely make franchising harder and not easier.

It is hugely disappointing to see this, to put it mildly we have failed to capitalise on an opportunity which rarely presents itself.

So we need to offer an alternative that works here in Greater Manchester. Bus franchising offers a deal that will work for passengers and tax payers that will give us better routes, integrated ticketing for all local transport and affordable fares to encourage greater usage. It will also offer as it does in London a fair return to bus providers but they have to realise that the days of excessive profits for a poor service have gone. We missed an opportunity recently in North Manchester to return the ailing First Franchise to the public sector and create a co-operative model that could be an example for future franchising. Let’s learn the lesson from that locally and nationally.

For a lot of my constituents buses matter more than Brexit. If you want to why spend some time with me at a bus queue in Oldham. On current levels of frequency we would certainly have plenty of time to chat with locals.

 

 

Greater Manchester Spatial Framework initial view

The 2016 proposal saw the north of the borough taking the strain of greenbelt development and lead to a significant overdevelopment. Under the proposals important greenbelt land which provides an important buffer between towns would have been removed, particularly between Royton and Rochdale and Royton and Oldham (towards St James’).

There is little doubt that there were strong views on the GM Spatial Framework, evidenced by over 27,000 submissions across the city region. As the plan prepares the foundation for development to 2037 it is vital it is done right, and that it meets the ambition for residents in Greater Manchester; it’s vital they not only have a voice but feel a positive part of the future.

Continue reading “Greater Manchester Spatial Framework initial view”