Tom backs plans for increased local public transport powers

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (31st October 2014) gave his backing to proposals by Labour Leader, Ed Miliband, to grant cities and regions greater powers to improve bus services across England.

Labour’s election manifesto will commit the next Labour government to giving city and county regions more power over their public transport networks so they are able to set the right bus routes and have fairer fares, as well as integrate their transport services to help working people and businesses succeed in their areas. This will give regions similar powers to regulate their bus services as those in London.

Tom said:
“Since being elected in 2010 I have constantly campaigned for improvements to the public transport system across my constituency – particularly on issues surrounding Arriva who operate effectively as a monopoly with fare rises and route cuts happening seemingly at a whim.

“Labour’s plan would allow combined authorities to use a simple and swift procedure for getting greater control over local bus services – setting routes and fares, introducing smarter ticketing, and integrating those services with wider public transport and growth plans.

“This will mean that rather than different private companies, such as Arriva, or Whitehall taking decisions about public transport, local areas would be put in the driving seat. Similar models exist successfully in many other countries, including Denmark, and local areas already franchise for some other services in a similar way, for example the Tyne and Wear Metro.

“These decisions are best taken at a local level so I am pleased to see that a Labour Government will commit to given the reins of power to the local area; and I intend to hold talks with Labour’s Transport Team about what this could mean for Teesside.”

Tom Blenkinsop MP supports launch of Dogs Trust Chip My Dog website at annual reception

On Tuesday 28th October Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, showcased its chipmydog.org.uk website with the support of a host of MPs. The website is a unique “one-stop-shop” for all microchipping queries. Members of the public are now just a click away from a wealth of information on this important element of dog welfare, including:

  • Details of free microchipping activity across the UK via a quick and easy postcode search
  • Advice on how to update microchip details with a click-through function to UK databases
  • Guidance on the upcoming change of law in England and Wales
  • Advice on what to do if you have lost or found a dog
  • Frequently Asked Questions on all elements of microchipping

To mark the launch of the site, MPs were invited to take part in a photo opportunity which saw them manning a mocked up “chip van” which appears to offer free microchips to queues of dogs, and even a few fellow Parliamentarians!

Tom Blenkinsop MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland:
“I am delighted to support Dogs Trust and help the charity launch its Chip My Dog website. I am supportive of the charity’s microchipping campaign and greatly welcomed the Government’s announcement on the introduction of compulsory microchipping for all dogs in England from April 2016. Compulsory microchipping will make it easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners and cut unnecessary kennelling costs for Local Authorities. I urge my dog-owning constituents to get their canine companions microchipped and visit chipmydog.org.uk to find out more about this vital component of dog welfare before the new law comes into force”.

Clarissa Baldwin OBE, Dogs Trust CEO, says:
“Microchipping has been at the heart of Dogs Trust activities for a long time and we’re now looking forward to an exciting few years during which it will become compulsory in England, Wales and – we hope – Scotland. Chipmydog.org.uk will be the portal for all microchipping questions and we hope it will ensure that no dog is left unchipped when the laws change.

“Whilst only the size of a grain of rice, a microchip can be a highly effective means of reuniting a lost dog with its owner. Results from our recent Stray Dog Survey showed that just over 10,000 dogs were returned to their owners for this exact reason. However, it is vital to update your details! Just as you would tell your bank you’ve moved house, so too should you inform your database. Sadly without up-to-date information a microchip on its own is redundant.”

To find out more about when the roaming Dogs Trust teams will be in your area or learn more about the benefits of microchipping visit www.chipmydog.org.uk.

Tom’s objection to housing proposals at Wilton Bank

Dear Ms Skelton,

Planning Application R/2014/0631/00M

I wish to lodge a formal objection to this application lodged by Messrs Taylor Wimpy PLC, and which involves a proposal to build 130 houses on land directly to the west of Wilton Bank in Saltburn, and which is on land presently used as a riding stable and large exercise paddock.

I recognise that in strict geographical terms this land is within the St Germain’s ward of the council and therefore outwith my own constituency, but this is a matter of mere yards and the proposal does impinge on my Saltburn constituents.

My objections are as follows.

This was not a site identified in the emerging local plan for any housing allocation.  I recognise that a full meeting of the council did determine to expunge this document and this requiring the exercise to start afresh.  I accept this decision, although I have said publically that it was wrong headed, and those who voted for this are culpable of derailing a key policy document that every council needs to have.  However, the wording and recommendations of that document are on record and I believe that it is incumbent on all members of the Regulatory Committee to bear this in mind when determining this application.

Secondly, the existing plan structure now relies on the 2007 Local Development Framework.  This is now an old document, and reflects past conditions.  However it exists and must be seen as a material consideration.  Thus, the fact that this proposal is outside of the then accepted limits to development in and around Saltburn must be seen as important.

Thirdly, the proposal further erodes the accepted and long standing green wedge between Saltburn and Marske.  This was seen as proper grounds for the previous rejection of a proposal for housing at the Eastern end of Windy Hill Lane, although I am aware that this is now, given the deletion of the local plan, being appealed by the developers.

Fourthly the proposal does, in my view, detract from the essentially rural aspect of the land that slopes to the South of the site and this impinges significantly on the natural countryside running up to the ridge from above the Skelton Beck Valley to the ridge above the Skelton Beck Valley and Errington Woods.

Fifthly, the previous use of this site has been, for many years now, totally non-agricultural, and given this, much of the land resembles in its make-up, natural pastureland, and the home to a significant variety of flora and fauna.  This is a precious natural resource and should be protected.

Sixthly, I feel given the importance of this proposal, that there needs to be a site meeting at which members of the regulatory committee can view the site and hear the formal objections of local residents and myself.

Can these views be forwarded to your development control officers for tabling on the occasion when this application is to be debated and determined?

I look forward to hearing from them in due course.

With all best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

Tom Blenkinsop MP

Tom raises concerns over Tata Steel Long Products sale with Business Minister

Tom Blenkinsop, MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, will today (Monday 27th October 2014) raise his concerns over the sale process of the Long Products division of Tata Steel with Business Minister Vince Cable.

In a meeting with representatives from Community Union, MPs with Tata sites in their constituencies and the Business Minister, issues such as the speed of the process and involvement of workers will be raised.

Ahead of the meeting Tom said:
“I firmly believe that the sale process needs slowing down. Selling off over half of Tata’s steel footprint is a very worrying development and could have huge ramifications for the UK steel industry in general. Not to mention the impact on workers’ pensions across all UK Tata sites.

“Tata urgently need to sit down with the workforce and reassure them that it will not repeat recent tactics, such as those evidenced at the Tata labs in Grangetown, where national agreements were reneged upon.

“Following my request, I am pleased that I was able to get Trade Unions a seat at the negotiating table. This will ensure that all those involved will be both well informed and focussed on acting in the best interests of the workforce.”

Quadruple spending on private ambulances in the North East raises ‘serious questions’

New figures released today (21st October 2014) have revealed that spending on private ambulance services by the North East Ambulance Service, which covers Teesside, has more than quadrupled between the financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14

Freedom of Information requests by Labour to all ambulance trusts reveals an increase of 82% between financial years 2011/12 and 2013/14 – from £37 million to £67.5 million last year. In 2011/12 the amount spent was £639,820, but this rose by 353% to £2,898,275 in 2013/14.

Commenting on the figures, Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland MP Tom Blenkinsop said:
“These stark figures clearly show that under David Cameron the private sector has been driven to the core of our NHS. Every part of the NHS is at risk of being put up for sale by the Coalition Government.

“I’ve raised my concerns previously at the sharp rise in the use of private ambulance operators and the warning signs have been apparent for over 2 years, yet this government has continued to ignore this.

“In the North East, we have witnessed a quadrupling of expenditure on private ambulance services. Serious questions around whether their staff have sufficient training and if they are fully equipped have, rightfully, been raised. It was only in August this year that figures from the Health and Social Care Information Centre showed that complaints against ambulance crews had increased by more than 28% in the last year. Instead of denying there is a problem, the government urgently needs to reassure people that when they dial 999, they will be getting a blue-light service they can rely on.”

Tom’s comments on Tata Steel announcement

Commenting on news that Tata Steel is restructuring its long products division Tom Blenkinsop, chair of the APPG on steel and Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland said: 

“After the success of the Trade union led campaign to save the Redcar blast furnace the government has rested on its laurels and has even undermined energy intensive industries since coming to power in 2010.

 “As I said in a debate on the steel industry yesterday it is clear that the industry is suffering from the twin problems of the rising value of sterling against the euro, and continuing uncompetitive energy prices.

 “While there’s little the government can do about the former, this does demonstrate that the UK steel industry remains very fragile, and underlines the importance of the Government acting urgently on items that are within its control – and that is energy prices.

 “The coalition government must now roll up their sleeves and get involved in an active industrial policy to maintain our key industries like steel. They must work to protect and support our hard working loyal communities in Teesside, East Cleveland and across the United Kingdom.

 “I will be speaking to the management of Tata Steel and officers of the Community Trade Union to see what help can be given to the workforce and I will also be putting pressure on the government to find a buyer for the long product sites within the UK.”

We must campaign to try and stop housing sprawl in Saltburn

“We must campaign to try and stop housing sprawl in Saltburn – but those who played politics with Redcar and Cleveland’s Local Plan must take the blame” – Tom Blenkinsop

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (14th October 2014) vowed to oppose new housing proposals on open land adjacent to Saltburn.

Taylor Wimpy have formally lodged a planning application for 130 houses to be built on land at the rear of Wilton Bank now used for riding stables.

Tom said :”Those local Councillors who voted down Redcar and Cleveland’s Local Plan will have to recognise their actions helped spur this development.”

“This is an unwanted development which will further erode the green wedge between Saltburn, Marske and New Marske. I live in Saltburn itself, and know it as a balanced community.  More housing of this type will only serve to swamp local identity and community spirit.”

“But crucially, we have to remember that this proposal is for a site which was NOT in that now defeated local plan. As everyone knows this plan although fully prepared, was rejected at a recent council meeting by a coalition of Conservative, Independent and Liberal Democrat Councillors.

“If that plan had been approved that day, planning officers could have opposed this development with added powers and also defended the council case at any subsequent planning appeal hearing.”

“Given it was seen as a protected site in that plan, I would hope the application is formally and vigorously opposed by the council’s planning officers and the full planning committee, but in the absence of a local plan there is a very real danger that the developer, if rejected, will go straight  to Eric Pickles, the conservative Secretary of State, who invariably sides with his friends in the property development industry.

“I would suggest to residents that they lobby Saltburn and Marske Councillors – and especially those who voted down the local plan.  They, above all, gave the green light to such new, unwelcome and speculative planning applications.”

‘Proposals for bed charges in the NHS show real depth of funding crisis’

Reacting to comments from Rob Webster, chief executive of the NHS confederation, that hospital patients could be asked to pay for their “bed and board” if funding does not match increasing demand, local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said:

“David Cameron chose to put the NHS on this financial knife-edge when he wasted £3 billion on a damaging re-organisation. The comments from Rob Webster clearly show how deep the funding crisis within the NHS is and many residents in my constituency of Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland will be furious at the prospect of having to pay £75 per night to stay in a hospital – a time when they are at their most vulnerable.

“Everywhere you look there are signs of an NHS now heading rapidly in the wrong direction. Patients are already seeing waiting times and cancer care heading downhill – people will fear that much worse will be in store next year.”

Labour has pledged an extra £2.5 billion over and above Tory plans to pay for 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 GPs. David Cameron has failed to match that investment.

Tories choose to hit working people on modest incomes with new Strivers’ Tax

Tom Blenkinsop MP, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, has today (6th October 2014) claimed that if the Tories win the General Election next year, working people on modest incomes will be hit by cuts to tax credits, while carrying on with a £3 billion a year tax cut for those earning over £150,000.

Tom said:
“Working people in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland have already seen their wages fall by an average of £1600 a year under the Tories and, if they win next year, they will be left even more worse off. Nurses, call-centre workers, shop staff, shift workers and teaching assistants will pay the price of George Osborne’s choice. It’s a Strivers’ Tax which will cost a one earner family with two children on £25,000 a year almost £500.

“We all know difficult decisions are needed to get the deficit down, but instead of asking those who have the most to make a bigger contribution, George Osborne is targeting striving working families already facing a cost-of-living crisis.

“This will be happening at the same time as a £3 billion tax giveaway for the top 1 per cent. Once again, the Tories have once shown they are the party of a privileged few at the top and the idea that “we are all in this together” is now just another broken promise.

“The choice is now clear: a Strivers’ Tax on hard working people under the Tories or a costed and funded plan to save our NHS, back working families and build a better Britain with Labour.”

Increase in the numbers of older workers hides “fear of decaying pensions” and hinders the chances for younger job seekers

News that the UK Labour Market has now a higher proportion of workers over the old statutory retirement age masks “two unpleasant truths” according to the Labour M.P. for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop.

Tom said: “I am not knocking older people who want to carry on working. Many do wish to do so, and can be a credit to their workforce. They even act as mentors for newer, younger, co-workers.”

“But the news that 250,000 more over retirement age workers are still working hides a couple of grim truths.

“The first is that over the last 5 years, the ‘employers offensive’ against final salary pension schemes mean that many staff now fear lower pensions once they leave, and are using extra years’ salary  as a cushion to protect themselves against a less wealthy retirement than they once expected. In addition, this effect has been amplified by the erosion of state benefits and pensions credits for the over 60’s.”

“Secondly, using older, established, workers is cheaper for many employers when measured against the costs of recruiting and training younger workers.  This is a short-sighted attitude but, at a time of austerity, one that many employers are willing to countenance.

“The country has a legion of young people looking for work and a combination of proper pension reform at one end of the age scale and a training revolution at the other end is the right and proper answer – but it is not one the present coalition will be willing to consider.”