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Tom Blenkinsop MP meets The Royal British Legion

Parliamentary Drop-in Event – North Region - 13 April 2016.

Tom Blenkinsop recently met with The Royal British Legion’s local Area Manager, Marcus Hawthorn, to discuss support for the Armed Forces community and this year’s World War One commemorations.

The Royal British Legion is the country’s largest Armed Forces charity, providing welfare assistance to many thousands of veterans, serving personnel and their families. It is also the national custodian of Remembrance, best known for its emblem the red poppy. Tom attended the Legion’s event in Parliament to show his support for the charity’s work, and to meet with local area manager Marcus Hawthorn to discuss issues facing the Armed Forces community, as well as plans to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

Legion research has found that the biggest issues currently experienced by working-age veterans include hearing loss and difficulty finding employment, whilst among older veterans, physical health and social care are among the most common problems. To help address these issues, the Legion has successfully campaigned for a new £10m Veterans Hearing Fund, supports career transition through its Civvy Street website, and delivers practical assistance through community outreach services and six care homes.

In advance of the summer’s centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme, the Legion has produced a comprehensive toolkit to help local communities organise their own commemorative events. Somme 100 provides an opportunity for us all to reflect on one of the bloodiest battles in human history, in which more than one million men were wounded or killed, from all walks of life and every part of the country. Anyone who is interested in learning more about the battle, or how they can get involved with the commemorations, should visit, where toolkits can be mail-ordered and downloaded.

Marcus Hawthorn, the Legion’s Northern area manager, said:
“I was delighted to see Tom and we were grateful that he took the time to drop in. The Royal British Legion offers a range of welfare support all year round, and last year we answered over 450,000 calls for help. This event offered a great opportunity to spread the word about the range of services that we provide, and discuss our plans for the centenary commemorations of the Battle of the Somme. It was a pleasure to meet with Tom and I look forward to working with him on Armed Forces issues”.

Tom Blenkinsop added:
“I enjoyed meeting staff from The Royal British Legion and learning more about the work being done in my local area. Members of the Armed Forces community make huge sacrifices in the service of our country, and I am proud to support the work of the Legion in honouring the memory of the fallen and building a better future for the living.”

Javid’s secret plan to slash 5,000 Government jobs “could hit SSI Task Force work”

Secret Government plans to axe over 5,000 civil service posts “could hit vital work being done by the SSI Teesside Task Force” according to Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop.

Speaking today (April 13th 2016) Tom said:
“Secret plans leaked to the Times Newspaper indicate that BIS Secretary of State Sajid Javid is now making plans to axe over 5,000 staff employed by his Business Ministry and agencies controlled by that Ministry.

“These losses are draconian – and could hit Teesside hard.  He is, the report said, planning to cut 40% of all the staff employed by the Business Ministry – and crucially for Teesside is planning to take the axe to the Insolvency Service. The Insolvency Service is managed by the Official Receiver, the person and the agency put in place to oversee the affairs of SSI after the company went into liquidation in the UK, leading to the loss of the Redcar works and the staff there. The Official Receiver is still there as the formal administrator of the site, and carries a huge responsibility for the work over seen by the SSI task force – not least the disposal, remediation and possible future uses of the site.  In addition, the Official Receiver still employs people on site, and some of those staff are crucial in monitoring issues like possible contamination and flood and groundwater control.

“Also at risk in the plans, according to the Times are BIS agencies like the Skills Funding Agency and the UK Commission on Employment and Skills – again both agencies which are important in maintaining the area’s skill base and – crucially – the oversight of the Government’s programme for apprentices, something important when we come to the future jobs market for our local young people.

“In a sense, the fact that these agency jobs are at risk due to the Government, is ironic, when we recall that at the time of the original SSI closure we were calling on Mr Javid to tell the Official Receiver to take action to secure the ironmaking plant and coke ovens on the site in the hope we could get a restart of operations if a buyer was in the offing. At that time we were told by Mr Javid and his deputy, Anna Soubry, that they could not do this, arguing the Official Receiver “was independent of Government”. How independent that person and his agency is, is now highlighted by this latest news, and shows the Government position at that time to have been deeply duplicitous.

“These latest round of cuts, if pushed through, will adversely affect the SSI Task Force, and I and my local MP colleagues will be pressing government to halt them.”

MPs question Business Minister on crisis in UK steel industry

Today (11th April 2016) MPs from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, who represent constituencies affected by the steel crisis, questioned the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation, and Skills on the issues in the steel industry.

Following the announcement that Tata Steel are to divest their UK assets, the APPG requested a meeting with the Minister to discuss what the Government are doing to support and protect the future of steelmaking in the UK.

In today’s Special Meeting of the cross-party group of MPs, the Minister was quizzed on what steps the Government are taking to support the UK steel industry, including on energy costs, business rates, and its continued opposition to an EU plan to remove the Lesser Duty Rule in order to better protect against Chinese steel dumping.

MPs also asked the Minister what action is being taken to support potential buyers of Tata’s strip business, including whether there would be sufficient time for buyers to be found and whether the Government would help facilitate this, including with temporary state support.

The Secretary of State said it was the Government’s intention to do all it could to ensure Tata’s assets and steel production throughout the UK continues to operate, particularly at Port Talbot.

He maintained the Government’s opposition to scrapping the Lesser Duty Rule but said that they will continue to support EU action against the dumping of steel.

Javid confirmed the Government would be making contact with over 100 prospective buyers for Tata’s strip business and would focus on a commercial solution, opposing any form of short term state stewardship.

When asked about the future of the British Steel pension scheme, the Minister said the Government were alive to the situation but could not give details at this time.


Following the meeting, Chair of the APPG Tom Blenkinsop MP said:

“In the meeting today we asked the Minister a whole range of questions on the challenges facing the steel industry to ascertain what the Government are doing to help to protect a key national industry and the thousands of jobs it sustains.

“All he offered were warm words with no commitments to take real action on the issues that are holding UK steel back like higher energy costs, uncompetitive business rates, and a continued refusal to back higher EU tariffs on Chinese imports.

“I fear that, as with the loss of the SSI steelworks in Redcar, promises of ‘doing everything they can’ to secure a future for Tata’s business will result in no concrete action.

“Today’s positive news on the Long Products deal with Greybull Capital is a result of time being given to allow a deal to be negotiated. The Minister’s answers did not give me the confidence that this would be the case with Tata’s remaining assets.”

Air Products withdrawal ‘another blow for Teesside’

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, has today (4th April 2016) branded the decision by Air Products to end its ‘Energy-from-Waste’ business ‘another blow for the Teesside economy’.

Tom said:
“The news that Air Products is to ‘write off’ its Teesside energy from waste developments is the latest part of the crisis that is sweeping the UK’s industrial sector.

“I will be in contact with TVU to help seek assurances from Air Products that they are looking to find a sustainable, long-term buyer who can continue with this project and that they are not just looking to scrap the whole plant, which is nearly complete.

“I have long called for the taskforce which was set up to help SSI workers who were made redundant last year to be extended and given extra government funding to cover those who have been made redundant from other industrial sector jobs, such as the recent redundancies at Cleveland Potash in Boulby and workers let go in the oil and gas sector. I will be asking the government for extra funding to do this, again.

“There are serious questions the Minister for the Northern Powerhouse must answer.  Since James Wharton received his title from Prime Minister David Cameron, the North East industrial sector has lost thousands of jobs. Workers at SSI in Redcar, miners at Cleveland Potash in Boulby, workers at Caparo in Hartlepool and now workers at Air Products in Billingham have all been failed by the Government’s lack of an industrial strategy.  This is largely down to a long-term inertia and drift in Government policy.  Empty slogans such as the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ are no replacement for genuine well thought and planned government industrial engagement.”

‘Every option should remain on the table to save steelworks’

Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Steel and Metal Related Industry, Tom Blenkinsop MP, has today (30 March 2016) demanded that the Government “does whatever it takes to ensure a future for the steel industry in the UK.”

Commenting following the Tata board meeting in Mumbai yesterday on the future of their UK business, which includes the Port Talbot steelworks as well as local sites at Skinningrove and Hartlepool, Tom said:

“Thousands of workers and their families will have started today in limbo. Yesterday was meant to provide clarity over the future of Tata’s sites in the UK – one way or another. This ongoing uncertainty is a disgrace.

“Any assistance must be made available to retain our British steel making capability perfectly reasonable to step in to maintain assets until market settles.

“If the Government are actively looking into some kind of temporary nationalisation then we need details sooner rather than later. However, when I and Redcar MP, Anna Turley, called for state intervention at SSI in Redcar, we were given a definite no by the Government. Things have certainly changed.

“Steel making remains a key industry that is hugely important for our economy and the Government urgently needs to realise that. The Government needs to do whatever it takes to save this vital strategic industry which is the cornerstone of our manufacturing sector.”

Arriva should do the decent thing and absorb bus fare price hike in their “mega-profits”

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop today (29th March 2016) hit out at news given to local bus passengers by Arriva that fares will be going up yet again. News of this latest fare hike came just a week after the announcement of bumper profits by the bus and train operator.

Tom said:
“In a leaflet now being  given to local bus passengers, Arriva boldly say that “we need to increase most of our single, return and day ticket fares by a maximum of 10p and weekly tickets by a maximum of 30p. This increase will be applied from Sunday 3rd April 2016.”

“But what that leaflet did not say was that in the last year, the cash put into the fare boxes by Teesside passengers contributed to record profits for the company. The Stock Exchange announcement reported a sharp rise in pre-tax earnings and revenue as the company gears up to take control of Northern Rail services next week. In its annual results the company said revenues were up sharply, rising from £4.4 billion to £4.8 billion, a 7.8 per cent increase. Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortisation rose 5.4 per cent to £525m from £498 million.

“This may be seen as good news for Arriva Directors in the UK and for the firm’s ultimate owners, German State rail company Deutsche Bahn, but for local bus users – especially in the Redcar and Cleveland area, where the company has a virtual monopoly of local bus services – it is very bad news altogether. I would urge Arriva and, indeed, Deutsche Bahn to think again and reflect on the ethics of a cash rich company asking for yet more cash from local bus users, and to simply absorb this year’s increase in their profits.”

Tom backs steel union’s Port Talbot campaign

Tom Blenkinsop MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Steel and Metal related industry, has today (23rd March 2016) pledged his support for the Community Union campaign which calls on the board of Tata Steel to back the rescue plan for Port Talbot steelworks

Tata’s board is meeting in Mumbai on Tuesday 29th March to consider the turnaround plan to save Strip Products UK.

Tom said:
“This campaign is about more than steel plants. This is about the future of steel communities, UK manufacturing and an industry that has been the beating heart of South Wales for over a century. Communities that rely on steel for jobs and homes.

“Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community, the steelworkers’ union and Stephen Kinnock, MP for Aberavon will be travelling to Mumbai to ensure the voices of British workers are heard loud and clear and show Tata the importance of this industry to families and communities across the UK.

“All those who care about our steel industry can demonstrate your support for the thousands of workers whose livelihoods hang in the balance and will be impacted by this decision taken in Mumbai by sharing the campaign video of steelworkers and their families who would suffer most is our steelworks were to close.

“It’s vital that we do everything to build a sustainable steel industry of the future and I hope you will join us in doing everything possible to retain steelmaking capacity in the UK.

The campaign video can be found here:

‘Osborne’s Budget has failed Teesside’

Commenting on the Tory Chancellor’s 8th Budget Statement which was delivered earlier today (16th March 2016), Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop said:

“Today’s Budget provided no clear indication that this Tory Government have any intention of turning the fortunes of Teesside around, and may even entrench its difficulties further.

“The biggest issue facing the area remains the fallout from the closure of SSI and there is not a single mention of the steel industry in the budget booklet. This budget provided the opportunity for George Osborne provide the cash required to sort out the site, instead they are leaving it to rot. My calls for an extension to the remit of the taskforce to account for job losses at Boulby Potash and those offshore workers who are at the sharp end of low oil prices, has fallen on deaf ears.

“In terms of devolution, the meagre level of cash available for the Tees Valley deal will not bring about the overhaul of the area that is required in terms of improving transport links and there was nothing in the Budget in terms Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ project  receiving a helping hand on Teesside. For all the hot air, none of the much vaunted improvements to transport infrastructure will benefit Teesside, with the bulk of the cash going to London – yet again.

“In order to turn the corner in 2016 and push for a positive Teesside we can’t keep getting cuts on top of the job losses from industries that the area has relied on for generations. One avoidable cut that will protect local jobs is keeping the local tax office here on Teesside. These are public sector jobs that the Government has control over. It doesn’t need to add to the misery of job losses suffered in the private sector.

“Today was all about George Osborne jockeying for position in the Tory leadership race. Unfortunately, it is Teesside that is paying the price.”

‘Steel deal needs to be transparent’ urge Teesside MPs

Chair and Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Steel and Metal Related Industry, Tom Blenkinsop and Anna Turley have today (15th March 2016) called for transparency as reports have emerged that the Government may provide a loan to fund Greybull’s takeover of Tata’s long products division, including sites on Teesside.

According to reports, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is likely to provide a loan of around £70m to £80m to Greybull as part of the sale which is estimated to cost £400m in total.

Commenting on the reports, Tom said:
“Securing this deal could prove vital to protecting thousands of jobs in the steel industry but transparency around the deal is vital.

“I would like to know what are the intentions of both companies for Teesside Beam Mill, the grove and the site in Hartlepool? Furthermore, have the government assessed the impact upon the former SSI site and would Tata land there be part of the sale? This could have serious implications for the regeneration of the former Redcar steelworks site.

“If the UK steel industry is to survive then deals like this need to be scrutinised to ensure they are in the best interest of UK taxpayers.”

Anna added:
“There is still a future for the steel industry on Teesside with the remaining Tata assets, including the site at Lackenby in Redcar, continuing to provide highly skilled jobs. The progression of the Greybull deal to secure the future of Tata’s long products division is promising but we needs some clarity about what this means for jobs locally.”

Tom Blenkinsop MP backs ‘Keep Sunday Special’ campaign and against Tory changes to Sunday trading laws

Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland recently attended a lobby of Parliament organised by the Keep Sunday Special coalition to oppose the Government’s proposal to devolve Sunday trading regulations.

Members of shop workers union Usdaw and convenience store owners met with MPs to explain how extended opening in large stores will reduce trade for small stores and lead to even more retail staff in large stores being pressured to work longer hours on Sundays.

Voting on changing Sunday trading rules is expected to take place on Wednesday 9th March.

Tom said:
“The Sunday Trading Act is a great British compromise, which gives everyone a little bit of what they want. Retailers can trade, customers can shop, staff can work; whilst Sunday remains a special day, different to other days, and shop workers can spend some time with their family.

“I am convinced that shops are currently open long enough for people to do their shopping and that Sunday should remain a special day, different to any other.

“We know that shopping habits are changing, not least with internet shopping, but the Tories are seeking to make sweeping changes to Sunday trading laws through legislative sleight of hand when there is little appetite for such a change and which was not in the Tory manifesto at the general election.

“Extending Sunday trading does not mean customers have more money to spend, it would not create jobs and could lead to the closure of smaller stores. So this is not a way to boost the local economy or help town centres. It would be detrimental to shop workers and their families, as well as wider society, so I am pleased to be supporting the Keep Sunday Special campaign.”

John Hannett – Usdaw General Secretary said:
“Usdaw and our members are delighted to have the support of Tom Blenkinsop MP and many others who value the special nature of Sunday and want to protect it.  There is no great desire from shop workers, customers or retailers for these changes and many oppose them.

“The Government are pushing through these changes in the final stages of a Bill which will be voted on next week, but without having published any up to date economic evidence to support their case, any impact assessment or a family test to weigh up the effect on the families of shop workers, who already work long hours at weekends.

“We are therefore calling on all MPs to oppose this ill-thought-out measure and for the Government to concentrate on supporting retail businesses and their staff.”