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Commuters hit by rail fare rises of 26% under the Tories

New figures have revealed that nationally, hard-working commuters are now paying 25 per cent more for their train fares under the Tories, because of yet another year of rail fare hikes that came into force on Saturday 2nd January.

The announcement that rail fares will rise again in January 2016 means that passengers in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland have been hit by a cost increase of 26 per cent since 2010. Figures released by Labour show that the cost of an annual season ticket from Saltburn to Middlesbrough has risen by £168 since 2010.

Commenting on the figures, local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said:
“Commuters in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland have been getting a raw deal under the Tories. The price for passengers has been creeping up for years and a season ticket from Saltburn to Middlesbrough costs £168 more than it did in 2010 and stands at just over £800 – that is an eye-watering rail fare rise.

“For many people here, travelling by train isn’t a luxury, it’s how they get to work every day. This Government needs to get these fare rises under control and ensure that passengers are put before profits.”

2016 pension changes will be unfair on women

Reforms of the state pension which begin on April 6th 2016 have today (30th December 2015) been branded ‘unfair’ by the Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, as petition to ‘make fair transitional state pension arrangements for 1950’s women’ approaches 100k signatures.

Tom said:
“The equalisation of the state pension age is a step that has been broadly welcomed. But the fact is these changes – which have been branded as a mistake by the former Lib Dem minister in charge of implementing them – quite clearly unfairly impact on hundreds of thousands of women born in the 1950’s. I have consistently voted and campaigned against these quite clearly, unfair proposals.

“The first increase in women’s state pension age was introduced by the Pensions Act 1995 and there was little mention of this at the time but it represented a significant change. The lack of awareness has been demonstrated in a series of FOI requests which show that the DWP didn’t even write a letter about the change to any woman affected for nearly 14 years after the Act was passed.

“The government’s proposals will hurt thousands of hard-working women who believed their retirement was just around the corner. Many of these are women who have juggled working lives with raising a family, and who have very little retirement saving to fall back on. The lack of warning of these changes means they do not have enough time to adjust carefully thought-out retirement plans and leaves them feeling robbed of their pensions.

“The Government needs a fairer and longer transition period – it shouldn’t happen in such a way that penalises so many people.”

Tata Steel must adhere to commitment to being a responsible seller for Long Products following announcement

Commenting on reports that a “Letter of Intent” has been signed between Greybull Capital and Tata Steel UK Limited to enter exclusive negotiations for the potential sale of its Long Products Europe business, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, said:

“If operated correctly then there is no reason for the long products division, such as those sites at Skinningrove in east Cleveland and Lackenby near Redcar, to not succeed so I cautiously welcome the interest from Greybull Capital. I’ll be working closely with unions to ensure the best deal for steel workers as is often the case the devil is in the detail of any deal that is struck.

“Tata steel made a commitment to being a responsible seller and I will certainly be holding them to that commitment. So if Greybull Capital come up with a sustainable plan and long-term investment to support the sites and its workers then I welcome that.

“Furthermore, after this week’s damning report by the BIS committee over the Government’s handling of the UK steel crisis it is imperative that they demonstrate that they have learnt their lesson and ensure they take an active role to allow this deal to succeed and provide a future for those hundreds of steel workers.”

Response to BIS Committee report on UK Steel crisis

Responding to the report released today (21st December 2015) by the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee regarding the UK Steel industry and the Government’s response to the crisis, Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East said:

“This is a damning report released by the BIS committee that clearly sets out that the government failed to react to the warning signs that preluded the crisis in the UK steel industry. Years of inaction, despite numerous calls from a range of interested parties, has almost put the UK steel industry out of business and on Teesside the industry that defined an area has pretty much disappeared.

“Particularly of note in the report is the request for the Government to act on the ‘5 asks’ that came from the steel summit held in October. It has been well over a month since the steel summit in Rotherham, and only one of the five industrial asks has been met despite ministerial assurances that they would be met before Christmas.

“The urgency of this UK steel crisis is becoming more acute, with the situation worsening. Government must act now, and industry must hang in there and not resort to not using the crisis as an excuse to attack workers terms and conditions, nor dissolve strategic UK assets.”

Tom raises concerns over Boulby redundancy settlements

Responding to reports that workers at Boulby Potash who are being made redundant will only receive 1.5 rimes statutory redundancy payments, local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop said:

“A lot of the workers at Boulby who are being affected by these job losses will have been used to what would be considered a decent wage in the area – perhaps in the region of over £30k. Obviously it is devastating that they have lost their jobs, but then to have this level of redundancy I would suggest is nothing but an insult.

“These workers deserve to be treat fairly and I have written to the management of ICL UK to put forward that case. This company has made a lot of money from the hard work of these people and that deserves to be acknowledged.”

Tom urges local primary schools to take part in free trees scheme

Local Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, is today (16th December 2015) urging primary schools in Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland to take part in a free tree scheme for schools.

The scheme, organised by the Woodland Trust, offers eligible schools extra help with planting to encourage them to make their school grounds and local communities greener.

Children can look forward to planting a copse or hedge, which can provide a wild harvest, or a burst of year round colour. Defra is now supporting The Woodland Trust to offer an additional 45,000 British native trees to 7000 state funded primary schools in England.

As well as free tree packs, for eligible schools,  there’s help with finding somewhere else to plant if there isn’t room in school grounds; protection to help the trees grow; and on-line curriculum-linked resources to support teachers’  lesson plans.

Tom said:
“This great opportunity will help schools improve their local environment and enable children to learn about nature. Trees bring enormous benefits to our surroundings and I have written to local head teachers highlighting the scheme and to encourage as many primary schools as possible to try and get involved.”

Beccy Speight, Chief Executive of The Woodland Trust said:
“It’s vitally important children get the chance to plant a tree. We know from our research it’s a memory they’ll treasure for years to come, and often starts their relationship off with the natural world and all the benefits that brings.

“This scheme offers schools which have found it hard in the past, a new way to plant trees, and bring an oasis of green into their community.”

Schools can apply for a free tree pack by visiting the Woodland Trust website, or search ‘School tree packs’ on-line.

The closing date for applications is January 8th 2016.

Tom praises Loftus opticians for winning the UK’s “Best Opticians Practice Prize” for 2015

Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (December 14th 2015) praised a local Loftus optician and his staff for winning a prestigious national prize for “Best Local Optical Practice 2015” which was awarded by the national Optical Success Academy.

The practice, Loftus Optical, is based in Loftus’ Zetland Road, and is headed by optician, John Prouse.

Tom said:
“This is a testament to a small caring practice in East Cleveland, John, an optician for the past decade and his staff have built up a great reputation in the area, and this award is a testament to this. He was voted the winner by fellow members at the OSA Annual Conference. John was one of 7 finalists who presented the results they have achieved in their business with Optical Success Academy.  As the winner John won an on-site visit and day of consulting from one of Britain’s leading opticians, Manchester based Jones and Company as well as a 1000 Euro prize to underwrite a European Optical Trade Fair trip. This is a classic example of local good practice and one which has now made a national mark.”

John Prouse said:
“I started the practice from scratch 4 years ago after converting an old carpet shop into an Opticians. When starting out I would never have dreamt that in a few years’ time I would win such an award. The business has been built on reputation and word of mouth for providing a first class service. I work hard and continually invest in the latest equipment to compete with the best Opticians throughout Great Britain and I am proud to have put Loftus on the map! I hope the recognition encourages any local budding Entrepreneurs out there to make their business dreams a reality and invest in the local area. One of my favourite quotes is by the boxer Mohammed Ali who said, ‘Don’t count the days. Make the days count!’”

The award was backed by John’s local Redcar and Cleveland Councillor, Eric Jackson.

Eric said:
“This is a wonderful achievement for John and his staff operating from a small town like Loftus. It also shows that even among all the recent bad news on local job losses independent businesses can gain national recognition.”

“Replacement of pacer trains can’t come soon enough”

Following the announcement today (9th December 2015) by the government that it intends to award the Northern franchise to Arriva Rail North Limited, local Labour MP Tom Blenkinsop urged the government that the “replacement of pacer trains currently operating on the tracks across Teesside can’t come soon enough.”

Under the plans, Arriva will invest £1bn in total, including £400m on 98 new trains to replace the outdated Pacer trains that were built from bus bodies in the 1980s.

Responding to the announcement Tom said:

“I’m sure commuters across Teesside who have ever had to use the pacer trains will welcome this announcement.

“Public transport across Teesside, and in particular the pacer trains, has been an embarrassment for too long and I have campaigned for upgrades for a number of years.

“For me, it is vital that we put pressure on Arriva and the government to ensure that Teesside is high on the priority list when it comes to rolling out the replacement programme. 2019 is still a long time away so I will do anything I can to speed up the process so that we see the back of these outdated pacer trains once and for all.”

Statement on extension of UK action from Iraq to Syria against ISIL/Daesh

Over the past few months and in particular in the last few days, I have been inundated with messages regarding British intervention in Syria against ISIL/Daesh. These messages have been from both sides of the argument, but it is certainly not a black and white issue.

It is a decision that I have thought long and hard about and I’ve listened to all sides of the argument and also the information that I have received. Rest assured this is not a decision that I have taken lightly and I appreciate that many people do have concerns about Britain’s involvement, but I have decided to vote for an extension of action from Iraq to Syria against ISIL/Daesh, with UN support and with our allies. I will try to set out some of my reasoning for this decision and, hopefully, you will be able to understand how I came to my decision.

The United Kingdom has a proud history of standing up to the type of fascism and atrocities that ISIL/Daesh now propagate.

Specifically, we know about their beheadings, crucifixions, throwing gay men off buildings and the mass raping’s. We know they killed 30 British tourists in Tunisia, 224 Russian holidaymakers on a plane, 178 people in suicide bombings in Beirut, Ankara and Suruc and most recently the 130 victims in Paris brought home to us the clear and present danger we and others face from this barbaric terrorist group. In my judgement, there is a compelling case for extending airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh to Syria because of this threat. This year alone, 7 terrorist plots against the UK have been foiled, so there is no doubt that we are already a target for ISIL/Daesh.

Just over a year ago I, along with an overwhelming majority of the House of Commons, voted in favour of supporting airstrikes against this group in Iraq because of the threat they posed. These tactics are working; a third of their territory has been retaken with no civilian casualties.

We now also have a clear and unambiguous UN Security Council Resolution (2249) passed on 20th November 2015, which very specifically calls on member states:

“to take all necessary measures, in compliance with international law, in particular with the United Nations Charter…. to redouble and coordinate their efforts to prevent and suppress terrorist acts committed specifically by ISIL …. and to eradicate the safe haven they have established over significant parts of Iraq and Syria.”

It is absolutely clear that such action would be lawful under Article 51 of the UN Charter – the right of self-defence – to defend the UK and our allies.

It is also argued that because there is a civil war in Syria and there is currently no coherent body of ground troops in the country to defeat ISIL/Daesh therefore we should not act. It is certainly the case that the opposition forces that are there are currently engaged in fighting President Assad and that every diplomatic effort should be made to end the Syrian civil war. A political settlement and the formation of a new government that represents all the Syrian people will be a significant step forward in ending the threat from ISIL/Daesh in the longer term. However, to suggest that airstrikes should not take place until the Syrian civil war comes to an end is to underestimate the urgency of the terrorist threat ISIL/Daesh poses to us and others now and to misunderstand the nature and objectives of the extension to airstrikes being proposed.

There is strong support from within the region, including Iraq, for action against ISIL/Daesh. We are part of a coalition of over 60 nations and we must continue to work with other countries to cut off the flow of finance, fighters and weapons to ISIL/Daesh in Syria and Iraq. France has asked for our help and solidarity, and I think we have an obligation to stand together, shoulder-to-shoulder, with them and others in opposition to their ideology and brutality.

Without a doubt there are really important questions for our national security. Given that we know what ISIL/Daesh are doing, can we really stand aside and refuse to act fully in our own self defence against those who are planning these attacks? Had ISIL/Daesh killed 130 people in London and we asked France for support – and they refused – what would we think? Can we really pass responsibility for defending our national security to other countries?

If we do not act, what message does it send out about our attitude to the UN and about solidarity with all those other countries that have suffered, including Iraq and our ally France? And as we are already undertaking airstrikes in Iraq – where ISIL/Daesh’s hold has been reduced – and are already doing everything but engage in airstrikes in Syria (including intelligence, surveillance and refuelling using RAF drones and planes) should we not play our full part?

Some also say that instead of airstrikes, the UK should be pursuing other non-military activities to take on ISIL/Daesh. This is a false choice. No-one has argued that the political process would be derailed if Britain joined our allies in acting against Isil in Syria as well as Iraq. I am therefore satisfied that military action could effectively run in parallel to our diplomatic efforts. In accordance with the UN Resolution we should be taking all necessary measures. The Government’s motion makes clear a commitment to seek to cut off ISIL/Daesh’s sources of finance, fighters and weapons.

There are legitimate arguments not to take this form of action, but the threat is now and there are rarely, if ever, perfect circumstance in which to deploy military forces.

The first responsibility of government and of the opposition is to defend the national interest and to defend its people. ISIL/Daesh are unlike any threat we have faced before but their radical ideology and deplorable actions must be stopped and therefore, on balance, I believe the right thing to do is to support the extension of airstrikes against ISIL/Daesh to Syria.

Tom Blenkinsop MP response to Comprehensive Spending Review 2015

Commenting on today’ (25th November 2015) Comprehensive Spending Review, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland, Tom Blenkinsop, said:

“George Osborne’s fanciful claim that the North is growing faster than the South is completely devolved from the realities of the job losses Teesside and East Cleveland has suffered in the last couple of months. I’m certain that my constituents will have serious questions for the Chancellor and the Tory Government that has stood by whilst we’ve lost our steel industry and one of the biggest employers in East Cleveland cut 700 jobs.

“Furthermore, the government still lacks a comprehensive strategy for the steel industry and the industry is still waiting on compensation for the carbon price floor tax introduced four years ago. Meanwhile, the majority of the 5 point plan presented by the steel industry at the summit in October seems to have been ignored.

“Other issues from the CSR include the tax credits cuts U-turn – which is a welcome one and will come as a relief to thousands of families across Teesside. However, I fear the devil may be in the detail. For example, I fear that the cut hasn’t been completely abandoned and is just a transitional measure, deferred to tax credits form part of the Universal Credit – assuming the Government ever get to grips with that policy. Nevertheless, credit for today’s announcement must go to the campaigners who have forced this climb down from the Chancellor.

“No doubt that, over the next few hours and days, as the details of the CSR are poured over the full extent of Osborne’s plans will become clearer – the massive cuts to local councils, cutting £360m from adult skills and the climate change tax exemption that will leave steel companies no better off in cash terms are just a few of the gremlins revealed so far.”