A group of Labour MPs have called on the Government to review their decision to deny Armed Forces Personnel in Northern Ireland General Service Medals.
The decision was taken after a senior military commander who asked that Ammunition Technical Officers be awarded General Service Medals for their work tackling explosive devices in Northern Ireland had his request refused.
In a letter to the Defence Minister, drafted by Tom Blenkinsop, Chair of Labour’s backbench committee on Northern Ireland, the six Labour MPs questioned the logic behind the decision not to award these medals. They ask that the differences in ‘workload and risk’ for troops serving in Northern Ireland compared to elsewhere in the United Kingdom is ‘reflected in the recognition such personnel receive’ by allowing these troops to be awarded General Service, or equivalent, medals.
The support Ammunition Technicians in Northern Ireland provide the Police Service of Northern Ireland in tackling bomb threats to civilians is vital.
The level of threat and amount of incidents which these soldiers must deal with goes beyond what is required from their colleagues serving elsewhere in the UK. They carry out this work with a professionalism and bravery that deserves to be recognised.
All communities are threatened by terrorism in Northern Ireland and recognising the increasingly difficult work these bomb squads face should be non-controversial. If there is a technicality getting in the way of giving these brave men and women the medals they deserve the government should sort it now.
Northern Ireland has experienced a recent increase in dissident terrorist activity in which police have had to deal with a bomb alert approximately every week. The six Labour MPs who signed the letter are Tom Blenkinsop, Conor McGinn, Vernon Coaker, John Spellar, Ruth Smeeth and Phil Wilson.
Tom has slammed comments made by the Conservative candidate for Tees Valley Metro Mayor praising the Government’s response to SSI site closure as a ‘blueprint example in how to rescue an area’.
These comments are frankly unbelievable.
The Government failed to step in to save the SSI plant, which was one of the most efficient in Europe, and if it was saved would be making a solid profit today. The Government fought against trade defence measures at the European level to stop Chinese dumping saying that it unfairly protects inefficient plants – while allowing efficient plants in the UK to close!
Employment still hasn’t recovered in my constituency and Redcar.
The Government’s response was a blueprint for nothing but failure.The fact local Tories are trying to spin this loss of such a major plant as a success is absurd and frankly shameful.
It shows the Tories both locally and nationally aren’t willing to fight for industries in our area. When our industries, whether it’s the remaining steel plants, the chemical industry or the energy sector, next need someone to stand up for them I hope we have a Labour Mayor like Sue Jeffrey, not a Tory one who will protect the Government’s reputation ahead of local jobs.
The comments were made at a hustings hosted on Wednesday night. The vote for mayor will take place on 4 May.
Members of the three major steel trade unions have backed proposed changes to their pension scheme.
Members of Community, Unite and GMB trade unions have voted to reform the British Steel Pension scheme in a move designed to help secure the long term future of the industry in the UK.
Tom Blenkinsop, Chair of the All Party Group on Steel said:
Everyone knew neither option on the ballot paper was ideal. This decision has been difficult for steelworkers up and down the country but shows what they are willing to do to keep this vitally important industry in the UK.
Credit should go to these unions who sought the backing of their members and who have worked tirelessly to help current and retired British steelworkers in this time of crisis.
Both the Government and employers must now match the commitment to industry that workers have shown, resolve the difficulties with the pension scheme and build the successful future we all know the UK steel industry can have.
Responding to the results, Roy Rickhuss, General Secretary of Community, said:
This result provides a mandate from our members to move forward in our discussions with Tata and find a sustainable solution for the British Steel Pension Scheme.
Steelworkers have taken a tough decision and have shown they are determined to safeguard jobs and secure the long-term future of steelmaking. Nobody wanted to be in this situation, but as we have always said, it is vital that we now work together to protect the benefits already accrued and prevent the BSPS from free-falling into the PPF.
This ballot involved an extremely personal decision for everyone that voted. Whichever way our members cast their votes, we know they will not have taken that decision lightly and everyone’s opinions must be respected.
We now expect Tata to make good on their promises and deliver the investment plan for the whole of their steel business. The UK Government still has an important role to play and we fully expect them to deliver tangible support for steelmaking in the UK.
Tom, Chair of All Party Group on Steel, has said that the Government has been ‘duped’ by China’s promise to reduce their steel production.
Overproduction of cheap Chinese steel has been blamed for the crisis facing European steel producers such as Tata and the former SSI site in Redcar. The Chinese Government had publically committed to reducing its steelmaking capacity after mounting global pressure, but a new report reveals that in fact new steelworks have opened in China during this period leading to increases in steelmaking capacity.
The UK Government has previously argued for lower tariffs on imported Chinese steel, despite the crisis in the UK industry. It is also Government policy to support granting China Market Economy Status – a move which would reduce the ability of countries to add tariffs to imported Chinese goods.
This report shows the Government has been duped and our steel industry has paid the price.
Our Government has taken the Chinese Government at their word and are hoping that problems caused by Chinese steel dumping will go away – this report making it clear that they won’t. The Government’s stance on Chinese steel dumping at the European level is absurd. They seem to working harder to give subsidised Chinese producers access to our market than supporting steel jobs at home.
This news should mean our Government should harden its stance on Chinese steel dumping, but I won’t be holding my breath.
The report, by Greenpeace East Asia and steel consultancy Custeel, also highlights the damage steel over production is doing to air quality in China. This follows the news that the UK Government has classified the steel industry a ‘low priority’ in its Brexit negotiations.
Tom has confirmed he will vote to start the process of negotiating an exit from the European Union in Parliament this week.
The vote will give the Prime Minister the power, under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, to notify the EU of the UK’s intention to leave and begin the formal two-year process of negotiating a withdrawal.
I voted to give the British people their say on leaving the EU and now I must vote to support their democratic decision. I voted for a referendum and then campaigned for Remain. Remain lost, so the UK must leave the EU.
Unlike Scottish nationalists who refuse to recognise the result of any referendum, and unlike the Lib Dems, who assume power in Government despite coming third, I must, as a believer in democracy, act upon and respect the result of the referendum on the 23rd June 2016.
There are serious challenges that face us, from securing the best trade arrangements for our industry, to protecting workers’ rights and keeping the country together. My focus must now be on meeting these challenges to get the best possible Brexit deal for Teesside and the UK.
Tom and Councillor Michael Dick, Labour Councillor for Brotton on Redcar and Cleveland Council, today blasted Arriva Bus bosses for making route alterations which they say would help to ‘take Brotton off the bus map’.
Arriva announced last week that they were planning in the next month to cut short the half hourly 5a Bus from Middlesbrough to Brotton so that it terminated at Skelton instead of Brotton.
This is a decision which isolates many people in Brotton. The key issue is that this is the only bus from Brotton that serves one of East Cleveland largest food stores – the ASDA supermarket at Skelton. It would also mean that a direct link from the Kilton Lane area of Brotton to Guisborough and Middlesbrough would be lost. In addition, access to ASDA would be lost for all residents in Skelton.
Michael Dick said,
This decision will also mean a steep dip in the number of buses serving urban the urban Teesside and Guisborough from Brotton. This will mean passengers being decanted on to the existing 5 buses, which only run half hourly, or on to the X4 service which is already crowded at peak hours.
Both Tom and Michael said that they would be writing to Arriva NE senior managers, asking that this decision be reviewed with an aim to maintaining the present 5a service and boosting it by adding a turn round at Brotton Hospital – which they argue would provide a new passenger boost.
Last week Tom presented a bill to parliament aimed at preventing employers from undercutting British construction workers by exploiting migrant labour and employing people using ‘bogus’ self-employment contracts.
The bill aims to ensure that trade union negotiated pay levels and conditions are included in contracts for building power stations. This is already the case for power stations which generate more than 50 megawatts of power but is not guaranteed for power stations that generate less than 50MW, which come under different regulations.
This loophole has led to some employers ‘importing’ foreign workforces on a temporary basis to build these smaller power stations for almost half of the agreed national pay level. Tom Blenkinsop along with trade unions, such as GMB, argue that these standards should apply for construction work on all power stations – no matter the size.
Unscrupulous employers have been using this loophole, affecting power stations that generate less than 50MW, to undermine agreed national standards on pay and working conditions. These standards have been hard fought for by working people through trade unions and cannot be ignored.
Employers using tactics from classing workers as self-employed when they’re not, to bringing in migrant workers to work on these sites for less money, are forcing down the wages of the construction workers and engineers who work on these plants. GMB and Unite have campaigned hard to minimise these practices but to put a stop to it altogether parliament must act.
I introduced this bill to raise the issue but the reality is without Government support it is not likely to pass – my message to the Government is simple: help working people, stop the exploitation, stop the undercutting and close the loophole.
Today, the All Party Parliamentary Group on Steel, chaired by Tom , published its vision for revitalising the steel industry.
The report, ‘Steel 2020’, draws on interviews with businesses, unions, Government ministers and employees of the industry to develop a strategy for securing the industry’s future in the UK.
It concludes, that the UK steel industry is currently ‘hamstrung by a toxic combination of policies that hobble the industry by comparison to global competitors’, and calls on the Government to act to provide a level playing field that will allow the industry to ‘thrive nationally and globally’.
Tom Blenkinsop said:
This report confirms that with the right Government action the UK’s steel industry can have long term future and provide the good manufacturing jobs that Teesside and communities all around the country so desperately need.
’Steel 2020’ highlights the incredible innovative work that is already taking place in the metals sector and the challenges it needs to overcome.
This report not only identifies the failures of current Government policy but also offers some solutions too. I know my colleagues and I will continue to push the Government to act on this reports’ recommendations and support this industry which has supported communities all over the country for generations.
Particular credit for compiling this report should go to my Labour colleagues Anna Turley and Stephen Kinnock, whose hard work and belief in this industry made ‘Steel 2020’ possible.
The report recommends further action in several areas including energy costs, Chinese steel dumping and procurement rules for Government projects.
‘Steel 2020’ is supported by members from four political parties and was authored by Dr Ian Greenwood of Leeds University Business School.
Tom has called on the Government to invest in Carbon Capture and Utilisation (CCU) technology in Teesside as a way to boost investment and job creation in the region.
Tom pointed to the recent success of Carbon Clean Solutions in India which has created technology to capture the CO2 created by an industrial plant and use it to make Baking Soda, on a commercial basis, i.e. without Government subsidy.
The UK Government controversially cancelled a project to help get the industry off the ground in the UK in 2015, which was due to fund starter projects in Teesside, despite warnings that the move could cost thousands of jobs. Last year, a Parliamentary Advisory Group on Carbon Capture and Storage called for greater Government support for the industry and claimed early investment in the technology could save consumers billions.
The Government must act to support CCS and CCU technology now. Teesside in particular could benefit as our area’s industry provides the perfect environment in which to build a commercially viable Carbon Capture sector.
I have written to Greg Clark, Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ask for a meeting to discuss how this could benefit Teesside and what the Government can do to get this industry going.
Carbon Clean in India have shown that with determination and innovation this can be done. The Government cannot afford to pass up this opportunity which would cut pollution, cut bills, create jobs and bring much needed investment to our area.
I believe the Government can and should help Teesside to lead the world in this relatively new technology.
Tom has welcomed the Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Nia Griffith’s proposals to spend more money on the armed forces.
Currently, as a NATO member the UK has an obligation to spend 2% of its GDP on defence and security. However, the Conservative Government have made major cuts to the defence budget and been accused of an accounting ‘sleight of hand’ by including war pensions and other areas of spending in the 2% target. An independent review of the Government’s figures suggested that without the questionable inclusion of these areas of spending the UK would not meet its NATO target.
Nia Griffith has said she is considering plans to ensure that at least 2% of GDP is spent on security and defence capabilities, by not counting money spent on pensions as contributing toward the target.
Tom welcomed the move:
This proposal shows the Labour won’t short change our armed forces or cut corners on Britain’s security.
The Government has approached meeting the 2% NATO spending target as an accountancy problem, rather than a necessary part of ensuring our country is kept safe.
Nia’s proposal would help servicemen and women get the support they deserve. Labour’s policy would make defence spending about our nation’s security again, rather than financial manoeuvres.