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Toby Perkins MP

Not sitting, but still learning

Toby Perkins MP writes for the Derbyshire Times…

Toby Perkins MP

Toby Perkins MP

 

Parliament is currently in recess for the conference season, meaning no laws get passed but all parties have an opportunity to spell out their policy thinking at this stage of the political cycle.

Whilst conference provides political parties with a week of scrutiny and publicity, the recess also affords MPs important time in their constituencies to learn more about what is happening and to see how the theoretical talk of Westminster plays out in the real world.

I am once again in awe at the commitment and contribution of the voluntary sector. Visiting the new Ashgate Hospice Collection Centre is to see the latest stage in the growth of a much loved Chesterfield institution. The Hospice has applied modern day business principles to the serious business of raising money which supports the caring ethos that has enriched the final days of so many local people.

From charity walks and drag races to the network of shops Ashgate Hospice has shown that voluntary doesn’t need to mean amateur. But across Chesterfield so many other people are committing to causes from cancer charities and sports clubs to advice agencies, religious and political groups.

Last Friday saw one of the highlights of the charity calendar in the form of the Macmillan’s Coffee mornings. I attended three, at Barclays Bank, Chesterfield Labour Club and at Brimington Bowls Club where the inspirational Pam Wright has created a major 32 player tournament around the fund raising and raises four figure sums in the good cause.

But alongside promoting the work of our charitable groups the recess also provides an opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing our public and private sectors.

I also visited Mary Swanwick school and learnt how Zoe Kimber, a newly qualified nursery teacher is pursuing new plans to open up the overgrown gardens and exploit the natural wonders on our doorsteps for children there, and met with bosses in the restructured doctors network to see how GPs are handling the NHS’s greatest ever changes.

Whilst the voluntary sector are often marrying together public funds and private revenue streams and the public sector must constantly seek to deliver more for less, as Labour’s shadow Business Minister I am always aware that Britain’s business success is the cornerstone of our economic recovery.

Our small firms provide 75% of our employment and 50% of our tax revenues and reducing the barriers that the growth creators face and increasing the support British firms need to expand and to take their products or services into export markets has never been more important.

To this end, I have visited over 50 Chesterfield businesses during my two and a quarter years as the town’s MP and will visit and take up the cause of many more.

A week of recess in Chesterfield can teach me more about the real life challenges facing us than a month of parliamentary debates. It has taught me the value that all sectors provide to our economy and our society and we should salute them all.

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Toby Perkins

Betrayal of the Paralympic Spirit

It is sadly fitting that the Paralympic torch should be being lit just days after the death of Lord Alfred Morris, a former Minister whose parliamentary career was dedicated to improving the lives of disabled people.

There can be few stronger examples of the redoubtable nature of the human spirit than the Paralympics, where thousands of athletes from across the globe will show an admiring public how to achieve excellence out of adversity.

And in many ways the Paralympics inspirational message could be said to have influenced the way our society treats disabled people championed by Lord Morris 40 years ago.

Born to a disabled father who died when he was seven, he was acutely aware of the poverty that followed the families of those who were chronically injured or born disabled. As Britain’s first ever Minister for disabled people he was responsible for measures such as Incapacity Benefit, Mobility Allowance and Carers Allowance that set out to ensure that disabled people and their families could live their lives in dignity.

At a time of huge upheaval in what disabled people can expect from the state, the Paralympics provides an interesting backdrop. At one level, people may consider that when disabled people can demonstrate such physical excellence it is not beyond the realms of possibility that they could hold down a job; yet the vast majority of Britain’s leading Paralympians will rely on disability living allowance to get about.

Disability Living Allowance provides additional financial support to allow disabled people to fund the extra things they might need to allow them to live a more normal life with the intention of levelling the playing field. It may provide for disability adaptations to a car or for taxi travel to work without which disabled people cannot enter the job market. Its current overhaul is expected to see two thirds of recipients lose it. Many of those will find the removal of this benefit will make them unable to afford to go to work and will be pushed out of work and in to relying on benefits, the very opposite of the aims of the policy.

This follows hot on the heels of the transition to ESA. I have met dozens of people that are in extremely poor health who have been found fit for work. In two cases they have subsequently died, but it is clear that these are not isolated incidences.

Shockingly, figures recently released under Freedom of Information have shown that 1,100 people have died after being found ‘fit for work’ in the last two years.

For those recovering from injury and illness and those with mental health conditions, health professionals have told me that the process of constant reassessment has put back people’s recovery.

In a time of economic hardship, it is understandable that people working hard on low to middle incomes will want to know that those not working are given every encouragement to do so. Indeed Labour, as the party of the working man and woman, had that as the very principle of the ESA introduction which was devised under the previous Labour government. However the evidence is that the way this government has implemented that will push many very deprived people into poverty, and move the disabled further away from the job market.

At a time when disabled people will be amazing us with their durability and dedication, it is a poor way to recognise our admiration for them and a sorry betrayal of the life’s work of Lord Morris too.

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Toby Perkins MP

Securing Britain’s Sporting Chance

Toby Perkins MP

Toby Perkins MP

2012 promises to be the greatest sporting summer our often sports-mad nation has had the pleasure to enjoy.

Bradley Wiggins’ momentous victory in the Tour de France, followed the tearful and brave but ultimately unsuccessful assault on the Wimbledon Men’s singles title by Andy Murray, but neither his match with Federer, Wiggins two wheeled excellence or any Olympian feats will match the sporting event of the summer for me, when my close friend Jonny Marray, became the first British man to win a Wimbledon mens title in 76 years.

In emerging from relative obscurity to national hero his victory epitomised the archetypal ‘15 years hard slog overnight success’ that demonstrates again why sport continues to inspire and captivate new generations of youngsters to be the best that they can be.

In a fortnight he earned as much as he had done in the previous five years, such is the all or nothing nature of the sport. But more importantly than that, his rise to Wimbledon glory is an example to us all, that in sport as in life, what has held us back in our past is never as important as what we do with the opportunities life presents us with in the present.

And in this sporting summer we must all hope that the real London legacy will be that more young hearts will have the embers of future ambitions lit by the exploits they witness.

Sport (like the Arts) is a tremendously important facet of educational provision, and also a living embodiment of the Big Society that our government claim to be anxious to encourage. Across Chesterfield we have dedicated sports teachers and great coaches giving up their time to improve the Football, Rugby, Cricket, Tennis, Table Tennis, Athletics, Karate, Swimming, Horsemanship and much else beside of our young people.

A tiny number of these young people may match the exploits of a Marray or a Wiggins, but for thousands more the health, social and competitive benefits that they derive from their sport will sustain them through some of the challenges that life present them with.

Politicians are often keen to associate themselves with our top athletes; but what talented sportspeople most need is the support in the formative years to make the sport accessible and provide quality coaching.

The previous government’s School Sports Partnership (SSP) programme was a wonderful example of political will and volunteering excellence and it is a tragedy that its funding has been diminished.

Across Chesterfield as the Olympic torch came into town we saw beneficiaries of the excellent work of the SSP’s engaging in the sporting celebration and demonstrating how they had become more rounded by that exposure. Sport’s capacity to reach some of those that conventional education has failed to inspire is well documented.

So in this sporting summer, I am happy to salute the sporting endeavours of all those who light the fire of excitement in our young sports people and pledge to fight for those opportunities for the next generation in the years to come.

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Toby Perkins MP

Wednesday Lunchtime Drama

Little in an MPs duties get the pulses racing like a question at the Wednesday lunchtime dogfight that is Prime Ministers Questions (PMQ’s).

And whilst the big story from PMQ’s is generally the leaders exchanges, the chance that your question could explode upon the national consciousness competes with the potential that you could freeze in front of the eyes of the nation, and an unforgiving House.

Whilst many tut at the ‘Punch and Judy’ nature of the exchanges, it undeniably makes for better television than the earnest but less combative debates that make up much of the parliamentary week. It’s theoretical purpose being to ensure that the Prime Minister has a sound understanding of their own policies.

There is a great deal I would like to quiz the PM on at the moment. The ‘omnishambolic’ budget had unravelled in the days leading up to the session, the Leveson enquiry was on a daily basis revealing further depths to which he’d sunk to curry favours with the Murdoch press, the fall in College and University rolls due to the cost of education and the numbers of young people unemployed- a national disgrace.

It was therefore with a range of emotions coursing through me that I rose to my full height at 12.20 last week to address a question to the Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Every week around 400 MPs complete a simple form to request the opportunity to question the PM. A week before, 15 are selected at random by the computer. In the past year I had spoken on 60 different occasions in the House of Commons, but only once in PMQs.

Regardless of whose name comes up, the Speaker will call a Member from each side alternately. So when, as happened this week, 11 Conservatives and only 4 opposition members are drawn, MPs know there will a minimum of six ‘blind’ spots that the speaker will select on the spur of the moment and it was one of these that I hoped to secure.

Prime Ministers have no idea what questions they will be asked and have a matter of seconds to work out what their response will be. Likewise, I had no idea whether or not I’d be called.

But I knew what I would ask if I was given the chance. The most recent independent NHS survey had shown the largest ever fall in patient satisfaction in history. Just a fortnight ago I spent a whole day at Chesterfield Royal hearing from managers, staff and patients about their experiences. The commitment of staff couldn’t be questioned, but nor could the sense that the NHS is undergoing an unnecessary re-organisation at a time when the pressures on it have never been greater.

Fifteen seconds after rising, I was seated again. The anger and concern about the NHS was clear but so was the PM’s response, I was reading the wrong survey, he had a better one. Who was right? That is one question that only the voters can answer.

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My week in Westminster

I have had a particularly full week in Westminster. I have spoken in debates about tax credits, child benefit and the legal aid bill, as well as written to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions regarding the closure of the Remploy factory in Chesterfield; to Norman Lamb MP, the Government Pubs Minister; and Chris Grayling MP, Minister with responsibility for the workfare programme.

 

As a result of contacts from many constituents about working family tax credits and child benefit I spoke in a debate in the House of Commons Chamber on Monday; raising the issue of those families who will lose tax credits because of the changes to be brought this April when recipients are forced to work longer to access tax credits; while at the same time couples earning over £40,000 a year will lose all their entitlement to child benefit.

 

 

Speaking in the House of Commons, this was my contribution to the debate “There are 335 Chesterfield families, and 635 children, who will lose up to £4,000. There are 1,305 people in my constituency alone—working families who are trying to play by the rules and do their bit—who are having the rug pulled out from under their feet.

 

“More working people will be forced to give up work and to rely on benefit, which is the polar opposite of what the Minister wants to achieve. These changes will lead to parents being £728 a year better off out of work than staying in work without the tax credits. Why would a Government who support marriage and the family introduce harsh fiscal measures that are likely to put more pressure on those families who stay together? The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers has stated that 78% of its 410,000 members working in retail cannot get extra hours at work.

 

“The Government’s policy of cutting child benefit for higher rate taxpayers is entirely chaotic, as has been exposed by several Members. If two members of the same family earn £42,000 each, that family will keep its child benefit, but a single parent on £43,000 will lose theirs. About 170,000 families could increase their net income if an individual in the family managed to lower their pre-tax income to just below the higher rate tax threshold. The policy creates a perverse disincentive to success, and it is wholly anti-aspirational”

 

You can read my speech in full and the rest of the debate here http://www.theyworkforyou.com/debates/?id=2012-03-05b.638.0&s=section%3Adebates+section%3Awhall+section%3Alords+section%3Ani+speaker%3A24845#g672.0

 

Speaking on Tuesday regarding the Legal Aid bill and access to legal aid for assistance with benefit claims I addressed the Justice Minister Jonathan Djanogly MP: “My concern is that if the Minister comes through with this policy without identifying an alternative, the most vulnerable people, who are used to being on benefits and suddenly find that they are not eligible, will be desperately marooned. Will the Minister give us a sense of who might pick up the slack in those cases? If not, will he consider giving Government support to that amendment, rather than scrapping the entire savings proposals?”

 

In response, the Minister stated that the Government have launched a review into advice services (which would be affected by these changes), which is due to conclude later this spring, and will contain proposals to provide for the sustainability of the advice services across the UK.

 

Speaking at an emergency statement in the House of Commons last night, I expressed my anger at the closure of the Remploy factory in Chesterfield and pressed the Minister to report back to parliament to let us know whether laid off workers found work: “I think that the 54 disabled people who are losing the jobs at Remploy in Chesterfield will see through the Minister’s warm words and rhetoric. The fact is that more disabled people than able-bodied people are unemployed generally: it is a desperately difficult jobs market out there anyway. The Minister has already dodged this question twice. Will she commit herself to coming back to the House in six months and telling us where those who have lost their jobs at Remploy have gone, so that we can establish whether her warm words mean anything to the 54 people in my constituency who are losing their jobs?”

 

I am also writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith MP to urge the Government to change course on this issue and stop the closure of the Remploy factory in Chesterfield.

 

This week I have written to Chris Grayling MP about the workfare programme, following one constituent’s disappointing experience, and to Norman Lamb MP in my capacity as Shadow Minister for Small Businesses, regarding the lack of regulation for pub companies.

 

Yesterday a Chesterfield ‘A’ Level student, Paige Collins, was in parliament as part of an International Womens day event encouraging more girls and young women to consider a career in politics.

 

Yesterday evening I headed back to Chesterfield to attend an International Women’s Day event, before a busy day in the constituency and at surgery today.

 

I have also met with representatives of Institute for Public Policy Research, Bioindustry Association, National Casino Industry Forum, British Bankers Association and the trade union UCATT. I then attended an ICAEW breakfast meeting on Tuesday, discussing growth companies and investment, and the dinner of the ICAEW as part of my brief in representing Labour as the Shadow Small business Minister. Yesterday I was glad to attend a meeting of the think tank ‘Reform’, accompanied by Paige Collins, to meet with the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

 

 

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View from the Commons

As my children dress in various ghoulish outfits to frighten the neighbours on the occasion of Halloween, it is tempting to reflect that the recent comprehensive spending review contained many measures that will have given people across Chesterfield cause for sleepless nights.

Britain has a large national debt. This is because we, Labour, were fighting during the global  recession to help people who had played no part in the catastrophic banking collapse to save their jobs, pay their bills and protect their savings.  No country should ignore a deficit. However focusing on cuts rather than growth will fundamentally weaken the level of public services that people in Chesterfield have come to rely on.

Already we are seeing the impact of the cuts with a string of local people who rely on care services from the County Council contacting my office to say that their care has been cut. Meanwhile an independent study says that Chesterfield will be the worst hit area in Derbyshire with around 1,400 public sector jobs to be lost over the next six years.

I’ve been in business ever since leaving school so no-one needs to encourage me that a strong business community is vital to a prosperous economy, but whilst attending a recent CBI ‘Question time’ event in Derby I was struck by how the cuts to our public services and the new immigration policies are hurting the private sector as much as the public sector.

We have been well served by our local public services here. Schools right across Chesterfield are rated highly. The County Council was a beacon of quality services until the political change last May, whilst we enjoy an excellent local hospital and good primary care provision to name a few.  Across the board, I will be fighting to maintain that quality provision in the face of these damaging cuts.

Locally, I still see much to be optimistic about in Chesterfield. I spoke at the planning meeting against the Dunston Incinerator and was absolutely bowled over by the commitment and polite determination of the huge band of objectors who secured a big win for Chesterfield by successfully persuading the planning committee of the folly of the proposal.

Chesterfield FC have been enjoying some big wins of their own, starting the season in fine style and sit proudly at the top of the table. Their new stadium along with other developments there is a start towards a vibrant A61 corridor.

I was also reminded of the essential value of our voluntary services when working at the Barnardos store on Trevorrow Crescent as part of the Voluntary sector’s ‘make a Difference’ day on Saturday and subsequently when attending a meeting of Rethink’s award winning Mental and Spiritual Help (MASH) group.

Meanwhile in Parliament, I have been adapting to my new role as Labour’s shadow Minister for Education.  I am now Labour’s representative on issues like safeguarding children, children in care, Youth services, School Sport and Family Courts. Many of these are targeted for government cuts. I am meeting many hard-working and passionate professionals who fear the impact of these cuts will fall on the deprived communities they have served with such dedication and commitment.

At my weekly surgeries I regularly encounter the real life impact of decisions taken in Whitehall, so I am asking any workers or users of public services to keep me in touch with any significant adverse (or positive) changes to service provision as a result of cost cutting measures.

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View From the Commons – The New Generation

Parliament closed for three weeks during the party conference season, but returning there this week  it felt like a lifetime.

Following the relative orderly calm of the Lib Dem conference, the Labour leadership contest dominated the airwaves. Reactions and counter reactions were sought by commentators desperate for some good old fashioned in-fighting. The new leader ‘worked’ the conference tirelessly meeting with delegates from across the country and the wider movement, and was quick to assert his desire to unite the party rather than repeat the divisive mistakes of the past.

The leader’s speech is always a Conference highlight but this year, more than normally, the pressure was on. Ed’s speech had something for everyone, from his background introduction to his parents past, fleeing death at the hands of the Nazis, to setting out his pride in Labour’s successes, his contrition over past failures and finally his optimistic vision for Britain on behalf of the new generation of Labour politicians.

The week of Tory Conference was spent back home in Chesterfield. The chaotic and ill thought out announcement of the cuts to child benefit was hotly followed by the plans for huge rises to tuition fees that the Lib Dem party seem willing to support – having opposed all tuition fees only a few months ago.

On Saturday, I attended the protest march against the Dunston incinerator where hundreds of men, women and children joined politicians of every hue and business owners to express their opposition to the plans for the incineration plant. The final decision will be taken on the 19th October at 1pm at County Hall in Matlock, the public are invited to attend.

Whilst marching with objectors a phone call came through: “Would I be available to take a phone call from Ed Miliband at 130pm?”

 I must admit my thoughts immediately turned to the shadow ministerial team that Ed would be putting together, but it seemed so unlikely that I might be involved just a few months into my parliamentary career. The call when it came was brief. Within five minutes I had been appointed to and accepted a place in the Shadow Education Team.

Two days later at 236pm I stood at the despatch box for the first time. The first member of the 2010 intake to speak from the despatch box. My question was solid if unspectacular – about the importance of recognising the strength of a school’s intake as well as its outputs- but for a guy from Chesterfield, who had left school at 17 and been married in a little two up two down in Birdholme, being able to deliver it on behalf of our schoolchildren, my constituents and all the people who have helped to get me there meant the world to me.

I went to bed on Monday night proud, humble and determined- it’s been quite a few weeks!

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Toby House of Commons

View from the Commons – Budget

The Chancellor’s emergency budget was one of those great House of Commons occasions. The chamber was packed to the rafters, and a full and expectant press gallery eagerly hung on every word. Though it took the Chancellor just an hour to deliver his emergency budget on June 22nd, the implications of it will be felt by all of us for several years to come.

When I spoke in the Chamber in the budget debate late on Thursday evening, the benches and press gallery may have been considerably less packed, but the arguments on the measures continued to rage.

The Chancellor famously claimed that ‘we were all in it together’ when setting out his stall for the vast cuts, so he and his Liberal Democrat partners must be judged by that measure, and as the full details of the budget have emerged, Chesterfield people may be forgiven for wondering if some of us are taking more of the pain than others.

VAT was acknowledged during the election campaign by politicians of all parties as a tax that hit people in poorer households the hardest, with nearly double the percentage of the poorest people’s income being spent on VAT than the wealthiest.

Cutting Corporation tax for larger companies at the expense of allowances for firms involved in manufacturing will reduce the chance for us to reshape our economy in favour of industry and stimulate growth, and instead lead larger firms to aim for bottom line profits rather than invest in the future. Our Corporation tax was already at its lowest level in the last 20 years.

Measures to increase the tax free threshold, re-link pensions and earnings were welcome, but anyone who works or relies on schools, social services, council housing or any other public services will fear that the huge 25% cuts in these areas will fundamentally alter our country.

I argued that this budget was an anti growth budget that could cut off the recovery, would increase the gap between rich and poor and was unnecessarily savage. To do it in a way that makes the most vulnerable pay most does not suggest that we really are ‘all in it together’.

To travel from Westminster to Chesterfield on Thursday night was to exchange theory for practical, as my weekly surgery brought me face to face again with people and groups on the front line who face the reality of the measures talked about so glibly in London.

I met a man who could barely make it up the stairs who was being told that he was fit to return to work on a building site, a local manufacturing firm worried about the lack of help that British manufacturing was getting and a Chesterfield shop owner who feared the rise in VAT would be the final straw for his firm.

Then on Saturday, dozens of elderly people turned out to protest at their local community rooms being closed in Dunston  and Newbold, and at Galas in Brimington and Old Whittington, I saw the very best of our town in the dozens of voluntary groups showing off their work and raising money to keep going in tough times. People giving their time and their money to support causes they believed in, who could not have been more removed from the greedy bankers who brought the financial crisis to us.

Meeting volunteers from charities, youth groups and clubs at the galas it was impossible to shake the thought that these organisations may well be amongst those hit by the cuts in spending on which they rely.

Their example was inspiring as was the news that the plans for an asbestos transfer station in Old Whittington had been thwarted, a great example of community action defeating corporate interests, now we hope for a similar result on the Dunston incinerator.

So all in all, an exciting, worrying and inspiring week that may be viewed as momentous in historical terms and have implications for people right across society that, as yet, we don’t fully appreciate.

Meanwhile England lost to Germany to bring our World Cup campaign to a disappointing climax- like Tory budgets, some things never change!

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Welcome

I am Toby Perkins, Labour's Member of Parliament for Chesterfield. If you would like to get in touch with me, my office is open and can be reached by phone on 01246 386 286. I also hold regular surgeries in Chesterfield and Staveley so that constituents can meet me and I can take up their concerns. If you would like to make an appointment then please do contact my office. Thank you for visiting.

Contact Toby

Tel: 01246 386286
Email: toby.perkins.mp@parliament.uk
Post: 113 Saltergate, Chesterfield, S40 1NF

Surgeries

I hold regular surgeries for my constituents.
Please call 01246 386286 or email toby.perkins.mp@parliament.uk to make a booking.

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