Mary Creagh

Working hard for Wakefield

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At my monthly coffee mornings residents often raise the epidemic of potholes on our roads. Due to the recent Arctic weather and a long-term lack of investment, our roads are in a poor state of repair. Potholes are dangerous for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists, causing injuries and damage. Wakefield Council does their best but their hands are tied. They only get £350,000 a year from central government to repair our district’s 900 mile road network, and they spend an additional £800,000.

But it is not enough. Conservative cuts to road budgets only cost us in the long-term.

Wakefield Council has spent £83,000 on compensation and legal fees for those affected by potholes in the last five years. Councils across the country have spent more than an estimated £72 million to settle legal claims brought by people injured on our crumbling roads.

I welcome and support the Express’ campaign to try and force the Government to fund Wakefield’s roads properly. What is needed is long-term funding. The Local Government Association has calculated that it would take £9.3 billion and over 14 years for councils to clear the current road repairs backlog. That won’t get fixed by austerity.

Roads aren’t the only thing suffering from a shortage of cash. I wrote to Theresa May last week calling on her to establish a Parliamentary Commission for Health and Social Care. We need to break the political deadlock on funding social care by working across party lines.

Wakefield CCG is one of the best run in the country, yet for the first time in its history it has a deficit of £3.9m. Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust is running a deficit of £23m, £15m of which is the cost of hiring agency staff to cover the 230 nurse vacancies.

Our health service is underfunded and understaffed. We must consider tax rises to fund our NHS and social care. We need a way forward to avoid another winter crisis, or sick, older and disabled people and their families will continue to suffer.

Education is under strain too. This week, the Children’s Commissioner published a report called ‘Growing up North’ which found that more than half of the secondary schools serving the North's poorest children are judged to be less than ‘good’, and that London’s poorest children are three times more likely to go into Higher Education than in the North. The issue of cuts to dinner supervisors, schools nurses and other non-teaching staff was raised at my last coffee morning in Middlestown.

It is an optimistic report however, that points out the many parts of our region which are thriving. In our city we have CAPA college, rated ‘outstanding’ by Ofsted. CAPA was previously under the threat of closure following the Department for Education’s botched attempt to relocate it to Leeds. Following our campaign, CAPA will stay at Cathedral School, before moving into their new purpose-built home in 2020 opposite Wakefield Westgate. I’m looking forward to watching their next performance - ‘West Side Story’ in 2017 was sublime!

 

*This article was not published in the Wakefield Express due to the purdah period for the 2018 local elections.

Wakefield Express Column April 2018

At my monthly coffee mornings residents often raise the epidemic of potholes on our roads. Due to the recent Arctic weather and a long-term lack of investment, our roads are...

Last month I was in Parliament to support Labour’s Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. I was pleased to see it gain cross-party support. Geoffrey’s bill will introduce an ‘opt-out’ system for organ donation. This will replace the current ‘opt-in’ system, where people who want to be organ donors must inform the NHS.

There are around 6,500 people on waiting lists for an organ, and nearly 500 of them die every year. Replacing the opt-in with an opt-out will prevent those 500 avoidable deaths from happening.

10 year old Max Johnson recently received a new heart which has saved his life. When Geoffrey’s bill becomes law it will be known as ‘Max’s Law’, in recognition of the work Max and his family have done raising awareness of this issue.

Sunday is the last day of Fairtrade Fortnight. It is a chance to celebrate how fair trade improves lives across the world. At the heart of fair trade is the idea that workers and producers should be able to earn a minimum, sustainable, fair price – and that this principle extends beyond our own borders. Certification schemes like Fairtrade helps farmers achieve that, and allows them to reinvest in their communities.

Fighting global poverty is not just the work of the Department for International Trade and Government funded aid - we can all play a role. Whether it’s buying fair trade fruit, chocolate, coffee or wine - the choices we make here in Wakefield are felt in the poorest countries of the world.

During the artic weather we have been experiencing recently, I found my thoughts moving to the homeless and rough sleepers in our country. It is sickening to think that the number of people across the country forced to sleep rough has more than doubled since 2010.

Here in Wakefield, the Baptist Church on Barnsley Road opens its door for rough sleepers when temperatures are low. It’s a scheme run by Wakefield Council, and the emergency shelter opens from 8pm and serves dinner and breakfast. The council are doing great work helping and supporting rough sleepers, and the shelter is always open for people looking to volunteer.

Theresa May on Monday said homelessness in the UK is a “national shame”, I agree. Homeless has risen every year under the Conservatives, home ownership has fallen to a 30-year low, and the number of new homes built for social rent has fallen to the lowest level since records began. The Government’s task force set up to solve this problem has yet to meet since being established, and the £28m earmarked for schemes around the country has gone unspent. It is time for the Tories to roll their sleeves up and sort this mess out.

Wakefield Express Column March 2018

Last month I was in Parliament to support Labour’s Geoffrey Robinson’s Organ Donation (Deemed Consent) Bill. I was pleased to see it gain cross-party support. Geoffrey’s bill will introduce an...

By failing to accept the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation for tackling coffee cup waste the Government is acting against the available evidence.

Over the last 10 years we have gone from being a nation of tea drinkers to a nation of coffee lovers. Cold-pressed, slow-roasted, skinny mocha, soy lattes – we have embraced the infinite varieties of coffee. But whatever your choice, they all have one inconvenient thing in common. They often come in cardboard cups with a plastic liner. And though most people pop them in a recycling bin, fewer than 1 in 400 cups is recycled.

Over 2.5 billion disposable coffee cups are land-filled, littered or incinerated in the UK every year – enough to stretch around the world five and a half times. Coffee chains and supermarkets have ignored the problem. Some offer a discount if you bring a reusable cup, but they account for just 1-2 per cent of coffee sales.

That was why a 25p charge or “latte levy” on single-use cups was the top recommendation to drive up recycling and reduce waste made by the cross-party Environmental Audit Committee in January. We wanted to nudge coffee drinkers to realise that their cups took 5 seconds to make, 5 minutes to use, and 500 years to biodegrade in landfill. The Independent’s Cut the Cup Waste campaign has further highlighted the need for change.

Responding to our report this week, however, the Government poured cold water on the levy idea, saying only that it was “something we could consider amongst other policy options”.

This tepid response is not good enough. We know a charge would work. The 5p plastic bag charge is proof, with 9 billion fewer bags used since it was introduced two years ago.

Charges are more effective than discounts at changing consumer behaviour because we respond better to avoiding a loss than gaining a reward. Industry is interested. The early results from Starbucks, who have introduced a 5p cup charge in 35 central London coffee shops, are very encouraging. We know consumers support the idea, as shown by The Independent’s recent poll – they want government to help them do the right thing and protect the planet.

The levy is an important first step to a fundamental redesign of the UK’s packaging system. Packaging recovery notes are intended to make companies show their products are recycled after use, but we saw evidence that they are distorting the market in favour of waste exports rather than reprocessing in the UK. That is why we have asked the National Audit Office (NAO) to investigate the system and the 200 firms which offer these notes. We want the NAO to follow the money, because we found it difficult to see where it went, with very little money going to cash-strapped councils who deal with litter collection and recycling.

A ban on sending our contaminated paper and plastics to China, the world’s largest waste importer, started in January and has caused the price of recyclable paper and plastic to tumble from £80 a tonne to £20. Millions of extra tonnes of waste a year could remain on UK shores, either going to landfill or energy from waste.

We are stockpiling poor-quality paper and plastic waste in the UK. The chief executive of a large recycling company told me this week that his company has shut down recycling and reprocessing plants and reopened landfills in the wake of the ban, as the global market price for recyclate has collapsed. English recycling rates, which had plateaued, could now start to fall. And who will bear the costs? Council-tax payers.

Nobody wants higher council tax and more landfill. Which is why the Government must act and redesign the waste and resources system from start to finish – from product design to end market. In the meantime the latte levy would reward reuse and ensure the polluter pays.

Blue Planet 2 has shown us how plastic finds its way into our rivers and seas, choking fish and seabirds. A ban on manufacturing plastic microbeads came into effect in January, a ban that my committee recommended in 2016. A few years ago, microbeads were dismissed as a bottom-of-the-pile issue, but the public rightly demanded action. We only have one ocean, connecting all countries. When we throw things away, there is really no such place as “away”.

We have had a lot of warm words from the Government on tackling plastic, with a tax on single-use plastics announced in the Budget. Four months later, the consultation hasn’t even begun.

Last month, Theresa May launched the Government’s 25-year environment plan, but its aim to end avoidable plastic waste by 2042 is just froth.

The Cabinet has been issued with reusable bamboo cups for the cameras, Michael Gove wants to ban plastic straws, some Tory MPs have given up plastic for Lent. Without a joined-up strategy this is gesture politics. We need policy, not piety, to turn back the plastic tide.

Michael Gove must not let the 'latte levy' go cold

By failing to accept the Environmental Audit Committee’s recommendation for tackling coffee cup waste the Government is acting against the available evidence.


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