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You may be aware that last year I called on the Government to introduce the mandatory display of food hygiene scores at takeaways and other food outlets.

We all recognise the green sticker, but because it is a voluntary scheme many businesses chose not to display them. This always leads to people being very surprised when they hear about scores in the local newspaper or elsewhere and realise they have unknowingly been visiting businesses with a low score.

I tabled a motion in Parliament asking the Government to follow the example of the Welsh Parliament, who have made displaying scores compulsory.

Recently I submitted a written question to the Ministers responsible who confirmed that the Food Standards Agency is collecting evidence from Wales to be considered by the Government.

I am pleased to see that this is progressing, with the chair of the Food Standards Agency already giving her backing to the idea. This is a common sense approach and I hope we will soon see it adopted across the UK.

Food hygiene update

You may be aware that last year I called on the Government to introduce the mandatory display of food hygiene scores at takeaways and other food outlets. We all recognise...

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Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to me on Facebook, Twitter and by email over the last few weeks when I asked for feedback on our local train services. The picture that these collective experiences paint certainly isn’t a positive one. Serious action is needed to address overcrowding.

On Friday I was more convinced than ever that we need to nationalise the railways if we want to make real progress.

Just to give an idea of how disjointed and confused the whole system is; I met with representatives of Northern Rail (currently run by Serco and Abelio until April), First Transpennine Express (currently run by First Group and Keolis), First Group (who will take over Transpennine as a different company in April) and Network Rail (who manage the rail network infrastructure). Even meeting all of these people I still got the sense that nobody there had the willingness or ability to make things right.

These four people all suggested that perhaps Arriva, train lease companies, the Secretary of State for Transport and others might be better placed than them to improve local services. Nobody takes responsibility so nobody takes any action. It’s a mess, and Bolton residents are being let down by all of this organised chaos.

Under a nationalised system responsibility would be clear. There’d be one organisation in charge, putting the needs of customers first, and rather than have Arriva and First keep the profits we could channel all that money back into the service to put more trains on the tracks and stop the endless cycle of fare rises. This has to be the solution in the long term.

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The Meeting

Matthew from Northern Rail said that more than 571 extra seats are now available on morning services into Manchester, and 732 back into Bolton in the evening.

When I shared the frustrations of my constituents about the continued problems of overcrowding on the services he insisted that “we’ve really enhanced it”. He suggested that the main problem is Northern Rail talked up the figures in the press too much, giving annual figures rather than daily, which made people expect more. I’m not sure the people who spent this morning crammed in with no place to move will agree that this is just a problem of expectations.

I gave example after example of the disgraceful circumstances facing Bolton’s commuters and was simply told Northern would “keep it on the radar” and maybe we should meet up at the end of the year when future plans are clearer.

There was a lot of talk about the positive chances that electrification will bring. All kinds of exciting improvements might happen after that. Then Jonathan from Network Rail informed us that the electrification project would no longer be completed this year as planned. We will have to wait until at least December 2017.

After two years of complete chaos it is simply unacceptable to suggest that anybody should be happy with a suggestion that maybe things will get better sometime in 2018… or maybe a few years after that.
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I wish I could offer some kind of relief to Bolton’s commuters after all of that. All I can say is that I’m going to keep working on this, it will remain one of my top priorities.

I’m meeting Arriva next month to discuss their plans for the Northern Rail franchise. I’ll be putting regular pressure on the Government to intervene urgently to address overcrowding, and to give the long term investment that the region needs.

Please keep sharing your experiences with me because that’s the best way for me to demonstrate why change is needed.

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My meeting with the train operators

Thank you to everyone who took the time to respond to me on Facebook, Twitter and by email over the last few weeks when I asked for feedback on our...

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In the Spending Review last autumn the Government announced some changes to Housing Benefit that haven’t had much attention, but could cause some serious problems for vulnerable people.

Housing benefit for social tenants will be capped in line with Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates – the amount of benefit claimants are entitled to in the private rented sector.

However the Government have completely neglected supported housing schemes. This housing aimed at vulnerable, homeless, disabled and older people is specially catered for their needs and often comes with additional services. These people need extra care and support and their housing provides this, but obviously this comes at an extra expense.

If Housing Benefit can no longer be used to cover the extra cost of supported housing we may see people forced out of their homes and into cheaper accommodation that does not have the extra support that helps them to get through the day. Otherwise these vulnerable people will see their own limited incomes hit very hard and their livening standards harmed, or they will become dependent on friends and relatives to help them meet the costs.

Examples of the kinds of housing that could be affected include:

·sheltered accommodation for the elderly;

·homelessness hostels;

·specialist accommodation for former members of the armed forces; and

·refuges for victims of domestic violence.

Labour forced a debate in Parliament on this issue in Parliament yesterday afternoon and the Government announced that this change will be delayed until April 2017 while the supported housing sector is consulted.

I am very concerned about what the plans will mean for vulnerable people here in Bolton and across the country unless the Government makes some serious changes. I will be meeting with St Vincent’s Housing Association and Great Places Housing Group over the next few weeks to discuss the impact that this will have on the sector at a time when demand for supported housing is increasing.

Supported housing under threat

In the Spending Review last autumn the Government announced some changes to Housing Benefit that haven’t had much attention, but could cause some serious problems for vulnerable people.Housing benefit for...

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