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Earlier this month there was an article in the Bolton News about my efforts in Parliament to highlight the need for a maximum workplace temperature.

You can read that story here - http://www.theboltonnews.co.uk/news/15508857.Call_to_introduce_legal_maximum_working_temperature/

One of the common questions in response was, why is this important?

I understand that for most people this isn’t really an issue. Most places of employment are set up so that even at the hottest times of year they’re comfortable enough for you to do your job.

In workplaces such as bakeries, foundries and smelting plants heat stress is a real risk every day. Lots of employers take precautions and do things the right way, but some don’t and they won’t until they have to.

Despite the risk to employees the lack of clear guidance on this makes it incredibly hard for health and safety representatives to hold employers to account.

Heat can lead to a loss of concentration and increased tiredness, which means that workers are more likely to put themselves or others at risk. Heat can also aggravate other medical conditions and illnesses such as high blood pressure or heart disease due to increased load on the heart as well as interacting with, or increasing the effect of other workplace hazards.

If people get too hot, they risk dizziness, fainting, or even heat cramps. In very hot conditions the body’s blood temperature rises. If the blood temperature rises above 39 °C, there is a risk of heat stroke or collapse. Delirium or confusion can occur above 41°C. Blood temperatures at this level can prove fatal and even if a worker does recover, they may suffer irreparable organ damage.

We have clear guidance about low temperatures in the workplace. The same clarity for maximum temperatures could save lives.

As well as supporting EDM 56 in Parliament I have raised some questions with Government Ministers on this issue. You can see these below.

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Maximum workplace temperature

  Earlier this month there was an article in the Bolton News about my efforts in Parliament to highlight the need for a maximum workplace temperature. You can read that...

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Across the NHS we are seeing growing problems with staff shortages and recruitment. In many cases NHS Trusts need to bring in staff on a short-term basis in order to keep services running as normal.

The NHS spends around £3 billion a year on hiring temporary staff, of which up to 20% goes directly to private agencies as profit.

You may not know that we have a publicly owned organisation which helps with this issue. NHS Professionals was set up to help the NHS reduce its reliance on exploitative private staffing agencies.

NHS Professionals provides over 90,000 doctors and other healthcare workers for around 60 NHS trusts in England. This saves the NHS £70 million every year because it doesn’t charge expensive commission fees, unlike private agencies. However, the Government is looking to privatise it.

Privatising this service would only increase costs for the NHS and provide nothing more to patients. The money from the sale wouldn’t even match the amount we save in a single year thanks to this organisation.

I am opposed to this privatisation and have added my name to Early Day Motion 152, calling for the Government to halt the sale immediately and keep NHS Professionals in public ownership.

 

Update- 12:00 7/9/17

Well, sometimes things happen quicker than you'd expected.

Shortly after posting this blog I discovered that the Minister for Health has submitted a written statement to the House of Commons this morning confirming that the Government have changed their position and will be keeping NHS Professionals in public ownership.

This is a very positive result, I'm pleased to see that common sense has prevailed.

The Privatisation of NHS Professionals

Across the NHS we are seeing growing problems with staff shortages and recruitment. In many cases NHS Trusts need to bring in staff on a short-term basis in order to...

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I am proud to support Unison’s “Pay Up Now” campaign, opposing the ongoing cap on public sector pay.

Nurses, care workers, police officers, teachers and other hard working public sector employees had their pay frozen for 2 years and then rises capped at 1% for the last 5 years.

While the cost of living rose by 22% between 2010 and 2016 average public sector pay has risen by just 4.4%.

When you compare with the private sector, their pay have risen by an average of 2.5% a year since 2011.

This is no way to treat hardworking people who play such a vital role in looking after us and holding our communities together. Key services are starting to see staff shortages as workers are forced to move on if they want to meet the cost of living. We’re losing skills, and failing those who choose to stay on in these important professions.

There will be a full budget this autumn. The Government need to change their position, support our services and end this unfair pay cap.

Pay Up Now

I am proud to support Unison’s “Pay Up Now” campaign, opposing the ongoing cap on public sector pay. Nurses, care workers, police officers, teachers and other hard working public sector...

I’m very concerned about rising levels of household debt. Wages, savings and interest rates are low but as the cost of living increases so does personal debt.

There are no easy answers to this. Of course we must tackle poverty and inequality through measures such as the Living Wage. We must also try to change the culture around finances and make it easier for people to save for the future, promote credit unions, and make free financial advice easier to access.

On top of this is the problem of lenders targeting people in difficult situations with loans and credit with an extremely high interest rate.

I’ve previously campaigned for regulation of the Payday Loans industry, for example. Interest rates offered by these companies were through the roof and trapping people in a cycle of debt that was impossible to break. Campaign efforts led to stronger regulation and a new cap on the total cost of credit at 100%.

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This week I met with staff at Bolton Citizens Advice Bureau to discuss how other financial products continue to rip off vulnerable people in my constituency.

Logbook loans, doorstep loans, mail order catalogues, pawnbroker loans and rent to buy schemes are not covered by the interest cap on payday loans.

1 in 12 people who seek debt advice from Citizens Advice have taken out one of these high cost credit products, they are often living in social housing and 1 in 3 are single parents. Half of those using high cost credit receive some kind of disability benefit. Like payday loans the products tend to be targeted at the most financially vulnerable members of our community.

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I want to see tougher regulation of these services. The Financial Conduct Authority is undertaking a review of High Cost Credit and this is a good opportunity to follow the example of payday loan regulation and cap the total cost of credit at 100%. I will be making representations in support of this.

Nobody should find themselves at risk of exploitation because of an unexpected bill.

Rising debts and high cost credit

I’m very concerned about rising levels of household debt. Wages, savings and interest rates are low but as the cost of living increases so does personal debt. There are no...

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With Dave Bagley, CEO of Urban Outreach

 

Last week I was invited by the Big Lottery Fund to see how their funding is being put to use to help my constituents.

I had the pleasure of visiting Urban Outreach, who deliver a wide range of services including the provision of emergency food parcels, support for sex workers, help for homeless people and work with runaway children.

The focus of the visit was to talk about the Support First scheme, which helps people with mental health issues and is backed by the Big Lottery Fund.

Often people struggling with mental health can find themselves facing many complex challenges. Financial difficulties, housing troubles, drug or alcohol problems, family issues, amongst other things, can all develop into barriers which need to be addressed alongside someone’s mental health.

Unfortunately public services tend to look at one issue in isolation. Support First takes a collaborative approach in the hope of addressing all of the different and conflicting pressures that people face.

When local emergency services, such as A&E or the police, encounter people who repeatedly find themselves in trouble they refer them on to Support First. Through the scheme individuals receive intensive one to one support from Urban Outreach and another charity called BAND (Building A New Direction), which specialises in mental health.

I had the pleasure of meeting two of the service users who strongly believe that they would likely have committed suicide without the intervention and support they received. They have been able to get back on their feet, give up alcohol, repair broken family relationship and retrain for new careers.

I’m very impressed by this collaborative approach and believe that it has real value. Public services need to learn how to co-operate in this way and really support people as individuals, looking at the whole picture rather than just one aspect.

Money for services may well be tight for years to come and that means we have to re-think old ways of working and be much smarter in our approach. Charities, the public sector, politicians, all of us need to work together to find new collaborative approaches to really improve lives.

Support First - an endorsement for collaborative services

With Dave Bagley, CEO of Urban Outreach   Last week I was invited by the Big Lottery Fund to see how their funding is being put to use to help...

Supported housing schemes can be very valuable to communities. They come in many forms – homeless hostels, sheltered housing for older residents, refuge for victims of domestic violence, specialist accommodation for former members of the armed forces and many more.

The Government are proposing changes that could put these schemes at risk. I don’t want to see services lost, and I want housing providers to keep investing in these schemes in the future.

I’ve been meeting with local providers and visiting schemes in our community to get a better understanding of the issues involved. So far I’ve met with St Vincent’s Housing Association, Great Places Housing Group, and Bolton at Home.

This week I visited Bolton House, which is run by Riverside. They offer temporary accommodation and intensive support to offenders on license who are homeless. They work with other local agencies to try and break the cycles of reoffending and homelessness so that people can move on to live independent lives in the community.

It was encouraging to meet with the staff and hear how the various agencies in Bolton are working together to help some of the most vulnerable people in our community and ensure that they can reintegrate. 

 

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What are the Government proposing? 

Many of the people who need to live in supported housing rely on Housing Benefit to pay the rent. The Government are trying to change the rules for Housing Benefit in social housing, linking it to the Local Housing Allowance. 

This would mean people could probably get money for a normal council house (for example) but Housing Benefit would no longer meet the extra costs that come with supported housing (like the cost of an on-site warden).  

Although, this would vary across the country. Rent in social housing is roughly the same all across the country, but private rents that the cap would be based on vary wildly.  

In places like London and the South East where rental costs are high services would likely see no change to their ability to claim costs through housing benefit, but cuts could be huge in other regions. This would create a postcode lottery and driving investment away from areas like Bolton. 

Riverside have provided examples: 3% of their tenants in London would be negatively affected. Whilst 58% living in the North East would be negatively affected. 

Labour have been holding the Government to account on this issue and forced them to push back their plans. There is still uncertainty about what will happen and we will be asking the Government to listen to the concerns of housing providers and provide some stability for the future of supported housing.

Supported Housing - My visit to Bolton House

Supported housing schemes can be very valuable to communities. They come in many forms – homeless hostels, sheltered housing for older residents, refuge for victims of domestic violence, specialist accommodation...

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If you go out to a bar or restaurant and receive good service you may choose to leave a tip. You’d expect that the person serving you would get to keep the tip as a bonus on top of their wages, or perhaps that staff would share the tips between them. However, in many workplaces this is no longer the case.

Some employers have started to take a proportion or even all of their employees’ tips as part of the business’s profits. This is particularly prevalent in companies which accept tips via card payments.

People often wonder about the mysterious ‘service charge’ that appears on some bills and what it is for, but I think people would be uncomfortable at the thought that this isn’t being passed on to hardworking waiting staff.

We should be able to confidently reward good service with thanks and know that this is going to the right people. I think these companies need to be open and honest with their customers.

The Government’s Business Department launched a very welcome consultation into these practices. However that consultation ended more than a year ago and they have not published the results or come forward with any proposals.

I am backing an Early Day Motion in Parliament urging Government Ministers to publish this consultation and give assurance to hospitality workers that their concerns will be addressed. 

Watch workers talk about their experiences in this video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=fYcqLYbKrsw 

Facts on unfair tips

Employers hold onto staff tips in all kinds of ways, often without customers’ knowledge including:

1. Charging a fee - employers taking a cut from customer tips paid on a credit or debit card as an administration fee. Typically between 8%-15%.

2. Charging waiters to work - deducting a percentage of between 2%-3% from waiting staff table sales. If staff don't make enough money in tips to cover the levy, then it comes out of their wages.

3. Employers pocketing entire or hefty chunk of the 'optional' service charge that increasing numbers of restaurants are automatically adding to customer bills, instead of giving it to staff. Typically between 10%-15%.

4. Using tips and service charge payments to cover the cost of breakages, till shortages, customers doing a runner, paying credit card transaction fees or quite simply to boost their own profits. They could even be used to boost senior managers' wages.

5. Bogus tronc schemes - a properly run tronc scheme - a pooling system used by employers to distribute non-cash tips to employees -should be genuinely independent, free from employer interference and involve staff. But many aren't - too often staff get no say in how non-cash tips and service charge are shared out or who get a share.

 

Fair Tips

  If you go out to a bar or restaurant and receive good service you may choose to leave a tip. You’d expect that the person serving you would get...

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When speaking to local residents about access to mental health services I’m often told that the quality of care in Bolton is very good, but waiting times are a big issue.

This was highlighted again when I recently submitted a written question to the Government about waiting times, which showed that Bolton is a long way behind the average across the North West.

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I wrote to NHS Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (who determine local spending priorities and monitor outcomes) about this issue and I thought that local residents may be interested in the information provided. 

Bolton have set a target to ensure every patient receives an appointment within 28 days of being referred for Psychological Therapies by March 2019. An extra £800,000 will be spent on increasing capacity in these services over the next two years.

The anecdotal evidence about the quality of these services was also supported by local figures which show that Bolton patients using Psychological Therapies have a recovery rate 10% above the national target and 9% above the national average.

I hope that services in Bolton continue to improve and I am always happy to raise any concerns that local residents may have about this.

Mental health services in Bolton

  When speaking to local residents about access to mental health services I’m often told that the quality of care in Bolton is very good, but waiting times are a...

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During the General Election I expressed my concern about the Conservative plans for school funding.

Schools are facing the biggest cut to their budgets since the 1950s. Independent website www.schoolcuts.org.uk found that every single school in Bolton North East would see their budgets cut by the Tories new school funding formula.

Our community was rightly concerned about the potential loss of teachers and the long lasting effects this would have on the next generation.

In the face of huge pressure from the Labour Party, teachers and parents, the Conservatives announced a schools bailout plan last week.

However there is still huge uncertainty for local schools. The Government say they’re giving £1.3bn to core school funding in the next two years, but there’s no detail about how that will be distributed.

Analysis by the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows that even with this bailout school funds will be facing a real terms cut of nearly 5 per cent over the four years to 2019.

There’s no new money either, it’s just being moved around within the Department for Education, so what is it that’s no longer being funded?

We’ve also seen no announcement of changes to the shoddy funding formula that caused so much concern. If the bailout is intended to just put this on hold for two years then carry on as planned this is no solution at all.

I don’t want local schools to be pushed into difficult decisions with a cloud of uncertainty hanging over them. It may be the start of summer but the Government can’t put off doing their homework, they have serious questions to answer on school funding.

Bolton’s schools are still under threat

  During the General Election I expressed my concern about the Conservative plans for school funding. Schools are facing the biggest cut to their budgets since the 1950s. Independent website...

 

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I recently met with Network Rail to discuss the ongoing works to improve the Bolton-Manchester line.

The next phase delivers long awaited upgrades to Bolton station. Work taking place includes: modifying existing platforms and canopies, remodelling tracks, upgrading signalling, installing overhead line equipment and building a new footbridge. The biggest change for passengers will be the revival of platform 5, which will improve the stations capacity and flexibility.

Unfortunately the scale of this work means that the station will have to be partially closed for a long time this summer.

I have received assurances that my constituents who use the Blackburn train line via Bromley Cross will still be able to travel in and out of Bolton.

However services onwards to Manchester/Preston ect will be replaced by buses.

This will be in effect on Sundays 23rd July, 30th July & 6th August and then every day from 12th-27th August while these improvement works are undertaken.

I appreciate that this will be inconvenient for people. If you experience any difficulty during this time regarding the information available to passengers or the effectiveness of the arrangements then please let me know. I will raise any concerns with Network Rail.

This work will bring us one step closer to the long over-due electrification of the train line and, hopefully, towards a better service.

Bolton train station closed this summer

  I recently met with Network Rail to discuss the ongoing works to improve the Bolton-Manchester line. The next phase delivers long awaited upgrades to Bolton station. Work taking place...

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