Last week was another busy one in Burnley and Padiham. The local elections are now over and we need to carry on working hard to keep the streets clean, make our communities safer and bring prosperity and jobs to our town.
I was especially pleased to hear during the week that plans have been passed for the new Oval shopping centre in Burnley. I understand building will start on the development, which will include a new Next and Primark, in July or August, creating construction jobs and 500 jobs once complete.
On Tuesday I was in Westminster to welcome 20 students and teachers from Blessed Trinity RC College to Parliament. I was pleased to show them round the House of Commons where they listened to a debate in the chamber. It was great to hear from staff in the House of Commons that they were some of the nicest and most well-mannered young people they had met – a credit to Burnley.
During the week PVC window firm VEKA celebrated 25 years in Burnley and I would like to congratulate them on reaching this milestone. The company held a celebration of all they have achieved in the past quarter of a century and I would like to wish them every success for the next 25 years.
On Saturday I attended a superb musical evening organised by the Rotary Club of Burnley with one of the world’s finest brass bands, the Fairey (Geneva), in concert with the Rossendale Male Voice Choir and Rossendale Ladies’ Choir. Congratulations should go to the concert’s organisers for creating this wonderful event, which raised money for Macmillan Nurses.
This time last year was the end of the General Election campaign and it has been a huge privilege to serve as your MP. I thought I would use the next couple of weeks to reflect on some of the highlights of the past year. This week, I would like to highlight five Lib-Dem policies, implemented in Government, I am particularly proud of.
As you know, the country is borrowing billions of pounds. Unfortunately, unless this is brought under control, the Government will not have enough money to spend on the services we rely on. However, we have still been able to introduce some good policies which will benefit Burnley:
1. Reducing income tax for lower and middle earners. The Goverment has made a big step towards its aim of reducing the tax paid by low earners. At the end of this five-year Parliament, nobody earning below £10,000 will pay income tax.
2. A higher state pension. Margaret Thatcher removed the link between state earnings and the state pension and the last Government did nothing to change this. I am proud this has been reversed. From this month, state pensions will increase every year by earnings, inflation or 2.5%, whichever is higher. This means the end of insulting 50p increases we have seen in recent years. Pensioners have worked all their lives for a decent retirement and should not be penalised just because they are no longer working.
3. Providing more money for primary schools with pupils from low income backgrounds. The Pupil Premium will give extra cash to schools for every pupil on free school meals. This money will be used to provide extra teaching for children from less advantaged backgrounds so they get a good start in life.
4. A massive expansion in apprenticeships. With Vince Cable overseeing the creation of a minimum of 250,000 more apprenticeship places by 2014, they will be at record levels and should bring three major benefits. Apprenticeships are good for the apprentices, giving people the opportunity to learn skills; they are good for British businesses, which often complain about the shortage of skilled labour; and they are good for the country, for each pound the Government invests in apprenticeship jobs, apprentices generate a return of £40 during their lifetime.
5. Making work pay. The Government has put forward plans to reform the benefits system so those receiving unemployment benefits will not end up worse off if they take a job.
I am proud these Lib-Dem policies are now being introduced. Other parties will criticise the Government, but even they cannot deny these measures will make a real difference to residents in Burnley.