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Ministers need to get a grip on our disastrous Northern Rail service

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Last week’s theme was health. This week, my attention has been on transport, and especially on the appalling train service passengers in Stretford and Urmston have been receiving from Northern Rail.

The service has been dreadful for months. Improvements are promised next year as new trains come on track, but passengers are fed up now. Week after week, I hear about delays, cancellations, overcrowding, trains going straight through stations without stopping because there’s no room for anyone else to get on, and now to add insult to injury, the new timetable omits some stops altogether.

For months, I’ve been pressing ministers to get a grip of this disastrous situation, and at the very least, to sort out a compensation scheme for passengers. But nothing has happened. Now Andy Burnham is getting stuck in, and has complained to Transport for the North, suggesting there should be an investigation to see if Northern should even keep the franchise. 

I talked to Andy a few weeks ago about the service local people have been experiencing, and I am very pleased he’s got involved. But government ministers should be dealing with this matter, as I pointed out on more than one occasion in the chamber this week.

Still on transport matters, and more positively, it was good to join other Greater Manchester MPs on a visit to Manchester Airport to see the progress that’s being made on a new terminal building. This is a really impressive project - and, unlike our trains, it’s running to time.

When not talking about transport, I was asking questions about education. The government has recently published a document on how we can ensure different communities live harmoniously together, and, rightly, it emphasises the importance of ensuring people living in this country speak English. But funding has been cut and numbers participating in English language classes have fallen. I raised this contradiction with Education Ministers this week.

And I was in the chamber to complain that new money that has been announced for grammar schools won’t help the majority of children in Stretford and Urmston, and especially the most marginalised children. Only 6% of children in care, 3% of children on free school meals, and fewer than 1% with special educational needs or disabilities attend grammar schools in Trafford, while many schools are having to make staff redundant and cut back on activities and equipment to balance their budgets. If there’s new money to put into schools, it should have been spent on dealing with this appalling state of affairs.

Finally, I’ve had some really interesting meetings in the past few days. Thanks to GMB union, who came to parliament to talk about the stress that zero hours and jobs in the so-called ‘gig’ economy causes workers who don’t have any job security. I was very pleased to meet campaigners from the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Voice group. They told me about the long delays (sometimes years) they experience while the Home Office processes their asylum applications (or doesn’t). They’re in a horrible limbo while all this is going on, unable to work, find a permanent home, reunite with family members, or get on with their lives. And the European Scrutiny Committee, of which I’m a member, had a fascinating session with the Northern Ireland secretary, in which we tried, and failed, to make any sense of the government’s position on how they’ll keep the Irish border open after Brexit. With only a few months to go till we’re meant to have finalised the Exit deal, the fact that the government still doesn’t seem to have a clue is very alarming.

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