I felt as if I’ve had a restful break back in the constituency over Easter, but looking back over my diary, I realise it was a very busy ten days! But meeting local families and young people, and attending events that reflect the rich cultural diversity of my constituency, has meant the time flew past. It was especially good to attend events with my parliamentary next door neighbour and friend Afzal Khan MP, first at the joyful Vaisakhi celebrations at Sri Guru Gobind Singh Gurdwara, and then at an event on tackling Islamophobia at the British Muslim Heritage Centre.
Both these themes were picked up when we got back to Westminster this week. A number of activities took place to mark Sikh Awareness Month, including a Turban Tying session! I must say wearing a turban gave me a real sense of stature, and it was so interesting to hear about their importance for my Sikh constituents. Meanwhile, following the letter I had sent to the Home Secretary before Easter regarding mosque security during Ramadan, which had the support of 90 colleagues, I was very pleased that the government has announced a number of security workshops for places of worship. I’ll be meeting representatives of local mosques this weekend and will be able to share details of how to register to attend them.
I was also very pleased to join my colleague Lucy Powell MP at a meeting with Windrush families in Hulme. This group has been looking closely at the compensation scheme announced by the government for those from Commonwealth countries who came to the UK many years ago, and have wrongly been forced to leave the UK, or refused readmission after trips abroad, or denied access to NHS or other services. The group shared a number of concerns with us, which we will be pursuing with government ministers.
I was also very pleased to meet students and staff at Wellacre College to discuss ideas to improve safety around the school, and for new local cycling and walking routes, along with Cllrs Steve Adshead and Graham Whitham, and Tom from the Trafford Cycling Forum. The students had lots of ideas to offer, and we will be making sure we get information to them about funding sources, and how they can respond to forthcoming consultations on new cycling and walking routes in Trafford.
And there was a connection to this theme too when I got back to parliament, where climate change and green transport have shot up the political agenda in the past few weeks, thanks to the recent school strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests. On Tuesday, Swedish student campaigner Greta Thunberg addressed a packed meeting of MPs and others, and later I went into the chamber to ask the minister about support and funding for Greater Manchester’s clean air plan watch my question here.
The Easter break also naturally meant some fabulous community events. It was good to get along to the Partington Family Fun day, in the company of Councillors Adele New, Aidan Williams, mayor of Trafford Tom Ross and Mayoress Anne Duffield. Everyone had a great time, enjoying the fantastic weather and the different rides and activities.
Other activities over the break however have been rather more troubling. I met representatives from Manchester Airport last week to talk about the government’s consultation on whether licensing laws should apply at airports, and the measures the Airport is taking to prevent drunk and abusive passengers from flying. This was a really informative briefing, and again I’ll be pursuing the issue in parliament.
I also had a very useful meeting with the Fire Brigades Union about proposed changes to our fire service, some of which deeply concern me. Everyone knows that vicious government cuts have put huge pressure on fire and rescue services. But reducing the number of firefighters on appliances, and reconfiguring services, could mean longer response times, and firefighters put at greater risk, and I join Trafford Council leader Andy Western in being completely clear we won’t stand for that. The Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham is consulting on the proposals, and I’d urge you to have your say here. I have also asked Andy Burnham for an urgent briefing for Greater Manchester MPs on the proposals.
One final visit in the constituency over the Easter holiday was to accommodation run by Serco, for asylum seekers in my constituency. I was distressed and depressed by what I saw. Yes, the accommodation was clean, and, apparently, recently repainted. Yes, people live there safely. But it totally lacked homeliness, there was absolutely nothing to keep residents occupied, furniture was basic, rooms were tiny, and it’s impossible to imagine how living in this way could help anyone begin to recover from persecution, torture or terror. I am so ashamed of the meanness of our reception of asylum seekers, people who may have suffered the most appalling trauma. We can offer a much better welcome than this, as our excellent community resettlement scheme has shown. And, yes, again, this is something I will be pursuing further in parliament.
And although we have been back in Westminster only three days, it has already been a busy start to the new term. I chaired a very interesting briefing on public attitudes to immigration (more complicated than you might think, read my blog about this here. I joined young people from Gypsy Roma and Traveller communities to listen to their ideas about youth participation. As I write, a debate on cuts to schools funding is about commence – I conducted a survey of heads in my constituency about this, and their responses make alarming reading. More than 9 out of 10 report that they’re pessimistic about funding for their schools, funding per pupil has reduced, and parents are being asked to pay for more activities. On Wednesday, meanwhile, a debate took place on cuts to local government and social care, which again have had a significant impact for us in Trafford.
So next week, when we vote in the local elections, I’ll be thinking about the challenges my Labour councillor colleagues have faced in their first year of running the council – and the difference they have made already. Turning round failing and inadequate care homes. Investing in our youth service. Starting the process of building new social housing for local families. Cancelling the green bin tax, and plans to build on Flixton green belt. I’ll be proud to vote Labour in the council elections on Thursday, and with Labour just two councillors short of an outright majority on the council, all our votes really count. So please make sure to get along to the polling station on 2 May to vote for your excellent Labour candidates. More information about candidates standing in each ward can be found here and information on where to vote can be found here.
And just to remind you – on 23 May, there will be another chance to vote Labour! – as we’ll be voting in the European parliamentary elections. It’s so important for us to participate in these elections. The Brexit process is as stuck as ever, and if decisions are being made in Brussels about our future in Europe, I want British MEPs in the room. It’s not too late to register to vote in these elections, and if you are an EU national who wants to vote in the UK, it’s also vital that you complete the UC1 form, which you should have received from Trafford Council, and return it by 7 May. For more information, visit the Council’s website here or call 0161 912 4259.