This is National Apprenticeship Week and it’s been great to have the opportunity to showcase the career opportunities that a good apprenticeship can offer. I was very lucky to be invited to shadow my constituent, Abbie, who is undertaking a degree level apprenticeship with Trafford Park construction company Russells and Salford University. Abbie took me round the buildings she is working on which are part of a big regeneration programme in Manchester city centre. She told me about the different disciplines she’ll cover, and her ambition to become a quantity surveyor. We definitely want to see more women in construction, there are lots of well paid and highly skilled jobs on offer, and an apprenticeship enables people to earn while they’re learning. Abbie would highly recommend doing an apprenticeship, and having seen for myself what a great experience she is having, so would I.
It’s been a busy week of talking to young people about politics. I was really pleased to visit St Antony’s Catholic college in the constituency to talk to their Year 10 students, and to welcome students from Flixton Girls on a visit to parliament. I’m always pleased to see young people taking an interest in politics. You can read more about my visit to St Antony’s here.
I also very much enjoyed my visit to Manchester Rotary’s breakfast club to hear about their charitable work in the UK and internationally.
In parliament, transport issues have been taking up my time. I participated in a debate on decarbonisation and transport, and pressed the government to provide Greater Manchester with the funding we need to decarbonise our buses, taxis and freight vehicles. I’ve also attended more meetings about our local rail service. This will be taken back into the public sector on 1 March, and the new operator will then produce an improvement plan, which should be available by early summer. I’ve been absolutely plain that the top priority for local passengers is to have a service they can rely on. And I made it quite clear that fare increases will be utterly unacceptable until we see real and sustained improvement.
Tuesday was World Cancer Day, and I received a very interesting briefing from Cancer Research UK. I also attended a very informative event organised by RNIB, who told me about some of the new assistive technology available to help visually impaired people, taught me a new technique for captioning my tweets, and introduced me to Mike, and Mac his gorgeous guide dog. AgeUK also met me in parliament to discuss what needs to improve for older people in Stretford and Urmston. Top concerns are paying for care, housing costs, and – on a familiar theme – access to transport.
We cover a very wide range of subjects in parliament, and I try to take up all the concerns raised by constituents. But it’s always particularly nice to be able to work on subjects in which I specialise. I’m a social security geek, and so I was determined to be in the chamber to challenge the minister on the latest problems with universal credit. This benefit was supposed to make things simpler and fairer, but it causes so much misery to my constituents. You can watch my question to the minister here and do take a look at the recent BBC documentary here to get more of a flavour of some of the problems.
I’m also very pleased to have been reelected co-chair of the all party parliamentary group (APPG) on women in the penal system. As a former magistrate, I have a longstanding interest in penal policy, and I remain absolutely convinced that the majority of women in custody really shouldn’t be there. In Manchester, we have been applying an innovative preventative approach for a number of years, and the APPG is interested in how that might be spread right across the country. We looked at some very interesting data comparing arrest rates and sentences. I’m looking forward to doing much more work on this, and understanding what works to reduce both offending and reoffending rates, and the size of the prison population.