Unemployment figures reflect business optimism in Gloucester

Figures released yesterday showed a fall in unemployment in Gloucester. Unemployment in the city is now down by 450 since the 2010 General Election and the number of Job Seekers claimants has fallen by over 700 in the last year since March 2013.

I’m delighted to see this drop in unemployment and the overall trend is very encouraging. Figures show that businesses are continuing to expand and offering opportunities for my constituents and I hope they take advantage of the reduction on the Jobs Tax with the new Employment Allowance, introduced this month and giving businesses a £2000 cut off their National Insurance Bill.

The CBI has reported that confidence among businesses is high and expect output to continue growing, I know anecdotally of several significant medium sized employers in the city looking to expand, which is a good sign and more is in the pipe line with work starting on the second phase of Railway Triangle soon, and increased interest on other sites.

Looking further ahead the imminent sale of former HMPrison and availability of Quayside should also provide construction and other opportunities before long.

Foodbanks

Yesterday’s figures of the number of people using Foodbanks shows the remarkable popularity of a new concept to Britain – though familiar in Europe since the 1980s and spreading today in rich nations like Germany.

In Gloucester as elsewhere there has been a big rise in customers since our Foodbank opened in the early part of the Great Recession, and since I first visited in 2008. Why?

No-one knows all the answers. Some, with a clear agenda, blame it on government welfare policies. Others like Robin Aitken, founder of the Oxford Foodbank, say simply that if you provide a service people will use it. He points out that we don’t know how many people would have used the service in the past because Foodbanks haven’t been around that long and says that trying to politicise Foodbanks is wrong: there is no evidence that if benefits were increased the
number of users would decrease.

I believe there are many reasons why people go to the Foodbank. One is it’s simply easier to get the vouchers needed: this government has allowed Job Centres and others, like my own constituency office, to issue them.

Another is that Foodbanks are simpler than government provided benefits: there is no detailed analysis or means testing of the individual situation of each applicant required (no taxpayer funds are involved). Nor are there any other
barriers, including nationality. German media report worries that Rumanians and Bulgarians are using their Foodbanks, but they’re open to all.

So not all our users in Great Western Road are from the city or Gloucestershire or even the UK. Some of the users are the same person coming again: and there is no precise means test of who comes.

This is the same for people who go to the Cathedral breakfast or Salvation Army lunch (both free): if there was a free breakfast and lunch every day, more people would go. And if every church did the same every day I have no doubt
many more people would go.

But would that show people were much poorer than generations ago, or before the war when older residents remember children going to St Pauls bare footed and doctors’ fees paid with home grown veg?

We don’t know what individuals going to the Foodbank do in terms of work or how spend whatever money they earn or receive from benefits, or who and where are their family and friends and how they help.

I do know anecdotally from CAB advisors that some of the many who get into debt issues spend their benefits money on alcohol or drugs: and once trapped by a loan shark in many cases they DO struggle to afford anything, including food.
These are complex situations, often involving mental health and money alone won’t help, though we do need our Credit Union to reach out more, to be more effective and better known – volunteers would make a real difference.

We also know that spending priorities differ around the county. Almost everyone in the city today expects to have a mobile. 20 years few, if any, would. There will be rural poor, far from and unable to get to a Foodbank, desperately poor, and lonely – but maybe growing potatoes and other veg at home and not owning a mobile. Are they better or worse off than those with occasional access to a Foodbank?

In Gloucester my constituents are generous with time and money. This essentially christian response I’ve seen when out with Anne-Liese and volunteers encouraging food donations at the Quedgeley Tesco: or my own Rotary community committee. We all know that many struggle, and it is right to help without asking too many questions.

But if we want to understand WHY there is such a big rise in the use of Foodbanks it will take a credible and non political research group some time to analyse different social trends. This should definitely include looking as cases where transferring from eg DLA to Pip benefits or ESA to JSA involved unnecessary delay of payments. It should include whether work assessments (WCA) have led to increased paperwork, transition of benefits and hardship for some of our most vulnerable. (I think it has but the numbers are small compared to the numbers of users of Foodbanks).

But it should also include a wider look at the community around each user of the Foodbank: who else can help with the wider issues they may have? What is the role of faith and charities?

I believe research may show that it is a good thing that Foodbanks exist, that people donate and volunteer, and that as the economy grows, more people work and wages increase over inflation but using Foodbank stats to beat government isn’t much of an answer.

What is happening looks to me more complex, a nation wide and Europe wide issue, and asks questions of us all as humans and members of families.

So because we don’t know what would happen to Foodbanks if the minimum wage were tripled and everyone employed I back Bishop Michael’s call for more research. I would rather it was done by eg the Centre for Social Justice because this is an issue for all society, not just for government.

Housing Minister Kris Hopkins comes to Gloucester City Homes

Clear day, trains on time and Housing Minister Kris Hopkins comes to GCH offices last Tuesday to announce to a packed room of staff, tenants’ representatives, Councillors and media, inc BBC Points West TV, that the deal is done.

The government has written off £52 million, GCH buys the housing stock for £20 million and can invest in new housing for the first time in 25 years, raising £30 million for both this and an extensive program of repairs and upgrades.

We then drove round Matson, Tuffley & Podsmead to see the main parts of the estate – I repeated my long held view that Matson is the most beautiful part of Gloucester – and met tenants.

So for two cups of tea and an egg sandwich the Minister signed off on what I believe is the biggest ever single investment in Gloucester by government: writing off £52 million and releasing £30 million, including about £10 million for the first 100 new homes.

That’s about £40 million per cup of tea. But then we don’t believe in short changing visitors. Gloucester is worth every penny.

Now for tenants to decide on whether to support the investment, and Councillors to approve. That all takes till October. If all is approved then it’s action time.

There’s a long way to go, but gradually we can start dreaming of what might be. More housing that workers can afford: replacement housing for some of the oldest sites; a better look and feel to some of our oldest social housing sites.

Not the beginning of the end then: but definitely the end of the beginning. Thanks to GCH, Tenants and Councillors for all your help (and hospitality) so far. It’s been a long journey. Now the Westminster part ends and the focus is on Gloucester..
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Richard III exhibition – a huge success

http://www.gloucester.gov.uk/richard-iii-exhibition-a-huge-success

3,000 visitors to City Museum for Richard 111 Exhibition

Am really pleased that so many residents came to this exhibition, which was brilliantly laid out and organised, with a good mix of national and local items (see LINK to city council press release).

What it shows is that Gloucester can, and does, do Heritage: and we do it very well.

From my colleague Chris Skidmore’s talk on Richard of Gloucester, with the current Duke of Gloucester present, to all the talks in the Museum, this was another great Gloucester success – which builds confidence. More please.

2nd Gloucester Beer Festival – NOW!

Today is the first day of the 2nd Gloucester Beer Festival and I was delighted to be there for the start of it with organiser Margaret Wilkins, her committee and team of volunteers and adventurer Jamie McDonald.

I’m looking forward to going back this evening to explore many more of the excellent local beers available. It also happens to be my birthday which is good as an excuse as any…

The beer and pub sector supports 1624 jobs in Gloucester and the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that their sector adds £33million to Gloucester economy every year; 73 pubs, 1 brewery, 1176 full time jobs and 570 jobs for 16-24 year olds- all in all an important contribution to our city.

Of course I’m biased: I prefer beer to wine, my father has a pub with a micro brewery and I think beer and pubs are a great part of Gloucester and our country’s traditions.

So I encourage everyone to go and enjoy the Gloucester Beer Festival in Blackfriars all day today and tomorrow (11.30am – 11pm)

Clare’s Law

With the tragic murder of Hollie Gazzard still fresh in our memories last week saw a welcome step forward in helping to protect people from domestic violence – Clare’s Law, launched on International Women’s Day and named after Clare Wood who was murdered by an ex-boyfriend in 2009 – will allow people to find out about a partner’s previous history of domestic violence. So, from now on anyone who fears their partner could be abusive, or has been abusive in the past can ask the police to tell them about any previous convictions.

This doesn’t by any means solve the problem but it’s a really positive step in tackling it by providing people with information that they can use to potentially save their lives. I would encourage anyone who is in a domestic violent situation or thinks they could be to use this resource and go ask. You can access the relevant application forms via the Constabulary website, or at any Police Station reception area. Further information available here Clare’s Law leafletpdf

Artisan Kitchen

Delighted to see the Artisan Kitchen in Barnwood has won 6 awards at the Marmalade Awards. The winning flavours included Blood Orange, Pink Grapefruit & Lemon and Seville Orange. Great example of a local business leading the way nationally and continuing Gloucester’s legacy of making things!

For more information about their delicious products visit: http://www.theartisankitchen.co.uk/about/4577291045

Apprenticeships Change Lives

National Apprenticeship Week celebrates many things but ultimately it’s about people – and the opportunities they see in the ladder of an apprenticeship. We know about Sir Alex Ferguson and many other famous examples, even Ian Mean at the Citizen: but what about today’s young in Gloucester?

Laura Pearsall joined my office in 2011 as a seventeen year old apprentice after taking GCSEs at Ribston Hall. She finished her 2 year apprenticeships last summer after gaining an NVQ in Business Administration and now works for Prospect Training. Laura said: “I thoroughly enjoyed the 2 years I spent as Richard Graham’s Apprentice. The opportunity to gain experience in an MP’s office as well as studying towards my NVQ’s in Business & Administration gave me a brilliant grounding. I most enjoyed assisting constituents in distress, and being able to make a difference for them. And I will never forget visiting No 10 & meeting David Cameron!”

Laura ApprenticeshipsWould she recommend an apprenticeship to other 17 year olds? “yes definitely” Laura replied,: “not only do you gain qualifications, you also gain extremely valuable work experience, and earn money while doing that”.

Last autumn I recruited my new apprentice, Holly Piper, who joined after doing A levels. I asked Holly why she’d gone for this opening and what she’d found since starting: “I really enjoy being an Apprentice, it gives me the opportunity to learn working skills and gain knowledge in subjects like housing, immigration and benefits. Being an Apprentice also allows me to meet new people and learn more about national and local government.”Holly Piper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Every apprenticeships is different – like the features of each organisation who offers them. But the benefits are strikingly similar: earning while learning: real life experience: responsibility: and a chance to make a difference. In my experience apprentices definitely DO make a difference. Now I hope ALL small businesses, which is what my office is (without a balance sheet), will take on an apprentice. And I’ve just heard that Anderson Recruiting, a small business in Quedgeley I met last year and gave encouragement to is doing just that – hiring an apprentice.  So congratulations to Karen Anderson for taking the leap!

Meeting Guangdong Nuclear Power President Zhang Shanming

Was delighted as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary China Group (APPCG) to host a meeting in Parliament recently with President Zhang Shanming of the China Guangdong Nuclear Power Group (CGN), who are likely to invest in the EdF Energy new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point. Mr Zhang first came to the UK 25 years ago during the construction of the first Chinese nuclear power station at Daya Bay. Much of the technology was provided by GEC Alsthom, and I was British Trade Commissioner China promoting UK interests in the project from Hong Kong.

CGN President Zhang Shanming

President Zhang focused on the rate of return of the project as an investor, building relations with EdF Energy and the UK government as part of their long term strategy. He was at pains to stress the high level of safety in every power station that CGN ran and invited the APPCG to visit Daya Bay towards the end of the year.

I highlighted this government’s commitment to developing new nuclear power stations. This was shown by the speed at which we had refined and enhanced regulations, including the planning process, responded to the earthquakes in Japan and designed and awarded of tenders for 3 new stations – followed by agreement on the strike price. Barnwood in Gloucester was the operational headquarters for EdF Energy and I would be delighted for him to come to Gloucester – and was sure EdF Energy would welcome him and colleagues at Barnwood. I also confirmed in principle I would lead an APPCG delegation to Southern China, including a visit to see the Daya Bay station, towards the end of the year.

Apprenticeship Opportunity

Are you looking for an apprenticeship opportunity? Gloucestershire Hospitals Foundation Trust are looking to recruit someone for an Intermediate Level Apprenticeship in Business Administration. If you’re under the age of 18 and are looking to pursue a career in healthcare administration do contact Becki Clapton on 0300 422562 or visit www.jobs.nhs.uk

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