Press Release: City MP says more should use Citizen Advice pension guidance

Richard discussing the Pension Wise scheme at the Citizens Advice Bureau, Gloucester

Richard discussing the Pension Wise scheme at the Citizens Advice Bureau, Gloucester

“Deciding what to do with your pension pot, if you have one, can be complicated. Not enough people know you can get good guidance from Citizen Advice.”

That was Gloucester MP and Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee member Richard Graham’s view recently after reviewing the Gloucester Citizens Advice free service – part of the government’s ‘Pension Wise’ scheme.

The MP said not enough people in the city or county were aware of the service, which taxpayers are funding.

“If you’re over 55 and have a money purchase, or Defined Contribution pension, you chance a lot of new freedom about what you can do with it. But what would be best for your situation? That’s where very experienced Citizens Advice staff can help.”

Richard Graham, who also chairs Parliament’s All Party Pensions Group, encouraged constituents to ring 01905 721892 and book an appointment.

“Take advantage of this free opportunity now.”


Government reforms have given people new freedom over their pension pots. Currently anyone 55 and above, with a defined contribution pension, can decide what to do with their money.

To help people understand the flexibility they now have with their pension savings the Government launched Pension Wise to help people make informed decisions.

Face-to-face appointments with pension specialists are available through Citizens Advice, with appointments taking place at the Gloucester Citizens Advice office in Eastgate.

Pension Wise has helped people with pensions ranging from less than £1,000 to more than £1 million in the city.

One 60-year-old woman, keen to understand every aspect of her pension and the options available, said her Pension Wise appointment had been “very helpful and thorough”, continuing she “would recommend it to anyone”.

Another client described the specialist he spoke to as “very knowledgeable” and appreciated the time taken to help him with understanding his pension.

Christmas Card Competition 2015

With teacher Abigail Smeaton, winner Chloe Goodwin-Gardner and runners up Aarchanaa Theiventhirarasa and Xhuljana Meta

With Moat Primary teacher Abigail Smeaton, winner Chloe Goodwin-Gardner and runners up Aarchanaa Theiventhirarasa and Xhuljana Meta

After last year’s amazing Quedgeley card from Severn Vale, I wanted to highlight Robinswood, one of Gloucester’s most special places. So I asked Moat Primary School and teacher Abigail Smeaton brilliantly organised a competition, with about half of Years 5 and 6 joining in.

The quality of drawings and paintings was high.

At the assembly, where I announced the winners and showed their designs, one child said it had been fun as well as hard work – a great lesson of life.

I then highlighted the works by Aarchanaa Theiventhirarasa and Xhuljana Meta for the runners up awards and Chloe Goodwin-Gardner’s winning design.

It is full of life and movement and drama. Chloe has her Santa racing through a snowy Gloucester night towards Robinswood Hill, no doubt hurrying before the dawn of Christmas Day. His sleigh is laden with presents for children in Matson, his reindeer’s antlers are lit up by moonlight and beneath him lies the ski slope.

It’s a striking image and one copy will go to the Prime Minister in Number 10 Downing St.

I’m very grateful to Moat Primary School, and especially Abigail Smeaton, for help for this year’s card. I congratulate Head Tim Cooper and all the staff on progress made there recently.

The winning design

The winning design

Alex Harding Tribute

alex harding 3The other weekend I read the Citizen on my way to Heathrow and the first thing I saw, like all readers, was a photograph on the front page of a young man who I was proud to consider a friend – Alex Harding. But the heart stopping moment was reading Alex was dead.

I had a ten hour flight to China, and since then some days, to think about Alex and his death. Even now it isn’t easy to find the right words. But let me try.

Alex was probably only 13 when I first met him at the Gloucester Sea Cadets. He and his sister Ezme stood out even then among the impressive group of young volunteers. They both shared three characteristics to treasure: naturally good manners, instinctively kind spirits and cheeky smiles. Those three things, combined with hard work, make the best of friends, the most reliable of colleagues – and often future leaders.

Alex shone at the Sea Cadets. Each year he added more qualifications and skills. It was little surprise to me that in due course he became a Petty Officer. I saw and talked to him often at the many formal city and county occasions where the Sea Cadets were involved and, however tired or however anxious underneath, he always managed a smile. By the time he was 17 or 18 Alex had that most precious thing – natural confidence, an ability to talk to everyone, be the same person and not overawed by the amount of scrambled egg on a naval cap, or medals on a chest.

So I was very happy to give Alex a letter of reference and absolutely delighted when three years ago he won an apprenticeship at one of Gloucestershire’s leading engineers. Delphi makes the injection parts for Mercedes trucks, diesel engines and their apprenticeships are often the gateway to great careers.

Like all young people he had his share of worries and uncertainties. No doubt I saw only a fraction of them. But I believe Alex Harding was someone who whatever he did would have added to life, and made it more worthwhile for others, giving and getting enjoyment from giving. I cannot think of any achievement more worthwhile, and in 21 short years Alex gave more than many in a lifetime.

He leaves behind vivid memories, and cheeky smiles, for anyone who met him. But he also leaves his wonderful, supportive and loving parents, Andrew and Tricia, and his sister. There is simply nothing worse than burying your own child, decades before their normal turn. I have no idea how I would react, with three children of almost identical age. It is the test none of us want to face.

The Harding clan, including Alex’s elderly grandfather, one of the last of those who wear the Burma Star from World War Two, is strong. They will need every inch of strength to see them through Alex’s death and the deep gap in their team.

If there is any consolation at all it is simply this: that their son loved them all, and learnt much from home and family as well as all he did with the Sea Cadets, the Navy and Delphi.

Press Release: City MP Congratulates Rosebank Apprentice

IMG_20151111_160622Gloucester MP Richard Graham visited Rosebank Surgery on Stroud Road to congratulate their first apprentice Jodie Cook on winning the McDonald’s Award for Intermediate Apprentice of the Year for the South West, Thames Valley and Solent.

Jodie, who started at Rosebank three years ago as the first of now six apprentices, competes with others across England for a national award to be decided in January 2016.

City MP Richard Graham said, “This is another example of apprentices working in new roles and shows how Gloucester apprentices are being recognised nationally for great work.
I know Jodie makes a real difference to Rosebank. Wouldn’t it be good if she can go one step further and win a national award?”

Richard added: “I hope other surgeries will follow Rosebank’s lead and other apprentices be inspired by Jodie.”

Fair Funding for Gloucestershire schools?

Joining an assembly at Moat Primary School, Matson

Joining an assembly at Moat Primary School, Matson

The system we have to fund schools is grotesquely complex, and because of a metropolitan bias, it means cities like Gloucester in rural counties get much less than the average amount of money per pupil. How serious is this and what can be done to get fairer funding?

The amount available per pupil in Gloucestershire is £260 less than the average in Britain. But the comparison that brings the inequality alive is what the Gloucester Academy receives per pupil compared to secondary schools in Hackney, with similar diversity and in a not dissimilar area of deprivation. The difference totals £2.1 million a year. When teaching costs are 80% of total costs this disadvantages new Head Ian Frost and his teaching staff. No wonder our manifesto said simply that we will ‘make school funding fairer’.

And, to be fair, big steps have been taken. £390 million was added to the schools’ budget over 2010-14, £40 million was added last year and again in 2015. The gap between the average school and Gloucestershire’s has reduced from 7.5% to 5.5%.

More is needed, and this will have to mean re-balancing, with metropolitan areas receiving a bit less, and shires like ours a bit more. The Autumn Spending Review is a good moment for this and I am optimistic.

The real prize, however, is a new formula. I think work will begin on this in the New Year. Come what may there will be winners and losers. Nothing will seem fair to everyone. But we have to be better than the current system, which otherwise locks in bias year after year.

In Parliament the issue has been pursued by our ‘F40’ group of the areas most underfunded. I have spoken several times on this and again last week in another debate (see link). Three other Gloucestershire MPs were with me.

There is one thing you can do. If you are a constituent then please reply to this email with your name and address and we will add you to the growing list of names on our petition. I plan to present this petition – which has also been sent out to all schools in Gloucester and other constituencies facing funding difficulties – to the Government before the Autumn Statement so please respond before 20th November.

Let me know on if you support this good cause and keep an eye out on November 25th to see if good news is announced.

Best regards

Fair Funding Speech

Below is a copy of the speech I delivered on Fair Funding for schools on 5th November.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Walker, in a debate that is, at least on the Conservative side of the House, a complete sell-out. As has been noted, there have been several debates on this issue over the years. I have held one, but I do congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness (Graham Stuart), not least because the timing of his debate today, in the run-up to the autumn statement, is particularly apposite. His hard work is much appreciated by us all.

It is also worth noting that there are no fewer than four Gloucestershire MPs here today. That shows both our keen interest in the issue and an interesting characteristic of the debate, which is the pride in being towards the bottom of the league table. That is the reverse of the normal situation when it comes to supporting a football or rugby club. Much has been said already, and I do not intend to try to compete with my right hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert) on being at the bottom of the league, but I do want to highlight the challenges that my hon. Friend the Minister faces and to ask him about particular areas where he might be able to help us today.

The situation in Gloucestershire is not unlike that in other places. The average spend per pupil, at £4,365, is considerably less than the national average, but it is worth pointing out that that gap has narrowed as a result of the changes made this year. They narrow the gap in terms of underfunding against the national average from 7.7% to 5.5%. More telling is the difference between one school in my constituency, the newly formed Gloucester academy, and a school in Tower Hamlets. Both those schools have very similar, mixed, multicultural pupils. In the case of Gloucester academy, they speak as many as 25 different languages, but the Gloucester academy pupil, on average, receives £5,443, whereas a pupil in the school in Tower Hamlets receives £8,256. The difference amounts to £2.1 million a year, and given that 80% of schools’ costs are in teaching, teachers and people, that puts significant pressure on the most important element of any school’s success—the teaching staff.

Karen Lumley (Redditch) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that all children in this country, wherever they live, deserve the best education that we can give them? It is just not fair that children in Redditch, 5 miles away from Birmingham, receive £1,000 less each per year.

Richard Graham: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, but there is another aspect to this, which we must be aware of. I understand that the new Bishop of Gloucester, Bishop Rachel Treweek, the first female diocesan bishop in the land, will intervene in the House of Lords to help the F40 campaign, but she will be aware that fair funding for children across her diocese in the county of Gloucestershire will mean redistribution, which will probably arouse claims of unfairness in her previous patch in Tower Hamlets. This is a balancing act in terms of what is fair for all of us, and the Minister will have to juggle with that.

In the statement on 16 July, the Minister committed himself to making schools and early education fairer and said that he would put forward proposals in due course. I know that he will do so and that he will see the manifesto commitment simply to “make schools funding fairer” come true, but today I should like him to focus on the when, the what and the how. The when, in a sense, is the easiest bit, because the autumn statement is coming and we also have the commitment from my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State in her letter to the Chairman of the Education Committee, my constituency neighbour and hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael), which may inhibit a little what the Minister can say today.

The what will be all about the rebalancing—the winners and losers. As my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Karen Lumley) pointed out, one person’s fairness may be another person’s slight unfairness, but there is an absolute as well as a relative aim to go for. In addition to the what question, we have to look at the how, which is the process. It is easy for us to highlight the anomalies, but the Minister and his Department must find a solution, a process and a timeline.

The Library briefing paper contains a telling chart—exhibit A, which I am holding up, Mr Walker. In this flow diagram, there are simply too many elements. There is the guaranteed unit of funding, which was based on planned local authority spend some years ago, with three variables plus “some subsequent additional funding for ministerial priorities.”

Then there is the dedicated schools grant, which was based on assessed levels of need plus locked-in historical decisions on spending, which I suggest led to the gap widening during the five years of the previous, coalition Government. Then there are four other grants, plus the local funding formula, in which there are 14 allowable factors, and local authorities can choose which values are actually used for each factor. That is too complicated, and I hope that the Minister today will confirm that whatever new process is introduced, it will be simpler, easier to understand and much fairer for everyone.

Mr Gyimah: My hon. Friend rightly touches on the point about the process. What I can say at the outset is that whatever the outcome of the spending review, there will be very careful consultation with everyone concerned, which means, I suspect, that this will not be our only debate here on fairer funding in terms of how we get to a resolution.

Richard Graham: I am grateful to the Minister for his clarification, which will help all hon. Members on both sides of the House. We all want to see simplicity in the process, a system that everyone can at least understand, funding that is fundamentally fairer and timing that will fulfil the manifesto commitment. The more light that the Minister can shed today, within the constraints of the upcoming autumn statement and the Secretary of State’s commitment to an early new year proposal, the more that will help us all to go back to our constituencies and our counties and say, “The Government are on the case. We hear what you are saying and we want to fix it as soon as possible.”

Press Release: £5 million confirmed for Gloucester flood protection scheme

Gloucester MP Richard Graham has welcomed DEFRA Minister Rory Stewart’s confirmation today that EA’s flood protection plans for Gloucester would be published shortly, and will be funded with £5 million, with a six year Treasury guarantee.

The Minister was answering a question from Richard on the funding for our city’s flood defences. The City MP also asked whether there was a role for Severn Trent Water to play in protecting our city. The Minister confirmed he had talks with Severn Trent.

Richard Graham said: “This is encouraging. As we enter winter, with its increased risks of flooding around the Severn Estuary, it is important that we have an agreed plan and agreed funding. Severn Trent’s improvement works at the Netheridge Sewage Treatment Plant is also vital”.

Press Release: A&E waiting times in Gloucestershire set to improve

Patients will benefit from shorter A&E waiting times at Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, following an investigation by Monitor.

The health sector regulator agreed a number of improvements with the trust, and will continue to support its efforts to cut patient waiting times in A&E.

The trust will appoint an Improvement Director, who will be able to provide expertise to help it make improvements in A&E. It will also implement an improvement plan, which was prepared with the support of independent urgent care experts.

The trust, which provides acute and specialist care at hospitals in Gloucester and Cheltenham, was investigated because too many patients were waiting too long to be seen in its A&E.

Paul Streat, Regional Director at Monitor, said:

“We have worked with Gloucestershire Hospitals and local healthcare organisations to identify how patient waiting times in A&E can be reduced. We agreed a number of actions at the trust and across the local area which will improve healthcare and ensure that patients who need emergency care are seen quickly.

“We closed our investigation because we are confident that the trust is now taking the right steps to improve, and we expect to see it continue its efforts to speed up how quickly patients are seen in A&E.”

The health sector regulator will continue to provide close support and scrutiny as the trust delivers its improvement plan.

City MP Richard Graham commented, “I’m delighted Monitor has closed their investigation into A&E waiting times at Gloucestershire Royal Hospital because it is confident our Hospitals Trust is on the right track to improve them.

“In the run up to winter this is an encouraging sign of confidence.

“I still urge older people to get their flu jabs and all constituents to use their GPs and pharmacies for non-emergency issues.”

Press Release: City MP to host Opportunities Fair on 6th November at Blackfriars

Gloucester MP Richard Graham, Pluss, Forwards and learndirect will together host an Opportunities Fair on November 6th to help anyone looking for a job, whatever their age, ability or disability and wherever they are on the journey to finding what suits them best.

“This Fair,” said Richard, “builds on our last 11 jobs fairs – and makes a special effort, with partners, to be useful for those on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) as well as on JSA, looking for new challenges or seeking a first job after studying”.

The City MP said, “there’s a lot on offer: over 30 well known businesses including Gloucester Rugby, Gloucester City Council, McDonalds and our Armed Forces have many permanent jobs available. Marks & Spencer alone has over 30. From those who can’t be with us on the day, roughly 80 vacancies will be posted on a Special Jobs Board”.

Ruth Ward from learndirect, and Paul Jacobs from Pluss, encouraged anyone on ESA to come to the seminar that will advise people with disabilities what support is available for them specifically at 11:15am at Blackfriars.

“It’s a great opportunity to talk with employers direct,” said Ruth.

The Fair is open from 10am till 3pm, and Vikki Walters of GCC’s Forwards said it will continue the 2014 campaign of last year to make employers ‘Disability Confident’. Employers will hear about the contribution disabled people can bring to their businesses.

Richard summarised the fair’s purposes: “Unemployment in Gloucester is less than half what it was in 2010, but there remains much to be done to help constituents into work, especially those with disabilities (whose unemployment rate is higher).

“The government and I are absolutely committed to helping unemployed disabled people into work.

“Part of that means changing perceptions by employers of what they have to offer. I hope our Fair will achieve that in Gloucester.

“No-one knows more about what help is needed than Forwards, Learn Direct and Pluss, and I look forward to working with them very much”.

Opportunities Fair 10.00 – 15.00 Friday 6th November, Ladybellgate Street, Blackfriars

 I’m trying something new this week: fewer words, more film.
Do watch this video where I explain what our Opportunities Fair this Friday 10.00 – 15.00 Blackfriars is about, and partners Vikki Walters from Forwards, Ruth Ward from learndirect and Paul Jacobs from Pluss talk about their contribution.

Pluss, Forwards and learndirect and my office are together hosting an Opportunities Fair at Blackfriars on November 6th. I want to help anyone looking for a job, whatever their age, ability or disability and wherever they are on the journey to find work that is best for them.

This Fair builds on the Jobs Fairs I’ve organised over the last five years. This one does more to help those in the Work-Related Activity Group for Employment Support Allowance (ESA). And there are still masses of openings for those on JSA or seeking a first job after studying.

There’s a lot on offer: over 30 well known businesses including Gloucester Rugby, Gloucester City Council, McDonalds and our Armed Forces have many permanent jobs available. M&S alone has over 30. From employers who can’t be with us on the day, roughly 80 vacancies will be posted on a Special Jobs Board.


  • 10.00 – 10:45. For all employers to come and hear from people with disabilities why work means to them and sign up to being a Disability Confident Business
  • 11:15 – 12:00. For jobseekers with disabilities to hear from the Department for Work and Pensions about support available
  • 13:30 – 14:15. Interview tips and techniques led by learndirect
    Do come along.

Best regards

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