November 6th, 2014

My response to the launch of a full competition inquiry by the Competition and Markets Authority

My response to the Competition and Markets Authority launching a full competition inquiry into the market for current accounts and small business banking:

“Ed Miliband and I have repeatedly called for an inquiry into bank competition, so we welcome this announcement from the CMA.

“Ministers claim there is no problem to solve, but everyone else recognises that we have a lack of competition in our banking sector.

“As we said earlier this year, in the next parliament we need to see at least two new challenger banks and a market share test to ensure the market stays competitive for the long term, which is why we now welcome this independent CMA inquiry.”

Ends

Posted November 6th, 2014 by Ed
November 4th, 2014

Dementia Friends Meeting in Morley

Sometimes one person’s story has a profound effect. At the end of my Dementia Friends information event in Morley last week, one person came up to me and said, “After today I’m going to talk to my doctor about the problems I’ve been having for months with my memory.” For that one person, there might be nothing to worry about. But if there is, finding out more about dementia now means they may get the early diagnosis that could really improve their quality of life.

Dementia isn’t just a natural part of ageing and it isn’t just about losing your memory but can also affect how things look and feel as well as all kinds of everyday tasks. Across the country, a staggering 225,000 will develop dementia this year – one person every 3 minutes. For my generation – one in three will develop the disease. So it’s shocking that at the moment only half of those with dementia actually receive a diagnosis. That means that many of those with the disease are not receiving the appropriate treatment and care they need.

Becoming 1 of the thousands of Alzheimer’s Society Dementia Friends is about taking a small first step and simply about learning a little bit more about what it is like to live with dementia. Because by developing our understanding we can then do more to help those with dementia to feel included and to have an active role in life.

Here in Morley there are already Dementia cafes at Jubilee Court (first Tuesday of each month 1-3pm) and St Mary’s (First Thursday of the month 1.30 -2.30pm) for those with dementia and their carers to reminisce, make friends and relax in a friendly atmosphere.
I’m planning more dementia friends’ events with the Alzheimer’s Society and will be popping into one of our local cafés here in Morley too.

When I was in Government in 2009, we launched the first event National Dementia Strategy. This was about raising awareness of the condition, improving rates of diagnosis and increasing the range of services available. Overall the priority was to improve the quality of life both for those living with dementia but also for those who care for them.

GPs now receive financial support for dementia diagnosis. And there are many more support groups – including local ones right here in Morley – to support dementia patients and their families.

But at the end of the day, dementia is a disease – just like cancer or diabetes. And that means we also need to invest in research into finding a cure. So it is also welcome that there is broad political commitment to increasing funding into dementia research.

What is also clear from my meeting in Morley last week, for every person with dementia, there is also a family to think about, especially their main carer who is looking after them on a daily basis.

Some carers, depending on their age, may still be in paid employment. For them access to flexible working arrangements is vital. And whether or not they’re working all carers need access to good support that enables them to juggle their own life with caring for a loved one.

Unfortunately there is currently a real crisis in care after billions has been lost from adult social care budgets since 2010. That means that many of those who could have retained an active role in their communities, or who just needed some support to enable them to stay in their own homes, may have been forced into residential care.

And keeping people in their own homes for as long as possible is almost always the best solution for everyone. But to do that with medical advancements and pressures from an ageing population means looking at NHS and social care budgets differently so that we save money and improve care.

New measures that have made stronger commitments to improve things for dementia patients are welcome but at the moment not enough is being done. We need to recruit the next generation of homecare workers and to give better support to family carers. And we need to find better ways to support all those with caring responsibilities.

I’m holding more meetings to discuss the health service and local people’s experiences over the next few months. For more information, please contact my Morley office on 0113 253 9466. Or to find out more about dementia friends – see the blog on my website: www.edballs.co.uk or www.dementiafriends.org.uk. Or for more information about local groups contact the Alzheimer’s Society care line on 0845 306 0898.

Posted November 4th, 2014 by Ed
November 3rd, 2014

Lord Barnett

Joel will be greatly missed by all who were fortunate enough to have met or worked with him.

He was a distinguished Chief Secretary to the Treasury and parliamentarian who may have made light of being immortalised by a ‘formula’ but this is only a small part of his nearly six decades of service to the British people.

He showed great strength throughout his life advocating the Labour principles of fairness and social justice and our deepest sympathies are now with his family, friends and colleagues at this time.

Posted November 3rd, 2014 by Ed
October 26th, 2014

The Tories are not the party of the North – my article in the Independent on Sunday with Andrew Adonis

In politics, actions speak louder than words. So when George Osborne desperately tries to claim this week that the Conservatives will deliver for the North of England, people will judge him and his party on their record.

In our northern towns and cities millions of working people who are still not feeling the recovery will find the Chancellor’s pre-election posturing to be no more than empty words. Because in both the North-west and Yorkshire and the Humber, wages have fallen by even more than the national average since 2010. Across the country the number of young people on the dole for more than a year has gone up by 25 per cent since the last election. Yet across the North of England, that figure is 62 per cent.

Infrastructure output is down by almost 20 per cent since May 2010, and only a quarter of projects in the Government’s infrastructure pipeline are in the North-east, North-west or Yorkshire and the Humber.

That’s why we’ve urged the Tories to back Sir John Armitt’s proposal for an independent infrastructure commission to identify the long-term infrastructure needs of every part of the UK. On high-speed rail, we have both said we need value for money for the taxpayer and to improve the existing plans to maximise the benefits for the whole country and strengthen the links between northern cities.

And while savings need to be made, councils across the North such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Wakefield have had deeper cuts in funding than many other parts of the country. So nobody will believe the Tories can deliver the good jobs, growth, investment and rising living standards we need for the North.

After all, one of George Osborne’s first decisions was to abolish Labour’s successful Regional Development Agencies. And the work of implementing the Northern Way taskforce agenda, which was all about impoving east-west transport links across the North, has ground to a halt under the Tories. Now George Osborne is struggling to play catch-up with Labour’s radical plans to devolve more power and £30bn of funding to city and county regions – not just in the North, but in every part of England.

With our plans, local areas will be in the driving seat on key decisions affecting their local economies. We will give groups of local authorities substantial new powers over back-to-work schemes, to drive house building, and to integrate, invest in and plan transport infrastructure.

A Labour Treasury will also allow city and county regions that come together in combined authorities to keep all the additional business rates revenue generated by growth.

These reforms go much further than this Government’s timid and half-baked approach. So when George Osborne comes along with talk of more action on regional growth, Labour councillors and MPs across the North will take it with a huge pinch of salt.

The Tories have never stood up for our northern towns and cities. They will never be the party of the North. Only Labour has an economic plan that will deliver real devolution, more good jobs and rising living standards for all, not just a few.

Ed Balls is the shadow Chancellor.

Lord Adonis is shadow infrastructure minister and led Labour’s growth review.

Posted October 26th, 2014 by Ed
October 24th, 2014

Politically Speaking in the Wakefield Express

The next time you put a loaf in your trolley at a local Morrisons the chances are it was either been baked in store or down the road at Morrisons giant bakery at their distribution centre at Junction 41.

Most of us never set foot inside a distribution centre – we either go to the supermarket or get it delivered to our door. But without these places there wouldn’t be anything in our local store when we went in to do the weekly shop. On a tour around the centre with Corporate Services Director, Martyn Jones and members of his team, the shelves were stacked from floor to (a very high) ceiling with everything and anything you could think of from baked beans to packets of crisps.

Distribution centres are mammoth places – the Morrisons depot would easily hold 10 big supermarkets. Packing staff get around the place on special vehicles with huge forklifts. But it’s also incredibly high tech too. As one of the packers explained to me, “when I first started 14 years ago, it was all clipboards and pencils but that’s long gone now.” It’s serious business making sure that supermarkets across the north of England have all the goods they need so they have voice-recognition computer technology in their delivery trucks.

And Morrisons believes that to get the most out of their business they need to invest in their staff. In house training is a huge part of their operation – in skills staff need for their existing jobs as well as to learn new skills too. Equally, investing in the next generation is big business. So Morrisons invests a great deal in bringing in young people as apprentices and training them up in the skills their business needs for the future.

Most of the staff I spoke to had been with the company for a long time. And they spoke very positively about how the business tries to ensure parents in particular can balance their work and family life. “They do a lot to make it easier for parents to balance their different repsonsiblities,” one local parent who works there told me.

And all of this is vital that if we’re going to get the economy back on track. Unemployment is falling which is welcome news but too many of the new jobs are low wage, low skill jobs that don’t offer the training and opportunities for progression a modern economy needs to thrive in today’s competitive world.

I am clear we need more, well paid, high quality jobs being created that have good opportunities for staff to get on and progress. In a modern economy, that’s the way we will get the deficit down and ensure everyone is getting better off too.

Posted October 24th, 2014 by Ed
October 24th, 2014

My response to today’s GDP figures

For all George Osborne’s claims that the economy is fixed most people are still not feeling the recovery. Working people are over £1600 a year worse off since 2010 and these figures now show a concerning slowdown in economic growth too.

We need a strong and balanced recovery that works for all working people, not just a few at the top. But under the Tories we have stagnating wages and too many people in low-paid jobs which, as the OBR said last week, are leading to rising borrowing. This plan isn’t working for working people.

And under this government house building is it at its lowest level since the 1920s, business investment is lagging behind our competitors and exports are way off target.

Labour’s economic plan will make Britain better off, create more good jobs and earn our way to higher living standards for all.

We will get 200,000 new homes built a year, raise the minimum wage, cut business rates and expand free childcare for working parents. And we will balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament, but do so in a fairer way by reversing David Cameron’s tax cut for millionaires.

Posted October 24th, 2014 by Ed
October 22nd, 2014

My Column in the Morley Observer

My mailbag has been full of people’s recent experiences of the NHS over the last few days. Almost everyone who has written has stressed to me what a vital service our health service is for them and their family. One couple wrote to tell me about having to wait over two weeks for an appointment with their GP. Another local woman told me about her concerns that staff in care homes don’t have enough time to care for elderly people properly.

I’ll always take up specific cases on behalf of local people who contact me. But unfortunately some of the cases I’m seeing are no longer unusual. Increasingly people I speak to in Morley and across the constituency tell me how worried they are about the NHS.

And it’s not just patients. NHS professionals who live or work locally are also in touch with me regularly to tell me about the impact the current health policy is having locally. One doctor told me recently how worried he was about the direction the NHS is going and the pressure staff are now operating under. “There is only so much ‘efficiency’ that can be achieved before serious cracks will appear” he wrote. And a nurse working in a local hospital told me about the ‘dire state’ she thinks the NHS is now in.

The testimonies I’m hearing – from staff and patients – worry me greatly. Our NHS – our country’s greatest achievement – should be going forwards not backwards. NHS patients and staff shouldn’t be feeling this way. Urgent action is needed to protect our health service and protect the needs of the patients who rely on it.

And yet – as local people are telling me – it is getting harder to see a GP. The number of nurses has been cut and waiting lists are on the rise. On top of that there is a looming crisis as NHS budgets are set to get tighter and tighter in the years ahead.

So there are some difficult decisions to make. Should we allow the NHS to continue to go backwards, or accept that, alongside reforms, the health service needs more funding?

I certainly do not want to duck this challenge. And so I’ve put forward two proposals to raise much needed investment for the NHS.

The first – a mansion tax on houses worth more than £2 million – would be used for an NHS Time to Care Fund. The money raised would help to support an additional 20,000 nurses, 8,000 GPs, 5,000 home care workers and 3,000 midwives. At the moment the average council tax payer in Morley is paying hundreds of times more in council tax in proportion to a billionaire buyer of a penthouse in central London. And that can’t be right. Those who can most afford to pay, should be asked to make a bigger contribution. The money raised from a Mansion Tax would be used to fund increased resources for our NHS which can be used for everyone.

And for a chronic condition like cancer, on which great progress was made in the early noughties, waiting times for cancer tests are currently increasing. Nationally the number waiting for more than six weeks for key tests to diagnose cancer is up from 1,900 in May 2010 to over 10,600 in the summer of this year.

So in order to get those waits down again, my second proposal is for a new levy on tobacco companies. This would enable us to introduce a one-week cancer test guarantee to improve early diagnosis and enable treatment to begin earlier when we know it is more effective and most lives could be saved.

Cancer services have been under real strain in recent years. We know over the last four years that £790 million has been cut in real terms from cancer budgets. And with waiting times increasing too I think its vital urgent action is taken to get these NHS service back on track.

Because we all know that with cancer time will always be such a crucial factor. So it’s right to prioritise any additional resources where they can have the biggest impact.

What is clear from the people across our area is that we do need to find ways to increase resources in the health service. These are difficult decisions. But for the thousands of local people relying on local health services – in particular those who are ill themselves, or caring for a sick relative – ensuring our NHS better serves their needs is an absolute priority. The future of our NHS depends on it.

You can show your support for these proposals on my website – www.edballs.co.uk

Posted October 22nd, 2014 by Ed's team
October 20th, 2014

My response to the Wakefield Children’s Centre Consultation

Last week I submitted my formal response to the consultation on Children’s Centres in the Wakefield District. As many local people will know, I am, and have always been, a regular visitor to all our local Children’s Centres – speaking to staff and parents about the support they are receiving and how centres are being used.

In 1997 there were no Children’s Centres. By 2010 there were over 3,500 across the country, including the 23 in the Wakefield District. They were set up in the heart of local communities to provide essential services to parents and to give every child the best possible start in life.

In difficult economic times, with budgets extremely stretched, I fully understand and appreciate the need for local authorities to make savings. However, our Children’s Centres are a precious resource, the loss of which could affect generations of parents and children.

Children’s Centres were designed to be a universal service for all families with children under five. They are non-judgemental places which any parent can and should visit regularly or turn to if events cause problems in their lives. And while it is clearly a vital part of the role of children’s centres to reach out to the most vulnerable in society to ensure they are receiving the services and support they need, those in need of support aren’t always the people we thing they are.

And I’ve always believed that our Children’s centres are really important places, vital community assets which I want to support and protect.

Of course some Children’s Centres are better than others and there are always ways in which centres can be improved. However as a regular visitor over the years and after speaking to so many parents in recent months, I am seriously concerned that the loss of such community assets could have a serious long-term impact for children and parents in my constituency.

The Stanley Children’s Centre in particular is a very active centre and I have been a very regular visitor over many years.  During the course of the consultation period, I attended a busy “Stay and Play” holiday session at Outwood Memorial Hall as part of their outreach activities and spoke to parent and last month, I invited local parents attending the centre to a meeting to hear their views. Over 500 local parents also presented me with a petition backing the Stanley Centre. Some parents also contacted me directly in my office to raise their concerns about proposals affecting the Stanley Children’s Centre.

Parents I spoke to had attended open sessions for parents, used the centre for its crèche support. Some had accessed training and volunteer programmes, others had sought out advice and support for post-natal depression or for support with a disabled child or a child with Special Educational Needs. Some had been supported via the Children’s Centre to flee domestic violence.

Parents I spoke to told me about the support and advice they had received at the centre to help them manage a child or children with special educational needs, including physical disabilities and autism. “There was always a friendly face and cup of tea if you were having a difficult day” one told me.  Another told me how big a problem isolation can be for parents, especially those with children with a disability.  “I really need to get out of the house but can’t travel far.”

At least 5 of the women who attended my meeting said that they had used the Children’s Centre to get help dealing with post-natal depression. One mum told me, “I had severe post-natal depression with my second child and didn’t talk to anyone. At the Children’s Centre staff got me out to some of the groups and came to see me at home too. It was a huge help.”

One of the parents who attended my meeting was currently fleeing domestic violence. Another had done so previously.  They spoke of the Children’s Centre as a safe place where they could access the advice and support they needed to make difficult decisions for themselves and their children.

Regardless of the reason the parents I spoke to had originally gone to the Children’s Centre, they all spoke of it as a place to access friendship and support. One mum told me, “I was so low, it’s so hard on your own, so lonely. Within 3 weeks of attending sessions at the Children’s Centre I felt totally different.” Many parents told me how important it is to meet other parents as a source of advice and support so you could all learn from each other. “It’s reassuring and makes you feel like a ‘normal parent’.”

At least four of the parents I spoke to had accessed training and childcare support through the children’s centre. It had made it possible for them to gain qualifications and move into work. All said if the centre hadn’t been close by this would have been much more difficult.

I also know that many local childminders use the Stanley Centre regularly. I have attended meetings with childminders at the centre at which they’ve told me how important the support to deal with Ofsted inspection and the Early Years Foundation Stage was in ensuring they are providing a high quality environment for the children they care for.

The concerns that were raised with me that I have raised in the consultation included:

-        Increased travel time to another centre as most of the parents I spoke to didn’t have access to their own transport and said they would struggle to get to a centre if it wasn’t based locally.

-        Whilst parents were keen on having some play sessions taking place in other local venues – such as community centres or church halls – they did have concerns about the suitability of some venues. None felt they would be as well-equipped as the current Children’s Centre.

-        Parents felt strongly that if the centre moves to an outreach-focused approach it will change the environment within the centre. Parents currently feel that the Children’s Centre doesn’t feel “official” and is a friendly, safe and non-judgemental place where staff care about the people coming through the door.

-        Parents said they felt the job of a Children’s Centre is to help people, not to judge them. They said that at the Stanley centre staff knew them by their first name not just a number on a file somewhere and that environment should be retained. They didn’t want the place to become simply a base for social services which would change the role of the centre and the feeling parents would have about going there.

-        While the Children’s Centre is a place for lots of services to be accessed, it is the only resource in the community specifically for parents and young children. Parents felt that losing this asset would mean they would also lose everything that makes a Children’s Centre different to other services.

-        The parents I met and have spoken to didn’t disagree with the need to reach those most in need, but did question how people made those decisions and decided who was vulnerable. They felt strongly that, with issues such as post-natal depression, domestic violence and children with disabilities, it isn’t obvious who is most in need and that problems can quickly escalate if support isn’t available quickly and easily. Having a non-judgemental place was important and they didn’t think the centre would be as successful if people just went because they’re “on some list or other”. They all thought it was important that Children’s Centres remained places parents are prepared and happy to go voluntarily.

-        Parents were concerned that parents / parents to be weren’t routinely given information about the children’s centre. How parents find out about local centres is clearly an issue which could be addressed by changes brought about through the consultation.

-        Some parents said they had visited other Children’s Centres and felt that the Stanley Centre is a successful centre. They said it was much more important to improve the centres that aren’t working as effectively rather than to close successful centres like Stanley.

-        The parents I spoke to understood the pressure the local authority is under to save money but questioned the strategy that had singled out a centre that was delivering good results. Many also felt that the Stanley centre already saved money because it had supported so many of them into training or work but understood these savings are sometimes difficult to quantify.

I asked all the parents I spoke to what made Children’s Centres different. They told me:

“It is a safe environment and a special place for parents, babies and young children.”

“Their only purpose is to be there for parents and children.”

“It’s a real community resource that, if we lose it, would be very difficult to get back.”

What struck me most about the parents I’ve spoken to over the last few months is how passionate they are about how important the Stanley Children’s Centre is and has been to them, and also its importance more widely within the local community. I hope we can keep the centre as a vital resource for parents and under 5s in our area.

Posted October 20th, 2014 by Ed
October 20th, 2014

A mansion tax will be fair, simple and pay to save the NHS – my article in the Evening Standard

Politics is about choices. And over the coming months the country faces a big choice about the future of our National Health Service. Here in London and across the country our NHS is going backwards: it’s getting harder to see a GP, nurses have been cut and waiting lists are going up. There’s a looming crisis as the pressure on NHS budgets gets tighter in the years ahead.

So the choice is either to allow the NHS to continue going backwards, or accept that — alongside reforms — the NHS needs more funding.

Labour will not duck this challenge and, following the party conferences, we are now the only party with a plan to save and transform the NHS.

If we win the election we will raise £2.5 billion a year, on top of the Tory spending plans we inherit, for an NHS Time to Care Fund. This will support an additional 20,000 nurses and 8,000 GPs. And, as Ed Miliband announced this weekend, our extra funding means we will guarantee patients in England will wait no longer than one week for cancer tests and results by 2020.

Alongside a levy on tobacco firms, action to tackle tax avoidance and close loopholes, £1.2 billion of this much-needed revenue will be raised through a tax on prime value properties worth more than £2 million today — less than 0.5 per cent of homes in our country.

When working people are already paying more and have seen their wages fall by an average of £1,600 a year since 2010 I believe it is right to ask those who have the most to make a bigger contribution.

Because it cannot be fair that the average person pays 390 times more in council tax, as a percentage of the value of their property, than the billionaire buyer of a £140 million penthouse in Hyde Park — who has seen its value rise by around £6 million in the past few months alone.

As I wrote on this page earlier this year, a tax on the highest-value properties must be done in a fair, sensible and proportionate way. Ordinary Londoners should be protected and wealthy foreign investors must finally make a proper tax contribution in this country.

So this is what we propose.

First, we will guarantee that more modest properties are not brought into the scope of the tax. The Tories have been spreading desperate smears that properties worth far less today — even £1 million — will end up paying. This is simply untrue.

As I said earlier this year, we will raise the starting threshold as prices rise. And rather than raising it in line with overall inflation, we will do so in line with the average rise in prices of high-value properties over £2 million. This will ensure that the number of properties paying the tax will not increase. If prime property prices continue rising then by the time the tax is introduced the starting point will be higher than £2 million.

Second, the tax will be administratively simple. A banded system means valuations will not be needed for most properties as it will be clear which band — for example £2 million-£3 million — the property falls into. As with the Government’s new tax on properties bought through companies, owners will be able to submit a self-valuation to HMRC.

Third, as we have always said, the tax will be progressive. We will ensure those owning properties worth £2 million-£3 million will only pay an extra £250 a month through this new tax — the same as the average top band of council tax. Owners and investors in properties worth tens of millions of pounds should make a much bigger contribution. And we will look at asking overseas owners of second homes in the UK to make a larger contribution than people living in their only home.

And finally, as I wrote on this page in June, we will protect the small minority of people who are asset-rich but cash- poor. Long-standing residents who now find themselves living in high-value homes but do not have an income high enough to pay the higher or top rate of income tax — in other words earn less than £42,000 a year — will be guaranteed the right to defer the charge until the property changes hands.

So a tax on the highest value properties will be done fairly and carefully to help fund our NHS for the future. Because promises have to be paid for. David Cameron is taking people for fools when he promises £7 billion of tax changes without saying where the money is coming from — either in other tax rises like VAT or bigger cuts to public services.

In contrast, Labour won’t make any promises without saying where the money is coming from. There will be no additional borrowing to pay for spending or tax commitments.

But we will make different choices. So we will introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax and pay for it by scrapping the so-called married couples’ allowance, which won’t actually help most married couples or most families. We will raise the bank levy to pay for an expansion of free childcare for working parents. We will scrap elected police commissioners to help protect frontline police officer numbers.

To help get the deficit down fairly we will reverse the Tory tax cut for millionaires, stop paying the winter fuel allowance to the richest pensioners, raise child benefit by just one per cent for two years and cut ministers’ pay by five per cent.

And yes, we will also use a tax on the highest value properties to help save our NHS. It’s no surprise the Tories are opposing this. Since 2010 they have chosen to give the top one per cent of earners a £3 billion a year tax cut, while working people are paying more. Now they want to make three million working people worse off by cutting their tax credits again — a strivers’ tax — while opposing a mansion tax to save the NHS.

Labour will not allow our NHS to continue going backwards. That is why we are making a difficult but fair choice with this tax. The future of our NHS depends on it.

Posted October 20th, 2014 by Ed
October 14th, 2014

Great to catch up with award-winning Enabled Works

It was great to catch up the award-winning team at Enabled Work last Friday. As well as winning the social impact award at the Morley Business Awards, Tony and team have also now secured new contracts, including one for Haribo. Having presented them with their award in Tingley just the week before, everything was back to normal on the shopfloor when I arrived and the team were all busy packing Haribo sweets into tubes for Christmas stockings.

But as well as their busy production line, last Friday they had also found the time to organise their own fundraising Macmillan Coffee Morning which I was delighted to be able to support.

Thanks to Tony and the team and huge congratulations again on the Social Impact Award.

Posted October 14th, 2014 by Ed's team