Letter from Parliament

March 20, 2008 12:00 AM

The big news over the last few weeks has been the sad death of the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police - Mike Todd. Mr Todd courageously worked hard to tackle crime at all levels and was the most accessible Chief Constable that we've ever had. I worked with Mr Todd as both Leader of the Council and as Rochdale's Member of Parliament. I know that at the last meeting of the Police Authority he was questioned on the spate of lead thefts in Rochdale by Spotland and Falinge Councillor Barbara Todd (no relation). As ever, when questioned by Barbara he gave straightforward, honest answers. Policing will miss such a strong leader. My condolences go to his wife and children at this sad time.

The weekend before last, I attended the Lib Dem Spring Conference in Liverpool alongside Council Leader Alan Taylor. This was the first Conference that we've had Nick Clegg speaking as Leader. He made an excellent speech in which he ruled out any chance of a coalition with Labour or the Conservatives come the next General Election. Following this I drove over to Ampleforth to judge a public speaking competition organised by my former Head in Bradford, John Clarke. As always the young people spoke very well and were a credit to their schools and families.

I am pleased to see that this Council have paid for extra policing across the Borough. I was out talking to residents with Councillors Barbara Todd and Jean Ashworth in Greave and on The Cray this week and overwhelmingly residents tell me that their priority is fighting crime and anti-social behaviour. By making this gesture the Council has shown commitment to support our Police. A visible police presence is a deterrent to criminal and I hope that we can invest even more in front line policing over the next few years.

Following representations from residents on the Cray I am writing to the Coop to see if they can take over the shop that's has recently closed on the estate.

Over the last few weeks, many of our postmasters will have received visits from the Post Office Consultation Team regarding the future if their services. Many of our Post Offices are under threat. Last week, I handed thousands into 10, Downing Street protesting against the move. This week we had a debate on the subject in the Commons and the government's majority was cut to only 20! Clearly many backbench Labour MPs do not support the Government and either abstained or voted with us.

Last Friday, I was delighted to attend the raising of the Irish Flag to celebrate St Patrick's Weekend. I would like to thank the organiser Paddy Maguire, a parishioner at St Patrick's in Rochdale who is from County Meath. I was pleased to see a nice crowd including Gerry Sullivan - who as ever had his Irish Rugby Shirt on and Guinness Hat.

I was born in Rochdale, my dad was a Rochdalian and my Mum is from County Limerick in Ireland. I used to leave Rochdale every year and spend my summer holidays in Limerick and have always been proud of my roots from both sides of the Irish Sea. Rochdale has a proud history of celebrating our cultural diversity from all quarters and when my Mum was Mayoress and I was Council Leader I arranged for the Tricolour to be raised to celebrate St Patrick's Day. I know my family are extremely proud that the flag flew over Rochdale for the weekend.

On Friday night I attended a very successful charity event at the Bella Vista organised by the Rotary Club of Rochdale for the Mayor's Charity and on Saturday I compered the Spring Concert by Rochdale Music Orchestra at St Mary's of the Baum. The young people were excellent especially the solo singer and Musicians.

On Monday, I was bombarded with requests for comments after the Falinge area was named as the area with the highest concentration of benefit claimants in the country. This has obviously attracted adverse news headlines for our Town. Successive governments have used incapacity benefits as a means of masking unemployment figures. This is a deep rooted problem and needs real solutions not sound bites from politicians after a quick fix. As a Lib Dem Shadow Minister for Work and Pensions, I am currently lobbying for a change in the benefit's system to make it more attractive for people to work and receive positive help and support to get back to work. I am keen to ensure that local people take advantage of opportunities like Kingsway Business Park and the regeneration of our Town Centre to find work.

Later on Monday, I attended the Users and Carers involvement day at the Masonic Hall. I met various people there including our Cabinet Member for Older People Councillor Pauline Maguire and hard working pensioner Vera Hirst together with Age Concern Chief Executive Paul Gala. I found the discussion sessions very interesting and know that they will be used to develop services for older people by the Council.