Army reserves are set to work harder than ever. Let's offer recruits a fair deal.
I hope residents in Dudley North will support the brilliant team of Labour councillors and candidates running for election next week.
Alan Finch is not just a distinguished Mayor of our Borough, but a brilliant local councillor who has helped thousands of residents in Castle and Priory. Everyone knows someone Alan has helped. Khurshid Ahmed has worked wonders as the council’s transport boss, working hard to tackle parking problems near Russells Hall and bringing forward plans to open up King Street to traffic again. Tracy Wood has spearheaded measures to improve parks and boost recycling and will do a first class job representing people in Upper Gornal and Woodsetton. Serena Craigie was a great community councillor for St James’s and has been working hard to help residents in Gornal with traffic problems and housing issues. Everyone in St Thomas’s knows how hard Steve Waltho has worked to help local residents, leading the campaign to save St Thomas’s Network and solving hundreds of problems in the ward. Wayne Male has worked hard with me in Sedgley to tackle problems of speeding cars on the Northway and would make a superb councillor for the area.
Just over a year ago, I warned the Government not to split up the Royal Mercian and Lancastrian regiment which has a base at Vicar Street in Dudley to make way for a new Scottish regiment. I worked hard to raise concerns and 1,300 local residents signed our petition against the changes. Unfortunately the government didn’t listen, and although the Dudley Squadron survived, other changes are still set to go ahead.
The Government said these changes were all about boosting recruitment, taking on thousands more reservists to fill the hole left by sacking 20,000 full-time soldiers. But we’re now seeing that just 30 extra reservists were recruited last year across the country.
Urgent action is needed to boost recruitment and protect local squadrons, so I think we need to get away from the idea that joining the army is a last resort for young people. Instead it should be one of their best opportunities to learn skills and serve their community. In the United States, young people can join the National Guard before they’re 18. Recruits get paid over £100 for every weekend spent on drills and can get up to £29,500 of their students loans paid for. This is the kind of fair deal we should be offering young Reservists: serve your country and in return your country will give you a well-paid, fulfilling career.
I’ve been honoured to meet local reservists and we all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude, along with other members of the forces past and present. But that respect and gratitude should start from day one of service with a fair deal for new recruits. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is the best way to attract the very best to the armed forces.
After hearing from yet another constituent who told me they were forced to wait weeks for a GP appointment, I decided to ask thousands of local residents their thoughts on the issue.
Just over a third said it was easy to get through to their surgery on the phone and book an appointment. That’s great, but many more were unhappy about the service they get.
Six in ten said that phone lines were constantly engaged and it was getting more difficult to make an appointment. While just over half said their surgery offered evening appointments, just two in ten offered morning slots and one in ten opened at the weekend.
I'm concerned that this problem is set to get worse with recent reports that millions are waiting more than a week to see their GP. The Government has already wasted £1.1 billion on a reorganisation of the NHS that just hasn’t helped. It urgently needs to put patients first.
HELP FOR RENTERS
When I asked local residents what problems they were facing on housing, nearly three-quarters said they couldn’t afford a deposit. That’s pushing more and more people in Dudley to rent privately instead – 5,081 families according to the latest figures.
On top of falling wages and rising family bills that have made them £1,600 worse off every year since 2010, the National Housing Federation estimates that private rents will rocket by 39 per cent over the next six years.
That’s why I’m backing calls for a ban on rip-off letting agents’ fees for tenants, saving them an average of £350 in costs. That’s the kind of straightforward action local families need right now, together with long-term plans to build 200,000 homes every year to bring home ownership back in reach for the majority of people.