Ian Austin MP

Labour MP for Dudley North

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Dudley Chronicle, 26 June

Education has to be our number one priority to bring new and better paid jobs to Dudley.

EDUCATION HAS TO BE DUDLEY’S NUMBER ONE PRIORITY

For years now I’ve been saying that education needs to be Dudley’s number one priority, so I was delighted to welcome Shadow Education Secretary Tristram Hunt to Dudley College and Ellowes Hall last week.

When I left Castle High School in the eighties, the Black Country’s manufacturing industries were being hit hard. Many of my friends ended up unemployed.

We’ve lost many of the traditional industrial jobs on which our area’s prosperity was based and I think the biggest question we face is how we bring new, well-paid and secure jobs to Dudley to replace them.

We need to make education our number one priority because the only way we’ll attract the new investment and jobs on which the Black Country’s prosperity depends in the future is by having the skills new industries need.

At the last election I pledged to campaign for new college facilities and investment in schools – and I’ve worked hard with others to make good on that promise.

We've got to get behind heads and teachers working hard to improve schools. Look at Ellowes Hall. A few years ago, just 35% of pupils got five good GCSEs. Thanks to a new head and a real focus on standards, more than 8 out of 10 now get those grades.

I think we're as good as anyone and young people here can do just as well as anyone else. The results at Ellowes show that our schools can do just as well as any in the country. I’ve recently been to Dormston and Priory Primary School which were put in special measures and I’m confident they are improving fast. Results at my old school Castle High are improving and I don’t see why every school should not be aiming to be a good or outstanding school.

Standards have improved at Dudley College too, its new buildings have made a fantastic contribution to the town centre and I’m delighted the new technology and manufacturing centre will soon be open to help students of all ages get new skills and new jobs.

I want to see more young people staying on at college or doing apprenticeships, particularly the technical apprenticeships industry needs. I think we should set a target for Dudley and the Black Country to have the biggest improvement in schools standards in the country and I think it is a scandal that Dudley is the biggest place in the country with no university campus.

HOSPITALS IN THE RED

When me or a member of my family is ill, we queue up at Russells Hall like anybody else in Dudley, so I’m really concerned by recent figures showing the Dudley hospitals are now £1.38 million in the red.

Doctors, nurses and other staff are working flat out at Russells Hall but the government have squandered £3 billion on reorganising the NHS instead of supporting front-line staff.

As a result, local people are facing longer waits at A&E, cancelled operations at their highest level for a decade and waits for vital cancer tests and treatments increasing too.

When Labour was in Government waiting times went down, but now waiting lists are getting longer by the day. The Tories need to get a grip on their finances and give hospitals the resources they need.

GETTING PEOPLE INTO WORK

Many people get in touch with me to raise concerns about people living off benefits paid for by hard-working taxpayers. I’ve always believed that a life on benefits should not be an option, and so I’m pleased that Ed Miliband has announced a new approach to welfare.

Under Labour’s plans, young unemployed people will be guaranteed a job. Those who need extra skills will get the training to help them get into work and those who refuse won’t get benefits. This would reverse the crazy system we have now that means young people have to give up their benefits in order to get training.

In order to bring down the total bill, the proposals will ensure money goes only to those who really need it, by means-testing benefits on the basis of parental income for 18-21 year olds.

I also believe those who have worked for years and paid into the system and find themselves out of work should get extra help. That’s why I was pleased to hear Ed Miliband say only those who have paid National Insurance for five years would be able to claim the higher rate of Job Seekers’ Allowance, rather than the current two.

The welfare system should be able to help hardworking people who have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own, but I’m glad to see Labour taking a tough line on those who think they have the right to live off benefits at everyone else’s expense.

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