It is with deep sadness that I am closing my physical office in Workington, Cumbria, with effect from Friday August 26th, 2016.
The disappointing referendum result has forced me to rethink how best to serve all my constituents across the entire North West region which stretches from Crewe to Carlisle, comprising approximately 7 million people. Over the past two years I have learnt that my job is certainly not best done sitting at a desk in an office. The work of an MEP requires enormous mobility, not least weekly commuting to and from Brussels or Strasbourg, but also being out and about in the towns, and villages of Cheshire, Lancashire and Cumbria, as well as maintaining a presence in the metropolitan areas of Greater Manchester and Merseyside, and meetings in London and other places as required by my specialist portfolio responsibility for Culture and Education.
For the past two years I have been the English MEP whose office is furthest away from Brussels, making travel between my UK office and my main place of work costly in both time and money. MEPs tend to work in the European Parliament from Monday to Thursday and poor transport links mean that it is only possible for me to get as far north as Lancaster when I leave work on a Thursday. When I was elected in 2014 it was suggested to me that I could move my office to another part of the constituency halfway through my 5 year mandate and we are about to reach that point so it is an appropriate time to effect a change. For the immediate future my registered office address will transfer to Manchester where I already have a small administrative base. Nothing is certain as Brexit leaves all of us with so many unanswered questions.
For the time being, I therefore plan to make myself available to constituents through drop-in sessions in fully accessible community venues across the region, such as village halls, community centres, libraries, community cafes, arts centres, religious centres, students’ unions, leisure centres and so on. In that way I hope to increase my visibility and better serve the people of the North West, including those with disabilities, young people and those who do not normally engage with politics.
I was one of the first tenants in the newly refurbished Workington Town Hall and it has been heartening to see so many other organisations move into the building. I wish them the very best of luck in their development as much needed improvements continue to be made, such as full disabled access.
Meanwhile, any group or organisation who wish to host a meeting with me should email email@example.com. Constituents with general enquiries should also continue to use this email address as all communications will continue to be answered within a reasonable timescale.
The closure of the Workington office will unfortunately result in staff redundancies. In order to explore various alternative courses of action, I have utilised the professional services of an experienced HR adviser, to guide me through an appropriate consultation process involving members of staff and trade unions. In total I employ 6 staff (including 1 part-time constituency manager). Recent changes in parliamentary rules mean that I now have to make savings to my staff budget. Subsequent to the Brexit vote the focus of my work is changing with a reduced postbag and more general enquiries about the possible effects of leaving the EU. Meanwhile my parliamentary responsibilities are increasing.
I have therefore decided that I must prioritise resources in order to maintain specialist staff experienced in Culture and Education. It is through my legislative, policy and advocacy work that I hope to make a long-lasting contribution to a better society, especially for young people. It is worth noting that I am a member of the Labour Party's Policy Commission on Children and Education and have also co-founded a Children's Rights group in the European Parliament. When I was elected, I decided I wanted to give a voice to those who did not have a voice. Young people may bear the brunt of Brexit and yet most of them were cruelly excluded from having a say. Therefore I am committed to working very hard for the benefit of those young people who were disenfranchised by the referendum.
I am very proud of my work so far in the parliament and earlier this year I achieved the highest score out of all MEPs in the UK for Report Amendments, as seen on www.mepranking.eu This is the real work of an MEP and it is interesting to note that Labour MEPs continually achieve the highest number of amendments.
I know some people are disappointed that I will no longer have an office in Cumbria but that does not mean I will spend any less time in the county. Over the past 2 years I have built up excellent relationships with lots of individuals and organisations visiting businesses such as the Port of Workington, Cafe West and the Derwent Cumberland Pencil factory, community projects such as Ewanrigg Local Trust, Eden Flood Volunteers and local food banks, cultural initiatives such as the Alauna Roman fort at Camp Farm, Helena Thompson Museum, Kirkgate Arts Centre, Grizedale Forest Sculpture Park, Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, the John Peel Theatre at Wigton, Keswick Museum and Theatre by the Lake, schools in Cockermouth & Kendal, UCLan, the University of Cumbria and Carlisle College. I also spent many days visiting flood victims, bringing Muslim aid organisations from other parts of the country to help with the clean up, and I campaigned vigorously to persuade the government to request EU Solidarity funds although, sadly, this might now be lost due to Brexit.
I have also hosted constituents, including councillors and trade union members, in the European Parliament and provided work experience to local lad Matthew Andrews who wrote about his experiences here.
I am now working with UCLan, youth workers and child researchers, aiming to be the first MEP with accredited Investing in Children status. I will also continue to support the excellent Cumbria Education Development Centre for whom I gave been raising money for the past 2 years.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the people of Workington and West Cumbria for the kindness they have shown and for their ongoing support. I began my relationship with Workington folk in 2013 by sleeping out in the streets in protest against the vicious 'Bedroom Tax' and I remain first and foremost an anti-austerity activist and campaigner. As a party we still have a great deal of work to do to ensure that marginalised communities are not forgotten and we must therefore get on with the business of holding the Leave campaigners to account regarding the outlandish claims they made during the referendum campaign. I will play my part in the European Parliament for as long as I can representing the people of North West England and arguing for a continued relationship that upholds Labour values.