On the whole, people come to see me as their MP when they need help with an issue. Sometimes that’s a relatively straight forward thing to do.
If a constituent isn’t happy with their treatment from one of our many public services, I work with my Caseworker to advise them about the best way to make their voice heard, and then support them through the (often lengthy) complaints process.
Sometimes it’s about giving weight to their dispute with a big organisation or business – supporting David against Goliath.
Often it’s about raising their concerns directly with the Government, by writing to Ministers or asking questions on the floor of the House of Commons.
Frequently I will work with local councillors because the issue relates to something that is the responsibility of Barnsley Council.
It’s always satisfying when we get a resolution that the constituent is happy with.
Sadly, that’s not always possible. I have one case which predates my time as an MP and is still rumbling on many years later; many others where Government has not sided with my constituents; and several where nothing will change until the law does too.
Now is one of those very rare moments when just that has happened.
Last week the Psychoactive Substances Bill passed through the House of Commons and is soon to become law. It outlaws all so-called ‘legal highs’ – the substances which mimic the effects of illegal drugs like ecstacy, cocaine and crack.
From 1st April this year there will be tough penalties for anyone caught either producing or supplying these dangerous substances.
The law gives the police and enforcement agencies much needed powers to crack down on suppliers and discourage would-be users. And it will work alongside Barnsley Council’s proposals for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which will target the areas near where these substances have been sold.
So why is this important?
Because one of the issues people contact me about most often is anti-social behaviour. And in the past couple of years a significant proportion of these complaints has been linked to people taking ‘legal highs’.
We have had elderly, vulnerable and blind residents afraid to leave their homes in the middle of the day; shopworkers locking themselves in their shops in the middle of the town centre; and young families desperate to ensure that their children can’t access these potentially lethal drugs which are portrayed as ‘safe’ because they are ‘legal’.
We have seen people collapsing, fitting and vomiting after taking ‘legal highs’. Many deaths have been linked to them.
We live in an age when a pie can be taken off our shelves because it doesn’t contain a high enough content of meat. Yet we have allowed unregulated, untested drugs – which mimic the effects of already banned substances – to be sold legally over the counter, and even to children.
It was a loophole in the law, that has now finally been closed.
This is one of those rare moments when national lobbying of Government and local partnership working with the police, the council and local residents has paid off.
I would like to thank everyone who has worked with me on this campaign.
It shows that together we can make a positive difference for our town.
This article was first published in the Barnsley Chronicle on 29 January 2016.