Friday was an extremely busy day in Barnsley! In addition to meetings with local businesses, constituents, the press and BMBC, it was Armistice Day and a time for us to remember the service and sacrifice of the men and women of our armed forces.
Obviously, the tragic news about Matthew Thornton, a soldier serving with the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, from Darton, being killed in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, last week, made Armistice Day even more poignant. I was honoured to join the Mayor, Cllr Karen Dyson, Leader of the Council Steve Houghton and Council Chief Executive, Phil Coppard along with members of the Royal British Region, at the Cenotaph to commemorate those who have fallen whilst serving our country. It was very moving to see Barnsley town centre come to a standstill at 11:00 AM and I was pleased to see well over a thousand people gathered together to pay their respects, at the Cenotaph.
The words were never more relevant, as young and old, those who knew Matthew and other soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice, both former and current serving solders, students, Councillors, council workers, members of the public and people in the offices that overlook the Cenotaph, all bowed their heads in remembrance, "For our tomorrow, they gave their today."
We will always be grateful and we will always remember them.
Appropriately, I then had the honour of attending the offices of Pen and Sword Books, a subsidiary of the Barnsley Chronicle, to meet an incredible former soldier and survivor of a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, Gus Akorn. I was very pleased to be invited to help Gus celebrate the publication of a book, telling the story of his time in the PoW camp and his epic tales of survival, in the face of extreme adversity. Gus is now 92 and when meeting him, one cannot fail to be impressed by his spirit and good humour. I am looking forward to reading his incredible story.
First thing in the morning on Friday, I had joined the Barnsley Voice breakfast meeting. It was good to see a great turnout of town-centre business-leaders, South Yorkshire Police, BMBC Council Officers and Councillors. Investment in our town centre is vital to keep people coming to Barnsley to shop, eat, drink and to visit the attractions that enhance the town centre offer. The Barnsley Voice does a good job of bringing these interested parties together to identify issues and work in union towards a solution.
I also joined Phil Davies Chair of Barnsley Voice, South Yorkshire Police and BMBC Officers for the launch of the joint initiative to reduce the number of shoplifting incidents over the festive period. Shoplifting is not a victimless crime; not in big national chains, where we all pay for it through higher prices and especially not in small independent shops, where theft can jeopardise the business. I fully support the Barnsley Voice and South Yorkshire Police in this campaign.
At the end of this month, Business Link will be closing as part of Government cuts. They have, for many years, offered support, training and advice to businesses across the country and I am disappointed that, at a time when we need to support and encourage local businesses more than ever, Business Link is to be lost to the slash and burn approach of the Conservative-led Coalition. I met with Business Link Yorkshire and the Humber Chief Executive, Helen West to discuss the situation and to find out what contingency plan has been put in place to ensure the continuation of business support in Barnsley Central.
This Government expects us to believe that private enterprise rescue the regions from high unemployment and economic desolation. For them to remove one of the vital links in enabling businesses to improve their skills and knowledge, expand their activity into new operational areas and extend their reach geographically, is both short-sighted and completely counter-productive. I will be contacting our local agencies in Barnsley to see how they are addressing the large gap that the loss of Business Link leaves in our town.
On Friday afternoon, I was delighted to visit the Open College for the Arts, a distance-learning college that has its headquarters in Barnsley. Students from across the UK, and the world, study for degrees and post-graduate qualifications in the arts with the OCA, Gareth Dent, Chief Executive and his team explained how the college operates and showed me some of the impressive work submitted by their students.
Then it was off to another meeting, after which, I headed to Shaw Lane Sports Facility to join Ian Mead and Lynsey Attwood from Barnsley Harriers, for a training session, ahead of the 24-hour relay they are doing in aid of Children in Need next week. Groups of runners will be running a six-mile leg, every hour for 24-hours, beginning on Friday 18th at 1:00 PM. I will become an honorary Harrier and run with Ian and Lynsey for the last leg of the relay. If you would like to donate, Ian has set up a Barnsley Harriers Children in Need sponsor page at: http://www.justgiving.com/Ian-Meade.
After calling into the Constituency Office to catch up on correspondence, I ended the day with a visit to the family of Matthew Thornton. Matthew’s parents, his brother and sister, are incredibly proud of him but as you can imagine, devastated by his loss. I was honoured to spend time with them, they are wonderful people.
On Saturday, I met with a group of students to discuss my work as an MP. I am always impressed by the enthusiasm of young people who are interested in politics and Saturday was no different, it was a very enjoyable day.
I joined the Mayor of Barnsley for the Civic Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph on Sunday morning. Along with the Mayor, Lord Lieutenant, Leader of the Council, Chief Executive and other MPs, I laid a poppy wreath to honour the fallen of all wars. Again, there were an enormous number of people gathered at the Cenotaph to pay their respects; I am told it was the largest number that has ever attended the service.
On Sunday evening, I joined the Rev Ian Newton at the Church of the Nazarene for the Service of Remembrance. I spoke during the service about the honour of serving in the Army and the sacrifice that so many of our servicemen and women have made over the years and are still making in armed conflict in Afghanistan today.
As I head back to Westminster, my thoughts remain with the family of Matthew Thornton and all those who have lost loved ones in service of our country.