I think the best thing that can be said about 2011 is that it’s over.
Judging by my postbag and surgery, it’s not been a good one. Times are tough and people are struggling.
But it’s not all bad news.
Amidst the gloom, Leigh bucked the national trend. Our town saw positive new developments that give us hope as we go into the Olympic year.
For me, one statistic sums up 2011 more than any other. I had to read it twice to be sure I hadn’t got it wrong. In 2011, youth unemployment in Leigh increased by a massive 86%. Yes, that’s right - eighty six per cent.
That worrying figure alone brings bad memories of the 1980s flooding back. This time, we can’t afford to let a whole generation lose hope and then spend decades dealing with the consequences.
So tackling youth unemployment will be my top priority for 2012.
In the New Year, I will bring forward a ‘Backing Young Leigh’ campaign and will be asking all local employers to sign up. Between us, I’m sure we can do more to give our young people opportunities to get training, apprenticeships and work experience.
One brilliant idea has already come forward from local company Active Synergy. They are pioneering the idea of sports apprenticeships for young people in Leigh to fill the gaps left by the Government’s cuts to school sport.
We need more ideas like this and that’s what this campaign is all about.
The good news is that there are new jobs coming to Leigh as the town’s regeneration continues.
I always said I wanted Leigh Sports Village to be a catalyst for new investment in the town and am proud to say that is exactly what has happened.
One of the good things about the big-name companies that have recently opened for business here is the priority they’ve given to employing Leigh people who were previously unemployed.
I feel sure that the outstanding new facilities we now have in Leigh will only help us attract even more investors in the town. But I do have one message for companies looking to come here: I think we’re just about OK for supermarkets now!
However, I think I can speak for everyone in Leigh in saying we are very happy with our new cinema. In fact, I can’t tell you how welcome you are in our town, Cineworld!
I recently worked out that it’s 25 years since I last went to the pictures in Leigh. I went on a date to the old Leigh Classic to watch Top Gun. Now I get the chance to do it again – but it’s the slightly less exciting prospect of Alvin & the Chipmunks 2 with the kids!
It’s been a testing year on the sports front too.
As 2011 ends, we can all breathe a collective sigh that Leigh Centurions live to fight another day in 2012. I thank everyone who pitched in to help pull the club through. As the new season approaches, let’s get behind the lads.
Rugby League is good value, great entertainment and real sport - unlike what you find these days at Premier League football grounds.
One of my favourite memories of 2011 will be when Leigh went en masse to Blackpool.
First, I had the dubious pleasure of Jimmy taking me on ‘Infusion’ at the Pleasure Beach in driving rain and a force 10 gale. But the real roller-coaster ride was waiting for us at Bloomfield Road.
After a sluggish first half, Leigh finally kicked into gear and it was a thrilling fight-back – giving us all some great memories in the dark hours that followed.
It has to be said that 2011 wasn’t much fun on the political front either.
They say never go back in politics - but that’s what I did in October when I left Shadow Education to go back to my old Health brief. This gives Leigh a unique position in British politics. Your MP is the only the person in the House of Commons who is officially a Shadow of his former self!
But then, in the middle of a tough political year, a bombshell was dropped.
The Boundary Commission’s outrageous proposal to snatch away our Town Hall, Library and Parish Church and place them in Westhoughton left people speechless. But that soon turned into uproar and anger.
It seems to me that some people in London think they can do what they like to Leigh. Well they can’t – as I think they’ve been finding out.
I can’t thank people enough for rallying round the ‘Keep Leigh In Leigh’ campaign. You’ve done your town proud. In the end, around 5,000 objections were sent to the Boundary Commission – a brilliant effort.
I don’t know whether they will listen. I hope so. If not, we can’t leave the matter there such is its importance to the town’s future.
So as we look ahead to the Olympic year, there are more battles ahead.
As well as the fight to keep Leigh as one constituency, we’ve got the on-going campaign for a train station. Transport for Leigh has done a magnificent job in making the case and they will continue to get my full support.
What this all goes to show is that Leigh is in there fighting and I can assure you that will never change for as long as I am your MP.
Thank you for your continued support – it’s what keeps me going. Have a successful 2012 and let’s work together to make it a good one for Leigh.