MP Michael Dugher came to see us at We Are Barnsley and he had some interesting things to say.
Presenting his first radio show, the Barnsley East MP spoke to Adam Guest, a journalist from the Barnsley Chronicle who's performing at Live In Barnsley on June 22. He also interviewed the organisers of the festival.
We couldn't let him leave without asking a few of your questions, though! We asked him about the rise of food banks in the town, the so-called 'bedroom tax', the HS2 rail link and of course the Town Hall sculpture.
Q) There's been a rise in food banks in the area, with the one at Gateway Church and proposed ones in Cudworth and Royston. Do you think the council's doing enough to help the people involved in those? Can they contribute in any other way?
A) I think the council's doing all it can in fairness to it. I went to visit Gateway Church and it's both depressing and inspiring in equal measure. The people there do so much work, but seeing queues of young families lining up for tinned food and powdered milk when it's 2013 in one of the richest countries in the world is thoroughly depressing. I'm afraid it's a sign of the times and we've got to do all we can to support them and I know the council and its local councillors are doing all they can. The proposed one in Cudworth has seen councillors being really involved in that. It's a sign of the times and we need to see changes - if you're living in one of the richest countries in the world there shouldn't be food banks. Not in this day and age.
Q) The Town Hall sculpture! What about it?
A) It's good. I don't think you can't not do something just because some bonehead decides to climb it on a busy bank holiday weekend when he's had a few. It's going to look great - it's a sculpture, not a climbing frame.
Q) What are you doing to attract new businesses to Barnsley?
A) I work closely with the Barnsley Development Agency (BDA) who do lots of good work in terms of encouraging businesses to the area. I went to see Billingtons at Wombwell last week and I'm always willing to go visit individual companies to ask them what attracted them to the area. Companies like Asos, they've put in hundreds of jobs and I know it's a pretty tough place to work but imagine what it'd be like if we'd not have those 1,500 jobs. What we want in Barnsley is more jobs for the future, I'm really proud about our history and lots of my family came from the mining industry but we want big companies to come to the borough. We've got lots of unemployed young people and that's why we need to attract companies. We want to send out a positive message about Barnsley - this is a really great town. We want people to come here and see this, and what with things like Live In Barnsley and Experience Barnsley, we're working to do that.
Q) We've had a lot of people asking about the HS2 rail link - you are supporting that...
A) Yeah - I support it in principle because the business community believe it'll have huge economic benefits that will come because of it. Everything's in the detail on this - I had a recent meeting with the transport secretary and I showed him on a map the areas which the proposed route would have the biggest impact on places like Swaithe and Hoyland. We want two things from the government: they have to maximise the compensation to those affected, those who rightly are worried that their houses will be blighted and unsellable and also fully consult the public and listen to them. If there are changes that could be made to the proposed move, they should listen to Barnsley's residents.
Q) We've been asked about MPs being of 'a considerable age'! Now, this isn't directly aimed at your age as you're only 38, but how can you be in touch with the younger population of Barnsley?
A) I came in in 2010 and Dan Jarvis came in a year later. Around a third of the House of Commons is made up of new people as lots of people have retired, we had the MPs' expenses scandal so I think it's changed. There are far more MPs in their thirties now who have got young kids like myself. In truth, if Parliament's going to be representative you do need a mixture, with younger and older MPs. A bigger challenge for us is getting people in from different backgrounds - Dan Jarvis has been brilliant with his military background as people are proud of our armed forces. In terms of engaging with young people, you've got to go to them, you can't expect them to come to you. I'm keen on having votes at 16. Young people have all sorts of responsibilities and entitlements at this age, yet they can't vote. If you gave this age group the opportunity to vote, it'll forced politicians to listen to them. That might make older MPs listen to them a lot more.
Q) The town's parking charges. We got a lot of people on We Are Barnsley questioning their prices. Do you think that's discouraging people from going to the town centre and perhaps heading to Meadowhall instead?
A) Parking's key, and so are transport links. Fares have got to be affordable. We feel strongly about the town centre as it's the focus of the borough and we want people to come and shop here. The council's got a good plan of looking at the markets and really turning it into a thriving market town again. Improving the town centre's high on the council's agenda, this gets my full support. I'd like to see more shops and more going on in the town centre.
Q) Couldn't go without mentioning the 'bedroom tax'. It's been a huge talking point, so what words can you offer the hundreds in Barnsley affected by it?
A) I've voted against it on lots of occasions. We've forced a number of U-turns after the amounts of people who have come to us. The government don't like us calling it a 'bedroom tax', they wan't to call it a 'spare room subsidy' but that's a bit like saying the poll tax was a community charge. This is one of the most nasty, cruel things the government has done. The majority who are hit by the tax are disabled people. The government classes a spare room as a bedroom which includes a room which you can't even fit a bed in. Maybe there's a couple where one of them is disabled and because of its nature they have to sleep seperately, perhaps in the spare room there's the wheelchair and other equipment to deal with the disability. They're being penalised. It's completely cruel. We also haven't got the housing stock - where are these people going to go? It's completely incompetent as it's not going to save the government the money it thinks it will. I urge them to rethink and we'll keep the pressure up on the government.
Did you listen to Michael Dugher's radio show? What did you think to his answers? Have your say below.