June 1, 2011

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MPs have an enthusiastic football team and I play for them when I can.

We play matches for charity or to highlight important issues and we played in tournaments at Stamford Bridge, home to Chelsea Football Club. The tournament was organised by Thomas Cook who have launched a Children’s Charity. Normally the MPs team is not exactly the best, made up of players like me who frankly are not as fit or as fast as we used to be or in my case not that good to start with. So scoring twice was a bonus for me and many Merseyside football fans will share my amusement when I say I have now scored more goals at Stamford Bridge than Fernando Torres has for Chelsea. 

The MPs' team won the tournament and it was a great thrill to play at a Premier league football ground. My colleague and constituency neighbour, Steve Rotheram is a far better player than me and he was looking forward to playing for Liverpool legends against Everton. I believe Andy Burnham was playing for Everton. As Steve is a defender and Andy a forward that could be an interesting battle within the game and I wonder which of my colleagues will triumph.

The MPs' team also played at the UEFA Champions League Festival at Hyde Park against a Talk Sport Radio team. Talksport had Graeme Le Saux playing for them so we were up against it. But we managed to hold out for a win in that competition as well. The Champions League Festival lasts for the week before the Champions League final and has exhibition matches involving teams from across the world. There were junior national teams from Brazil and Argentina playing before our game.

We played to highlight the Bobby Moore Foundation, which was set up by Stephanie Moore, Booby’s widow. Bobby died of bowel cancer, which is an especially painful and nasty form of cancer but which can be prevented with early diagnosis. Many GPs don’t correctly spot the likely symptoms so don’t refer to a specialist and that’s one reason why this is an especially important cause. A friend of mine had bowel cancer and her GP kept being given the wrong diagnosis. Eventually, the GP refered her to a specialist and happily the treatment was a success. But not everyone has a happy outcome to this terrible disease. 

Cancer Research were also at the match and told me of their concern about the impact of the government’s Health and Social Care bill. They worry that the changes to the NHS will mean that referrals to a cancer specialist will happen more slowly as a result of the re-organisation. The last Labour government had guaranteed a GP referral to a cancer specialist would happen within two weeks and we were committed to reducing that to a week. The evidence shows that the faster someone is referred to a specialist, the more likely they are to survive. That’s why the two week guarantee was so important.

Stephanie Moore has raised £7 million in the fight against bowel cancer in the 18 years since her husband died. She does a terrific job and it was a privilege to be able to help with her publicity by playing football. Sport has an important role to play in helping raise awareness of many important issues and I am lucky to have the opportunity to make a difference to people’s lives because of the profile, which I have.

There has been a lot of concern from parents, staff and students about plans to convert schools in Sefton Central into academies. A number of schools in Formby, Maghull and Crosby are investigating the possibility of becoming an academy. The schools know that there is extra money available if they become academies. 

However, there is growing concern about the effect on staff, on admissions policies and on the long term impact. Schools in Sefton work closely together as part of the local authority and this working relationship and support network might have to change. The extra money for academies would be taken away from the local authority which would mean they might not be able to continue with advice, with behavioural support, with Special Needs support or with other services currently paid for by the council. If those services were to stop, it is hard to see where any schools would be able to find the support they all need and that would include academies. 

It is entirely understandable that head teachers and governors would want to investigate the option of becoming an academy. I hope that they will listen to staff, parents, students and the wider community and consider all the evidence and all the views before making decisions which will effect young people in Sefton for many years to come.