James Frith is hoping to be re-elected as Labour MP for Bury North this general election.
Frith won the seat in the 2017 General Election after securing 4,375 more votes than Conservative candidate David Nuttall, who had been MP for Bury North since 2010.
Bury North currently remains a marginal seat, with Labour and Conservative both ranking at 43% in voting intention estimates.
MM spoke to Frith about the successes from his time as MP, and the key issues he wants to address – from ending austerity, to investing in Bury FC, to reducing operation cancellations in hospitals.
How do you think the people of Bury North feel about this election?
“People are weary about austerity and Brexit and they’re not too pleased about a Christmas election. There is a real marmite with both party leaders and we are picking up a general feeling of disillusionment.
“But in Bury North there is a lot of strong good will towards me still, which I’m very grateful for.
“It’s too early to say [who will win], I think it’s neck and neck, but I’m proud of what I’ve done in these two and a half years with the town and hope that we can carry on doing that again.”
— Lucy Powell (@LucyMPowell) December 8, 2019
Statistics were released recently detailing the high levels of cancelled operations in hospitals. What can be done about this?
“If Fairfield [General Hospital] got the money that they’re asking for they could…make Fairfield a bigger hospital with a specialist capacity. And they tell me that would improve the flow of patients.
“Going back to this impact of austerity, it’s a cumulative effect…We need more space, we need more investment.
“My answer is investment in ending austerity as opposed to just simply trying to be a more compassionate version of leave because that doesn’t work with austerity.”
What else needs to be done to improve healthcare?
“People have got to be educated about not just turning up at A&E and yet you can see why they are, not just because it’s a trusted brand because they’re not getting the primary care that they need because they wait too long for GPs, or there aren’t enough GPs, or they haven’t been registered with a GP that is over capacity.
“So, it’s a complex picture.
“And we need a social care plan. It is something that matters to me very dearly. I‘m chair of the hospice and end of life care parliamentary group.”
What are you most proud of achieving during your time as MP?
“The thing I’m most proud of – I’m pretty proud of what I’ve done for Bury FC. That was obviously a response to an event as opposed to something I pledged but it is a pledge now in my election material here.
“The town had lost a football club of 135 years. Ripped a hole out of the social economic cultural capital of the town, to a certain degree of the country due to its age and heritage.”
Frith is now campaigning for Bury FC to be reinstated to League Two of the EFL by 2020-21.
“We saved the walk-in centre which was my number one priority. It is a really important health asset for the town because it serves our three poorest areas.”
Frith was also one of six prominent MPs who relentlessly campaigned for Orkambi to be available on the NHS for cystic fibrosis sufferers.
“That followed a surgery appointment I had with a husband and dad of a local woman who has cystic fibrosis – she’s drowning in her own lungs essentially.
“Orkambi removes 90% of symptoms. We pressured NHS England and Vertex and the Secretary of State. We joined protests, we asked questions, we raised the issue in the house. It’s now available on the NHS which is great.”
Frith also helped to reunite a family which fled Syria. “A mother fled Syria and we reunited her with her two children. They live in Bury now.
“I love the job and I love being in a position where I can make those sorts of changes. Some of it is potholes but some of it is reuniting families.”
What do you think are the biggest issues facing employment?
“In reality high levels of employment exist but they exist with a high level of underemployment. People are working for their poverty, they are working all hours, they don’t have the secure work. That’s a real issue.”
Frith said that he wants to tackle the high levels of “underemployment”.
What can be done to improve education in Bury North?
“Kids and young people have been some of the hardest hit. It’s about ensuring the investments in schools are there. We’ve got buildings in Bury North that really should have been rebuilt over 10 years ago and are in a dreadful state of repair.
“We’ve got huge poverty rates in our East ward…and so we’ve got to look at improving the wage take, the job prospects, access to childcare.
“I mean Woodhey [High School] in Ramsbottom, they shut Wednesday afternoon because half a day a week saves them the money.
“If you talk to parents, that poses a real childcare issue in the middle of the week, as well as obviously the education concerns…and loss of earnings.”
Frith served on the Education Select Committee and founded social enterprise All Together which offers careers advice for young people.
“The space between education and employment particularly is something that I’ve been interested in for a very long time. We need to do more than we are to prepare young people for life and working life after their university, college or an apprenticeship.”
— Re-Elect James Frith in Bury North (@JamesFrith) December 9, 2019
What are your thoughts on Universal Credit?
“Universal credit needs to be scrapped and replaced. That’s been an absolute shambles. I met someone who is on Universal credit is now getting less money, is not incentivised to earn the extra hours because it would take her over the threshold and Universal Credit was meant to deal with that and it hasn’t because it’s not been implemented well.”
Frith went on to add that while a “universal payment” is a good principle, the Universal Credit system was “not set up to deal with the complexity or details of human life.”
What can be done to help save the environment on a local and national level?
“My second pledge [in the 2017 election] was to protect as much greenbelt land as possible and we had a 40% removal of greenbelt from the GMSF plan.
“We need to go further, we need to save more, the government nationally needs to agree to different rejection figures, so only building the houses we need rather than an arbitrary figure which we’ve got at the moment.”
Frith has also been invested in the plastic-free pledge and carbon neutrality.
“We’ve got to do some more seismic climate emergency stuff.
“Carbon neutrality by 2030 is important. It will drive innovation. We don’t want to run out of time on this because if there is no undo click on the mouse for the planet then we’re really in trouble.”
Are there any other key issues that you think need addressing?
“There is a real imbalance between towns and cities which needs redressing.
“Bury Football Club kind of represents that imbalance. You’ve literally got Manchester City and Manchester United in the city of Manchester that just sucks a lot of potential and flow from the small towns.
“But it’s also true of the cities being served by towns potentially at the expense of the shops in the towns, the culture in the towns, the access in the towns. Inter-transport within towns is eminently sort of defined by your ability to reach Manchester.”