Thursday, 29 January 2015

Developing Green Energy

I have always been a strong supporter of wave power in Cornwall, but I am very opposed to field scale solar farms which are scarring the Cornish countryside.

With the powerful Atlantic swell off the Cornish coast we have a wave power resource that is second to none and Wave Hub is the first facility of its type in the world able to test commercial scale arrays of devices.

I have always championed wave power and worked to secure Marine Energy Park status in Hayle. There are several major wave energy developers now seeking to locate in Hayle and our strong heritage in engineering means we have the companies that can really make wave power work.

There is a place for solar panels on roofs, but field scale solar developments damage the countryside and take good farmland out of production. What has happened with all those new solar developments between Chiverton roundabout and Carland Cross is an absolute tragedy and will damage other industries like farming and tourism. As Farming Minister, I decided to abolish farm subsidies on any land occupied by solar developments and I have pressed for Cornwall Council to say no to more of these awful developments.

NHS in Cornwall

The NHS is incredibly important to everyone in Cornwall and recently there have been rumours regarding the future of St Michael’s Hospital. Earlier in the summer, I met with the then Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust, to discuss these rumours and ask if there was anything I could do to help. She made clear there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital and that they would actually like to do more work there. I strongly disagree with those people who keep saying St Michael's will have to be closed down.  We should not undermine confidence in our local NHS. Instead we should support and strengthen it.

Funding for the Kernow Clinical Commission Group had increased this year by £14.3 million with another £11.6 million to come next year. Furthermore, I think it is encouraging that extra funds have been granted for an expansion at the minor injuries unit at the Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital and the creation of doctor led urgent care centres at the same hospital. Like any big organisation, the NHS will always have challenges to deal with and I think we should help them deal with those challenges, not talk them down.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Cornish Devolution

Cornwall has always been unique.  We have a strong identity and our own language and culture. Many of us consider ourselves Cornish before English and in recent years we have seen a renewed interest in celebrating St Piran’s Day. 

I do believe that we should give more decision making powers to Cornwall and the Government has already put together "growth deals" where new money has been made available for Cornwall to spend on transport projects that it has prioritised to promote growth.

I don't think we should build a Welsh style assembly and have yet another tier of politicians. That would just be a waste of money. Instead, we should focus on what more Cornwall Council can do. I would like to see more powers relating to culture and heritage devolved to Cornwall Council and taken away from English Heritage which I think can sometimes be remote.

But Cornwall Council is far from perfect so in addition, I think we should give our town and parish councils a greater say on how elements of Cornwall Council’s budget is spent so they have more power and a stronger sense of purpose

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Election Year Looms

This is the last of my weekly columns for the West Briton and Cornishman. As we enter the New Year we are in the final four months leading up to the next General Election in May and a new format is planned to involve all of the various candidates from different parties.

I know that many people frown upon political parties and I don't doubt that most people will have had enough of the debate come May 7th. But political parties should not be undervalued because no democracy can work without them. They are all voluntary organisations funded by donations from supporters to enable them to print the leaflets and literature which are then delivered by local volunteers who give up their free time to help the party they believe in.

This is going to be the most important election for decades. So much is at stake. Do we stick with the plan to turn the economy around and deliver prosperity or do we abandon all the progress that has been made and make Ed Miliband Prime Minister instead? It is a big choice and if the polls are to be believed, it is going to be the closest election in living memory. The two main parties are neck and neck and other smaller parties are also attracting more support than usual. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle has always been closely fought and a key battleground in elections. Unless the Conservatives can hold seats like Camborne and Redruth then Ed Miliband will become Prime Minister next May.  

Elections are increasingly about local issues too. I am fortunate enough to be an MP representing the towns where I grew up and where my family have worked for over four hundred years.  My family have lived through the changing fortunes of Camborne, Redruth and Hayle for generations and that is why I have always made bringing new industries and better paid jobs to the area my number one priority. I hate the way some people talk our towns down.  We have an industrial heritage to be proud of and which hasn’t been forgotten and this is still the part of Cornwall where the work gets done.  A good start has been made with the restoration of Hayle Harbour, millions invested in Camborne and plans for a new archive centre at the derelict brewery site in Redruth but there is still more to do. If voters give me the chance next May, I want to build on what we've started.

Friday, 19 December 2014

EU Fishing Negotiations

As I write this article I am about to start day two of intense negotiations in Brussels over next year’s fishing quotas in my role as Fisheries Minister. There has been concern from Newlyn and other parts of the West Country fleet this year because some of the science on the state of certain fish stocks has been challenging and the European Commission’s original proposals contained some significant cuts. I have been working hard with my negotiating team to get the right outcome and by the time you read this, the final deal will have been done.

If we want a future for our fishing industry then we need to fish sustainably. If we hammer vulnerable stocks today then there will be no fish and no fishermen tomorrow. It is not always easy for people to think about the long term when they are considering fishing opportunities for next year but we must. Some have urged me to forget the scientific advice and just argue against all cuts in quota but I will not ditch the science.  

However, we must ensure we are using the most up to date scientific evidence and also take account of the realities of the marine environment to ensure we do not end up with unintended consequences. That is why I have brought new scientific evidence to the table which demonstrates cod stocks in around Cornwall have recovered since the last evidence was published. 

It is also why our scientists are carrying out what we term "mixed fishery analysis" to model the interactions between different fish species. There is no point having a dramatic cut in the quota for haddock if it is in a mixed fishery with cod and cannot be avoided. Otherwise all that happens is that perfectly good haddock ends up being discarded dead back into the sea because fishermen have no quota for them. That is an appalling waste.

Finally, I have been arguing we should make the most informed judgement we can even where there are gaps in the evidence. The two most important fish species landed in Newlyn are monkfish and megrim. Both are what are termed "data limited stocks" which means there are gaps in the scientific evidence. In the past the Commission has argued for a precautionary approach with automatic cuts to quotas. However, I think we should use the evidence we have of the improving trends in the health of some of these stocks and have been pressing the case for lower reductions than those proposed.

The marine environment is incredibly complex and no man made system to manage it will ever be perfect. From 2016 we will implement the new CFP with a discard ban and new flexibilities to make fisheries management more sensible. It won't be perfect but it does represent a major step forward.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

St Michael's Hospital

Last week I met the Friends of St Michael's Hospital to discuss their plans for the future. There have been rumours circulating for some months now that the hospital is going to be closed which has been unsettling and unfair to the dedicated staff working there.  As the Cornishman reported last week, this has spilled over into concern among local residents.

When the rumours first surfaced this summer I met with Lezli Boswell, the then Chief Executive of the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust which runs St Michael’s, to discuss these rumours and ask if there was anything I could do to help.  She made clear there are no plans whatsoever to close the hospital and that they would actually like to do more work there.

I have also had discussions with the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group which is the body that commissions local NHS services.  They explained that when deciding how to configure NHS services, one of their criteria is to make things more local and encourage joint working within the NHS. I think that's important for Cornwall because we are on a peninsula and have always had a culture of working together. The NHS is no different.

An election is just a few months away and the political atmosphere is charged, but I strongly disagree with those people who keep saying St Michael's will have to be closed down.  We should not undermine confidence in our local NHS.  Instead we should support and strengthen it. According to the Friends of St Michael’s, the hospital delivers over 95 percent of all breast cancer operations in Cornwall, about 1200 operations a year which is an extraordinary feat.  St Michael's is the only hospital in Cornwall where there is the capacity to do this work and it's the reason why it should have confidence in its future.

The Friends team are also looking at the area of orthopaedic surgery which is the other key area covered by St Michael's.  They tell me all three orthopaedic operating theatres are working fully during the five day working week and are aiming to secure additional operations.

Some people have said St Michael's will need to close because there are often empty beds but this is a very old fashioned way to measure performance in the NHS.  As the Friends explained to me, modern surgery means patients are kept in hospital for far shorter periods and that some of the procedures at St Michael’s now require a two-night stay rather than six-day stay. In fact some operations have now become day cases.

Like any big organisation, the NHS will always have challenges to deal with but I think we should help them deal with those challenges, not talk them down.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Autumn Statement

This week George Osborne delivered his last Autumn Statement before the General Election and promised a big boost in funding for both the NHS and transport infrastructure across the South West. Cornwall in particular will benefit from these changes and while the Autumn Statement can be thought of as a mini budget, what is clear is that we could not afford these new investments if we hadn't taken the difficult decisions a few years ago to get the country's economy back on its feet.

The first bit of good news for Cornwall is the announcement the Government has promised to invest £180 million to upgrade the A30 over the next five years. Because we are on a peninsula at the far west of the country, good roads are vital to our economy. The single stretch of carriageway at Temple is a notorious bottleneck and I am really pleased at the news that work to dual this section of the A30 will begin as early as March 2015.

The Government has also announced plans to begin drawing up proposals to improve the A30 between Carland and Chiverton Cross, with the aim to have it opened to traffic by 2020. This is a big step forward in developing our local transport infrastructure as many constituents have contacted me over the years expressing their concerns about how congested the road can become over the summer and I know the announced work will make a huge difference to the area.

Alongside transport spending, the Government has also protected the NHS. Over the life of this parliament, the NHS budget has been increased by £12.5 billion and the Chancellor has just announced a further £2 billion in healthcare funding for frontline NHS services every year. The news will be especially welcome as we go in to winter, a time of year when the NHS comes under maximum pressure.

Across the South West there are now 500 more doctors looking after patients than there were five years ago. In Cornwall, funding for the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, which commissions health services in Camborne and Redruth, has increased by more than £14.3 million this year alone with an additional £11.6 million again next year. There are also plans to increase provision at the Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital at Barncoose to include a minor injuries unit and a doctor led urgent care centre.

We have some exceptionally dedicated people working in our NHS. However, as medical science advances and people live longer, the pressures on the health service and the cost of providing it increase accordingly. Those working in the NHS still have their work cut out, so it is good to see this additional money to support the great work they do.