Thursday, 21 June 2018

NHS Funding

The NHS is a great British institution. All of us will rely on it at some point in our lives.  Last year, the independent Commonwealth Fund looked at health services around the world and considered that what we have in the UK is the best in the world.  The many hard working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of.  Locally we have great work done at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics.  

This week, the Prime Minister has been clear that we cannot continue to put a sticking plaster on the NHS budget each year. She has announced that by 2023/24, the NHS England budget will increase by £20.5 billion in real terms compared with today. That means that our NHS Budget will be £394 million a week higher in real terms.
Additionally, the Prime Minister has announced that the Government will be coming forward with proposals to put social care on a more sustainable footing. This is particularly important for us here in Cornwall.
I have always been clear that the NHS should be free at the point of need and it is. Spending has continued to rise, but the NHS has also seen a huge increase in demand for its services.  As medical science advances and we live longer, the number of operations and the cost of medication has increased.  While we have over 12,000 more doctors and nurses than we had in 2010, they are being asked to do more. Since 2010, we are seeing 2.4 million more A&E attendances and 5.9 million more diagnostic tests every year. In 2016, the NHS in England performed an average of 4,400 more operations every day compared to 2010.  That is why many sense that there are pressures and why we need to do all we can to make things work more smoothly.
Earlier this year, the Government confirmed that NHS staff including nurses, midwives, cleaners and porters will receive a pay rise of between 6.5% and 29%. Additionally, the Health Secretary has announced the largest ever increase in NHS midwives and maternity support staff, with a plan to train more than 3,000 extra midwives over 4 years, starting with 650 more midwives in training next year, and planned increases of 1,000 in the subsequent years as capacity increases.

This will also build on existing, world-leading measures to make the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth. This includes an ambition to halve the rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths, and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 2025.
A record number of undergraduates will begin training by 2020 in the biggest NHS medical workforce expansion ever, with five new medical schools opening across the UK.  Peninsula Medical School is one of those which will be expanding. While there will always be some challenges facing our NHS given the size of the organisation and its complexity, we should recognise its achievements celebrate the good news that we have heard this week.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Murdoch Day and Brexit

Murdoch Day
After the success of the Royal Cornwall Show last week, I’m looking forward to attending Murdoch Day in Redruth this Saturday. There is always an excellent procession in the morning, involving many local schools, dance acts and bands.
It will be good to have the opportunity to catch up with the team at Murdoch House – the former home of William Murdoch, the inventor and engineer who was one of the pioneers of steam power development in Cornwall and also famously invented the first ever gas light using piped gas. It is great to have such an important heritage asset right in the middle of the town.
I remember attending in previous years, and there has been a fascinating exhibition of old photographs and newspaper cuttings on show. It serves as reminder of how much Redruth and the surrounding area gave to the rest of the world. Redruth is not just the industrial heart of Cornwall, it is also the home town for a great many of the seven million people around the world whose ancestors left Cornwall in the late 19th century to build the new world. Around a quarter of all the people who left Cornwall during this period came from the Redruth area and they travelled as far afield as Cape Town, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Wisconsin in the Unites States. Press cuttings from that time underline the human and social cost of this mass migration across the world in search of work, with many instances of families separated for the rest of their lives and with wives and young families often left behind.
The new Kresen Kernow archive will celebrate and chronicle some of this extraordinary history.  I campaigned hard to ensure that Redruth was selected as the location for the Archive Centre. Our town is home to the world wide Cornish diaspora because of the deep roots we have in the history of mining around the world.  I visited the project a few weeks ago, and the progress is astonishing. These are exciting times for Redruth as we see the key historic site of the brewery brought back into use to celebrate our history.
Getting on with Brexit.
Many people feel that parliament is taking too long getting on with implementing the decision our country took two years ago to leave the EU and restore national democracy.  Despite the frustrations, things are gradually moving forward.  As I write this we are about to face some close and difficult votes on amendments from the House of Lords.  By the time you read this you will know the outcome. In my view we need to put the arguments of the past behind us, and unite to make a success of Brexit with a new partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation.  But as we establish the rule of national law in this country, we must bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. 

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Royal Cornwall Show

This week is the Royal Cornwall Show. I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall Show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible, with an early start at 5 am for days in a row to get to the show and manage the gates before any of the traffic started to arrive. For many years we used to show our South Devon Cattle there. My brother will be there again this year with the family's prize winning Lop Eared Pigs, which is a rare breed native to Cornwall.

After a difficult winter and a very late spring, I know farmers have been running to catch up in recent weeks. Arable farmers have been working around the clock drilling crops. Livestock farmers have been working to finally turn their cattle out to grass, which will come as a relief to those who struggled with shortages of fodder at the end of winter.
On top of all of this, the deadline for submitting applications for this year’s Basic Payment Scheme passed in the middle of May with the customary good timing required under EU law. With all of these pressures on time, it is therefore impressive so many individual farmers found the time to make their own submission to our recent consultation on the future of agriculture policy in the UK. In total, more than 44,000 responses were received in just 10 weeks.

When you have an opportunity for great change, it is always important to receive lots of individual perspectives, because it is often where the most innovative ideas are to be found. A number of farmers have told me in recent weeks they thought the paper focused too much on the environment and not enough on food production.
I was concerned I might have missed something about the document I had signed off earlier this year, so I have read it again.
There is a chapter on a ‘successful future for farming’ and another on risk management and resilience. There is one on fairness in the supply chain, one on regulation and another on protecting remote farming.

Then there are subsections on research and development, labour availability and on maintaining standards in future trade deals. So, I do not agree the consultation did not address farming and food production. 

However, we also need to recognise the current Common Agricultural Policy is not about food production. In fact, the current area-based payment regime is explicitly not about food production. Instead, it is an upside-down system of subsidies which pays based on how much land someone owns or controls, regardless of what they do with it.
It is a system which encourages people to occupy land, but take few risks with it. With hindsight, the system for decoupling of farm payments 15 years ago was a mistake which created the bureaucratic quagmire we have today.

However, from where we are, moving over time to a system of payment for the delivery of public goods, such as high animal welfare standards, improved soil husbandry and more sustainable farming, must make more sense.


Thursday, 31 May 2018

Mental Health Hub at Treliske

Last week, the Government announced that the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust is being awarded almost £1.5M for a new mental health hub which aims to bring together a range of services supporting mental health, from psychiatric services in the NHS, through to the police and social services and also groups dealing with drug and alcohol dependency.  The idea is that bringing all these services together in one location will help ensure we can get the right support to people quickly.

This is really good news for Cornwall. Of all the successful bids for this funding, the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been awarded the largest sum of money. This new investment is in addition to that previously announced for a young people’s mental health unit in Bodmin.
Everyone suffers setbacks in life and for many, the pressures of modern living can cause mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. In recent years, the number of young people affected by mental health problems has increased markedly. Maybe it’s the pressure to fit in and to belong - a sentiment that always existed - but seems to have been heightened by social media in the digital age which is relentless and immediate but often impersonal and sometimes cruel and offensive.

Some good work is done by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) service, which helps children and young people deal with emotional, behavioural or mental health issues, but demand for these services has risen exponentially.  There are also some good charities out there which help provide the support needed. A great example is the Invictus Trust.
At the end of last year, the Government published proposals to improve mental health support for children and young people in England. Over £300 million has been made available and planned measures include encouraging every school and college to have a ‘designated senior mental health lead’, setting up mental health support teams working with schools to give children and young people earlier access to services, and piloting a 4-week waiting time for NHS children and young people’s mental health services.

There is a growing realisation that mental health is complex and we must be careful not to assume that medical professionals can provide all the answers.  They can treat the symptoms to varying degrees of success but we need to think more as a society about how we live our lives and take care to pay attention to our own wellbeing and that of those around us.  Of course, there will always be a need for medical interventions on the most serious mental health conditions.  However, when it comes to milder and more common conditions such as depression, there have been a number of highly successful projects that show that getting people out into the countryside where they can connect with nature can help.  Others have discovered that finding a connection with the soil through gardening or the companionship of pets and the responsibility of caring for animals can help.  

We do not yet have all the answers to this growing problem in the modern world, but it is clear that part of the solution lies in the way we all live our lives to try to reduce the number of people needing support in the first place.  

Thursday, 24 May 2018


David Attenborough’s Blue Planet opened people’s eyes to the damage that plastic is doing to our oceans and marine environment catapulted the issue up the agenda, locally and nationally.
A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of welcoming pupils from Portreath School to parliament. They addressed a parliamentary committee on the work they have done to tackle the scourge of plastic waste in our oceans. They have persuaded suppliers to change from plastic to cardboard packaging, their milk now arrives in glass bottles, and they help with beach cleans at Portreath. I also received letters from a number of students at Mount Hawke Academy, all of whom are campaigning for Parliament to do more to tackle the problem. Last week, I responded to a debate about plastic bottles and coffee cups in the House of Commons on behalf of the Government. I was pleased to be able to pay tribute to the work done by these local children to make sure that more is being done to look after our environment.
Cornwall is also home to Surfers Against Sewage, which has done great work in campaigning nationally against marine pollution. It has been at the forefront of a campaign to reduce the use of plastics on the parliamentary estate. That campaign has been a success, and parliamentary authorities have announced a series of steps to reduce plastic waste.
Plastic has always been a particular concern; it takes hundreds of years to break down and has been the subject of high profile debate recently.  The problem is compounded year after year as new plastics find their way into the oceans while those that have already been there for decades remain and break down into smaller particles.  
The government has pledged to crack down on plastics by eliminating all avoidable plastic waste through extending the 5p plastic bag charge to small retailers, removing consumer single use plastics from the government estate, supporting the water industry to significantly increase water fountains and working with retailers on introducing plastic-free supermarket aisles.

The result of the 5p plastic bag charge introduced two years ago has been amazing with a drop in carrier bag use of about 80 percent.  We have also banned microbeads in cosmetics. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used to give a gritty texture to some soaps but which sewage systems are incapable of filtering so they end up in the sea.   
A recent call for evidence is clear that we will consider a levy on disposable cups. We also have consultations coming up on banning plastic straws, plastic stirrers and cotton buds, and on introducing a deposit return scheme.
Our successes show us that we can all make a difference if we act. I could not be more proud of the leading role that Cornwall is taking in tackling plastic, and helping ensure that the UK is a world leader in environmental protection.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

South Crofty

There has been much talk about South Crofty in recent weeks, both locally and nationally. March 2018 marked 20 years since South Crofty sadly closed its gates for the last time. This week, South Crofty has been in the national spotlight again. Strongbow Exploration, the Canadian company which bought South Crofty in July 2016, has announced plans to float on the Alternative Investment Market next month. This is great news for us here in Cornwall. Strongbow is looking to raise £25m during the next 18 months to progress to a production decision.
It is estimated that production could begin in 2021. I am in regular contact with Richard Williams, Chief Executive of Strongbow, and there is every reason to be optimistic.
As always with mining, there have been many false starts. Tin prices vary, but have rallied of late. Demand for tin has increased dramatically. It is the main element used in solder, which joins up electronic circuit boards on mobile phones, tablets and TVs. These changes mean world tin prices are currently at around 20,000 dollars per tonne – an 8-10 fold increase on 1998. Global demand for tin is predicted to remain stable, but supply is likely to decline over the next few years due to a fall in production in China, Malaysia and Peru.
One of the challenges we face is ensuring that the “Red River” does not run red again. In the mining days of the past, various pollutants entered the water and gave it a red appearance (hence the name). We have to make sure that this doesn’t happen again, and that we protect the ecology in and around the river. I worked with the Environment Agency and Strongbow, the owners of the mine, to find the right kind of filtration and water purification processes and permits were then issued late last year.
We have also learnt that Cornwall has considerable lithium reserves, including in South Crofty. Cornish Lithium is exploring for lithium within the hot springs that naturally occur beneath the surface in and around Cornish granites. The government as earmarked lithium as a metal of strategic importance to the country, and its use in electric cars makes it an important asset. So, the presence of metals in South Crofty that are in the vanguard of modern electronic technology creates a good chance that mining will resume.
Since being elected, I have prioritised economic regeneration. The East-West link road has played a crucial part in unlocking the potential of the derelict land around South Crofty.  We have seen Pool transformed over the last four years with new businesses setting up at the Pool Innovation Centre, a makeover for the college and, of course, the completion of Heartlands.  We are seeing new employment space opened up to attract new industries and better paid jobs. This latest news about the mine is good news for our area, and we have much to look forward to as we move forwards.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Kresen Kernow

Cornwall has a unique culture and an industrial heritage to be proud of, with Redruth playing a particularly important role as one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution and as the centre of the Cornish diaspora across the world. In its prime, Redruth was at the heart of the tin mining industry and there were many feats of engineering developed in Cornwall at that time.

After the decline in the fortunes of tin mining in the late nineteenth century, there was a huge exodus to the new world with Cornish tin miners founding the industry in Australia, California, South Africa, South America and Mexico. As a result, today there are some six to eight million people making up a worldwide Cornish diaspora and the vast majority of them can trace their family roots back to Redruth.

Last week, I visited the Kresen Kernow Cornish Archive. It has undergone quite a transformation since my last visit. Huge progress has been made. The roof is now being put on, and it was great to see the purpose built rooms that will house thousands of manuscripts, maps and photographs as well as other documents relating to Cornwall.

Redruth beat competition from other towns to win designation by Cornwall Council as the preferred site for the project and saw off fierce competition from dozens of other bids nationally to successfully land funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

I argued Redruth was the natural home for this archive project. Redruth is the most international of Cornish towns. Redruth Town Council has shown tremendous enthusiasm for the new archive project and credit should also go to both existing and former local councillors for their support.

I have met Horace Yao, the Honk Kong based owner of the brewery site in Redruth, on many occasions now to try to help progress plans. Mr Yao bought the brewery site some twenty years ago and ran the famous Cornish Rebellion and Newquay Steam beer brands for several years. Since then there have been a couple of schemes to try to find a future for the site which didn't work out in the end and he has shown tremendous patience in being prepared to go through another process which has succeeded. The most sought after residential address in Hong Kong is actually along Cornwall Street which shows how far our international connections spread and it is fitting that there should be a Hong Kong connection in creating the most sought after venue in Cornwall.

It is this history that makes Redruth the ideal place to host the new Kresen Kernow archive project and that is why I have supported this initiative from the start.