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.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Heartlands

When it was opened a couple of years ago the Heartlands project at Pool symbolised the start of regeneration in the Camborne Redruth area. Like all new projects it has suffered from its share of teething problems but I think there are now some positive signs that it's turned the corner and we need the community to get behind it.

A couple of weeks ago over 14,000 people attended their bonfire night celebration which must have been the biggest bonfire party in Cornwall. Earlier this autumn the first ‘Live at Heartlands’ concert was held which attracted leading bands such as UB40, The Happy Mondays, The Boom Town Rats and many others. It was a really successful festival and several people have told me how much they enjoyed it.

The new housing development on the edge of Heartlands is also almost complete. It is designed to respect the industrial heritage of the site with saw tooth roofs and will bring a larger community to the site. Later this year another part of the site will become home to a ground breaking new project run by Carillion Igloo homes which will pioneer a new national scheme to sell plots with outlining planning and an option for people to custom build their dream home.

I think one of the problems Heartlands encountered early on was that some of the decisions made were driven by the criteria required to secure successful grant applications rather than focusing solely on what would work. There had also been legal hiccups in the way lawyers had set up the deeds which caused huge problems when trying to sell the first phase of flats to local residents. It was unbelievable that lawyers were unable to resolve what should have been quite simple land deals. There were also too many prescriptions and conditions attached to the occupants of the business and retail units which made it hard for some of them to survive. Finally, there has been too much reliance on the car park as an income stream.

However, the amazing play area has been a big draw from the start and the Red River feature has always been a hit with young children and families. The diaspora gardens are also starting to establish. What the bonfire night party and Live at Heartlands proved is that this project can become a great community asset which celebrates our industrial heritage but is very much for the local community. It has huge potential and I believe we will see Heartlands grow from strength to strength.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Monday, 17 November 2014

REMEMBRANCE

This year Remembrance services across the country carried particular significance marking both the centenary of the start of the First World War and also coming weeks after the last British troops finally withdrew from Camp Bastion and the mission in Afghanistan ended.

I attended services in Hayle and Illogan and there was a strong turnout at each. As usual the various Cadet groups, Scouts, Brownies and other youth groups were out in force. It is great to see these movements going from strength to strength and the young people representing them this year did us all proud. Two pupils from Hayle school read out the names of all those who died in the two world wars which really drove home the scale of the loss.

Last Friday, as part of the Cornwall Remember commemorations, I read a poem at Truro Cathedral which was written by Siegfried Sassoon. He was one of a number of famous poets who brought home the horrors of the Great War. It was the first industrial war and battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with advances of military technology. There were attempts to break the battleground deadlock and early attempts to develop the use of armoured tanks and aircraft but none of these were entirely successful so the horrors continued. It is right that we remember a generation of young men who carried such an extraordinary burden.

The recent wars that we have fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have undoubtedly increased attendance at remembrance services in recent years. The operation in Afghanistan has been long and hard lasting thirteen years, more than three times as long as the Great War and there have been many casualties and soldiers suffering life changing injuries. It is a relief that the mission is finally over.

In 2006 when I was an adviser to David Cameron, I visited our troops at Camp Bastion and Kandahar in Afghanistan. I was struck by the incredible professionalism and can-do attitude of our armed forces. The troops were casually running sweep stakes on where in the camp the next Taliban missile might land and a "rapid response force", made up of young men often not even in their twenties, was permanently on call to scramble out into the dessert to pursue the Taliban after each missile was fired. They didn't want to make it easy for them. It was a reminder that the reputation this country has as having the best armed forces in the world is very well deserved.

We have had more than a decade of engagement in very difficult conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan and the problems of the Middle East seem as intractable as ever. When I visited Afghanistan, there was a real respect and gratitude for what Britain's forces were doing to try to help them and we should remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the families they left behind.

Monday, 10 November 2014

NHS Pledge

Early last month David Cameron made an important pledge that by 2020 a Conservative government would deliver access to a family doctor seven days a week, and that surgeries would be open for twelve hours each day to relieve pressure on our hospitals. I think this is really good news and will especially help those who cannot get out of work on a week day to go and see their GP. The details need to be worked out and lessons learnt from a recent trial but it is clearly a project that holds huge potential.

The announcement builds on what is already being done by the Government to protect funding for the NHS and make sure that despite difficult economic circumstances it remains free at the point of need. Whilst difficult spending cuts have had to be made in other areas over the course of this Parliament not only has spending been protected for the NHS it has also been increased by £12.7 billion.

This is a huge increase that has allowed the hiring of thousands more doctors, nurses and midwives to look after patients and has also been helped by reforms to cut the numbers of managers and bureaucracy we saw under the last government. There have also been other successful initiatives, like the £1.16 billion Cancer Drugs Fund now administered by the NHS helping over fifty thousand cancer patients since it was set up four years ago.

There has also been some important extra money that has been awarded for new NHS services in Cornwall. In our area this is being spent on a much needed expansion to include a minor injuries unit at the Camborne and Redruth Community Hospital and the creation of doctor-led urgent care centres at the same hospital.

Of course more needs to be done and we especially need to make sure we help those who work tirelessly in our hospitals and surgeries. I recently raised the issue of new staff parking charges at Treliske Hospital with the Chief Executive following changes that are seeing some staff with an increase of almost 300% in what they are paying to park at work. Discussions are still ongoing but we need to find a sensible solution.

There has also been a lot of speculation over the future of St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle with rumours of its imminent closure. St Michael’s is a much valued and popular hospital and when I discussed these concerns with the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust it was clear they plan to invest more into it and make it better still, not close it. We should not allow rumours to undermine morale at such a community institution and instead we should support plans to improve the services they offer.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032

Monday, 3 November 2014

TRANSPORT LINKS IMPROVEMENT


The beginning of this week saw a crucial deal struck by the Government that will maintain an air link between Newquay and London Gatwick for the next four years. The Department for Transport signed what is known as a Public Service Obligation, or PSO, to subsidise the important weekday and weekend flights to and from Cornwall and Flybe will operate the flights with timings convenient to those wanting to travel for a full working day at either destination.

I think the deal is really important and part of a wider package of transport measures announced this year that makes sure Cornwall is better connected to London but also other regions of the UK. The air link alone contributes a huge amount to the Cornish economy, with Cornwall Council estimating £54.5 million contributed to Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly through it. It serves as a lifeline for businessmen and women who use the service regularly and I was happy to help Cornwall Council press the case for it to be retained. Recently the Government announced a doubling of the money available to projects like this through the Regional Air Connectivity Fund which is a real boost for the regions.

The news has come not long after David Cameron’s recent announcement of a range of measures to improve Cornwall’s rail links which I and others had pressed for in Westminster. There are three main elements: a new train care centre in Penzance which will create much needed local jobs, a sleeper upgrade to help business users and holiday makers and the bringing forward of plans to upgrade and improve our outdated signalling system so that we can run more frequent local services.

I am often contacted by local residents regarding the speed of the train and whilst we have to accept the realities of living so far away the improvements to our signalling system will go a long way in tackling this problem. Not only will it allow a half hourly service from Penzance to Plymouth, but it will also allow a much faster service further up the line with increased reliability. The improvements will also create better capacity and tie in with plans for more modern diesel trains and rolling stock.

Finally, there has been progress on our road infrastructure. The majority of people living in Cornwall still have to rely on their car to get around. There are important plans to dual the A30 in the pipeline. The government has made funding available for the section at Temple and I know Cornwall Council are working hard to progress this. The Transport Minister also recently announced that there would be a feasibility study to progress the duelling of the section at Carland Cross.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032