Thursday, 4 January 2018

NHS and Broadband

Shortly before the Christmas break, I was pleased that the Government announced that the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust has been granted an additional £1.5 million funding to help cope with winter pressures. The extra funding was announced as part of a £337 million immediate funding boost for NHS hospitals this winter in the recent Budget, in addition to an extra £2.8 billion investment over the next two years.

I have met several constituents at my weekly surgeries in recent months who have had difficulties in getting a routine spinal referral. I have written to the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group on this matter several times. It has now been announced that NHS Kernow has lifted the suspension on routine spinal referrals, following the publication of the new referral guidelines for Adult Low Back Pain and completion of the final tasks necessary to support full implementation of the new spinal pathway.

During my constituency surgeries, I meet people who need assistance with an array of issues in their lives. Recently, I have met individuals and organisations who have wanted to discuss broadband. In December 2017, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport confirmed that it will be delivering universal broadband through a regulatory Universal Service Obligation, which was legislated for in the Digital Economy Act earlier in 2017. This will ensure that everyone will have the legal right to decent broadband - of at least 10mbps - which is needed to be part of modern life. The USO will be in place by 2020, and in the meantime the rollout of superfast broadband continues.

The Superfast broadband project of a few years ago helped get Cornwall ahead of the rest of the country in terms of broadband speeds and paved the way for a new generation of businesses who could benefit from being located in Cornwall without the usual problems of distance from the market.

However, the fact that most of the county has high speeds makes it all the more galling for those communities who were left behind and who have had to struggle on with very poor broadband connections.  Getting high speed broadband solutions to the remaining households not covered by the original programme is now a priority for government and work continues.

I want us to make the most of the opportunities that superfast broadband offers. The computer software industry has really taken off in this part of Cornwall in recent years. Superfast broadband means that software companies can compete around the world from a digital connection in Cornwall.

We are already beginning to feel the benefits, with software companies like Headforwards, Blue Fruit and LumiraDx growing in our area. Innovation centres at Pool and Tremough play an important role in incubating new start-ups.  Meanwhile, proposals for a new fibre park in Pool to bring together software companies and training from Cornwall College to create opportunities for local school leavers could take things to the next level.  We have the chance to really put Cornwall on the map in this sector.


Thursday, 28 December 2017

2018


This last year has been a turbulent time in British politics.  The decision to leave the EU was a big decision but it was also a divisive debate which some have continued.  I think everyone in parliament has an important responsibility to put the arguments of the past behind them and focus instead on getting the best possible Brexit deal. We must create a new partnership with the EU based on friendship that reassures those who are apprehensive about leaving, while respecting the clear decision to take back control and make our own laws again.  
 
However, there are many more issues than leaving the EU and I have worked locally to address problems faced by people here. I hold weekly surgeries and have helped people with issues from benefits, housing and hospital appointments to disputes with neighbours, visa enquiries and school places. I also meet regularly with many of our fantastic local businesses.
 
I am committed to ensuring fairer funding for Cornwall, and I have met with the Schools Minister on several occasions to ensure that our schools here in Hayle, Camborne and Redruth are not losing out.  As a result, the government has confirmed that the schools budget for Cornwall will rise by over 3 percent and they have provided enough cash to ensure that we can progress towards a more consistent national formula while no individual school need lose out. 
 
During the last week, the Home Office has announced a £450 million increase in police funding across England and Wales. This includes up to an additional £270 million in police force budgets, so individual forces have the resources they need to respond to changes in demand. Police funding in Devon and Cornwall could increase by up to £8.5 million in 2018/19 as a result of these changes.
 
The counter terrorism policing budget will rise by 7 per cent, with a £50 million increase taking it to at least £757 million. This means the Government is now spending more on counter terrorism policing than ever before.
 
Over the past seven years, crime has fallen by more than a third across the country, but we have more to do. Since becoming an MP, I have fought to end the historical injustices in the way that services in Cornwall are funded. I am pleased that funding for Devon and Cornwall is increasing, and that the Government is investing to help the police keep people safe in our communities.
 
Locally, 2018 is set to be an exciting year. The Kresen Kernow Archive centre in Redruth is due to open in 2018, which is a key part of the ongoing regeneration work. The swimming pool at Carn Brea Leisure Centre is being refurbished, and in Hayle I hope that we will see the excellent work around the Harbour being continued in 2018.
 

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Christmas

This year, as in previous years, I enlisted the help of local primary schools in the area to design my Christmas card. As always, I was very impressed with the many talented artists we have in this part of Cornwall. The overall winner was 9 year old Harrison Jones, from St Meriadoc C of E Academy. His design features a festive take on Carn Brea castle.
 
At this time of year we should acknowledge the extra work we create for the Royal Mail with many millions of extra items of post to process in just a few short weeks in December and our postmen go out in the worst weather that a Cornish winter can throw at them in order to make sure that families and friends keep in touch and receive their Christmas cards on time.

 Last weekend, I attended Redruth Revival’s Old Tyme Christmas event. It was very well attended. The choir sang, and encouraged everyone to sing along. It was good to see so many market stalls as well, selling local produce.

I always find that the most striking thing about Christmas and Christmas spirit is the generosity of local people. Last week, I visited Don Gardner and his team of dedicated volunteers at the food bank. The food bank offers a range of services, and a representative from my office spends time there every week to help people with any issues that they may want to discuss, including housing, benefits and support getting back into work. Additionally, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Citizens Advice Bureau are both represented at the food bank.

Don and his team are working incredibly hard to ensure that local people who are struggling financially are able to enjoy a family Christmas dinner. Christmas brings our communities together, and demonstrates the strength and resilience of our society.

Elsewhere, I was interested to hear about Pool Academy’s project in which students started their own food bank to help the local community. A Year 9 citizenship group has been learning about local charities during the lead-up to Christmas, and how difficult the festive season can be for some people.
 
I have been concerned in the last few days to hear of proposed cuts to the Citizens Advice Bureau here in Cornwall. In Cornwall Council’s budget, it has proposed to cut funding to the Citizens Advice Bureau service by more than half. I oppose such a move, and agree with my conservative colleagues on the council that the decision should be revised and money should be re-allocated from less essential projects or indeed the reserves that the Council has put aside for a rainy day.

2017 has been a turbulent year in British politics. As Parliament prepares to close for Christmas, it is a chance to take stock.  I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a prosperous new year. 

 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Fisheries Council


This week, I am writing from Brussels. I have been representing the UK in my role as Fisheries Minister, at the annual fisheries negotiation. This is my fifth year leading our negotiating team, and it is a particularly exciting time for our fishermen as we plan our exit from the European Union.

 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.

I have always been clear that on leaving the EU, the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries and we will continue to cooperate with all our neighbours.   We will not allow a free for all and one of the conditions of any future access we grant will be that all vessels fish sustainably and within limits to protect our marine environment.
 
This year future changes have started to become clearer as we prepare to leave the EU. The UK Government has announced its intention to withdraw from the outdated London Fisheries Convention. The UK became a signatory to the London Convention in 1964, giving French, German, Dutch, Irish and Belgian vessels access to our 6-12 mile zone. As Fisheries Minister, I am pleased that we are taking this important step towards building our own domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy.
 
Here in Cornwall, leaving the EU creates opportunities for our fishermen. We will be able to re-establish national control for fisheries management out to 200 nautical miles or the median line as provided for in international law.  We will then negotiate new access and quota sharing arrangements that are fairer to our fishermen. 
 
There has long been an historical injustice in quota allocations to the UK fleet. We catch about 100,000 tonnes of fish in EU waters but other EU countries catch over 700,000 tonnes of fish in our waters.  Many local fishermen feel frustrated that they sometimes have to tie up their boats because they have run out of quota but they see French vessels continuing to fish in Cornish waters. Taking back control of our fishing grounds will give us the opportunity to revisit quota allocations and make things fairer.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Mental health support for children and young people


This week, the government has published proposals to improve mental health support for children and young people in England. Over £300 million has been made available. 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
 
Last year saw the announcement that a new mental health unit will open in Cornwall in the summer of 2019. The purpose-built 12 bed unit will open in Bodmin. This is a much needed facility in Cornwall, that will help young people. All too often, young people have had to travel out of county, as far afield as Cheshire and Norwich, in order to access treatment.
 
In recent years, the number of young people affected by mental health problems has increased. 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 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. There are also some good charities out there which help provide the support needed. A great example is the Invictus Trust, a small charity which aims to support and offer services to local teenagers who are suffering from mental health problems and associated issues. But all agree that this is a challenge of our age.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Autumn Budget 2017

It’s not an easy time to be Chancellor trying to balance the books but last week’s Autumn Budget brings some good news for Cornwall.
Unemployment is at its lowest level since 1975, and here in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, unemployment has almost halved since 2010. The next step is to get wage rates up and last week, the budget did more to help people on low incomes.  The National Living Wage is up by 4.4 percent, and more people on low incomes have been taken out of tax altogether.
The Government is also abolishing Stamp Duty for first time buyers, and local businesses will benefit from a business rates package.
Meanwhile, on the NHS, the Chancellor has announced £6.3 Billion of additional funding for frontline NHS services and upgrades to NHS buildings and facilities. Elsewhere, the freeze on fuel duty will continue, and the Government has committed to cut down on single-use plastics.
Finally, it is great that the Chancellor announced £36,000 of Libor funding for the Cornwall Air Ambulance. I have been backing this bid.  I can remember when the Cornwall Air Ambulance began in 1987. It was a great example of Cornwall's "one and all" approach because people in Cornwall really rallied behind the idea.  It was the first air ambulance in the UK and now many other parts of the country have followed Cornwall's lead.  Since 1987, it has completed more than 26,000 missions and saved many lives and it’s great that it now has this government support.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Challenges faced by adoptive parents


We recently had an addition to our family with the birth of Alice, my first child.  The last eight weeks have been a wonderful but all consuming experience as we take on the commitment of parenthood.

Over the last few months I have also come across a couple of cases locally regarding the challenges faced by adoptive parents and the children they take under their wing.  For those children who have a difficult start in life, an adoptive home can be a real lifeline.  They benefit from a loving home environment of their own and can achieve great things.  Those who take on the great responsibility to become adoptive parents deserve special recognition for the love and support that they offer.  We should acknowledge the work done by adoptive families here in Cornwall, and by organisations such as Adoption UK.
 
Work has been done in recent years to try to remove some of the barriers that can be placed in the way of would be adoptive parents.  However, there are also concerns around the nature of post adoption support for some families.  Some of the children who have a difficult start in life also have particular challenges to overcome.  Some will have been scarred by chaotic home environments in early life.  Some will have been affected in the womb by drug or alcohol addiction that can have later impacts on mental health.  We need to make sure that we make it easier for adoptive parents who take on these responsibilities to have the support they need.
 
Some can feel that the system spends too much time and effort assessing children which can become a barrier to accessing support rather than the gateway to support that it should be.  Parents complain that they are often referred for generic solutions like "play therapy" when it is clear to them that different interventions are required.  At the other end of the spectrum, simple things like a small amount of respite care to help families with children who develop challenging behaviours can be surprisingly elusive and families feel that they end up being "sign posted" to someone else for more assessment.
 
Money is made available to Local Authorities to provide some support for individual children who are adopted but I think there is a case for reviewing how decisions about such funds are made.  In other areas of social care, we have introduced the concept of personal budgets where the individual has much more say over how the budget allocated for their care is spent.  I think we can learn from that when it comes to directing support around adopted children.  Adoptive parents are often best placed to understand what help or interventions a child needs and what wider support the family needs.  So perhaps we should spend a little less money on relentless assessments to ascertain eligibility and instead allow at least some of the budget to be spent at the discretion of the adoptive parents?