Thursday, 12 May 2011

Back to the issues that matter

Now that the contentious issue of whether to change our voting system has been settled once and for all, it’s time for the government to knuckle down to the real priorities of people in Cornwall such as water charges, the NHS, welfare reform and job creation.

Last week I attended a meeting with the DEFRA Minister to discuss how we take forward the government’s commitment to make available £40 million per year to finally resolve the historic unfairness of high water bills in the South West. It’s a major step forward and a good example where Conservative and Lib Dem MPs in Cornwall have achieved something together. The proposals could deliver savings of over £50 per household but we have to get the details right.

Earlier this week, the proposed changes to the NHS were also debated in parliament. The government aims to give more power to doctors and spend less money on managers. But the proposals are controversial and have caused concern from some quarters. While I support the principle of putting doctors and nurses in charge, the NHS is a big organisation and major reorganisations always carry the risk of unintended consequences so I am pleased that the government has decided to take a pause, listen to all of the concerns people have and, yes, make changes to their proposals to ensure we get it absolutely right.

This month also sees the start of a new approach to help those trapped on benefits back to work and important reforms to the process for assessing people on Incapacity Benefit. In the past, the assessments have been far too much of a tick box routine and I frequently have people attending my surgery who feel that the assessment didn’t identify the problems they have. The new system will take far greater account of medical evidence from doctors from the start and will give people the right to have a second opinion if they don’t agree with their assessor. Finally, there will be intensive help to support people back in to some sort of work. Pilots elsewhere in the country have shown that, of those currently on Incapacity Benefit, almost two thirds are able to do some work and desperately want the help to get there.

Finally, more than anything else, Cornwall needs new jobs. Last Monday I met a group of students from Hayle Community School who were on a visit to parliament. We discussed at length the potential for job creation in Hayle. The school places enterprise at its heart. Every student learns a foreign language (some two) and there is a real focus on encouraging students to set up their own business. It is exactly the sort of approach that we need more of and there was no shortage of good ideas from the Hayle pupils I met.