Thursday, 23 June 2011

Education

New figures released last week concluded that Pengegon is the most deprived neighbourhood in Cornwall. I think that politicians and officials need to be careful when they talk in broad terms about "deprived communities". It is very easy to sound patronising when the truth is that people who live at Pengegon know things about life that the officials who compile data and write these reports will never understand.

There is also some very good work being done at Pengegon led by Claire Arymar, the neighbourhood manager. Whether setting up youth groups, taking children for a day out at the beach, organising community events such as the summer barbecue or helping protect families against loan sharks. It has all started to have an impact and there is pride.

Longer term, education is the key. It is the single most important thing that can help raise aspiration and get families off benefits and in to work. Last Friday, Michael Gove visited six schools in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. He was very impressed by what he saw, whether the focus on languages and enterprise at Hayle, science and international exchanges at Camborne, the focus on reading and literacy at Pool and the new school uniform being introduced at Redruth.

We also visited Trevithick Primary school which educates most of the children who live at Pengegon. Michael Gove was impressed. This school had been failing eight years ago but, today, is rated as outstanding by Ofsted and has just become an academy. Much of the change is down to good leadership and the commitment of the teaching staff and the children were clearly enthusiastic about learning and were happy. The officials who compiled the data on deprived neighbourhoods in Cornwall ought to meet them.

There is a strong emphasis on reading and literacy at Trevithick with one to one tuition outside the classroom where teachers develop the reading skills of individual pupils. I think this is so important because, in the past, things have sometimes gone wrong in the early years. Unless children learn to read and write at primary school and develop basic numeracy skills, then they will struggle to keep up at secondary school and before you know it, their morale suffers and they start to conclude that school is not for them. That is an appalling waste of human potential and we need to do all we can to ensure that standards are high and that the system does not fail children in those crucial early years.

Parents have a responsibility too. There is very clear evidence that the first three years of a child’s life are crucial to their later life chances and good parenting, with plenty of love, lots of communication and opportunities to play and explore their surroundings can make a huge difference to a child’s development. We must ensure that parents really understand this.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

NHS

Last week I met local NHS campaigners to discuss the concerns that they had with the current legislation going through parliament. I agreed with a lot of what they said and took their petition back to parliament. This week the government has made major changes to its proposals having listened to the views of thousands of medical professionals.

I used to work for David Cameron and I know that the NHS is very dear to his heart. He was the only party leader to guarantee an increase in NHS spending despite the pressures on public finances. He always argued that the NHS was special because of the commitment and sense of vocation among doctors and nurses. What motivates them is helping cure people who are ill, and that is more powerful than abstract ideas about markets.

That is why David Cameron was absolutely right to listen to the concerns expressed by doctors and nurses. Some political opponents will jump on his decision to amend the legislation and condemn it as a “u-turn”. But do we really want a government that refuses to listen? The brave thing to do is to have an open mind to your critics, take on board their views and reappraise your proposals. That is especially true with the NHS which is such a crucial British institution and which is literally a matter of life and death. So David Cameron has done the right thing and it comes as no surprise to those of us who know him.

The thrust of the government’s proposals on health is right. It cuts spending on managers and bureaucrats so that spending on the front line can be boosted. It gives more power to doctors and nurses so that they can decide what is best for their patients. It allows the private sector to offer a helping hand to our NHS so that waiting times can be cut. These are all things that people agree with.

However, when it comes to choice and competition in the NHS, I think we need to take a pragmatic view. The point about choice is that it should be an option for doctors, not a requirement. One of the problems with the way the legislation was originally drafted is that it suggested to some that competition was an end in itself rather than just a means to an end. The last thing we want to see is a bureaucratic process with unintended consequences.

In practice core services and major operations will remain within NHS hospitals and they need a critical mass of skills to remain viable. However, there are other areas where even the last government was open to making use of private providers such as occupational therapy, hearing services, physiotherapy and speech therapy. We would be foolish to close the door on such excellent services.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Economic Regeneration

Economic regeneration and job creation has always been my number one priority and this week, with parliament not sitting, I have spent a lot of time visiting some of the good projects underway and identifying any barriers that remain to be removed. If you drive through our towns now, there is a lot happening.

I spent time with CPR discussing their plans to bring forward the redevelopment of the old brewery site at Redruth. I have backed their plan and will be pressing the Council to prioritise it and I also want to make the case for Redruth to be designated a new enterprise zone to attract new businesses.

Hayle is also a town that has had many false starts and talk of regeneration is met with a weary scepticism by some. However, last year I managed to persuade the government to come up with the £5 million needed to progress development on North Quay and I am delighted to see that work well underway. On South Quay, I have had dozens of meetings in the last six months trying to bring together all of the various parties and get them to work through their differences. I think we might just get a breakthrough this September.

Moving up the road to Camborne, I met Coastline to discuss the work at Trevu Road. There had been some initial local concern about this scheme given the historic significance of this former Holman's site but I think it is shaping up well. The new building on the corner opposite the library even has a similar character to the original Holman factory. I have always liked the idea of moving Trevithick's Puffing Devil into the show room building by the station. It would be a fantastic feature at the gateway of the town and I hope the Trevithick Society will take up the opportunity. There is also now hope for the old assembly rooms building.

Next, I visited another former Holmans site, Boslowen which is currently being built by Linden. This was also a controversial scheme but shaping up well. I was pleased to see that there were some 4 bedroom houses on the site because we have a severe shortage of such larger homes in this part of Cornwall.

Further along the road, the Heartlands project is now at a very advanced stage and it is clear that it really will transform Pool and create a special focus for Cornwall’s industrial heritage. Over the road, it is good to see that Cornwall College have managed to progress a scheme to refurbish their campus and the buildings really do look like new.

All in all, despite the doom and gloom of spending cuts, this part of Cornwall is definitely on the way up and we should all get behind those who are rolling up their sleeves and getting the work done.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Euro - A lucky escape

My first job in politics was campaigning against British membership of the euro. It is hard to believe now, but less than ten years ago, it was seen by many as inevitable that Britain would join the euro even though the vast majority of people thought it was a stupid idea. The debate raged for several years before Tony Blair finally concluded he would not be able to win a referendum and so he kicked the issue into the long grass.

Britain had a lucky escape. For those poor countries who abolished their currencies and locked into the single currency, the experiment has been a complete disaster and has caused havoc with their economies. The central flaw of the euro was always that a single economic policy could not possibly work for every nation in Europe. Each country is unique and faces different challenges at different times and each needs to be free to set its own interest rate and allow its currency to fluctuate in value.

A currency is a bit like a pressure valve. When a country is experiencing economic problems, the value of its currency relative to others goes down. That makes imports more expensive and gives a boost to domestic manufacturers so they can create new jobs and hasten the emergence from recession. That is what Britain has been able to do in the last few years.

But this has not been an option for countries like Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain and so their economies have nosedived. As a result, they are all now having to come to Britain to be bailed out.

It is an odd situation to be in and has caused a lot of disquiet in parliament. The issue was debated last week At a time when we are having to take really tough decisions to get our own finances in order, can we really afford to bail out the rest of Europe? And is it right that we should be expected to bail out countries which were stupid enough to join the euro?

The clear message sent to the government was that it should tread with caution when bailing out other EU countries. None of us benefits from economic meltdown among our nearest trading partners so it would be wrong to rule out any help whatsoever. But at the very least, we should insist that any bail outs are done on a bilateral basis, country to country and should not be done through the EU which has proved itself to be an incompetent institution.

Longer term, the backward looking political class in Europe will have to face some hard facts: the euro was an idiotic idea which has no long term future and the quicker they work out how to scrap it, with minimum disruption, the better.