Thursday, 26 October 2017

Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Bill


Last Friday, I was one of the MPs that stayed in London to vote for the Bill to protect emergency workers and ensure that it passed its second reading. In the end, there was a consensus on all sides of parliament and a vote was not required, meaning that is has now passed to the next stage.
 
I think that strengthening the law to protect staff in our emergency services who are just doing their job is now needed.  In the current internet age, there has been a coarsening of our society with more people showing aggression and intolerance and more people finding themselves on the receiving end of abuse.  We see it in the nature of some of our political debate with intolerant attitudes which can undermine freedom of speech.   
 
We have also sadly seen an increase in abuse and physical attacks aimed at front line staff in our emergency services.  This is totally unacceptable. The great strength of our emergency services stems from the men and women who work in them and the commitment they bring. We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in keeping us safe and this needs to be reflected in the law.
 
The Bill would create a statutory aggravating factor. This means that when a person is convicted of a specific offence, the judge would have to consider the fact it was committed against an emergency worker as an aggravating factor in determining the sentence within the maximum allowed for the particular offence. It will also create a new aggravated version of the offences of common assault and battery when committed against an emergency worker and extend the maximum penalty.

The Bill covers all emergency workers, including police, prison officers, custody officers, fire service personnel, search and rescue services and certain healthcare workers including ambulance personnel and it sends a very clear message that our society will not tolerate assault on the emergency services.  Sometimes, despite the nature of politics at the moment, parliament is capable of coming together in unity to deliver changes that matter.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Universal Credit

 
Reforming the welfare system and supporting people back into work go hand in hand. For too long, too many people were left languishing on benefits and trapped in a life of poverty.  Helping them go back to work has been one of the primary objectives of the Government in recent years and the results are showing. Unemployment has fallen, and the job market is stronger now than it has been for many years.
One of the most powerful schemes in recent years has been the policy of creating work experience opportunities for young people. The most important step to getting a full time job for school leavers is gaining experience. Lots of local employers have done their bit by offering unpaid work experience to school leavers and I have seen numerous cases where, after that short trial period, employers are so impressed by the young people joining their team that they move things around to try to find them a permanent place.
Another change that has been rolled out is the introduction of the Universal Credit to replace other out of work benefits and Housing Benefit. Previously, many believed that they were better off on the dole. If a job didn’t work out it was difficult to get back on benefits support. If income went over a certain threshold, people lost all Housing Benefit or tax credits resulting in employees being unable to work more than sixteen hours per week for fear of being worse off. Universal Credit has changed that.
Universal Credit offers a tapered support so that there is a single benefit payment which is withdrawn gradually as income rises.  It will always pay to work more hours but if something goes wrong, the support will kick back in automatically.

Recently, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions said that he is determined to ensure that those who need support earlier in the month will get it. He announced that guidance is being refreshed to ensure that anyone who needs an advance payment will be offered it up front. Claimants who want an advance payment will not have to wait six weeks, and will receive their advance within five working days.   

 
 
 
 

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Royal Cornwall Hosptials NHS Trust


The problems at Treliske were laid bare this week in a concerning report by the Care Quality Commission. The hospital has been rated as "inadequate" with surgery, maternity and gynaecology, end of life and outpatient services also rated as inadequate.  As a result, we have seen the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust being placed into special measures. 
 
When any organisation faces the sort of challenging report delivered last week, we have to strike the right balance in our response.  We must not ignore problems or make excuses for some of the failures highlighted.   Equally, we must be supportive of those who work there and must take care not to undermine morale among hard working medical staff.   We all have tremendous respect for the doctors, nurses and other staff who show great commitment and dedication.  We also recognise that despite more funding, demand on NHS services has grown.
 
So, we need to use this report as an opportunity to help put things right. To their credit, the senior management team and the Board at the RCHT have taken this head on and made clear that they will work to address the shortcomings.   One of the consequences of going into special measures is that there will be a new Improvement Director put in place, with experience of turning around hospitals facing similar challenges.  They may help the management team at RCHT get back on an even keel and get the whole operation back on its feet.  In addition, strengthening some of the clinical management functions within the Trust will help.
 
We should also recognise that it was not all bad news.  Locally, we have great work being 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.  The quality of services at St Michael's in Hayle were recognised and rated as good.  Critical care and children and young people’s services have been rated as good. 
 
Alongside the report, a review found poorly coordinated processes that meant the experience of people moving between hospitals, social care and their own homes was often not good enough. How we support people in need of adult social care is a growing dilemma, and creative thinking is needed.   Finding the right solutions is key to easing pressure on the NHS.

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Conservative Party Conference


This week is the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester which marks the end of conference season.   Much like last year, the issue that is looming large is how we maximise the opportunities created by our decision to leave the European Union. However, there have been other, less high profile issues discussed which are important to me.
 
In my time as an MP and particularly as a Minister at Defra, I have worked to try to improve standards of animal welfare.  We are a nation of animal lovers but there are, sadly, some terrible individual cases of gratuitous cruelty to animals which must be addressed. That is why I was pleased that Michael Gove has announced that we will bring forward new legislation that will substantially increase the maximum sentences that can be handed out for people who abuse animals to five years, instead of the six months now.  This announcement follows on from an earlier decision to increase the maximum fine from £20,000 to an unlimited fine.  There have been too many cases in which courts have said that they would have handed down longer sentences if they had been available.  These new proposals will send a very clear signal to potential offenders that the abuse of animals has no place in our society.
 
This latest announcement is one of a number of steps we have taken to improve animal welfare recently.  We announced that we would introduce compulsory CCTV in slaughterhouses and are now consulting on that proposal.  This is necessary to ensure we can enforce the highest standards in slaughterhouses and, again, there have been too many instances of failure in the past.  Earlier this year, Defra published proposals to overhaul the laws on a number of animal-related licensing schemes, such as the regulations on pet shops and the licensing of puppy breeders.  I have campaigned to strengthen the licensing of puppy breeding since becoming an MP so I am pleased to be moving this forward.  
 

Media reporting of party conferences will always be dominated by personality politics and big speeches and this year is no different.  However, sometimes there are issues that attract less media interest but which are nevertheless important steps forward.