Thursday, 21 October 2021

A tribute to Sir David Amess MP

The appalling murder of the Essex MP David Amess has caused great shock and sadness in Westminster and across the country over the past week.  There were some moving tributes in Parliament from some of those closest to him, after which we all attended a memorial service at St Margaret’s Church next to Westminster Abbey.

David had been an MP for many years since 1983 in fact.  I can remember that when I first became an MP in 2010, he was the sort of person who was always there to offer helpful advice and support as we all tried to find our feet and learn the ropes.  He was very approachable and unassuming and he had a sunny optimism and a beaming smile, with constant good humour that could lighten the mood on any occasion.  He was undoubtedly one of the kindest people in politics.

As a Minister in Defra, I got to deal with him quite often because of his lifelong passion for animal welfare issues and we would often discuss policies such as banning live animal exports, tightening the laws around licensing for those who breed and sell puppies and improving slaughterhouse regulations.  Next Monday, I will introduce a new Bill to Parliament that will bring forward the ban on the export of live animals.  He would undoubtedly have been there, in the Chamber, offering support and encouragement from a couple of benches behind me in the normal way and we will all feel his absence.

A few years ago we saw the tragic murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in very similar circumstances and I attended the memorial event in Camborne Town Square alongside the local Labour Party.  Despite sometimes profound differences in opinion, everyone in politics in this country is united in their unshakeable belief in our democracy and all parties were united in their grief again this week.

David Amess’ murder has inevitably led to discussion around security for MPs and the coarseness and aggression directed to people in social media and online.  My view is that we need to keep these things in perspective.  This was ultimately a senseless murder.   Our focus should be on the violence that we see from a tiny number of individuals and how we address that.  In recent years we have sadly seen a rise in violent incidents against the police, against healthcare workers or those working in other public-facing roles such as job centres.  Sometimes these are linked to mental health problems or to drug or alcohol addiction.

Our democracy is designed to ensure that MPs are grounded by what they see and hear from the constituents in the seat they represent.  Surgeries, which are where an MP hears directly about the trials and tribulations that people are wrestling within their life and then tries to offer a helping hand are crucial to making sure any government is responsive to what is actually happening on the ground.  In the absence of this, things become far more remote and out of touch.  We should make every effort to ensure that we retain that connection. 

RIP Sir David Amess MP – 1952 - 2021 



Thursday, 14 October 2021

GPs and Dentistry in Cornwall

As we emerge from the pandemic and life gets back to normal, there are pressures on multiple fronts to contend with.  The lockdown restrictions around the world have caused significant turbulence in global supply chains from shipping to energy.  Our NHS was on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, however, as that threat recedes, other work that was necessarily affected during the Covid response has returned to the fore.  In addition, months of isolation and staying at home during the pandemic has placed burdens on families and relationships and we are seeing a significant increase in people suffering from anxiety and other mental well-being problems.

As a result, many GP surgeries are struggling to cope with the increase in demand.  Most GP surgeries in the Camborne and Redruth area are reporting an increase in demand for appointments of around 30 percent and, in order to manage, they are having to triage calls so that those who definitely need a face to face appointment can receive one, while others with a query about medication or where a nurse could book tests are being dealt with differently.  Face-to-face appointments are crucial in medicine for many conditions.  For instance, a doctor can only really detect a condition like appendicitis if they are able to physically examine a patient.  That is why the government was so clear that face to face appointments needed to be reinstated as quickly as possible.  However, as doctors surgeries try to get back on an even keel given a big uplift in demand, we also need to work with them to manage this spike in demand.

Another longstanding issue relates to access to NHS dentists.  Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall. Prior to the Pandemic, 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the previous two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve. 

Some dentists have pointed to changes made to contracts under the last Labour government that make it less attractive to work in some areas where need is greatest and this needs to be looked at.  It is also the case that recruiting GPs to work in parts of Cornwall has also been a challenge.  In part this is because the traditional route into General Practice, where a qualified GP becomes a partner in a local practice is less attractive to many today.  Doctors often want more flexibility and less commitment to one area or to a single job.  A portfolio career where they have two or more part time jobs suits many better and we need to recognise these social changes and reconsider the way the model operates.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Party Conference

This week saw the political conference season draw to a close with the Prime Ministers speech to the Conservative Party Conference.  It has been good to get back to holding these conferences properly again after eighteen months when we have all had to get used to virtual meetings online and webinars.
During the pandemic we all had to get used to having meetings on Zoom or other teleconferencing systems.  It had some advantages which we are likely to keep and made it easier to get more people on a meeting quickly because they didn’t need to travel, so you could bring people in from around the country.  However, we humans are social creatures and there is no substitute for meeting properly.  At Conference, you have chance encounters, bump into old friends, have conversations and people can exchange their thoughts or ideas.  In meetings, having an audience in a room makes a huge difference.  You can read the room in a way that’s not possible online and discussion and debate flow better.
The big theme of the Conservative Conference has been how we Build Back Better as we emerge from this pandemic.  The phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout means we have been able to emerge more quickly from the restrictions than most other countries and that, in turn, means that we have the fastest economic growth in the developed world.  People have returned to pubs and restaurants with vigour to meet old friends, as normal, which has been a big boost for that sector.  In Cornwall, the tourism sector has had an incredible busy, with a somewhat stressful summer, but the result has been a welcome boost to our local economy.
However, as the world emerges from the pandemic there has been some turbulence in international supply chains.  The surge in demand for gas in Asia has driven up gas and energy prices worldwide, while a disruption to shipping routes over the past year means a shortage of some goods and, finally, labour shortages in many sectors of our economy is causing issues.  
Nine months ago some economists were predicting that there would be 4 million unemployed by now.  Thankfully that never transpired and instead we have 1 million job vacancies.  The high demand for skilled workers is leading to a welcome, overdue correction in the labour market with wages rising for the lowest paid.  However, we will never take risks with the security of our food supply chain and that is why we have also introduced some temporary visas to ensure that the skilled workers are available for the turkey industry and for food lorries in the run up to Christmas.
As I write this, the Prime Minister will be putting the finishing touches to his speech which he is due to deliver in a few hours’ time.   I am expecting a big focus on the need to Build Back Better and greener after the pandemic.  For DEFRA, that means making sure that the important of the environment and nature if factored into all our thinking in future policy. As a Cornish MP, I will also be watching closely to see what he has to say about the “levelling up” agenda so that places like Cornwall get the support they need to attract new industries and better paid jobs and to create opportunities for the next generation.