Lead up to the Autumn Statement

Over the next couple of weeks I will be making the final push to secure the investment in my constituency and Cornwall that I want to see the Chancellor announce in the Autumn Statement on Truro Fatstock Day. This is the culmination of months of hard work.

I have been working with my Conservative colleague Graham Stuart MP,  leader of Rural Fair Share Campaign, which is a group of MPs whose constituencies contain “super sparse” (or “R80”) local authorities. We will be meeting with the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Statement calling for a fairer deal for rural local authorities. Currently urban authorities receive more in local government funding per head than their rural counterparts, despite the fact that rural residents on average earn less than those in cities, pay more in council tax, and face greater costs to access services.

Following our campaigning ahead of the 2014/15 Local Government Finance Settlement, the Government gave £11.5m to the sparsest rural authorities via the “Rural Services Delivery Grant”. Whilst it is welcome that the Government recognised the additional costs of providing services in sparsely populated areas, the amount is inadequate when divided up, adding just £1.10 per person in each authority.

 

I don’t agree with those Cornwall Councillors that want to increase your Council Tax and remove Business Rate reliefs. I want you to keep more of your hard earned money. I do want Cornwall Council to be fairly funded. Since 2010 my colleagues and I have made real progress in closing the historic funding gaps in other public services, most notably our local NHS funding and per pupil funding for our local schools.

I am delighted that Conservatives have pledged to increase the amount of money anyone earns before they start paying income tax to £12,500. I don’t think anyone working full time on the minimum wage should pay income tax.

I am also pushing to close the deal on funding further improvements to our transport infrastructure. I am delighted that we have enabled a public service obligation on our Newquay to Gatwick air service that has secured the service for at least the next four years. With firm plans for investment in local rail services agreed, including more and upgraded carriages, an upgraded sleeper service, free internet and upgrading of signalling that will pave the way for thirty minute train services through Cornwall, as well as historic levels of investment in the rail network up country that will greatly improve our connectivity with the rest of England. I am very much hoping that my calls for an upgrade for Truro Station’s car park will be heeded and the Chancellor will announce that work can begin next year.

The Chancellor has agreed investment in the dualling of the A30 at Temple, so now I want him to announce the dualling of the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross. With careful consultation and planning, this road improvement would make a significant difference to local people and businesses alike.

 

Remembrance Sunday

My week was centered on remembrance. From joining a service in Westminster remembering the 22 MPs, including Captain, The Hon. T.C.R. Agar-Robartes for part of this constituency, who lost their lives in military service during the First World War to participating in the wide range of special events at Truro Cathedral, including a spectacular performance of Britten’s War Requiem performed by magnificent, local musicians.

Laying wreaths of poppies during Remembrance Services in my constituency is always an honour and privilege, remembering the bravery and sacrifice of our local armed services personnel and their families past and present. Having spent time with our armed services, participating in the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme and championing Falmouth as our nation’s fifth Naval Port, I know that for the vast majority of those serving in the Armed Forces the experience is a positive one.

I also know that for some, who have been physically or mentally impacted, we are duty-bound to honour their dedication and commitment by ensuring that they continue to receive the very best possible health care when they return to civilian life. The Armed Forces Covenant places a responsibility on us all to ensure that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should not face any disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. I believe special consideration is appropriate, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.

We have achieved a great deal over the past four years in providing services to those who have served their country. I am pleased that at the weekend the Government announced what I had been calling for on behalf of local war widows. I am particularly concerned that the NHS is enabled to play its essential role in delivering the Covenant. Over £22m of funding has been provided that has enabled amongst other things: nine veterans’ prosthetic centres; ten veterans  mental health teams; a 24-hour veterans mental health helpline; Big White Wall online mental health counselling service for the Armed Forces Community; an e-learning package for GPs on Armed Forces, veterans and service families health; and a veterans information service, where veterans are contacted a year after discharge with information to help them with health and other issues.

In addition, up to £18m is being provided through NHS specialist commissioning arrangements to charity Combat Stress to provide acute PTSD services to veterans. The LIBOR banking funds are also being used to contribute directly to the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families.

I know that more can be done and the centenary of the First World War that prompted me to reread the poems of soldier poets, brings this into sharp focus. I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to deliver the best possible health services for our Armed Forces, reservists, veterans and their families.

 

 

A referendum on Europe

I spend a lot of my time listening to local people. Most tell me what a good job the Government is doing, recalling the fact that in May 2010 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed to put aside their differences to drag Britain out of the economic mess left by Labour. Over four years later we can say that this central goal of the Coalition is being delivered. Britain’s economy is now growing faster than any other major economy, over two million more people are in work, with the nation’s current account forecast to be balanced by 2018. We can then begin the essential work of reducing the national debt rather than passing the problem onto future generations. With record levels of investment into our infrastructure, this balanced recovery is helping sustainable growth in Cornwall. The job is not complete; I especially want to help raise Cornish incomes.

As a Conservative I am now looking forward to the next vital reform this country needs – a transformation of our relationship with the EU. I believe that many of the decisions being made in Brussels and Strasbourg should be made here. This will enable a more sensible immigration policy.

David Cameron’s Government has made a dogged effort to reduce immigration, clamping down on bogus student visas, ensuring that immigrants have skills in need in the UK in order to come here, and changing benefit rules to mean that new arrivals have to work to stay. This has had an impact, with net immigration from outside the EU halving in comparison to the Labour years. Similarly whilst 9 out of 10 new jobs under Labour were taken by foreign nationals 8 out of 10 new jobs created in the UK over the past year have been taken by UK nationals.

However, without control of immigration from within the EU, this can only ever be one side of the coin. We do need a sensible approach recognising the fact that millions of British people live and work in the EU for some of their lives and we want to continue to attract people from around the EU to our world class universities, including Falmouth and Exeter universities.

At the General Election next year David Cameron will be seeking a mandate from voters to negotiate a new British relationship with the EU, including increased control of our borders. If that mandate is given, through the election of a Conservative Government, he will then negotiate a new settlement for Britain within the EU and will then allow the public to pass their verdict on whether it goes far enough through an in/out referendum.

At the 2010 General Election the LibDems promised an in/out referendum on EU membership, so last week I was very disappointed that they blocked a Conservative attempt to get an in/out referendum by 2017 into law. Now more than ever a Conservative election victory is needed to secure the democratically decided transformation of Britain’s relationship with the EU that I and others seek.

Five Year Forward View

Last week NHS England, along with other NHS organisations, published their independent “Five Year Forward View”, setting out their view of how the health service needs to change over the coming years.

This Forward View looked at how recent progress in the NHS can be built on. This progress has been considerable, with 2,500 more nurses; and 8,000 more doctors working in the NHS since 2010, helping to care for 1.3 million more outpatients and half a million more cancer patients.

The reforms have also made a real difference to Cornwall. I am pleased to have enabled the transfer of NHS budgets and decisions about how the money is spent to local family doctors that make up the new NHS Kernow. This devolution of decision making powers has been matched by increases in funding, secured by the Government’s decision to protect NHS spending within its long term economic plan. Funding for our NHS has been boosted by 4% in real terms since 2010, with areas underfunded during the Labour years, including Cornwall, being prioritised.

The Five Year Forward View makes some excellent recommendations as to what more can be done to support the NHS.

Recognising that people are living longer is the major challenge facing the NHS and the report charts a pioneering new approach to helping the increasing numbers of people needing help with long term health conditions. The Forward View argues that NHS should develop co-ordinated networks of care for individuals, tailored around their needs and delivered in their communities and, where possible, in their own home. I was delighted to see the Report cite work I have promoted that is led by Volunteer Cornwall and Age UK Cornwall that enables health and social care professionals and volunteers to work together so patients feel much happier and, crucially, healthier.

The Forward View puts a similar emphasis on organisations working together to prevent ill health from developing in the first place, calling for public health campaigns to reduce harmful behaviours like smoking and obesity to become an integral part of NHS operations. Again we have a real opportunity in this area. In 2012 the Government asked Cornwall Council and the NHS Cornwall to come together with public, private and voluntary sector partners to form the Cornwall Health and Wellbeing Board, tasked with drawing up joint strategies to improve health in Cornwall. This is precisely the sort of holistic, forward looking working that the Forward View says will be essential for the NHS to meet the needs of changing society.

NHS England make a further, essential, point. It stresses that decisions about the NHS will need to be taken ‘in the context of how the UK economy overall is performing’. You simply cannot divorce the need to secure our NHS from the need to grow our economy; it is the latter that enables the former. A thriving economy is the best guarantee we have of a thriving NHS, free at the point of use and delivering the high quality care we all desire.

Care in Cornwall

It is always a pleasure to visit the studio at the Royal Cornwall Hospital to catch up with the CHBN radio team who do such a great job of entertaining staff and patients. Two years ago I was delighted to help the CHBN team secure a Community Radio licence, allowing them to broadcast on FM across the Truro area. As the Government looks at ways to free up community radio stations from historic funding restrictions I look forward to helping CHBN radio further expand its operations.

I was in the studio earlier this month to discuss a subject very close to my heart, how we can best support carers. There are estimated to be 6.5 million unpaid carers across the UK. In addition to the incredible difference this makes to the lives of people living with ill health, this voluntary care saves the UK health system an estimated £119bn a year.

Our discussion at CHBN radio was timely for a week in which the Government announced that the earnings threshold for Carers’ Allowance will be raised to £110 a week. This change means that more people will have the opportunity to work part-time and still be eligible for the full £61.35 a week Carers’ Allowance.

This increase is welcome. In the words of David Cameron ‘giving up your own time to take care of someone else is one of the most selfless things that anyone can do’. We should do everything we can to support people who make this choice.

I have been working to boost this support. I am particularly pleased that a key 2010 Conservative Manifesto promise, stating that access to respite for carers would be increased, has been delivered despite the constraints of Coalition Government. £400 million has now been given to the NHS to enable carers to take more breaks from their caring responsibilities.

It was also good to serve on the Care Bill Committee, improving what became the Care Act to ensure that it delivered a better deal for carers. The final Act secured new rights for Carers, described by Carers UK, a charity I with whom I have served as Parliamentary Ambassador, as ‘by far the strongest rights for carers yet’. We can go further. It is great that over recent decades our society has grown more family friendly, with people being helped to balance bringing up their children with work, now we have to ensure similar flexibility and tailored support for those caring for older family members.

In Cornwall I have worked with the Cornwall Carer’s Service to help local people with caring responsibilities. Managed by the Cornwall Rural Community Council the Service provides support and advice to local carers and can be contacted on 01872 266 383. With the help of the Cornwall Carer’s Service I will be mailing out a copy of my updated ‘How to save money on your heating bills’ guide to 7000 local carers later this autumn. If you would like a copy please call my office on 01872 274 760.

Cornwall helps in the fight against ebola

Falmouth’s naval links have always been a source of great pride for all of us and this week is no exception. RFA Argus, the hospital ship whose home port is Falmouth, will be sailing from the town tomorrow bound for Sierra Leone. She will serve as the support vessel for a multi-million pound UK Government drive to halt the spread of the Ebola virus, which to date has caused over 4000 deaths, mainly in West Africa.

The UK support package will be spearheaded by 750 armed service personnel, who will help engineers to build new Ebola treatment centres and new Ebola training facilities for healthcare workers. Supported by £125 million of UK aid funding this UK drive will support 700 Ebola treatment beds, providing medical care up to 8,800 patients. Vital supplies, including chlorine and protective clothing for thousands of health workers, will also be provided.

RFA Argus, refitted last year by A&P Falmouth, is perfectly equipped to support this mission. On board there is a 70 bed hospital ward and a range of specialist medical facilities, including a full emergency department, resuscitation and surgical facilities, a radiology suite with a CT scanner, a critical care unit and a high dependency unit, all staffed by crew members from the MOD’s hospital units. The UK military mission is taking place alongside extensive work to prepare the UK for any possible outbreak.

As the UK steps up to the fight against Ebola is good to see the pride of Falmouth, in first class condition thanks to work of A&P employees, playing such a pivotal role. Our thoughts and prayers are with the crew and with their colleagues from the Army and RAF who will be deployed to Sierra Leone alongside them. I am humbled by their bravery.

The deployment of RFA Argus underlines the continuing strategic importance of the Port of Falmouth, matched only be the vital role the Port plays in Cornwall’s economy. I was delighted to visit RFA Argus several times during its refit to see first-hand the first class work being undertaken by A&P Falmouth, I regularly highlight this excellent work to Minister as I continue to lobby for and secure further MoD contracts for the Port.

It also further demonstrates how Britain cannot afford to turn its back on the developing world in a globalised 21st century. Those arguing against the international aid commitments David Cameron has made as Prime Minister often suggest that this spending is not in a national interest. Nothing is further from the truth. In a world where ideas and finance cross oceans at the click of computer mouse, where 500, 000 people are travelling by air at any given moment and where international trading links are growing more and more important, emerging problems in the developing world are tomorrow’s domestic disasters. Aid is an important way in which the UK can work with the governments of developing countries to head off these problems at birth, generating international goodwill and securing a better shared future for all.