An opportunity to build a better Cornwall

The Scottish people have made a momentous decision. Like many people I am pleased and relieved that they have decided to stay with us. Our nations have worked and suffered together to build the strong and compassionate Britain that we are all lucky to live in. As a passionate democrat I was delighted by the high percentage of people voting and after such an impassioned campaign, I hope and pray for a period of peaceful reconciliation.

As we watch another Celtic nation decide on its future relationship with the British state it is right to consider Cornwall and our future. Predictably supporters of a Cornish Assembly are jumping on the independence bandwagon. Like the Cornish Assembly campaigners I believe that Cornwall is special and has a unique history, language and culture. However I don’t believe that we need to create a costly, new institution to express our identity. Do we really need a Cornish Assembly to be proudly Cornish?

What we do need is more decisions about Cornwall being made in Cornwall. Our Duchy is a distinctive place, with distinctive needs. Distinctively Cornish solutions are needed. This is why at the last election I stood on a manifesto that promised ‘Power to the People’, proposing a devolution to powers from Westminster to people and communities around the UK. I have been pleased to help deliver some of these powers to Cornwall.

The controversial regional spatial strategy imposed by the Labour Government on Cornwall has now been scrapped and Cornwall Council set free to create a Local Plan that delivers the right level of housing for the Duchy. Now Cornwall Councillors have to crack on and get it right! Neighbourhood Plans, like the one I am working with Truro City Council and Kenwyn Parish Council on, are enabling communities to come together to chart the future of their area. NHS commissioning decisions are now being made by local GPs at NHS Kernow, and after determined lobbying of Ministers the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership now has new flexibility and local control over £500 million of taxpayer funding to help Cornwall’s economy grow and prosper.

There is much more to do and so long as I am an MP I will be making the case for further devolution of power and responsibilities to people and communities in Cornwall, England and the UK. I believe that, had national politicians listened more carefully to Scottish people and more meaningful devolution been given to Scotland earlier, calls for independence would have lost a lot of their potency.

The Referendum campaign has opened a very important debate about the fair allocation of funding for public services in the UK. This debate will provide me and colleagues with a great opportunity to raise the issue of the funding Cornwall receives for our public services. While I have been pleased to have started the process of closing the funding gaps, securing a three above inflation for Cornwall’s NHS and a £75 increase in school funding for Cornish child, there is more to do and I will make the most of this opportunity to secure a fair deal for Cornwall.

Over the months ahead as we debate the new relationships of our family of nations that makes Great Britain, I hope the LibDem/Indie Cornwall Council leadership stop misrepresenting the relationship it has with the democratically elected British Government, stops misrepresenting the financial challenges it faces and confidently seizes the new opportunities it already has to work in partnership with our local public services, businesses and the wider community to innovate, save money, improve services and increase prosperity.

We do not need a tokenistic institution to tell us something we know well enough already, that we are Cornish and proud of it; what we need are LibDem and Indie Cornwall Councillors to work positively with the can do people of Cornwall, empowered and supported by the resources and inclusiveness of a united Britain.

The future of the NHS in Cornwall

Over recent weeks we have seen more discussions about what the future of our NHS in Cornwall should be. I have always been clear on what I have wanted to see – fair funding, fair treatment for staff and local health professionals set free to work together on innovative new ways of improving compassionate patient care.

I have supported the Government when it has taken steps towards delivering that future, and have opposed it when I felt it got things wrong. The proposals to introduce regional pay for NHS staff back in 2012 were particularly concerning and I was pleased to gain the support of Conservative Health Ministers as I made the case against. Thankfully we were successful in getting the plans dropped.

However on the whole I believe that Government measures to support our NHS have had a positive effect. Labour’s requirement for 15% of services to be contracted to private providers has been scrapped and a new focus on providing compassionate patient care has been introduced. Crucially more decisions about the NHS in Cornwall are now being made in Cornwall, by local GPs. The Health and Social Care Act 2012 replaced much NHS bureaucracy with Clinical Commissioning Groups, groups of GPs working together to design and commission health services for local people. Local GPs at NHS Kernow now have control of most of Cornwall’s NHS budget and commission services based on quality. Already NHS Kernow have worked with local people to commission a range of new health services and have announced the cancellation of the disastrous Serco out of hours contract saddled on Cornwall in 2006.

The Health and Social Care Act 2012 also created the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Health & Wellbeing Board, a partnership formed of NHS, Public Health, Cornwall Council, Devon and Cornwall Police and voluntary sector organisations enabling their organisations to work together to deliver better health and wellbeing for us all. I remain very excited by the potential of the Board, which includes democratically accountable Councillors, to deliver the joint working that will enable better health outcomes.

In addition to three years above inflation increases in finding for the NHS in Cornwall, more money has been made available for the integrating of NHS and social care services in Cornwall with NHS Kernow receiving £12.861 million next year from the new ‘Better Care’ fund. This money builds on £24 million of extra Government funding already given to Cornwall Council to assist with the integration of health and social care services to focus on improved wellbeing.

Last month I spent a Saturday evening at Treliske A&E, shadowing the NHS staff who do such a great job of looking after us when a crisis hits. The experience reinforced my belief that our NHS is too precious to be made into a political football, what we need is an NHS with local frontline staff at its centre, working with partners to deliver the best possible care for local people. If we work together we can build on recent progress and deliver this.

Cornwall Council’s Budget

This week Cornwall Council announced its spending plans from 2015 to 2019. Over recent months I have joined others in calling for the Council to focus its plans on providing services in a new way, based around working in partnership with other organisations, whilst delivering support for the most vulnerable members of our community. I am pleased to say that the Council has to some extent heeded our calls.

Budgets for vulnerable adults and children have been earmarked for particular protection. Budgets for the essential road infrastructure and bus services we all depend upon will also be protected. I think that we can all largely agree that these are the areas in which spending should be maintained.

Partners to help the Council deliver other services are being sought, particularly in Cornwall’s voluntary sector. The Council plans to have many more public services in Cornwall delivered by partnerships, crucially this will include social care services. This is important, there is real potential to improve quality of care, and to cut waste, through integrating adult and children’s social services with the NHS and voluntary partners. It is good to also see Cornwall Council finally positively accepting localism, devolving services to our Town and Parish Councils.

This approach has been enabled by the fact that, contrary to claims made by Council Leader Cllr Pollard in the local media, central government funding for Cornwall is not coming to an end.
Like every family, business and public service in Cornwall during the recession the Council has had to make savings. These are as a result of the Labour years of spending more than collected in taxes. The financial situation should not be exaggerated – this year Cornwall Council will overall be spending a sum comparable to what it was spending in 2007/2008 when we had six district and a county council.

I am disappointed to see that the Council continue to misrepresent Cornwall’s funding situation when compared to other parts of the country. Cllr Folkes has compared Cornwall’s funding to the funding the London Borough of Hackney receives. This is not fair– can you imagine two places more different that Cornwall and Hackney? It is more instructive to compare Cornwall with all other English unitary authorities. This shows Cornwall to be in the middle of the pack. Overall, as all Council’s deal with funding cuts, Cornwall’s reduction in spending power is less than the English average. We have made progress and of course we need to go further and I will continue to campaign on this with my Conservative colleagues in the Rural Fair Shares House of Commons campaign group.

I will be doing all I can to ensure that the Council delivers on its promises of working in partnership to protect the services people rely on. I am determined to make Cornwall the best place to raise a family and grow old in. A Cornwall Council delivering first class services whilst saving local taxpayer’s money could help achieve this. This can and must be delivered.

Welcoming the family test

This week David Cameron gave a speech on a subject which I know is very close to his heart – the importance of family.

Mr Cameron spoke of how families are the very bedrock of society. The values family life teaches us, compassion, tolerance and understanding, are the very values that bind our society together and form the best and brightest aspects of our national life.

In recognition of this Mr Cameron announced that a ‘family test’ would from now on be applied to all new domestic government policies. This means that every single domestic policy that government comes up with will be examined for its impact on family life.

I think this test is a great idea and am keen that, as impacts on families are considered, special attention is given to the role older people play in families. Type family into google images and you will get a stream of photos of young couples with children. This doesn’t represent the full panorama of family life. In so many families older relatives pay a central role in looking after children, and in providing support to other family members. Grandparents, aunts and uncles do so much, and we should remember that.

I also want the family test to apply to another aspect of family life that can be overlooked –care provided by one family member to another. There are estimated to be 6.5 million carers across the UK, the majority of them providing unpaid care to loved ones. This voluntary care saves the UK health system £119bn a year.

I work closely with Carers UK to highlight the needs of carers. Progress is being made in securing enhanced support for carers, with the Care Act establishing news rights for carers and enabling local councils to do more to provide them with the information and assistance they need. Crucially our pensions system has been changed so that state pension eligibility will be calculated not just on the basis of National Insurance contributions through work, but also on National Insurance credits, earned by unpaid care. This change will help people who have to leave work to look after unwell family members, and women who decide to take a career break to bring up their children.

I want us to go further, and to see policies tested on whether they will have a beneficial impact on carer’s lives. We need a comprehensive approach that enables people to spend time not only working and caring for children but adults if the become ill or disabled. Families should be able to care across the generations, with younger carers getting tailored support to enable them to continue with their education and social lives. Care support should extend to the very end of life, to ensure that at this most difficult time for families people have the option to die at home surrounded by their loved ones, will full palliative support provided by the NHS. Families supported to care for each other, from the beginning to the end of life.

Falmouth dredging – an investment in Cornish jobs

We have had another wonderful Falmouth Week, crammed with great events on the waves and onshore. Thank you to everyone who did such a good job of organising the Week and to the volunteers who helped ensure that everyone had fun.

Falmouth’s reputation as a centre of excellence for recreational sailing is something to be cherished and developed, as is its role as a strategically important commercial and naval port. 95% of UK imports and exports travel by sea, relying on a network of ports with Falmouth the western gateway. This pivotal maritime role for Falmouth has shaped our town over the centuries and continues to provide skilled jobs for local people.

In 2008 the Port of Falmouth Development Initiative, comprised of Cornwall Council, Falmouth Harbour Commissioners and A&P Ltd, was formed to examine how Falmouth could retain and expand this maritime role over the years to come.  The Initiative’s work was brought together into the Port of Falmouth Masterplan, published in June 2011. The Masterplan demonstrated how the Port sustained over 1500 local jobs across a range of sectors, including ship maintenance and marine renewable energy, and charted plans to increase employment in Port-based industries by 138% in the years leading up to 2030. The dredging of Falmouth Harbour was one of the measures advocated in the Masterplan, which described dredging as essential if increasingly sizeable vessels were to continue to be able to access the port.

I have been working with local people and the Port of Falmouth Development Initiative partners to deliver the Masterplan’s vison. Strict EU environmental protections apply to the Fal and we have first been required to demonstrate to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) that dredging will not destroy precious coral habitats known as maerl or adversely affect the native oyster fishery. As there was a paucity of reliable data on the impacts of the proposed dredge in 2012 I secured an intervention from George Osborne that has enabled the Harbour Commissioners to go ahead with a trial dredge to explore the impact of dredging on the marine ecosystem. The results of this trial dredge, published earlier this year, showed that it would be feasible to carry out the dredging in such a way as to preserve affected maerl habitats.

We are now working to get the final permissions from the MMO for a full dredge, including what to do with the dredged material. For Cornwall’s economy to grow, meaning more better paid jobs, we need the right infrastructure in place. The port of Falmouth is a major part of our local transport infrastructure along with road, rail, air and Superfast broadband. I am pleased to have helped secure a £146 million package of improvements for rail in Cornwall, and a £198 million of growth funding for our roads as well as a study to make the case for dualling the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton in addition government underwriting the Gatwick to Newquay flight. Investing in our local infrastructure is investing in future jobs.