Supporting jobs at Falmouth Docks and other local businesses

I have been celebrating with A&P their success in winning a valuable ten-year MOD contract that will secure skilled employment in the docks and could enable investment for the long term in our port infrastructure.  A&P have a large supply chain of local businesses that provide goods and services to their operation so the benefit of the new £239 million contract will be felt far beyond the dock gates. 

Small and medium sized businesses are the life blood of our local economy so I listen carefully to their ideas and concerns. Two concerns often arise from our conversations; not being paid on time and the cost of utility bills, especially energy, water and telecoms. 

Following on from actions such as improvements in access to quality business advice and finance for small businesses and the appointment of the small business commissioner, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy unveiled more policies last week. 

While over the past five years the amount owed to businesses in late payments has halved, we need to make sure all our small businesses are treated fairly.  So, a new consultation seeks ideas on how best to close this unacceptable gap.  

This will help identify the most effective way possible to tackle this issue once and for all and ensure small businesses are on a level playing field with their larger counterparts. 

According to BEIS, nearly a quarter of UK businesses report late payments as a threat to their survival, and research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) indicates that tackling a late payment culture could add £2.5bn to the UK economy and keep 50,000 extra businesses open each year. 

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Late payment is the biggest challenge affecting small businesses and it is good to see the government getting serious about this issue, especially when it comes to large firms paying their supply chains promptly. The voluntary prompt payment code is not working when it allows signatories like Carillion to pay on terms of over 120 days, so we want to see a new tough and transparent compliance regime being proposed.” 

While government is leading the way in paying its bills on time, it aims higher with a target of 90% of invoices paid within 5 days.  I am asking Cornwall Council to review its policy to enable faster payments. 

The government also announced an independent review of utilities regulators to ensure that they are fit for purpose.  It is essential that regulators develop resilient utilities, able to face the challenges and opportunities of our time as well as improve outcomes for customers.  While it has become easier to switch energy suppliers, I believe that smart regulation and smart new technology could make it even easier. All too often loyal customers have inferior deals to those offered to new customers, so it’s important that we take action to prevent people and businesses paying more than necessary and enable more switching to low or no carbon suppliers of our energy.  

First published in the West Briton 11/10/18

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Supporting Music in Local Schools

When Parliament is sitting it does so Monday to Thursday and some Fridays. As a result, my time at home is usually restricted to Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Consequently, I inevitably prioritise urgent issues that need my immediate attention.  

When Parliament is not sitting and is in Recess, I have much more time to meet with local people, listening to what they want to tell me and working together to improve the quality of our lives here. 

I also have the opportunity to join a wide range of community events.  

I love music so very much enjoyed the 30th Anniversary concert of the Nankersey Choir at the Methodist Church in Falmouth. Joined by the Mousehouse Choir we raised the roof with the combined voices singing Trelawney. The choir gives its talent and time freely and raises significant sums for local good causes. 

On Saturday evening I joined a service at Truro cathedral, commemorating the life of David Frost, composer, conductor of the Cornwall Youth orchestra, music teacher and much more. He touched the lives of many local musicians of all ages and made a terrific contribution to the musical life of our community, including working with the Duchy Ballet and Duchy Opera. The event was both a great tribute to this special person and highlighted the amazing talent and rich musical culture and heritage we enjoy here. I certainly will never forget the Bolster procession! 

I want to do everything that I can to enable children to have the opportunity of music making at school, so I was pleased to meet with the leaders of the Cornwall Music Service Trust recently. The Trust employs more than 1000 music teachers and enables many local children to learn a musical instrument, sing and participate in all sorts of ensembles, groups and bands. I thoroughly enjoyed their annual concert last year. While they receive a significant sum from the £800,000 public funds that Cornwall Council receive for music education, they also fundraise to enable more young people to enjoy the benefits of music making. As our economy grows, I want to ensure that we invest more funding into music making in schools. I will be raising this with the relevant Minister next week. 

As regular readers will know, since being elected in 2010 I have campaigned for more funding for our local schools. While funding is increasing, I know there is more to do to ensure that our children, young people and teachers have the resources needed for a balanced and well-rounded curriculum. Thanks to the hard work of our local teachers and young people, supported by parents, standards are rising in our schools and the recent good exam results show this.  

Last week I was pleased that the Schools Minister responded to my request to visit Cornwall to meet with school and college leaders to listen to their concerns and good ideas. He has visited several times and we had a constructive, robust discussion on a wide range of issues. 

 First published in the West Briton 04/10/18

Investing in the future of our NHS

Ensuring the long term, sustainable funding of our NHS is one of the most pressing and potent political issues facing the country. Demand for NHS and care services only continues to rise as our population changes, as we live longer and new treatments and technologies are developed. 

The Government has worked closely with the NHS to agree a five-year plan of increased funding, with agreed additional investment of at least £8 billion in real terms throughout this Parliament. In addition, the Government has now announced that it will invest a further £20 billion by 2023/24 to transform health and social care so it can improve treatment and deliver better care for patients. 

More money than ever before is being spent on mental health services. I have worked alongside our local NHS to secure investment for a new specialist inpatient unit in Bodmin which is now under construction. This will mean that children and young people do not need to travel out of the county to receive vital care. 

Following the death of two students on the Penryn Campus who took their own lives after their battles with mental health issues, I have secured assurances from the Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and local Clinical Commissioning Group that they will work with the University to provide more support to students who are experiencing mental illness. 

While investing more money into the NHS and securing Cornwall’s fair share is important, so too is ensuring it is spent wisely. So, I was pleased that the Government has recently set out plans to enable the NHS to make significant improvements in technology and purchasing. 

A new NHS app will be piloted in 5 areas in England from next month, ahead of a planned national roll-out in December. Patients will be able to download a test version of the app, allowing access to booking GP appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, access to their medical record, 111 online access for urgent medical queries, data sharing preferences, organ donation preferences and end of life care preferences. 

More than £200 million will also be invested to make a group of NHS trusts into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation. The funding will support new Global Digital Exemplars in acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts in England to set a gold standard of innovation for other services to follow. 

A new HealthTech Advisory Board, chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed, and will be an ideas hub for how to improve patient outcomes and experience and make the lives of NHS staff easier. 

Our hospitals operate dozens of systems each that don’t talk to each other. GPs, social care, pharmacies and community care are on different systems. Systems crashing is a regular occurrence. The social care system is not at all integrated, when its integration is vital. 

The generic technology available outside the NHS is a million times better. Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further. 

A modern health service shouldn’t involve 234 separate trusts spending time and money negotiating different contracts and prices for the same thing. An example of this price variation includes the lowest priced 12-pack of rubber gloves costing 35p, while the highest priced cost £16.47. That’s why the Government’s work to centralise how the NHS buys goods and services is crucial. 

By streamlining the process and freeing trusts up from having to do this, we will save staff valuable time, save huge amounts of money and be able to reinvest the savings into patient care and frontline services 

The Department of Health and Social Care anticipates the new supply chain will generate savings of £2.4 billion over a 5-year period, all to be ploughed back into frontline services. 

 First published in the Falmouth Wave October edition

Keeping our homes warm over the winter

It’s that time of the year when our thoughts turn to keeping our homes warm over the winter. Especially with forecasts of a four month return of “the Beast from the East”. I’ve just switched energy suppliers to a 100% carbon free tariff and saved money. While I found it a straight forward process I very much appreciate that not everyone feels able to access the savings and help available to keep themselves warm this winter.
Truro based Community Energy Plus has been awarded £318,000 by the Big Lottery Fund, the largest funder of community activity in the UK. The money has enabled Community Energy Plus to recruit three case workers to provide in-depth advice and support to help vulnerable households escape from the misery, anxiety and ill-health caused by fuel poverty.
The three year project, which is called Energy Wise, provides advice in the home as well as over the phone, aiming to reach 4,000 vulnerable householders who need face-to-face advice, advocacy support and access to grants for energy related issues.
It is expected that more than 800 clients supported by the project will receive in-depth support, which can extend across several months, to improve their situations.
The Energy Wise project got underway in January and has already provided home visits and telephone energy advice to over 700 Cornish householders.  Much of the early support provided by the team has involved helping householders’ access grants for heating systems and insulation, assisting with switching tariffs, resolving billing issues with energy suppliers and dealing with energy debt.  The project also strives to improve access to local services and support and is providing referrals and signposting to multiple organisations to improve the health, wellbeing and finances of clients.
To deliver long-lasting outcomes beyond the three year project, home visits are focused on helping vulnerable people gain improved life skills on how to manage their energy use and bills while maintaining healthy heating levels. Condensation and mould are common in cold homes. Advice on simple behaviour changes to reduce damp, save energy and money are core elements of the coaching provided by the Energy Wise case workers.
Mrs D, a retired social housing tenant from Bodmin, has already benefited from the help from the Energy Wise team. Her granddaughter called Community Energy Plus because the pensioner had multiple heath conditions and was struggling to pay £70 a week during the winter to keep warm. During the home visit the caseworker noticed that the Economy 7 electric meter was incorrectly programmed and her night rate was being billed at the same price as her more expensive day rate. After speaking to the client’s energy supplier, Mrs D was given a refund of £750 and going forward will be able to use her heating with less worry about the cost.
Please don’t suffer in silence. For help from the Energy Wise team call Freephone 0800 954 1956, email advice@cep.org.uk or direct message through Facebook.com/CommunityEnergyPlus

Delivering improvements to our NHS

Last week I met with local people and representatives of Unison to discuss our local NHS. We all want to see improvements in our local NHS and care services.  

While investing more money into the NHS, and securing Cornwall’s fair share, is essential so is ensuring it is spent wisely. So I was pleased that last week the Government set out plans to enable the NHS to make significant improvements in technology and purchasing.  

These will build on the £20 billion long-term plan to transform health and social care so it can improve treatment and deliver better care for patients. 

A new NHS app will be piloted in 5 areas in England from next month, ahead of a planned national roll-out in December. Patients will be able to download a test version of the app, allowing access to booking GP appointments, ordering repeat prescriptions, access to their medical record, 111 online access for urgent medical queries, data sharing preferences, organ donation preferences and end of life care preferences. 

More than £200 million will also be invested to make a group of NHS trusts into internationally recognised centres for technological and digital innovation. The funding will support new Global Digital Exemplars in acute, mental health, community and ambulance trusts in England to set a gold standard of innovation for other services to follow. 

A new HealthTech Advisory Board, chaired by Dr Ben Goldacre, will highlight where change needs to happen, where best practice isn’t being followed, and be an ideas hub for how to improve patient outcomes and experience and make the lives of NHS staff easier. 

Our hospitals operate dozens of systems each that don’t talk to each other. GPs, social care, pharmacies and community care are on different systems. Systems crashing is a regular occurrence. The social care system is not at all integrated, when its integration is vital. 

The generic technology available outside the NHS is a million times better. Now is the moment to put the failures of the past behind us, and set our sights on the NHS being the most cutting-edge system in the world for the use of technology to improve our health, make our lives easier, and make money go further. 

A modern health service shouldn’t involve 234 separate trusts spending time and money negotiating different contracts and prices for the same thing. An example of this price variation includes the lowest priced 12-pack of rubber gloves costing 35p, while the highest priced cost £16.47. That’s why the Government’s work to centralise how the NHS buys goods and services is crucial. 

By streamlining the process and freeing trusts up from having to do this, we will save staff valuable time, save huge amounts of money and be able to reinvest the savings into patient care and frontline services 

The Department of Health and Social Care anticipates the new supply chain will generate savings of £2.4 billion over a 5-year period, all to be ploughed back into frontline services. 

First published in the West Briton 13/09/18

Making mental health a priority makes good business sense

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment had they been given the right support.

Earlier this week I spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace.

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems.

For employers this can feel daunting. Mental health charity Mind found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture.

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health.

The impact of mental health issues costs UK employers between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in your workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense.

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. Spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21.

On employment support, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service, which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months.

I want to encourage senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture, and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

First published in Business Voice

Thousands of people with poor mental health are losing their jobs

We spend much of our lives at work, but stigma can stop us from being honest with our colleagues about how we’re really feeling.

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment if they had been given the right support.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today, I am calling on all senior managers, including chief executives, to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture surrounding mental health.

This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

The conversation around mental health has moved on substantially over the past few years, to the point that it can sometimes feel like we’re continually being bombarded. Awareness is important, but it’s not enough.

We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to ensure that anyone experiencing poor mental health feels supported.

We’ve made good progress on supporting people with mental health conditions to get into and stay in work, with a whole range of support on offer. For example, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of employment advisers in improving access to psychological therapies services.

Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our access to work scheme, which has a specialised mental health support service, has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90 per cent of people who have used the service remain in employment.

The government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition, but we can’t do this alone.

For any leader there are many ways to make mental health a priority. I want to focus on just one of these approaches by encouraging every senior manager to hold themselves accountable and agree to have one of their performance-based objectives on improving mental health.

The public sector is leading by example. The performance objectives of every permanent secretary, the top civil servant in each government department, are now linked to the mental health standards recommended in the independent Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers.

This might feel daunting for some. The mental health charity Mind found that while employers wanted to make mental health a priority, a third didn’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s why it’s so important that today Mind is launching its new Mental Health at Work Gateway. The gateway allows employers to search resources that could support a colleague, challenge stigma, or simply learn more about mental health in the workplace.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to disclose their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/it-might-feel-like-we-re-continually-being-bombarded-about-mental-health-but-workplace-culture-needs-to-change-7cbcsxrh7