West Briton column 25 April 2013

Over the past two years much attention has been focused on the Government’s efforts to renew the NHS, to bring it back to its founding principles of doctor and nurse led compassionate care. Progress has been made. This week it has been confirmed that there are now 7,000 fewer managers and 7,000 more frontline staff working in the NHS than there were in May 2010.

Running alongside this refocusing is another important part of the process of renewal that often goes unreported; the recognition that the medical frontline extends beyond hospitals and GPs surgeries, into people’s homes. Health and Care commissioning is increasingly being directed around the understanding that if different organisations work together to enable people’s wellbeing at home, many health problems cannot just be better treated, but can be prevented from developing at all.

The Draft Care and Support Bill, published last summer, enshrines this preventative principle in law. The Bill stipulates that all local authority care decisions should abide by a golden rule- that the promotion of an individual’s wellbeing is paramount. A further clause places a legal requirement on local authorities to integrate their social care and other community functions with NHS services.

The Draft Bill has now been scrutinised and praised for its focus on integrating services to promote wellbeing. A key suggestion is that commissioning rules should be changed to make it easier for NHS services and local authorities to have joint budgets. Ministers are now closely considering these recommendations before taking the Draft Bill onto the next stage.

As new legislation takes shape in Westminster, here in Cornwall we are already seeing the preventive approach to health and social care making a real difference. Changing Lives is a project that has brought the NHS, Cornwall Council, Age UK, Volunteer Cornwall and Peninsula Community Health together to work on joined-up services to improve people’s wellbeing. Early pathfinders run by the project are delivering exciting results, demonstrably improving the quality of life of vulnerable individuals and significantly reducing unplanned hospital admissions.

Good work is also being done by a new body established the Government – the Cornwall Health and Wellbeing Board. Representatives from Cornwall Council, the NHS, the Police and the local voluntary sector sit on the Board and work together to develop joint strategies to improve the health of local people. Actions planned by the Board cover a range of areas, from encouraging people to stay active to tackling fuel poverty.

If we are to build on this success it is essential that we elect the team of Cornwall Councillors who can use the 6% increase in Cornish NHS funding secured by my colleagues and I to positively drive forward improvements.

What more important goal could the new Cornwall Council have than working constructively with all those that are working hard, re-establishing for the twenty first century the founding NHS principle of free, compassionate care, delivered in the community and shaped around the needs of individuals and their families.

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West Briton column 18 April 2013

With the local elections now in full swing, a range of debates have sprung up about Cornwall’s future. One such debate concerns Cornwall Council’s finances.

Some voices within that debate are warning of looming doom in the form of more and larger cuts to Cornwall Councils budget and insist that Council Tax rises must take place to avoid losing vital council services.

Whilst such a narrative is no doubt exhilarating for the individuals who proclaim it, it does not stand up to scrutiny. Much of the narrative is based on the Graph of Doom promoted by the Local Government Association, a lobby group that presses for more central government expenditure on local government. As is the usual practice of lobby groups, the Association have painted a doomsday scenario concerning local government finances in order to more effectively lobby for increased funding.

The real picture is quite different. Unlike the past, Chancellors can’t fiddle the numbers. Independent bodies now have access to Treasury data and provide impartial analysis. This includes central government funding for local government.

The way the Council is funded is changing. Less money will come from block grants from Westminster and more of the money raised in Cornwall will stay in Cornwall.

This process has already started, with more decisions about Council Tax being devolved to Cornwall Council. This has enabled the Council to end the Second Home Council Tax discount, bringing in an extra £4 million every year. These changes have also allowed the Council to impose an extra Council Tax charge, known as the empty home premium, on the owners of properties left empty for two or more years. In addition to the Council Tax, Cornwall Council will now keep the business rates it collects. This means that business rates from new or growing businesses will increase revenue for the Council.

Thanks to the Government’s New Homes Bonus scheme Cornwall Council is for the first time enjoying the financial benefits arising from the creation of new homes. This year alone the Council has received an additional £9.617 million of funding through the New Homes Bonus.

I support decisions about money raised in Cornwall being made in Cornwall. In addition to more money made in Cornwall being kept in Cornwall, funding from government has also been made more responsive to changing demographics.

To help the Duchy meet the needs of an ageing population the Department of Health has allocated an extra £25. 173 million between 2010 and 2014 for the integration of the Council’s adult care services with the local NHS. An extra £3.2 million has also been given to support carers. At the other end of the age scale, schools across my constituency facing rising demand have benefited from £1,385,000 of additional pupil premium funding.

So, whilst there are challenges facing Cornwall Council’s finances over the coming years, and it is good to be careful with tax payers money, it is important to remember that the Council is better placed than ever before to face them.

West Briton column 11 April 2013

Thank you to all those public minded souls who have decided to seek election to serve their communities as a councillor in parishes throughout Cornwall. This is a voluntary role and the foundations of our precious democracy. Parish councils have been at the heart of democratic decision making for centuries.

For too long, power has been sucked out of parish councils by centralising national governments. I believe and hope that over time more decisions will be taken by local people about their local communities.

Conservatives in Coalition are delivering a massive shift of power from Westminster to Cornwall. There are more and more opportunities for parishes and people to take more control over activities that really make a difference to the quality of local life.

There is even more opportunity for Cornwall Councillors. I am pleased that new independently minded people have come forward to serve their community as part of the Conservative team. Cornwall needs new blood to work with experienced councillors. In these challenging times, more than ever, Cornwall in my view needs a team. A team with a common purpose, and a plan for the future. Although much progress has been made since the creation of Cornwall Council there is much more to do.

I have found it frustrating at a time when Cornwall has all its MPs part of the Coalition Government that we have not had a team at Cornwall Council, with a shared vision, working together grasp the new opportunities and to overcome the obstacles for the Duchy to realise its tremendous potential. Cornwall has suffered as the Council has been ‘No overall Control’.

‘Independents’ have held key positions of power within the cabinet system of local government chosen by Cornwall Council. The concept of an ‘independent’ is compelling. They will tell you they will always put the interests of their community first and that by being involved with a ‘Westminster’ political party councillors are somehow compromised.

I have been a councillor and then as now as your MP, I vote for what I believe is in the best interests of the community I represent. Every vote is a ‘free’ vote as far as I am concerned. I am however part of a team. A team that has a manifesto so when you vote for me or my colleagues you know what you can expect us to do. We can be held to account.

So between now and election day on May 2nd, please ask yourself of Cornwall Council candidates, will they work hard for my community and what are they going to do for Cornwall? Cornwall Councillors are not just your local councillor but Cornwall’s Councillors. They will make very important decisions about how our health and care services, our environment, homes, roads, schools, libraries, businesses and much more are supported. Cornwall needs people who are passionate about Cornwall and have the skills and experience to work in partnership, manage very large budgets and complex issues for the benefit of ‘One and All’.

West Briton column 4 April 2013

The decline in our bee population has been with us for some time now. Like all wildlife bees are important in their own right and as part of a balanced ecosystem. Our farmers, drinks and food makers need pollinators and bees deliver that service better than anything else to our ecosystem. It is estimated that manual pollination, the only option if a catastrophic decline in bee numbers takes place, would cost British farmers up to £1.8 billion every year.

The government department responsible, DEFRA has done much to try and understand why the bee population in Britain is declining. In the UK alone the number of managed honey bee colonies in the UK fell by 53% between 1985 and 2005.

The Department is implementing the Healthy Bees Plan – working with bee keepers, the National Bee Unit provides inspection, diagnostic and training services to beekeepers. Working with farmers, land has been identified to create new beneficial habitats for bees. £10 million has been allocated to a range of research projects that will help bees and pollinators.

Most recently, DEFRA has been involved at the EU level with considering restricting some chemicals used mostly by cereal crop farmers as pesticides. The Chief Scientific Adviser said last week that he didn’t feel there was sufficient evidence to ban the chemicals under consideration but that we should keep the decision under review using results of UK trials.

While it would be convenient if we could point the finger at a single cause of bee decline and take preventive action, I think we have come to appreciate this is a complex problem that only a range of activities can resolve.

In the debate I led in Parliament last week, I called on the Government to introduce a British Bee Strategy. Working with stakeholders to develop a holistic action plan with identifiable outcomes and budgets allocated.

I think we should start with a step change in the investment in scientific evidence to help us tackle bee decline. The government has committed large sums of money for science. An annual research spend of £4.6 billion was ring fenced in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review, with additional investment of £1.35 billion in research budgets taking place over the past three years.

I would like to see major research councils allocating funding to university-based scientists, working in partnership with the crop protection industry, to create a new generation of pesticides and fungicides that have less harmful effects to pollinators; develop decease resistant seeds to prevent the need for chemical treatment and exploration of different crop husbandry to prevent the use of harmful chemicals.

Any and all of these have the potential to improve bee health.

As gardeners there is much we can do too. To find out more about bees and what you can do to help, join a free event in Truro City Hall on Saturday with the Mayor, Lindsay Southcombe, and a team of bee experts who will be providing us all with interesting and useful advice.