West Briton column 25 July 2013

Last week’s revelations about the NHS showed one thing very clearly – our health services suffer when concerns expressed by patients and staff are not taken seriously.

Professor Sir Bruce Keogh’s review investigated fourteen hospitals, and found that none of them were providing consistently high quality care to patients. He found that problems with care were frequently not the fault of frontline clinical staff, but arose from management structures that failed to act on concerning reports, and refused to learn from past mistakes.

I am pleased that the Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, has now put in place a rigorous new hospital inspection regime with a focus on transparency. From now on you and I will be able to see how feedback from NHS patients and clinical staff has been acted on, and what improvements were made a result.

I will continue to work with all parts of the NHS in Cornwall as this new focus on transparency takes effect. I also continue to meet regularly with nursing union representatives and hospital managers to monitor progress recruiting more trained staff to ensure that staffing levels are safe. This remains a crucial issue for the NHS in Cornwall.

As well as acting on failings in care, we should also celebrate when first class care takes place. In Cornwall innovative work is being done to integrate health and social care. A range of organisations, including Age UK in Cornwall, Cornwall Council, NHS Cornwall, and Volunteer Cornwall are working together to pilot a new approach to preventative care which focuses on the personal relationships between professional and volunteer carers, and those they look after. These relationships can help build up the confidence of vulnerable people, improving their wellbeing and reducing their dependence on NHS services.

Crucially under the pilot those receiving care have access to a single named contact, working from a care management plan drawn up by all the agencies involved in care provision.

This new approach to care provision in Cornwall, piloted as the ‘Changing Lives’ project, is already making a real difference to the lives of vulnerable people. The experience of ‘Joan’ is a good example of the difference compassionate and joined-up care can make. Joan lives on her own, and has a range of health problems. She had felt isolated, which contributed to her health getting worse. As a result of the Changing Lives project Joan was able to sit down with a volunteer to discuss how to resolve her feelings of isolation, and secure more care support. Cornwall Council provided this additional support and Volunteer Cornwall have helped Joan to become involved in a range of local groups. Joan is now a lot happier, and her health has improved. She is now involved in helping others through the project.

I was pleased to meet with the Care Minister with Age UK Cornwall earlier this month to highlight this pioneering work and look forward to continuing to work with the Changing Lives partnership to transform the lives of local people.

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West Briton column 18 July 2013

Investment in science and technology is a key priority for this government, ensuring our world class universities remain just that and underpin the vital rebalancing of our economy so we invent and create more here and export to growing economies around the world.

The House of Commons Science & Technology Select Committee, of which I am a member, is undertaking an inquiry into UK Space Policy. At the heart of the policy is the Government’s continued investment in the UK Civil Space Programme, overseen by the United Kingdom Space Agency. The Programme is not just about space exploration, inspiring though that is, but enables the development of new technologies we use in our day to day lives such as satellites, navigation systems and improving the weather forecasting that is so important for farmers and fishermen.

I am part of the Apollo generation, with my early memory of the first moon walk triggering a lifelong interest in space exploration. A self confessed Wallace and Gromit fan, I find it frustrating that while so many young children are naturally curious, enjoy science and will draw themselves as an astronaut in a space craft at some stage in their early years, so few go onto to choose a career in science, technology or engineering.

We have many first class engineering and science based companies here in Cornwall that export around the world. All too often they tell me they cannot find local people with the right skills to employ. These are good jobs with good prospects.

So I was delighted with the announcements this week about the changes to the curriculum for junior schools. There will be much more emphasis and time spent on maths and science. These are not only really interesting subjects for young children but vitally important for their future employment prospects and our national prosperity. The world is a fast changing and competitive place for young people today. I am determined that all the young people here have the best opportunity of reaching their potential and have the opportunity of a good job and a decent life. Of course that starts in the home but a good education is essential too.

The changes will be demanding for teachers to implement in the timeframe given, but we are in a global race and I want our young children to be given the best possible chance of success. Schools that I have visited only want the best for their pupils so I am confident they will rise to the challenge.

It is a sobering thought that China is producing seven million engineering graduates every year; twenty times as many as the UK. Even more sobering is the fact that women comprise only thirteen percent of the UK’s total science, technology, engineering and maths workforce. In ensuring young people from junior school onwards have the opportunity to achieve rigorous qualifications in maths, science as well as computer science we will be giving girls and boys a better chance of interesting and good quality employment.

West Briton column 11 July 2013

Over the past week, as with every week, the vast majority of everything we consume arrived in a ship. The majority of the goods made in the UK, around 95%, are exported by ship. While the Royal Navy makes an enormous contribution I met this week with another group of inspirational men and women are also working hard to ensure the shipping lanes that enable this vital trade are kept open.

The delegation I met with came from Somalia, that country which far too long has been a by-word for civil war, poverty, and piracy. Things are changing however. Last year a new Federal Parliament was formed, chosen in the most representative process there has been in decades, member’s forming a new Federal Government. 16% of the newly elected legislators are women. Employment in the country is rising, and attacks on vessels off the Somalian coast are now at a five year low.

British aid payments to Somalia have helped secure this progress. The UK Government is providing nearly £200 million to Somalia, to help its new Government address some of the country’s long standing problems. £11.5 million is being spent developing the country’s military, with a particular focus on using naval power to secure safe shipping lanes around the Horn of Africa, shipping lanes that carry 20,000 vessels every year, many of them carrying British goods.
This focus is vitally important not for just for the future of Somalia, but also for the world economy. The annual economic cost of Somali piracy is estimated at £4 billion.

Of course we have also to address the reason why some Somalis have taken to piracy as a way of life. With 73% of Somalis living on less than $2 a day it is perhaps hardly surprising that many feel desperate enough to take up arms. UK aid is being used to create the opportunities communities need to move away from violence and poverty, helping to employ over 15,000 Somali people in the past year alone. The infrastructure needed to ensure Somali citizens have access to Government services is being put in place, with UK advisors helping the Somali Government to set up fair but rigorous tax systems, and networks of dedicated public servants and police officers. This infrastructure should in time give Somali’s the security and support they need from Government in order to grow their economy, to help themselves and their neighbours out of poverty.

The delegation I met this week, all legislators from the Federal Parliament, know full well the challenges their country continues to face. However they are determined to overcome, and to work with Britain to build on the recent progress Somalia has made.

For me, the ongoing story of Somalia provides a telling reminder of why it is so important that we continue to commit to international aid. Despite these tough economic times aid spent in this way is contributing to a more stable world that benefits both people in our country and Somalia.

West Briton column 4 July 2013

As the economy moves from rescue to recovery, now is the time to turbocharge the engine of British business, the dynamic force will propel our economy forward into sustained growth.

Last week, in his Spending Round 2013, George Osborne did just that. Setting out plans for Government spending in 2015-2016, the Chancellor built on the Coalition’s work over the past three years to remodel the way the Government spends taxpayer’s money. Unlike the Labour years, this spending is now tightly focused – on funding a fair welfare state and a patient centred NHS, and crucially on creating the conditions in which people can create and grow businesses.

It is these businesses, the jobs and income they create, that ultimately fund the NHS and other public services that we all cherish, as well as raising the standard of living for all. Last week’s Spending Round unrolled a range of new measures to support businesses, measures funded in large part by efficiency savings in central government.

The transport links that businesses rely on are being overhauled, with the road network benefiting from an investment programme on a scale last seen in the 1970’s. Tackling the A303 and A30, a cause of frustration and misery to Cornwall bound tourists and Cornish origin goods and produce for generations, is at the top of the list. £9 billion is being invested in improving our railways, with a further £7.5 billion committed to new and improved rolling stock. Having discussed Cornwall’s rail needs with the Secretary of State for Transport last month I know that he appreciates how important this funding is for the Duchy.

UK Trade and Investment, the organisation that helps businesses to export to new international markets, has had its funding further increased, and will be working with the Foreign Office to boost the profile of British businesses, and the opportunities available to them, in expanding economies.

Crucially decisions as to how money to support businesses in Cornwall should be used will increasingly be made in Cornwall, by Cornish business people. The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, a partnership of local businesses and Cornwall Council will be given control of a Single Local Growth Fund in 2015-2016, a central pot of money to be used supporting the growth of Cornwall’s economy. The Government has already put the LEP in charge of £592 million of European funding for Cornwall announced last week.

These Spending Round commitments build on work carried out by the Government over the past three years. Red tape is being cut with over 1400 unnecessary regulations scrapped to date. It has been made easier for businesses of whatever size to apply for Government contracts through the website http://www.online.contractsfinder.businesslink.gov.uk part of an overhaul of online business support and advice, now brought together on one website – http://www.greatbusiness.gov.uk

There is still much to do, but we are on track to creating the dynamic, enterprise friendly environment that our businesses need if they are to help secure a brighter future for all of us.