One Nation: a soundbite for Labour, a defining philosophy for Conservatives

One Nation politics has had a home within the Conservative Party for over hundred and fifty years. It has lasted less than two years with Labour. Ed Milband’s Conference Speech last week dropped the One Nation phrase he appropriated in 2012 and instead showcased a more traditional Labour politics of division. Employers were painted as exploiters, countryside campaigners declared dinosaurs, family homes rendered into mansions. Matters of concern to a great many people, including the deficit and immigration, were not considered worthy of comment.

Unlike Ed Milband I feel that One Nation politics, where all parts of our society work together for the common good, are needed more than ever. As the economy grows we need to work together to ensure that no-one is left behind.

Measures such as the Work Programme are helping more people than ever before into work. In my own constituency of Truro and Falmouth unemployment across all ages has fallen by a third since 2010. As the Government works hard to create a good economic climate for employers to create these new jobs, businesses in the South West are leading the way, with our regional economy growing faster than any other in the UK.

It isn’t only new jobs that are helping people to get on; a revolution in education and skills training is opening up new opportunities for people of all ages. More people are in apprenticeships than ever before, more people are going to university than ever before. The Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership is working with businesses to provide employment focused skills training and increase the adoption of the Living Wage. This One Nation politics is working – figures published in July by the DWP show that inequality in the UK is at its lowest point since the 1990’s.

One Nation also means trusting different communities in the UK to decide how they can best contribute to our shared future. I want to see more decision making powers not only devolved from Westminster to City and County Halls, but to Town and Parish Councils.

However our current relationship with the European Union imposes a stumbling block – how can we in the South West ensure our economy powers ahead when decisions that shape key sectors, like farming, fishing and maritime trade are made not by us, but by people sitting in Brussels? Being in Coalition with the LibDems is like driving a car with the handbrake on. At the General Election we need to win more support in the SW and around the country to release this brake and drive forward reforms with our relationship with the EU, returning powers to people and communities here and around the UK.

In the years ahead Britain’s economy is set to grow faster than any of the largest economies of the world. This means that we have a real chance to build a balanced economy which helps everyone to build the lives they want to live. It’s been done before. Over the desk of David Cameron hangs a portrait of Harold MacMillan, the Conservative Prime Minister who presided over a decade of full employment, rising living standards and plummeting inequality. Sixty years on a new generation of One Nation Conservatives are looking to build an even brighter shared future.

Investing in education

This month more people from disadvantaged backgrounds went to University than ever before. Overall student numbers are the highest they have ever been. More people than ever before are taking part in an apprenticeship, with apprenticeships now widely recognised as being as good as going to university.

As a passionate believer in helping everyone to fulfill their potential, and a supporter of the 2010 reforms that secured a fairer student loans system, I am delighted by this progress. Falmouth University and Exeter University now offer local people the option of studying a range of first class courses in Cornwall, options that thanks to the 2010 student loan reforms are now open to local people of all ages. Further education providers like our excellent Truro & Penwith College are providing more opportunities than ever before for local people to study and to learn
new skills.

Good progress is also being made in securing the fair schools funding our young people need to build their future. Before 2010 school funding was determined on the basis of historic spending levels not the needs of pupils.

This was deeply unfair on Cornwall and on entering Parliament I campaigned with Conservative colleagues to change this system. Ministers listened and in March this year the Government announced that in the future school funding would be based on the needs of pupils. As a result Cornwall is one of 64 local authority areas (out of 468 across the UK) to see substantial school funding increases as the new-needs based approach takes effect. Next year funding for each Cornish pupil due to rise by £75. I will be pressing for further year on year increases.

This long overdue reform reflects a particular focus of Conservatives in Government – on investing in the educational opportunities that can help people build the lives they want to live. This focus has seen the education budget protected and our education system expanded. New early learning places have been created, meaning that 40% of two year olds are now in education. Free school meals are now given to every child between four and seven to help boost concentration in lessons. The school leaving age has been raised to 17 and pupils now have to get a C or above grade in English and maths GCSE before leaving school. This tackles an unacceptable inheritance left by the last Labour Government which saw Britain’s pupils ranked 22 out of 24 countries for their numeracy and literacy skills.

This year has seen an extra £32 million announced to help create new Cornish school places, doubling the former budget. Schools in Truro and Falmouth have been given an extra £4 million of extra funding through the new Pupil Premium, a new fund to help pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, since 2011. A further £2.5 million of Pupil Premium funding for schools in Truro and Falmouth is committed for 2015.

I will continue to argue for further funding for Cornwall’s schools to reflect the needs of our young people.

New menu comes to Truro

With the recall of Parliament this week I am very sorry to be missing the launch of a new menu at Truro’s Old Ale House. The new menu, featuring a range of local delicacies, comes courtesy of Skinners Brewery and the River Cottage project. Congratulation too to the Old Ale House for creating three new apprenticeships, a great achievement!

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.