Working towards a consensus on Brexit

Much has happened over the last week but what have we learned? While a minority of people voted in the EU elections, those that did so indicated that the country is as divided now as it was at the time of EU Referendum. The Conservative and the Labour Party MPs who have been trying to deliver their manifesto commitments have failed to secure the support of people who want us to leave the EU without an orderly transition to a new and close relationship, preferring a “no deal” Brexit, as well as those who want to “stop Brexit” with a second referendum. 

I am disappointed that Jeremy Corbyn could not persuade enough of his team, most notably future Labour Party leadership contenders, Emily Thornberry and Kier Starmer, to support him and the way forward, that I am told by people close to the negotiations, he wanted to agree with the Prime Minister. I know Labour MPs that want to honour their manifesto commitments to deliver Brexit. If the agreement had been reached and subsequently supported by Parliament, we would be on track now to leave the EU with a good deal, ending the current paralysing uncertainty. I appreciate that not everyone agrees with me, however I continue to believe that getting Brexit right is of such national importance that it should be above party politics.  

With not enough Parliamentary support for her approach to Brexit the PM had no choice but to announce her impending resignation. She is a great public servant and could not have tried harder to deliver a good Brexit. That remains an extraordinary challenge for her successor. 

The PM will remain in place while the Conservative Party choose a new leader. The leadership contenders will need to demonstrate that they have a Brexit plan that will command enough support in Parliament. Unity of purpose is essential so that we can begin the process of healing the divisions that Brexit has illuminated.  

This selection process will take time and could be months. We should use this time well to consider some new approaches to finding a solution to Brexit, by more directly involving people in our usual political and Parliamentary processes. 

Next week, I am meeting Professor David Farrell, one of the “stars” of deliberative democracy and the Co-Leader of the Irish Citizens’ Assembly, in which citizens found a way forward on the “unsolvable” question of abortion and marriage equality. Professor David Farrell is described as “the man who transformed Irish politics”. 

I am keen to learn from the experience of Ireland and develop an approach for the U.K. There are a range of models of deliberative democracy, including citizens juries. They provide the opportunity for a truly representative group of citizens, enabled by experts, to consider complex issues, feeding back their findings to politicians and the public grappling with the same issues. They don’t replicate our democratic institutions and processes but add an extra dimension that Ireland and other countries have found useful in resolving complex issues. 

First published in the West Briton 30 05 19

Working to prevent a “no deal” Brexit

I understand the frustration people feel that Parliament has not yet delivered Brexit. I understand that people want to leave the EU for a range of reasons, not all to do with the economy. However, I am focussed on the economy and the wellbeing of my constituents. Without a strong economy local people won’t prosper and we won’t be able to increase funding for our vital local public services. 

The delays are having a corrosive effect on British industry as a whole. The longer the delay, the more likely that investments are routed out of Britain to countries with a more stable political and industrial climate. 

While Parliamentary squabbles continue, Nigel Farage is touring the country advocating a no-deal Brexit. Just when we thought no deal was out of the question, the collapse of the Brexit negotiations and the willful disregard by some in Parliament of the increasingly desperate warnings from industry and the world of work, has brought the spectre of no deal back. 

No deal would not be the “clean break” Mr Farage promises. 

Pascal Lamy, former Director-General of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), has said he thought after a period of negotiations that the UK could become an independent member of the WTO outside of the EU. But he described the WTO regime as league three in world trade. Why would we choose to relegate ourselves from league one to three? 

The blithe assurances of hard Brexiteers that the UK could fare perfectly well trading on WTO terms flies in the face of warnings from a huge range of businesses, small and large, that it would simply make their products uncompetitive and their business models unsustainable. 

The National Farmers Union says WTO terms would add 67 and 85 per cent extra tax to exports of lamb and beef respectively. 

The British ceramics industry, already struggling with the dumping of tableware from China, would face extra tax of 28 per cent on its products. 

The car industry, hit by the triple whammy of falling sales in China, the transition from diesel and Brexit, could not absorb the extra 10 per cent tax on its exports. 

Manufacturing employs millions of people and its renaissance has given thousands of young people a real start in life in well-paid, skilled jobs. 

For businesses this is even worse than the first time they prepared for the threat of a disorderly no-deal Brexit on March 29 because billions had to be spent making contingency plans, stockpiling supplies, shutting factories and laying off staff. They just cannot do this all over again. 

As you would expect, I listen to local employers and businesses and many tell me that they are worried by the collapse of the cross-party talks as it makes no deal more likely once again. As we edge closer to a damaging no-deal Brexit, I will once again work tirelessly cross-party in parliament to ensure Britain leaves the European Union in an orderly way with a deal. 

Safeguarding our environment

The harrowing scenes from David Attenborough’s ‘Our Planet’ documentary series clearly show the impact that humans are having on the natural world. While the scale of the global challenge facing humanity can feel overwhelming, the latest data shows a record 80 percent of British people are concerned about climate change and support taking action to tackle it. I meet many constituents of all ages and backgrounds who want us to do more. 

Scientists from around the world have shown that we need to reach net zero emissions of harmful greenhouse gases by 2050. They warn that inaction risks the world reaching tipping points at 2°C warming that will see the melting of permafrost releasing greenhouse gases that have been stored for millennia. Furthermore, they say this will severely impact our food, water and air quality.  

The Government’s independent advisors, the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), have recently published a report showing that it is possible for the UK to reach net zero emissions by 2050 if we act now.  

This will require a rethink of many policies across Government to enable our public services, businesses, communities and people to reduce harmful emissions. Work undertaken by leading businesses, engineers and the Bank of England has shown we can reach net zero without wrecking our economy. In fact, if we carefully manage the transition there are opportunities to develop new technologies, products and services.  

60 percent of the emissions reductions outlined by the CCC involve some societal or behavioural changes, so it’s vitally important to build on people’s interest in this challenge and involve and empower them to make a personal difference.  

In fact research shows that more than half of us would be happy to reduce our energy use, avoid using cars or try to minimise food waste. It’s not just about helping to tackle climate change – simple steps can also save us money, make us feel healthier and contribute to our local economy too. 

As the Government considers its response to the CCC and sets out policies to reach net zero, I want to ensure that we can make informed choices, by encouraging businesses to provide relevant information, transparently setting out where their products come from, how they got here, and their impact on the environment. Information is power, and labelling has an important role to play.  

Leaving the EU gives us the opportunity to reassess what information we expect businesses to provide on labels. One of the most debated examples of this is plastic packaging, and making sure it’s clear what is recyclable, biodegradable and compostable. At the moment there is no legal definition for these terms, and a recent study by the University of Plymouth found that so-called ‘biodegradable’ shopping bags could still hold a load of shopping after three years in the marine environment. This can’t be right. If consumers are making the switch to buy supposedly more sustainable products, even at an increased price, then they must have confidence in what they are purchasing. 

First published in the West Briton 16/05/19.

Welcoming New Breast Cancer Clinic at the Mermaid Centre

From Monday, GPs will be able to refer patients to a new breast cancer clinic at the Mermaid Centre at Treliske Hospital. 

Clinicians at Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust (RCHT) and NHS Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group (KCCG) worked together to launch the new clinic for anyone with a suspected cancer who needs to be seen and assessed. 

This latest modernisation initiative illustrates the continued aim for maintaining excellence through innovation, collaboration and adaptation to the changing needs of the community. 

The Mermaid Centre, which is recognised as a gold standard service, has been based at the Truro hospital for more than 20 years, and approximately 17,000 men and women are seen every year. Largely as a result of effective public health campaigns the numbers of people referred to the service are growing each month. 

Clinical leaders at Treliske say that these small changes have been designed to meet the recommended and safe best practice nationally and that they are vital for ensuring people receive the service they expect and need from the breast cancer service. 

I am sure that all readers of this column will have a friend or family member affected by breast cancer. My mother sadly died of breast cancer in her early fifties at a time when there were virtually no breast cancer services in Cornwall and patients had to travel to Plymouth. Since then survival rates have steadily and significantly improved. The services now provided are amongst the best in the country and I am pleased that clinicians say that more patients will be seen more quickly. Anyone who is diagnosed with breast cancer will begin treatment within 31 days of their diagnosis, and within 62 days of their original referral to the service. 

Ensuring that our NHS has the resources needed to provide excellent and safe care to local people remains my top priority and I am pleased that funding continues to rise each year. 

Mental health is just as important as physical health and is often interrelated so I am pleased that our local commissioners of services, the KCCG are spending more of the increasing money they are given on improving access to local services, more than the national average. 

We know that at the moment demand for some services outstrips supply. I understand that training new staff takes time and I am pleased that later this month a Mental Health Strategy for Cornwall will be launched. Healthwatch Cornwall is the independent and publicly funded body that is the voice of the patient and will be promoting public involvement with the strategy, so do look out for ways in which you can be involved.  

I have met with the KCCG and asked them to take a life course approach to promoting good mental health. From the birth of a child, through the stages of education into the workplace and towards the end of life. Partnership working will be key to improving wellbeing and health outcomes. 

First published in the West Briton 09/05/19

Campaigning for greater investment in our region

Yesterday in Parliament, I joined the first meeting of the All Parliamentary Group (APPG) for the Great South West. Its aim is to seek to promote the economic and social advancement of the South West region as a great place to live, work and do business. All MPs from across the political spectrum representing the region will be active members of the APPG.  

In the short term, the immediate objectives are twofold:  

To develop and advocate the key Great South West (GSW) Partnership propositions ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review. 

To respond to the invitation from Jake Berry MP, Minister for Local Growth, to submit a business case by June/July 2019 to his Department confirming the core proposition, costs and opportunities of the Great South West. This is not about new quangos and new layers of government but about how the South West might work better together to meet agreed and shared aspirations.  

The Great South West (GSW) partnership is a developing, private sector-led partnership between central government and local stakeholders such as our Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs), local authorities, business and education leaders in the South West of England. It is designed to work with its stakeholders collectively to advocate and take actions to boost the economy of the South West. In particular, it is focused on issues that influence the whole SW geography; infrastructure, collaborative international trade and region wide supply chains in sectors such as marine, tourism and aerospace.  

The chair of the Heart of the South West LEP is chairing it with executive support hosted by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP. The Dorset LEP is also a significant LEP partner in the initiative. Activity and performance is overseen by a GSW steering board comprising senior representatives of partner organisations. 

To date GSW has focused on three core strands of activity; rural productivity, trade and investment as well as infrastructure as the basis of an ongoing conversation with a range of central government departments establishing a strategic partnership to promote economic growth at scale and to increase productivity across the region. At present, the partnership covers the Cornwall & IOS, Dorset and Heart of the South West LEP areas, with Swindon & Wiltshire LEP engaged specifically on improving rural productivity and quality of life. 

Jake Berry MP attended the meeting and encouraged the region to develop a strong plan that will enable the sustainable economic growth in our region. 

While my focus will always be Cornwall, there is strength in numbers when seeking funding for large scale investment such a public transport, digital infrastructure and renewable energy. Clean Growth is at the heart of our local industrial strategy and working across the region, and making common cause, will help Cornwall to realise our local priorities. We have seen the success of partnership working in the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine and I want to build on this success for the benefit of people in Cornwall and the wider region. 

First published in the West Briton 02/05/19

Supporting local public services

Happy Easter!

You would be forgiven for thinking that MPs are exclusively, focussed on Brexit. Important though that is, so are all the other priorities of my constituents. Supporting our vital public services is a top priority for many local people.

Thanks to significant investment and the dedicated work of our NHS leaders and professionals, local health services are improving. I was instrumental in making the case for changes in the formula used by NHS England to allocate funding for our local services. Past and recent changes better reflect the needs of our community and the costs of delivery. Every year our NHS funding has increased and will do for the next four years. There is more to do but it is good to see improvements for patients noted by the regulator and the hospital inspectors of the Care Quality Commission.

I work closely with our local NHS leaders, securing Cornwall’s fair share of funding and supporting their development of new services. This year we will see the publication and public consultation of the Mental Health Strategy for Cornwall. Along with a significant increase in mental health services for people of all ages. The increased use of social prescribing by more Cornish MPs is making a really positive difference too.

I believe that the interventions of NHS England is helping Treliske turn a corner and significantly improve patient safety and timelines in accessing services is. Treliske has always been highly rated for the quality of care provided by staff to patients.

I have been working with our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Ms Alison Hernandez, to raise concerns regarding community policing. I am concerned that we simply don’t have enough visible policing in our community. So I am pleased that my concerns were listened to and our Police will receive more funding. The number of Police Officers will be increasing to 3,015 by 2019/20, an overall increase of 115. They will continue with our team of 200 existing PCSOs.

The focus of this investment to date includes a significant increase in the capacity on roads policing and road safety as well as an increase in the number of armed response officers across Devon and Cornwall.

Road safety is one of the major issues raised by the public across our communities, last year we saw over 800 people killed or seriously injured in road accidents across our two counties. Through the Police’s new road safety strategy they are increasing the number of officers focused on roads policing and road safety by 24. This includes an additional 15 police constables, a sergeant and an inspector in the specialist roads policing unit and a dedicated proactive enforcement and prevention team ‘No Excuse’ targeting driver behaviour and the Fatal 5 causes of accidents – speed, fatigue, drink/drug driving, not wearing seatbelts and distractions like using mobile phones while driving. Many of these officers are already in place – the new No Excuse Team launched earlier this year.

In addition to more officers, there has been investment in the roll out of Body Worn Video (BWV) across all of our police officers in order to better protect officers and victims, catch criminals and provide transparency to the public.

While I believe it is essential to have visible community policing, especially for crime prevention, I understand that crime has changed and now most crime is invisible, perpetrated at home and often online. Fraud and crimes involving sexual harm, violence and abuse occur more than the ‘traditional’ crimes of theft.

As crime changes so does the police response and in addition to funding local policing there continues to be increased investment into our regional and national crime specialist agencies, protecting people from the serious and organised criminals who trade in so much human suffering from scams, drug dealing and child sexual exploitation to human trafficking and modern slavery.

I am proud of the new crimes that this government have created, along with stiff sentences and support for victims. Keeping people safe is the first responsibility of any government and I will continue to do all I can ensure that the Police have the resources and powers they need to prevent crime and keep us safe.

A key theme of my work since 2010, has been enabling our much valued public services to work more effectively together and with other organisations in our community. This is particularly important when supporting the most vulnerable people in our communities.

A good example, is this work that our local Police are doing in Falmouth with St Petrocs, Addaction, the NHS, our local councils, businesses, church and voluntary groups to support people who are misusing substances, with mental health problems who are spending much of their time in the town centre and sometimes sleeping rough.

The government has given considerable extra money to Cornwall Council to eradicate rough sleeping. There has been significant progress here in helping individuals to get back on their feet and on with their lives. Much more needs to be done and close partnership is the key to success.

Just like you, I don’t want to see people sleeping rough and living without hope. I will continue to do everything I can to support all those people who are working so tirelessly to improve people’s lives here.

First published in the Falmouth Wave May edition