There are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded

Imagine you went to the shops tomorrow and the shutters were down. Now imagine you tried to buy a concert ticket but the website was closed for business. Would you be happy?

Of course you wouldn’t. But for thousands of disabled people in this country getting access to services is a trial of endurance. Spending billions of pounds to boost our economy is a trial of endurance.

That’s why today, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I’m focused on a top priority – to stop disabled people from being excluded from the everyday activities that many people take for granted, while also helping businesses realise that it’s in their interest to include their disabled customers.

With the spending power of disabled people and their households – the Purple Pound – estimated at almost £250 billion each year, it’s a no brainer.

Our sector champions are tackling the issues facing disabled consumers across every area of their lives, from seeing themselves represented in TV adverts to ensuring stress-free train travel.

Our music champion, Suzanne Bull, has launched a new industry taskforce aimed at improving the experience for deaf and disabled customers when booking tickets for live music events.

Meanwhile, our insurance champion Johnny Timpson is bringing together representatives from the insurance industry, regulatory bodies and charities for the first time to look at how to make the sector more accessible to disabled people. This is a great step forward, and begins to tackle an issue disabled people and my constituents often raise with me, that they are denied insurance or charged a premium that they believe does not reflect the true impact of their condition.

And last month I worked with Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, and our retail champion Samantha Sen to launch Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day. It was a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of retail staff, up and down the country, taking action to demonstrate their commitment to including all of their customers.

But there are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded.

Just last week a Citizens Advice survey found that almost one in three disabled people have missed a home delivery because they were not given enough time to get to the door.

And we know that disabled people are almost ten times as likely to report being limited in taking part in leisure activities compared to non-disabled people.

So today, I have announced that I want to appoint six new champions to build on the successes we’ve seen so far.

The new champions will cover the technology, food and drink, website accessibility, fashion, countryside and heritage and product design sectors.

By showing other businesses the importance of making disabled customers a priority, our new champions will ensure disabled people aren’t missing out on the experiences and services that form an integral part of our everyday lives, whether that’s socialising with friends or keeping up with the latest trends.

Access is inextricably linked to opportunity, and it’s important that everyone plays their part in ensuring disabled consumers can spend their money wherever and whenever they want to – just like everyone else.

First published in Politics Home 03/12/18

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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

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

Welcoming strengthened community planning regulations

Fundamental to building the homes our community needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future.

The recently announced revised national planning policy framework was informed by many local people who contributed. As a champion of Neighbourhood Planning, genuinely affordable homes for local people and enhancing our natural environment I have been frustrated by some of the planning decisions made locally that contradict them. I am pleased that the revised planning framework strengthens Neighbourhood Planning in a number of ways.

Refocusing on the quality and design of proposals which are in line with what local communities want, the framework ensures councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for development that does not prioritise design quality and does not complement its surroundings.

With an emphasis on engaging with communities and allowing residents to see proposed development before it’s even built, the new framework encourages councils to make use of innovative new visual tools to promote better design and quality, which will also make sure new homes fit in with their surroundings.

Adopted neighbourhood plans will demonstrate clear local leadership in design quality, with the framework allowing groups seeking such plans to truly reflect the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area.

Whilst the framework sets the strategic direction for driving up new build quality, it will remain up to councils to apply these polices in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting.

The revised framework has also been updated to provide further protection for biodiversity; ensuring wildlife thrives at the same time as addressing the need for new homes.

Changes to the framework see the planning system align more closely with the 25 Year Environment Plan. This plan, published in January, aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations than it was when the Government took office.

It provides strengthened protection for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees across England, ensuring they can be retained for the benefit of future generations, whilst giving councils real flexibility to make the most of their existing brownfield land.

To help tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas, the framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing need of their local community, including different forms of housing, such as older people’s retirement homes.

This new methodology aims to deliver more homes in the places where they are needed, based on factors including the affordability of existing homes for people on lower and median incomes.

In addition, to make sure that the necessary infrastructure and genuinely affordable housing is delivered to support communities, clearer guidance for both developers has been published, meaning that developers will know what is expected of them up front, even before they submit a planning application and councils have greater power to hold them to these commitments.

First published in the West Briton 09/08/18

Promoting equal access to our maritime environment and securing jobs at Falmouth Docks

The summer months more than others bring us closer to our stunning maritime environment and heritage. The recent glorious weather has enabled many more people to experience the simple pleasure of going to the beach or out onto the water. Thanks to many inspirational local people determined to build an inclusive community, more people are able to enjoy these simple pleasures. People with visible and invisible impairments and disabilities are able to get onto the water thanks to Mylor Harbour’s Sail-ability specially adapted boats. Also based in Mylor Harbour is BATs, Cornwall’s sailing club for visually impaired people.  I recently met with the Helford Sailing Trust to learn about their ambitious plans to get more people afloat.

Then there are the special sand chairs at Gyllingvase beach that enable wheelchair users access to the beach and the sea. Cornwall Mobility, in partnership with Disability Cornwall & Isles of Scilly, works with Cornwall Council as well as a diverse range of coastal charities and businesses in providing all-terrain wheelchairs, also known as sand chairs, for the public to use on a number of beaches in Cornwall.  The all-terrain wheelchairs have been designed for outdoor use and have large inflatable wheels which allow them to roll over sand and pebbles with remarkable ease. This has allowed people with mobility challenges the pleasure and freedom to access and enjoy Cornwall’s beaches where they may have found it more difficult in the past.

While the wide range of recreational water-based activities available are undoubtedly fun and good exercise as well as enhancing our local tourist economy, they do bring challenges. I was delighted to open the newly refurbished National Coast Watch look out in Gerrans recently.  Staffed by volunteers who work in partnership with RNLI and Coastguard volunteers as well as our local emergency services coordinated by the Falmouth Coastguard, they help keep us safe on the sea and around our shores and rescue people if necessary. Together they provide an excellent service in promoting safety of the water and preventing harm.

Thank you also to the Royal Naval Association for organising the annual Falmouth Sea Sunday, including the parade from the Moor, a service in King Charles the Martyr Church and a parade to Events Square.

My grandfather was an electrician at the docks in Falmouth and, having grown up here, I understand how proud many local people feel about our close association with seafaring and the Royal Navy. When I was first elected I had the privilege of joining the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme with the Navy. As someone who has not served in our armed forces, this first-hand experience has proven invaluable in my role as an MP supporting our armed forces.

As A&P is one of the largest private sector employers in Cornwall, ensuring that A&P Falmouth secures and wins naval and RFA contracts has been a top priority. By working hard and constructively with both the management and trade unions at A&P Falmouth I am proud of our record of achievement. Not only do RFA ships continue to be serviced and maintained in Falmouth, but we won a new and important contract to weaponise some of the support vessels for our two new aircraft carriers.

A&P Falmouth is working in partnership with other UK yards and doing well in advancing bids to secure additional defence contracts for the docks in Falmouth, including for the new Type 31 e frigate. I have launched a campaign for one of the new frigates to be called HMS Cornwall. I ensure that Defence Procurement Ministers visit A&P Falmouth to see at first hand the excellent work that is undertaken and the positive relationship that we have with the Royal Navy and RFA.

Since being elected I have consistently promoted the industry and was delighted to have secured A&P Falmouth’s involvement with the independent review of British Shipbuilding undertaken by Sir John Parker. All the recommendations he gave to the government for future modernisation and investment have been accepted and I am delighted that the importance to our economy of ports, including Falmouth, is recognised.

I am proud of the investment this government is making in our Navy and that new ships are being built in the UK.  I want to see more and I will continue to work with the unions and management at A&P to secure new contracts and welcome grey ships into our harbour.

First published in the Falmouth Wave August edition