Local Journalism

Last year, as part of the BBC charter renewal process, I campaigned for greater investment in high quality local journalism. BBC Radio Cornwall and Spotlight do a great job but I think we need additional news reporting. As more decisions, including about public expenditure is devolved across the UK, including Cornwall, it’s more important than ever that the media hold to account local politicians and public services.

I am pleased that the BBC set aside £8m a year to pay for 150 reporters, who will work for local news organisations rather than the BBC. The three Devon and Cornwall journalists cover council meetings and public services and share their stories with the BBC.

Getting to the heart of an issue should be straight forward. After all, we live in an age when it has never been easier to communicate and more data is published by independent and trustworthy sources like the Office for National Statistics than ever before. The Parliamentary website is a mine of free, impartial, expert and topical briefings.

Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future.

So I am pleased that the government has recently launched a review that will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate.

Transparency about MPs work in Parliament has helped improve public scrutiny. Given that there isn’t an equivalent to the Hansard Report of everything said and voted on in Parliament, we rely on journalists attending and reporting on local council meetings to shine a light on proceedings. Cornwall Council has large budgets and increasing influence about the future of local NHS services, house building and economic development, yet while some meetings are webcast and some papers published, it lacks transparency.

While the three additional BBC funded local journalists are a step in the right direction, I think more should be done and hope that the review will enable more high quality local journalism.

Finally, in response to a letter published in this newspaper last week, I thought you would appreciate this update on the facts. I had secured the commitment from NHS England to review the formula used to allocate funding not only to local NHS commissioning groups but also for treatments in hospital.

I have requested data from the leadership of the RCHT to make the case for how the formula needs to change for the benefit of patients in Cornwall.

Along with my Cornish MP colleagues we did secure a change in the formula that allocates funding to our local NHS Commissioners that sees Cornwall receiving more than the England average per person. I am determined to secure the further change necessary so the RCHT receives its fair share of funding.

First published in the West Briton 22/02/18

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Homelessness

We cannot accept rough sleeping as a stubborn problem that will always be with us. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting those who are homeless and rough sleeping and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

Tackling homelessness is complex, but no one should ever have to sleep rough. I have spent most of my adult life volunteering with organisations supporting homeless people and very much support St Petroc’s campaign to end homelessness in Cornwall.

I am pleased that this newspaper has done so much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people. Local residents have kindly provided a huge amount of help.

Using the additional Government funding that I helped secure for Cornwall Council, work started last summer with multiple publicly funded agencies, charities and housing providers from across the county joining forces on the Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy, to help stop homelessness in the first place, help get rough sleepers into housing and provide support to keep rough sleepers off the streets permanently.

As a result of much improved team work there are fewer people rough sleeping in Cornwall than last year. Out of all of the local authority areas in the country, Cornwall showed the biggest reduction in rough sleepers. In November 2016 there were reported to be 99 people sleeping on the streets and by November 2017 that figure had been cut to 68.

There is still so much more that needs to be done. I am pleased that leading experts from homelessness charities, housing and local government met for the first time last week as part of the government’s new rough sleeping advisory panel and committed to work together to help eliminate rough sleeping within a decade.

The new panel chaired by Homelessness Minister, Heather Wheeler, will help develop the national rough sleeping strategy to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

Made up of experts, charities and local government, including from Cornwall Housing, the panel will draw on their considerable experience and individual successes to support the Ministerial Taskforce. This will bring together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness.

The government’s determined, more holistic and joined up approach, as well as new investment is making a positive difference that will end this stubborn problem.

First published in the West Briton 08/02/18

Disability Confident

As the trend towards the lowest unemployment in over 40 years continues, it’s important that employers in every sector benefit from recruiting from a wide talent pool.

We know that the retail sector employs over 5 million people in the UK, and this represents a significant opportunity for a range of retail businesses to take meaningful action to increase disability employment, while making the most of the skills and talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Disability Confident is about getting employers of all sizes to think differently about disability and to take action to attract, recruit and retain disabled workers, giving businesses the confidence to ensure disabled people will have the support they need to thrive in the workplace.

Of course, each sector faces different challenges and has different needs, and that’s why we’re launching a retail specific campaign to encourage employers in this sector to join more than 5,500 other employers nationwide in sending a powerful message to potential employees.

Retailers of all sizes can gain valuable insight from their disabled employees to improve the customer experience. Employing more disabled people isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

Retailers by nature serve a diverse customer base, so it’s important that patrons see this diversity reflected to them in the staff who serve them.

Top supermarket Sainsbury’s is one of our Disability Confident Leaders, and they are encouraging others to sign up to the scheme to promote an inclusive culture.

Andrew works for Sainsbury’s in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and has a mental health condition. He appreciates working in an environment where disclosing his disability has been welcomed.

What worked for Andrew was the culture of openness that the chain encourages, where at previous workplaces stress was an accepted part of the job.

As an employer, make sure you have a clear signposting process to make it easy for people like Andrew to reach out, or simply start a conversation.

Our retail Sector Champion, Helen Drury, was appointed alongside champions across a range of industries to support the rights of disabled consumers. She has been working with us over the past year to show other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

I want this retail campaign to build on this great work and mark a turning point in how the sector caters for disabled employees and those with mental health conditions, so that retailers can benefit from this huge untapped pool of talent.

Find out how your business can sign up to the scheme and join the campaign, or share your experiences of disability confidence below. I’d love to hear your stories.

For more information on Disability Confident, visit: www.gov.uk/disability-confident

Funding for Cornwall’s NHS

Like most local families, I depend on our local NHS and will continue to work hard to ensure we have high quality local NHS services.

NHS staff provide invaluable support to us all in our time of greatest need and deserve our deepest gratitude for their tireless efforts, particularly during this challenging winter period with so many people suffering from flu.

In 2010, the Conservative-led coalition government faced perilous public finances. Many public services had to make significant savings to help reduce Labour’s deficit, which stood at record levels in 2009/10. The Department of Health’s budget has been consistently protected since 2010 and continues to rise.

It is absolutely false for Labour to claim that the Health budget was cut since 2010. The 2010 Spending Review included real terms increases in overall NHS funding; an additional £1 billion per year for social care; a new cancer drugs fund, expanding access to psychological therapies, and continued increases in staffing.

From 2015, the Conservative Government continued to increase investment in the NHS: from £101 billion in 2015 to £120 billion by 2020.

Far from lagging behind similar nations, new research from the Nuffield Trust shows that the UK spends above the EU and OECD averages on healthcare, as a percentage of GDP. It found that Britain spent 9.8 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, compared to the average for the EU-15 of 9.7 per cent.

This investment will ensure that everyone has access to NHS hospitals and GP services 7 days a week. There are now over 11,000 more doctors and 11,000 more nurses working in the NHS than in May 2010. The number of patients being treated is at record levels and public satisfaction amongst hospital inpatients is at its highest levels in more than two decades.

This Government has a proud record of investing in the NHS: in 2017, £435 million was provided to the NHS to prepare A&E departments for the winter and to support the NHS throughout the most challenging months of the year. An additional £2 billion is being invested in Adult Social Care, which will relieve pressure on the NHS, and the NHS is offering free flu jabs to 21 million to protect them this winter, the highest number ever.

Since being elected in 2010, I have worked hard to ensure that our local NHS is fairly funded. The totally impartial House of Commons Library has produced a briefing providing information about NHS funding in Cornwall. It shows we receive more per head than the England average. A copy is on my website or please call my office 01872 274760 and they will send you a copy in the post.

Please be assured that during this time of unprecedented demands on our NHS, I will continue to ensure that funding for health and care in Cornwall continues to increase. But it’s not just about more funding, it’s also about joining up health and care services for patients and families in Cornwall.

First published in the West Briton 01/02/18

NHS Update – Going Forward

Thank you to the many people who have responded to the NHS England consultation on a new model for radiotherapy services in England. Radiotherapy is a core part of modern cancer treatment. It can cure cancers, can assist in alleviating symptoms and is second only to surgery in its effectiveness. The development of the proposed service specification sits alongside NHS England’s £130 million investment in radiotherapy equipment which was announced last year.

The consultation ends on 24 January. You can email: england.npoc-cancer@nhs.net or write to:   Radiotherapy Consultation, NHS England, Floor 3B, Skipton House, 80 London Road, London, SE1 6LH.

Sadly, some time ago my mum died of cancer. I know how important access to high quality cancer services are to families living in the Duchy. I remember the strain on my mum and dad, having to travel to Plymouth for some of her radiotherapy treatment. My father starts radiotherapy at Treliske soon so like every local family I want to see local cancer services move forward not backwards.

Like many families we helped raise the funds to build the Sunrise Rise Centre at Treliske. While NHS England’s proposals won’t affect the majority of cancer patients, they might affect approximately 300 patients with rarer forms of cancer as well as the professional development of our local oncologists and radiographers. So please if you haven’t already done so, consider responding to the NHS England consultation.

Last week along with my colleagues, at one of our regular meetings, I met with leaders of our local NHS services to discuss progress improving health and care outcomes for local people. I was pleased to learn that the recent transfer of the 111 non-emergency phone service, out of hours GP service and ambulance service to the control of our local GPs has gone well. I am also really pleased that GP appointments were available over the holiday period. It is good to see our local NHS clinicians lead and commission more of our local NHS and care services.

As you are aware our local health and care system is in “special measures” and is receiving extra support from NHS England to improve outcomes for local people. New senior managers are being funded in both Cornwall Council and the NHS to enable more effective joint working. The long awaited joined up commissioning of adult social care should start later this year.

Regular readers of this column will know of my work since being elected in 2010 to bring more mental health services into Cornwall. So, I was pleased to learn that the ground should be broken on the new Adolescent Residential Mental Health Unit at Bodmin in April. I worked very closely with our local NHS leaders to secure the majority of the funding for this new service. I am also pleased that funding has been secured to extend the number of beds for adults at Longreach. This will prevent local people having to leave the county to receive residential mental health services.

First published in the West Briton 18/01/18

Disability Confident

While we have near record levels of people in employment, too many disabled people are missing out. We need to close the gap between the number of disabled people who want to work and the opportunities available to do so – not just to benefit those who have the skills and desire to work, but also to ensure employers are not missing out on a huge pool of talent.

Many employers already have a strong track record in this area, which is why we want to encourage a business to business approach where organisations can learn from each other.

A range of government support is on offer from our Access to Work service, which provides disabled people with support or adjustments they need in the workplace, to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps employers do more to recruit and retain disabled workers. To date more than 5,000 employers have signed up to Disability Confident. Across the country, almost 600,000 disabled people have entered work in the last four years. I’m determined to build on this so that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.

Last week I helped launch our ten year vision to see one million more disabled people work. Our new Work and Health Programme brings together employers, the welfare system and health services and will not only support disabled people and people with health conditions who want to enter work, but also focus on supporting them to stay in work. No two people are the same and the Health and Work Programme will be testing and evaluating new approaches to find out what works best.

The change needed is not one Government can deliver alone. We all have a part to play to enable disabled people to play as full a part in our community as possible.

First published in the West Briton

Our vision to help disabled people thrive in the workplace

While we have near record levels of people in employment, too many disabled people are missing out. We want everyone to have the opportunity to go as far as their talents can take them – not just to benefit those who have the skills and desire to work, but also to ensure employers are not missing out on vital skills.

As I began my new role as Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, I was surprised to learn that around one in six working aged adults report having a disability. During the last two weeks, I’ve seen some of the excellent work underway to improve employment opportunities for disabled people. I heard from employers from across the country who are creating opportunities for disabled people and ensuring they don’t miss out on the full range of local talent.

Behind the numbers are individual people and it is inspiring to meet disabled employees who are thriving in the workplace thanks to a supportive environment and small adjustments that help them to do their job. Many employers already have a strong track record in this area, which is why we are encouraging a business to business approach where organisations can learn from each other.

A range of government support is on offer from our Access to Work service, which provides disabled people with support or adjustments they need in the workplace, to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps employers do more to recruit and retain disabled workers. To date more than 5,000 employers have signed up to Disability Confident. Across the country, there are almost 600,000 more disabled people in work than there were in 2013. I’m determined to build on this so that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.

While we have made progress on disability employment in recent years, there’s still much more to do. Last October the Government consulted through our Work, Health and Disability Green Paper on what needs to be done to support more disabled people into employment. We asked for views from disabled people, employers, charities and others on how we can change attitudes among employers as well as improving local services so that we can break down the barriers disabled people still face in the labour market.

Today we launch our bold 10 year vision to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027. Our strategy on the future of work, health and disability brings together employers, the welfare system and health services. We will not only support disabled people and people with health conditions to enter work, but also focus on preventing people from having to leave employment with supporting them to stay in work. No two people are the same and we will be testing and evaluating new approaches to find out what works best.

The change needed is not one Government can deliver alone. We all have a part to play in creating the culture change that’s needed. Only by coming together, working together, will we be able to improve all our working lives by creating more inclusive, good working environments.

First published in the Times