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

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Investing in our public services

We all depend on our much-valued public services and it’s been good to catch up with local leaders.

Thanks to the dedicated work of our NHS professionals, local health services are improving. Cornwall is also receiving more funding than in the past. Working with our local NHS, I made 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.

Our NHS funding will continue to increase. 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.

The interventions of NHS England are also helping Treliske turn a corner and significantly improve patient safety and timelines in accessing services. Treliske has always been highly rated for the quality of care provided by staff.

This year we will see the publication and public consultation of the Mental Health Strategy for Cornwall. Along with a significant increase in spending on mental health services for people of all ages. With the assistance of dedicated government and parish council funding, there is more GP social prescribing too.

I have been working with our Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), Alison Hernandez, to raise my concerns that we don’t have enough visible policing in our community. So I am pleased our Police this year will receive more resources. 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 the 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. A new ‘No Excuse’ prevention team will be 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.

While I believe it is essential to have visible community policing, 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 more ‘traditional’ crimes.

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.

First published in the West Briton 18/04/19

Welcoming Cornwall’s new Tri-Service Safety Officers

Last week I had the honour of participating in a passing out ceremony of eight new Tri-Service Safety Officers (TSSO). This role is a collaboration between Devon & Cornwall Police, South Western Ambulance Service (NHS) Foundation Trust and Cornwall Fire, Rescue & Community Safety Service.  

The TSSO role was developed in Cornwall in 2013 with an innovation grant of £200,000 from the Government. It’s important that we are constantly investing in new ways of delivering public services, responding to changing demands and circumstances, while at the same time delivering good value to the taxpayer. Since then it continues to evolve and become stronger in its brand and role within the community. We now have ten permanent TSSO’s across Cornwall. 

The TSSO role is jointly funded by all three emergency services. The role provides an emergency response for critical incidents within Fire and Ambulance and covers the community side and engagement of Policing. 

The role is primarily focussed on engagement, early intervention, prevention and reducing demand on emergency services. The TSSO has access to all three emergency services IT systems and this provides significant advantages in terms of understanding the ‘whole’ picture when it comes to safeguarding and information sharing between services.  

An award was presented to TSSO Andrew Hichens to recognise his outstanding achievements over a 15-month period between May 2015 and August 2017. He attended 499 police logged incidents, 181 incidents for the fire service and 226 ambulance calls. Andrew has been involved in 61 anti-social behaviour cases and 56 low level crime investigations. Additional prevention work has seen him undertake 322 home safety visits; he has made 159 safeguarding referrals and conducted 90 school/youth intervention meetings. 

From 1 April the new TSSO’s will be introducing themselves to their local councillors and communities. Each TSSO will be working in partnership with people and organisations in their communities, adapting to the local needs of the people they serve. The TSSOs will also be working closely with their respective Cornwall Council Community Link Officers to support and address any specific local concerns. 

The TSSOs are located in rural and coastal communities which analytical data shows would benefit from an increased presence from all three emergency services. 

I was delighted to meet Phillip Graham who will be based in Perranporth and will serve the surrounding community, an area he knows well as the area’s former PCSO. 

Last week I voted for the largest increase in funding for the Police in some time. I am pleased that our Police and Crime Commissioner’s plans for Cornwall, developed with the public, were voted through by our Police & Crime Panel. This will see Cornwall recruiting more much needed police officers.  

Over the next few months, in Falmouth and Penryn, I am surveying residents’ opinion, including about whether the universities, as they do in other areas, should be asked to make a financial contribution for additional police resources. I am asking how residents feel additional resources could be spent for the benefit of the whole community. 

First published in the West Briton 14/02/19

Combating Online Child Sexual Exploitation

The National Crime Agency (NCA) tells me that child sexual exploitation is quite simply one of the most harmful threats that we face.

Each month, there are over 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.  Then there are other sites like MyLoL – which disturbingly markets itself as a ‘teenage dating application’ for 13-25 year olds.  There is virtual reality too; earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage with sexual activity with a child on at least 500 occasions.  His chosen conduit was ‘MovieStarPlanet’ – a popular site for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to elicit indecent images of the child.  Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from online platform to another, switching to ‘private’ one-to-one communication methods like Skypeor live-stream video chat, like Periscope.

All of us – parents, law enforcement, schools, peers – have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20 million through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming.

The Internet companies, working with government have helped find some solutions but they now need to go much further and faster.

First published in the West Briton

Tackling Modern Slavery

Just over two years since the Prime Minister’s landmark Modern Slavery Act came into force, Anti-Slavery Day represents an ideal opportunity to assess just how far we have come in our fight against this horrendous crime.

Impressive progress has been made in raising awareness of this barbaric crime and sending a resounding message that the UK will not tolerate the exploitation of the vulnerable.

Three years ago this scourge was firmly restricted to the shadows; the term ‘modern slavery’ was hardly in the public consciousness, while it remained a brutal reality for thousands of people living all around us – often exploited in plain sight.

Today you would struggle to find someone who couldn’t name an example of this appalling crime – from a domestic servant, to a young man or woman forced to work for many hours at a car wash for little to no pay. We as a country are now painfully aware of the suffering being inflicted every day. And thankfully we are seeing new prosecutions brought each month and thousands of innocent victims protected.

But the problem is far from solved and it is not going to be without further action to develop our knowledge about this appalling crime and adjust our response accordingly. Earlier this year, the Home Office undertook a comprehensive analysis of the nature of modern slavery in the UK. We were already ahead of most countries in producing a rigorous assessment of the scale of the issue in the country – with an estimated 10,000-13,000 potential victims – but we also wanted to know more about the nature of the crime, to help build on the very limited evidence base around it.

Our research, published recently, identified 17 distinct types of modern slavery under four broad groups – domestic servitude, sexual, labour and criminal exploitation. This includes British children being groomed and subsequently enslaved by urban gangs to bring illegal drugs to people in Cornwall and around the country, collecting the money and returning.

This knowledge, while shocking, is essential to developing the best possible response to this terrible crime. We will use it to improve our understanding of how to prevent people falling into slavery. And it will help us to develop further guidance for front-line workers, and to help banks and other institutions identify patterns of behaviour so they can disrupt these predators and help us further raise awareness of this terrible form of abuse.

But no matter what we do to eradicate the sickening and inhuman crimes associated with modern slavery here in the UK, true success can only be achieved by looking beyond our own borders and taking the fight onto the global stage.

In 2015 world leaders agreed a new set of universal goals and targets which all countries need to strive for to achieve sustainable development, and the UK successfully pushed for a target on eradicating human trafficking, modern slavery, forced labour and child labour. And in September this year during a Meeting of the UN General Assembly, 37 countries endorsed the Prime Minister’s call to action. At the same time the UK pledged to double its aid spending on modern slavery to £150m.

This includes £33.5m funding towards achieving that goal by targeting it in high-risk countries, from where we know victims are regularly trafficked to the UK.

Last year the Prime Minister announced £5m of this funding to address modern slavery in Nigeria, and today I am pleased to announce that we will be investing £3m to tackle the issue in Vietnam, from where we know so many victims are trafficked with the promise of a better life, only to find themselves enslaved in brothels, cannabis factories or nail bars.

This money will help to catch offenders, support victims and stop people falling into slavery in the first place.

The Prime Minister’s Modern Slavery Taskforce is driving forward the domestic and global response, and just this week agreed improvements to the National Referral Mechanism, the system we use to identify and support victims in this country.

Those who would profit from modern slavery, are finding it more challenging to ply their despicable trade today than at the start of 2015 – while in the UK victims have a world-leading support network.

But we are under no illusion that this is a fight that will be won quickly or easily. it is vital that we continue to develop our knowledge, to adapt our tactics, put invest both locally and globally and, most importantly, put victims at the heart of everything we do if we are to truly consign slavery to the history books.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Clamping Down on Acid Attacks

We have seen a worrying increase in reports of attacks using acid or other similar substances as offensive weapons. Of course violence of any kind is unacceptable, but there is something particularly troubling about these kinds of attacks. Corrosive substances cause severe burns and serious tissue damage. All too frequently, victims’ lives are altered forever. Nobody should have to go through the kind of mental and physical trauma they suffer.

I have heard from victims and survivors, including from Truro, and they are at the heart of the new plan to tackle these appalling crimes that, as Home Office Minister, I announced in Parliament last week.

While mercifully there are relatively few attacks, I am acutely aware of this growing problem and I refuse to let those behind such attacks spread fear through our society. The law in this area is already strong, with acid attackers facing up to a life sentence. Meanwhile, by law, suspicious transactions involving sulphuric acid must be reported to police.

But there are ways we can and will improve. The plan I announced in Parliament is wide-ranging and a comprehensive cross-Government review of our response to this profoundly concerning phenomenon.

Earlier this month the Home Office, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, hosted a conference which brought together a range of organisations and people united by a determination to make a difference, from law enforcement, from Government, from the medical sector, mental health experts and representatives of the retail industry. Because there is no one simple answer, this joined-up approach has informed this action plan.

And we need to make sure that when these attacks do take place, victims are given the care and support they need; from the initial medical response to giving evidence in court and throughout the recovery process.

Supporting people through the Government’s drugs strategy

Drugs destroy countless lives. They lead to crime, violence and disorder on our streets. They are one of the creeping and corrosive threats to our society that we must do more to tackle. But I am also determined to do all I can to protect the most vulnerable, who too often become the victims. I am proud to have played my part in the development of the Government’s new drug strategy which sets out how we will tackle the deadly impact of drugs, including substances like spice or fentanyl.

Drugs are illegal because they devastate lives. They are illegal because traffickers target vulnerable people all over the world and exploit their misery. They are illegal because of the agony caused by those solely focused on their next fix.

Last year, the Psychoactive Substances Act introduced a blanket ban on so-called ‘legal highs’, meaning back-yard chemists can no longer dodge the law by making small changes to the make up of dangerous drugs.

Being tough on drugs is vital, but it cannot be all we do.

It is vital we protect the vulnerable – to prevent them falling into the cycle of drug abuse and to help them turn their lives around. Doing so will spare countless families the agony of seeing a loved one’s life destroyed. It could save lives. And it will reduce the burden placed on our public services, in particular the police and the NHS.

While drug use is falling we are not complacent and are redoubling our efforts to prevent children taking drugs.

The new post of Recovery Champion will travel up and down the country, meeting NHS staff, police officers, teachers, community groups and local authorities, who all have a vital role to play in enabling people to live their lives free of drugs.

First Published in the West Briton 18/07/17