Monday, 31 January 2011

Welcoming reforms to the NHS

In Westminster today I welcomed the second reading of the Health and Social Care Bill. The Bill will ensure that patients, clinicians and local communities have a far greater say in shaping and delivering health and care services in Cornwall.

Having campaigned on NHS issues in Cornwall since my selection as a candidate, I feel that the Bill’s reforms will enable improvements to be made to NHS governance, care and safety regulations, as well as boosting the local democratic accountability of the service.

The full text of my speech welcoming the Bill can be found through the below link:

The importance of evidence-based policy making

Good decisions are based on sound evidence.  Making sure that Ministers have a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing people working in public services here is very important to me.  

I was pleased to have secured meetings with Ministers and Detective Inspector Snell and the team in Devon & Cornwall Constabulary, so they can inform the development of government policy and police resourcing to tackle the growing incidence of child sexual exploitation.  Much more needs to be done to raise awareness with parents and all those working with children and young people about sexual exploitation.  Also, more needs to be done in tackling aspects of the criminal justice system in relation to these crimes.

I was delighted to visit Roseland Community College on Friday and talk with teachers and pupils.  As a result, and following conversations with other teachers in local schools, I will be taking up various points with Michael Gove.  I am looking forward to my next visit when I will be put through my paces by students.

The House of Commons spent most of last week debating the European Union Bill.  Like many people I was dismayed that the last Government signed the Lisbon Treaty, passing more decision-making powers to the EU, without a referendum.  This Bill ensures that no government will be able to do this again.

The Bill also ensures that if there are any future changes to an EU treaty, moving power or responsibility for an area of policy from the UK to the EU, then the Government will have to ask the British people's consent in a national referendum before the change can be agreed.

The Bill will also affects the European Union’s use of ratchet clauses or "passerelles" – provisions in existing EU treaties that allow the rules of the EU to be modified or expanded without the need for a formal treaty change.  From now on the UK Government will require an Act of Parliament consenting to the modification, before it can agree to the passing of a ratchet clause.

On Thursday, I met with Falmouth Harbour Commissioners for a debrief on their meeting with the Marine Management Organisation to discuss the next steps in securing the necessary licenses for dredging Falmouth Harbour.  I will continue to work with all concerned to find a way forward that balances the protection of our marine environment with unlocking the potential economic prosperity of our port.

Always an inspiration, I appreciated the time that a number of local voluntary organisations gave me this week, updating me on their vital work in supporting residents in our community.  While I am no stranger to the work of St. Petroc’s, I was pleased to learn of their new service, providing overnight accommodation for homeless people in Truro during the extremely cold weather this winter.  On Saturday, I popped into the Malabar Centre Open Day to listen to the team who are continuing to develop a range of interesting activities for the whole community in an attractive setting.

Finally, following my weekly advice surgery, I met Cornwall Partners in Care about a wide range of issues concerning businesses who are providers of home and residential care.  We are fortunate in Cornwall to have care providers with such passion, dedication and commitment to high standards of care for elderly and disabled people in Cornwall.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Building an exciting future for Cornwall’s youth

Last Wednesday, I welcomed to Parliament some college students from Cornwall, including a member of the Youth Parliament, who participated in a peaceful demonstration and lobby regarding the future of the Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).  I also met a former Cornwall College lecturer and union representative.  While a number of people have written to me regarding the Coalition’s changes to the EMA, I always value the opportunity of discussing policies directly with constituents.

I am also pleased that the Head of Cornwall College was able to give evidence to the Education Select Committee on EMA amongst other things.  Evidence given to Select Committees is very useful in helping Members of Parliament scrutinise and influence the Government’s plans.

In our meeting we talked through barriers that might prevent someone aged 16 plus from staying on in education, including issues such as the all too real high cost of transport in Cornwall.  The college students I talked with described how they felt many of their classmates, parents and adults in our community did not value the benefits that education could bring both in terms of happiness and improved employment opportunities.  As a result they did not feel enabled to stay in education.   They also felt a sense of entitlement to EMA as it was presented to them as ‘paying youngsters to stay at school or college’.

Where there are real financial barriers that will prevent young people from staying in education beyond aged 16 years, money is and will continue to be available to support them.  How this money is spent will be decided locally and not in Whitehall.  There is evidence, however, from an independent report commissioned by the last Labour Government that EMA is not necessary for everyone who has received it in the past.  The Labour Party leader acknowledges that EMA needs reforming so that savings can be made.

More needs to be done to enable young people to have holiday or ‘Saturday’ jobs to help them with the cost of living.  I understand from talking with people who run small businesses who would like to be able to employ teenagers for a ‘Saturday’ job, that there can be very real barriers ranging from the need for CRB checks to rigid regulations.  I would like to hear from local employers who are encountering difficulties with employing young people so I can find ways to overcome those obstacles.  In the very competitive global jobs market work experience, as well as good qualifications, is increasingly important.

On Thursday, during a debate on the excellent plan that Frank Field MP has written for the Government on tackling child poverty and improving the chances for the most disadvantaged in our community, I was able to again raise the issue of CRB checks while I was mentioning the excellent voluntary work of our local Rotarians in primary reading.

I also believe that apprenticeships are a great way for young people to combine work with education and fully support The Cornishman’s campaign to promote the benefits of apprenticeships with employers as well as potential apprentices.

We all need to do what we can to help young people to fully appreciate what good educational opportunities they have open to them in Cornwall and while it may be hard, it is worth the effort to make the most of them.

Friday, 21 January 2011

What more can be done to improve the life chances of disadvantaged children

Today I participated in one of the best debates I have joined since being elected. It didn’t make the news probably because there was all party support for the work that Frank Field MP has undertaken for the new Coalition government. There are few subjects that are of greater interest to the new MPs than how we can improve the opportunities for children from the poorest backgrounds to reach their potential. It’s a pity the public do not see the expertise and commitment that MPs and the ‘new intake’ in particular are bringing to their work in parliament. Frustratingly while understandable the media’s interest in presenting the differences denies the public seeing how constructively parliament can work sometimes.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Meeting Cornwall College Students in Westminster

 In Westminster today I met with constituents concerned by proposals to reform the current system of Educational Maintenance Allowance (EMA).

I am supportive of the Government’s intention to target extra financial support at the students who require it the most. However I am keen to ensure that the Government takes all possible factors into account during this process of reform. I was therefore grateful to my constituents for passing their concerns onto me, bringing my attention to specific issues such as the high cost of travel for students in Cornwall.  

I was pleased to see the Head of Cornwall College, Mr David Linell, giving evidence to the Education Select Committee, regarding similar issues.

I have taken up these concerns, especially regarding the costs of transport for young people getting to and from College.  The replacement to EMA is currently under review, and I am hopeful that the concerns expressed by myself and Mr Linell, will be taken into close account during this process.

I am looking forward to discussing this further when I meet with the Cornwall Youth Parliament in February.

Sarah Newton MP urges residents to sign Coastguard petition

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Reforming the way Council housing is funded

I today welcomed representatives from Cornwall, Stockport and Wandsworth Councils to Westminster.

I have been working with these councils on proposals for reform to the way in which council housing is financed. The proposed reforms will mean that councils can keep the money that they collect from tenants, which gives them a far greater ability to reinvest in their housing stock through better maintenance, repair work and building more council houses.

Our meeting with Housing Minster Grant Shapps was useful and productive and I am looking forward to continuing to work closely with Ministers and the three councils to make sure that the implementation of this new policy is a success.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Goverment must pay heed to local opinion

The first week back in Westminster saw the final stages of the Postal Services Bill being debated.  The Bill will provide the Royal Mail Group and Post Office Ltd with the sustainable financial plan they need.  There will be no more forced Post Office closures and instead new investment and new ideas will be encouraged.

During this transition, I am particularly keen to see that our local post offices (many of which are small businesses and all provide essential services to local people) continue to maintain their vital income from the Royal Mail and the Government so that these services can remain, particularly those such as enabling pensioners to cash their pensions cheques.

I have received assurances from Ministers regarding both concerns.  I am also determined that the new Government learns our lessons regarding the change of location of the Falmouth Post Office.  I want to ensure the new regulation of postal services enabled by the Bill prevent Post Office Ltd from ignoring the legitimate concerns of local people.

On Friday, I again met with Falmouth Coastguard and will be making representations to Vice Admiral Sir Alan Massey, Chief Executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency who is the architect of the modernisation proposals currently being considered.  I will continue to do all I can to ensure local opinion is heard loud and clear in Westminster.  In addition to personal representations I am pushing for a debate in Parliament with the Minister.

Using the helpful information received from constituents, I took my campaign to prevent customers of fuel oil from being ripped-off back to the Minister responsible.  I want to ensure the Office of Fair Trade (OFT) has the information it needs to take action.

On Monday, I welcomed the Localism Bill which will provide the enduring legislative foundation for a new, decentralised Britain, where power is returned to the people to which it belongs.  I believe that communities should have the freedom to manage their own affairs in their way and be empowered, not suppressed, by Government.  The Bill will enact new rights allowing local people to shape and influence the places where they live, revolutionising the planning process by passing power down to those who know best about their neighbourhoods.

The Bill includes many policies aimed at enabling communities to build genuinely affordable homes for local people.  The Community Right to Build enables communities, voting with a simple majority in favour, to grant themselves planning permission to build new homes.

The success of many of the policies detailed in the Bill, including the Community Right to Build will depend on who in each community has the right to vote.

With one in 20 properties in Cornwall a second home and in some villages and hamlets a significant percentage not being lived in full-time, it is essential that any confusion about who can vote in the local referendum is resolved.

I have raised concerns with the Electoral Commission and in Parliament about confusion over second or multiple home registration and believe that it is essential to have this issue fully considered, debated and resolved by the time the Bill enables these powers in Cornwall.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Encouraging Job Growth in Cornwall

I was delighted to visit Volunteer Cornwall  in Truro. It was a pleasure to hear about the varied projects local volunteers were involved in, and the positive effect these projects had in my constituency, and across Cornwall. I was forcibly reminded of the beneficial effect volunteering has, not just on the people and places who are helped, but on the individuals who participate, and the communities that are drawn together by becoming involved.  

I was pleased to be able to discuss the Coalition Government’s Work Programme with staff at the centre. The programme is the Government’s key initiative to help people into work, and recognises the crucial role the voluntary sector can play in this process.

In December 2010 the number of unemployed job seekers claimants in Truro and Falmouth constituency was 1,377. This is 193 lower than in December 2009.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A changing NHS in Cornwall

The NHS has moved on since May 2010. Changes to the way that the NHS makes decisions about altering services have been made to ensure more patient and clinical involvement in a more open and transparent process. Members of staff have been given more protection if they speak out. Had these measures been in place at the time the decision to centralize some specialist cancer services across Devon and Cornwall was made, it is hard to imagine that the fear, suspicion, loss of public confidence and the cost to the tax payer of considering the resultant claims and counter claims about what actually happened would be occurring. The current situation is a damning indictment of the way the last government led the NHS.

The Verita Review was published last week, and this together with the Independent Reconfiguration Panel Report and the Employment Tribunal that considered John Watkinson’s dismissal from the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT) have provided information about what happened in our local NHS over the past few years. The information portrays a sorry chapter in the history in the NHS in Cornwall. It demonstrates the problems that arise when there is lack of open and locally accountable decision-making.

The Coalition is determined to reform the governance of the NHS. The necessary legislation will be considered by parliament over the course of this year. I will work hard to try and ensure that our experience in Cornwall informs this work as I believe it is an essential component in driving up standards of patient care.

In the mean time, it is very important to me that if anyone has any concerns or questions regarding the Verita Review that they contact me or Andrew George MP with whom I am working on this. I am particularly concerned to ensure that all those who participated in the Review are satisfied that their evidence is accurately reflected in the final report. The RCHT have appealed the finding of the Employment Tribunal.
Once the outcome of this is reported, if there are remaining questions to be answered, I will consider how best to pursue them.