Monday, 26 September 2011

Working towards a fair public sector pensions settlement

I spent last week meeting a wide range of people working in our public services. I very much value the dedication of these men and women, who work hard to provide the wide range of services that we all depend on. 

I was treated to a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Devon & Cornwall Fire Service in my constituency, visiting not only both Truro & Falmouth Community Fire Stations but the Cornwall and parts of Devon control room in Truro.

While I found the tour very interesting and admired the skill and professionalism of those that I met, I most valued the opportunity to listen to the views and concerns of the fire fighters and members of staff I met about the future of their service.  The hot topic of conversation was the Hutton Report into the future of public sector pensions.  Over the past few months there have been negotiations between national union leaders and government representatives about changes to pension schemes.  Each occupation and profession within our public services is different and there are a range of different pension schemes with varying levels of employee contribution and benefits.

The proposed reforms put forward by Lord Hutton, a former Labour Minister, are far reaching and aim to strike the right balance in these very tough times, between affordability and sustainability as well as providing a good pension in retirement for the members of the pension scheme.  My pension, like those of all other MPs, is being reviewed as part of the same process.

From the conversations I have had over the past months, most people working in a public service understand that some reform is acceptable.  We all understand that on average people are living longer, although this does vary from occupation to occupation, that many people are now living longer in retirement than they spent working and that as a result, if we want a decent pension when we retire we will have to either work longer or make more contributions or a combination of both.  However, it is essential that any changes are fair and seen to be fair - to people of all ages.

Based on conversations with constituents over the past months as well as letters from people working in our public services, I have made a series of representations to the Minister responsible for the negotiations with unions and the Pensions Minister.  Later this month, we will be debating the final stages of the Pensions Bill.  I am particularly concerned about the impact of the accelerated introduction of a later retirement age on a group of women currently in their mid-fifties.  While I agree that women and men’s pension arrangements should be treated equally, these women have been hit particularly hard with changes over the years and I believe should have a smoother transition to the new arrangements.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Building homes for our childern

Striking the right balance between conserving our precious natural environment and enabling sustainable development will be a key issue for all of us in the weeks, months and years ahead. Local businesses, including food producers need space to grow and employ people, and local people need genuinely affordable homes to rent or buy. 

I believe people and communities are best placed to make the decisions on how to strike this balance and achieve the quality of life that we all value in Cornwall. I am pleased that the Government’s reforms of the planning system seek to achieve this. I am well aware that some people are concerned that these reforms will in someway lead to “concreting over the countryside”.  Whenever a government proposes change there are vested interests on all sides of the debate who often misrepresent those changes to aid their own cause.

So you can decide what you think about the proposed reforms, my team and I have produced a simple, plan English guide for you to consider. You can obtain it from my website or by calling my office.  After you have read it and need any more information or have questions and concerns you want to raise with me, I will be delighted to work with you. The Localism Bill that intends to bring in these changes is making its way through Parliament and I will take up your issues with Ministers.

If you would like me to visit a group in your community, such as a residents association, I will be delighted to come along and discuss the proposed changes with you.

I can assure readers that I will do everything in my power to protect our areas of outstanding natural beauty (ANOBs) and our environmentally valuable ecosystems. At the same time I will work closely with businesses and enterprises in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors that are creating new and good quality jobs for people of all ages.

There is evidence that, as a result of changes to how people live and the fact that overall we are living longer, we now have a housing crisis. This crisis worsened over the past decade, a period when there was a great deal of immigration into our country and when not enough genuinely affordable homes were built.

It is vital that we start building well-designed homes in well planned areas for local people to rent or buy so our children and grandchildren have somewhere to live.

Cornwall Council has good policies to help landlords bring empty properties back into use. For social rented housing as well as ‘affordable housing’ they also have the power to ensure that people with local connections to a particular town or village are prioritized for those homes. I have seen this being delivered well in St Agnes and Gerrans.

I believe the new homes that are being built in St Agnes are a great example of meeting local housing need in an attractive and sustainable way and congratulate all those in St Agnes who have supported this development.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Progress on heating oil prices

The Health and Social Care Bill was much amended in the House of Commons last week.  It has now moved to the House of Lords.  Many colleagues who had concerns about some aspects of the original Bill, as well as many doctors, nurses and clinicians are now satisfied with the improvements that have been made.  The greatest concern that has been expressed to me is that the NHS will be privatized.  This is not the case.  While there have always been a range of organisations providing healthcare in the NHS, the improvements in the Bill create a much stronger regulator ensuring that decisions about services will be decided on quality not price.  I am always happy to answer questions on this or any bills so please feel free to contact me.

Regular readers will be aware of the action I have taken over the past year to try and prevent a repeat of the dreadful price hikes in heating oil experienced by constituents last winter.  I felt that some companies were rigging the market.  I took this issue up with the Energy Minister personally and in Parliament.  I asked him to refer the issue to the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for investigation.  He did and the OFT has taken some decisive action to make sure that accurate information about suppliers and prices is now available.  The full report of their investigation is due out later this month and I will be watching closely to see that action is taken on any further recommendations, to ensure a properly functioning market that is not ripping off customers.

On Saturday, I enjoyed watching youngsters competing on Cathedral Green in Cornish Wrestling.  Apparently judo was based on this ancient sport!  Congratulations to all those involved in keeping this old Cornish sport alive.  It was also a rare treat to visit the Bell Tower of the Cathedral.  What a magnificent achievement for all those involved in fundraising for the new bells.

On Sunday, I joined the congregation of people of many different faiths in Truro Cathedral to commemorate the terrorist attacks on America ten years ago.  Like so many families across my constituency I felt personally involved in the events of 9/11 and appreciated the opportunity to reflect during the service of moving music and thought provoking words from the wide range of faith groups represented.

Banking Reforms proposed

I welcome the Vickers Report, and the commitment of the Chancellor to implement its recommendations:

Monday, 5 September 2011

Returning to Parliament for NHS debate

For the Newtons, like many families around my constituency, it’s back to school, college or university.  The long summer holidays and nail biting anticipation of exam results are over.  And for mum it’s back to Parliament.

The recess has enabled me to pull together some important meetings.  Most notably, inviting the Chancellor, George Osborne, to learn about the Port of Falmouth Master Plan by looking at the area and meeting key supporters of the scheme.

It is much easier to advocate for a place if key decision makers have visited and are familiar with the issues.  So I was equally pleased to welcome the Prime Minister, his wife and baby back to Treliske.

The recess has also enabled me to join in the fun of the many marvellous events organised by a legion of volunteers right across this constituency.  Paddling a home-made raft in the Porthscatho Regatta Raft Race was the most memorable and I am very grateful for the invitation from my intrepid paddling partner.  Congratulations to the organiser Keith Brown and his team for a really grand traditional village regatta.

With sand thoroughly washed from my feet, the first week back in Parliament will be spent debating and voting on amendments to the Health and Social Care Bill.  Over the past months I have been in touch with many constituents who have shared their opinions on all sides of the debate about reform of the NHS.  I appreciate people taking the time to write, e-mail or talking to me.  As we all depend on the NHS to a greater or lesser extent and all want to know that it will provide free, high quality care when we need it, I fully appreciate why any proposed changes cause concern.

I understand that most people who have been in touch with me about the future of the NHS want to see more decisions about their care and the health services they provide taken locally; more involvement of  clinicians, nurses and doctors in developing health services; more patient involvement and greater integration of health and other care services as well as cutting out waste and unnecessary bureaucracy.  I also understand that some people are worried about the introduction of too much competition based on price rather than quality of care and the break-up of the NHS.  I will be making sure that those concerns are fully debated and addressed.

Also this week, as part of the Health and Social Care Bill we will be debating proposed changes to how advice is given to women considering an abortion.  I believe women should be given as much advice and support as possible in coming to such an important and difficult decision.  I want to ensure that women are properly informed by highly qualified people. I support the Government’s plan for an independent review of this advice by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE).