Sunday, 22 January 2017

Fair funding for NHS and social care

My article in this coming week’s Cornish Guardian is on health and social care. It will be as follows:

The future of the National Health Service and the crisis in social care continues to dominate both British and Cornish politics – and rightly so.

Theresa May has come in for considerable criticism for some ill-advised comments, in which she attempted to downplay problems in the NHS.

Simon Stevens, the head of the NHS, has slammed the Prime Minister for claiming that the health service “had been given more money than it asked for,” while many others condemned the UK Government for failing to live up to its pre-election pledge to “give the NHS what it needs.”

Anyone in Cornwall following the debate around the local NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) can see the hollowness of the PM’s claims, with the pressure to cut £264 million from the Cornish health service.

In addition, Mr Stevens also hit out at another statement from Mrs May that suggested elements of the present crisis had been “caused by the poor management of hospitals.”

Significantly, Dr Sarah Woolaston, who chairs the Health Select Committee, declined to support her own government for its attempts to blame GPs for pressures on accident & emergency departments, adding that it was unacceptable to scapegoat family doctors.

Conservative-run Surrey County Council has meanwhile announced plans to increase council tax by 15% to specifically fund social care – which will be presented to local voters in a referendum.

The council leader has laid the blame for the proposed tax hike at the door of central government cuts. He told the media that: “Government has cut our annual grant by £170m since 2010 – leaving a huge gap in our budget. Demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children’s services is increasing every year. So … we have no choice but to propose this increase in council tax."

All in all, it was a move which was embarrassing for the UK Government and particularly uncomfortable for a number of prominent Tories who represent Surrey constituencies, including the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond and the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

I was disappointed that opposition groups in Surrey did not use the opportunity to join the Conservative councillors in putting pressure on central government on this issue, but preferred to seek some local political advantage from impact of such a “huge” proposed council tax increase.

From my perspective, I share the view expressed in the editorial in last week’s Cornish Guardian, that a political consensus is needed to safeguard the NHS and to properly fund social care.

All political parties need to rise above their own short-term self-interest and come together to do what is in the best interests of local communities.

Proper action needed on "second homes"

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian (published on 18th January) focused on central government announcements on housing. It was as follows:

At the very end of 2016, the Government announced that it would be making £60 million available to help “tackle the problem of high levels of second homeownership” in certain communities across the United Kingdom.

Cornwall Council has been awarded over £5 million pounds – a very significant proportion of the overall “Community Housing Fund” – because of the number of properties occupied on a part-time basis in our area.

The announcement also made it clear that the money should go towards the provision of affordable housing, which would be provided in partnership with “community-led” organisations such as the Cornwall Community Land Trust (CCLT).

This initiative has been widely welcomed, with the CCLT praising central government for recognising this “long standing problem” and prioritising Cornwall with its funding.

And it is, of course, refreshing to finally see representatives of the Government acknowledging that second homes are a significant issue in many coastal and rural communities.

The press release from the Department of Communities and Local Government states that “second home ownership is at an all-time high” and is “crowding out first time buyers and causing a shortage of available properties.”

It added that: “Often second homes stand empty for a large proportion of the time which can also affect community cohesion, affect the demographics of an area and distort local housing markets.”

The Housing Minister Gavin Barwell was reported as saying that the “high number of second homes can be a frustration for many who struggle to find an affordable home in their community.”

Mr Barwell’s comment about “frustration” is certainly a massive “under-statement” as far as I am concerned.

It is also my view that this new investment in affordable housing does not go far enough and will do little to combat the truly dysfunctional nature of the present housing market.

It would be manifestly wrong to blame all housing problems on second homes.

Indeed, in the context of local-needs housing, it needs to be pointed out that the UK Government has massively slashed funding for affordable homes; it has pushed for publicly-owned rental properties to be lost through right-to-buy; it has forced Housing Associations to charge higher rents for their properties, making them less affordable; and it has changed planning rules so that developers provide less affordable homes on their developments.

If the UK Government was truly serious about combating second homes, it would introduce planning restrictions to stop and then reverse the spread of such properties. It is my view that planning permission should be needed to turn a family home into a second home and if more than 5% of the housing stock in a particular settlement and/or parish were second homes, no more would be allowed at all.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

A short film about the Indian Queens Play Area


The Cornwall Rural Community Council (Perran Tremewan and Diane Taylor) has just produced a short film on behalf of the Cornwall County Playing Fields Association. It looks at how we managed to get the new play area in the Indian Queens Recreation Ground.

If you would like to have a look, it can be found at:
https://youtu.be/4V0mEOeMB7A

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

The crisis in the NHS

My first article in the Cornish Guardian since my Christmas break looks at the problems being reported in the National Health Service. The article will be in Wednesday’s paper and will be as follows:

It was truly shocking to hear the British Red Cross claim that the NHS is facing a “humanitarian crisis.” Chief Executive, Mike Adamson, said his organisation was “on the front line,” and they had been “called in to support the NHS and help get people home from hospital and free up much needed beds.”

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has somewhat predictably rejected the claims. She preferred to acknowledge there were “huge pressures” on the health service, while arguing that funding had been increased.

But the Nuffield Trust thinktank has found that, in the period leading up to Christmas, “fifty of the 152 English trusts were at the highest or second-highest level of pressure.” The Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) has meanwhile expressed its concern that “emergency care in the NHS is at crisis point with the worst performance across the country's hospitals in almost 15 years.”

Here in Cornwall, a Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for the local NHS is being prepared – one of 44 STPs across the “NHS England” area.

A number of consultation events have – and are being – held. There was a presentation at the recent meeting of the China Clay Area Network which I chaired and I was impressed with the medical professionals who were present. But it is extremely concerning that the whole process is essentially budget driven and central government has set the NHS in Cornwall a ridiculous target of “saving” £264 million in the period to 2020/21.

One former MP has warned that STPs will “merely rearrange the diminishing deckchairs of the NHS” and are a “largely irrelevant diversion into the challenges NHS managers face … and mask the covert political intentions of the Government; a Government which knows full well that it is both starving the NHS of the cash it needs and is recklessly forging ahead with ‘reforms’ which risk undermining patient safety.”

One telling contribution I saw last week came from columnist Steve Richards. He has argued that we should have a referendum on the level of state funding those goes into the funding of health and social care.

He described the present situation as perverse, adding that “nearly all voters recognise that modern health provision is worth paying for … the government needs to raise additional revenue … .yet the obvious cannot be delivered. The government – any government – cannot deliver because it is too scared to raise taxation or is not trusted to do so. With the UK’s uniquely hysterical pre-election tax-and-spend debates no party can win a mandate to raise taxes in order to provide the necessary levels of investment. Before a general election there is pressure on parties to show how they will cut taxes and reduce public spending.” He has a point.

For me, the question is not whether we increase funding for health and social care – it is how we do it!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

Next MK meeting in St Austell & Newquay Constituency


The next meeting for Mebyon Kernow members in the St Austell & Newquay Constituency has been arranged to take place this Friday (13th January).

The meeting will take place at ClayTAWC in St Dennis and start at 7.30.

It is the first branch meeting of 2017 and we will planning our approach to the upcoming elections to the unitary authority, and local town and parish councils.

In addition, we will giving updates on a range of issues that local activists have been involved with.

Anyone from the St Austell & Newquay Constituency, who would be interested in attending the meeting and / or finding out more about MK and its local campaigns, can call me on 07791 876607 or email me on dickcole@btinternet.com.