Tuesday 31 July 2018

Regional inequality and the UK Government’s approach to Brexit

My article in tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian looks at issues around regional inequality and the UK Government’s approach to Brexit. It will be as follows:

The UK Government has issued a statement confirming it will honour the current programme of structural funding for the next two years. The official Treasury press release states that “businesses, universities and local organisations” will have the assurance “that any funding they secure through EU programmes, from now until the end of 2020, will be guaranteed – even in a no-deal scenario.”

Such a commitment is to be welcomed, but Theresa May and her Government need to go much further to develop a meaningful regional investment programme.

This is especially important for areas such as Cornwall and West Wales & the Valleys, which have been receiving the highest levels of funding of EU funding to combat low levels of economic performance, to create jobs and help people into work and training.

It has been announced that there will be a post-Brexit “UK Shared Prosperity Fund,” but ministers have had little to say about how it might work and whether the needs of poorer areas like Cornwall will be prioritised.

In Wales, Plaid Cymru has actively been challenging Conservative politicians to live up to the promises of “Vote Leave” on regional funding.

The Prime Minister was at an important agricultural show in Wales last week when MP Jonathan Edwards pointed out that "in the run-up to the EU referendum we were promised that rural Wales would not be a penny worse off after Brexit." He and various media outlets sought assurance to that effect, but it was not forthcoming. Not unsurprisingly, there has been quite a backlash.

Jonathan Edwards has rightly pointed out that “instead of getting our fair share of the cake, we may end up with no more than crumbs” from the Westminster table.”

Even senior journalists hit out at the noises coming from Westminster, with one adding that the “British state has never been good at distributing resources fairly around the nations and regions of the UK … infrastructure investment has gone disproportionately to London.”

While the political debates in Cornwall and Wales and elsewhere have been ongoing, another report has been published about the stark regional inequalities across the United Kingdom. This latest report has come from Sheffield Hallam University and its starkness had been well summarized by a prominent columnist

“All countries have their regional differences. States in the American Deep South are poorer than those in New England. But Britain is in a class of its own. The gap between the richest and poorest parts is wider than in any EU country. Incomes per head in inner London are five times as high as in the Welsh valleys or Cornwall.”

My latest monthly report to St Enoder Parish Council

I presented my most recent monthly report to last week’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covered the period of 25th June to 24th July 2018 and was as follows:

Listed below are some examples of the work that I have been undertaking over the last month and associated news updates.

1. Council meetings and related activities

During the last month I have attended a range of formal meetings. These included: Full Council (and associated briefing), Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee and an associated workshop on housing policy to be contained within a new Supplementary Planning Document), Electoral Review Panel (plus an associated preparatory meeting and a pubic meeting on the boundary review in Truro), the National Minority status working group, the first of new set of monthly meetings to review Council’s approach to parking policy, a meeting of the Council’s group leaders and a briefing on the proposed merger of the “Devon and Cornwall” Police Force with that of Dorset.

I also attended a meeting of the Leadership Board (which brings together representatives of the unitary authority and the wider public sector), and the Liaison Group for the incinerator at St Dennis.

In the same period, as well as a number of informal meetings with council officers and others, I attended one meeting of St Enoder Parish Council and chaired the latest meeting of the St Enoder Parish Neighbourhood Plan Working Group.

2. Other meetings and activities

I attended a meeting of Indian Queens Pit Association and I was pleased to be able to help out at the annual Johnny Cowling event at the Pit which was a great success and attended by about 350 people.

3. Crantock Bakery

The most substantial issue in St Enoder Parish this month was the shock news that Crantock Bakery went into administration on July 9th with the immediate loss of 109 jobs. Ten individuals remain in post to “administer the sale of the business and liquidate all its assets.”

The closure is a terrible blow to the local area and the impact should not be under-estimated.

The Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and the Cornish Pasty Association have come together to offer support to local people affected by the job losses. In particular, I understand that the Cornish Pasty Association has been compiling a list of vacancies with other companies in the sector.

At the Full Council meeting on 10th July and the Economic Growth and Development OSC meeting on 17th July, I asked the leadership of the authority about what support they and their partners could give to Crantock Bakery and affected individuals. A briefing was produced about the support that might be available to those seeking work, which I have forwarded to the Clerk for the Parish Council website.

At the Leadership Board on 13th July, the representative of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce informed the meeting that they had been contacted by a potential inward investor. This individual had been placed in contact with the Cornwall Development Company and the administrator for Crantock Bakery. It was suggested that this individual might even be able to save the concern as they were interested in taking on the factory.

When I receive further updates, I will let parish councillors and others know.

4. Police merger

At the Cornwall Council meeting on 10th July, I was among a range of councillors who spoke against the merger of the “Devon and Cornwall” Police Force with that of Dorset.

I pointed out that I did not support the centralisation of public services into larger “south west” bodies and added that history has shown us that Cornwall and its communities lose out from such centralisations.

This proposal has only come about because of massive funding cuts from central government, which has caused the loss of hundreds of police officers, PCSOs and civilian support staff, as well as other changes including the closure of public desks at local police stations. To be blunt, I find it insulting that the dreadful impacts of the cuts are being used to put pressure on people to acquiesce to the merger.

There is a somewhat biased consultation doing the rounds, but please take the time to tell the Chief Constable and Police Commissioner what you think. I would encourage everyone to make their views known. The survey can be found at: https://www.futurepolicing.co.uk/

5. Housing

As noted above, I attended a workshop on housing policy to inform the content of a new Supplementary Planning Document which should be consulted upon in the near future. I was heavily involved in the preparation of the previous SPD as Chairman of the Planning Policy Panel, and I am pleased that officers are keen for me to be similarly involved this time.

At the Economic Growth and Development OSC meeting, it was agreed to set up a review into a range of issues relating to private housing. Five councillors have been selected, including me, and the review will commence later this year.

6. Parking policy

As one of the members involved with the “Positive Parking Review,” I have been informed that council officers and the Cabinet member for Transport are keen to meet with us, on a monthly basis, to review progress against points raised in the review. The first of these monthly meetings was held on 20th July.

Cornwall Council is now committed to a more equitable spread of parking enforcement which includes visits to areas such as the China Clay Area. At the present time, investment is planned for greater mechanisation in certain key car parks in local towns, which will free up enforcement officers to do more work away from the towns and to do more to address safety and congestion issues. At the meeting, I argued that double yellow lines needed to be properly refreshed across rural areas, if the Council was serious about enforcement.

7. Planning

In recent weeks, council officers have kept me informed about a number of planning applications. I have two updates of note.

In terms of the application to lift the condition to install bio-filters on the pig farm at Higher Fraddon, the unitary authority has been monitoring complaints about odour in the locality. Officers will soon be assessing the evidence to see whether the smells relate to the pig farm or the biogas plant.

Following the objection of the Parish Council to the proposal to allow the dayroom on the traveller site near Highgate Hill, Indian Queens, to be turned into a dwelling, it will be referred to the Central Planning Committee for decision.

8. Transport

Following on from discussions at the last Parish Council meeting about the Community Network Highways Scheme through which £50,000 a year will be allocated to Community Network Panels for highways improvements, I have informed the relevant officers of the Parish Council’s priorities.

For the sake of clarity, these were (i) traffic calming measures and a 20 mph speed limit adjacent to Summercourt School and (ii) vehicle activated cameras at key locations on various entry points into local villages.

9. St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan

One of my key priorities in recent weeks has been the Neighbourhood Plan. I have spent a considerable amount of time preparing the working draft of the document, which was presented to the working group on 12th July. I was grateful for the feedback from the meeting and I will be updating the document over the next few days for another meeting in the very near future.

I have also been liaising with a number of the planning policy officers at Cornwall Council in terms of the content of the Plan, the wording of the policies, etc.

10. Complaints at Goonabarn

Parish councillors will be aware that there have been a lot of complaints about clay pigeon shooting in the Goonabarn area and that officers from Cornwall Council (both planning and environmental health) have been trying to take enforcement action.

A case was presented to the court in Bodmin on 12th July, though the landowner was not present at the hearing. A further date is presently being sorted out.

Since the date of the hearing, I have been liaising with the various parties to help sort out a face-to-face meeting between council officers and the landowner. I understand this is likely to happen soon and, in the meantime, the landowner has stated that there will be no more organised shoots on his land until he has met with the Council representatives.

11. Anti-social behaviour

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of anti-social behaviour recently, particularly near the Harvenna Heights estate. I have received a number of complaints and I have been in regular contact with the local policing team about the work they have been doing with Ocean Housing.

12. Grass cutting

The Parish Clerk and I have made a number of representations to Cornwall Council about the need for grass cutting on open spaces, and along hedges and verges.

13. Electoral Review Panel

I can confirm that the Electoral Review Panel at their last meeting gave their support for the new electoral division (from 2021 onwards) which would comprise the parishes of St Enoder and St Dennis.

14. World War 1 project

Further progress is being made as we get closer and closer to the centenary of the Armistice. Posters have been produced for local notice-boards, village halls, etc; and the faded roll of honour from the Indian Queens Methodist Church is with an art specialist who has been tasked to produce a replica, However, I will update more fully on the project at Tuesday’s meeting.

15. Charity cricket

Away from the meetings and related council activities, I was pleased to be able to take part in the annual councillors versus officers charity cricket game, which was played in a wonderful spirit.

16. Inquiries

During the last month, I have helped numerous people with guidance on a range of issues.

Wednesday 4 July 2018

Celebrating 70 years of the NHS

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian is about the 70th anniversary of the National Health Service. It was as follows;

On 5th July 1948, the Health Secretary Aneurin Bevan launched the National Health Service at Manchester’s Park Hospital.

It is well reported that Bevan symbolically met the NHS’s “first patient,” a 13-year-old girl called Sylvia Diggory. She later recalled: “Mr Bevan asked me if I understood the significance of the occasion and told me that it was a milestone in history – the most civilised step any country had ever taken.”

The fundamental principles behind the new health service were clear. The NHS would be “available to all” and “financed entirely from taxation,” meaning that “people pay into it according to their means.” And in his seminal 1952 publication, In Place of Fear, Bevan himself wrote, that: “No society can legitimately call itself civilized if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”

It is frankly not possible to overstate the significance of the NHS and how, over the last seventy years, universal healthcare has transformed the lives of millions and millions of people.

Writing a few years ago, the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown summed up how “Bevan’s vision has stood both the test of time and the test of change unimaginable in his day … surviving, growing and adapting to technological and demographic change” while still being at the “centre of the life of our nation as a uniquely British creation, and a uniquely powerful engine of social justice.”

Seven decades on, it is so important that we celebrate the NHS, described by many people as the United Kingdom’s greatest achievement.

But looking forward, there is a desperate need to build a strong political consensus about how the National Health Service can continue to serve the people of the United Kingdom into the future.

Over the last few years, the NHS has been a permanent fixture in the news. It has not all been good news with concerns about the lack of hospital beds in numerous areas, inappropriate pressure on junior doctors, the pressing need to better link health care with social care and, not least, the ongoing NHS funding crisis.

Political arguments abound and it has been widely welcomed that the Prime Minister has pledged to increase annual funding for the NHS to £135bn by 2023-24, a £20 billion increase on the present year’s budget. But even the head of the Government’s own National Audit Office has stated that much more money is needed.

It seems to me that all political parties need to come together to develop a truly progressive taxation system, that raises sufficient resource to provide vital public services, with big business and the well-off paying their fair share.