Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Newspaper column 18 January 2017 - Funding our NHS

Last week the NHS dominated national news with concerns that it is in ‘crisis’.

Some were quick to point the finger at the Government, claiming that the challenges it faces are as a result of Government cuts to funding.

However, this is inaccurate and categorically incorrect. In order to see for myself the position with regards to health funding in Cornwall I asked for a breakdown of funding the NHS in Cornwall has received in recent years.

I was pleased to see that since NHS Cornwall, or the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group’s creation in 2013, the Government has steadily increased its funding year on year, above the annual rate of inflation. This means that far from being cut, NHS services in Cornwall have received both a cash and a real terms increase – that is to say above the rate of inflation.  I was also pleased to see the predicted figures show proposed increases of funding for NHS services in Cornwall until at least 2021 too.

If you are a regular reader of my column, you will know that I don’t think that just throwing money at a problem will make it go away.

Nor do I think turning this great institution of our country into a political football, as all political parties are prone to doing at times, achieves anything.

Our NHS is facing significant pressures, that much is true. I regularly meet with constituents who use its services and have both good and bad experiences, the vast majority of which are in fact very good. I also hold regular meetings with NHS management to discuss their concerns and raise them at all levels of Government as appropriate.

Much of the pressure the NHS faces is as a direct result of the ever-increasing demand it is facing. A growing and ageing population along with ever more complex and expensive treatments results in the expectations we place on the NHS becoming unsustainable.

I will continue to fight for more money for our NHS in Cornwall, as I have done for our local schools, Police and local government. But it is clear to me that the answer is not simply just more and more money. It also has to be about making sure our health care services are run as efficiently as possible and adapt to meet the needs of a changing population. We also need greater integration between our health and care services.

It is well publicised that the NHS in Cornwall has overspent its budget and is projecting a large deficit this year and in the years to come. This is why it is needing to find savings of more than £200 million in the coming years. The Sustainability and Transformation Plan is looking at the future of health and care services in Cornwall and the NHS are seeking the views of the public. You can find details of the plan here and I would encourage everyone who cares about the way our health service is run to take a look and have your say - http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/shapethefuture

As always, my team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and work hard to make a real difference to the lives of everyone needing support. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events
                                                                                            


Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Newspaper column 11 January 2017 - My priorities for 2017

This week we return to Parliament after the Christmas Recess. It has been great to spend a few weeks at home in the constituency. While Parliament has not been sitting it has given me a chance to think about what my priorities for this coming year will be.

The big issue, not just in Cornwall but across the whole country continues to be Brexit and how it will impact on our way of life. I recently joined the European Scrutiny Committee, which assesses the legal and/or political importance of draft EU legislation deposited in Parliament by the Government and also has the power to recommend documents for debate, question Ministers in person and conduct general inquiries into legal, procedural or institutional developments in the EU.
With this role I will make sure concerns of local key sectors in Mid-Cornwall – including tourism, agriculture and fishing are heard at this high level, and that the feedback that I continue to get from meetings with those of you who work in these important areas is noted and acted upon as we move towards a formal Brexit when Article 50 is triggered.

Alongside this I will continue to work for investment in economic growth, jobs and better wages across Mid-Cornwall. I will continue to work with businesses both locally and nationally to drive our economy towards not just having more jobs, but creating demand here for jobs that are high skilled and well paid.

Towards the end of last year I was pleased to report successes in some of my long-term lobbying of the Government, with funding provided to upgrade the dangerous stretch of the A3058 between St Austell and Newquay, as well as moving forward with the incredibly important plans for the A30-A391 link road to St Austell and the surrounding area which will do so much for the economy of the area when built. These are both good starts but there is more to do and I will continue to lobby for more investment on our infrastructure and services as we move forward into 2017.

Another area in which I will continue to watch closely and press the case for change is to do with residential care. We were all shocked by the terrible scenes exposed in Clinton House in St Austell by BBC’s Panorama documentary in November.  There is always a concern that once these stories are no longer in the media that the issues get forgotten. I am determined not to allow that to happen but to make sure lessons are learnt. Over the coming weeks and months I will be working with stakeholders to look at what needs to be done to ensure things change for the better.

Finally, it was great to see yet more routes to and from Cornwall Airport Newquay open up over the Christmas break. The airport’s consistent positive growth is brilliant for Newquay and St Austell and the whole of Cornwall, and I will continue to work with the excellent management team there to do all I can to promote it as a premier destination. Not to mention the plans to possibly make the airport the UK’s first Spaceport, which I continue to champion and do all I can to make a reality.

As always, my team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and work hard to make a real difference to the lives of everyone needing support. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events


Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Newspaper column 4 January 2017 - Money for affordable housing in Cornwall

I hope that, like me, you have had an enjoyable Christmas and New Year. It was great to be able to spend time at home and catch up with family and friends.

I want to start by wishing everyone in Mid-Cornwall a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2017.
Just before Christmas the Government made an important announcement confirming that money will be made available to specifically address the challenges Cornwall faces in providing housing that is affordable to local people.

Over many years now we have watched as house prices in Cornwall have risen and are now beyond the reach of most local people on average incomes. Much of this rise locally has been fuelled by people buying up our local housing stock for holiday homes or investment properties. Many people have been calling for some action for a long time but it is good to at last see that this Government is acting to address this issue.

In the 2015 Autumn Statement the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced a new stamp duty levy on properties bought that were not for the purchaser’s main residence. This includes all types of 2nd homes – holiday homes, investment and buy to let properties. An additional 3% has been charged on the purchase of all such properties since April last year. When it was announced, the Chancellor stated that this money would be specifically ring fenced to help to provide affordable housing in places such as Cornwall.

It was pleasing therefore to have confirmation last month that the first tranche of money will now be made available with Cornwall being allocated just over £5 million in the first round.

This money will be made available through Cornwall Council to local schemes that seek to provide housing for local people at below market values through schemes such as Community Land Trusts.

Some have argued that £5 million will not go very far. But it has to be acknowledged that this is the first time any Government has taken direct action to specifically address the housing challenges we face here in Cornwall. After many years of talking I am delighted to be part of the Government that is at last acting.

It is also important to recognise that this is a substantial part of the total national pot of £60 million and is way beyond what we would have normally expected to receive as a share of a national scheme but is clearly a sign that the challenges we face here in Cornwall are recognised.

This is the first round of funding and there will be much more to come in the years ahead. What is important now is that we spend this money wisely and use it in conjunction with private sector funding to provide as many homes for local people as possible.


Future funding will partly depend on how well this first tranche of money is spent and so I will be doing all I can to make sure the Council use it well. I will also be keen to work with any local people who wish to develop Community Land Trust housing in mid-Cornwall.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Newspaper column 28 December 2016 - Looking back at 2016

I hope you all had a good Christmas. As we enter 2017 and look forward to all that the New Year has in store, it is a good time to also look back at 2016. There is no doubt that the past year has been a very interesting and significant time in British politics as well as a busy time in our constituency.

Dominating the national picture has been the result of the June 23rd Referendum and the ensuing negotiations to bring about Brexit. Holding a Referendum was a Manifesto commitment of the Conservative Government, one that I was proud to stand on and one that we have delivered on after just one year in government. I will be doing everything I can to ensure the best possible outcome for this country, and Cornwall in particular over the coming months.

This includes joining the European Scrutiny Committee in Parliament. While we are negotiating our exit from the EU this committee will continue to play a crucial role. Not only in keeping an eye on the EU legislation that continues to come through but also in ensuring as smooth and positive an exit as possible.

Turning to my specific work as Member of Parliament, along with my team I am pleased to have assisted over 2,000 individual constituents with their concerns in the last year and I have written to over 8,000 people who have contacted me about policy matters. In Parliament I have spoken in the main Chamber 53 times and voted in nearly 90% of all votes, both above average for MPs. Here in Mid-Cornwall I have attended over 250 local events, visited more than 30 schools and welcomed many Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister and several members of her Cabinet, to the area so they can see first-hand the issues we face here.

One area that I have been really pleased to have had success was in securing an additional £3m funding for Cornwall Council at this year’s Budget. The Secretary of State has also announced a comprehensive review of the costs of delivering services in rural areas next year.

Turning to my pledge to fight for investment in our all-important transport infrastructure, I am pleased to have worked to bring forward positive developments across Mid- Cornwall in the last year. These included getting the ball rolling on a link road between the A30 and the A391 – which will benefit St Austell and the surrounding area, getting funding to upgrade 6.8km of the dangerous A3058 road between St Austell and Newquay, and of course working closely with the team at Cornwall Airport Newquay to grow and expand the airport on a number of fronts.

Another part of keeping Cornwall connected is our vital rail link. Working with my Cornish MP colleagues I have been pleased to have successfully lobbied the Secretary of State for Transport to provide an additional £10 million funding to develop the Dawlish line.

In non-transport infrastructure, I have also had successes with South West Water, particularly in upgrading and providing better maintenance for their Menagwins Waste Water Treatment site, which serves St Austell and most of the surrounding area, and also their work to repair and bring up to scratch the Yellowsands Viewing Platform at Newquay, and ongoing work to upgrade the sewage system in Fowey.

Finally, it would be right to mention my actions on the controversial Parliamentary Boundary Changes review, which could see Cornwall sharing a cross-border Parliamentary seat with Devon. I have always said that I am a Cornishman first and a Conservative second. This is one of those occasions when I believe that speaking up for Cornwall is the best thing to do even if it means disagreeing with the Government and so that is what I did.


I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Mid-Cornwall in 2017 and beyond to make this a better place to live, work and grow up in.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Newspaper column 21 December 2016 - Good funding news for Cornwall

Parliament has now risen for the Christmas Recess and I have been here in Mid-Cornwall trying to get to as many events and visits as possible around the festive period.

While I am now looking forward to a nice relaxing break for a few days with my family, it was good to see, in the last full week of Parliament, a number of positive announcements for Cornwall from the Government.

Firstly, the Government has announced its financial settlement for Local Government. This announcement and publication of the settlement marks the start of a consultation period until 13 January 2017. The final settlement for 2017/18 will be laid before the House of Commons in February 2017.

At a time where savings in public spending are still needed, the positive news here for Cornwall Council is that there is no change in the levels of Revenue Support Grant, Rural Services Delivery Grant or Better Care Fund.

Along with my fellow Cornish MPs I have been lobbying for increased funding for Cornwall, and am pleased to see a number of areas where we are getting increased funding or new avenues of funding have become available.

Firstly there is now a new Adult Social Care Support Grant available. This is a new grant that has been established, funded from savings in the New Homes Bonus. Amounts will be distributed according to relative need and Cornwall’s indicative allocation is £2.806m for 2017/18.

With Adult Social Care such an important issue, the Government has also previously allowed local authorities to add onto the Council Tax bill a 2% levy for Social Care. Now the Government is allowing local authorities to increase this percentage. I agree we need more money in Social Care, and hope that Cornwall Council will spend monies raised via this route sensibly and to provide and protect people who are at their most vulnerable.

The Government has also confirmed that Cornwall Council will pilot 100% Business Rates Retention from April 2017, although the details of that scheme are yet to be announced and are expected to form part of the final settlement in February 2017.

Last week we also saw the Government announce proposals on fair funding for schools.
Our Cornish schools have been underfunded for decades when compared to other parts of the country, and people have been calling for this inequality to be addressed for years. I am pleased to be part of the government that is at last doing something about this issue.

Shortly after my election I joined fair funding for public services in rural areas campaign group, f40, which has campaigned for over 20 years for a fairer, more equitable school funding formula. I was honoured last month to be appointed as Vice Chairman of the group and have been actively lobbying Ministers to get a better deal for our school children.

While the devil is in the detail, I believe the basic fair funding element meets what I have been demanding, which is a recognition of the challenges of running schools in rural areas and that our rural communities in Cornwall are some of the poorest in the country.

I am pleased that the Government has listened to the arguments put forward by me and many of my colleagues and is now taking the first of many steps to put this historic unfairness right.

Last week’s report shows the Secretary of State understands that the existing funding model has no rationale and is clearly unfair.  I will continue to work with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to push for the best outcome for Cornish children.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year for 2017.


Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Newspaper column 14 December 2016 - Voting on Article 50

Last week in Parliament saw a historic moment in the House of Commons, when MPs voted for the first time ever, in the light of the referendum result, on the implementation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the formal process by which the UK will officially begin its withdrawal from the European Union.

The Government’s amendment to the original motion by the Labour Party called for Article 50 to be invoked no later than 31 March 2017.

This was the very first time MPs have had the opportunity to demonstrate their position with regards to the democratic decision made by the people of the UK. After much speculation and debate, MPs voted by a majority of 372 to support the triggering of Article 50 by the end of March to take the country out of the EU. I was pleased to see support for this motion from across the two main political parties and that subsequently a clear demonstration of Parliamentary support for the democratic decision of the British people from the Referendum on 23 June will be respected.

On a related note it was a shame to see the Liberal Democrats failing to live up to their name and their leader calling for their MPs to vote against this democratic decision. More than half of their MPs voted against it, and the other four, despite being present chose to abstain from voting on this hugely important issue.

As I have previously said, our democratic system is a wonderful thing, something which previous and current generations have fought to preserve. Many people I know who voted Remain in June’s Referendum have accepted the decision and now want to work together to make the best deal possible for our country going forward. It is a pity that some remain insistent on thwarting the outcome, something that I believe is fundamentally against the very basic principles of democracy that we stand on.

We now need to look forward and I will be doing everything I can to ensure the best possible outcome for this country, and Cornwall in particular, over the coming months.

As part of this I was delighted to recently be appointed to the European Scrutiny Committee in Parliament. This gives me the opportunity to look closely at the legislation and directives being passed down by the EU as well as participate in debates on EU related matters.

While we are negotiating our exit from the EU this committee will continue to play a crucial role. Not only in keeping an eye on the EU legislation that continues to come through but also in ensuring as smooth and positive an exit as possible.

I am honoured to have been appointed to this important committee and look forward to continuing to play an active part in Brexit, while speaking up for the interests of Cornwall.


As always, my team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and work hard to make a real difference to the lives of everyone needing support. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Newspaper column 7 December 2016 - St Austell editions - Planning matters

As I am sure we are all aware, planning is often a controversial issue that can polarise opinion. Although MPs have no role in local planning decisions and little influence over the decisions planning committees make, I believe we still have a role to play in ensuring the views of local people are heard.

There is no doubt in my mind that St Austell has been badly let down in the past as we have seen more and more housing approved without the necessary investment in our local infrastructure to support it.

I am not opposed to all development. I recognise there is a clear need for more housing in the area. Those of us with adult children know how difficult it is for them to get on the housing ladder. However, I am also clear, this housing needs to be appropriately sited, with investment in local infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services to support the increase in population. New development should also support the local economy by creating jobs and business growth.  

This brings us to the recent application by Wainhomes to build 300 houses on the controversial site behind Poltair School and the College. This is the fourth application they have submitted for this site, having been refused three times previously.  

I have always opposed applications for housing on this site, which I believe to be wholly unsuitable for development. When I was a Cornwall and Town Councillor in Poltair, I fought against previous similar applications on this site, including at an Appeal, and was pleased to see them rejected. I remain opposed to the current application.

I have worked closely with St Austell Town Council on the St Austell part of the Cornwall Site Allocations Development Plan Document (Allocations DPD). The DPD was written with public consultation. 95% of local people who responded did not want this land included in the DPD. 

Subsequently the land in question was excluded from the town framework which identifies land for development. It is therefore disappointing that Wainhomes have chosen to ignore the views of local people and once again apply for permission to develop this site.

I recently wrote to the Head of Planning at Cornwall Council along these lines when the most recent plans surfaced and expressed my surprise and disappointment at the way this application was being progressed.

Last week I had the opportunity to raise this issue in the House of Commons when I questioned the Minister for Housing and Planning in Parliament on the application, saying that while I appreciate he cannot comment on individual planning applications, did he agree with me that if permissions are granted on sites that have been excluded for development after consultation and a democratic process it will do little to promote the public’s confidence in the planning system.

In reply the Minister reiterated how important it is to have a plan in place and congratulated Cornwall Council on finally passing its Local Plan.  I too am pleased that after too many years of discussion, Cornwall Council has finally voted to adopt the Cornwall Plan.

I will continue to monitor this application closely and do all I can to ensure that the clearly expressed views of local people are respected and urge Cornwall Council to do the right thing here and reject this completely unsuitable application.