Monday, August 14, 2017

Syrian Refugees settling down in Montgomeryshire.

Powys County Council arranged a tea party at the Royal Welsh Agricultural Showground today for Syrian Refugees being resettled in Wales. I thought it was a brilliant idea so decided to go along to add my support to the message welcoming these refugees to Montgomeryshire. All six families who have been resettled in Newtown were there. Really pleased that I went along. It was great to see Syrian refugees, who have suffered so much, clearly enjoying themselves in Mid Wales.

The UK response the the human catastrophe arising out of conflict in Syria has caused me some stress. Unusually for me, I feel I've been subject to quite a lot of unjustified abuse - quite serious abuse. I should go through it chronologically.

When the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad first began his murderous assault on his own people, driving millions into refugee status, I took the view (publicly) that the UK should do everything reasonable to help. I thought we should set an example by taking in 30,000 Syrian refugees. The UK response was indeed generous, in terms of humanitarian aid - I think pro-rata more than any other country. But we did not take in as many as I hoped we would. I thought we could have set a good example. I have always believed the utterly shocking conditions facing displaced people (maybe 10 million of them) demanded a total focus by the UK on doing all we could to help. I was impressed and influenced by the work of Conservative, Andrew Mitchell and Labour's Clare Short is increasing knowledge of the reality to MPs at Westminster.

But despite being committed to helping refugees, I have received much criticism (and worse) from those who felt we should divert UK attention and resource to bringing into the UK, children from refugee centres in France. I fully accept that there was a humanitarian case to bring in Sangatte children, but it was not nearly as desperate as those trapped in refugee camps and besieged towns in Syria and on the Syrian borders, where innocents were being gassed, starved to death, raped and murdered. France is a modern civilised county, perfectly capable of dealing with the issue, and in any case, the French Govt did not want the UK to add to the 'pull' factor bringing refugees to France in the first place.

The refugee problem has not gone away. Over last two/three years the most catastrophic refugee movements have been from North Africa, through Libya. But what we are reading now is that the flow of refugees from Libya, many just sailing out in unseaworthy boats to their deaths, has been reduced. We are now told refugees are starting to cross from N Africa to Spain.

Back to today. We have a responsibility to help the refugees we have allowed in legally to settle in, and integrate into our society. That's what was happening in Builth Wells today. Congratulations to Powys County Council for taking the responsibility seriously.

Political Questions laced with hot sun and Prosecco

Had Wales' foremost political journalist, David Williamson on the phone today asking about some of the  prosecco fuelled comments currently circulating about the state of the Conservative Party at present. First up was this new party that's going to be formed with the support of disaffected MPs from established parties. Next question was whether I think Jacob Rees-Mogg will be next Leader of the Conservative Party (and Prime Minister). Then there was whether I thought the UK would remain in the Single Market and Customs Union after leaving the EU. And then it was whether Donald Trump was interested in stepping down as the US Presidency to become a 'peace envoy' to North Korea.

Actually, I made up that last one, even if it is more likely than a new party be formed, named 'The Democrats' or whatever. It seems some un-named Cabinet members and ex-Cabinet members have been going around saying they are ready to jump into bed with a Mark Chapman to form a modern day SNP. I had not heard of Mr Chapman before. Personally I would rather believe Mrs Brown than an un-named 'source'. While over the last year or two, anything seems possible in the political world, I responded with "not a snowflake's chance in a sauna".

And then there's Jacob, who is an outstanding MP. He has a forensic mind, a special talent with words, and a thought process based on principle. And I like him. But I don't see him as our next Prime Minister. Don't think he does either. At least that's what I thought he wrote in today's Telegraph. But the newspaper clearly think Jacob is the man. Today's front page headline informs us that Jacob favours cutting Stamp Duty on houses. The reality is that you would find it difficult to find a Conservative who doesn't think that. And anyway, we have a very good Prime Minister already.

Then it was the inevitable search for Tory splits. Time to dust off the old debate about leaving the Single Market and Customs Union in 2019. Personally, I take the Hammond position. We will be leaving the European Union, leaving the Single Market and leaving the Customs Union. Full stop. Now I don't mind if there is a transition/implementation period, or how long it is (within reason). I just want the best deal for the UK and for the EU. And I'm fairly sure that everything I said is so predictable that it won't make it into the paper!!

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Shropshire Hospitals Reform Update

This post is a follow on from my post of 4 days ago about reform of NHS Hospital Care to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales, a subject of some interest to me over last 40 years. And great interest over  the last 20yrs. Local health and social care partners met this week and accepted the recommendations put forward by the Future Fit Programme Board as I predicted last week. Essentially this is the same as recommended last December. It's been agreed that the additional 'assurance' work carried as a result of the delay has "not materially effect" the plans previously agreed.
REMINDER - services to be provided at the Princess Royal Hospital include Urgent Care (24/7), majority of day care surgery, planned orthopaedic surgery, outpatient care, diagnostics and a midwifery unit. Services to be provided at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital include Emergency and Critical Care, Urgent Care (24/7), complex surgery, Outpatients, diagnostics and Women's and Children's Centre.
The papers presented to Monday's meeting, which my last post on this issue outlined were signed by the 'Accounting Officers' of both the Shropshire CCG and the Telford and Wrekin CCG. That's important.
The next step on this long and winding path is consideration of this recommendation, and agreement that it can go out to a 12 week public consultation. The CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) Joint Committee meets next Thursday (10th August) to do that. I hope to be there. It was at this stage last December that things fell apart. The Joint Committee then split 6 for and 6 against. No mechanism for a casting vote. This time there will be 15 votes - 6 from the Shropshire CCG and 6 from the Telford and Wrekin CCG plus 3 Independents appointed by the Government. I'm told the Chair is to be Professor Simon Brake, a man of great experience. Two others 'independents' have also been appointed but since I've not seen their names in public, I don't think should tonight type their names into this blog post. Next Thursday will be a key meeting. If it goes as I hope it will, I'm looking forward to my future role pressurising the UK Government to put up the £200 million (rumoured to be) to cover the capital cost. Expect the next update on Friday 11th.

Changing Face of Newtown.

 I spent a significant proportion of my life involved in the transformation of Newtown from the depths of despair following the depopulation in the trentieth century into the modern thriving job-opportunity town it is today. For decades, a key part of this was the construction of a new by-pass. Finally it is happening and should be open next year, or soon thereafter. It's now time to consider seriously how to take full advantage of this massive Welsh Government investment in Mid Wales. Fundamental to this transformation is future development and management of green spaces around the town. A local group, involving the Town Council, Cwm Harri and others has put together a bid to manage the 115 acres involved. A key factor which underpins this plan involves an asset transfer from Powys County Council to the local management group Who presented their proposals to me this week. I have written a supportive letter to Cllr Phyl Davies, the new County Councillor who has taken on the responsibility. My letter follows;

"Following a constructive meeting with the bid team on Friday 28 July, where the whole scheme was outlined and details given of the potential £1.1 million investment in Newtown, I would like to offer my support to such a worthwhile project.
The importance of this potential inward investment into a Mid Wales town cannot be overestimated.  A transfer of land amounting to over 115 acres from Powys County Council ownership to be managed by a newly constituted group of key stakeholders and volunteers, can set an example of good practice to many local authorities in the future.  The fact that this group are looking to not only maintain the land in its present state but, with the help of the lottery funds, to enhance and develop the space, has nothing but positives to commend it. Such an investment will benefit not only the present townspeople but also future generations to come.
This imaginative approach to community asset transfer, with the intention of turning transfer of liability into transfer of asset, has much to recommend it, especially as it aims to galvanise community stakeholder support for self- management thereafter.
With the bypass now well on the way to completion, it is essential that Newtown has as many attractions as possible to encourage visitors into the town, which can only be of benefit to local businesses.  It is tremendous to see the stakeholders being proactive, looking for positive outcomes and hoping to make a difference to the lives of their fellow residents."

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Imminent Arrival of Electric Cars.

This week, Defra Secretary of State, Michael Gove informed us that all new cars powered by petrol and diesel will be banned by 2040 - just 23 yrs away. Whether or not this will turn out to be precisely the case is not the point. It establishes the direction, and target we are aiming for. Actually, all it does is tell us about the change that is already taking place. I have been genuinely surprised by the number of usually well informed people who have denounced the move away from conventionally powered cars as both unwise and unlikely to happen. To me this seems to be a case of  a 'Head in the sand' response. The reality is it's already happening - already accelerating away. And it's the reality that diesel and petrol cars are on the way out. This is being accepted by most of the motor industry.

It's not just the UK which sees an end to petrol and diesel cars. Two weeks ago, France made the same announcement. Norway is bringing in the change by 2025 - just 8 years away. In 2013, there were a few more than 3000 electric cars on our roads. Today it's over 100,000. Volvo has announced it will go all electric or hybrid by 2019. BMW has last week announced a new assembly line to build electric Minis in Oxford. New models are being launched every month. Every car manufacturer is bringing out new electric cars. We may well have reached the 'tipping point' already.

We know there are multiple challenges. The biggest is where will the electricity come from. Massive new supplies will be needed. At present we don't know where it will all come from. But la st week, Britain's first 'floating' offshore wind turbine was launched - much earlier than we expected. This combined with developing battery storage technology will transform generation from wind. Storage technology will also transform prospects for solar. Leaving the EU will allow the cost of importing solar panels to fall significantly. Nuclear power will also develop, hopefully through Small Modular Reactors. Perhaps other power sources like hydrogen will emerge over the next two decades. As well as energy sources we've not thought of yet. And of course there are nothing like enough charging points on long journeys. We know that, but an appropriate network will develop as demand grows. And the range of new electric cars is increasing rapidly. Lots of other problems too, but they will be faced and managed.

It's true that none of us knows how the electric car market will develop over the next 23 yrs. but it's going to happen - driven by air pollution legislation the in our cities and large towns. And leaving the EU won't stop this. King Canute was rolled over by the unstoppable tide. Our car manufacturers will not want to be rolled over by electric cars while they chase a falling market.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Intimidation of political candidates

The recent General Election was much the most unpleasant election I've ever been involved in. Initially I'd decided to say nothing about it. 'Heat of the kitchen' etc.. "Put it behind you Glyn, and move on". And "Don't let the bu***rs get you down". But it's not as simple as that. It's become a major issue of debate at Westminster. The widespread 'casual' aggression and intimidation of candidates has become a real concern across all political parties.

Of course unpleasantness at elections is nothing new - even in the gentle rural constituency of Montgomeryshire. Since I've been an MP, there have been knife attacks on fellow MPs and Jo Cox was murdered on the street just over a year ago. I'd had someone tell a friend of mine, outside my office the "the only way we'll get rid of him is to shoot the bas***d". He meant me! Actually, it wasn't the only way because he had a go at running me down in Morrison's car park a few days later!

But back to the General Election. A young lady was delivering my leaflets in a quiet Montgomeryshire village, when a big man came chasing after her, shouted at her nose-to-nose as spitting at her. An hour later she was still traumatised. Ended up as an apology in the police station. And I turned up at one of my public meetings to be confronted by a group of around 20, chanting "Tory Pig", "Tory Pig". I was alone. Shamefully, there were small children dragooned to join in. The young lady along with me to take notes, and already in the hall, has declared that she will never go there again. Fear. First time I've felt the need to check over my car before driving home. Shouldn't be like this anywhere. But in Montgomeryshire....

And there was the obscene daubing and destruction of my posters. And it was only my posters. No other party's posters.  Then there were the bare-faced lies and deceit plastered all over the Internet by keyboard warriors, full of their custard and cowardice. And fliers all over the place - many sjtill there. The problem is not one that bothers me, personally. I played in the back row for years, and was never the most gentle of souls. I can look after myself. But not everyone can. I'm told that research suggests lots of potential candidates don't feel they can cope with the aggression. They opt out.

What's to be done. I do think that MPs can help themselves by cutting out the vulgar shouting at Prime Minister's Questions - even if it is almost the only part of Parliamentary proceedings that a significant proportion of the public bother to watch. And there's the appalling QuestionTime on BBC, where guests are sometimes chosen on the basis of their reputations to be rude, and audience members the same. The TV election debates are in the same mould. All a dreadful example to young people. The ability to disagree without being offensive is disappearing. But for the real abuse there will have to be jail sentences - in my opinion. Democracy is important. It underpins the way we live, with respect for each other. This needs to be defended. Civilised society requires those who undermine it to hear the clang of a prison cell door behind them.

Friday, July 28, 2017

At Last. Movement on Shropshire NHS Reform.

Hoping to set aside some time to share my thoughts on this blog site again through summer recess.  Lots of subjects to write about but today will return to one that has featured several times in the past few years - reform of the NHS secondary care system which serves Shropshire and Mid Wales. Should begin with a recap.

For many years, we have realised that changing patterns of healthcare has meant larger populations are needed to sustain a District General Hospital. The population of Shropshire and Mid Wales can no longer sustain its two DGHs, one located at Shrewsbury and the other at Telford. While the best solution would be to build one new DGH to replace them, it's simply too expensive. So the preferred solution is to merge the two hospitals, one to focus on 'emergency' care, and the other on 'planned' care. The 2 CCGs (Clinical Commissioning Groups) serving Shropshire and Mid Wales established The Future Fit Programme Board to recommend a way forward. Over 3years later (and costing millions of pounds) it made its recommendations before Christmas. The CCGs met and split 6/6 on a motion to accept the recommendation, and go out to public consultation on it. Total chaos. Local politics trumped clinical care (in my opinion). Been much effort getting the show back on the road. At last we expect progress on Monday at an important meeting of the Future Fit Programme Board.

Local health and social care partners will meet on Monday at a 'closed' meeting to consider next steps  needed to transform hospital services for local patients in Shrewsbury, Telford and Wrekin and Mid Wales. The meeting will review the additional assurance work carried out, and decide whether the time is right for a public consultation on its recommendations. The 2 new reports are;
1) Additional analysis of potential changes to Women's and Children's services - taking in depth look at potential impact of changes to those services.
2) Independent review of the Future Fit Options Appraisal Process - looking at the assurance processes carried out so far.

Any recommendation made by the Future Fit Programme Board on Monday will be about whether the time is right to launch a full public consultation lasting 12 weeks. This recommendation would have to be approved by a joint committee of the Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin CCGs Board - with an independent Chair and key observers (hopefully to avoid the shambles we witnessed last December).

We are fast approaching a situation where the current NHS system serving Shropshire and Mid Wales breaks down. And there's no point shouting at SaTH (The Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust). It's doing its best in difficult circumstances. The position is becoming desperate. We need agreement in order to ask Central Government for the reported £200 million needed for the capital works. Let's hope we see a decisive step forward taken on Monday.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Influencing Government Policy

Taken a break from writing my blog while I've been engaged in campaigning for the right to represent Montgomeryshire in the House of Commons for another five years (or however long the current Parliament lasts). Personally, I reckon it will last much longer than some seem to think. Anyway a friend of mine asked me tonight to start blogging again. So here goes with what I was just thinking about.
It was an unusual election, in that I've not before seen so much rubbish doing the rounds on the Internet. Generally it was stuff intended to cause me electoral damage. My policy is that it's best just to totally ignore it, letting the 'keyboard warriors' talk amongst themselves. Whatever, it doesn't seem to had much negative impact!

Now there's no point in trying to justify in the face of this stuff, unless there's a purpose - such as trying to explain how Westminster works. It can be a bit of a mystery. Anyway, this stemmed from a casual comment by me that I was, in general, quite devolutionary. The keyboard warriors went to town, listing all the occasions I've voted against devolving more powers to the Welsh Parliament. I also pointed out that because further devolution is not that popular, these accusatory posters, intended to damage me, were more like.y to have the opposite effect. But on to the point I want to make about process.
Over the last year or so, as PPS in the Wales Office, I've been involved in taking the Wales Bill through Parliament. In general the Wales Act, passed earlier this year devolves more powers to the Welsh Parliament. What happened (as always happens) is that other parties during the various Parliamentary stages put down amendments to amend, or strengthen the Bill. They don't expect these amendments to carry, usually just putting down markers or making points. Government accepts some of them, puts on some itself, while other amendments are withdrawn. A few are pushed to a division, where Government invariably votes them down. It how legislation is debated and developed. The Wales Bill, very unusually, became an Act without and amendment succeeding in either the Commons or the Lords.
But this process means there are many amendments I vote against, giving 'keyboard warriors' who have time on their hands to trawl the Internet, putting together 'evidence' that I am anti devolutionary. So happens, I usually have far more politically damaging criticism that I am too devolutionary - which is why in this instance the 'keyboard warriors' were inadvertently being helpful. I particularly enjoyed that! But this post is to explain one aspect of how a bill makes its way to the statute book.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Conservative Manifesto on Funding of Care for the Elderly.

There has been quite a bit of negative publicity about proposed changes to support of the elderly in the Conservative manifesto. Personally, I think it unjustified. But let's  consider it in more detail - starting with the background policy context. We have a Prime Minister who is committed to governing in the interests of everyone. I share her commitment. I also have a long standing personal interest to supporting the frail elderly, the number of whom is increasing very quickly indeed. We cannot carry on as we have been doing over recent decades. The system of care will collapse. The voice of the frail elderly is not being heard. The challenge is to create a care system that is both fair and sustainable. 

There are three changes in future policy written into our manifesto which affect the elderly. Let's consider them in turn. Firstly, we want to introduce a system of financing domiciliary care similar to the current rules on financing residential care - only fairer. For my constituents in Montgomeryshire, its important to note that no change is proposed in Wales, where social care is devolved to the Welsh Government. As the changes affect England, two crucial points are being ignored. Firstly care will be free to anyone worth £100,000 or less. And no matter what value assets anyone has, there will be a maximum total payment (suggested in recent years as likely to be about £70,000).

Secondly, it is proposed that what is known as the 'triple lock' on state pension increases is being replaced by 'a double lock'. The state pension will not automatically increase by 2.5% if inflation is lower. So while inflation is 2.5% or above, which it currently is, the change has no effect whatsoever because it will rise by inflation anyway. In future, there will be a 'double lock' which guarantees that the state pension will increase by inflation or increased level of earnings, whichever is the higher. The problem to be addressed was that following the long period of very low inflation, a degree of inter generational unfairness developed, creating unacceptable pressure on young families and support payments. The 'triple lock' has the potential to divert too much of the welfare budget into the state pension at the expense of everything else. Adopting a 'double lock' is a small change which will deliver more fairness in the long term.

The third change relates to the Winter Fuel Allowance, which will in future be means tested and will continue unchanged for those who need it. Over recent years I've received many emails calling for this change, usually from people who have given their allowance to charity because they felt they had no need of it.

I simply cannot agree that the Prime Minister is being unfair. She, and I are both focussed on fairness, creating a sustainable affordable system of welfare payments and a manifesto which is open and honest about future policy.