Thursday, October 19, 2017

Failure in Powys Children’s Services.

About two years ago a constituent called my office, concerned about the safety of a child, and dissatisfaction with the response of Powys Council’s Children’s Servics Department. I cannot communicate any information about the case. It’s a fundamental principle that any constituent (or non constituent) can be assured of total confidentiality when they speak to me. That’s one reason why I often ignore questions of Facebook. At the time, I asked one of my caseworkers to take a close look at the case. I was disturbed by what I was told, and raised the issue with Powys County Council, at both an officer and political level.
The Council response was very disappointing. Actually it was worse than that. I thought there was an almost total lack of recognition of the seriousness of the case. I try never to let my work get to me. I see so much awfulness in the world. Every MP does. I’d never sleep. But that single case caused me real worry and sleeplessness. I felt the safety of a very young child was at serious risk. I made contact with another English Council which had an involvement. And escalated my contact with the Council to the highest level I reasonably could. I was not prepared to make anything public, and I’m still not naming names - in public anyway. The confidentiality factor is too important to my work. But I needed to be certain I had done what I could, explaining to the Council that I could not let this matter be brushed under the carpet. I knew about it, was not prepared to be complicit, and was not prepared to let it go.
I do not know whether my involvement has had an impact on the report into the failings of Powys Council’s Children’s Services Department. I would be very pleased if it had. I had hoped for a briefing on the report last Friday, before it was published. But it was cancelled. Bearing in mind all the above, I was not one bit surprised by the Report’s findings. As always, I suspect my experience is only the merest tip of what has been happening. The truth will out.
We have seen only the first chapter of this scandal. And scandal it is. We’re told the police are now involved due to falsification of documents. I would be surprised if a whole lot more does not emerge. I will have to share my experiences with anyone appointed to look in detail at what has happened. But there is one spark of optimism within this dark place. I have been encouraged by the response of the new Council Leader, Rosemarie Harris. For the first time in two years I have some confidence that the Council acknowledges the horrific scale of what has happened. That is an important first step on the road to putting things right. I’m not interested in a witch hunt, even though there may be some holding to account. I just want a proper service put in place. It’s going to take a long time, and need a lot of work before we can feel confident that Powys County Council is able to deliver acceptable Children’s Services for the county of Powys.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Constituency Boundaries and Rural Democracy.

Don’t suppose I’m in Govt’s ‘good books’ today, after my response to the latest proposals to review constituency boundaries. My view is only on what is proposed for Wales. BBC Wales are reporting my view that I consider the proposals for Wales to be “crackers”and damaging to democracy in Rural Wales in particular. While today’s revised proposals are the handiwork of the Boundary Commission, I do not criticise the commissioners. They have no choice but recommend within the constraints of Govt legislation and the Welsh National boundary.  which afford little room for rational consideration or freedom to take history, culture and geography into account.
Now I do accept that there is a case for some equalisation of constituency sizes. In fact, a review is long overdue. I just don’t think it’s sensible or rational to review on the basis of 600 constituencies rather that the current 650.  Especially at a time when numbers in the House of Lords continue to rise into the 800s! Also, I concede that I cannot reasonably argue that the number of Welsh MPs should remain at 40 when the same constituency size as currently exists in England would result in 33 Welsh MPs. There should be two changes to the legislation. Firstly, the reduction should be from 40 to 33 (not 29) to reflect average size of constituencies across the UK. And the ‘tolerance’ between number of electors per constituency should be more than 5%. (8% perhaps). If we’re asking Boundary Commissioners to agree new boundaries, let’s give them the power to make recommendations as sensible and sensitive as possible.
Dare say some might suggest I’m being difficult or unreasonable. Well, let’s look at things from where I’m standing - which is in the ancient constituency of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire has existed as a constitutional entity for around 500 yrs. I’ve been involved in public life for over 40 yrs, and have always represented Montgomeryshire (Council, Welsh Assembly and Parliament). Have fought elections as “The Montgomeryshire Man”. I still use Montgomeryshire as my address, despite it officially being Powys. The current proposals consign historic Montgomeryshire to the dustbin of history, carving it up into three to make up the numbers in surrounding constituencies. What am I supposed to think.
Of course Bethan asked me if I intended to vote against the proposals when they come forward at the end of 2018. I declined to answer. I want to argue my corner over this with Government. If I say now that I’m voting against, I lose all influence on the debate. It’s what happens. Ok, it would win some favourable publicity, ensuring I make headlines rather than maybe make a difference. But what I have said is that if these proposals are adopted, I will not stand for Parliament again. 

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Follow up on Brexit radio chat this morning.

It’s difficult to know what to expect when entering into the Lion’s Den that is the Sunday Supplement studio with Vaughan Roderick. Especially when the subject under debate is Brexit. I realised The inevitability of being asked which way I’d vote if the EU Referendum was held again. But there are so many other strands blowing in the winds of uncertainty.

The two strands that Nia Griffiths, Labour Shadow Defence Minister and I talked with Vaughan about   this morning were the transition/implementation period after March 2019 and our approach during it to the leaving of the Single Market and the Customs Union. We will be formally leaving all of them in March 19. There are some who refer to this as “The hardest of Brexits”, which I do think is utter nonsense. My hope is that the UK will agree that our relationship with the EU during the transition/implementation period will match as closely as possible current arrangements - where this benefits both sides. Must admit I’m not personally that bothered about the two year limit, as long as it’s not just a tactical delaying tactic.

Vaughan quite rightly brought up impact on Welsh sheep farming. We knew before Referendum day that the tariff on lamb could theoretically be a massive 40% if we have no agreed deal and have to fall back on WTO rules. That is a ‘worst case scenario’ and of course it inevitably means some uncertainty. It would also require some highly stupid and perverse decision (or non decision) making. I’m a lot more optimistic. But I do accept the possibility of perverse stupidity, so am keen to promote diversification. A good long term strategy whatever happens. It’s already happening.

Which brings us to what is a sensible approach to the ‘No Deal’ question. And here I do think the opposition position is bizarre. I watched Labour’s main spokesman on this issue, Kier Starmer on the Sunday Politics today. Sounded like a man who has never done any sort of deal in his life. Only a fool enters a negotiation, informing everyone that whatever deal is reached, it will be/must be accepted. Like me in a former life, walking into the John Deere sale room, waving my chequebook around and informing the salesman I’m buying no matter what the price. It’s an attitude quarenteed to deliver a very bad deal. We all want a good deal for the UK and a good deal for the EU. Thank goodness Mr Starmer isn’t sitting at the negotiating table.

Anyway, that was about it. I was expecting this morning to be about how we manage powers reserved to the EU in devolved subject areas, and the wide use of Henry VIII powers. Now that would have been much more difficult for me to cope with!!

Friday, October 13, 2017

More chat about Brexit.

It may not be a wise decision but I’ve agreed to appear on Sunday Supplement this week to discuss Brexit. In current climate, my ambition will be not to commit a ‘gaffe’. And that will not be easy because even the slightest grammatical error is treated as a ‘gaffe’ when the subject of Brexit is under discussion. And Vaughan Roderick is a crafty interviewer.
First question is bound to be ‘Which way would you vote if the referendum were to be re-run today.? The obvious answer should be the one the Prime Minister gave. It’s not going to be re-run and we are leaving the EU in March 2019, so don’t ask such a pointless hypothetical question. But when I’ve been asked over recent days, I’ve replied “I’d vote same as June 2016”. I’d vote Leave, with the same degree of uncertainty as I did last time. I find the question no easier to answer today, even though the blood curdling nonsense churned out by the Treasury before the EU referendum has been shown up as the ludicrous scare stories without foundation that we thought it was. But reality is we still face uncertainty, and will continue to do so for a good while yet.
I might be asked if I support a ‘Hard Brexit’ or a ‘Soft Brexit’. I really do not know what these terms mean. They are bandied about by people as if they are clearly defined terms. They are not. They are just some sort of code, which I don’t fully grasp.  I am in favour of the UK leaving the EU, including the Single Market and the Customs Union. Anything else is not Brexit. Call that response what you will. I see leaving the EU simply as ‘Brexit’.
And then we have the issue of whether the UK Government should prepare for ‘no deal’. Of course we should. I’ve never gone into any negotiation without retaining the option of ‘no deal’. And I fully expect the EU to be preparing for ‘no deal’ as well.  Not having that option on or near the negotiating table almost guarantees a bad deal. Most people want a good deal for the UK, and a good deal for the EU. But it’s seemed to me all along that the conditions imposed on the negotiations by the EU at the start almost guarantee ‘no deal’. That is a dreadful pity - both damaging and unwise. But if that’s the way it is, so be it. And I’m not sure we should waste much more time dancing to an unacceptable Juncker/Barnier tune on this. The one individual whose behaviour promotes ‘no deal’ above all others is Juncker. I hope there are no gaffes in that!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Paying for Domiciliary Care

On Monday morning this week, I ‘launched’ a social care conference, arranged by TLC, a local service delivery company, at Llanidloes.  I think it was rather grandly described as a ‘Keynote Speech’. I refer to this only because my main message was much the same as that heading up today’s front page in the Telegraph. My contention was that Domiciliary Care ‘service users’, (those who can afford to that is) must pay more for their care. It’s what the Social Care Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price is reported to have said at a fringe meeting at the recent Conservative Party Conference. Hope I’m supporting the Minister’s and the Government’s emerging policy on this issue. I’ll summarise the thrust of my speech.

I began by acknowledging that paying for social care is both a complex and controversial issue. It’s arguable that a Conservative attempt to tackle the issue in June’s manifesto contributed to a more disappointing election result than I hoped for. The description of the policy as a ‘Dementia Tax’ was an utter disgrace - repeated in today’s Telegraph. The Telegraph, and every other media outlet that does the same should be ashamed of themselves. It’s a policy area that is in desperate need of reform. It is deeply unfair is several ways. The people who pay for this failure to tackle a very thorny issue are the frail elderly, whose voice is not heard as much as it should be in today’s society.

Firstly, let’s consider the difference between how residential care and domicilliary care are treated. Those who need care pay for residential care, until the value of their assets fall to a certain level. Those who are deemed to qualify for domiciliary care don’t. Not only is this unfair, but it distorts decision making amongst families. And we know that assets are sometimes transferred in cases where the need for care can by anticipated.

Secondly, in the absence of magic money trees, domiciliary care is paid for by taxpayers, often much less wealthy. It simply seems wrong to me that young families, struggling financially to bring up children have to support people far wealthier receive care.
I agreed with the Conservative manifesto proposal (after it was amended to include a ‘cap’ on the total paid. It was payable by ‘service users’ who were worth more than £100,000. In my view the ‘cap’ on total payments should be less than £100,000. And payment should be deferred until after the used dies.
I know this is not likely to be a popular viewpoint. But as I’ve grown older, I think it’s more important to be right, responsible and fair that it is to be ‘popular’. The second key message of my speech on Monday was that as new policy is developed (which it will have to be) it should developed in partnership with representatives of those who use the services and those who deliver the care. This is not an issue that can be left, simply because it’s difficult. And there are commentators who will do their utmost to make it an impossible to tackle it.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Public Consultation on Shropshire NHS Reform.

I’ve known for about 40 years that the populations of Shropshire and Mid Wales cannot sustain two large District General Hospitals in the long term. 40 yrs ago, an old ld squash friend of mine, Dr Paul Brown (who was also a top consultant in Shropshire) explained why very clearly. He was far seeing and absolutely right. Tragically Paul died young. Today there is a Paul Brown Department at the Princess Royal in Telford.
I’ve been closely involved in the discussion about structural reform of the major hospitals serving Shropshire and Mid Wales for about 20 years. While it would have been best to build a new hospital on a green field site to replace the two hospitals currently located at Telford and Shrewsbury, it has proved to be too costly - about £600 million. So the only way practical forward is to merge the Royal Shrewsbury and the Princess Royal, running them as one hospital, but on two sites. The two Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) serving Shropshire, who decide on future structure agreed this a few years ago and set up a body known as the ‘Future Fit Programme Board’ to consider the matter in detail and make a recommendation on the way forward. After investing more than 3yrs and £2million it finally agreed (after much angst) to recommend that ‘emergency care services’ should be located at Shrewsbury and ‘Planned Care’ should be located at Telford. In the end, following much argument, it was a unanimous recommendation by both CCGs. The public meeting where it was decided was noisy and angry. This ‘preferred option’ includes the transfer of the most serious cases of maternity trauma from Telford to Shrewsbury as well.
In order for this ‘preferred option’ to proceed, the UK Government (NHS England) has to agree the budget needed for the capital works - about £200 million. I expect this to be agreed. There also has to be a public consultation, the details of which we do not yet know. What I expect is that it will be of 14 weeks duration, beginning sometime in November. The statutory requirement is that it be of 12 weeks. Also, we don’t know how many options will be put before the public. It will probably be 2, but could be 3. But the key factor is that there will be a ‘preferred option’ - which is that Emergency Care should be located at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. This is very important to Mid Wales. It’s been a long and tough battle.
It would be easy to think that since there is now a ‘preferred option’ that the debate is all over. Such an attitude would be a serious mistake. It’s vital that the people of Mid Wales respond to the public consultation by making their opinions known. When we know the precise date when the consultation period begins, and the precise options before us also I hope thousands of Montgomeryshire residents will respond. It will be vital that we all write individual letters.
Reform of the secondary care system which serves Shropshire and much of Mid Wales, including most of Montgomeryshire, is perhaps the most dominating issue throughout my years as an Assembly Member and Member of Parliament. It has certainly been the most important issue for my constituents. Over the 12 or 14 weeks of the public consultation, I will be holding one or two meetings every week throughout the constituency, where there will 2/3 of us present to help with letter writing etc. The County Times has assured me that it will help publicise this campaign. We need to make sure that there is no complacency or distraction from our objective, which is to have our new ‘Emergency Care Centre’ built at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Presumed Consent. Triumph of Idealogy over Evidence.

As long as I can remember, I have been enthusiastic about organ donation. Carried a donor card, but much more importantly have told next of kin of my wishes. Been involved in campaigns, and met up with Specialist Nurses (SNODS) to discuss how we can increase donation levels. But I have always been an implacable opponent of presumed consent. I simply do not consider it right that the state should take the organs of the dead, without the expressed approval of the dead or a family member taking the decision on behalf of the dead. And it doesn’t deliver more organs for donation.

Unfortunately, whenever this issue is under discussion, I have to repeat that I support Organ Donation. I also have to repeat that my opposition is not based of faith or religion, but on efficacy. It does not work. I now refuse to do media interviews. What happens is that someone needing a transplant informs the listener that an organ is needed to save his or her life - and then I’m asked why I disagree. I politely make clear that I don’t disagree. The follow up question (totally ignoring what I’ve just said) is usually asking how I can support religion blocking the saving of a life. I politely point out that my views have nothing to do with religion, but are based on there being no evidence that presumed consent will improve donation levels, and may well lead to the opposite. My experience confirms that there are none so deaf as those who will not listen.

There are three ways in which we can increase organ donation. Firstly promote ‘opting in’. Donor cards are useful but most effective way by a country mile is to tell next of kin. Secondly, increase number of Specialist Nurses (SNODS) who are trained to talk with next of kin when they are coping with the pain of a loved one’s death. Evidence tells us the rate of donation increases dramatically when SNODS are involved. And thirdly, increase number of Intensive Care beds, which are needed to allow a transplant to take place.

Of course, we will all be able to ‘opt out’. But we know that most people will not ever think of this issue. The state will be taking organs from people who would have opted out if they had thought about it. This is anathema to those of us who remember the horror of Alder Hey. My view is that ‘opting out’ will in effect be reserved to the more educated, informed part of society.

But the main reason I’m opposed to presumed consent is that it transforms the principle of donated ‘gift’ into a statutory ‘duty’. The State decides and then ‘the state’ acts. We as individuals no longer need to. ‘The State’ will have no interest in asking us. Over recent years we’ve see huge increases in live donors, often donating altruistically. This will fall, (they already are) in the same way care of elderly family members has fallen over time as the state took over the responsibility.

I was very disappointed to learn that my government intends to proceed with presumed consent. There is no evidence to support such a policy. I will not oppose it if it’s a whipped vote, but it should be a ‘free vote’. I will continue to publically oppose it, as I’m doing now, and challenge it on the floor of the House of Commons. It’s putting ideology before evidence. And worst of all, It will not increase number of donors - may even decrease them.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Prime Minister’s Conference Speech.

Listened to the Prime Minister’s speech on the radio this morning. In the past, my voice has embarrassed me by ‘cracking up’, but never as spectacularly as Theresa May’s voice cracked up today. It was a big achievement on her part to fight her way through to the end. Luckily, I was not concerned about style, presentation or any such things. BBC Wales had invited me on at 5.00pm to discuss the speech on Good Morning Wales. I wanted to know what she actually said!  

I thought it a very good speech. In my opinion, it was an unusually radical, progressive speech. It was very much a Theresa May speech, quite prepared to lead a Government intervening where she sees market failure. And it was good that she apologised to party members for the disappointing General Election results. She had, properly, refused to respond to the self important media demands that she apologise before today. She did it in the right and proper place.

The commitment to more housing was very welcome. In particular she made special mention of Councils being given a role in delivering housing. Personally I would like to have heard more about ensuring planning authorities start helping the private sector deliver new housing instead of making it more difficult. But I do sense today’s speech is going to give a green light where previously it’s been red for No.

We also had an announcement of a review of the Mental Health Act. Probably about 20 yrs overdue. And very significantly, the Prime Minister made it clear she’s had enough of energy companies ‘ripping off’ customers. For long enough, they have had warnings that Govt would act if they didn’t set their house in order. They refused, driven by greed, and Theresa May has acted. We will see the Government Bill next week.

It wasn’t all about state intervention though. The Prime Minister spoke at length of a commitment to the role of the private sector, and to the capitalism which has risen living standards of many millions of people across the world. Mrs Theresa May is a true Conservative, one that knows the value of an economy based on capitalist principles, but willing to step in to correct market failures.

One last word of congratulation to Good Evening Wales. My interview did not include anything about the obnoxious publicity seeker which others (like Radio 5 which I listened) seemed more interested in helping gain the publicity he wanted. It was a proper interview about serious subjects.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Reaching out to the younger generation.

Its very fashionable amongst Conservative commentators to speak of reaching out to younger voters. About time too. If I chip in my tuppenyworth before any of the speeches, I can't be accused of being divisive! Much of today's pre conference discussion focuses on tuition fees and housing. The Prime Minister has been setting the scene. It's still a few weeks before the budget, but seems to me today's discussion has committed to Chancellor to spend/invest quite a few billions under these budget heads.

Let's take tuition fees first. Much of the coverage has been about cancelling proposed increases in fees. I agree with this, but it will deliver a reduction in university's  income. They will not be happy about this, not happy at all, but its not earth shattering. And won't be much public sympathy for universities either, after the publicity a few days ago about what uni bosses are paying themselves. But it seems to me that increasing the income level that a graduate must reach before having to repay any loan from £21K to £25K is rather more significant. It's going to cost the Chancellor many billions. So much that in the long run, I think this could be so expensive that it could lead to fewer places at university.  I hope it's not too controversial a comment for me to make that this would not be an unwelcome development.

And so on to housing, thought to be a 'touchstone' issue for young people. This really is a key issue. We need young people to have a personal stake in capitalism - through ownership. No better way than through home ownership. I've been saying for a while that we need a dramatic commitment that takes the headlines. "A million new houses by 2022" or something similar. Today's discussion has been about Gov't commitment to 'Help to Buy'. Asking myself if this will work, or will it just feed into higher prices. And it's a lot of public money.  Only real way to tackle the housing issue is through allowing more freedom to build. Increase supply. Seems obvious to me. And we need to end hoysebuilders stockpiling land. We need more permissive planning systems. Let the people build, not just let housing associations and councils build. It's the planning system that killing development through limiting supply.

Difficult for me as a past president of CPRW to advocate greater freedom to build - and limiting the ability of planning systems to frustrate development. I recall my astonishment when I was asked to take on presidency of CPRW. I had been Chair of a planning authority for many years, and was in favour of more development. Yes I thought it should be of quality, and sensitively located, but new houses, new factories and new transport infrastructure there has to be. Not sure there's a need for Govt to throw billions at this - just set the private sector free to deliver. Hope these are the messages coming out of Manchester this week.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Newtown. Facing the Global-Rural challenge. Again.

A hugely encouragingly visit to Newtown this afternoon. Parked by the Post Office and walked through an almost fully let Ladywell Shopping Centre. Not seen that for years. Just needs the supermarket site to be occupied now. Then through the new Market Hall. Full of bustle. Bursting at the seams with business activity. Not seen that since is was upgraded two years ago. I know one afternoon is not a renaissance, but it felt a bit like that.
The reason I was there was to visit 'An Exhibition of Newtown's Global Past' located next door to the Market Hall. For me it was as emotional as it was informative. What was being presented as history was (and is) a part of my own life. The only depressing part of the day was me appearing as an interviewee on screen almost 30 yrs ago. Oh the ravages of time!
The history was there, even if it seemed 'current' to me because of the connections to today. When I left Caereinion School to work on the family farm, the economy of Montgomeryshire was being disrupted on two fronts - two aspects of 'globalisation'. Firstly there was the movement of population from farm based employment to our market towns. And after the 2nd World War, the exodus of population from Mid Wales to areas with better communications and access to the big markets. In the 60s/70s/80s/90s, government intervention turned the economy around. I thought that 'intervention' ended two years too soon.
And on to today. The threats to the Mid Wales economy are all around us. Promotion of economic development is being arranged all around us. The Cardiff City Deal, Swansea City Deal, North Wales Growth Deal and the Midlands Engine connected to the Marches LEC. I don't advocate a body based on 'top down' Government intervention like the DBRW, but there does need an organised locally based partnership drawing on Welsh and UK Governments, local economic interests and local authorities. My own experiences of 'top down' intervention lead me to despair at the absence of planning to maximise the benefit of the new Newtown Bypass.
The questions being asked by the Aberystwyth University's GLOBAL-RURAL project was about confidence in the future of Mid Wales. I am an optimist. I usually am about what can be achieved. I know there are threats, and not just from competition on our borders. There's the changes into how government support into the rural economy will impact post Brexit. Certainly planners must become more supportive of farm diversification. But I do think the new Bypass will have a positive impact, even if not planned and maximised.
The exhibition is going to be moving around. I recommend anyone with an interest in our economy takes an hour or two to visit.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Taking the Temperature of Brexit Talks.

When I started my blog about 15 yrs ago, I often shared my thoughts over a coffee out in Cardiff Bay. Since I'm here today with some time to kill, I've decided to revisit the old practise - over a coffee and caramel waffle in Starbucks. Today my mind wanders to the future of Europe, as the Prime Minister invests time in chat and ritual dancing with Donald Tusk, against background of German election. It will take a few months for the full impact of the arrival of the Alternative fur Deutschland in the Bundestag to work through. Maybe it's because I have grandchildren that whenever I think about translating my thoughts into words I worry about what the future holds. How on earth have we reached the position of Donald Trump in the White House, abuse becoming endemic in our British political system, and the AfD becoming a major player in Germany, where the voting system is meant to prevent this sort of thing happening.
When contemplating which way to vote in the EU Referendum last year, I acknowledged (to myself) that the best argument for Remain was the role the UK could play as Europe faces crisis and probable collapse over the next few years. Britain has centuries of constitutional stability, which works against bloody revolution. I finally decided the UK can do this more effectively outside the self serving out-of-touch elite centred on Brussels. A lot depends on whether the Brexit 'divorce' is amicable and constructive, or the opposite. It's bad news all round if the UK is 'ostracised'.
What are the issues facing the EU (and by extension Europe)? Most worrying is immigration, and the negative reaction to it. The reality is that there will probably be over a billion people trying to move to European countries from Africa and the Middle East. We will all strengthen our immigration controls across Europe, but it will be a mighty challenge, which will feed extremist movements, both on the left and right off political opinion. The AfD will have a field day. In particular, we should divert more of our International Aid to these countries to develop their own economies - trying to tackle the problem at source.
When I see the posturing of the EU elite as we negotiate Brexit, I despair - obsessing about the garden fence as the house falls down.  While I voted to Leave, and would do so if there was a re-run referendum, I do believe we owe it to future generations as well as ourselves that we strive for an amicable separation, and a focus on this biggest issue of all.  I thought Mrs May's Florence speech was a positive step forward from the UK Government. I'm not at all sure that the EU response will be as positive. It needed a powerful Mrs Merkel to step in and redirect the agenda. It should not be left to the Brussels based out-of-touch bureaucracy. There are big black clouds on the horizon. I just hope the winds of reason will blow them away. That's my coffee done - so rambling can cease for today.

Monday, September 25, 2017

In Flanders Fields

Let the sound of bells and whistles ring out over the football fields of Britain. FIFA has taken a sensible decision. Over recent years, this has not been usual. But Fifa has decided that poppies can be worn by international football teams on and near Remembrance Day to commemorate Armistice Day. Last year, to widespread condemnation, the football authorities of England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland were fined for ignoring a FIFA instruction to not commemorate. Not unreasonably, the change of policy requires that the opposition team are content that symbols should be worn.
Personally, If I was selected to play for Wales (striker would be my favoured position) I would wear a tee shirt under the red shirt of Cymru with the words of John McCrae printed on it.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row
That marks our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up your quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch: be yours to lift it high
If he break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The German Election.

Today's German election is much the most important election in Europe this year. Particularly important bearing in mind the UK's decision to Leave the EU in March 2019. If I were a German voter, I would have supported the CDU/CSU alliance led by Angela Merkel. And would have been deeply worried by the rise of Alternative fuer Deutschland. In the event, it seems CDU/CSU alliance has takent 32.9% of the vote (making Theresa May's 42.3% look quite impressive) and the AfD seems to have taken over 13% (and predicted to win 89 seats). This is dramatic and a matter of deep concern to all of Europe. The UK media are focussing on Mrs Merkel winning her 4th election. The real news is the emergence of the AfD. It's not good news, but very bad news indeed.
And it gets worse. Because it seems the SPD have won only 20% of the votes (historically low) any thoughts of another 'Grand Coalition' between Germany's two biggest parties are probably stillborn. It will take a lot to persuade the SPD to serve as 'minority partner' again. Which means Mrs Merkel could spend next few weeks/months putting together a coalition with other parties (with very different philosophies) to govern Germany. A 'Jamaica Coalition' will not be at all easy to pull off. Brexit may well become a very secondary issue. It's not featured in the election to any significant extent. Can't see Mrs Merkel putting Brexit at top of her agenda over next few months.
The worst aspect of today's result, and by a very long way is the emergence of the AfD as a political force in Germany. The AfD is a party that is anti-immigrant, anti-Islam and associated (fairly or unfairly) with ultra right wing (National Socialist) parties that have so tarnished Europe's 20th century history. No other party will work with AfD in any circumstances. Regrettably, the AfD going to be a growing force in German and European politics. Time to start praying.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Prime Minister goes to Italy.

Our Prime Minster, Theresa May has been speaking in Florence today. It was good to see the 3 best mates, Boris, Philip Hammond and David Davis smiling happily in the front row seats. I liked the speech. It was very much as I expected. Much the most encouraging aspect is that the UK media had totally failed to line up interviewees of any significance to declare it was "disappointing" and "unrealistic". Not even the BBC. Most negative line was that not much would change for 5 years. My response to that is "So what". They had to fall back on Nigel Farage, and we all know that nothing would have satisfied him. He had prepared his negative lines before he heard the speech!
There will be differing responses, including within the Conservative Party. Already had one constituent on the phone upset that we are not just walking away with no deal. Personally, I welcome today's speech. Very much in line with my own opinions. The UK will leave the EU end of March 2019 - a timetable driven by the Lisbon Treaty. That does not leave enough time to work through a trade deal which is best for both sides. It seems there will be a period of about two years after March 2019 to negotiate a sensible trade deal which benefits EU and UK. Again personally, my response is "So what". We need best possible deal, and 'so what' if it takes until 2021. We do need the deal to be done before General Election in 2022 though.
What finance transfers there will be from UK to EU is another big issue. Personally, I've always accepted the the UK will pay what we owe, both legally and morally. In fact the figures being talked about today are far lower than that we had been led to expect. I suspect the EU negotiators will want more. But what's important to the negotiations is that it's interpreted as 'sufficient progress' to move on to discussions on trade.
Two other comments I want to make. Will be looking at commentators opinions. Is the reassurance given to EU legally migrants in the UK in the UK acceptable. And how will the commentators react to Mrs May herself. My view is that she is a good Prime Minister. Today I thought she really looked the part. I sense that she has poked in the eye those who have been most relentless in their criticisms.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Complexities of 'end of life' care

BBC is reporting today on an important legal case where Mr Justice Jackson has ruled that where relatives and clinicians treating patients in a permanent vegetative state agree that care can be ended, there should be no need for a judge to agree as well. Until now, all treatment, except withdrawal of food and fluid can be ended without a judge's involvement. A judge's involvement means incurring  great unnecessary expense. However, the implications of this judgement are such that the Official Solicitor may well appeal in the interests of clarifying the law.
This is a sensitive and difficult policy area, morally, legally and from the perspective of patient safety. A few years ago, I made public comment disagreeing with a judge who had ruled that a patient suffering from anorexia, with only a minuscule chance of living should be force fed. The case attracted a lot of publicity, as did my comment, which I had intended only to stimulate discussion. It was a policy area of interest to me, being opposed to the legalisation of assisted suicide - itself not a straightforward issue. The Justice Jackson case is not the same, but raises equally difficult questions in the field of end of life.
In this case, and at this stage, I rather agree with the judge. But I do feel the need to discuss it with others before coming to a final conclusion. Relatives and clinicians can already take actions such as withdrawing Dialysis, which results in death, without the involvement of a judge. I cannot see why this principle cannot be extended withdrawal of food and fluids. The only issue of concern to me is that it only applies in cases where the patient is in a permanent vegetative state and has miniscule chance of recovery.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Scotland and Wales First Ministers in tandem

 Wales First Minister, Carwyn Jones and Scotland First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon seemed to getting along very well in all today's TV clips. They might have disagreed over the Scottish Independence Referendum but they do give the impression of being as one in wanting to stop Brexit happening in March 2019 - or at all! know that Carwyn Jones says that he accepts the EU Referendum result but it doesn't sound much like it to me. Whatever, the Carwyn/Nicola show was in full cry today. I'm not sure how much of it is bluster for public consumption and how much is for real.
It seems that the Wales First Minister is planning to put forward 38 amendments to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. I suppose he would have to persuade MPs or members of the Lords to do this for him. And if these amendments are not agreed to, Carwyn Jones informs us will ask Assembly Members to refuse to agree to the Bill. Must admit I don't know precisely what power he has to deliver on this - or whether the Assembly Members can actually stop the Bill making progress. Maybe it's no more than an attempt to put pressure on the Westminster Gov't to agree to his demands. The reason I decided to write this blog post was because I need some clarity on the constitutional position here. If a constitutional lawyer happens upon this comment, any clarity would be welcomed. So treat this as 'work in progress'.
According to the BBC, the First Minister has four aims.
1) Ensure devolved policy areas come back to the Welsh Assembly and Scottish Parliament after Brexit.
2) Prevent UK Minsters unilaterally changing the Gov't of Wales Act and the Scotland Act.
3) Require the agreement of the Welsh Gov't on necessary changes to EU Gov't law in devolved areas after Brexit.
4) Ensure additional restrictions are not placed on devolved ministers compared with UK Gov't ministers.
I expect there to be much discussion between the UK Gov't and devolved Gov'ts over these 'conditions' as there will be over how we develop 'statutory frameworks' to protect the UK internal market and work through the powers being transferred temporarily into a 'Holding Pattern'.
I repeat, treat this blog post as 'work in progress'!

Monday, September 18, 2017

20 yrs ago today, the voters of Wales decided.

On 18th September 1997, the voters of Wales decided that a National Assembly for Wales should be established. Well, around 25% of them did. But as someone once surely said "one is a majority". And 6,000 votes is a lot more than one. Even if it wasn't a thumping 52%/48% victory. A majority of 0.6% ignored my advice that they should reject this expensive extra layer of bureaucracy. I was the only No person at the count in Llandrindod Wells in the early hours of Sept 19th when the last result came in from Carmarthen giving the Yes campaigners victory. I was surrounded by dancing, singing, whooping and tears of joy. I could see immediately that there was not to be any going back. Case of "if you can't beat them, join them"! Not quite perhaps, but I did accept the result immediately, and have worked to make a success of it ever since.
I stood for election to the National Assembly at its first election in 1999. I was defeated in Montgomeryshire by the all conquering Liberal Democrats in the form of Mick Bates. But I was elected as a 'regional' Assembly Member' for Mid and West Wales. Same thing happened 4 yrs later in 2003. But by 2007, the Labour machine banned 'duel candidacy' and I had to choose which hill to climb. Since I'd represented Mid and West Wales for 8 yrs I went for the 'list seat' and my political career bit the dust because my Conservative Party did too well. I was sad about that. That sort of thing happens with PR systems.
Anyway, in 2010, I rose from my political grave to be elected MP for Montgomeryshire, vanquishing the colourful Lembit Opik, and repeated the performance with increasing majorities in 2015 and 2017. Earlier this year I was very pleased to be a part of the Wales Office team that took the most recent Wales Act through to the statute book. I was especially pleased that responsibility for raising income tax and that the 'conferred powers' model of devolution has been replaced by the 'reserved powers model.
Its my desire to see devolution be a success, I do not think it has been yet. Services have not improved. If anything the reverse has been the case. And disappointingly, the politics of the National Assembly has not changed as I would have expected. Labour has formed the Government since day one, supported for part of that time by Plaid Cymru, the Lib Dems and by Lord Elis Thomas. No fault on Labour for this. It's a matter for the opposition parties. Unfortunately, the Welsh Conservatives have not persuaded others (notably Plaid Cymru) to lie in bed beside them. Maybe someday. When Labour are in opposition, the Welsh Parliament will have 'grown up'. Hope we don't have to wait 20 years for that!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

What did Boris mean by that!

Personally, I'm reckon a bit of disagreement within political parties can be positive and creative. It can lead to  better decision making in that it can expose an unwise step to closer scrutiny. I know that political party's whipping operations like to keep everything under tight control, but Farage/UKIP, Corbyn/Labour and Trump/Republican have shown us that in today's turbulent politics, where social media and fake news are so influential, dominating the agenda is what matters - within reason anyway.
Anyway Boris Johnson wrote a 4,000 word article for the Daily Telegraph yesterday which doesn't seem to fit into anyone's media planning. It's generated a lot of interest, despite being totally loyal to the Prime Minister, and not actually saying anything he's not said before. As always with Boris, his writing is flamboyant, and his arguments well constructed. And it will connect. The aspect that interests me is what he says about the claim made by the Leave side leading up to the EU Referendum that leaving the EU would allow a future UK Govt to invest another £350million per week in the NHS.
I don't think anyone can give us precise figures, but this 'promise' made in early 2016, would have meant an extra £18bn per year added to the NHS budget. I should add that though I voted Leave, I did not use this figure at all. It seems to me that we could spend £18bn per year when we stop paying in (prob 2022). Though Boris thinks it could be earlier. The Govt has already increased the NHS budget by £8bn per year since the EU Referendum,  and I'd be surprised if the NHS budget was not increased again in the November budget.
Boris is a brilliant wordsmith. His article or 'essay' is readable and conveys a joyously optimistic
vision of a UK outside the EU. It is in no way disloyal to the Prime Minister and it says nothing that he hasn't said before. It was a very good read. I'm looking forward to a similarly good read on Friday when the Prime Minister makes a key Brexit speech in Florence. After a few months when not much seems to have been happening on the Brexit front, it does look as if things are starting to take shape. It's very interesting times we live in.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Renewable Energy from Offshore Wind.

I have always supported sourcing more of our energy from offshore wind. Offshore wind farms don't trash beautiful landscapes as onshore wind farms do. I thought the costs involved would fall over time. But I did not expect the rate at which the costs would fall to deliver the cfd (Contracts for Difference) prices announced yesterday. They were a real game changer. Worth looking at in detail.
The current market price of energy is around £53.50 per MWh (megawatt hour). Just 2yrs ago, offshore developers needed a guaranteed £117.14 per MWh to build offshore wind farms. Yesterday massive new projects in the North Sea were agreed at just £57.50 per MWh. Truly astonishing. And it's expected that prices will fall further. We expect battery technology to deliver more efficiency and lower costs, through reducing the negative impact of inconsistent generation. Development of non time-critical electricity users (electric cars) will also reduce costs.
Important to understand that no Government subsidy is involved. It's users of electricity that pay to guarantee the price. Yesterday's cfd auction prices are great news for electricity buyers into the furure.
 I have no doubt that onshore wind farm generation will be lower than the current £52.50 per MWh price. And I've no doubt that some onshore development will happen, especially in Scotland, where opposition to trashing the landscape is less than elsewhere. Certainly a lot less than in Mid Wales. I did my utmost to stop the appalling Mid Wales Connection Project from going ahead - and will continue as long as I have breath in my body. The implications of this delelopment in Mid Wales are horrendous. Like pouring a bucket of tar on a painting by Sir Kyffin Williams. It would be utter madness when cost of offshore wind is dropping like a stone.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. Where now?

I have always supported the idea of using tidal power to generate energy. Since it was first proposed, I have supported the idea of the Swansea Bay Tidal Lagoon. I'd love to see us run with this scheme - if it's viable. Now that's a very big 'if'. Despite supporting the idea, I've never felt able to completely commit to it. I've been surprised by how many are calling for the Govt to run with this scheme, no matter what the cost. Worryingly, most of the narrative around the project has involved criticism of the Govt for not agreeing to quarentee to buy the power produced by the SB Tidal Lagoon at the same price it will pay for that produced by nuclear power plants, but for nearly three times as long - which makes it much much more expensive. I know that the Hendry Report, commissioned by the Govt backed the scheme. Didn't expect anything else from Charles Hendry from the moment he was given the task of assessing it. The responsible Secretary of State, Greg Clarke is taking his time assessing the project. Quite right too. He's a very good Minister.  My guess is that the advice he is receiving from independent assessors is not flashing up 'Green'. So we will have to wait and see.

There is nothing at all new in this post so far. But the comments coming from Dale Vince, the founder and still owner (I think) of Ecotricity in a letter to Greg Clarke, reported on the BBC today is very significant. Dale Vince knows what he's talking about. Despite being hugely supportive of renewable energy, including tidal power, be believes that a lagoon not attached to the land will create energy at around a quarter of the price. And be more environmentally friendly. If it had been someone else saying this, it would just be an opinion, alongside other opinions. But it's the opinion of a man who knows. The Welsh Affairs Select Committee has just decided to take evidence and prepare a report on tidal lagoons. I do hope Dale Vince is invited to share his thoughts with us as part of that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Notes from Gibraltar

I write this column for the Oswestry and Borders Chronicle as sitting out on my balcony overlooking the Bay of Gibraltar. The Spanish port of Algeciras is to my right. The Mountains of North Morocco are to my left. The Straits of Gibraltar, opening onto the Atlantic (next stop the US) are in front of me. 100,000 seagoing vessels of various sorts pass through this way every year, a high proportion taking on fuel and stores at Gibraltar, or undergoing various sorts of repair and maintenance. 

Algeciras and Gibraltar are hugely important to Spain and Britain respectively - for very different reasons. Algeciras is one of the world’s busiest commercial ports and of great importance to the Spanish economy. Gibraltar is crucial to the defence of Britain, and through this defence capability, crucially important to maintaining peace in the world. 

I am in Gibraltar for 3 days as a guest on the Gibraltarian Government, who want us to understand the importance of the Port of Gibraltar to the world. Yesterday we spent three hours aboard HMS Diamond, one of Britain's six Type 45 anti-missile destroyers, which each cost a billion pounds and are deployed all over the world in support of the British interest. They are seriously impressive bit of military kit. 

The timing of our visit coincides with the celebration of National Day, held annually on September 10th. This year is special because it's the 25th such National Day. The tradition was started by the great socialist Chief Minister, Joe Bassano, whom I feel I know quite well now. I have been to help celebrate Gibraltar's National Day before, and know it to be a wonderful occasion - a glorious celebration of the spirit of Gibraltar. It's also a statement of an enduring love for Britain. My first visit to Gib was in July 1969. There was a General Election taking place, won by the Intergration with Britain Party. Too years before there had been a referendum to decide whether Gibraltar should stay British or return to Spanish control. Spain had long claimed 'ownership' of Gibraltar. 12,138 votes for Britain and 44 voted for Spain. That settled the issue. And that is how it’s going to stay.

A key part of the Gibraltarian economy is based on financial services and online betting. So unsurprisingly, Gibraltarians were concerned about the possible impact of the United Kingdom's decision to leave the European Union. 96% voted Remain. So I did not expect to hear the speech of the inspirational Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo over lunch, which was stunningly positive about Brexit. He said, bluntly, that they had "got it wrong". In the last year, GDP increased by an astonishing 9%. Average salaries rose to £90,000. Unemployment fell to just 74 people. Truly remarkable figures. The key to Gibraltar's economic future is its close links with Britain. 90% of exports are to Britain, and our two Governments are working together positively on Brexit. All the opposite of what was feared. No wonder National Day celebrations have been more joyous than ever this last week.

Monday, September 11, 2017

European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

For last two days of Parliamentary business, MPs have been debating the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Over 100 MPs spoke in the debate. Listened in on much of it. Must admit I found much of it quite repetitive. Lots of very good speeches but after the early opening speeches, there was not much more to be said. I shared my thoughts on the issue with Radio Wales listeners on Good Evening Wales tonight at 6.00. In reality there is not as much difference in view across the Commons, as is often portrayed, apart from those who simply do not accept the people's vote to leave on June 23rd 2016. Most MPs accept that the UK is going to leave the EU, even if there is disagreement about how it's to happen and what sort of transition is going to be arranged.

Today's debate was about the practicalities of how we are going to leave. What the Bill proposes is that all EU law is transposed into British Law when we leave, giving maximum legal certainty and continuity to the UK on 'Brexit Day'. It repeals the European Communities Act 1972. It ensures that, wherever possible, the same rules and laws apply the day before and day after we leave. And it gives ministers in this Parliament the power to make statutory instruments to deal with the transition. This procedure is often referred to as Henry V111 powers. It's based on Ol Henry passed legislation to do pretty well whatever he wanted. This element of the Bill has been the major 'bone of contention' in the debate, and is being interpreted as a 'power grab'. Personally I do think this is a wild exaggeration - made mostly by those who still hope that we reverse the referendum position.

As a general principle, I do think Henry V111 powers are only acceptable if there is not any other reasonable way to proceed. A Government's capacity to proceed without parliamentary approval is the final resort. And that is what will happen in practise. We will be voting on this Bill in the next hour, and I expect it to be approved comfortably. But that should not be taken as total approval. The Government has said it is in 'listening mode' and I expect amendments to be accepted at Committee stage, with some moved by Conservative MPs, even the Government itself. Securing the passage of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill through The House of Commons is going to be (and should be) hotly debated. And then it will be  on to the House of Lords where the temperature will rise even higher.


Thursday, August 31, 2017

Immigration is good, but not too much.

Because of the bank holiday weekend, I had to write my Oswestry and Border Chronicle article last Friday. It was published today. I wrote it on the back of last week's net immigration figures, which reported a significant fall. Anyway, it's a controversial subject which excites opinion. Here it is;

"The level of immigration is a very important issue for the British people. It was probably the most significant factor in their decision that the UK should leave the European Union in last year's EU Referendum. They wanted the UK Government to have direct control over immigration, and thought the current level  to be unsustainably high. Personally, I did not share the widespread concern, but did think a net increase in UK population of over 300,000 every year was too high, and if continued over decades would lead to social problems. This is why this week's  figures, showing a large reduction in net immigration are to be welcomed.

As always, much of the discussion about this change misses the reality behind what's happening. So easy (and inaccurate) to attribute the fall in numbers to EU citizens returning home simply because they feel less welcome in the UK since the referendum vote. The reality is much more complex. Firstly, the economies of countries from where EU immigration has been greatest are becoming more economically successful. Many of those who saw opportunity for work and supporting their families by moving temporarily to the UK can increasingly see good opportunities at home. And secondly, the fall in the value of Sterling has significantly reduced the value of money returned to Eastern European countries from the UK.

As the UK leaves the EU, the debate about immigration will change. As the level of EU net immigration falls, some UK business sectors will have recruitment difficulties. The most obvious example is in the harvesting of seasonal fruit and vegetable crops. There could also be problems in the social care and hospitality industries, where immigration from the EU has delivered much needed employees. To avoid damaging disruption, we must try to ensure change is gradual and manageable.

Again personally, I've never thought that immigration from Europe will be a long term problem. But immigration from the rest of the world will be. The mass movement of people from areas of conflict in the world, and from areas of drought, will increase hugely. Again, a manageable level of immigration is generally good, boosting economic growth and cultural understanding across the world. What those who voted 'Leave' last year wanted was to be in control of the change that has always been a feature of life in Britain. 


Monday, August 28, 2017

'Thoughts on Brexit'

What is one to think of the current Brexit discussion. Personally, I really don't know, except that it's much more promising than I thought it would be when I voted 'Leave' a year last June. Like many others, I found casting my referendum vote a strange experience - a strange mixture of certainty and uncertainty. Even though not keen on the holding of an In-Out referendum, I was always certain I would vote 'Leave' but deeply uncertain about how the process of leaving would go. Reason I was not keen on a referendum was that I thought it near impossible to make a considered judgement. So had to vote, at least in part, by instinct.
Now it would be very easy to think that negotiations are not going well. Most of main commentators were in favour of remain, and don't accept the referendum 'decision' - while telling us that they do! The BBC in particular cannot believe the people did not do what they assumed they would do. Every story, however small and insignificant is portrayed as having a negative impact. Any remotely positive item usually begins "Despite Brexit......". It's also the case that the Government leading up to the referendum seems to have done zilch preparation for a Leave vote. Left a bit of 'catching up' to do.
The main reason I write blogs is to help me rationalise my thoughts. And this post is no more than 'introductory' and general. Plus it's a response to attitudes of people I know who are utterly appalled by the prospect of the UK leaving the EU. One good friend of mine tells me that if he were younger, he would leave Britain (to live where I did not ask). Must admit I was astonished. But I do accept that divisions run deep on this issue. The only remainder comment that causes me marginal irritation (and I'm not one to be irritated by opinion) is "I voted remain for the sake of our children". Unfortunately what I hear is what's meant but not spoken "You voted Leave because you're too selfish to consider your children". In fact I voted Leave for my children and grandchildren. I want them to live in a free, independent country run as a democracy, and not as a unresponsive bureaucracy run by a faceless machine which tramples underfoot any independent nation that has its own ideas. Poor Greece. It's why the whole thing will eventually collapse.
It's taken a while for the UK Govt to get up to speed with the negotiations. But I do think we're getting there now. We are publishing interesting discussion papers. The EU machine is just sitting there (on what their negotiators see as the high ground) insisting that the UK does what we are told, in the order they dictate. It's an attitude that's made me more certain than ever that I voted the right way. Anyway, that'll do for background intro. Will read it tomorrow, and probably change bits of it. And perhaps write another post about today's total re-setting of Labour Party policy. Firstly will have to decide whether it's much of a change at all, or just political posturing.

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.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Should farmers grow trees post Brexit.

Two articles of interest to me in today's Telegraph. Firstly, an article about challenges facing farming post-Brexit. And secondly, a report, of dubious provenance that UK is to scrap EU renewable energy targets. Let's consider the future economics of farming first. Its all conjecture at this stage of course. We have no real idea of what the position will be.

There are two main concerns facing the farming industry. Firstly there is the annual subsidy payments, guaranteed up to 2020, but not afterwards. The background to this policy of subsidy was the then Govt's 'cheap food policy' after the Second World War. Over recent years it's become an essential support to farming. Many farms would not be viable without the subsidy payment. It's not a healthy position for any industry to be dependent on subsidy into the far distance but a cliff-edge cut off in 2020 would be devastating. Let me take a guess at what might happen post Brexit. Subsidy will gradually move from being universal to being paid for a specific 'public benefit' - principally environment enhancing payments. It's moving that way already. Perhaps this could involve planting up land, currently used for arable or livestock, with trees. I've long thought a forestry expansion programme to make sense, economically and environmentally. Support guarantees would have to be long term, include for public access for recreation - walking, biking activities etc.. Whatever, most switched on farmers are already looking at diversification of one sort or another.

The second concern for farmers, especially sheep farmers in Wales is access to EU markets at nil or manageably low tariffs. Wales is particularly dependent on lamb exports. All the current talk by the NFU about 'food security' doesn't apply here. Hopefully, there will be a UK/EU deal which covers lamb exports, but in the longer run, we could see development of other markets or a gradual move from sheep farming to forestry perhaps.

Now for the possible link with the other Telegraph story - about the UK abandoning EU 'renewable energy' targets. We are legally obliged to access 15% of our energy from 'renewable sources' by 2020. I've always thought trans-EU targets as a nonsense. This 15% target doesn't include energy efficiency, carbon capture or nuclear power. That's makes no sense. While I think the UK will be well rid of EU targets post Brexit, we will need low carbon targets of our own. We need to think laterally. From a global perspective, we would acheive more cost benefit by investing in solar energy in a hot African country than ploughing money into solar in the UK. Such a policy could be linked with our foreign aid commitments. Let us use our UK resources to develop battery technology, carbon capture or hydrogen/electric cars rather than ploughing resources into second rate established technologies which put up the bills of energy customers.  Or maybe more biomass from the millions of acres of extra trees we might grow, rather than import timber great distances from faraway countries, as if carbon emissions are not a global issue. We could have a UK renewables policy suited to our own circumstances.

This is all very early consideration of how we might change policy to cope with Brexit. I expect to return to these issues from time to time - and don't rule out having an entirely different perspective next time. We live in uncertain times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Hospitals row is built on misunderstanding.

Its many years since I concluded that the NHS hospitals structure that most Montgomeryshire patients depend on, (located in Shropshire) is unsustainable. For years it's been clear that two major hospitals providing all NHS services is unsustainable. It leads to a poorer standard of service, costs more to manage and delivers less satisfying outcomes for patients. It's been clear for years that one hospital should be 'hot' and the other hospital should be 'cold' - one hospital should deal with 'emergency' care and the other hospital should cover 'planned' care.

For some unthought through reason a pubic battle, complete with campaigns, shouting matches, public marches and political manoeuvrings has focussed on 'winning' the 'hot' services. All I care about is putting in place the best service - for my constituents and for Shropshire and Mid Wales as a whole. A few years ago I wasn't certain whether Montgomeryshire patients would benefit more from 'hot' or 'cold'. Unfortunately, a chief executive named Adam Cairns arrived in Shropshire and made a total pigs ear of things (before clearing off to Cardiff and then the Middle East) . To an extent we are still clearing up the ill-considered mess he left. From a Montgomeryshire perspective I asked people whether they wanted 'emergency' care (hot) or 'planned' care (cold) in the nearer hospital at Shrewsbury, or at Telford. Telford would be 20 minutes further away for emergencies ((under blue light) and more like 45 minutes further for planned care. They all wanted emergency care at Shrewsbury. Fair enough, but I always thought it was a marginal call. Illogically, the NHS care commissioners based at Telford and Wrekin wanted the 'hot' site in Telford. Deeply regrettably, the Council has become involved and made it a 'political' issue rather that a 'patient benefit' issue. The people of Telford have been misled (in my opinion) about what the planned care option means.

Firstly, the Princess Royal at Telford will continue to be an A&E for about 60% of the people who pitch up at at A&E now. It will perform 28,000 day case and inpatient procedures per year. Cancelled appointments would largely disappear as the priority given to emergency cases would cease (since they would be taken to a new emergency unit at Shrewsbury. It will provide several specialist services and, most importantly, there would be more specialist consultants on site. There would be the same no of beds as now. Most children's and women's services would remain in the Princess Royal, included most maternity, (Though not the most complex cases). Majority of orthopaedics would be in Telford and a new purpose built Edoscopy facility. There would be Centres of Excellence in Bariatric and Breast Services and chemotherapy services would be in the Princess Royal as well. The proposed new NHS Structure to serve Shropshire and Mid Wales would be based on two sustainable complemtary major hospitals, capable of attracting new services and consultants to our area. It can only go ahead with investment of around £200million in the two hospitals. We have a very short period to commit to this new arrangement. If we don't commit very soon, the investment will be lost to compelling cases elsewhere. It will be an absolute tragedy for Shropshire and Mid Wales and the patients living in the area if the bickering, the dithering  and political posturing prevents it going ahead.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

'Avoidable Deaths' in Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals.

The dominant UK story today of interest to me has concerned 'avoidable deaths' of babies at or soon after birth, under the care of doctors and midwifes based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital and the Princess Royal Hospital in Telford. The BBC have given this issue a very high profile - a bit  surprising to me because there was nothing I didn't know already. It's a very emotive issue. Every death of a baby at birth is a personal tragedy for the affected family. It must seem much worse if it's concluded that the death was 'avoidable'. I find it difficult to grasp just how sad and tragic losing a baby in such circumstances must be.

When first contacted by the media to comment on this story yesterday, I was very reluctant to become involved. Certainly did not wish to comment on any individual case. That would be for the family involved. Initially, the media was unsure what this story had to do with Wales. I had to explain that there are no consultant led maternity services in Montgomeryshire, and the majority of mums cross the border into Shropshire for hospital based births. Any births expected to carry extra 'risk' will take place at the new Women's and Children's Hospital at Telford. Today, I agreed to be interviewed by BBC Wales, by Newyddion and by Post Prynhawn on Radio Wales. I believe both TV channels also interviewed a Newtown family who lost a child.

Over the last 15 years, I've taken a very keen interest in the delivery of secondary care services in Shropshire. Montgomeryshire depends on them. The reason I was not surprised by today's news story was that I was involved in detailed discussions with the Chief Executive of the SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospitals Trust) last month. We all welcomed the decision taken in January by Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt to ask NHS England and NHS Improvement to investigate each case over recent years where the death of a baby was judged to be 'avoidable'. SaTH has also asked the Royal College of Obstreticians to review its entire maternity service, and return six months later to assess progress against any targets set. It's so important to SaTH that it's maternity services is top standard and known to be top standard.

A real worry to me arising out of today's publicity is the negative impact it may have on the thinking of consultants who might think about coming to work in Shropshire. There is already serious pressure on some services arising from an inability to attract consultants to Shropshire. Inevitably, insufficient consultant cover means clinically unsafe services and then the migration of services out of Shropshire altogether and further away from Mid Wales. That's why a proper response to the 'avoidable baby deaths' issue is so crucial. Over the last few months, I have developed a growing respect for the current SaTH management, and expect a response based on fulsome apologies to every family affected, an intense investigation into every case and total transparency. It's the only response that will be acceptable.


Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dithering over Shropshire NHS Reform.

This week it's my turn to write the 'Politically Speaking' column for the County Times. So I've decided to get a few things off my chest. As follows;

Not for the first time, my 'Politically Speaking' column concerns the Shropshire NHS services available to patients in mid Wales. The current position is deeply worrying.  In 2014 all management groups in Shropshire and Mid Wales agreed reform of A&E service provision has to be reformed to remain clinically safe and sustainable. Both Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), SaTH (Shrewsbury and Telford NHS Hospital Trust, and Powys agreed to set up an organisation called 'Future Fit' (a weird confusing title) to recommend how reform should be taken forward. They decisively recommended that there should be one Emergency Centre, located at Shrewsbury, which would handle about 20% of those currently turning up at A&E - the 20% that are life-threatening emergencies. It would also handle complex births and paediatrics. 'Future Fit' took 3 years and investment of £2 million pounds to arrive at its recommendation - only for Telford and Wrekin CCG to reject it last Christmas. This was a stunning blow to those of us who want to see thriving hospitals at both Shrewsbury and Telford, serving Shropshire and Mid Wales patients.

For a few days the two CCGs and 'Future Fit' were like rabbits in headlights. Eventually it was decided the only way forward was to commission a report to establish the credibility and soundness of the 'Future Fit' report which had been rejected. This should have been produced many weeks ago, in order that the next stage of public consultation could begin. We are still waiting! I become increasingly fearful that the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' is not capable of delivering this report in time. The current dithering and delay is simply not acceptable. Unless there is real progress in the next week or two, the Chief Executive of 'Future Fit' should be replaced. The NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales is too important to be left floundering because of a failure to deliver. We have waited long enough. Patience has been exhausted.

And another important change is needed. The two CCGs who could not reach agreement should both be scrapped, and replaced by one Shropshire CCG. It seems that this change is on the agenda, but it should happen now. It's clear that the territorial instincts inherent in the current CCG structure is incapable of making decisions for the overall benefit of Shropshire and Mid Wales patients. If it's accepted that merger is the only way forward, and I think it is, why not get on with it and sort it now. While all this dithering and posturing continues, it is the patients who suffer.

In situations like this, it's easy to just let things drift. But 'drift' has serious implication for the NHS serving Shropshire and Mid Wales. The refusal to commit to reform which all the clinicians, (and those not seeking to pursue political interests) know are crucial to a safe and sustainable future, make both Shrewsbury and Telford Hospitals look unsustainable to the rest of the UK (even the world, where quality consultants often come from). They will not come to work in Shropshire. We know that two weeks ago, neurological services for all new patients were transferred with immediate effect to Wolverhampton. I'm president of both the local branches of Motor Neurone Disease and Parkinson's so appreciate the implications of this. The reason is inability to attract suitable skilled consultants. More and more services will be transferred to Stoke, Wolverhampton and elsewhere. It’s happening now. 

And finally there's the availability of Government money to finance the reform of emergency services. It will need around £200 million. Currently, we have a small window of opportunity to access the money. Further delay will see this window close, see reform stifled for the long term, and Shropshire hospitals lose services to further afield. And it's the injured, the seriously ill and the frail who will pay the price for dithering. It's utterly shameful.