Friday 13th January 2017
On a day that is said to be lucky for some it is time for my latest update.
Despite all the forecasts of snow across the country in the bay we have, as normal, not seen much more than a couple of flakes. Yet if planning a trip elsewhere this week, particularly to areas that might have been affected by flooding or heavier snow fall, do make a point to check the latest weather forecast before leaving. You can find the most comprehensive information on the Met Office website by clicking here.
The House of Commons sat for five days this week and this meant my work was mostly focused in parliament, including presenting two of my Private Member’s Bills today. As with any week in Parliament the issues I have been involved with debating have ranged from Yemen, the Green Investment Bank, Persecution of Christians in the Middle East, Support for Self-Employment and whether Victims of Domestic Violence should face being questioned by their abuser in the Civil Courts.
The biggest item on the Agenda though was the position of our NHS. The House of Commons held a six-hour debate on it after Prime Minister’s Question Time and the Public Accounts Committee (Of which I am a member) questioned the Chief Executive of the NHS on its financial sustainability. There is more on this below, including some details on the latest news in relation to the Integrated Care Organisation.
I was delighted to welcome visitors from Preston Primary School to Parliament this week. The school arranges regular visits to the Houses of Parliament for its pupils as part of their learning about our constitution and democracy. Sadly the rain was falling but this did not dampen their spirits and I was particularly pleased (As the photo above shows) to arrange for 5 of them to join me at 10 Downing St for the presentation of a petition they had collected.
Finally tonight Hazel and I had a great time at the panto thanks to the Shiphay Amateur Dramatic Society. Their performance of Aladdin was hilarious and I would have recommended to update readers getting a ticket, yet their last two performances tomorrow have already sold out!!!!
This week’s update is below and includes: NHS, Paignton Hospital Decision, Community Digital Radio Bill Clears First Commons Hurdle, Pothole Cash Announced, Stonehenge Tunnel Plan Finalised, Victims Questioned By Their Abuser In Court, Civil Partnerships Bill Debated, How Many Flip-Flops?, Could You Be A Custody Visitor?, College Students To Rebuild Shelter and finally…..Are You A Triskaidekaphobic?
There has been a lot of coverage in the media again this week of issues relating to the NHS and Social Care Services, not least how we fund them in future.
In addition to the issues reported nationally there was also news locally that the Trust which runs Torbay Hospital had given notice of its need to renegotiate a key document that underpins the Integrated Care Organisation. This was not due to any overall budget issue, but a potential loss of funding if a set of NHS rules around financial management as they applied to the trust, (but which do not reflect the flexible nature of the ICO which brings Council Social Care and Health Services together) were not followed strictly.
Having been briefed at length on this issue I am clear that services provided by the ICO will not be affected by this renegotiation, but what is disappointing is that it means lawyers and accountants will be spending time discussing the balance of risk between two bodies funded by the taxpayer, not how to deliver better services. Dr Sarah Wollaston and I will be raising with the Government a potential solution that would avoid this being necessary and get things back on track.
During the Public Accounts Committee Meeting on the Sustainability of NHS Finances I challenged the Chief Executive of the NHS on this issue directly. The hearing has been featured across a lot of the media due to the comments he made on the NHS in general (Which may also be of interest and can be seen in the recording) and you can find the video of it here. Fast forward to 16:50:40 to hear the exchange between Mr Stevens and myself.
Finally there was a lengthy debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday about the NHS more generally following a series of questions to the Health Secretary on Monday. You can read the debate by clicking here and my question to the Health Secretary on Monday by clicking here.
Paignton Hospital Decision,
Given the debate about the NHS I know many residents will be interested to know about what the latest position is with the proposals around Paignton Hospital.
My understanding is the Clinical Commissioning Group will be considering the proposals and the response to the consultation on Thursday 26th January when a decision will be made. I hope to have more details next week.
Community Digital Radio Bill Clears First Commons Hurdle,
As mentioned above earlier today I was delighted to present a bill that aims to open up the opportunity to go digital to the hundreds of Community Radio Stations that operate across the UK.
The current licensing system makes it very expensive for radio stations looking to cover a community or small local area to get onto DAB. This is due to there being only two levels of multiplex (The broadcasting system). These are the 3 national ones and 58 local areas that are mostly based on counties. This contrasts to analogue where it is possible to apply for an FM licence to cover just a small area.
In effect a small community station wanting to go digital ends up with the only option being to pay for coverage over a wide area it is not seeking to get listeners in. This means most do not even attempt it. Recently OFCOM ran ten trials of new, small scale, DAB broadcasting systems that successfully created new community radio stations on digital, yet to extend this opportunity across the UK a change in the law is needed. This is where my bill comes in.
Thankfully Friday 13th proved lucky for me as at 1:46pm the House of Commons agreed to give my bill its second reading and it will now be considered in detail by a small Committee of MPs. You can listen to the debate on the parliament website by clicking here.
Pothole Cash Announced,
There was good news today as the Government announced £117,000 of extra funding to fill in potholes across the bay.
The state of our roads is consistently raised with me by local residents and I know remains a great source of frustration for many drivers. This latest funding is therefore welcome news in helping tackle the issues raised with me.
Stonehenge Tunnel Plan Finalised,
Another source of frustration is that for too long our region’s infrastructure has lagged behind others, in particular the bottlenecks along the vital A303 route to our region, the most notorious of which is at Stonehenge.
These bottlenecks on our critical road infrastructure act like a foot on the neck of our region’s economy, restricting the flow of vital goods and causing delays that deter visitors and investors from heading west from London and the South East to our bay. It is therefore welcome that plans to resolve the bottleneck at Stonehenge have now been finalised after decades of waiting as part of a £2bn program of upgrades for the A303 route.
A public consultation on the plans for Stonehenge will run till 5th March with construction expected to start in 2020. You can read all the details on the government website by clicking here.
Victims Questioned By Their Abuser In Court,
Imagine if having been the victim of a serious violent or sexual crime you then faced by cross examined in court by the person who committed the crime.
Whilst for many years there has been a ban on direct cross examination in Criminal Courts of Victims by defendants representing themselves (A lawyer is appointed to do it instead) recent examples of this from the Civil Courts prompted a minister to indicate in parliament this week that he is looking to extend these rules to cover them as well. One example given was of a situation where an offender who was serving a prison sentence for murder had been able to question the sister of his victim during a plainly ridiculous application for custody of his child!!!
I spoke as part of the discussion and you can read what I said by clicking here.
Civil Partnerships Bill Debated,
In addition to speaking on my own bill earlier today I spoke in support of a bill brought to the house that seeks to extend the opportunity to have a Civil Partnership to mixed sex couples.
The current legislation from 2004 only makes them available to same sex couples. There have been requests from heterosexual couples who would prefer this arrangement to a civil marriage for a change in the law to be made. The argument made is that with Marriage being made available to same sex couples, mixed sex couples should have this choice as well.
I am very much looking forward to my own wedding in June as Hazel and I believe marriage in church before God is the right option for us. Yet other couples may wish a different arrangement to reflect their relationship. I see no reason for the law to not allow them that choice.
You can listen to what I said by clicking here.
How Many Flip-Flops?,
If you have ever wondered just how many flip-flops Torbay’s Street Pastors have issued then the answer is at hand as this week they released their figures for 2016.
The answer is that they handed out 1,398 pairs of flip flops in 2016, and have handed out 11,499 in total since 2008. Whilst out on patrol the volunteers picked up 3,507 bottles, glasses and cans in 2016, adding to a total since 2008 of 27,118.
In total man hours worked by the Street Pastors added up to a total of 5,177 in 2016, and they have now worked 37,034 since 2008. An amazing commitment from a group of people who only look for the reward of knowing they have helped someone.
You can read the full set of statistics released by Torbay Street Pastors on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
Could You Be A Custody Visitor?,
Independent Custody Visitors are members of the local community who visit police stations unannounced to observe, comment and report on the rights of the detainee, the health and welfare of the detainee and the conditions of the facilities of detention.
It is your chance to offer reassurance to the detainees and the police as well as providing a valuable service to the community at large. I am advised that our local Police and Crime Commissioner needs more volunteers to undertake this unique and vital role.
Further information can be found on her website by clicking here or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org
College Students To Rebuild Shelter (HE Mon)
In October an act of vandalism destroyed the historic shelter on Ilsham Marine Drive that had overlooked Thatcher Rock for nearly 100 years.
Following this destruction the Council indicated it was unlikely they would be able to replace it, yet now South Devon College’s Construction Students are stepping in to get the job done. You can read the full story on the Herald Express website by clicking here.
It is great to see this community contribution by the College and knowing the quality of their training the new structure will last for decades to come.
and finally…..Are You A Triskaidekaphobic?
Ending on a lighter note if you have spent the day avoiding ladders and encouraging black cats to cross your path then there is a good chance you might be a Triskaidekaphobic.
A Triskaidekaphobic is someone with a real fear of Friday 13th. It is believed that up to one third of Britons might change their plans today due to the perception that it is a day of bad luck and this is not surprising when you consider nearly three quarters of adults report that they have suffered from bad luck on a previous Friday 13th.
These findings were revealed in a report published today by Travelodge, who surveyed 2,500 British adults to seek their views on whether they believe certain numbers bring them good or bad luck. Yet a poll on the Herald Express website showed (When I went on it earlier) that in the bay most of us dismiss this all as superstitious nonsense. You can judge for yourself by clicking here.
Hopefully your day has not been upset by any bad luck and I hope you enjoy your weekend.