Diary Entry 21/03/17
News of the planned closure of Park House Residential Home on St Mary’s is causing distress and uncertainty for residents and their families. I am aware of how difficult it has been to keep the home open and plans have been evolving to integrate the health and social care on the islands. This will not be achieved in time and it is essential that every effort is made to enable people to be cared for on the islands where possible.
Simon Jones, a staff member in my Penzance office, is collating a comprehensive list of groups that provide some form of social activity or support in West Cornwall and on Scilly. Street Pastors are one such group and I was glad to catch up with them over the weekend. Street Pastors give up their evening and early hours to engage with people on the streets caring for them, listening to them and helping them. They work together with the police, council and other agencies in the night-time economy making our communities safer. Evidence shows that wherever Street Pastors patrol, crime and antisocial behaviour goes down. Most of us would have no idea these volunteers are out and about whilst we are ‘tucked up in our beds’. I was also pleased to visit the Spring Show held at the Methodist Hall in St Keverne. The daffodils in particular looked spectacular and it was good to see how well supported this show was.
It is my tradition to meet regularly with various representative groups. On Friday I met with the Federation of Small Businesses and understandably we discussed business rates, NI contributions and tax in general. A number of St Ives-based businesses attended – they have been hit with inflation-busting increases in their business rate by the valuation office. My office has been busy helping businesses challenge these increases. If the recent budget and confusion regarding National Insurance contributions has demonstrated anything it is that the Chancellor should dramatically overhaul the entire tax system. It needs simplifying and made much more transparent.
Thank you to everyone who has completed the West Cornwall survey. I’m hoping that everyone taking part can hand it in by March 31st.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 06/03/17
I want to congratulate and thank everyone who supported the St Piran’s Day procession on Friday. It is one of the most enjoyable events in Penzance and it’s good to remember and celebrate our Cornish heritage with our school children. A further round of thanks must go to all those who are working hard to regenerate West Cornwall. If you were able to attend the Expo in Penzance you could not have failed to note the ambition and aspiration of many organisations that are working tirelessly to see our area improved for everyone. I recently met with the Transport Secretary who referred to the fact that Government investment in Cornwall is now greater than any other time in recent decades. The money being spent to protect our coastline, the recent receipt of new buses, new carriages and trains on their way, improvements to the A30 and Government spend on the rail network is all testament to this. In addition I hope to see announcements soon regarding money for Penzance Harbour and Goonhilly Earth Station near Helston.
We saw in our papers the advancing plans to rebuild the North Site of Helston Community College. I have been paying close attention to this and believe that, once the school becomes an Academy, we will be able to realise our ambition to increase the building to achieve a single school site and end the current trek between the North and South Site for students and their teachers. This is all welcome but I remain concerned that money to integrate health and social care and to educate our children is inadequate and I persist in pestering Ministers to find ways to resolve these pressures. I was reminded of the pressures on our schools during a visit to Newlyn School on Friday. The teachers and governors are a victim of their own success and have attracted a number of children who need and deserve a little extra care and attention due to their education needs. This costs more to resource and I am meeting with the Education Secretary to discuss this. She has been very clear that she wants all children to get the best start in life.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 28/02/17
The West Cornwall Health Inquiry has now concluded and our recommendations have been sent to the NHS Managers charged with integrating services in Cornwall and on Scilly. The panel of local volunteers received evidence from 26 people who are either responsible for delivering health and social care or are active supporters of local services. Our purpose was to identify what health and care services could and should look like in West Cornwall. A number of recommendations have gone forward. Primarily, the first ask of the Inquiry Panel is that the emerging Sustainability and Transformation Plan enables the local priorities and plans of our GPs and Primary Care providers to be actioned and adequately funded. The report calls for rural surgeries to be protected; mental health nurses to work from GP practices; the provision of health and care centres and to ensure they include adequate numbers of community beds; West Cornwall Hospital to house more services so patients can avoid unnecessary journeys. Care at home provision is under pressure. The panel heard how difficult it is to recruit and retain care and support workers. Recommendations have been made to improve the pay, training and conditions for those who care for people in their own homes.
The report also calls for information signposting people to the right service provider, for treatment to be clearer, more comprehensive and contain local information about what and when services are available. The panel also felt people must be made aware of services available at their community pharmacy.
Funding services. Amongst a number of recommendations regarding funding, the report insists that NHS Managers and MPs achieve a review of the method used to allocate funding by Government to ensure it adequately recognises the cost of delivering healthcare in Cornwall and on Scilly. The report also calls on Cornwall Council to spend an equivalent amount that other councils with similar demographics spend on Adult Social Care. These are just a few of the priorities we identified. A full report will be published and made available to everyone during March. After the council elections in May local NHS Managers will be setting out how they intend to integrate health and care services.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 20/02/17
If you are reading this during daylight hours it is highly likely that right now hundreds of people are harvesting daffodils not many miles from where you are. I know this because I visited Varfell Farm (close to Crowlas) and learned that the UK produces 95% of the world’s daffodils of which 75% are grown in West Cornwall. Our unique climate means that our daffodil flower production begins earlier than anywhere else in the country and finishes later. Many of us will remember from our younger days daffodil picking for a Saturday job or during Winter holidays and know how uncomfortable the job can be. What we may not know is how advanced the job has become once the skilled flower-pickers have done their job. Investment in Cornwall by the Greenyard Group (that operates Varfell Farm) in buildings and modern technology in the past three years was £3.5m with more investment planned this year and the group’s work to improve soil quality is
ground-breaking (please excuse the pun). Despite the growth in demand for our flowers in Europe this research and development will see 20% of land used for daffodils in West Cornwall returned to food production. We see our fields of daffodils but I’m sure that we are blissfully unaware of what a success story daffodils are for West Cornwall, how much money is generated locally and how many highly paid skilled jobs are created by this growth industry. All for £1 spent on a bunch of daffodils.
Whilst this visit was less than 10 miles from my home, I was also privileged to go to outer space and study the Cosmos. I then travelled to remote places on Planet Earth, went deep into the ocean and took a flight along the coastline around the Lizard along to Land’s End. This was all made possible by my visit to a new emerging Cornish business specialising in Virtual Reality that, using the latest technology, has the potential to teach school children about the world and universe and offers a welcome indoor attraction for those occasional damp days. Check out http://www.virtualrealitycornwall.co.uk for more information.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 13/02/17
With the opportunity to trigger Article 50, in the coming weeks we can settle the uncertainty regarding foreign workers and EU Nationals. In Cornwall and on Scilly we rely on foreign workers in fishing, farming, tourism, health and social care. Everything must be done to retain this labour supply and to reassure those who have settled here that they are as welcome as always. The positive contribution they make to British society is in no doubt. For EU Nationals settled in the UK the Prime Minister stated that the issue must be resolved as an immediate priority. This is set out in the 12 negotiating priorities which I supported last week. Under current rules EU nationals automatically acquire the right of permanent residence in another EU country if they have lived legally there for at least 5 years continuously. They can then apply for a permanent residence document, which confirms their right to live in that country permanently. Confirming this security should be a central part of these early negotiations both for EU Nationals in the UK and UK Nationals living in mainland Europe.
One year ago, UN nations agreed 17 common goals to address the difficulties facing the world’s poorest people (by 2030). These goals are known as the ‘Sustainable Development Goals’ and countries across the world are grappling with what implementing the 2030 SDG Agenda means for them. I was privileged to take part in a conference chaired by Jon Snow, Channel 4 news presenter, in Central London where representatives from several governments were sharing their experiences. Government representatives from Finland, Uganda, Germany and Colombia set out the approaches of their governments to policies relating to health, industry, education, environment and equality in relation to the 17 goals. The goals include ensuring everyone has clean water, reducing hungry, improving access to clean affordable energy and improving education, health care and employment. For more about the 17 goals go to http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals/. We are well aware of the difficulties people face but not always of the efforts made to address them.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 06/02/17
It is not that long since the big milestones in a child’s life were receiving their first watch or first push bike. My two boys have both reached the latter and I go to great lengths to take them out on the road whenever I can, to teach them how to stay safe when cycling. Big milestones nowadays include the introduction of a smart phone or access online. The reality is that while we, as parents, will permit this when we see fit, it is more difficult to train our children to be safe online then teach them to be safe on the road. This is why I’m promoting the newly launched ‘Parents Portal’, a tool for parents and guardians who want their children to enjoy this form of communication safely. It is estimated that children are spending more than three hours every day on their smartphones accessing sites like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. The Facebook platform – www.facebook.com/safety/parents – includes a number of different sections such as a Bullying Prevention Hub, Parenting Tips and a list of links to safety experts.
News headlines have focused on the new President’s U.S. Immigration policy. Whilst we can’t tell President Trump what he should and should not do, now is the time to foster harmony and respect and work for peace. I hope that the skill of the UK to manage borders, thwart terrorist attacks and remain a largely open and tolerant society will demonstrate to the U.S. and others that you can protect citizens without discriminating against race, colour or creed.
I hosted two school visits by the Education Minister, Nick Gibb MP, on Thursday. One to Alverton School where the Minister opened a brand new classroom and then to St Erth School to highlight the need for a school hall. I’ve been working with St Erth Parish Council and the school to achieve this ambition and the Minister’s visit helps to highlight the need for a school hall. The visit also included two meetings with head teachers and teaching staff. The Government is currently addressing the inequalities in school funding which is welcome. Schools are not awash with cash and I was keen for the Minister to hear from the profession about how school funding concerns are adding pressure to an already pressured environment.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 30/01/17
Over the past three months, with a panel of local volunteers, I have been listening to health and social care providers and health campaigners regarding what health and social care services could and should be provided in West Cornwall. We have met GPs, a Day Care Centre Manager, members of West Cornwall Healthwatch, representatives of the three League of Friends (West Cornwall Hospital, Edward Hain and Helston Community Hospitals), Andrew George, and a psychotherapist and counsellor. We also heard from matrons from the three hospitals, an RCHT Director, the Commissioning Group Locality Manager, a Penzance-based optometrist, care and support providers, a nursing home owner and Cornwall Councillors.
A Community Pharmacist also met us to set out how community pharmacies could do more to help patients, a representative from AgeUK explained how good use of the voluntary sector can reduce hospital admissions and a Practice Nurse Manager talked of the efforts GP practices are making to work more closely with each other and West Cornwall Hospital. These evidence-gathering sessions are now finished and we are drafting a report and recommendations that will seek to improve integration of health and social care services in West Cornwall. A remarkable aspect of this community health inquiry has been the enthusiasm and optimism shown by all of those we spoke to who deliver healthcare services. It became clear that all they want from the current Sustainability and Transformation planning process is for the plan to enable them to get on with integrating services here on the ground. Community Pharmacists and other providers want to work more closely with GPs who in turn want to work more closely with West Cornwall Hospital and RCHT etc etc. So much good work is being done to ensure patients get the care they need, where and when they need it. NHS Managers need to free up the process of decision-making and patients need clearer information about where the best place is for them to get the treatment they need.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 24/01/17
Today I attended the Tearfund: Bridging the Gap Launch at the House of Commons. The event marked the release of research created in partnership with ‘Making All Voices Count’, an organisation in part funded by the Department for International Development. The report examined the role of the church in improving the social accountability and transparency of Local Government overseas and the scope for increased community mobilisation through this process.
Tearfund has led several schemes in Uganda and Bolivia in order to help local communities take greater control over their developmental destiny. Church supported bottom-up empowerment schemes such as the providing of bicycle trailers to enable community goods to be sold further afield and the help in mobilising communities to petition local authorities for vital infrastructure such as boreholes in Okulonyo, have helped to make small but vital improvements to quality individuals’ everyday lives.
In a current climate which is increasingly hostile towards the provision of overseas aid the work of Tearfund shows that there is still an important role to be played in helping to improve the lives of others in developing countries. In particular the report highlights the invaluable role that churches play in catalysing local communities, connecting them to necessary resources and then making sure that people in positions of power are held to account over their action.
The full report can be found here – http://tilz.tearfund.org/~/media/Files/TILZ/Tearfund-Bridging-the-gap-2016.pdf?la=en
By The Derek Thomas Media Team
Diary Entry 23/01/17
Last week I met with Jane Ellison, Financial Secretary to HM Treasury, to discuss the VAT threshold for small businesses. I’m urging the Treasury to consider a change to the threshold (currently
£83,000) as some businesses find themselves curtailing their business to remain competitive and avoid the administration associated with VAT. This could be implemented after we leave the EU. We already have the EU’s most competitive threshold but I believe further changes would increase economic activity in our town centres and coastal communities. I discussed with the Financial Secretary this point and the current review of the VAT system. My plea to businesses in West Cornwall and on Scilly is to assist my campaign and take part in the consultation being undertaken by the Office for Tax Simplification (OTS). The OTS want to hear from businesses, advisers etc who deal with VAT about the issues they find most complex and any ideas they
have to simplify the system.
Search https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/office-of-tax simplificationor email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your views.
I’ve received emails suggesting that I’d recently voted to cut NHS funding. Neither I, nor any Cornish MP or Conservative MP voted to cut NHS funding. NHS funding for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has increased and is planned to increase over coming years. I recognise that funding struggles to keep up with a growing demand on NHS services and it’s difficult to deliver the services we need and put patient care at the centre of current plans to integrate services. To help address this, I met with the Chancellor today to discuss with him the need to provide extra resources to fund the transformation to integrated services and in recognition of the added costs of
delivering health and social care services in the South West.
Cornish Lithium: Plans to extract lithium from former mine workings offers promising opportunities to create wealth, well paid skilled jobs and another reason why our young people can choose to stay, train and work in Cornwall. Only time will tell if this initiative will lead to a form of revival in the Cornish mining industry.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 17/01/17
On Tuesday lunchtime Derek Thomas MP attended a roundtable on the digital skills gap. During the event Sheila Flavell, COO of FDM Group, named by Computer Weekly as one of the Top 15 most influential women in IT spoke about the role of women within the technology sector.
It became clear during the event that contrary to popular belief, students do not have to have an IT related degree to get a job in the technology sector. The FDM Group, the leading IT graduate recruiter announced that over half of its female consultants do not have Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths degrees. Instead women come from a range of academic backgrounds and bring transferable skills and enthusiasm for the sector.
The digital industry remains the fastest growing sector within the UK, growing at a rate 32% quicker than the rest of the economy. By 2023 over one million new recruits are needed within the sector and therefore encouraging both men and women to aspire to work in the technology sector should be made a priority. Often, perceptions of the industry put off talented individuals, especially girls, from applying and therefore it is important to make individuals aware of the opportunities available. The industry is full of fast-paced, innovative and creative individuals and therefore anyone wishing to get involved in the sector should.
By The Derek Thomas Media Team
Diary Entry 17/01/17
Everyone I speak to agrees that we must integrate health and social care if we have any hope of reducing pressure on our hospitals and, quite rightly, pressure on acute hospital services has dominated the media in recent weeks. This media coverage should stir us even more to work together to find the solutions that will reduce this pressure. Many people who care deeply about healthcare and attended the public meeting organised by NHS managers on Tuesday last week were disappointed by how the public engagement event was organised. Despite this disappointment, I still believe the Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) creates the possibility of bringing health and social care together in Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly.
The STPs must be driven by genuine public engagement so the Cornwall STP team needs to raise its game. I discussed with them on Friday the opportunity to return to West Cornwall for a meeting with us all to discuss how best to integrate health and social care services. The NHS is an emotive issue but my hope is that we can lay aside political differences and put patient-need at the forefront of our efforts to deliver meaningful integration of health and social care.
Some are saying that the Government is cutting NHS funding in Cornwall. In fact funding is increasing for healthcare in West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. It is true, however, that if we do nothing to integrate services and nothing to reduce pressure on our two acute hospitals the NHS debt will continue to accumulate. If we succeed, we still face some significant financial challenges which need to be addressed. I recognise that funding for the NHS and social care is not keeping up with the demand and that more money is needed if this transformation plan is to have any chance of success. My colleagues and I are taking this message to Government but it helps if we can demonstrate how health and social care services will be integrated, how pressure on urgent hospitals can be reduced and how patients will be at the heart of health and social care provision.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 09/01/17
Running a town centre business is no walk in the park. An owner of a cafe or shop will do everything they can to make their business a success only to be frustrated by forces outside of their control. These include increasing parking charges, a hot summer driving people to the beach or an out of town site that contains more items under one roof. Talking to business owners they list these amongst other challenges including the business rate charge. For me the business rate charge is a regretful tax. The charge is levied on the likely rental value of the building not on the success of the business and is the third biggest outgoing for small businesses. When I met with George Osborne in a cafe in Penzance it was clear that he understood this and, during his time as Chancellor, used rate reliefs and rebates to reduce the burden on small independent outlets. Many were taken out of business rates altogether and changes announced in his last budget (April 2016) will result in half of all properties seeing their business rates either fall or disappear. This year 600,000 small businesses won’t pay any business rates. A further 250,000 will see rates cut. This is welcome and there is further good news for most other businesses.
Every five years properties are assessed to determine their “rateable value” and subsequent business rate charge. As a result on 1 April around 324 town and retail centres across Britain will see a decrease in business rates; 21 will pay the same amount; and 76, mostly in London and the South East, are likely to see increases. Unfortunately one area where businesses see an increase is St Ives town. This is where the problem arises and I am working with every business that has contacted me to challenge the result of the reassessment carried out by the Valuation Office in St Austell. Already running an independent business in St Ives is an expensive undertaking and the scale of the increase in business rates is a cost too great to bear. If you run a business and need to know more go to https://www.gov.uk/government/news/business-ratepayers-click-find-and-review-your-draft-rateable-value
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 03/01/17
In this column in last week’s Cornishman I referred to the fact that the Government is preparing to unveil plans to ‘propel the UK to future growth and help it stay ahead in the global race’. Exiting the EU comes with significant economic challenges and uncertainties. It makes sense therefore for the Government to pay particular attention to the UK’s science strengths and business capabilities. The Government is doing this by focusing its effort and commitment on what is described as the eight great technologies. These eight great technologies are; big data and energy-efficient computing, satellites and commercial applications of space, robotics and autonomous systems, synthetic biology, regenerative medicine, agri-science, advanced materials and nanotechnology and energy and its storage. At least six of these offer potential growth in skilled, well-paid jobs in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and, as a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, I’ve been watching the development of this strategy closely. We’ve been saddled with low-wages for too long and I’m determined that we ‘seize the day’ and provide the skills and the jobs that our workforce deserve. These jobs will also help to give our young people greater opportunities to stay, work and raise a family on Scilly and in West Cornwall.
Just before Christmas the Education Secretary explained how a new national funding formula for schools will be implemented. For decades people have talked about the need to make education funding fairer and I’m delighted that we are now prepared to act. Schools in West Cornwall have traditionally been under-funded and from April next year they can expect to see their funding increase. In the meantime it’s likely that our schools are not fully benefiting from pupil premium funding. Pupil premium is additional funding to raise the attainment of disadvantaged pupils of all abilities and to close the gaps between them and their peers. If you’re a parent of school-aged children it’s worth checking with the school to see if your child can attract pupil premium funding to aid his or her learning. This will be a great help to the school.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 19/12/16
I was honoured on Sunday to join the Penlee Lifeboat crew and relatives who lost loved ones in the Solomon Browne tragedy for the 35th anniversary of this terrible event. As relatives cast roses into the sea I was conscious of how families and our communities are still haunted by the tragic events of a night that led to the loss of 16 lives (including 8 lifeboat men). Many of us live with the dull ache of having lost a loved one. This is intensified as we celebrate Christmas, a time also of joy, hope and happiness. Having spent time in church services, carol concerts and out and about taking part in Christmas festivities I’m reminded of how many people are ready and willing to offer a helping hand wherever they see the need. Thank you to everyone who will spare some time to come alongside those less fortunate and bring cheer into their lives.
One such event was the Helston Rotary Community Carol Service that takes place at Helston Methodist Church every year. It’s not appropriate for an MP to have favourites but I can’t help it. This concert is a highlight of my year, not least because Joan Williams, who ‘orchestrates’ it, was always remarkably patient with me in my youth (far more than I deserved). If you have ever attended this carol concert you will know how spectacular Joan makes it! The concert raised money for a boy with severe autism and the therapy he receives, as a result of fund-raising, is transforming the lives of young autistic children. It’s likely that you’ve seen a version of the nativity this Christmas. In another service I attended, an animated film version of the nativity was shown. It’s worth checking out at biblesociety.org.uk/wellgood.
Finally, I’d love to be able to send everyone my Christmas card (designed by Tess from St Buryan Academy). The message reads ‘Maybe Christmas’, he thought, ‘doesn’t come from a store. Maybe Christmas … perhaps … means a little bit more!'” – Dr. Seuss. I wish you all the joy, hope and wonder of Christmas.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 05/12/16
People are right to want the Government to get the best outcome when the UK formally leaves the EU. As you can imagine, as MPs we are looking at opportunities to help people in our own constituencies and local area. Last week MPs debated the future of the UK Fishing Industry. This debate occurs every December ahead of the December Council negotiations, negotiations that will determine what fish can be landed and for commercial fishermen and anglers in West Cornwall and on Scilly these negotiations are a big deal. It is accepted that the Common Fisheries Policy has done little to help and that it’s in everyone’s interest that the UK fishing enjoys a sustainable future. The result of the referendum gives Government the best opportunity to do this and this year’s debate was an important landmark. I’m hopeful for UK fishing and UK plc. A commitment to manage UK waters for ourselves provides the foundation for a sustainable fishery, delivering superior long-term socioeconomic returns to society. A sustainable and prosperous UK fishing sector would make a significant contribution to the regeneration of coastal communities and could attract fresh blood into the industry making fishing a viable career for young people. Finally, the increased supply of fish landed on UK shores will help address concerns about food security and place the UK consumption of fish, as part of a nutritious staple diet, back on the agenda.
We must also do more to support small businesses and, following Small Business Saturday, I’m asking the Treasury to raise the VAT threshold. Current EU law restricts this but our local economy would benefit as some small businesses are seriously hindered by the extra burden of VAT and related administration. This is unhelpful for our high streets and tourism sector in particular. Scott Mann MP and I co-signed a letter to David Davis (Secretary of State for exiting the EU) suggesting that the St Piran flag could be used for those who want it to replace the EU flag on our car licence plates and driving licences. These are a few of the items for consideration in coming months.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 28/11/16
Just a few years ago who would have thought that someone with diabetes could turn their back on routine finger pricking to test their glucose readings and instead, rely confidently on readings taken via a small sensor worn on the body. Just a few years ago diabetics may have dreamt of a day when they could take a glucose reading as many times a day as they like, without having to worry about pain, discomfort, inconvenience or running out of test strips. Imagine a world where school children or people in employment avoid the interruption of finger prick testing and the ‘stigma’ of testing in public. This world exists and I secured a debate last week calling on the Government to accelerate access to Flash Glucose Monitoring and other diabetes technologies. Flash Glucose Monitoring is a remarkable development providing current glucose reading, 8-hour history and the direction glucose is going in. This allows people to monitor quickly whether their glucose levels are rising or falling and can support them to take action before their condition worsens. This can only be a plus for patients, GPs and the wider health system. All this without finger pricking.
Furthermore, long term accurate data on glucose levels is invaluable for clinicians and patients as they make choices about how they manage diabetes.
I attended the unveiling of the miners statue on Sunday at Geevor Mine. The small team and countless businesses and individuals who donated to enable this memorial garden and statue to be created have delivered something quite profound. This garden and statue (created by Colin Caffell) will serve as a constant reminder of the incredible heritage of Cornish mining and of the impact Cornish miners had on mining across the world as they travelled with their skills and innovation to earn a living for their families.
I have recently started publishing my weekly diary on my website. Some may be curious about how I prioritise my time and focus my efforts on behalf of West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. If this is you please go and click on ‘the week that was’ tab.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 22/11/16
The pressing need for improvements to the South West rail network was experienced at first hand by West Cornwall MP Derek Thomas as Storm Angus battered the West Country on Monday.
Mr Thomas’s weekly commute from Penzance up to Westminster took almost 12 hours – more than twice the normal journey time – as torrential rain caused a number of “washouts” on the line in Devon and Somerset. Washouts occur when the ballast under the rails is washed away, sometimes leaving rails dangling in the air. Electronic point equipment was also affected.
Mr Thomas had left his constituency office in Penzance shortly before 10am to drive to Tiverton Parkway to catch the 12.32 service which was due to arrive in Paddington at 2.54pm.
However after crawling for a few miles towards London, the train eventually stopped near Castle Cary. After a long wait, Mr Thomas and 300 other passengers, including many elderly folk and some with disabilities as well as fellow MPs Kevin Foster and Sheryll Murray, were taken back to Castle Cary where they were told to leave the train.
Another wait on the platform at Castle Cary station – this time in torrential rain – was followed by a final train trip back to Taunton where they waited again for Mr Foster’s partner to drive up from Paignton to pick up the party and reunite them with their cars at Tiverton Parkway. Mr Thomas then drove by car up to London eventually arriving in the capital just before 10pm.
Ironically, the day after his nightmare journey, Mr Thomas attended the Westminster launch of the Peninsula Rail Task Force’s 20 Year Plan, ‘Closing the Gap’, a blueprint for investment into the South West’s rail network over the next two decades which is designed to achieve a resilient railway with faster journey times and more capacity.
Mr Thomas said: “The experience on Monday is not a sob story for us MPs and the other passengers, it is an example of just how vital it is for the Government to prioritise the South West for immediate major investment in the rail network.
“The South West has fallen far behind other regions’ levels of investment – spending per head in the region is £35 compared to an average of £97 elsewhere – and we desperately need to have resilience on our main line to enable Cornwall to have a stronger economy and more skilled jobs.
“Our job as South West MPs is to make sure the Government delivers on its pre-election promises for the rail network – we cannot rest until those commitments are met.”
Formed in early 2013, the Peninsula Rail Task Force was selected by the Government as the representative body to identify and recommend strategic and local rail improvements up to 2034 to Ministers.
The Task Force, a partnership of local authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships with a Stakeholder Advisory Group which includes business organisations, community groups and TravelWatch SouthWest, aims to build and put the case for greater investment into the rail network for Cornwall, Devon, Somerset, Dorset and Wiltshire.
By The Derek Thomas Media Team
Diary Entry 20/11/16
I had a very constructive meeting with a gentleman on Saturday. He can no longer work what is described as a ‘normal 9-5’ job due to declining health and finds himself dependent on disability benefits.
This gentleman wants to work – what he needs from the State is support to set up some form of self-employment from home. This would not suit everyone but this gentleman has skills that could lead to a successful work-from-home arrangement.
The Government has committed millions to support people who have disabilities and long-term conditions to access employment opportunities. It’s clear to me that we need to create far greater flexibility in the system. Examples like this require a little faith and creative thinking but the rewards for the individuals concerned mean we must make every effort if we genuinely want to invest in people.
Many years ago I worked for a charity that provided hot meals, sleeping bags and other items for people who became homeless. We were also able to organise and pay for B&B accommodation and introduce them to other groups or landlords who could offer a more permanent housing solution.
In October I raised the issue of homelessness with Bishop Tim to see what more we could do to support the many organisations that help our homeless people in Cornwall. My office has been finding out what help is currently available for homeless people locally, particularly in Penzance, St Ives and Helston. I also spent an hour in Causewayhead talking to a small group of homeless people, one of whom was a young lady whose personal experience reminded me how quickly people’s circumstances and security can unravel.
In the same week I spent the evening with our police and discussed with members of the Neighbourhood Policing Team the work they do to ensure the safety of the Town’s homeless people.
I am regularly contacted by people who are concerned that the number of people who are homeless is increasing. I’m keen to know what more can be done to build on the essential work that many are already doing to help in this area.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 15/11/16
Today I attended an event in the House of Commons where the new figures showing the impact made by the brewing and the pub sector were unveiled by the British Beer and Pub Association.
The study, carried out by leading independent analysts from Oxford Economics showed that within my constituency the sector supports 2,387 jobs and provides £47million in added value to the local economy, data which I welcome whole heartedly.
The event also drew my attention again to the fact that pubs currently pay 2.8% of the total business rates bill, despite only accounting for 0.5% of the turnover. This must be looked at due to the fact that pubs are marginal businesses and also in effort to prevent pubs from being punished for doing well.”
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 02/11/16
We have a problem. There are not enough young people learning a construction trade. I was privileged to chair a meeting today organised by the Industry and Parliament Trust (IPT)* where we debated the need to boost the skills for the UK’s infrastructure projects.
We discussed the predicted shortfall of 100,000 skilled construction workers and how we can encourage young people to consider careers in ‘the built environment sector’. Ambitious house-building programmes in Cornwall will stretch our skilled workforce even before we consider plans to improve roads, the Mount’s Bay area and rebuild parts of our schools.
There are three reasons why I take this issue seriously: firstly, infrastructure projects bring more money into an area; secondly, skilled jobs in construction and engineering are almost always well-paid; and finally, we all need a tradesman or woman in our home or at work at some time or other.
The solution is multi-layered and I know from personal experience that learning a trade takes time. We need consistent clear leadership from Government. We need our schools to back these trades alongside university-based learning. We need colleges to work closely with employers so that students learn the skills employers need. We need parents to see the value of these jobs and we need more small businesses to commit to training our young people.
Yesterday I also took part in a debate about the value of apprenticeships. The Government is going all out to increase the number of apprenticeships and it is apparent that the wider benefits of serving an apprenticeship are considerable. An apprenticeship enables a young person to learn a trade without getting into debt through student finance; they can live at home, work locally and go on to raise a family locally. A revolution in workplace-based learning in West Cornwall and on Scilly could address the skills crisis and keep our young people in the area. This is something we have wrestled with for generations.
*The IPT is a non-partisan and non-lobbying registered charity. I value the IPT as it promotes mutual understanding between Parliament and the worlds of business, industry and commerce. Find out more: http://www.ipt.org.uk
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 01/11/16
Today I took part in a debate on Apprenticeships in Westminster Hall. I spoke in this debate today because when you consider that there is enormous skills gaps in pretty much every vocation going, the subject of apprenticeships and the need to ensure people have the skills they need is timely indeed.
Here is a copy of the speech that I made ….
“I left school at 15, served a traditional apprentice as a Cornish mason within the construction industry and this skill has enabled me to feed my family, build my home and support me during what was a very long journey to become an MP and this apprenticeship enabled me to stay in the place where I grow up, which for me is West Cornwall, which is the significant advantage of many apprenticeships.
During the last Parliament, I had a small construction business and I took an apprentice site carpenter and so whilst I was able to enable him to get a trade I was also able to see how the modern apprenticeship programme really works in practice. More recently, I have taken on an apprentice within my Constituency office and even in those recent years I have noticed an improvement in the advice and support available to employers.
So, as you can see, I am a big fan of the apprenticeship programme.
When you take a rural part of the Country like West Cornwall, a modern apprenticeship really is an important part of a career path for a local young person. For so long, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly has suffered because our young people have found that they have needed to leave the County in order to find the skills and jobs they need. This has left us in a situation where we have a chronic shortage in many sectors, especially in construction, farming and engineering. Quite often these potentially well paid jobs have disappeared because we have not had the people to fill the vacancies. Clearly, we cannot continue like this. The modern apprenticeship programme – if communicated properly, and successfully delivered – really does give the opportunity for young people to train locally, work locally, live locally, shop locally, and go on to raise a family locally. Rather than just welcome the Governments ambitious targets regarding the number of apprenticeships, I think it is absolutely essential that we meet it, simply because we do not have the people to do the jobs we need at the moment.
In West Cornwall, If you take the construction industry alone, which is mostly made up of small and medium size businesses in West Cornwall, much more needs to be done to encourage these employers to offer an apprenticeship and to give them the confidence that our young people are up to the job and adequate support and training is available. This takes me to another concern. We need to do more to engage our schools in the modern apprenticeship agenda, schools are under enormous pressure to ensure pupils reach a good standard in core subjects. However, because of this pressure and because of the continued belief that you need to leave Cornwall in order to get a well-paid and skilled job, I believe not enough time is given to inform pupils and their parents about the opportunities available to take up an apprenticeship and what might be described as a more vocational career.”
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 31/10/16
People state that their three most feared health conditions are cancer pain, disabling stroke and sight loss. Nationwide campaigns have had a dramatic impact on awareness of and treatment of cancer patients and stroke patients. Eye health treatments can also be spectacular.
Permanent eye loss is not inevitable. However, only 1% of research funding goes to tackling sight loss, the patient pathway from diagnosis to effective treatment is not as integrated as it could be and the UK has a shortage of Ophthalmologists (specialists in medical and surgical eye problems). In Parliament, I hosted a meeting of specialists in eye health to raise awareness of this problem because it is important that sufferers with sight impairment, cataracts, macular degeneration and glaucoma get appropriate early diagnosis and treatment . Poor eye health has a dramatic impact on your quality of life and independence. Early and effective treatment is essential. More can be done within the health system but we have a part to play as well – starting with an eye test, free to many, as listed on the NHS website.
I have brought together a small number of constituents to meet health professionals to learn about what they do and ask what changes could be made to improving the treatment and care patients need. Together we shall meet representatives of every aspect of care from care at home through to urgent care. We shall be talking to eye health specialists, community pharmacists, social workers and occupational therapists to learn what role they have in improving patient care. We shall also be meeting with local health campaigners as these health champions have an understanding of what patients need and how health services could be delivered closer to people’s homes. Early next year this information will be collated and fed into the planning process that is taking place by those responsible for health and social care in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. These managers are charged with producing a Sustainability and Transformation Plan, showing how local services will become sustainable and to ensure that health and care services are built around the needs of local populations.
By Derek Thomas
Diary Entry 25/10/16
I’m over a month into what has become my annual autumn pub crawl/drop-in surgery tour and it’s proving, once again, to be a useful way to touch base with people from across the constituency. A pub is not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why I’ve included farmers markets and coffee shops as well. Last weekend venues for these ‘surgeries’ included Waves Cafe, Penzance; the Duke of Leeds, Leedstown;the Lamp and Whistle, Penzance; Out of the Blue, Porthleven; the New Inn, Manaccan; the Top House Inn, the Lizard and Godolphin Arms in Marazion. I mention these because they all shared busy lively atmospheres and it’s clear that landlords and owners are working hard to provide a place for people to meet and enjoy each other’s company. Sticking to the theme of social inclusion, I was pleased to attend the launch of the ‘Over 50’s Forum’ community bus in St Ives on Saturday. This bus was funded by the Government Community Transport Association and will be used by the community in and around St Ives to enable residents to get out and enjoy the town, get to surgery appointments and shopping. The bus carries some fantastic artwork, which I understand was created by some young people at the Salvation Army, and is a testimony to years of dedicated work by the over 50’s Forum.
Oil prices are on the increase again and as we approach winter the cost of heating our homes rises up the agenda, particularly for people whose homes let out the heat. In Parliament over the past fortnight I’ve taken part in a number of discussion panels regarding fuel poverty and on Thursday chaired a meeting with housing industry leaders seeking to convince the Government to improve the method for measuring the energy performance of our homes. When homes are sold or rented they must carry an Energy Performance Certificate (similar to when purchasing an electrical appliance). However, it is accepted that the methods used to rate our homes are not entirely reliable and many homes are nowhere near as efficient as we believe. We need to address this if we want to reduce the energy we use and the cost of living.
By Derek Thomas
As winter draws in Derek is once again bringing attention to poorly insulated homes. During a busy week in Parliament Derek was elected as an officer for the All Parliamentary Party Group (APPG) for Fuel Poverty & Energy Efficiency. During his first meeting as an officer, Derek discussed the importance of installing insulation measures and energy saving measures as well as highlighting the importance of providing effective gas and electricity supplies to rural communities. This is a hugely important issue as over 4 million households in the UK are currently understood to be living in fuel poverty.
He also attended the #GettingReadyForWinter drop-in centre at Westminster hosted by British Gas. The focus of the event was on practical tips that can help keep individuals warm during the winter and outlined the free help and support available for individuals struggling to deal with energy bills. Some of these tips included practical advice such as ensuring that gas appliances are checked every 12 months by a Gas Safe registered engineer, making sure that you are on the best electricity and gas tariff for you and to be aware that support is always available through the Independent British Gas Energy Trust for those struggling to cope with their household bills at http://www.britishgasenergytrust.co.uk
By The Derek Thomas Media Team
Diary Entry 25/09/16
On Saturday I had the great privilege of welcoming the Lifton Bikers to Land’s End as they completed their charity bike ride from John o’ Groats. These cyclists were raising money for research into Motor Neurone Disease and had raised over £25,000 by the time they arrived at Land’s End. I met their colleague Jeremy Durrell, who has MND and is now completely paralysed with this cruel disease, and the Cornwall Motor Neurone Disease Committee who all had stories of their own about loved ones stricken by the disease.
Last week saw the start of my annual drop-in surgeries which continue across West Cornwall until the end of November. These informal drop-in surgeries took place at Sennen Farmers’ Market, Cafe Art in St Ives, the Queens Arms in Breage, Lion and Lamb in Ashton and my Constituency Office. This is your opportunity to raise any issue or concern without making a specific appointment. A full list is available at derekthomas.org, however, traditional surgery appointments continue as usual and can be booked with the constituency office for anyone who prefers this. Don’t forget the first ever ‘Great Western Dog Walk’ gets underway at 11am from Marazion on Saturday (1st Oct). This dog walk is an opportunity to raise funds for Cornwall Hospice Care, show our appreciation to the staff and volunteers and take a walk on the beach with others who have experience of the incredible work Cornwall Hospice Care does. Everyone is welcome to take part in the walk which ends on Penzance Prom where there will be a Farmers’ Market, a story-teller telling ‘Doggy Tales’ and the chance for younger dog-walkers to decorate their own doggy cookies.Entry to the Great Western Dog Walk is just £3 per person or £6 for a family. Register online at www.cornwallhospicecare.co.uk
By Derek Thomas