Thursday, October 20, 2016

Motor Neurone Disease.

Was thinking what I should write about for my fortnightyly column in the Oswestry and Borders column earlier this week. Wanted to move away from Brexit or Wales Bill. So I went for Motor Nuerone Disease. I am president of the Montgomeryshire branch of MND. 

Politicians become involved in a broad range of issues, some specific to the constituency, some of national and international significance, but some based on personal experience and interest. Some interests are born of chance. Several of my broader interests revolve around ill health and social care. As examples, last week I sponsored a 2 hour meeting of RESEC (Research into Specialist Elderly Care) in Parliament. And this week, I joined a highly successful reception held near Westminster Abbey by the Motor Neurone Disease Society. 

Motor Neurone Disease is very cruel. It is fatal, attacking nerves in the brain and spinal cord. It leaves people living with MND locked in a failing body, progressively unable to talk, or move and finally unable to breathe. The disease effects up to 5000 people in the UK at any one time. About six per day die of MND. I have been president of the Montgomeryshire branch of MND for many years now. Our aim is to raise awareness of the disease and campaign to support those living with MND and fund research into finding a cure.

This week's reception was to highlight concerns, designed to influence Government. Government Minister, Penny Mourdant, joined us as a key speaker. There are two issues causing concern at present. Firstly there is the requirement for those with MND to undergo regular re-assessment for welfare support. Been a bone of contention for years with people living with degenerative conditions. They are not going to get better. Re-assessment is pointless. The Government has announced it intends to legislate to exempt progressive diseases from the need for re-assessment. This must apply to MND. It's a disease without a cure. It's a slope which leads only one way.

The second big concern is the Government’s intention to devolve social care payments to local authorities or in the case of Wales, to the Welsh Government. I must admit I support this, though it will inevitably lead to variable standards of service. To argue against this is to argue against devolving powers from central government. But it is an issue needing further discussion.

I particularly enjoyed meeting Prof Jane Hawking at the reception. She was married to the brilliant scientist, Stephen Hawkins for 26 years. I felt that I knew her already, having watched The Theory of Everything, the film based on her book outlining her experience, as a nurse, Carter and wife. She may not look like the actress who played her in the film, Felicity Jones. But she still exudes the intensity and strength, based on her faith, which enabled her to cope with the extraordinary pressures that MND meant for her as well as her husband. 

It was a good event, arranged by dedicated people. I hope Govt listens to what they say.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

"Making your mind up"

Bucks Fizz do it their way. I do it 'My way'- and so does Boris. The process of developing opinion is an individual thing. My way is never trust instant decisions. Think about the question, consider the options, discuss with others, then decide. First instinct is of course a part of this. Even after all that, I sometimes change my mind. I don't like to be rushed. That's what I think Boris Johnon did before coming out in favour of backing the UK leaving the EU. Actually, I thought we all knew that. Hasn't stopped the BBC running this total non-news story as their lead today. I suppose it feeds into the Beeb's refusal to accept the referendum result.

Now let's turn to the much lesser fish, the MP for Montgomeryshire. My instinct was Leave, having voted 'Out' in 1975. Accepted the vote then and worked in several positions to ensure the EU delivered benefit for Wales. Was fiercely opposed to us joining the Euro though - where we were saved by Gordon Brown. I was not enthusiastic about the EU Referendum. Perhaps naively, I believe the whole structure would one day collapse. Still do. I did not campaign, not being impressed by the campaigns. But on June 23rd I had to choose. Like many I approached the vote with much uncertainty. Never in doubt that I was always going to vote 'Leave' but I did think it was impossible to reach a fully considered position. Also thought this would apply to so many others. Never expected Leave to win, and felt quite stunned on 24th June. If we had decided to remain I would have accepted the result. But we voted 'Leave' and that is what I expected to happen.

Now let's move on 6 mths, to today. On June 24th, we were expecting Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to be invoked immediately. It's what the then Prime Minister had promised. Also, EU top team demanded an early invocation (if that's the word). Not willing to open discussions before they said. It's what they still say. Personally, I took totally different view. Luckily, our new Prime Minister agrees. Article 50 should be invoked at the at the most beneficial time -for the UK and the EU. I rather fancied it to be on Feb 16th, my birthday. The Prime Minister thinks before end of March. There seems to be a growing campaign for MPs to have a vote on this beforehand. Can't work out what this vote is supposed to be about. Clearly it cannot be about terms of leaving the EU because no negotiations will have taken place. And the Prime Minister will totally destroy her negotiating position if she told us what the UK view will be before negotiations start. Truth is that the 'Remain' side do not accept the referendum result, and want MPs to reverse it - while declaring the opposite of course. Don't know how this affects the typical British voter, but it's changing me from being relaxed about the issue, to being totally committed to 'Leave'. Personally, I think there would an explosion of voter outrage (fully justified) if MPs decided not to invoke Article 50, and if I were Prime Minister, (now there's a thought) I'd be tempted to bring the invocation date forward. 

However, I do expect votes on Brexit after the Queens Speech though, as MPs debate the Great Repeal Bill. It will be very interesting to see which MPs will vote against the Bill, which MPs refuse to accept the voice on the people. It may well be quite a dramatic vote. Whatever, I do expect a rare old rumpus over this. No idea how it's all going to end. Perhaps I should write another post tomorrow outlining an 'opposing' position to help me clarify my thoughts!! 

Saturday, October 08, 2016

More turmoil in Shropshire NHS.

I suspect this post will need updating on Monday. I've only just read about the latest change at the top, in the management of Shropshire NHS. Over the years my blog, A View from Rural Wales has often commented on what's happening over Offas Dyke, in Shropshire. That's where my constituents look for their NHS care. We don't have a major hospital in Montgomeryshire at all. My last post was about yet another delay to NHS reform in Shropshire.

Today's news is about Mr David Evans, who has been 'Accountable Officer' of the 3 important organisations deciding on the location of services following desperately needed reform, and also delivering those services as effectively as possible until reform takes place. I think the 'accountable officer' is another term meaning 'the boss'. 

It's a bit complicated for anyone not familiar with the NHS management structure. Top tier are the Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs). There are two - the Shropshire CCG and the Telford and Wrekin CCG. These two CCGs established a new organisation, the Future Fit Management Board, to make recommendations about the future. I think getting on for £3million has been spent on this.  Mr David Evans is 'Accounting Officer' of all three bodies. Today it was announced that he is being replaced, with almost immediate effect from the Shropshire CCG. Dr Simon Freeman will take over next week. The only information I've seen so far is that the debts facing the CCG are such that special measures are needed. The projected debt for the current year was £14.5 million, and has been brought down to a projected £11 million by year end.

Now I don't know enough to be critical of anyone. Don't even know what's 'planned' or 'unplanned'. But uncertainty is a real worry for patients. Last week we expected to be told what recommendation would be put out to public consultation on Dec 12th. But because of a threat of judicial review, the decision was put off - hopefully for a short period allowing the consultation to still begin on the 12th. Failure will mean significant delays, perhaps up to six months. This would be catastrophic for the people of Mid Wales and Shropshire who are (and will be) awaiting treatment. An update on Monday.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Press Comment about Shropshire NHS Reform.

Glyn Davies, Conservative MP for Montgomeryshire, has reacted with both concern and disappointment at news that progress towards deciding on the future structure of Shropshire NHS services and location of new 'Emergency Centre' has been delayed yet again.

David Evans, the Senior Responsible Officer for the Health Board’s ‘Future Fit’ Programme, yesterday announced that due to recent specific concerns about the Programme’s decision making process, the Programme Board is delaying its decision on a preferred option for the future of Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital’s for at least a month.

Commenting on latest position, Glyn Davies MP said;

"Montgomeryshire depends on the NHS A&E services based at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital. And over recent years it has become increasingly clear that trying to sustain A&E services at both Shrewsbury and  the Princess Royal in Telford means, in practice, that the capacity to deliver effective emergency care in Shropshre as a whole is under threat. The population base will support just one."

"Millions of pounds have been invested in meticulous research, consultation and calculation to establish a way forward that is best for the people of Shropshire and Mid Wales. It’s gone time for decisions and actions. We were expecting a clear recommendation about future direction yesterday. It is both disappointing and frustrating that a decision has been delayed yet again."

"Let it be clearly understood. Any further delay is a threat to future NHS care for Shropshire and Mid Wales patients. Consultants will leave Shropshire NHS, unless we have early reform to provide a safe and effective service. I have always believed the only logical location for an 'Emergency Centre' is on the site of the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital."

"I accept that a decision to locate the new 'Emergency Centre' at Shrewsbury will be seen as negative for Telford, though I do not believe this should be the case. It is so desperately disappointing that crucial reform is now being held up by threats of a judicial review, which could delay progress. If there is delay, it will put patients at risk into the future."

“We are being told that there will be a recommendation on the way forward made in time for public consultation in early December. For the sake of future generations resident in Montgomeryshire and Shropshire, I hope this turns out to be the case"

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Brexit means what?

IUsed my fortnightyly column for the Oswestry and Border Chronicle today to consider where we are in relation to Brexit - where we are in the process of delivering on the EU referendum vote that the UK should leave the EU. I like to write about issues I'm uncertain about. Useful way of arranging my thoughts into an opinion! Those who have read me on this issue will know I didn't want the referendum. I thought it was too complex an issue for a Yes/No response. But since there was a vote I voted Leave. I voted Leave in 1975, and would always have voted Leave. I did not expect Leave to win, but win if did. And that is it. No going back. So this is what I wrote.

"The dominating political issue of the moment is Brexit, the process by which the UK will leave the EU. A few people are still refusing to accept the clear judgement of the British people in the Referendum on June 23rd. Some are still calling for a second referendum. It's not going to happen. There are some advocating a long delay in the hope that the Exit process will simply run out of steam. That's not going to happen either. The reality is that most people, including many who campaigned to 'Remain' are now accepting the reality of Brexit. The argument is over.

Since June 23rd, we have been reading lots of comment about what Brexit means. The Prime Minister has told us that "Brexit means Brexit" which tells us 'everything' and 'nothing'. Theresa May is absolutely clear that Britain will be leaving the EU, and she is refusing to be rushed into hasty judgement. She is decisive about the principle, but cautious about how it's delivered. She wants to get it right. I fully support this common sense approach. 

This week we have learned something about two crucial steps needed to set the process underway - to press the official start button. Firstly, the two year period of formal negotiation on terms of withdrawal will begin before end of March 2017. For several weeks we have heard demands that Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty be invoked immediately - probably by people wanting the process to fail. Today we are hearing accusations that the process is being rushed!! My view is that Mrs May has got it bang on in terms of timing. We also know that Parliament will be asked in the spring to repeal the European Communities Act 1972. It will be interesting to see how many MPs and Peers will oppose this, openly refusing to accept the voice of the people. 

Currently, we are being subjected to millions of confused and confusing words about a 'Hard Brexit' or a 'Soft Brexit'. What is this all about? Its the commentariat making up a story, because Mrs May is governing for the country and not for the media. She is not governing by press release. So the media are having to resort to invention. My advice is ignore it.

Some things that are obvious. The UK simply cannot stay in the 'Single Market', as many are demanding. We cannot accept the free movement of people from the EU (or anywhere else) into the UK, which is a fundamental principle of the Single Market. But we will want access to the Single Market, as the EU will want to the British market. The British economy needs immigrant workers to support our hotels, restaurants, care homes, NHS, agriculture, financial services etc. Trans-Europe trade does not need tariffs or anti-competitive rules. We need good trading arrangements with EU countries, and they will with us. Both negotiating teams will have an interest in an amicable divorce, leaving both parties content. The Prime Minster knows that the road ahead will be a bit bumpy. Brexit is a mighty change. But I expect Mrs May to deliver it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Welsh Constituency Boundaries Review.

The Wales Boundary Commission has published its 'interim' report for the review of Parliamentary constituencies in Wales. This is the last stage in the reform of constituencies which began over five years ago. The Boundary Commission will now consult on today's proposals and publish a 'final report' by September 2018, when there will be a vote in the House of Commons to approve the constituency boundaries for the 2020 General Election.

Let us consider the context in which these proposals have been prepared.  It began with the election of the Coalition Government  in 2010. During the previous Parliament there had been an almighty row about MP's expenses. No punishment was deemed too harsh for MPs. Amongst the various actions was an agreement to reduce the cost of democracy by cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Actually, the manifesto commitment was a reduction to 585 - but let's not split hairs. A bill was taken through Parliament to enact this, and entirely logically it included equalisation of constituency size, which had not been reviewed for too long. The Act included a provision that meant all constituencies should have the same number of electors - around 75,000. Crucially, it included the stipulation that only a 5% tolerance be allowed in variation of size of constituencies. This Act passed into law, and it was assumed the new constituencies would be adopted for the 2015 General Election. But the Liberal Democrats undermined their own Act in the House of Lords by joining with Labour and others to delay final approval of the actual boundaries for 5 yrs. Though this suited me very well, it was a constitutional outrage in my opinion. This 5yr delay will be up in Sept 2018.

It's no point MPs shouting at the boundary commissioners. Not their fault. It was MPs who stitched up the restrictive rules, ensuring that consideration of geography, cultural and historic considerations counted for nothing. Especially in Wales, where I can only concede there has been 'over representation' for decades. And that's not making allowance for powers being transferred to the Welsh Parliament. The Wales Commissioners were required to reduce 40 constituencies to just 29. They had very little freedom of movement. Today, we have seen the results of their handiwork. And for me, it's devastating.

Let's consider the position in my constituency of Montgomeryshire. The electoral wards of Glantwymen, Banw, Llanrhaedr, Llansilin, Llanbrynmair, Llanfair, Llanfihangel, Llanwddyn, Meifod, Llandrinio, Guilsfield, Welshpool, Trewern, Llanfyllin, Llansantffraid, Machynlleth, Llandysilio go into a Clwyd South and North Montgomeryshire seat.

The electoral wards of Berriew, Caersws, Churchstoke, Dolforwyn, Forden, Kerry, Llandinam, Montgomery, Newtown and Tregynon go into the Brecon, Radnor and Montgomery seat.

The electoral wards of Blaen Hafren and Llanidloes go into Ceredigion and North Pembrokeshire.

This is a total demolition of the historic county of Montgomeryshire. Montgomeryshire is being torn into three pieces to 'top up' other constituencies. Parliamentary democracy in the old County of Montgomeryshire will be much diminished. MPs will become as little known in future as MEPs are little known now. This boundaries review may well be 'fair' in a statistical sense. But it's heart breaking for me. The only consolation is that the Welsh Parliament constituency will remain Montgomeryshire. This will be confusing at first, but less so as familiarity with MPs decreases. These new constituencies will resonate with very few in Montgomeryshire. And at its root, the cause of all this was the abuse of expenses by MPs several years ago - nothing whatsoever to do with most of today's MPs.

I'm typing this at 3.30am because I'm so upset about it that I can't sleep. I've always lived in Montgomeryshire. Always will. I don't have a single ancestor who was born anywhere else. For 40 yrs I've represented Montgomeryshire in one way or another - well as representing Montgomeryshire in stock judging, public speaking, squash, won bardic chairs at Montgomeryshire eisteddfodau, and a whole lot more. Three of our children with their five children have moved back to be near us at Berriew No way could I ever think about representing a different seat. If these proposals are approved in 2018, that will have to be it for me. But I won't be leaving politics. Politics will be leaving me.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Our Welsh Parliament is here to stay.

There's been a flurry of media comment over the last few days (mainly driven by politicians) suggesting that if there were to be a referendum on the future existence of the Welsh Parliament (or National Assembly for Wales if you prefer) the people of Wales would vote In favour of abolition. No chance. Not sure why this is being taken so seriously. Perhaps the media and commentariat so enjoyed the Scottish Independence Referendum and the EU Referendum that they cannot bear to see Wales left out! Two people asked me whether they were going to have the chance to vote 'that circus in Cardiff' out of existence at today's Berriew Show Charity Lunch. Told them this is one circus I approve of! Even if I did campaign with great vigour in opposition to its creation in 1997. Should add that I don't think their views were a reflection of current Welsh public opinion.

The reality is that it is simply not going to happen. There will be no referendum. Not in any foreseeable future. We've had enough of referendums. And if there were to be, all the evidence I've seen suggests to me that devolution is here to stay. I know not everyone agrees with me about this, and it's very much in fashion to be opposed to anything remotely to do with the 'establishment' or any form of Government. Voting No has become the default position on constitutional issues. But for me, discussion about the future of the Welsh Parliament comes under the heading of 'harmless fun'.

In fact, I may become a great champion of retaining the Welsh Parliament come September 13th. That day we learn of the Boundary Commission for Wales proposals for reform of Welsh Parliamentary constituencies. Inevitably, since they fall in number overall of Welsh parliamentary constituencies from 40 to 29, these proposals will inevitably inform us that Montgomeryshire will be no more by 2020 General Election. Over 40 yrs I've been active in the public life of Montgomeryshire. I'm building myself up for a very sad day. The only way to retain our old historic county of Montgomeryshire will be as an Welsh Assembly seat. But that's a blog post for when we see the detailed proposals. I will write a blog post summarising the background to all this tomorrow. In the meantime, better get used to having the Welsh Parliament around.