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."