As the Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Brunei I was concerned to read about the next level of the Sharia Penal Code that has been recently introduced in Brunei. I visited the country last November meeting the Sultan and a number of ministers and key advisers to discuss existing and developing trading links that date back for many years. The recent additions to the Penal Code had not come into force at that point.
Both Jeremy Hunt as Foreign Secretary and Penny Mordaunt as Secretary of State for Women & Equalities have taken a strong line on this matter with the Foreign Secretary tweeting after a meeting with his Bruneian counterpart: “Just had the Bruneian foreign minister to my office to drive home the UK’s shock at new Sharia law. We work well together on many issues, but profoundly disagree on this. His suggestion that Sharia prosecutions are in practice unlikely is not acceptable: everyone should be free to be who they are and love who they want.”
I share these concerns wholeheartedly and know that we will all continue to speak out at every level of government. Some petitioners have suggested that we seek to expel Brunei from the Commonwealth, some that we refuse to trade with them. However in my experience, I have found that engagement works better than boycotts, sanctions and megaphone diplomacy. As Commonwealth members we must respect one another’s cultures and traditions, but we must do so in a manner consistent with our common value of equality. We need to be at the heart of influencing countries, not on their overall governance, but on their approach to human rights.
A considerable number of my constituents in Sutton have been in touch with me regarding the proposals for the borough-wide Controlled Parking Zone which Sutton Council are consulting on. The important date is 16th December when this closes so it is vital if you haven’t expressed your view you do so before then via the link below:
Sutton has a very high level of car ownership, due in part to us being an outer London borough which doesn’t have the high levels of public transport like an area closer to London would have and this policy has the potential to significantly affect the way many people in this borough go about their day-to-day lives whether it be commuting to work, getting their children to school or going out to the shops.
This type of scheme has been pushed by the council before in the Wallington area around the station when I was a councillor before becoming an MP. I campaigned against it as a sledgehammer to crack a nut. It gained a significant amount of opposition from residents to be ultimately rejected. I have concerns about the way this particular scheme is being rolled out in terms of the lack of consultation that I’ve heard about from those who’ve contacted me and also concern about whether the number of permits and their price will change from what is initially offered. Whilst the aim of reducing overall emissions in the borough from vehicles is a noble one, I’m sceptical that using a CPZ to do this will alleviate the problem and cause further problems to residents that use car regularly, particularly if they use a car as part of their business. The Council seem to be wanting to charge residents for their parked cars which clearly won’t be emitting anything, thus encouraging them to drive during the day.
I do appreciate that there are some areas mentioned in this group which appear to need some form of parking control, however there are plenty of other areas across the borough, particularly in the Sutton West and South wards, that do not need a controlled parking zone at all, there isn’t a strong case for it happening and it’s therefore crucial that if you oppose this happening to register your view.
I’ll be working closely with the councillors in those wards such as Cllr Lily Bande, Cllr Catherine Gray as well as Cllrs Tony Shields and Tim Crowley who have been in turn working with residents such as Sandra Ackland to raise awareness of what is going on and for as many views to be inputted as possible and I’ll continue to take on board what’s been fed back to me from residents in Sutton.
I recently met with Transport for London regarding the planned tramlink extension to Sutton and Councillors for Sutton Council receive regular updates on the Sutton Link Project.
The project aims to:
• Make it quicker to travel between Sutton and Merton and improve links to central London
• Improve access to jobs and services from less connected parts of both boroughs
• Support the delivery of new homes in both boroughs
TfL subsequently said that they would be holding events around Sutton and Merton to consult with residents about the plans and they’re an ideal opportunity to go out and see for yourself what is being planned for Sutton. I will continue to work with the Mayor and TfL on this exciting project for Sutton and it is good news that the much needed infrastructure boost to Sutton in the form of the tramlink is finally being realised which will drive economic growth in the town centre.
My initial thought is that the BRT option looks interesting as it’s cheaper, will cause less disruption to construct and will be a more frequent service. However we would need to see what negative effect the more frequent service would have on congestion. But you can see for yourself and share your views.
Information about the proposals and TfL’s consultation questionnaire are on their website at tfl.gov.uk/Sutton-link
The locations, dates and times of these engagement events have been released and are detailed below:
Thursday 08 Nov 14:00 – 20:00 South Wimbledon Station, 131 Merton High Street, London, SW19 1DE
Saturday 10 Nov 11:00 – 17:00 St Nicholas Centre, St Nicholas Way, Sutton, SM1 1AY
Tuesday 13 Nov 14:00 – 20:00 The Nelson Health Centre, Kingston Road, London, SW20 8DA
Thursday 15 Nov 14:00 – 20:00 Sutton Central Library, St Nicholas Way, Sutton, SM1 1EA
Saturday 17 Nov 11:00 – 17:00 Morden Station, London Road, Morden, SM4 5AZ
Tuesday 20 Nov 13:00 – 19:00 Sutton Life Centre, 24 Alcorn Close, Sutton, SM3 9PX
Wednesday 21 Nov 15:00 – 20:00 Mitcham Parish Centre, Church Path, Mitcham, CR4 3BN
Thursday 22 Nov 14:00 – 20:00 The Salvation Army, 45 Benhill Avenue, Sutton, SM1 4DD
Saturday 24 Nov 11:00 – 16:00 Colliers Wood Library, 105-109 High Street Colliers Wood, London, SW19 2HR
Tuesday 27 Nov 10:00 – 16:00 Merton Civic Centre, Civic Centre, London Road, Morden, SM4 5DX
Wednesday 28 Nov 12:00 – 19:00 Wimbledon Library, 35 Wimbledon Hill Road, London, SW19 7NB
Saturday 01 Dec 12:00 – 18:00 Wimbledon Station, The Broadway, Wimbledon, London, SW19 7NL
Tuesday 04 Dec 14:00 – 19:00 Colliers Wood Library, 105-109 High Street Colliers Wood, London, SW19 2HR
Wednesday 05 Dec 12:00 – 18:00 David Weir Leisure Centre, Middleton Road, Carshalton, SM5 1SL
Given the concerns expressed over the last weekend about social care, it is important to explain the government’s plans properly, cutting through some of the political spin.
The Conservative manifesto includes our commitment to strengthen the social care system with more and sustainable funding to cope with the long-term pressures caused by the fact that we are living in an increasingly ageing society. After all, there will be two million more people over 75 years old in Britain over the next decade alone and a third more people aged 85-plus in 2024 than there were in 2014. Furthermore, the growing number of long-term conditions such as dementia is putting increasing pressure on the social care system. At the moment, elderly people in need of care face high costs and inadequate treatment, as well as the risk of seeing the assets they built up over a lifetime depleted to virtually nothing. I believe the social care system will collapse unless we make some important decisions now about how we fund it.
That is why we have to act. And it is why – to give people security – the government included in their plans, measures to make sure no one should have to sell their family home to pay for their immediate care needs. They have also said that they would protect a minimum of £100,000 of your savings so, however expensive your care, you will be able to pass something on to your family.
Most people don’t have to think about long term care and as a result it is important to understand how the present system operates, for despite the comments by some, care and support services in England have never been free. Right now, most people have to pay something towards their own care and some will already have to pay for all of the costs. The current lower limit, where all their remaining savings will not be used, is when savings fall to £23,250 at that point they will be on a sliding scale means test until their savings reach £14,000. For those in residential care the value of their house is taken into consideration as well.
Whilst local authorities may cover some or all of the cost of care in some circumstances, its help is “means-tested.” Right now whether you are in a Care Home or receiving support in your own home you will be expected to make a financial contribution. Furthermore, property has always been calculated in personal care package, evidenced by the existence of a “12 week disregard.” Worse, the present system can be a lottery, with some local authorities requiring the payment whilst the person needing care is in the home. This has often resulted in people having to sell their homes, causing real anxiety and worry to those who are in need of the care when the system should be supportive. These new proposals will bring an end to the need to sell your home whilst you are alive.
So, this plan would replace and in so doing improve the existing system where people often get poor quality care – and stand to lose almost all their savings and assets, including the family home. This plan addresses the worry people have when they have a loved one with a long-term condition, and they don’t know how they’re going to afford to care for them.
Furthermore, these proposals will be presented in the form of a Green Paper, (a government consultation document) and they provide the beginning of a solution to social care without increasing taxes on younger generations. That consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs. Importantly everyone will get to comment on what is in the paper and the government will listen carefully to the concerns of all of you before setting the final policy.
But since the manifesto was published, the proposals have been subject to fake claims made by Jeremy Corbyn. It is sad that he has resorted to whipping up fear and scaremongering. That is why I hope Theresa May’s statement, that there will be an upper limit to the amount that people will have to contribute should reassure you that you will not eat into all of your savings and satisfy those who have been worried by some of the scaremongering from the Labour party.
So for the avoidance of doubt, let me reiterate:
- We will make sure there will be an absolute limit on what people will need to pay for their care by capping the amount they will have to pay.
- We will put more money into health and social care.
- We will generate more money for social care by including the home into the test for people getting care in their own home. This is what already happens with people in residential care, and will mean people’s assets are treated equally wherever they are looked after.
- We will protect people from the huge costs that can accumulate from elderly care, by protecting people’s assets up to a minimum of £100,000 from social care costs. This will be done with a capital floor that is four times the current level of protection of assets.
- We will make sure no one has to sell their home within their lifetime to pay for care, by extending deferred payment agreements for people getting care in their own home. This will take the anxiety out of obtaining support.
- We will improve the care people receive by improving co-operation between the NHS and the care system, relieve unnecessary and sometimes unhealthy stays in hospital, and examine how to make best use of specialist housing and new technology approaches that enable people to live independently, with dignity, for longer.
- We will give people the right to request unpaid leave from work to care for a relative for up to a year, because the vast majority of care is provided informally, usually within the family.
For surely the greatest unfairness is if we dump the costs of social care on to our children, for this is the likely alternative. Despite all the scaremongering from Labour, that is what their proposals will do. Labour’s fantasy manifesto with over £10’s of billions of uncosted spending pledges will result in enormous tax increases. First, Jeremy Corbyn plans to drag some 3.9 million more homes, including half of all homes in London, into paying inheritance tax. Jeremy Corbyn has even said he could increase the basic rate of income tax for millions of people from 20 to 25 per cent to fund social care. So Labour will hit those families with heavy taxes, at the very point they might expect to receive the money from their parents.
I believe we save first and foremost so that we are not a burden on our children and so that we can all have a better than basic retirement without the need for our children to have to finance our support. Whatever is left over of our savings and capital, of course should go, if we wish it to our closest relatives
Our welfare reforms are getting more people into work and then ensuring they save through our recently introduced automatic enrolment scheme will make sure there are fewer people in future who fail to save sufficiently for their retirement, reducing the future burden on our children.
Theresa May has shown determination and boldness in tackling this issue head on, I believe she is right to do so, for the alternative is a Corbyn led government which will tax us so much that any thought of passing on savings to one’s children will become a folk memory.
I hope this explains what the government is proposing and reaffirms the fact that a full consultation will take place before any policy is put in place. I also hope that on 8th of June, you will balance this issue alongside the very real damage that a Corbyn led government – shored up by the Scots Nationalists, Plaid Cymru, The Greens and the Lib Dems, (in effect a coalition of chaos), would do to our country.
Whether you voted leave or remain in the referendum, I hope you will agree it is vital our government gets a good deal from the negotiations with the EU. Given that the Prime Minister will sit down with the EU to start those negotiations very soon,only Theresa May’s strong and stable leadership could achieve a good outcome for this great country of ours.
Over the last 25 years we have had politicians queuing up to ‘Save St Helier’ but precious few coming forward with a realistic plan to do so. I believe that this needs to change which is why I invited Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, to come to St Helier Hospital and meet me and the chief executive to discuss how we can secure St Helier’s future. Wouldn’t it be great if at the next general election, the future of healthcare in Sutton had been transformed permanently for the better? The chief executive kindly showed us around the best of St Helier and the worst.
The best included ‘board rounds’, an initiative in the hospital’s acute care centre where a group of doctors considered each patient on the ward in a multi-disciplinary approach, looking at everything together. This has led to mortality rates being at their lowest ever, despite treating ever more patients and recovery being so much better. We saw a new CT scanner adding much more capacity, enough to take in patients from right across South London. We also dropped in on the new restaurant which opened yesterday and which will free up space for a new renal unit.
The conditions of the existing renal unit was less satisfactory. As with everywhere on site, the staff do amazing things in the most challenging of conditions. Beds for dialysis are too closely packed in. The single lift is not big enough for a trolley bed, leading to the incredible situation of the Trust having to spend £10,000 a week on an ambulance shuttle service to take patients from the back of the hospital to the front.
We then went to the boiler room, which contains huge steam-powered boilers from the 1950s. If this is the heart of the hospital, it’s suffering from acute angina. Clearly hugely inefficient in its running, if anything went wrong, the hospital would struggle to stay open for any length of time. Two members of the maintenance staff go around the hospital every day, testing water for legionella and flushing through systems if and when it is found.
The back of the building is largely blocked off by hoarding. Not because of maintenance work but to protect passers-by from crumbling masonry. The trust has to find an estimated £5m of its budget to go to extra maintenance every year simply down to the state of the building. Despite these risks, the staff work so hard to achieve patient outcomes that are among the best in London.
Finally we had a chance to talk to Jeremy Hunt about creating a vision for the future. The NHS cannot start a public debate during the election ‘purdah’ period but I can. The views here are mine, I don’t speak for the trust, nor the government and I am open to change my mind through meaningful discussion with residents. To my mind there are three options for a new hospital. St Helier, Epsom or the Sutton Hospital site co-located with the Royal Marsden. If we went for the latter, the Marsden would benefit from extra intensive care and acute facilities to support its work. The vast majority of services at both Epsom and St Helier would remain where they are but the trust could remove some duplication thus releasing more money to spend on front-line treatment. To be clear, I do not want St Helier to close, neither does anyone in the trust. The reported one-for-one replacement with a super-hospital in Belmont is a non-starter. The key thing is to get residents involved and focus on care, outcomes for patients and the best locations for services here in Sutton, rather than just buildings. Each site should be able to retain their full urgent care centre with the A&E placed in the best location on clinical grounds, but we should remove the matter as a party political matter, instead discussing this in a pragmatic way that brings everyone behind a solution that we can secure from the NHS and the Treasury.
Once we have agreed on how we configure services over the three sites, we need to look at the difficult issue of funding. Building a new hospital now will cost in the region of £300m. Delaying this for five years will increase the cost to £400m, purely through the effect of construction inflation. One way of securing this funding is to work across London to realise the value of NHS-owned land that is surplus to requirements. It is estimated that there are a small number of trusts in London with around £1bn worth of surplus land. However, the challenge is to release this and then to see that money shared across other trusts, when they will want to keep it for themselves. Another possibility is prudential borrowing via Sutton Council or through pension funds. Sutton Council has borrowed money to buy Oxfam’s head office in Oxford and an office block in Wallington. When I was on the pensions committee for the council, we used to review Sutton Council’s pension investment in a number of shopping centres across the country. I can see no reason why this investment could not be better used to invest in our infrastructure. Either way, pension fund managers are on the lookout for low-risk, long-term investments like hospitals. As a loan, ownership would remain with the NHS, not in private hands. The challenge in this case is how to account for the debt which would sit on the government’s books at a time when they are trying to get to a point that they can reduce debt, not increase it.
If we can secure alternative funding for the largest part of investment, we would then need to secure funding for ensuring that the existing buildings are up to the job for the next 20 years. I have talked about £75m for this as an estimate. However, this figure is bound to increase as time moves on and the buildings continue to degrade. The trust has secured £12m, the biggest investment into the building at St Helier for years, to refurbish B and C blocks. They won’t look that different to the eye but that money will allow the windows at the back to be replaced and to firm up more of the crumbling structure. They have bid for £10m of energy efficiency grant funding to sort out the boiler but more will be required.
St Helier needs the brightest and the best to continue the great work there. As long as some politicians talk down the future prospects of the hospital, staff may be put off going there, instead looking to other hospitals like St George’s. Well, St Helier is not closing and the training and systems there work incredibly well, giving great opportunities to staff. It is therefore sad to see the continuing tales of woe from politicians with a campaign to fight, dragging down morale. It would be easier for me to take the default position of joining others in making supportive noises without any clue of what to do next. But I am a local resident first; one who wants to help to shape a solution. Whilst others petition, I have been trying to engage with decision makers to get answers. They won’t necessarily listen to political sloganeering but they just might to a reasoned, well-evidenced solution that is affordable, practical and deliverable.
Jeremy Hunt said after the meeting: “St Helier has made huge strides in recent years and I was delighted to hear more on my visit about progress and plans for the future. There is no question that St Helier hospital is here to stay, but we do need a plan for improving the facilities and the services on which local people rely. So it was great to see how Theresa May’s local Conservative candidates are working with the local NHS leadership to deliver a vision for St Helier.” I am pleased that he took the time to come, to listen carefully and really take on our thoughts as to how best to keep St Helier performing at its best for Sutton residents.
This week is National Air Ambulance Week (NAAW). It is a time when member Air Ambulance Charities come together across the county, giving a national voice, raising awareness of the lifesaving service provided by local air ambulance services.
The first nationally-coordinated National Air Ambulance Week (NAAW) in 2012 proved an excellent focal point for charities to raise awareness and boost their fundraising.
The aim is that this annual week will make many more people aware of the work of air ambulances.
Events held across the country over the years have varied from ‘Be a Hero’ dress up days, at schools and businesses, to ‘Go Yellow’ and ‘Go Red’ weeks where local businesses and members of the public were encouraged to adopt the colour by having themed displays, wearing the colour for the day, holding themed events such as a yellow cake sale or red themed quiz.
You can find out more about National Air Ambulance Week here.
Sutton’s local air ambulance is London’s Air Ambulance. As you can see from the infographic on the left, London’s Air Ambulance has already treated 10 people in Sutton so far this year. Whilst this is a small number compared to the rest of London and I am glad Sutton residents are staying safe, I still want to pay tribute to London’s Air Ambulance for being there for Sutton residents when we need them.
You can do your bit for NAAW by donating online here or by texting ‘CHARITY’ to 70099 to donate £5.
You can even hold you own event to raise money for London’s Air Ambulance by visiting the NAAW website.