Friday, 24 April 2015

Esher College and Rydens Enterprise School

Yesterday, Rydens Enterprise School hosted a hustings for their students, which attracted a lot of interest and some great questions. Today, I went to Esher College to speak to students - as pictured below - and we debated a range of issues from austerity to human rights.

I have been thoroughly impressed with the interest and enthusiasm of all the younger voters I have come across in this campaign, and we have some great youngsters involved in our local Conservative campaigning team. 

I sense a huge appetite amongst this rising generation for a positive Conservative vision that allies the job creation that comes with free enterprise to a meritocratic agenda to widen opportunities and revive social mobility.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Election Issue 4: NHS

One of the key challenges we face locally, with a rising birth rate and an ageing population, is to tailor local health services to the specific needs of our community. In cash terms, this government has increased funding for the NHS by almost £13billion since 2010. More operations are being delivered, and waiting lists are down. Nationwide, there are 17,200 more clinical staff, and 20,200 fewer administrators. With 1,000 more GPs, we’ve seen 40 million more appointments each year at local doctor’s surgeries.

Yes, we still face major challenges – from an ageing population to the rising cost of drugs and technology. But, most people feel increasingly confident about the NHS: the British Social Attitudes Survey recently found public satisfaction in the NHS had risen to 65%, a 30 year high. So, what is happening locally across Elmbridge? Since 2013, we have had two local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) charged with prioritising according to local needs. I met up recently with the Elmbridge lead for the Surrey Downs CCG. I was briefed on the successes in setting up diabetes clinics at local doctors’ surgeries. The numbers waiting longer than a month for mental health related counselling have been cut. A new dementia screening service has won plaudits for its approach to early diagnosis and treatment. Molesey hospital is being used as a hub for providing care in the community for elderly patients, and there are plans to provide more weekend GP appointments locally. 

For the future, the CCG are bidding to deliver cross-community GP services to ease pressure on local practices, provide more ‘out of hours’ access, and offer additional services out of local practices – from blood tests to electrocardiograms (heart check-ups). There are also plans to run an early evening paediatric clinic for children – good news for working parents. This is all important progress. In addition, there is underway a review of our various community hospitals – including in Molesey, Thames Ditton, Cobham and Walton, to assess what value they can provide in terms of providing certain particular services closer to home. I attended a public consultation at Esher civic centre, and argued for a long-term strategic approach to be taken. That should involve using the facilities we already have to provide certain cross-community services most in demand. That would strengthen patient care, whilst diverting patients from our major local hospitals, which we know are under pressure.

There is widespread recognition that, as our society changes, we will need to deliver health care in a different way. Investment is obviously an important part of all this. But, equally, we need to deliver more healthcare in the community. From caring for the elderly to extra services for working families, recent developments in Elmbridge are positive steps in the right direction.

Out in the back of an ambulance with local paramedics.
Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Election Issue 3: Law Enforcement

Despite cuts in the budgets of local police forces and prosecution services, crime has steadily fallen – locally and across the country. Between 2010 and 2014, police recorded crime fell by 14% in England and Wales. In Surrey, despite a 7% cut in our police budget, crime fell by 25% - and by 28% locally here in Elmbridge. County-wide, the biggest falls have been in robbery, criminal damage, motoring offences, and public order offences.
Interestingly, the overall volume of convictions has also fallen in England and Wales, and in Surrey. True, there are some important exceptions. The volume of cases brought against violent and sexual offenders is up across the county (compared to a 26% fall in prosecutions for vehicle offences). Equally, the number of reported drug offences rose by 37% in Surrey, but fell 16% across the country.
So, what conclusions can be drawn from this data? First, there is no hydraulic relationship between the crude amount of policing budgets and the level of crime. This reinforces what we know about both the effectiveness of policing, and the public’s role. Burglar alarms, personal security and other IT has been a major factor in cutting crime – as well as the dedication of frontline officers.
Second, given the cost of bringing cases to court, hard-pressed taxpayers’ money needs to be focused and prioritised. I suspect many people would endorse the prosecutorial focus on violent and sexual crime. Equally, signage, speed controls and other preventative measures have helped reduced motoring offences – while less cases are going to court.
Third, there is no reason why crime cannot continue to fall. Police money and time can be further saved by increasing co-operation between the different emergency services, and between local police forces. For example, Surrey recently won £735,000 from the police innovation fund, to develop a shared IT platform with fire and rescue. Then there is all the centrally imposed bureaucracy and red-tape – there’s still scope for further efficiencies to be found here too.
A combination of smart policing and greater personal responsibility has achieved significant results – locally and nationally – at a time of financial pressure on public services. This has made residents safer in Elmbridge, and punctured the myth that the secret to lower crime is simply funnelling more and more taxpayers’ money into policing budgets.
Saturday, 18 April 2015

Election Hustings

This week, we had two more election hustings, one at Holy Trinity Church in Claygate, and the other at St Christophers Church in Hinchley Wood. Both were lively, with a range of issues arising. At Claygate, there was a greater focus on national and international issues - from the economy to defence. At Hinchley Wood, there was slightly more focus on local issues including things like affordable housing and cycle lanes.

On the panel at Holy Trinity Church Claygate,

At St Christophers Church in Hinchley Wood with stalwart local Elmbridge councillors, Chris Cross and Christine Elmer,

On the panel taking questions from the Hinchley Wood audience.

There are two more local hustings coming up in East Molesey and Oxshott - details here - and, in addition, I am hosting three public meetings in Walton, Cobham and Molesey (details here). It would be great to see you, if you are able to join these debates.

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