As your Liberal Democrat MP, I won’t take anyone for granted

Richard Foord www.msn.com 

I’m proud to live in our beautiful part of the world – and to be elected to represent my neighbours in Parliament. Having been born in Somerset, I served our country in the Army for over a decade. I was promoted to the rank of Major after completing tours in Iraq and with the United Nations in Kosovo.

When I left the Army in 2010, my wife and I chose to move to Devon in order to settle down and raise our family. From rolling hills, to hospitable towns, to beautiful beaches – we really do have it all in our part of Devon.

But I can see how our area has been let down by the Government. Their focus is on winning over people in the north of England, rather than paying attention to places like Devon.

People feel particularly let down by Boris Johnson. He lacks the moral courage to lead and do the right thing, with many lifelong conservative voters switching their support to the Liberal Democrats as a result.

On Thursday last week, people in Devon spoke for the country and made history by electing me to represent them in Parliament. For the first time in 100 years, Tiverton and Honiton does not have a Conservative MP. This is a political earthquake and sends a clear message that our communities won’t be taken for granted any longer.

I am deeply humbled by their support and will work tirelessly for everyone in our area. Indeed, on my first day in Westminster I got straight down to business by tabling a motion calling for a cut to rural fuel duty.

This cut would bring down the price of fuel in rural communities like ours by 10p a litre. This would reflect the fact we are more reliant on our cars than those living in urban areas and would help ease the cost of living pressure people are feeling.

I hope other West Country and rural MPs will join me in this cross-party campaign, because it is the right thing to do for the people we represent. On top of this, we need to see greater action taken to help those struggling with the cost of living. With families struggling to put fuel in their cars and food on the table, Liberal Democrats are calling for a cut to VAT and a cap on the cost of heating oil.

The Government is raking in £40billion extra in tax due to rising prices, so it’s only right they give some of that money back to you. Cutting VAT would bring down prices in the shops and put £600 back in your pocket.

Many people in our part of the world rely upon heating oil to keep their homes warm. Yet there is no cap on the price of heating oil, meaning we’re seeing eye-watering price rises without any support from the government.

A cap would keep costs down, by ensuring the Government steps in to shield people from sharp rises in prices. We also need to see action to bring down ambulance waiting times, improve local dentistry services and stop water companies dumping raw sewage in our rivers.

I promised to be an active and vocal champion for our part of the world – and I meant it. I will continue to bang the drum for Devon and make sure the issues we face here are raised loudly in Westminster. The Conservatives have taken our part of the world for granted for far too long. As your Liberal Democrat MP, I won’t take anyone for granted.

NHS privatisation drive linked to rise in avoidable deaths, study suggests

The privatisation of NHS care accelerated by Tory policies a decade ago has corresponded with a decline in quality and “significantly increased” rates of death from treatable causes, the first study of its kind says.

Andrew Gregory www.theguardian.com 

The hugely controversial shakeup of the health service in England in 2012 by the health secretary, Andrew Lansley, in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government, forced local health bodies to put contracts for services out to tender.

Billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash has since been handed to private companies to treat NHS patients, according to the landmark review.

It shows the growth in health contracts being tendered to private companies has been associated with a drop in care quality and higher rates of treatable mortality – patient deaths considered avoidable with timely, effective healthcare.

The analysis by the University of Oxford has been published in the Lancet Public Health journal. “The privatisation of the NHS in England, through the outsourcing of services to for-profit companies, consistently increased [after 2012],” it says.

“Private-sector outsourcing corresponded with significantly increased rates of treatable mortality, potentially as a result of a decline in the quality of healthcare services.”

With a record 6.5 million patients now waiting for care, and private companies being lined up to help tackle the backlog worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic, the research will prompt new fears over the potential harms of the increased outsourcing of NHS care.

“Our study suggests that increased for-profit outsourcing from clinical commissioning groups [CCGs] in England might have adversely affected the quality of care delivered to patients and resulted in increased mortality rates,” the authors said.

“Our findings suggest that further privatisation of the NHS might lead to worse population health outcomes.”

The study examined the impact of the Health and Social Care Act 2012 in England, which “intensified pressures on the NHS to outsource service provision from state-owned providers to private, for-profit providers”.

Researchers analysed data showing how much 173 CCGs in England spent on outsourcing between 2013 and 2020, which grew from 3.9% to more than 6.4%. In total, £11.5bn was handed to private companies over the period, although the amount varied considerably between CCGs.

The analysis shows that an annual increase in outsource spending of 1% is associated with a rise in treatable mortality of 0.38% – or 0.29 deaths per 100,000 people – the following year. Researchers claim 557 additional deaths between 2014 and 2020 might be attributed to the rise in outsourcing.

The authors speculated that the higher mortality might be due to private companies “delivering worse-quality care, resulting in more health complications and deaths”, or because greater competition for contracts may result in for-profit providers prioritising shorter waiting times “at the expense of quality of care”.

“While some have argued the Health and Social Care Act would improve the performance of health services by increasing competition, our findings add merit to longstanding concerns it could instead lead to cost-cutting and poorer health outcomes,” said the study’s lead, Benjamin Goodair of the University of Oxford.

Dr David Wrigley, deputy chair of British Medical Association, said the doctors’ union had repeatedly raised concerns about ministers throwing “huge amounts of money at private firms rather than investing in rebuilding our health and care system”.

“A policy of outsourcing with minimal oversight, governance or transparency is one which is going to lead to diminished quality and poorer patient care, which is exactly what today’s Lancet study shows,” he said.

The waiting list for NHS care in England this month hit 6.5 million. Dr Danny Bhagwati, vice-chair of the Doctors’ Association, said: “Given the scale of the backlog and proposed solutions involving the use of the private sector, this data highlighting the risk to patient safety must result in the government looking at the regulation of this sector urgently.”

Further analysis looked for any association between outsourcing and preventable mortality – deaths avoidable with effective public health instead of medical interventions.

None was found, suggesting the relationship between contracting out NHS services and treatable deaths is linked to quality of care, rather than as a result of general trends in population health outcomes.

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“We have raised the alarm for years over the false promotion of outsourcing as better for healthcare and better for the NHS,” said Alan Taman, a spokesperson for the campaigning organisation Doctors for the NHS. “This vindicates what we have been saying.”

The authors acknowledged several limitations to their research. Their findings are not evidence of a causal relationship between outsourcing and deaths, so other factors cannot be ruled out.

Nigel Edwards, the chief executive of the Nuffield Trust, cautioned that the study “leaves many questions unanswered – not least whether outsourcing is directly responsible for these outcomes or is simply associated with them”.

However, the study’s co-author, Dr Aaron Reeves, of the University of Oxford, said: “These results clearly have implications for the NHS privatisation debate, suggesting that increased outsourcing to the private sector could lead to a decline in the quality of care provided to patients.

“While more research is needed to determine the precise causes of the declining quality of healthcare in England, our findings suggest that further increases in NHS privatisation would be a mistake.”

When NHS outsourcing has run into trouble

Hospitals

In 2012, Circle became the first profit-driven health firm to be put in charge of an NHS hospital when it took over Hinchingbrooke hospital in Cambridgeshire. However, it handed the contract back to the NHS in 2015 after the hospital experienced financial problems and could not keep up with the rising demand for care, which was branded “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission.

Eyecare

Vanguard faced legal action over a series of eye operations carried out in 2014 at Musgrove Park hospital in Somerset. A confidential report on Vanguard said the operations appeared rushed and that surgeons were allowed to continue practising even after patients reported serious complications. The hospital terminated its contract with Vanguard after just four days.

Mental health

The main private mental health hospital chains that treat NHS patients have been criticised by coroners and inquest juries dozens of times over the last decade for providing unsafe care. The Priory, Cygnet and Elysium have been censured at least 37 times for mistakes and lapses in care involved in the deaths of patients, including several children.

Why Brexit could end up costing the Tories their rural vote

Unless he can turn things round in normally solid farming areas, Boris Johnson’s MPs may send their former thoroughbred to the knacker’s yard

Paul WaughChief Political Commentator inews.co.uk 

“Our farmers, who art in Devon, hallowed be thy name.” Ahead of their apparently daunting task in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election, that was my guess of what a Lib Dem Lord’s Prayer would sound like.

In the end, it was Boris Johnson who faced a Devon retribution for his twin sins of Partygate and appearing out of touch over the cost of living crisis.

After overturning a whopping 24,000 Tory majority, new Tiverton MP Richard Foord was this week sworn in, with Lib Dem leader Ed Davey at his side.

Tory MPs had jeered Davey in Prime Minister’s Questions earlier this month when he called for the extension of the rural fuel duty relief scheme to areas like “Cumbria, Shropshire and Devon”.

Conservatives knew the choice of geography was hardly coincidental, given the Lib Dems have held a seat in Cumbria since 2005, won a by-election in Shropshire last year and were campaigning hard to win another in the West Country.

But with Davey and his party having the last laugh, several Tories are very nervous indeed that their countryside core vote risks crumbling before their eyes. Some even worry that Johnson has spent more time trying to hold onto “Red Wall” urban seats at the expense of rural areas.

That tension is highlighted in the post-Brexit trade deals the Government is signing, with the UK-Australia deal in particular coming in for criticism. Although ministers insist the deal will boost British exports of cars and fashion, the Government’s own impact assessment revealed the deal will cost farmers and food producers almost £300 million due to Australian imports.

Today, the Commons International Trade Committee published a report which was scathing about ministers’ attempts to “rush” through Parliament the deal without sufficient scrutiny of its impact on issues like British animal welfare and agriculture.

When International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan decided at the last minute to back out of a session with the committee to discuss its report, chairman Angus Brendan MacNeil “empty chaired” her. With the notable backing of the five Tory MPs on the committee, they held a one-minute session simply to embarrass her for her absence. Trevelyan’s reason for cancelling her appearance, to announce the UK’s extension of steel tariffs, may have seemed to some yet another example of “Red Wall” concerns dominating once more.

The row also laid bare the relative lack of scrutiny over trade deals since Brexit. The UK Parliament now has less power to interrogate new international trade agreements and treaties than the European Parliament does (the long process of approving the Brexit trade deal was an anomaly). The Australian Parliament has more of a say over both the trade deal and the new AUKUS security pact than Westminster does.

However, there is a wider problem with the Prime Minister’s bare-bones Brexit deal and its impact on rural areas. Farmers were promised that EU subsidies would be replaced in full, but they are being gradually phased out, with basic payments being cut by 20 per cent this year.

There is also anger over Jacob Rees-Mogg’s decision to again postpone post-Brexit import checks on food imports from the EU. The National Farmers Union said the move left British farmers at an unfair disadvantage and posed a risk to the nation’s biosecurity, animal health and food safety.

Although Environment Secretary George Eustice, himself a farmer, has tried to offer reassurances about protecting farmers in trade deals (and is a big backer of Brexit freedoms to boost “gene-edited” crops), he’s also had to battle with complaints that leaving the EU has hit agricultural worker employment.

Before Brexit, under the now defunct Seasonal Agricultural Workers’ Scheme, about 60,000 to 70,000 seasonal farmworkers, mainly sourced from Bulgaria and Romania, would travel to the UK to work on farms.

The politics feel ominous too. Johnson sounded acutely aware of the problem when he recently accused the Lib Dems of going “around the country bamboozling rural communities”. The party has made council gains in its traditional West Country battleground and is also targeting Shropshire, Kent, North Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Buckinghamshire. Rural voters who used to think they’ve nowhere else to go now see they can boot out their local MP.

There’s the risk of a pincer movement too from Labour. Back in 1997 when Blair won his landslide, Labour took an astonishing 170 seats in rural areas (compared to just 17 in 2019). A poll in April put Labour nearly neck and neck with the Conservatives among rural voters (36 per cent to the Tories’ 38 per cent).

Perhaps the biggest worry for the Tories is that the Prime Minister himself is the lightning rod for anger over the cost of living, over standards in public life and over worries that his oven-ready Brexit deal has turned out to be half-baked.

Johnson spent just one campaign day in Tiverton (including on a farm), but he failed to conduct a walkabout that would mean encountering members of the public in front of the cameras. His big asset in 2019 was that he could refresh the parts Tories couldn’t normally reach.

Now, from being booed by Royalist crowds at the Platinum Jubilee to shedding votes in normally solid farming areas, we seem to be witnessing a “reverse Heineken” effect, where he toxifies the parts of the electorate the Tories never normally lose. Unless he can quickly turn things round, his MPs may send their former thoroughbred to the knacker’s yard.

Number of holiday-let homes in England up 40% in three years

The number of holiday lets in England has risen by 40% in three years, BBC analysis of council figures suggests.

By Helen Catt  Political correspondent www.bbc.co.uk 

Tourist areas which already had large numbers of such properties – including Scarborough, the Isle of Wight, North Devon, the Cotswolds and Norfolk – have seen sharp increases.

Ministers are looking at whether holiday lets should be registered.

This comes amid concern that inflated property prices are pushing established residents out of many areas.

Estate agents have reported a surge in second home ownership during the pandemic, with many buyers now offering these as holiday lets.

The BBC has obtained data from 152 individual councils across England on short-term lets – available for at least 140 days of the year and registered for business rates rather than council tax.

Among the councils who responded to the BBC, there was a 40% increase in such accommodation – from 19,543 in 2018 to 27,424 last year.

This tallies with government figures for the same period – covering the whole country but not broken down to a council-by-council level – which also show a 40% rise.

Among the BBC’s findings, the seaside resort of Scarborough, which includes Whitby, had the highest number of holiday lets, rising from 2,032 in 2018 to 2,913 in 2021.

In second place was North Devon, where the figure went from 1,319 in 2018 to 1,758 in 2021.

East Suffolk was third, going from 1,475 to 1,614 over the same period.

Other areas where there was a sizeable number of holiday lets and a substantial increase between 2018 and 2021 included:

  • The Isle of Wight – up 39%, from 908 to 1,262
  • South Norfolk – up 97%, from 117 to 230.
  • The Cotswolds – up 25%, from 802 to 1,002
  • York – up 49%, from 448 to 669
  • Great Yarmouth – up 44%, from 871 to 1,251
  • East Riding of Yorkshire – up 51%, from 549 to 831
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What’s the impact on local people?

Charlotte Bater grew up in the village of Georgeham in North Devon, close to the popular surfing beach at Croyde.

She had to leave a rental property 10 months ago after being served with a no-fault eviction notice and she and her children moved back in with her parents.

“It does put a whole stop on your life. You can’t plan anything. Everything comes back to: well, we don’t know where we’re going to be living. My children don’t know where they’re going to go to college. My youngest son, do you put him into nursery, do you not? I can’t start back at work.”

She says there are simply no properties available. “If they do come up, they are extortionately expensive. There’ll be two, three hundred going for the same properties – that’s for private rentals.”

In the village, banners outside the school show it has spaces – Charlotte says it used to be oversubscribed but now struggles with numbers “which kind of gives you an indication as well into how the community’s being affected, not just me”.

Her friend Emma Hookway set up a campaign group for North Devon and neighbouring Torridge.

“There’s a real fear in the area at the moment if you’re renting. One of my friends the other day. she got a phone call from her estate agent and she felt like crying instantly. She thought, ‘Oh, that’s it, it’s going to be sold. It’s going to be converted into a second home or a holiday let.'”

Emma cleans holiday lets and says she understands the importance of the tourism industry to the area.

“We understand that people want to move to the area, that people are wanting to have holidays, especially being locked up after Covid. But there’s got to be a balance and I think it’s more important for people to be able to have their first home.”

The government admits it only has a limited picture of how many properties across England are second homes and holiday-lets, particularly given the growth of online marketplaces such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport is looking at whether holiday lets should be registered, or even licensed.

It has now launched a call for evidence, promised in its Tourism Recovery Strategy in June 2021, on the impact of short-term lets on England.

Tourism Minister Nigel Huddleston said the government was “very aware” of the issues.

“There are many benefits to having more accommodation provision in the UK. It’s good for our tourism industry that there’s a variety of accommodation offers, but it can come with a downside as well so we want to get the right balance,” he said.

“One of the options is to license accommodation at one extreme, or we could end up doing nothing.”

MPs from several different parties have been raising concerns.

Lib Dem MP Tim Farron has previously called for more help for local people, and said the desire to buy second homes during the pandemic and the ease with which people can now advertise holiday lets online had pushed up prices.

“A bad situation has become entirely disastrous,” he said in a debate earlier this year, adding that the cost of an average home in his constituency, which includes parts of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales, was now around 11 times the average wage.

Some holiday-let owners say they switched to paying business rates during the pandemic to be able to access Covid grants, which may also have contributed to the increase in numbers.

Simon Matthews, who runs a holiday let in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, said: “These businesses were as badly impacted by Covid as any other hospitality business, the grants were a lifeline to keep them viable.”

Houses for ‘ghosts’: ONS overestimated growth in many areas, census suggests

[ONS projection from 2011 base for 2020 gives a population of 148,080 for East Devon compared to 2021 census estimate of 150,800 for 2021 so no obvious discrepancy here – Owl]

Robert Booth www.theguardian.com 

Green belt land may have been torn up for housing unnecessarily, campaigners believe, after the 2021 census suggested population growth in many areas has been overestimated – in some cases by tens of thousands of people.

But the census also revealed other estimates were far too low – by up to 16% – meaning local politicians now face pressure to allocate more land for homes than previously anticipated.

The discrepancies matter because official population estimates are used to project housing need and building targets. They are likely to be seized on by campaigners for both more and less new housing. About 340,000 new homes are needed each year in England, according to one estimate, while 216,000 were built in 2019-20, the last year for which full figures are available.

In Coventry, the ONS had estimated the population at 379,387 but the census recorded only 345,300 people – a 34,000 difference. Campaigners said this meant some of the recently built housing around the city was in effect being planned for “ghosts”.

“The best remaining pieces of unspoiled Arden landscape in Warwickshire have been sacrificed for no good reason,” said Merle Gering, a campaigner. “There was enough brownfield land in the city to cater for all the likely growth to 2031.”

Guildford was estimated to be home to 150,352 people in June 2020 but the census showed it had almost 7,000 fewer the following March. The council had based a housebuilding target of 562 homes a year on ONS population projections, carried out before the census.

“My concern is that large areas of the green belt around Guildford have been allocated for development based on inaccurate and misleading statistics,” said Niels Laub, a member of the Guildford green belt campaign group. “Housing targets should be reappraised.”

The census will also increase pressure for higher housing targets in some areas. Before the population count was published, Cambridge city council and South Cambridgeshire district council launched a joint plan to build 33,500 additional homes by 2031. But the census showed that the 2020 ONS population estimate for Cambridge city of 125,063 was 20,637 people short, suggesting many more homes may now be needed.

The council said: “It is vital for more good quality, sustainable housing to be built in the area, which is why this continues to be a priority for both councils as they prepare their next joint local plan.”

The ONS estimates for Peterborough also missed more than 13,000 people, and in Oxford more than 10,000 people were missed.

A spokesperson for ONS said it expected differences between the census and its estimates and that it would “rebase” its figures using the census data. It said it was also planning a new approach using different data sources.

“The population continues to change and we recognise the need to understand those ongoing changes in a more timely and frequent way than ever before,” they said.

In 2020, MPs in Warwickshire called for an inquiry into the ONS estimates, telling Sir David Norgrove, the chair of the UK Statistics Authority, that “bad decisions – to irrevocably destroy historic countryside – are being made on the back of bad data.”

In 2021 the Office for Statistics Regulation concluded: “Population estimates for some cities such as Coventry did seem to be inconsistent with, and potentially higher than, local evidence would suggest.”

The same problem was seen in “a number of smaller cities with large student populations”, it said.