MPs are back in Parliament after conference season. I spent the first two weeks, during the Lib Dem and Labour conferences, on my ‘summer tour’ of this vast constituency, driving from end to end and catching up with everyone.
lt’s great to have time to dedicate to visiting local businesses, charities, community groups and schools. Our corner of Northumberland is so diverse, and I checked up on new broadband sites, potato farms, cadet groups, college students and charity events.
I was able to catch up with many constituents and hear issues of concern to take back to Westminster or the council to raise with the powers that be. If you would like me to visit your business or project, do get in touch.
Last week was Conservative Party Conference. Something which doesn’t receive much media attention is the exhibition stands. Not only are there companies wanting to show their produce and services (a highlight was Tate & Lyle’s vintage delivery van), but charities as well. It is a good way of catching up with their work and campaigns.
I always visit the Guide Dogs stand, not just for the animal company, but because it has important messages, particularly on pavement parking, which in smaller towns with narrow pavements is a real problem for the visually-impaired.
I also talked to less well-known charities, including Send My Friend To School, which campaigns for education for all children worldwide. It was first brought to my attention by local schoolchildren concerned that kids in some African countries do not automatically go to school. It is doing wonderful work.
One of my conference highlights was Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s speech. He signalled a change in tack from decades of policy aimed at centralising services. This has been one of my primary campaign topics, not least since the “temporary” closure of 12 inpatient beds at Rothbury Community Hospital.
For major and acute cases, specialist hubs make sense and save lives. If you had a stroke, you would want to be taken to a centre specialising in stroke treatment, receiving immediate care en route. The same goes for heart attacks and major trauma. That is why constituents who have experienced care at the flagship A&E facility in Cramlington rave about it, because receiving specialist care saves lives.
However, community hospitals are vital for palliative and respite care, especially in rural communities. Being able to receive treatment close to home means a great deal to patients, especially in winter, when travelling further afield to visit sick relatives is harder.
That is why I made such a forceful case on the importance of community hospitals, not just our excellent community care nurses. Aided by the Save Rothbury Hospital campaign team, I have been making the case to ministers and the CCG. It seems our Health Secretary has been listening.
The new focus on local provision is welcome. I have written to the Health Secretary to ask for a meeting to discuss what it could mean for Rothbury. Ultimately, it is the local NHS that makes these decisions, not ministers, but I want to know if his new focus can have an influence.
This week sees the new Agriculture Bill making its way through Parliament. I hope to speak in the debate about the importance of liberating farmers from bureaucracy to innovate and be rewarded for their work and production, rather than acreage.
As a nation we need to support our farmers so they can produce year-round, but this can be tailored to their needs now that we are leaving the EU. Of the £6billion the UK contributes to the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy, £3billion a year is sent to competitors. This is a wonderful opportunity to shape a system that offers the right support for our rural economy.