John Whittingdale - Member of Parliament for Maldon

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Local NHS Budget

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Last week, I had meetings with the Mid Essex Primary Care Trust and the Mid Essex Hospitals Trust to discuss the state of our local Health Service. In recent years, painful decisions have had to be taken to bring the NHS budget in Mid Essex into balance but this year both organisations should end of the year having eliminated their deficits. However, due to the present economic situation, they have now been told that it is likely that there will be no increase in the money available over the next four years, a financial outlook that has not been seen before in the NHS. As a result, savings of £75 - 95 million will have to be found. Achieving this will require a radical rethink of how health care is provided with a massive effort to bring down costs by studying best practice across the country and adopting it here.

David Cameron has made clear that an incoming Conservative Government will protect the NHS with real terms increases in spending. However, the pressures created by an increasing and ageing population combined with often expensive advances in treatments mean that radical reform is necessary.

Under Labour, the NHS has turned into a giant machine controlled from above, responding to politicians, bureaucrats and managers. We want to give the NHS back to the doctors, nurses and professionals who work in it. Instead of setting top-down targets which distort clinical priorities, we will put healthcare professionals in charge of delivering patient care. We will also create a patient-led NHS where patients are able to choose where and when they receive treatment and we will give them information about how good different hospitals and doctors are.

By publishing information about the kind of results that healthcare providers are achieving, we will ensure that there is no hiding place for failure. If patients do not like what they are offered, they will be able to find something better. Making doctors and nurses accountable to patients, not to endless layers of bureaucracy, will also save money that can be put into frontline services instead.

Only the Conservatives have the reform programme that the NHS needs. By trusting professionals and providing the right incentives for them and by putting patient choice at the heart of the NHS, we will deliver the innovation and productivity gains needed so that the NHS will go on providing the standard of healthcare that patients expect.

 

The Military Covenant

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Christmas and New Year are times when we want above all to be with our families. It is therefore all the more important that we remember those who our many thousands of miles from their own loved ones, serving their country in our armed forces.

More than three years after John Reid, then Defence Secretary, said that he hoped  the British troops being sent to Afghanistan to return home without a shot being fired, this year alone more than 100 British servicemen have died. The bravery displayed by our armed forces in Afghanistan and elsewhere has surpassed all that we are entitled to expect. Every soldier and their families should know that the whole country is right behind them and incredibly grateful for the work that they do.

Recently President Obama announced a big increase in American troops for Afghanistan. If you add to that the extra soldiers that we are sending, we now have the best chance to ensure that our counter-insurgency campaign is successful, to deliver a safer country to the Afghan authorities and then to bring our brave troops home.

One of the best ways that we can show our support for them is by honouring the Military Covenant under which we pledge that those who risk their lives in service of their country are entitled to receive the best possible care and support when they return home.

Last year, the Conservative Party launched its Military Covenant Commission under the chairmanship of Frederick Forsyth. It has examined the health of the Military Covenant and made suggestions on how Government and society could better fulfil the duty they owe our troops, their families and veterans.

The Commission included Falklands hero, Simon Weston, and the military historian and journalist Sir John Keegan. The Commission has now published its report outlining 57 recommendations to improve welfare policy for Service personnel, their families and veterans.  I with many of my colleagues have also signed the Royal British Legion campaign pledge to “do my bit” to improve the welfare of serving personnel, past and present, and their families.

We should be immensely proud of our Armed Forces whatever our views on recent conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our serving men and women, sailors, soldiers and airmen, are currently being let down. They must be able to trust the Government to look after their wellbeing and that of their families and our veterans.

 

GM Crops

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John writes about GM crops and his views about whether commercial growing should be permitted.


I am aware of the level of public concern about GM crops and I believe that there should be a moratorium on commercial planting until scientific tests demonstrate that they do not cause unacceptable harm to human health or the natural environment. We must of course proceed or not on the basis of sound science. I supported the farm scale trials, but I am worried that they have been badly handled by the Government and by the fact that the results are so mixed.

I am also worried by the procedures followed and by the results of the Government’s GM trials. The trials were not properly administered – for example, a herbicide called atrazine, which has been banned by the EU, was used, which calls the validity of the trials into question. I believe that if GM crops are licensed for planting in the UK, then we must make certain that organic and conventional farms cannot be contaminated.

This is another area where I do not believe that the Government’s GM trials have been sufficiently rigorous. If GM products are licensed for sale in the UK, I believe that we must carefully study the labelling requirements so that consumers can make informed choices.  Having said that we must be very cautious in this area, I do, though, believe that we cannot ignore the potential benefits of GM. In my view, more and wider research must be undertaken in order to discover as much as we can about this technology. We must not have a knee-jerk reaction that because it is new it is automatically wrong. Farmers must not be disadvantaged by being left behind. My Conservative colleague, Gregory Barker MP, has been successful in the Private Members’ Bill ballot and will propose a Bill entitled, “GM Contamination and Liability.”

 

The Way Forward

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With Parliament’s return last week, we are now in the final stretch before the General Election which must be held within the next 8 months. And after 12 years of Labour Government, the country is desperate for change.

What ever the outcome, the task facing the next Government is immense. A full six months after the recession in France and Germany ended, our economy is still shrinking making it the longest and deepest recession in modern history. This year, our Government will borrow £1 in every £4 it spends. We have the largest budget deficit of any large economy, and the highest debt level since the Second World War.

So the priority for the next Government must be to get the public finances under control. That will require difficult and painful decisions including significant cuts in public spending and postponement of tax reductions. However, it is far better to be open and honest now than try to pretend that we can go on as we are. We also need responsibility when it comes to fixing our broken society, the bleak record of violent crime, long term unemployment and family breakdown.

That is why the Conservative Party is setting out plans to promote responsibility in all these areas. It includes a radical programme of school reform, giving parents more choice over where their children go to school, and more powers to teachers to improve discipline and behaviour in the classroom. We also need radical reform of our welfare system, getting people off a life on benefits and into work. We also recognise that people are not going to take lectures from politicians about responsibility unless they see politicians being responsible themselves. That is why the crisis over expenses has been so damaging and why we must have deep-rooted and lasting political reform. Part of that is about greater transparency and openness. Part of it is about reducing the cost of politics as a whole. But we also need to devolve more power to local people and make Government more accountable to them.

These are profound challenges which will confront whichever party is chosen to form the next Government. However, it is clear that our country desperately needs change and to achieve that we need a general election which cannot come soon enough.

 

 

Budget

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In the week since the Budget, there has been plenty of time to look at the small print. As in all Gordon Brown’s budgets, his speech only tells half the story.  The good news was largely leaked in advance. The bad news was not even contained in the speech at all. As ever, it is not until you are able to look at the detail that the full picture emerges.

Gordon Brown’s announcement of a 2p cut in income tax was intended to wrong foot David Cameron who had to get up within seconds to reply. However, it was a con trick which was exposed as soon as the figures were published. It was only later that it emerged that instead of cutting taxes, the Chancellor had put them up. While the basic rate may be coming down, the 10p starting rate for earned income will be scrapped and the upper limit for National Insurance Contributions will be raised As a result, the tax burden is set to rise to its highest ever level of 40.4 per cent, a rise of over £17 billion. Everyone earning between £5,000 and £18,000 will end up paying more tax and many more will become dependent on tax credits. Yet as the many people who come to see me to complain about tax credit mistakes can testify, half of all tax credit payments are wrong.

There was little good news for business in the Budget either. Again, much was made of the headline 2p cut in Corporation Tax. However, the overall burden of business taxation will rise by £1 billion next year. Smaller companies will be particularly hard with a rise in their rate of corporation tax by 3 per cent and changes to allowances which will further damage smaller firms that can afford to invest less. It is hardly surprising that the British Chambers of Commerce said that its members feel dismayed by the measures taken which will hit their competitiveness and increase their tax burden.

Despite the tax rises, there was little good news for public services. The growth in education spending was halved, breaking Labour’s manifesto pledge to increase the share of national income spent on education. In addition, there was just one mention of the NHS in the entire speech and that was to reannounce what he first said three years ago, the increase in NHS spending this year. Locally, our NHS is struggling with record deficits. The Mid Essex PCT is forecasting a deficit of £20 million this year and Mid Essex Hospitals is in the red to the same amount. Almost 20,000 jobs are set to be lost from the NHS this year and redundancies at our own local hospitals are already being declared. The Budget had nothing to offer, only higher taxes and poorer services.

 
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