Priorities for Copeland
A gap in posts for a week due to technical difficulties - the site was down for maintenance when I tried to post. Normal service will now be resumed.
Time and again the same issues which people are most concerned about in West Cumbria keep coming up on the doorstep. Some are national issues which do not directly affect us here in Copeland. But there are a four particular issues which especially affect the lives of the people I meet or have the potential to do so.
These four main issues are my top priorities for Copeland, and they are
West Cumbria has lost large numbers of jobs in recent years, and we are likely to lose many more due to changes in the nuclear industry. It has been estimated that 17,000 jobs, including those which may be hit by "knock on" effects following from decommissioning, are dependent on Sellafield and Drigg. And even if there is a new generation of nuclear plants including one in West Cumbria, which I strongly support, it is unlikely that there will be as many nuclear jobs here in the medium and long term as there are now. So we have to diversify the local economy and make it easier to attract the widest possible range of jobs.
2) HOSPITALS AND MEDICAL FACILITIES
The future of West Cumberland Hospital is rightly seen as a vital issue by many people, and I have been campaigning for nearly a year that we need a wide range of district general hospital services, including Accident & Emergency, Intensive Care and as many other services as can safely and effectively be provided, here in Copeland. I would prefer to see the existing hospital refurbished to the standard of a new hospital, but a new hospital on a site equally accessible to the people of Copeland would be acceptable provided it has at least as many facilities as the present hospital and an adequate number of beds - we need more beds in the area, not fewer.
District General Hospital services are not the only health issue. We also need to protect and improve Community hospitals in Cumbria such as the one at Millom. We urgently need more dentists. And we should reject Labour's "super surgeries" idea and keep our small doctor's surgeries. Amalgamating surgeries in a rural area like most of Copeland can leave people with far too far to travel to see a doctor - as people in Arlecdon have already discovered.
I have been at the public inquiry this week into the dreadful proposal to de-trunk (e.g. downgrade) the A595 south of Calderbridge. I am due to appear as a witness against this, but the inquiry has over-run and I will not be called until after the election. We need to improve our road and rail links, not downgrade them - especially if we want to attract more jobs.
I strongly support improvements to the A595 and A66 and the Duddon Estuary crossing proposal.
I was delighted that plans for a University campus at Westlakes passed another hurdle last week. We must make the maximum possible use of this opportunity to improve the local skillbase, because a more higly trained and more flexible local workforce is another vital requirement to attract a wider range of jobs. To the same end I would like to see more apprenticeships. I was highly impressed to see the work of the Whitehaven Community Trust, who have helped over 400 people back into mainstream society – and training has been a major part of how they have done this.
Jobs, Health, Transport and Education are the four main issues but several other issues often come up on the doorstep. Crime and disorder are concerns in some parts of the constitutency and our policy to increase the Cumbria policy force by 343 officers, of whom 48 woud be deployed to fight crime drugs and disorder in Copeland, is going down extremely well.
Labour’s disastrous rural policies are also an issue in the farming areas of Copeland. After the shambles of the foot and mouth outbreak, nobody would have imagined that Labour could do anything worse, but Margaret Beckett’s atrocious implementation of the Single Farm Payment to hand out EU money has actually achieved it.
The new regime to award farm support is such a bureaucratic nightmare that it makes tax forms, Brown’s pensions credit, or even Einstein’s unified Field Theory easy to understand by comparison. But it is clear that it means less support for hill farmers and a headache for most others, especially in the “exceptionally deprived areas” which Margaret Beckett and DEFRA want to make even more deprived by slashing the support they get. Adding insult to injury you have the hunt ban, right to roam, and it is not surprising that many rural areas feel they are constantly under attack.
The fact that there are so many important local issues is one of the reason that the Copeland campaign has been so challenging and, to be honest, quite fascinating to be involved in - and why the likely result, whatever happens in the rest of the country, is so hard to call.