If media speculation is to be believed by the time you read this column the formal process for the UK leaving the EU could have started.
The triggering of Article 50 will be a historic moment for the UK and the EU bringing with it both opportunities and concerns. Decisions taken over the next two years will not just define our relationship with Europe and how we trade with other nations, but the role we will now play in the world, just as the decision to join the Common Market did in 1973.
There will be challenges and many difficult decisions to be made, particularly on matters that have been settled at a European level for a generation. Yet the path being followed is the one chosen in the Referendum last year by an overwhelming majority of Torbay residents.
Few commentators would have predicted this situation just a year ago, a reminder that whilst much has changed the old saying that a week is a long time in politics still holds true!
Last week the Chancellor delivered his budget speech to MPs and it contained some welcome economic news.
The UK economy is now forecast to grow by 2 per cent in 2017, up from the 1.4 per cent forecast in November, whilst the deficit is forecast to fall to 2.6 per cent of GDP in 2016-17, and to 0.7 per cent in 2020-21, the lowest in over two decades. These projections are particularly encouraging as we prepare to leave the EU.
Like previous Budgets it contained a lot of detail (too much to include in this column), but some announcements were particularly welcome. These included an additional Business Rates Relief for Pubs of £1,000, confirmation that the personal allowance for Income Tax will rise to £11,500 in April (reaching £12,500 by 2020), additional resources to tackle tax evasion and new “T” Levels.
The £2bn increase in government funding for Social Care budgets will make a difference and relieve some of the immediate pressures on these services at a local level. Yet with many of the issues affecting the NHS across England stemming from problems with putting social care packages in place there is a need for a real debate about how we meet the demand for these services in the long term.
National Insurance Rise
There has been a lot of coverage of the changes proposed to National Insurance Contributions for the Self Employed.
Last week the Government indicated that the vote on this change (Which requires separate legislation) will not be taken until the Autumn.
If you are self-employed and would be affected by this change do get in touch with me at email@example.com
Last week the South Devon and Torbay Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) provided a “stakeholder update” regarding their plans to reconfigure local NHS services.
In it they confirmed their decision that Paignton Hospital is to stop taking in-patients from 3rd April 2017. This news is not just disappointing, it is a slap in the face for so many local people who have campaigned hard to keep their services.
It is very hard to see how the CCG can define that the alternative services are apparently in place so quickly. When this is combined with the proposed changes at Torbay Hospital, I am now very concerned about where this leaves our health services in the Bay, and that we may encounter real problems this winter.
The CCG is accountable, the staff are public servants in receipt of public money. I will therefore be demanding an urgent meeting with the Health Secretary to discuss my fears about the combined impact these two changes could have and what can be done about them.
Former Hospital Boss Sentenced
Last week former Torbay Hospital Boss Paula Vasco-Knight was sentenced, along with her Husband, for her part in a fraud that cost the NHS £11,000.
It is high time the Honours Forfeiture Committee reviewed and removed the CBE she was given for services to the very NHS she went on to defraud.
St Patrick’s Day
This week many across the world will be celebrating the feast day of the Patron Saint of Ireland, Saint Patrick.
My Mother had Irish Ancestry and one of my family’s most treasured possessions is a photograph of my Great-Grandfather in his hospital uniform taken immediately after the Great War. If you are celebrating I hope you have a great time, probably whilst enjoying a Guinness or two.
I hope one day we will see the same level of good natured celebration each 23rd April for St George’s Day.
My next surgeries will be on Saturday 18th March from 11am till 1pm at Torquay Library and Saturday 25th March from 11am till 1pm at The Acorn Centre, Lummaton Cross, Torquay.
Just call 01803 214 989 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org to book a slot. You can drop in, but appointments are recommended to avoid a long wait or disappointment.
My team also run drop in surgery sessions Mon to Friday 10am -1pm at 5-7 East St, Torquay.