Why I support the Case for Cornwall and will #standupforcornwall

Cornwall Council has taken a large step to ask Westminster and the civil service to give the Council for more powers that will enable the Council to make our own decision for the benefit of Cornwall’s residents; not by those who do not understand, or even do not want to understand what the residents of Cornwall need.

Cornwall is faced with four fundamental challenges: our population is changing and growing; our economy is still underperforming in some areas; our geography and settlement pattern places strain on the public purse; and the cost of living is increasing inequality. It is one reason having a clear strategy is so important, and the Case for Cornwall supports the aims of the strategy.

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The case is simple, give the local authority more decision-making powers, and the ability to set its own rate of taxes, including business and council tax. This does not mean taxes will automatically rise, but if residents wanted enhanced services or new services, then they will have to be paid for. I know people have said to me they would not mind paying a little more if it guaranteed services. I know I would. This document is about have the decision-making powers in Cornwall, not London or heaven save us, some sort of regional administration body.

The Case for Cornwall is not perfect, but it is a collective step forward in asking for more decision-making powers for Cornwall. it is a document that will adapt, but has strong anchor points that will give a steady platform to work from. It has been politically backed in Cornwall – though at varying degrees – by the Full Council at Cornwall Council.

So what are we asking for? The proposals set out in the Case for Cornwall document include:

Public transport and connectivity –Enable Cornwall to provide a fully integrated and more effective rural public transport network including additional powers to decentralise bus regulation.  Allow Cornwall to create a Better Roads Fund funded by the localisation of 2p in every litre from existing fuel duty by retaining a fraction of fuel duty to maintain Cornwall’s roads.  If we retained this 2p, it raise £7.5 million a year that would be used to maintain our rural roads. You may not know this, but Cornwall Council maintains and repairs over 7000 km of road network excluding the A30 and A38 which are maintained by the Highways Agency.

Housing – devolution of powers and land holdings from the Homes and Communities Agency, working with the Government to identify ways of managing the number of second homes and retaining Stamp Duty to build affordable housing.  If Cornwall was allowed to retain an element of Stamp Duty to reinvest in building more affordable housing. However, we would need to secure a ten-year funding commitment to establish an ambitious affordable and social housing programme, financed in part by retaining a proportion of the increasing amount of Stamp Duty generated from escalating house prices in Cornwall

Health and social care – working with the Government to integrate health and social care. Our plans would commit to working with Cornwall’s health and social care community to achieve health and social care integration. If the Government can do it for Manchester, then why not Cornwall?

Energy – Energy: greater control over the development of electrical grid. Grid capacity is currently a significant constraint to further decentralised energy generation in Cornwall. We want the Government to provide us with the ability to control grid investment in Cornwall. We must also unlock the potential for geothermal energy. Cornwall provides the opportunity to be a national pilot for development of the UK’s deep geothermal industry. Co-investment from Government would realise the opportunity to access the significant renewable energy that is under our very feet, contributing to the national renewables targets. For instance, two geothermal companies already have planning permission for two sites in Cornwall; both are ready to begin drilling if sufficient funding can be secured.

How will this benefit local residents and businesses? The  following are just some of the benefits the residents of Cornwall could have if given greater powers:

  • Better public transport services and links
  • Better road maintenance
  • Better health from warmer homes
  • More affordable houses for local people
  • More jobs and job opportunities
  • Better education, social and business connections through superfast broadband / rural internet
  • Better health and social care
  • Emergency services working more closely together
  • Better flood resilience

As I said early, this is just the first steps for greater decision-making powers that are made in Cornwall for the benefit of Cornwall.  These , but not exclusively may include:

Piloting the first rural earn back model in Cornwall. We want to work with the Government to develop a mechanism for Cornwall to retain an element of the uplift in tax yields and reduction in welfare payments arising from a significant level of public sector investment in Cornwall’s infrastructure. The reward mechanism would provide an added incentive to grow and sustain Cornwall’s economy, contributing to the overall prosperity of the UK through increased tax revenue and greater spending power. The ‘earnback’ would also be a direct incentive to reduce worklessness in Cornwall, with the associated reductions in the cost to Government of welfare benefits.

Enable Cornwall to pilot greater freedoms and control over council tax. We want the freedom to work with our local communities to establish an appropriate level of council tax without the imposition of a costly referendum which simply further diverts funding from service delivery – our town and parish councils need the same. We also want the ability to develop localised council tax rules which enable us to target discounts to the most vulnerable, rather than blanket discounts which bear no connection to people’s ability to pay.

Allow Cornwall to retain and re-invest a quarter of all VAT generated by our tourism industry. Cornwall is the UK’s favourite holiday region, winning the British Travel Awards for six years in a row, with an estimated 4.4 million staying visitors staying an average of 26 million nights annually. Given the importance of the sector to the UK economy and particular Cornwall’s economy, there is a strong argument for Cornwall to retain a quarter of the existing VAT payable to reinvest in the ‘tourism product’. Parallels can be drawn with the Government’s recent agreement to allow Manchester and Cambridgeshire to retain all their business rates.

Transfer English Heritage powers and resources to enable us to have greater local control over our heritage assets. Cornwall Council is responsible for the appropriate care of the largest collection of designated sites and structures in the direct ownership of any local authority. Approximately 5% of Cornwall is a World Heritage Site. We want to explore opportunities to increase local powers and resources to address anomalies in defining heritage significance, streamline planning processes and maximise opportunities to integrate heritage into social and economic regeneration.

Enable a programme of housing delivery through revitalised use of Urban Development Corporation powers. Cornwall faces a growing demand for affordable homes to rent, substantially fuelled by high property prices and low wage levels. Over 50% of the current private rented stock fails to meet decent homes standards, despite strong regulatory action and £103m of public subsidy through housing benefit payments. We want to intervene and develop a new model of housing delivery that provides homes with high standards of design, layout, livability and low energy costs.

standup4cornwall The Case for Cornwall is an ambitious plan, but it a plan worth fighting for. However, Cornwall Council cannot do it alone, as it needs the people of Cornwall to support. You can show this support by pledging their support by joining the #standupforcornwall campaign on social media by following us on Twitter @CaseforCornwall using #standupforcornwall  or on the Case for Cornwall Facebook page .

Furthermore, details of the Case for Cornwall are available on the Council’s website – www.cornwall.gov.uk/standup  where members of the public can pledge their support.  Copies of the Case for Cornwall document will also be available in libraries and one stop shops where people can also pledge their support.

Let’s together #standupforcornwall and support the #case4cornwall that will allow for greater decision making powers for Cornwall in Cornwall.

If you want to support, why not do a #standupforcornwall selfie and get this trending on social media!

I will #standupforcornwall

I will #standupforcornwall

 

Supporting the education of children of Armed Forces personnel in Cornwall.

Cornwall Council via the Children’s Learning and Achievement department, has launched a new programme for improving outcomes for children from service families in the early years and schools within Cornwall. The programme will involve statutory, private, voluntary and independent providers of services for children and will ensure that it adheres to the Armed Forces Community Covenant.

It will support the following principles including recognising the unique nature of service in the Armed Forces; ensuring there is no disadvantage in accessing public services, including in this context education and early years provision; and to allow special treatment where justified (for example where there may be a bereavement etc.).

Looking at the national picture it is not known the total number of school age service children. However, in 2006 an estimate of numbers was given to the House of Commons Defence Committee of between 90,000 – 186,000 children*. In Cornwall we have a clearer picture on the number of service children with a total of 2,072 children for the academic year of 2013/14. This is between 2.4 -3% of the total school population. This can be further broken-down to Early Years (reception) 157, Primary 1177 and Secondary 738.

The programme will develop early childhood and education services that are of high quality, accessible to all children, including service children and effective in improving outcomes for children. It will also prioritise the training and development of teams and individuals. This is in order that they understand and know how to support children where there may be an impact on children’s well-being or achievement due to the issues of mobility and deployment that are experienced by service personnel and their families.

The impact of the programme will be to improve the outcomes for children and their families through high quality services which focus on ensuring that children of service personal are known, and are able to access educational provision, are ready for school and learning, achieve well and enjoy good health and well-being. Furthermore service families are supported in order to manage the effects of mobility and deployment.

This programme covers all children as defined by the eligibility criteria for pupil premium, but will also recognise the needs of children who have been affected by related matters, but who many not meeting the pupil premium criteria in full. These include, children of a parent who was killed in action within the previous six years, children of divorced service personnel where the service parents does not have custody and children who has been a veteran for no-more than six years.

Initially this programme will centre on provision in Helston, Newquay and Torpoint where the majority of service children live.

I am hugely supportive of this programme, both a the Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, but who was also a child from a service family, and having served myself in the Senior Service. I know first-hand the difficulties of schooling as a child of an Armed Forces family who went to at least nine different schools due to my father being posted both around this country and abroad; also as a former member of the Senior Service who witnessed first-hand the difficulties families face when one, or in some cases, both parents are deployed and moving to and from different units.

*Unsung Heroes: developing a better understanding of the emotional support needs of Service Families.

Cornwall Council is congratulated for the success of take-up of two year-olds funding

Cornwall Council has received a letter from Sam Gyimah MP who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Childcare and Education congratulating the Council on the success of take-up for early learning for two year-olds.

For February 2015 Cornwall reported a take-up of the entitlement to early learning for two year-olds at 78%, or 1823 children. The South West region take-up average is 70%, placing Cornwall 3rd out 16th. Within our statistical neighbours the take-up average was 73%, placing Cornwall 4th out of 11th. If you look at the national take-up average (62%) you can see how well Cornwall is doing as it is placed 14th out of 152 local authorities.

Furthermore, there is also an economic benefit to Cornwall not only with the grant payments going in to Cornwall’s economy but the number of businesses and charitable settings involved – over 500 now and all the knock on impact on employment.

Those behind the success should be congratulated on the hard-work to get the take-up of early learning for two year-olds one of the best in the county.

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Cornwall Council are supporting Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day – will you?

With the issue of child sexual exploitation (CSE) becoming increasingly high-profile following some disturbing cases in the national media over the past twelve months. As part of raising awareness of CSE,  Cornwall Council is supporting today’s (18th March) National Child Sexual Exploitation Awareness Day.  As Lead Member for Children’s Service I fully support this awareness day, but really we should be raising awareness of CSE 365 days a year, As TOGETHER, we can work to inform, educate and prevent this form of child sexual abuse within the UK.

The aim of the day is to help raise awareness of the issue and potential dangers, encouraging everyone to think, spot and speak out against abuse and adopt a zero tolerance to adults developing inappropriate relationships with children or children developing inappropriate relationships with other children.

There are a number of myths about child sexual exploitation – but the stark truth is that it is present across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women.  Sexual exploitation takes many forms, from a seemingly ‘consensual’ relationship, where sexual acts are given for affection, accommodation, alcohol, drugs, money or gifts, through to the prostitution or trafficking of children across the counties, town or streets for the purpose of sexual activity . It can occur without physical contact, when children are groomed to post indecent sexual images of themselves on the internet. Any young person can become a victim of sexual exploitation and many young people, who are being exploited, frequently do not recognise they are being abused.

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Our children should expect to lead their lives free of abuse, exploitation and neglect and we must do all that we can to meet their expectations.  Sexual exploitation of our children damages their self-esteem; harms them emotionally  and interferes with their life-long ambitions. 

What is child sexual exploitation? Everybody has the right to be safe no matter who they are or what their circumstances.  We are all responsible for the safety of children and young people we must ensure that we are doing all we can to protect the most vulnerable members of our society.

Child sexual exploitation (CSE) is child abuse involving children and young people receiving something, such as attention, affection, gifts, alcohol, drugs or accommodation, as a result of them being coerced into performing sexual activities, or having others perform sexual acts on them.  It can occur without physical contact, when children are groomed to post indecent sexual images of themselves on the internet.  Any young person can become a victim of sexual exploitation and many young people, who are being exploited, frequently do not recognise they are being abused.   It affects boys and young men as well as girls and young women.

What can you do to today? Please help to raise awareness of this important issue by sharing this information with your colleagues, friends and families. If we all know what to do, and we all work together, we can make a real difference.

#helpinghands

#helpinghands

Furthermore, If you use social media, write a personal pledge on your hands to show support for our Helping Hands campaign. Post your photo on social media with the hashtag #HelpingHands to help us raise awareness of CSE.

If you would like to find out more information about child sexual exploitation including information for parents and carers and the myths surrounding this subject please visit the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Safeguarding Children Board website.

 

School children in Cornwall continue to be underfunded.

With just 50 days to go until the General Election, political parties from all sides are trying to out-promise each other on how they would improve school in areas like infrastructure and attainment, but as of writing, I have not see how those who want to be in power will address the unbalanced and unfair way per-pupil funding is awarded across England, more so in Cornwall. It is a subject I have raised before in Fairer Funding for Cornwall’s Schools.

To be fair there has been some positive movement on school funding for Cornwall, with an extra £4.8m being awarded to the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG) for the 2015/16 period. I welcome this increase in funding, but this extra funding does not go far enough, and does not include early years funding. Furthermore, it seems what the Government gives with one hand, it takes with another. For example, the Education Service Grant – which is used to fund support services to maintained and academy schools – has been cut. The will be cut from £113 per pupil to £87 per pupil. It is slightly worse for academies, as the extra £27 per pupil they receive has been cut completely. And let’s not talk about UIFSM and how that has been funded….

The way the funding is awarded for Cornwall’s schools is by means of something called the Dedicated Schools Grant (DSG). The DSG is made up of three parts; the schools block, early years block and higher needs block. The total amount awarded to Cornwall’s DSG is £339,346.00. Working out the many different funding streams and the allocation of the DSG is a mystical art (thanks Andy).

Looking at the total amount of funding per pupil  (TPF) – this figure is calculated by adding schools block, early years and higher needs block together and dividing by the number of total pupils –  Cornwall’s TPF amounts to £4,887.11. This figure ranks Cornwall 140 out of 151 in the list Local Authorities funding. That ranking says it all really.

It will be of no surprise to see the top 15 funded Local Authorities are all London Authorities.

City of London £9,660.07 1/151
Hackney £9,248.17 2/151
Southwark £9,170.06 3/151
Westminster £8,619.39 4/151
Hammersmith and Fulham £8,477.54 5/151
Camden £8,340.04 6/151
Tower Hamlets £8,335.65 7/151
Kensington and Chelsea £8,216.98 8/151
Lambeth £8,151.53 9/151
Islington £7,901.04 10/151
Wandsworth £7,387.23 11/151
Lewisham £7,348.92 12/151
Greenwich £7,327.60 13/151
Brent £7,087.11 14/151
Haringey £7,042.40 15/151
Newham £6,946.51 16/151

It is staggering when you look at these figures that a pupil in the Hackney is funded (TPF) near TWICE (1.89%) the amount a pupil in Cornwall is. This is a huge difference that I see no justification for. You also got to ask yourself why there is such a difference in funding as we in Cornwall. It makes me really mad.  Furthermore, I will be clear, I only want our schools to be funded equally, anything less is not fair on our school children. NB: I have not used the City of London as they only have 207 pupils so it would be unreasonable to compare.

When you rank where Cornwall comes compared to other LA’s, in the schools block element of the DSG we come 100th out of 151st.  In the early years block we are ranked 122nd out of 151 and for the higher needs block, Cornwall is two ranks from the bottom of the funding list at 149th out of 151st . I find this totally unacceptable, in fact shameful on how we are funded in Cornwall.

Looking at Cornwall’s neighbouring LA’s of Plymouth and Devon, Plymouth’s schools block is ranked 97/151 in the table of schools block; early years 57/151 and higher needs 69/151. When you look at Plymouth’s TPPF they are ranked at 83 out of 151 with a figure of £5,228.33 For Devon: schools block is listed 119/151 in the table of schools block; early years 123/151 and higher needs 107/151. Devon’s TPF is ranked 130 out of 151 with £4,973.97. I have all the figures for all the LA’s, but I will spare you having to read them all!

Below is are the details on the top 16 funded LA’s compared with Cornwall. I have also included the schools and early years block of the DSG.

LA Total Per Pupil (TPF) Funding Schools Block DSG per pupil Early Years DSG per pupil TPF Rank
City of London £9,660.08 £8,587.04 (1/151) £7,652.48 (5/151) 1/151
Hackney £9,248.17 £8,020.04 (2/151) £7,289.71 (7/151) 2/151
Southwark £9,170.06 £7,902.15 (3/151) £8,338.46 (2/151) 3/151
Westminster £8,619.39 £7,221.15 (5/151) £7,036.00 (8/151) 4/151
Hammersmith and Fulham £8,477.54 £7,388.64 (4/151) £6,434.51 (11/151) 5/151
Camden £8,340.04 £6,457.12 (10/151) £8,884.87 (1/151) 6/151
Tower Hamlets £8,335.65 £7,117.60 (6/151) £8,011.88 (4/151) 7/151
Kensington and Chelsea £8,216.98 £6,635.16 (8/151) £6,548.96 (9/151) 8/151
Lambeth £8,151.53 £6,960.75 (7/151) £7,627.59 (6/151) 9/151
Islington £7,901.04 £6,569.06 (9/151) £8,214.08 (8/151) 10/151
Wandsworth £7,387.23 £6,001.55 (15/151) £5,057.94 (24/151) 11/151
Lewisham £7,348.92 £6,198.57 (13/151) £5,948.88 (14/151) 12/151
Greenwich £7,327.60 £6,332.71 (11/151) £5,150.09 (20/151) 13/151
Brent £7,087.11 £5,723.88 (16/151) £6,044.75 (12/151) 14/151
Haringey £7,042.40 £6,155.64 (14/151) £5,476.49 (17/151) 15/151
Newham £6,946.51 £6,261.19 (12/23) £5,061.70 (23/151) 16/151
Cornwall £4,887.11 £4,464.04 (100/151) £3,670.69 (149/151) 140/151

As for the breakdown of funding per region for the schools block (only), the South West is ranked 5th out of 9th in funding – Cornwall schools block figure is £4,464.04; £111.46 above the South West average.

  1. London – £5393.77
  2. West Midlands – £4,632.20
  3. North East – £4,602.81
  4. North West – £4,565.21
  5. South West – 4,352.58
  6. Yorkshire and the Humber – £4,551.84
  7. South East – £4,349.68
  8. East Midlands – £4,429.14
  9. East of England – £4,411.67

The school block data can be looked at on the different local authority types with:

  • London – £5393.77
  • Metropolitan Authorities – £4,684.07
  • Unitary Authorities – £4,507.43
  • Upper Tier Authorities – £4,359.15

So whilst Cornwall is in a very few places better funded than other LA, it is far behind most. Each LA has its difficulties, but they are similar difficulties. Therefore, funding across the land should be more equal. The same standards and attainment levels are sought by all schools and LA’s.  LA’s are even ranked by the DfE on how well our students do in exams by the measure like achieving 5 x A*- C including Maths and English. Various Keystages have the same exams too. So surely the funding should be the same?! It makes no sense whatsoever to have such large diffferences in school funding. Maybe a solution is the Government could just divide the total amount of funding available by the number of pupils and then award it that way. At least each pupil would get the same and all children are treated equally.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the new Government planning exception policy for Starter Homes a Trojan Horse?

We all know buying an open market house has for many become unaffordable, especially those first time buyers.  Therefore I can see that a policy on helping fist time buyers looks like a good idea. The Government realises this, and has recently published a new policy on Starter Homes exception sites.

You may wonder what is a Starter Home? The new policy states it as:

A Starter Home is expected to be well designed and suitable for young first time buyers. Local planning authorities and developers should work together to determine what size and type of Starter Home is most appropriate for a particular Starter Home exemption site reflecting their knowledge of local housing markets and sites. A Starter Home is not expected to be priced after the discount significantly more than the average price paid by a first time buyer. This would mean the discounted price should be no more than £250,000 outside London and £450,000 in London.

To qualify for such a home, an application needs to be under 40 years old, and has not been a homeowner before. The latter is a pretty wide net too. Though I wonder how former members of the Armed Services who have served their full term – 22 years and would be over 40 – and who either like in single or married accommodation could apply for one. Might be a small point, but maybe the policy could have just said ‘ not been a homeowner previously.’

This exception policy would set a newly built house on the exception site at 20% under the market average for the area. This is to be welcomed due to the affordability of housing in many areas including Cornwall. But from reading the policy I do have some serious reservations on this policy

The first reservation I have is local planning authorities should not seek section 106 affordable housing contributions, including any tariff-based contributions to general infrastructure pots, from developments of Starter Homes. Though planning authorities will still be able to seek other section 106 contributions to mitigate the impact of development to make it acceptable in planning terms, including addressing any necessary infrastructure. What this means is the planning authority cannot seek an education, or open space contribution, nor will be have any social rental.

The Start Homes exception sites are expected to be on land that has been in commercial or industrial use, and which has not currently been identified for residential development. Furthermore, suitable sites are likely to be under-used or no longer viable for commercial or industrial purposes, but with remediation and infrastructure costs that are not too great so as to render Starter Homes financially unviable. This means housing – abet discounted by 20% – could be built on sites that either site outside of the Local Plan and /or a town or parishes neighbourhood Plan.

If an application has local resistance there seems little way of stopping the application as the policy states the application should be approved unless the local planning authority can demonstrate that there are overriding conflicts with the National Planning Policy Framework that cannot be mitigated. As the NPPF is pro-development, I see little way an application can be stopped.

As these type of homes will come forward as windfall sites, and therefore, local planning authorities should not make an allowance for them in their five-year housing land supply. This means of resisting a site on the five-year land supply argument cannot be used. And lastly, the new policy will allow a small percentage of open market houses on the site. The discretion on whether to allow open market development will rest with the LA.  As to the definition of what is small, this is not specified in the new policy document, and your small could be my big.

I am supportive of local low-cost needs housing, especially social rental. However I can see this policy being used to develop areas outside of the Local Plans and Neighbourhood Plans. I know 20% is better than nothing, but I also know currently discounted sales are set at 50% less the local average. So there could be a clear incentive to develop this type of housing over other types. I guess time will tell.

 

 

 

 

 

Cornwall celebrates the success of its Together for Families (Troubled Families) programme

Cornwall’s Together for Families partnership has been praised for its work in turning around the lives of almost 1,000 families with the most complex needs over the last three years. Following the introduction of the Government’s Troubled Families programme in April 2012, Cornwall Council has worked with partners to help 975 families to get back on track.

The aim of the three-year national “Troubled Families” programme, support local organisations which are working with families identified as having the most complex needs.  Under the programme key workers from a range of services work with families to identify the support they need to address their problems and then help them to access a package of both mainstream and specialist support.

Cornwall’s partnership, which includes Cornwall Council, Devon and Cornwall Police, Health commissioners, Probation, the Drug and Alcohol Action Team, Education Welfare, Youth Offending team, Careers South West and representatives of the voluntary and community sector (including Action for Children and Addaction), was set up in 2012 following the launch of the Government’s Troubled Families programme. though in Cornwall we did not like the negative title of ‘Troubled Families’ and have instead called it a more positive name of ‘Together for Families.’

The success of the programme in Cornwall means we have been able to work with local services to make the changes that are required to provide timely and efficient support for those families with the most complex needs. Working with the families directly enables the partner agencies to help overcome the difficulties the families face.  The results of this programme shows that tackling the issues as a family unit helps achieve real positive outcomes.

Following Cornwall’s success in achieving positive outcomes for over 75% of eligible families, Cornwall will now progress to the second phase of the programme which runs from 2015 to 2020. The new programme will build on the achievements of the first phase, with the target of supporting an additional 4,050 families in Cornwall over the next five years (689 in 2015/16).

This will mean continuing to work with key partners in Police, Health, Education and Employment to identify and engage eligible families and working  with communities and voluntary sector partners to get people into work , improve school attendance and attainment, reduce  crime and antisocial behaviour and tackle health issues including  drug and alcohol dependency.

The second phase will continue to provide an opportunity for partner organisations to work closer together to support communities and families in Cornwall and to become better and smarter at how we deliver services. This will enable us to meet the needs of these families at the same time as saving money across the public sector.  This is important as we have less money, but a greater demand on our service and we will need to engage with families by supporting them to address a range of complex issues at the same time as getting services to think and work differently withfamilies.

I would like to congratulate all who have worked on this programme; as without their zeal, determination and willingness to do things differently, the programme in Cornwall would not be the success it is. Well done.

Further information on the Together for Families Programme, which is designed to deliver the national ‘Troubled Families’ Agenda, is available from  http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/togetherforfamilies

PHSE and RSE is not an add-on, it is life

I have recently sent an open letter to the various media outlets in Cornwall on why PHSE and RSE is so important to a young persons development.  This follows on from the subject of Sex Education has been much in the news recently following the report of the Education Select Committee which highlighted the vital role of Relationship and Sex Education (RSE) in a child’s emotional development.  The recommendations from the Committee was that Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) should be statutory in both primary and secondary all schools.

Both I and other professionals, including lead officers from the Council’s Children’s and Health services, support the call for PHSE , including RSE, to be made compulsory for all schools with accountability measures built-in to ensure all young people receive good, quality, age appropriate RSE.   The key issue is for this education and guidance to be age appropriate.

Some parents and carers have expressed concern that the subject is about sex and /or this subject will sexualise young people. While this is not the case, the issue is not helped when the subject is called Sex Education.  In Cornwall we use the term Relationship and Sex Education to highlight the importance of relationships in a child’s development.  Unfortunately the term RSE is not widely used, with most people using the term Sex Education. This might change as one of the recommendations from the Select Committee is for the term RSE to be used on this subject. I really welcome this, as do the many professionals who work in the field.

As stated earlier both I and other professional fully support schools to deliver age appropriate RSE. It is important to remember that RSE is wide-ranging and a variety of issues that will be introduced at the appropriate time. These include subjects such as relationships; consent; stay(ing) safe; boundaries and sexuality. This also includes understanding our own bodies as they develop. It may surprise some readers, but young people can start to go through puberty from year 4 and lack of knowledge could make this a terrifying experience. This is one reason the Samaritans started up over 60 years ago in 1953 after the founder presided over a funeral of a 14-year-old; she had taken her own life after starting her periods and thinking she had an STI.

The difficulty is that whilst schools are required to make provisions for PHSE and RSE, it does not hold the same statutory footing as other core subjects. Some elements of Sex education are required but only from year 7 onwards, and only as part of the national science curriculum.  Whilst PSHE and RSE hold a lessor statutory footing, they have to compete with the statutory subjects and often ends up being an add-on. RSE is not an add-on, it is life.

Currently state-run schools are only required to include some information on reproduction and STI’s within the science curriculum which means many of the topics that fall under ‘relationships’ are missed. Academies are required to do even less.  Ofsted has said PSHE, of which RSE is a core element requires improvement in 40% of schools so it is clear young people are not currently getting all of the information they need. This must change, but the only way it is really going to change is by making PHSE a statutory.

The Council supports a partnership approach between schools and parents. Evidence shows that children and young people who have sexuality conversations at home have sex later, less frequently and use contraception more consistently than their peers. They are also more likely to positively model conversations and discuss contraception within their relationships.

Cornwall aims to promote a model of positive sexual development throughout childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. We have implemented the Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool as its multi-agency sexual health framework to support professionals to understand and identify both healthy and potential harmful sexual behaviours.  It is very important to highlight healthy (age appropriate) sexual behaviours and not stigmatise them with the attitude of ‘no sex please, we are British.’

In the past young people have told us that RSE was ‘too little, too late and too biological’ and they want more information about relationships.  They have said they want to talk to parents and carers to learn more about all areas of sexual health and understanding the risks.  However, I also know how this subject is difficult for parents to talk about, especially if they do not have access to up to date information. This is something we are looking at with our partners.  We want to make sure parents have access to and, perhaps most importantly, are confident in using,  up to date information. It is all well and good giving young people the right information, but we must also give parents and carers this information too otherwise both groups are left having to depend on unreliable sources.

Access to services goes hand in hand with access to knowledge.  These need to be non-judgmental, honest and open advice and support. With the right support young people will remain safe and informed. Young people in Cornwall were recently consulted about this issue, with one-third reporting that they have not been able to talk about relationships and sexual health as much as they would like to.

Furthermore, research shows that young people aged 16-24 carry the greatest burden of sexual ill-health, both nationally and in Cornwall, with Chlamydia being the most common sexually transmitted infection. This is why good sexual health is important for all age groups but it is clear that young people need access to information, services and to develop the skills they need to negotiate healthy relationships before they become sexually active.

The subject of Relationships, Sex Education, and Sexual Health are very important to emotional development for young people. My own experience of Sex Education was limited. In fact I should say it was non-existent in my school and therefore, I understand the need for young people to have the right age appropriate advice to allow them to make informed choices and to stay safe.

To give a better understanding the following summary can help parents and carers, schools and other educators understand what children and young people want to learn about in relation to growing up, relationships and sex from ages 3-19. This summary has been taken from the Sex Education Forum’s ‘Understanding Sex and Relationship Education briefing’ about Learning about growing up, relationships and sex from 3-19,

  • Age 3–6 – At this age children are interested in the differences between boys and girls, naming body parts, where babies come from, and friends and family. What areas of the body are private and should not be touched and who they can talk to if they are worried are also important.
  • Age 7–8 – At this age children are interested in the changing nature of friendships, the emotional and physical changes of growing up, similarities and differences between boys and girls, coping with strong emotions and how babies are made from eggs and sperm. How to look after our bodies and how to be safe and healthy are also important.
  • Age 9–10 – At this age children are interested in knowing about love and the different kinds of families, they will be curious about puberty and sexual feelings and changing body image. They will want more details about conception, how babies develop and are born and why families are important for having babies. They will be interested in knowing about how people can get diseases, including HIV, from sex and how they can be prevented. They will also want to know who they can talk to if they want help or advice and information about puberty and sex.
  • Age 11–13 – At this age most young people will be entering puberty and will be interested in hormones, how they will be affected by them, the menstrual cycle, wet dreams, erections, fertility, pregnancy – how it can be avoided, and safer sex. They may also be wondering if their physical development is ‘normal’. They will want to know about the difference between sexual attraction and love and whether it is normal to be attracted or in love with someone of the same gender. Young people will be asking questions about relationships, when is the right time to have sex, how to avoid pressure and where they can get more information if they need it, including the best websites, confidential services etc.
  • Age 14–16 – At this age some young people will either be sexually experimental or know friends who are. They will be interested to know what they should expect of a partner and how to talk to them. They will need more information on contraception, sexual health and how to access services. They will want to know about different types of relationships and homophobia. They may want to know about how to cope with strong feelings and how to cope with the pressures to have sex. They will start to ask questions about parenthood and may like to know how they can talk to their own parents or a trusted adult. They will also be interested in other influences on sexual decision-making such as the law, different cultures and religious beliefs, pornography, the media and the effects of drugs and alcohol.
  • Age 16–19 (and beyond) – At this age young people are at the legal age of consent and many, but not all, will be in intimate relationships and will be interested to know about the challenges of long-term commitments and the qualities needed for successful loving relationships. They will be interested in what issues can be difficult to talk about in intimate relationships, for example sexual pleasure and contraception and how this can be addressed. They will be interested to know more about being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Young people at this age will need more information on sexual risk, pregnancy, sexual health, fertility and infertility. They will be keen to discuss gender stereotyping, violence, exploitation, the law, and discrimination. Learning about the relationship between self-esteem and body image and how to challenge negative messages from peers, the media and society is also important.

This is why PHSE and RSE must be core subjects and treated in the same way as maths and English.

We should support Social Workers, not criminalise them

Let’s make one thing clear, Child Sexual Exploitation is an abhorrent crime and we must do all we can to eradicate it. Those who prey on the vulnerable for their own sexual pleasure should be brought to justice. CSE is a crime. There is no place for CSE in our society. It is important to say CSE is not just the responsibility of social workers, but it is everyone’s business, and the only way to deal with this issue is for all agencies to work together to eradicate CSE.

It makes your heart sink when you read the detail behind Rotherham and other similar incidents. You really wonder how such a complete system failure happened. The system did fail, and we must all learn from those failures. I know as the Lead Member for Children and Young People in Cornwall my head, along with the Director of Children’s Service (DCS) head, is on the chopping block if it all goes wrong in the department. This responsibility drives you to make sure you are protecting children.

Today, the Prime Minister wants to criminalise teachers, social workers and Councillors who turn a blind eye to child abuse. Those are strong words indeed. However, is threatening frontline social workers with jail is not the way to keep children safe?

Following the announcement by Prime Minister, Prof Brigid Featherstone, Chair of The College’s Children and Families Faculty, said:

“While we recognise that a strong response is needed to the deplorable practice of child sexual exploitation, threatening to jail frontline social workers is not the answer. We have been similarly clear about this in relation to mandatory reporting, for which there is no sound evidence.   Not only will such a move reinforce an already persecutory climate for those struggling to deliver services in difficult times, but the proposals also fail to address the incredibly important safeguarding issues that recent Serious Case Reviews have raised.

We need support and training of staff at all levels on how to recognise, report on, and help stop child abuse. We must also ensure a full and effective range of responses to different forms of abuse. We must address the severe lack of investment in child protection services, which has put organisations and systems under incredible strain and systems under incredible strain and reduced their capacity for in-depth work with children and their families.”

As a Lead Member I wholeheartedly welcome the comments by Prof Brigid Featherstone. Threatening frontline workers with jail and using fear was not the best way of protecting children from sexual exploitation and abuse.  Cornwall Children’s Services has remained focused on training social workers, and creating the conditions for effective relationship based practice in the current climate of reduced spending required by all authorities.

It is vital that we support our social workers who are doing a very demanding and difficult job in keeping children safe. This was highlighted at a recent Local Safeguarding Children Board conference I attended where Professor Ray Jones stressed that child abuse is not just the responsibility of social work, but for all those who work in public services.

As I said in the title, let’s support Social Workers, not criminalise them.

Slavery is as real in the UK in 2015 as it was 200 years ago.

The title of this blog says it all: Slavery is as real in 2015 as it was in 200 years ago. It is a disgrace that in 2015 we have to use the words slavery; as many would believe this term has long been banished. However, Modern Slavery is as real today as it was leading up to the Abolition of the Slave Trade Act of 1807.

If we go back over 200 years to when Lord Grenville made a passionate speech arguing that the slave trade was ‘contrary to the principles of justice, humanity and sound policy’ rings true today as it did when he said it in 1806. However, the sad truth of it is in 2013 ten-thousand to thirteen-thousand people in the UK are trapped in slavery.

Slavery exists today for the very same reasons as before. The driver is high profits, low risk. Forced labour is not only organised crime, but used by regular businesses too. Forced labour is the area of construction, care and hospitality. However, the most common areas for adults is the sex trade, whereas for children is forced labour. It is shocking that between 2010/12 half the countries across the world had less than 10 convictions for Modern Slavery.

There is often confusion of the terminology around trafficking and smuggling. The easiest way of explaining is: human trafficking is a crime against a person by acquisition of people by improper means. Whereas  human smuggling is the procurement of an illegal entry of a person into a State. Though the two can merge.

Modern Slavery

We need to make sure Modern Slavery has no place in society.  I hope the Modern Slavery Act which is currently winding its way through the House of Lords and Parliament will tackle this issue. When enacted, this piece of legislation will replace, and simplify the current law covering all offences previously described as human trafficking, slavery, forced labour and domestic servitude.

Just like in 1807 when Britain became the first county in the world to outlaw slavery, The Modern Slavery Bill is the first of its kind in Europe in addressing slavery and trafficking in the 21st century. It will give law enforcement the powers they do desperately need to target the slave drivers, that will ensure perpetrators are severely punished. The new legislation will also improve the support and protection of the victims of those vile trade.

The Modern Slavery Bill will strengthen the response of law enforcement and the courts by:

  • Consolidating and simplifying existing modern slavery offences into one Act. Currently modern slavery and trafficking offences are spread across a number of different Acts. The Bill fixes this, providing much-needed clarity and focus and making the law easier to apply.
  • Increasing the maximum sentence available for the most serious offenders from 14 years to life imprisonment, with those who have a previous conviction for a serious sexual or violent offence facing an automatic life sentence.
  • Introducing Slavery and Trafficking Prevention Orders and Slavery and Trafficking Risk Orders to restrict the activity of individuals where they pose a risk of causing harm.
  • Creating a new Anti-Slavery Commissioner, a vital post that will drive an improved and more coordinated law enforcement response at all levels, working in the interests of victims.
  • Ensuring that perpetrators convicted of slavery or trafficking face the toughest asset confiscation regime.
  • Strengthening law enforcement powers at sea to close loopholes which prevent the police and Border Force being able to act where it is suspected that human trafficking or forced labour is taking place on board vessels at sea.

During the Modern Slavery Conference – held at the Eden Project – the audience heard from various Keynote speakers who talked about what is being done by different organisation to tackle Modern Slavery. However, it is only by partnership working with strong data sharing protocols will we really tackle Modern Slavery.

One of the Keynote speakers was the Anti-Slavery Commissioner, Kevin Hyland. In his address he outlined his key priorities which included: improved victim care and support; effective victim identification and training; partnership working; engagement of the business sector and evaluating organisation. It will be interesting to see how much an impact this office will have if it is not funded right.

The Modern Slavery Conference was excellent, with great keynote speakers. It also showed Cornwall and the South West is not immune to the vile trade of slavery.

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