Top Awards for West Cumbria Lib Dems

Two highly respected West Cumbrian Liberal Democrats have been awarded president’s honours for their exceptional service.

Elizabeth Barraclough is a high-profile environmentalist in Keswick who served as town, Allerdale and County Councillor for Keswick until she retired. Elizabeth was well known for cycling round the Keswick area listening to everyone and getting everything sorted out.

Roger Putnam is hugely respected across Copeland for his dignified political service and wise advice and comment over many years. His core passion is for outdoor education, however his detailed policy work on challenging topics such as nuclear energy is highly respected across the party.

Both Roger and Elizabeth are still very active within West Cumbria Liberal Democrats – Roger as party secretary and Elizabeth as honorary local party president.

West Cumbria Liberal Democrats Chair Stephen Barnes said: “Roger and Elizabeth are inspirational role models to those of us who are passionate about dignified, evidence-led, values-based politics in West Cumbria. It is unusual for two awards to be made but in this case, we felt unable to nominate one without the other. I’m delighted this has been recognised at the top of the party.”

Cumbria County Councillor for Cockermouth North Rebecca Hanson said:
“It’s difficult to describe how hard both Elizabeth and Roger have worked for West Cumbria. They’ve always both been phenomenal support and inspiration for me.”

Elizabeth Barraclough
Roger Putnam

Tory Education Failure

The government’s mishandling of exam results for this year’s A-level and B-Tec students shocked the nation. The additional stress it caused for our young people is indeed shocking – but sadly should come as no surprise. The exam results fiasco is a logical outcome of the Tory approach to education: to treat our children as statistics rather than human beings preparing for life through learning. 

In 2013 Michael Gove axed coursework as a component of GCSE and A-level grades, one of his reforms pushed through without consultation with the teaching profession. Gove wanted to inject more ‘rigour’ into education, by which he meant tipping the balance back from skills-based to knowledge-based learning. He wanted to ‘raise standards’ by prioritising the ability of primary school children to recognise a fronted adverbial (no, me neither!) over the enjoyment of reading. 

Gove’s reforms placed ever greater demands on their performance in high-pressured exams, easily translatable into league-table data. He claimed this would ‘equip them to win in the global race’. In 2019, a survey of teachers and support staff warned that the mental health of their pupils was at ‘crisis point’.

Then the pandemic hit. Schools needed government to support the incredible efforts of teachers to adapt school learning to the new circumstances, and tackle the long-standing inequalities in education. Instead it relied on a ‘schools must re-open’ mantra, began shifting blame onto safety-conscious teachers and parents, and spoke as if education had ground to a halt.

Having put all their eggs into the final exam basket, the government tossed it aside. Education secretary Gavin Williamson announced in April that exams were to be scrapped, since adapting them to lockdown was too difficult; then promised he would find a fair way to grade pupils; and finally the bombshell in August: actually, we are just going to distribute grades statistically. Forget individual effort – you’re fodder for an algorithm that defines you by where you come from.

Our children don’t need a ‘world-beating’ education, but one that will help them become skilled and resilient in the creation of their own futures. We should explicitly value pupils’ wellbeing and core skills such as critical thinking and creativity, continue to improve mental health provision, and reinstate assessed coursework. 

Squeezing pupils back into a building will not resolve inequalities in education. Equal access can only be achieved by carefully designing effective policies, guided by teachers and other experts. In tackling the next phase of this pandemic, our young people need their government to do a lot more homework. 

Cockermouth excels on all fronts

Cockermouth has led the way in excellence in our COVID response.

County Councillor Rebecca Hanson said: “Cockermouth Emergency Response Group swung into action immediately coordinating an inspirational band of volunteers.

Thank you to our CERG leaders Jo Crozier and Brian Mitchelhill.

Thank you to our key workers.

Thank you to everyone who stayed home.

Thank you to our inspirational traders.

Thank you to our volunteers – including those who havenʼt
been needed.

All Cockermouth traders need you now. Letʼs support them!”

Managing and Funding Care Services Properly

The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a harsh light on some of our most vital services. Despite setbacks, our NHS has emerged with great credit from this testing time. People recognise and applaud the quality of the work and the selfless resilience of doctors, nurses, and the thousands of hospital support staff.

The same cannot be said of our provision for caring for the aged and those suffering serious illness in care homes or in their own homes. During Covid-19, the UK suffered one of the highest death rates across Europe for care home residents. This is in no way a criticism of the exceptional work of thousands of care workers, showing great dedication, risking their lives often without adequate protection, usually on woefully low pay.

The problem is that social care is not integrated into the national health system. Local authorities are nominally responsible for care homes, but the majority are now run by private companies. Many of the larger operators, some managing dozens of homes, are based offshore, draw substantial fees and pay desperately low rates of pay to their workers. Whilst NHS services are ‘free at the point of delivery’ social care is ‘means-tested’ – provided according to ability to pay. Cancer patients in hospital pay nothing; many with dementia, in care homes or cared for at home, pay impossibly large sums for an under-resourced service. Local authorities have had their financial support cut to the bone; they are in no position to improve the funding they provide. Staffing is a long-standing problem. Care homes are closing at a time of increasing need.

We are faced with a major crisis, which must be addressed as we emerge from this pandemic. Radical reform is urgently needed. The answer is to end the distinction between the NHS and social care and create a coherent single entity, a National Health and Care Commission, which integrates these two inter-dependent services. Care workers at all levels should be properly rewarded for skilled work, now recognised as essential. Market forces and privatisation are entirely inappropriate in what should be a major public service commitment.

Liberal Democrats have long called for a new Health and Care Tax on the basis of wide consultation and engagement with the public. We would establish a cross-party health and social care convention to agree on the long-term sustainable funding of a joined-up system of health and social care, involving if necessary an increase in tax. Our ultimate objective is to bring together NHS, Social Care and public health. Should any future pandemic strike, we must be much better prepared.

Roger Putnam

The Youth Mental Health Crisis

I have worked hard recently to address the crisis in youth mental health in West Cumbria; this is a key issue many people have raised with me.

In doing this I have had the full support of my Liberal Democrat colleagues who have strong practical and policy expertise in this field, and who achieved considerable success highlighting mental health issues during the coalition government.

Liberal Democrats continue to campaign for improvements to mental health services, which we believe should be recognised to be as important as physical health matters.

I helped to establish West Cumbria Youth Mental Health Network (WCYMHN), putting schools at the heart of discussions and planning about youth mental health. This has ensured that everyone involved in youth mental health in West Cumbria knows what everyone else is doing and is empowered to build confidently and creatively from improvements being delivered by other organisations. You may have heard how much things have improved recently.

I am delighted that Cumbria’s key health organisations have now rebuilt one of their existing networks so that it functions exactly as WCYMHN has been operating, but with stronger administrative support and long-term security.

When the lockdown is over, members of WCYMHN will be invited to attend this successor network. With most young people currently locked down at home, many parents may be concerned about the volatile and sometimes dark moods of their children in this strange period of their school life.

It is normal for young people to experience volatile emotions. It is important at this time that parents continue to talk with them and to show them how much they love them. Children at home should be encouraged to maintain physical activity, to eat sensibly, to have a basic routine and to work on things that will give them a sense of achievement and which will be useful to them in the future.

Parents themselves need to stay positive when they experience difficulties with their child-care during lockdown. It can be very helpful if parents are honest with their children about how they don’t always feel great themselves, how they have struggled at times to cope, and how that’s normal.

Parents should trust their instincts, and seek advice if they are concerned that their child is in a worse state that this, or if they just want to talk to someone because they are struggling.

There are excellent support services available.

To explore the options which are available, parents are advised to phone Cumbria Barnardos MyTime on 01539 742626.

Rebecca Hanson, Liberal Democrat county councillor and chair of West Cumbria Youth Mental Health Network

Liberal Democrats are in good heart !

Lib Dems sign

At a time when the country is more deeply divided and unsure than he can remember it ever having been before, Chair of West Cumbria Liberal Democrats Roger Putnam reported that our party has the advantage of broad agreement on major issues, notably Brexit, and has had substantial successes this year.

Roger was speaking at an Interim General Meeting of West Cumbria Lib Dems, held at Hundith Hill hotel on Thursday evening, November 14. He spoke of the hugely encouraging election results nationally, with more than 700 more council seats gained and 600 retained. At the Euro elections we gained 15 new MEPs to add to our one retained member, and are now represented in the North West region again by Chris Davies, for many years formerly our active and effective MEP, and newly also by Jane Brophy. Nationally, our share of the poll in the Euro elections was greater than that of either the Labour or the Conservative parties.

Locally we did not succeed in making extra gains in the local elections, Roger said  though two members hold town council seats, and Rebecca Hanson continues as a Cumbria County councillor, doing fine work. West Cumbria Liberal Democrat membership in our twin constituencies of Copeland and Workington has doubled in recent months, to more than 200 now, and several members contacted by committee members have offered help in the future. We hope to reconstitute the committee in the New Year, and begin campaigning with a view to getting more members elected in the local elections of 2021. We have also established a social media working group to improve our internal communications and our outreach.

Treasurer Peter McHarry reported on our current finances, which depend on local contributions, and do not allow us to have many extra printed publications this time to support our two General Election candidates Neil Hughes in Workington and John Studholme in Copeland. However, everyone will receive a freepost leaflet, and Neil and John will put their and the party’s case for advancement at public hustings later this month.

After the dinner which followed the business session on Thursday evening, the gathering was addressed by Baroness Joan Walmsley, an active member of the strong Liberal Democrat presence in the Second Chamber and an excellent speaker. Her most emphatic message in addition to the need to prevent Brexit was that we must stop Boris Johnson as Prime Minister continuing to threaten our country’s future prosperity. 

In discussion following Joan’s speech, it was emphasised that people who agree with us should continue to give us their vote, which will emphasise the need for a fairer voting system to be urgently sought.

Katharine Pindar

Saving Maternity Services at West Cumberland Hospital

THE POLITICS COLUMN for Whitehaven News and Times & Star, to be published July 24th and 26th 2019

County Councillor Rebecca Hanson, West Cumbria Liberal Democrats

Across West Cumbria there will be joy and relief that 24-hour consultant-led maternity services will be retained at our hospital for the foreseeable future. With this comes a guarantee that anaesthetics and paediatrics will also remain in Whitehaven.

Huge credit is due to both the campaigning groups; to all who worked so hard in the Co-production Forums; to my cross-party colleagues on Health Scrutiny at the County Council; and of course to our outstanding NHS staff from midwives on the front line to many senior bosses, who have all worked to maintain and improve services throughout two years of uncertainty. Without that constant effort, the outcome might well have been very different.

Despite this good news, we must continue to maintain careful vigilance in the future, because this is where we were in 2006, when we last saved our local maternity services. The root causes of our concerns have still not been addressed at national level. The NHS does not have regulatory standards for rural healthcare. National recruitment crises, made worse by Brexit, will continue to cause serious problems, not easily fixed in those areas furthest from our major teaching hospitals. And we are still living in an age where NHS top bosses will not properly acknowledge the risks associated with women being at a distance from consultant-led maternity care.

So what do we need to do? We need to lobby central government on all these NHS issues, which have caused havoc in West Cumbria. The NHS remains under-funded and poorly managed at government level. The problems increasingly evident in the provision of social care, which cause great difficulties for the NHS, have not been addressed despite the promise of the long-awaited white paper from Government.

These problems cannot be tackled when our two major parties are riven by internal differences.

I have only been able to do substantial work on health issues because of the support of my own party, the Liberal Democrats; people who pay their membership fees to fund this activity and have worked hard to get me elected. They have taught me so much from their front-line roles in local government across the country, their involvement in UK policy-making, and their access to experts at national level who understand our concerns and will continue to represent us properly at Westminster under our new leader. We welcome all our new members who are enabling us to do even more.

Cllr Rebecca Hanson
[email protected]

Attachments area

The Mental Health Crisis In Our Schools.

THE POLITICS COLUMN – Liberal Democrat County Councillor Rebecca Hanson writes for this week’s Whitehaven News Politics Column

Published 30th January 2019.

Recent media reports of an adolescent mental health crisis in Cumbria clearly only scratch the surface of the problems our young people are experiencing.

In November 2018 research showed that around one fifth of girls and one tenth of boys aged 17 to 19 have self-harmed or attempted suicide. From my conversations in education and health I suspect that the figures in West Cumbria are significantly worse than this. Even if we only match the national average, we will see around 200 more children each year developing these very serious symptoms of poor mental health.

Liberal Democrats have successfully campaigned in recent years for a higher profile and more funding for mental health services. Very substantial efforts are being made to strengthen and improve CAMHS (the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), including partnerships with larger regional services and efforts to ensure emotional support for young people is more widely available in the community, but there is a huge national shortage of suitably qualified professionals and there are no easy answers.

Why is this epidemic happening? Some blame social media, and there is certainly work to be done to improve the experiences children have when they explore their feelings of despair online. But I suspect that one key cause is the fundamental transformation in secondary education which has taken place over the last 20 years.

When I started teaching, teachers in West Cumbria secondary schools were recruited for their pastoral as well as their teaching skills. They built strong relationships of trust with school teenagers during extended pastoral activities. It was normal for there to be times in some lessons where children chatted freely and informally. In this environment, children would discuss their concerns about what was going on in their lives, allowing experienced teachers with strong local contacts to contribute helpful comment or take further action.

After 20 years of active discouragement of teachers who don’t stick to formal lesson plans and who focus only on the transmission of academic knowledge, all this is a distant memory. Children’s difficulties may now escalate until they have to be taken out of lessons for treatment or counselling.

In Finland, substantial efforts have been made to preserve a culture in education where both students and teachers have substantial freedom to decide what goes on in their classrooms. A 2018 report showed no increase in the frequency of their adolescent mental health issues.

The Liberal Democrats call for an evidence-based education policy that is developed with and by professionals working on the front line. Substantial additional resources must be provided in schools, accessible without delay, to provide mental health support as soon as possible.

Fundamental Choices

Liberal Democrat column for Whitehaven News, by Elizabeth BARRACLOUGH (President) and Roger PUTNAM (Secretary), published on November 21st 2018.

Elizabeth Barraclough

We are facing a unique combination of crises which will have profound consequences if we do not face up to them.

The immediate crisis is Brexit. We cannot recall any national issue which has so divided both people and politicians. We are entering the final stages of this long debate about our relationship with our European neighbours and our ability to retain a key role in international affairs. Fortunately, as Parliament faces its most important decisions since 1940, it remains possible that our country can save itself from deep, self-inflicted injury.

People now recognise more clearly the full implications of Brexit. National polls and local surveys across Cumbria all indicate that we should re-examine that momentous decision made, with hopelessly inadequate information, in June 2016.

A ‘people’s vote’ will give an opportunity for the whole electorate, including the new generation reaching 18 who will live longest with this decision, to make their final choice. Their decision may not only maintain the huge advantages of membership of the EU, but also ensure the very survival of the UK. Liberal Democrats, committed internationalists, have consistently been in favour of such a vote.

But there is a vastly greater problem than Brexit. Fundamental changes are essential to avert the impending catastrophe of climate change. The problems are most evident in the Arctic regions where ice caps are melting and sea levels rising. At the other side of the earth, this rise is overwhelming Pacific island communities.

We in the west are the main cause of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but we are also, through our scientists and technologists, capable of reversing this process. This must be done now.

We all have a ‘carbon footprint’ ie. how much CO2 we put into the atmosphere through our dependence on fossil fuels. Each time we make a journey by car, bus or train – or worse, by air – CO2 is generated. Our homes are heated mainly by the use of oil or gas. Our food is brought to the shops by transport using oil. The list can go on.

There are solutions, such as major investment in renewables, but this short-sighted government is withdrawing subsidies for solar panels and windpower. Previous governments have proposed a carbon ration to keep the CO2 emissions within safe limits. This could be a really effective measure which would affect the lifestyle of the rich but not touch those suffering from the financial austerity of this government.

One damaging effect of the endless Brexit debate has been the government‘s failure to deal with other key issues of the day such as climate change, which of course can only be addressed by united international agreement, as being initiated by the European Union.

Roger Putnam: The Effects Of Brexit Are Now Much Clearer

Published in the Whitehaven News, 27th June 2018.

I make no apology for returning to the continuing saga of the Brexit process of leaving the European Union. Although this may seem distant and irrelevant to us in West Cumbria, this is not the case. Brexit will have a major impact locally, as well as on the UK as a whole and indeed on the EU itself. What becomes increasingly clear is that leaving the EU is a more complex matter than most of us anticipated.

Astonishingly, two years after the referendum, little progress has been made to finalise the terms of withdrawal and to create new arrangements for working and trading with Europe for the future. We have not finally agreed a fair system for Europeans working here or an effective way to ensure an open border on the island of Ireland when single market arrangements end. The Bank of England estimates that incomes are already around £900 per household lower than forecast in May 2016. The substantial fall in the value of the pound has led to price-increases across the board.

We can now begin to appreciate what will happen when we pull out. Since the referendum, our economy has slowed almost to zero and industrial production has actually fallen in the last 3 months. Productivity has stagnated through lack of investment. We have gone from being the fastest growing economy in Western Europe to the slowest. Recently the President of the CBI, the major body representing British industry, warned that the present situation is intolerable, the level of uncertainty crippling.

The inevitable effects are becoming clear. Major companies are safeguarding their future by planning to move abroad. Airbus has just announced that it may cease production in UK. Many car companies, including BMW, are looking to relocate into the European single market to avoid complex tariff charges. Jaguar Land Rover intend to shift some production to Europe as a hedge against current uncertainty. Banks and pharmaceutical firms are planning similar moves. The massive knock-on effects on jobs and prosperity, even here in the north-west, are obvious.

The longer-term political effects of leaving the EU are just as alarming. Scotland voted to remain in the EU, and simply ignoring their wish to influence the Brexit decisions is a gift to the independence movement. Creating a hard customs border in Ireland will clearly endanger the still-fragile peace process there. The very survival of the EU, which has helped maintain peace in Europe for 70 years, will be at risk if the UK, a bastion of liberal democratic values, withdraws.

Some argue that the will of the people as expressed in 2016 cannot be questioned. However at that time, when just 37% of the electorate voted to leave, the full implications were then not clear. Constitutionally, parliament will make the final decision, but Liberal Democrats believe there should be a “peoples’ referendum” before that, making a judgement on the deal reached by government, and including the option to remain within the EU, which remains the most remarkable example of international co-operation in peacetime in our increasingly divided and dangerous world.