Wednesday, 15 August 2018

'To Hell with the Bank'

My father passed away almost two years ago and this weekend, at Trevaskis Farm, we are reopening the Organic Kitchen Garden in his memory. My father was the founder of Trevaskis Farm way back in 1979 and growing fruit and vegetables was his passion. In later life he created a demonstration garden on the farm and my sister has now restored it.

In the final year of his life he also wrote a book which we have also launched this week. Today Trevakis Farm is a great success but it has not always been plain sailing. Every life has its set backs and share of problems. In the early 1990s our family farming business suffered some serious sets backs with bad weather which culminated in losses and then an acrimonious dispute with Barclays Bank who tried to withdraw their funding. My father's book "To Hell with the Bank", tells the story behind those traumatic events in 1995. 
The business had expanded to try to keep the oldest family farm within family ownership following the retirement of my Great Uncle. A series of set backs meant that things did not go entirely to plan but the risks had always been acknowledged and we just needed a bank that would give us time and space. My father put forward a radical plan to slash debts by a third and consolidate the business which the bank's agricultural advisers supported. However, other parts of the bank wanted to wind the business down. When they attempted to send in the receivers, they got more than they bargained for and there was an extraordinary legal battle that raged for a year before the business was finally free and able to grow again. 
My own experience of that traumatic event is one of the catalysts that got me interested in politics. I saw some things about our law that were not right and I saw things happen which were wrong and totally unfair. When I first became an MP I introduced a Bill to Parliament called the Secured Leding Reform Bill. It sought to rebalance the law away from lenders and in favour of enterprise and the small business people who are the backbone of our economy. Under the current law, if you have a home and you fall behind on your mortgage payments, the lender has to get a "possession order" from the court before they are able to do anything or seize and sell your property. The courts do not grant these orders lightly and will take account of any circumstances an individual might have suffered such as losing their job or having a short term financial crisis in their family. The result is home repossession is usually a final resort. However, when it comes to farm land or any other commercial property, there are no rights at all. A bank can simply walk in and take possession and then auction your property without any recourse to the courts. I think that is totally wrong. 
People who offer banks their property as security for a loan deserve some protection in law. They are trusting that lender to behave responsibly and often the property they have represents their life's work or in some cases the capital that a family might have built up through generations of work. It is completely unjust that anonymous risk management officers working far away from the business currently have the right in law to seize and sell that life's work without first requiring permission from a court. My Bill would have introduced such a right. It didn't make it through on the first attempt but this remains unfinished business. 
"To Hell with the Bank" by Paul Eustice is available to buy online through lulu.com or at Trevaskis Farm.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Help to Buy

I have always believed it is important to help young families fulfil the ambition of owning their own home. Over time, owning an asset like your own home gives you some financial security and allows you to set down roots. Twenty years ago it was possible to get relatively affordable mortgages for 95 percent of the value of a property and this meant that people who were working could generally save a five percent deposit. However, after the banking crisis in 2008 things went into reverse. Banks and mortgage companies now expect a much higher deposit than was the case twenty years ago, typically 25 percent which means that it's much harder for young families to purchase their first home. 
A few years ago the government introduced a new "Help to Buy"scheme where government would help to underwrite the deposit in order to ensure normal families who work hard but don't have large incomes or even large savings, could be supported to purchase their first home. The scheme was available on certain new build properties and it has been a success. There are some good examples of he scheme around Camborne and Redruth for instance at the Heartlands site. In total, in Camborne and Redruth, Help to Buy has supported 212 households buying a new build home.
There is no doubt that nationally we have a housing shortage. A combination of population growth and issues like family breakdown means that many families are struggling to find a home that delivers their needs. In Cornwall, the issue is exacerbated in some areas by second home owners. So, as well as helping first time buyers purchase their first home through schemes like Help to Buy, we do also need to build more homes. 
I have always said that we must protect green spaces and that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. Developments should also be done with communities, not to them and we should challenge developers to take on difficult sites rather than go for easy development options on greenfield sites and urban extensions. In Cornwall we are lucky enough to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. We have a beautiful landscape but we are also a narrow peninsula and we must take care to protect the beauty of our countryside. 
In our area we have had some successes with new homes being built on derelict sites that have helped regenerate our urban sites as well as providing new homes. The development at Trevu Road by the train station in Camborne and also at Heartlands are good examples of tastefully done regeneration which celebrates the industrial heritage of our area, tidies up derelict sites and provides new homes. 
We also need to ensure that we have the right infrastructure in place to support new homes. With all of the hot weather and drought conditions we have been experiencing it is easy to forget the threat of floods associated with over-development. Recently DEFRA announced that they would be investing an extra £40million to boost regeneration and better protect homes and businesses against flooding across the UK. Locally in Cornwall many have experienced first-hand the devastation that flooding can cause to homes and properties. As part of the funding boost to flood defences, the Portreath Flood Alleviation Scheme will receive an additional £1.50million funding to help protect homes and businesses in the area. At a time when we are seeing more extreme weather both here in the UK and abroad it is vital that we continue to invest in these vital schemes.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Recess

Parliament has now broken for the summer and it’s been good to get back to the cooler weather in Cornwall. Westminster has been hot and bothered in more ways than one in recent weeks. However, when we all return in the autumn, there will remain some important decisions to make as far as negotiation with the EU is concerned. 
The EU referendum was divisive and parliament sadly remains divided today. The Prime Minister has a difficult task trying to put together a position that can command the support of all sides in parliament. The refusal of some MPs to respect the result of the referendum is undermining our country in these important negotiations with the EU about a future partnership. 
In my view we need to put the arguments of the past behind us, and unite to make a success of Brexit with a new partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation. If we get this right we can reassure those who are nervous of change while also implementing the decision taken by our country in 2016. However, it is also important to remember that we do not need permission from the EU to leave. It was a decision to leave, not a negotiation. Parliament has already passed the legislation to repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and to end the supremacy of EU law in March next year. All that we are really negotiating at the moment are the terms of any possible future partnership. 
The Prime Minister has been clear that she believes the latest position she has put forward should serve to unblock the negotiations and get the talks moving forward. Her proposal would mean that we would have full control of our own fishing waters, would have full control of our agriculture policy and we would have our own independent immigration policy and trade policy. The supremacy of EU law would end but we would agree to some regulatory alignment with the EU on a narrow set of issues around product standards which affect border checks. The ball is now in the EU's court and we will find out by the autumn whether they are serious. 
As the Minister for Farming, Fisheries and Food, I have been working hard in recent weeks on two important Bills. The first will create the powers for us to design our own independent fisheries policy and to control access to our waters in future. The second is an Agriculture Bill which sets out the powers we need to put in place new schemes that really deliver for farming and our environment once we are free from the EU and can scrap some of the pointless bureaucracy and paperwork that goes with the CAP. 
However, for now, I am focusing on issues closer to home. Last week I attended a roundtable meeting with representatives from voluntary sector organisations in Cornwall. The meeting was a great way to bring together MPs and voluntary sector organisations from across Cornwall to talk about a variety of matters from loneliness, to future funding arrangements for Cornwall, and looking at Social Action Projects. We discussed some of the challenges we have in Cornwall especially when it comes to transport and the importance of the charity and voluntary sector to help address need, especially when it comes to early interventions on issues like mental health. 
I also recently took the time to hold an open surgery in Redruth to meet local people and hear some of their concerns and cases that they might have. One of the things that persuaded me to stand for election in the first place was seeing the work that MPs do in their constituencies to help people deal with specific problems in their daily lives. You can’t always solve the problem, but you can always try, give advice and lend a helping hand. When you do succeed, it makes the job worthwhile. I hold regular surgeries in my office in Camborne and if you have a case that you would like assistance with, then please email my office at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or by phone on 0207 219 7032. 

Friday, 27 July 2018

Universal Credit

Last week I made one of my regular visits to the local Job Centre at Redruth. One of the biggest successes of the last eight years has been the astonishing turnaround in the job market. Britain is working again. When Gordon Brown left office, youth unemployment was a major problem and unemployment was rising. Eight years later, the unemployment rate is the lowest since the early 1970s and level of employment are at an all time high.
In Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, unemployment is now significantly below the national average which is quite a change and reflects the fact that we are attracting new industries to the area. The total number of unemployed claimants for June 2018 was 840. This represented a rate of 2.1% of the economically active population aged 16-64, lower than the equivalent UK average claimant rate of 2.8%.
It is also worth noting that since 2010, the majority of employment growth has been in both full-time and permanent roles so the allegation that all jobs today are on so called "zeros hours contracts" is not correct. In addition, this astonishing turnaround has been achieved while there have been major increases in the minimum wage and also the new roll out of the National Living Wage so that those on the lowest incomes have had a significant pay rise. These changes have had particular relevance in Camborne and Redruth.
However, my main reason for wanting to meet the Job Centre this time was to get a view from the coal face about the new Universal Credit which is now being rolled out in earnest. The idea behind the Universal Credit is to simplify the benefits system so that many former types of support are merged into one single benefits payment. Support will be tapered so that it always pays to work more hours or seek higher pay rather than get by on benefits. It also means that the level of benefit support automatically changes month to month based on how much they earn in real time. So, if someone takes more hours during a busy period they will be better off but they will also have the security of knowing that if their hours go back down a few months later then support will automatically kick back in without them having to fill out a load of forms again.
This is vital because for far too long people have been trapped in poverty by the old system because if they worked too many hours or earned too much then they would lose all their benefits and then find it a fight to get back on the system should things change again. Under the old system it literally was not worth working longer hours or in some cases people would be worse off working more hours. Employers used to complain that people told them they were "not allowed" to work more than sixteen hours a week. That is crazy. The old system disincentivised work and change was desperate required.
However, as with any policy, you have to get the delivery right as well as the concept behind the policy right. Critics have recently cast doubt on the new system so I wanted to work out whether anything was going wrong in terms of the delivery that needed addressing. Just over a year ago there had been concerns that making payments monthly rather than weekly would cause problems. So, changes were made to address that. It is now very easy to get an advance payment to help cashflow in the changeover.
Talking to staff who, in some cases, had been with the Job Centre for over twenty years, they were really enthusiastic about the change. They say that they have been really engaged in the design on the new system. Whereas, in the past, everyone had to come in every week to "sign on', now there is much more discretion for an individual "job coach" to decide how frequently a job seeker should attend the office. There is far more done on a simple online portal which is easy to use and can be used to give advice and support. Anyone who needs help in the job centre to use the online system automatically gets it. There is an assigned case officer who looks after a group of job seekers meaning that trust can develop. The system is easier both for those who need to use it an those who are implementing it. The conflict and tension of the old system has been largely removed.
Reforming the welfare system and supporting people back into work go hand in hand. For too long, too many people were left languishing on benefits and trapped in a life of poverty. Helping them go back to work has been one of the primary objectives of the Government in recent years and the results are showing.
As with any new system there will always be problems that come up which require attention, and lessons were learned from some of the pilots. However, I am now very optimistic about the benefits that the new Universal Credit will deliver for people on lower incomes in Camborne and Redruth.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Cornwall – The Powerhouse of the South West

After another turbulent week in parliament it was good to get back to Cornwall at the end of last week to focus on some of the local issues where things are more positive and less fraught with argument. Liz Truss, the Treasury Minister was on a visit to Cornwall to meet some of the new entrepreneurs in the computer software industry around Camborne, Pool and Redruth and to hear about their plans to take this sector to the next level.
Over the last two or three years, we have seen growing momentum behind the embryonic computer software industry here in West Cornwall.  A recent national study identified Camborne and Redruth as one of the fastest growing computer software clusters in the country with huge growth in jobs and turnover. Last week saw the annual "Agile on the Beach" conference at Falmouth University which brings together leading computer software experts and designers to address the challenges and developments in the industry. The event was put together by a forward-thinking group of software entrepreneurs from the area and is now judged to be among the top three events in the world for software technologies.
"Agile" is a new management concept which can be applied to many disciplines including even in financial management but is especially used in software development.  It is about removing rigid processes, targets and management plans and replacing them with something more flexible, holistic and iterative so that complex challenges can be overcome by natural adaptation.
I have always said that I wanted to see new industries and higher paid jobs in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. The ingredients of success are the right infrastructure, like Superfast broadband, and the raw talent of bright individuals who can make things happen. Then you need critical mass so here is local resilience which we are now starting to get. Previously, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career up country, or taking the lifestyle choice to live in the most beautiful part of the country but accepting a lower salary. The plans for a new Fibre Park and software academy at Pool continue to develop. It is the brainchild of Toby Parkin from Headforwards Software who we met last week. The concept is that you could have modern workspace perfect for the software industry co-located with a software academy so that you break down the barriers between training and industry. Talented code writers would occasionally take lectures and students would take part in real projects in real businesses to develop their skills.
Last week I also met a group of young people taking part in the annual National Citizenship Service (NCS) programme. Set up back in 2011 as a type of modern day, non-military National Service, NCS is open to all 16-17-year olds in England and aims to bring together young people from all sorts of different backgrounds, helping to break down social barriers and develop self-confidence. The group I met were working on a project to make a film raising awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.

Thursday, 12 July 2018


A Brighter Future for Cornwall
Last week I launched our new White Paper on the future of fisheries. It sets out how we will take back control of our waters after we leave the EU and how we will adopt a new methodology for the allocation of fishing quotas internationally so that we get a much fairer settlement for our own industry and can develop sustainable fishing policy for the future. 

There has long been an historical injustice in quota allocations to the UK fleet. In 2015 the UK allocation of Cod was just 834 tonnes compared to 5,500 for France. For Plaice in the Channel it was 1,300 tonnes for the UK, but 2,600 for France.  Many local fishermen feel frustrated that they sometimes have to tie up their boats because they have run out of quota but they see French vessels continuing to fish in Cornish waters.  Taking back control of our fishing grounds will give us the opportunity to revisit quota allocations and make things fairer. 

However, I have always been clear that the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries.   We will not allow a free for all and one of the conditions of any future access we grant will be that all vessels fish sustainably and within limits to protect our marine environment. That is why the White Paper is so important because it sets out what our future relationship will be whilst still maintaining the highest possible standards for our marine life.

This is an exciting time not only for fishermen across Cornwall as we start to take back control of our waters and the fish stocks in them. I am proud that we have a White Paper that clearly sets out how the Government will monitor and maintain our future fishing stocks so that we can pass them onto future generations of fishermen. We will be able to re-establish national control for fisheries management out to 200 nautical miles or the median line as provided for in international law.  We will then negotiate new access and quota sharing arrangements that are fairer to our fishermen. 

Last week was also the NHS’s 70th birthday. The NHS is a great British institution which all of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. That’s one of the reasons why the Government recently announced that it will increase NHS funding by almost £400 million a week - more than £20 billion a year - by 2023/24 as part of a historic long-term funding plan for the NHS. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of.

Locally we have some great health services such as at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics. While there will always be some challenges facing our NHS given the size of the organisation and its complexity, we should recognise its achievements and celebrate the good news. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Another busy week


Last week, it was good to catch up with various projects in and around the constituency.
Early Friday morning I met children from Portreath School who were going to clean up litter at Portreath Beach. It was great to be joined by so many enthusiastic children willing to give up their time and help clean up the beach, helping to raise awareness about the threat that rubbish poses to the marine environment.
Next on the agenda was a meeting with the Council where we talked through the issues affecting people throughout Cornwall. From planning and development to healthcare and funding arrangements, it was good to catch up with Council Officers and raise individual cases and concerns that I had. Following this I attended a Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group meeting. I regularly meet the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, and most recently I asked the KCCG about funding for children and adolescents funding helping to ensure that we have the right provisions in place to care for those who are most vulnerable.
In the afternoon I took time out to visit Mary Anson of Anson Care Services at Tremethick House. Mary has always done great work in helping provide a safe and caring environment for the elderly, and it was great to find out more about the work being done by her company. How we support people in need of adult social care is a growing dilemma, and creative thinking is needed.  As more people live longer, more need help as they get older and we are lucky in Cornwall to have companies like Anson Care Services to step in when families and carers need help.
Shortly afterwards I visited Valued Lives, an innovative charity based in Cornwall offering community based care and support and helping change mental health care. In recent years, the number of people affected by mental health problems has increased. Maybe it’s the pressure to fit in and to belong - a sentiment that always existed - but seems to have been heightened by social media in the digital age which is relentless and immediate but often impersonal and sometimes offensive.
On Saturday I began the day with my usual weekly advice surgery to meet some of the people who have written to me to ask for help. One of the things that persuaded me to stand for election in the first place was seeing the work that MPs do in their constituencies to help people deal with specific problems in their daily lives. You can’t always solve the problem, but you can always try, give advice and lend a helping hand. When you do succeed, it makes the job worthwhile.
I then popped along to a charity event at Jenn’s Diner where they were raising awareness for Cornwall Blood Bikes. The charity are a group of self-funding volunteers who provide an ‘out of hours’ courier service to our NHS partners throughout Cornwall and beyond. It was great to hear first-hand some of the stories they have as well as the challenges they face. Later in the day I attended the Kehelland Methodist Chapel Tea Treat, meeting constituents and listening to their concerns before heading off to an evening meeting back up in Devon with a group of farmers to discuss future policy.
I was shocked to hear that the recent fire on top of Carn Marth may have been started deliberately. I want to thank the emergency services for their hard work and dedication in putting the fire out and keeping residents safe. I know what a beautiful area Lanner is and I hope it recovers from the fire.