Thursday, 24 July 2014

THE GREAT WAR

Next week marks the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and this Sunday I will be attending a memorial service in Redruth to recognise the sacrifices made by all those who came from the town. There will be many other commemorative events during the course of this year and Remembrance Sunday will have particular poignancy.

The period during the First World War was the bleakest period in European history. The scale of killing was horrific. Technology had advanced to make this perhaps the first "industrial war" with the use of chemical weapons, machine guns and powerful artillery but battleground tactics had not evolved to deal with the new realities that modern warfare had brought and there was perhaps a different attitude to human life.

Britain's Generals are often singled out for criticism although, to be fair, they did try to find new approaches to end the war earlier, from the ill-fated landings at Gallipoli to the invention of a primitive tank. Nevertheless, the scale of sacrifice is apparent through the names listed on memorial stones up and down the land and the war touched every community and virtually every family. I take one of my Christian names from Charles Botterell, my Great Grandfather who fought in the war and suffered ill health as a result of his shrapnel wounds.

It was hoped in the immediate aftermath that it would be the war to end all wars so that at least the huge sacrifice would have achieved something lasting. We know now that it wasn't. However, so traumatic was the war that it changed society forever. Huge social changes followed. The anachronistic class structure started to fall apart, women got the vote and society became more equal. The pain of the war drove political changes too with the advent of communism and the Bolshevik revolution in Russia while at home the Labour Party replaced the Liberal Party as the main opposition party.

I have always argued that after any painful conflict, we are in danger of learning the wrong lessons so that the agony of one conflict leads us to make different mistakes which cause a new conflict. That was as true then as it is now. After the Great War there was an entirely understandable resistance to war or spending on military hardware. As a result, Britain was ill prepared to deal with Hitler and he interpreted the strong reluctance for war among Britain's political class as weakness.

But next week, we should quietly remember the extraordinary bravery and the tremendous burden carried by a generation of young men a hundred years ago and the loved ones who grieved their loss.


Thursday, 17 July 2014

LOCAL GROWTH DEAL

Last week the Government announced the new Local Growth Deal for Cornwall, which will see an investment of almost £200 million to support the local economy and promote new businesses. The Deal comprises a variety of important projects around Cornwall that will help attract businesses to our area. It is very much a local plan drawn together by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and backed by government. It is hoped that over the next five years the deal will create at least 4,000 jobs.

I think there are some important projects which have been given the go ahead that will have a real impact on our area. £8 million of funds will contribute to a package of improvements on our key bus services that serve as a real lifeline to many in our part of the world. I have always argued for the right funding for our bus network and this new package shows a real commitment to keep these services operating.

Different development schemes will also start to get to grips with pinch points on our roads where traffic is currently bad enough to frustrate businesses looking to invest in our area or indeed just transporting their own goods. The crucial sleeper service, which brings untold investment to Cornwall, is also increasing capacity with a much needed upgrade as announced a couple of weeks ago by the Prime Minister.

Money will also be made available for a scheme known as the West Cornwall Transport Interchange that will deliver some necessary improvements along the often pressured A30. Whilst more and more people use public transport, it is still the case that the majority of people who work in our area have no option but to use their car and the A30 is a crucial artery for drivers. It needs to be able to deal with a high volume of traffic and this scheme builds on others in the last couple of years such as the duelling at Temple.

Securing Government funding can often provide that final boost to projects and make sure they are able to get off the ground. I pushed for Government funding for the new link road at Camborne which is now well underway and crucial funding was also secured for the Cornwall Archive Centre in Redruth, with the first phase of the scheme to prepare the site with flood defences now scheduled to start in the summer. Whilst negotiations can often be long and difficult, securing funding for the right projects makes a real difference. The Local Enterprise Partnership should be congratulated for all the hard work they did to secure such an encouraging Local Growth Deal for Cornwall.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

SOCIAL MEDIA

The growth of "social media" such at Twitter and Facebook has had many positive impacts. People are able to relocate long lost childhood friends. Events are easy to organise. Photos are shared and people are kept in contact through an instant medium that can link whole networks of friends. Comment is available to all and no longer confined to professional journalists.

But with any new phenomenon comes problems too. Five years ago I remember meeting an organisation called Beat Bullying who described the growing problem of "cyber-bullying" among school age children. That problem has got worse. Peer pressure has always been a powerful force among teenagers but the prevalence of social media has exacerbated that pressure.

I don't know why, but there is something about social media that all too often causes common courtesy and good manners to go out the window. All the more so when vicious and thoughtless comments can be posted behind the protective veneer of anonymity. People say things in online posts that they would never say to someone's face. It's as if the basic rules of human social interaction don't apply.

We bring children up to say please and thank you and to be kind and considerate to one another. Every primary school I have ever visited places great store on such human virtues. But for whatever reason, these values don't always spill over into online social media in the way you might expect them to. Schools find themselves increasingly in situations where they are having to arbitrate in such situations and teachers will sometimes find themselves the target for online abuse from both children and even parents.

Last week Chris Grayling, the Justice Minister, said that the government was considering legislation later this year to deal with the growing problem of so called "sexting" or “revenge porn” where intimate photos which might have been shared with a former partner then end up being circulated more widely when relationships go wrong. This can have an especially acute impact on teenagers who have enough insecurities to cope with as it is and some of the proposals could act as a real deterrent to stop potential offenders.

It's just one of the new challenges created by technology that presents new problems for policymakers and needs to be looked at closely. There are already powers in legislation for teachers to deal with suspected cases of cyber-bullying by searching and deleting images on a pupil’s phone. However with cyber bullying extending beyond the classroom and beyond students it is clear there will be louder calls for a more legal definition of the issue and more powers to deal with it.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Monday, 7 July 2014

WAVE HUB

Last weekend saw the first energy device connected to the giant socket at Wave Hub in Hayle, a real step forward in making Hayle the leading marine energy park in the country and capping off a great few months for the scheme. I have always said that the potential of this industry is massive, because of the amount of energy we could produce and the amount of jobs that could be created in our area. Wave Hub is the first of its kind in the world and is on the way to delivering both these aims.

Seatricity, the renewable resource company involved, actually towed their device all the way from Falmouth before plugging it in to the site. The plan is to eventually have sixty of their devices connected to the hub which will then feedback power to the national grid. For the time being, sea tests need to take place on the first device to make sure it can do the job properly.

The potential of wave has led to hundreds of competing device designs put forward by different companies with the aim of being the most efficient at capturing the most energy from the sea. It is a very different process to traditional fossil fuels or wind turbines and Seatricity's device uses octagonal aluminium floats to capture the energy by pressuring seawater. This in turn drives a turbine to produce electricity and this is channelled back to the coast by Wave Hub's giant "socket" on the sea bed.

Progress at Wave Hub has been really great over the last few months but this follows some criticism that the project was slow to get off the ground. Wave power does carry risk because it is difficult to develop and test out in difficult conditions. That said, the huge potential and the need for a range of sustainable energy sources in the future outweighs those risks. That is why the Government did get behind the project and I pushed for less onerous regulations in Parliament to get things moving.

Now, all three berths for developers have been filled with the most recent by an Australian firm called Carnegie Wave Energy who will start deploying their technology in the coming years. Millions of pounds of funding were also secured last month for the Hayle Marine Business Park, which will become the gateway for the Wave Hub site. The development has the potential to create over one hundred jobs and will further make sure Hayle is established as a world leader in wave technology.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

RAIL IMPROVEMENT

Last weekend I met Sarah Newton MP and Derek Thomas, the prospective Conservative candidate for the St Ives constituency, to discuss the potential of a new train care centre in Penzance. If we could persuade First Great Western to move their facilities to Cornwall, the centre would employ up to sixty people and provide a real boost to the local economy, bringing new skills to our area and meaning long term jobs.

It is just one part of an exciting but realistic package of rail improvements that Cornwall Council has been building up and I have been pushing for in Westminster since last October.

There are three main elements, the train care centre, a sleeper upgrade and a bringing forward of the plans to renovate our ancient signalling system. Different groups have got together to deliver some of the funding but they are also asking the Government to chip in to get the project off the ground. The scheme would revitalise our current rail service and make sure we can deal with the growing number of passengers on our trains.

By improving the signalling facilities and adding new signalling sections between Penzance and Plymouth, we could not only deliver a half local hourly service between the towns all the way to Plymouth but also allow a much faster service with increased reliability. The improvements would also create better capacity and this would tie in with plans for the delivery of additional carriages and more modern diesel trains and rolling stock which will become available as other parts of the country switch to electrification.

An upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service would also be a crucial development. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike but it needs to be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport. Cornwall Council's plans would see a renovated lounge, modern berths and seating and space for a lot more luggage. It would secure the service for the foreseeable future and maintain a vital lifeline. The local economy would also benefit.

The problems at Dawlish due to the storms earlier this year focused minds on our rail infrastructure and what could be done to improve things. The government commissioned a report to study options for the rail link which is due to report later this summer. But Cornwall Council's transport team deserve credit for the cogency of the plans they have put together.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Development for Redruth

Last weekend it was Murdoch Day, an important yearly event in Redruth's calendar that celebrates the life and contribution of the inventor and engineer William Murdoch. Murdoch was one of the pioneers of steam power development in Cornwall and also famously invented the first ever gas light using piped gas. Murdoch day itself includes an exciting program of events with processions, music and a variety of exhibitions throughout the town.

These are also exciting times for Redruth and there are a number of projects underway that will bring new investment into the town and also contribute to the town's unique heritage. One of these developments is taking place at the Krowji Arts Centre at the old grammar school buildings near West Park and recently I caught up with the director of the Centre, Ross Williams, to get an update on progress. The Krowji Arts Centre is actually Cornwall's largest creative services workplace and they are home to a huge array of creative businesses and agencies, from furniture makers to the Cornwall Film Festival organisers.

Krowji recently began a £3.7 million re-development project that will see new offices and a doubling of capacity at the arts hub. The centre won European and private funding and I supported them in getting the Department of Education to recognise the value of the project and release some old school land that was needed for the development. Work is now truly underway at the site and they are hoping for the offices to be ready for occupation by early next year. I have always said Cornwall is a creative county and our heritage proves that but it is great to see such a modern creative project growing from strength to strength.

Kresen Kernow, the Cornwall Archive Centre at the old brewery site is also making real progress and the first phase of the scheme to prepare the site with flood defences is now scheduled to start in the summer. I was heavily involved in negotiations with the Hong Kong based owner of the site, Mr Horace Yao, to get the project started and met him again two weeks ago for an update.

Two weeks ago Cornwall Council announced that they had appointed specialist architects for the project with over six decades of experience brining historic buildings back to life. I think this appointment is great news because we need a design which celebrates the heritage of the site but is also fit for purpose for modern uses. I remember the old Devenish Brewery and their distinctive green branding when I was growing up and I know I am not the only one looking forward to bringing this derelict site back to life.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.



Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The Queen’s Speech

Last week saw the traditional State Opening of Parliament and the final Queens's speech for this current parliament. The immaculate ceremony is always a reminder that this country does such events better than any other. There is now just nine months of parliamentary time left before we begin the formal election so this year's Queen's speech was shorter than those earlier in the parliament. It is entirely normal for governments to have longer sessions earlier where they get the major pieces of legislation in place but shorter sessions later.

However, there were still some important reforms outlined last week. There was the Modern Slavery Bill to tackle the appalling crime of people trafficking and new measures to introduce some common sense when it comes to the health and safety culture. No one disagrees with the objective of health and safety legislation but we have all seen examples where it is cited in a completely disproportionate way, demoralising those trying to do a good turn for others.

The Government is also planning on bringing in two new Pensions Bills to help widen people’s choices and deliver greater financial security. As pensioners now live longer, we need to make sure savings go that extra mile. The first Bill will allow businesses greater choice in the private pensions they can offer and it will also encourage more collective pension schemes. These will allow employees to get together and pool their collective risk, having the potential to give much greater stability in their returns. Many pensioners today have found that the returns on their savings they put aside are not as high as they anticipated so encouraging a new model of pension that enables people to pool risk and have more predictable returns is a good option.

The second Bill will deliver the most fundamental reforms to pensions for almost a century, ending the system where people can be forced to buy an annuity. From April 2015 those retiring with a defined contribution pension will have total freedom over how they access their pension. I think this is important because a number of constituents highlight the problem that they feel unable to access the pension they put aside when they need it.

Some have said that it's wrong to introduce these freedoms because pensioners might go and spend all their money in one go but I think that's nonsense. Those who have been diligent and responsible enough to save for their old age should be trusted to manage their own finances. The real problem has been that a fear that their pension may not be worth what they expect or that they may not be able to access it prevents people from saving in the first place. There will also be free, independent advice to retirees to help them make their decision, with those wishing to purchase an annuity still able to do so.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.