Thursday, 19 November 2020

Cornwall with Simon Reeve

 The new BBC documentary on Cornwall by Simon Reeve which started this week is a thoughtful project which could bring to life some of the broader challenges and issues that Cornwall faces, but also to show the rest country some of our unique characteristics.  Beautiful though our coastline is, there is more to Cornwall than beaches and the programme has the opportunity to explore these.

Camborne featured quite heavily in the first episode with the charitable work of Don Gardener being rightly recognised and with a tour of South Crofty mine and the potential for it being reopened also explored.  My family have lived in this area for some 400 years and have lived through the changing fortunes of my home towns.  At the peak of the tin mining era, Redruth was one of the wealthiest towns in the country and you can still see today in the beautiful Victorian architecture around the town the legacy of that wealth.  In Camborne, Holmans developed into a world-beating engineering company exporting its technology around the world employing thousands.  It was still a major employer when I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s and when it finally closed it was a blow to the fortunes of our town.  There were other successful local companies like the Tyacks Group, which my grandfather was involved with.  

The loss of Holmans was a bitter blow and did lead to some deprivation and initially high unemployment.  However, there has also been great resilience in our community.  Many of the apprentices who worked at Holmans went on to set up their own businesses.  Today we have some new, world-beating engineering firms like Large Diameter Drilling (LDD) at Tolvaddon and DP Engineering which continue the tradition of precision engineering and drilling technology while great local companies like Teagle continue to do well.  We have also seen a new computer software industry develop in a cluster around Pool with companies like BlueFruit and Headforwards Software growing exponentially and with the computer software sector now employing about 500 people on good salaries in our area.  We have a new Cornwall Archive on the site of the old Redruth Brewery and the regeneration of Hayle Harbour now fully underway and unemployment is actually below the national average.

In common with many other areas around the country, we have pockets of deprivation and we need to address that by continuing to increase the National Living Wage to help those on the lowest incomes, attract new industries and better-paid jobs and also support the excellent schools we have locally who at raising aspirations so that young people growing up in our area today can take those new jobs. 

However, while recognising some of the challenges we must not undermine the self-confidence of our area. Once again, Pengegon was singled out for coverage in the documentary. I remember Claire Arymar, a community co-ordinator in Pengegon, telling me those who lived there often felt patronised by people constantly going there to talk about poverty when actually they were a community who looked out for one another and had resilience; not everyone wanted to go to the beach, and it wasn’t always helpful to tell them they should. We have a history to be proud of and great ability and expertise still to draw upon, and it is very important that we instil the confidence in the next generation to fulfil their potential.

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Remembrance Day

The current lockdown meant that we were not able to mark Remembrance Sunday in the way that we normally would.  While wreaths have been laid at memorials across the country, there have not been the usual services or parades.  However, on both Sunday and Wednesday, many people across Cornwall and the country will have paused to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.

This year is an important anniversary on multiple fronts.  It is the 75th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War, a conflict that had theatres in almost every continent and saw millions engaged in fighting. This year is also the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain where RAF pilots from all over the world fought to defend our island from an invasion. Many of the men who flew the Spitfires and Hurricanes were as young as 18 or 19 and showed tremendous bravery in such a critical battle that was the first big setback for Hitler and started to turn the tide of events.

The war with Japan is sometimes overlooked when people think of the Second World War but we should also remember all those who served in the Far East during the Second World War.   The jungle terrain meant that different tactics had to be deployed with troops often defending patches of territory in a box formation and supplied by air. The battles saw some of the most bitter, close-quarter fighting of the whole war.  There was also a lot of suffering among those captured and held in prisoner of war camps, particularly after the fall of Singapore.
This year our armed forces have been called on again to play their part helping communities deal with the Coronavirus pandemic.  They have helped run testing centres and have supported the supply of PPE all over Cornwall and the South-West and will be playing their part to support communities again over the winter.
This week there has been some encouraging news regarding the potential for one of the candidate vaccines being developed by Pfizer with another from Astra Zeneca not far behind.  It appears to give 90 percent protection and has been developed using some groundbreaking techniques.  The solution to the problems of this pandemic can only be finally resolved with a successful vaccine and this is showing light at the end of the tunnel.  If we can get the spread of the virus under the control over the next few weeks and then remain cautious over the winter, then as we head into the spring perhaps deep, owing a vaccine more widely we might finally start to see life return to normal.

Wednesday, 4 November 2020

The Return of Lockdown

We wanted to avoid a second lockdown and did everything we could to try different approaches with regional and local measures to contour, the spread of the virus.  However, in this country, as across much of Europe, the virus is accelerating.  Crucially, although the prevalence in places like Cornwall has been lower than other parts of the country, the infection rate has been growing exponentially, with new cases doubling within just a week.  The rate of growth in infections in Cornwall was one of the fastest in the country and the projections showed that left unchecked, Cornwall would be in a similar situation to some of the Northern cities by the end of the month.
In Cornwall, we also have an older population and because we are at the end of the line, it is harder to share resources around the NHS so the capacity to deal with a surge in demand is more limited.  If we failed to take action, then there was a real risk of the NHS being overwhelmed and of depriving non-Covid patients of the care that they need from the NHS. As a result, the Prime Minister has announced that we will return to a full national lockdown from Thursday until December.
This lockdown will be similar to the first in many ways, however, schools will remain open. The impact of closing schools on the mental health of young people and on their education and life chances means that we should do all we can to ensure that schools can remain open.  We tend to think about the impact of the virus on the older generation because they are more susceptible but the measures being taken to control it have an impact on younger people too.  It is important that they have access to social contact to develop their confidence.  The economic disruption caused by the last lockdown has affected many who started apprenticeships and left others more doubtful about their future careers.  For all these reasons we need to try to keep schools open.
As of Thursday, 5th November, all pubs, bars, restaurants and caf├ęs will have to close unless for takeaway service. Non-essential shops, leisure, gyms and entertainment venues will also close. In response to the further impact this will have on businesses and livelihoods, the government is extending the furlough scheme until December to protect jobs and there is a further tranche of crisis grants available to help smaller businesses with their fixed costs. However, there is no doubt that a second lockdown will have a cumulative impact on the financial stress facing some businesses.
During the last nine months, we have all looked out for each other and pulled together to support one another as a community. Our unique Cornish spirit has shone through, however, in the weeks ahead we all need to draw on this again and continue to support one another through these difficult times.
My office will still be working hard to support people through this period. I am doing regular telephone surgeries to discuss issues with local residents. If you have an issue that you would like to discuss with myself or the team that supports me then please call 01209 713355 or email

Thursday, 29 October 2020

Regenerating Redruth

Since I was first elected, I have always made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. Our local towns were once at the heart of the industrial revolution and our expertise in mining engineering was second to none.

At the height of the tin mining era, Redruth was once one of the wealthiest towns in the land. As the tin mines closed, the fortunes of our local towns like Redruth fell behind other parts of the country but today there remains a legacy of that era with some fabulous and unique architecture in the town. All too often the political attention was on big northern cities, but now we have an opportunity to reset this imbalance and deliver the economic regeneration that our towns and communities need.

A fundamental issue for our part of Cornwall is economic regeneration and how we can make sure our towns get back on their feet and revive. The way people shop has gone through fundamental change and recent events will have accelerated some trends further. Thirty years ago we saw major destination retailers all start to congregate in Truro and towns like Camborne and Redruth lost out and some of the excellent independent department stores were lost. Now, shopping is moving online at great pace and that has left places like Truro in a very vulnerable position.

We therefore need to think about our towns differently in the future.  It may be that the 20th century model of retail taking over the town centre and residential being primarily on estates around the outskirts of town has run its course. We need to get better at making our town centres more of a mixed space for living and working and improving the public realm and streetscape. As more people opt to be self-employed and often make use of digital media to work from home, there is likely to be a change in what our towns are for in the decades ahead. 

In Redruth, the new Kresen Kernow Archive is an excellent start. Projects like Krowji and the work around the Butter Market also show just what is possible with some imagination, passion and local leadership and we now have funds to help facilitate further work. In recent weeks further funding of an additional £1.68m was announced, by Heritage England, to aid in the regeneration of the town. The scheme will focus around Fore Street, increasing its attractiveness to a wider range of residents and visitors and better exploiting its potential.

The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many high-streets all over the country suffer from a lack of footfall. When we turn the page on this terrible setback we need to think creatively about how to build back better and allow our town centres to find new purpose.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Sport and Community

When the pandemic is finally over, there will be some areas where people will be determined to return to life as it was before but there will be other areas where people will reflect and seek a change in the balance of their lives. Social distancing has made people value friendships and family connections as many had perhaps started to under-appreciate them, given the frantic pace of life in the modern world. People have also discovered a new connection with the natural world during the full lockdown as access to public spaces was just about all we had. 
One area where I think people are determined to see a return to life as it was before will be sports, and perhaps where we will see even more interest is in our many vibrant sports clubs locally. Groups from Cornwall Athletic Club to all our rugby, football and cricket clubs have seen a growth in membership in recent years and I hope this resumes. 
I recently met the dedicated volunteers of Troon Amateur Football Club, at Grouter Park. They are a fantastic example of a local community project that we can be proud of and have played an important role in our community for 50 years. Membership has grown significantly recently and they are engaging children and young people of all ages and abilities. They field three teams in the Cornwall disAbility League, eleven youth teams in the Kernow League, two senior teams and even a “walking football” team. They have worked incredibly hard on plans to build a new clubhouse and facilities at the site and have already secured some important pledges of support. This is a project that deserves backing.
Despite the old stereotype of the brainy children at school being the less sporty, there is a lot of evidence that physical activity and fitness can boost the performance of the brain. There has also been a concern in recent years about the growing problem of childhood obesity. The growth of electronic-games and computers means that some children are less active now than in the past and it requires a special focus on sports to try to counterbalance that development. Cornwall is blessed with a magnificent coastline allowing a whole range of sporting activities that are not realistic prospects in other parts of the country, from surfing to sailing and many others. At Stithians reservoir, we also have the best site in the UK for windsurfing. Everyone can find something that they enjoy or are good at, keeping themselves both mentally and physically healthy.
When I was growing up, my passion was running and I will never forget the volunteers at Cornwall Athletic Club who gave up their time to coach us, drive the minibus to competitions at the weekend and act as officials at all the events. Quite often, these volunteers started because their own children were interested in the sport, but once involved, they were committed and would often stay involved for many years after their children had moved on. Above all, it is volunteers today who keep all of our sports clubs going from rugby and football to cricket, swimming and dance.

Thursday, 15 October 2020


Last week I visited North Quay to see the current development that has been under construction since the summer and which is starting to take shape quickly. I grew up near Hayle and the regeneration of the harbour area has been talked about most of my lifetime. I can remember in the mid 1980s the attempt by Peter DeSavary to bring a project forward that didn’t get off the ground. In fact, one Hayle historian once showed me a book written around the time of the First World War that said “plans to develop Hayle Harbour have been delayed due to the war.” So perhaps it goes back even further!
There were then a couple more aborted attempts around the turn of the millennium before ING Bank of all people ended up the reluctant owners of the site as the result of one of their clients going in to administration. Progress on plans was then made. Having grown up around the history of false starts for Hayle, when I was first elected in 2010, the Hayle Harbour regeneration was one of the projects that I really applied my self to. I lobbied government to secure grants of around £5 million to improve the infrastructure to North Quay, put in the new bridge and to repair the harbour walls and raise levels to deal with flood risk. I spent many tortuous hours trying to broker an agreement between the local community, who wanted to project to move forward, and English Heritage, a government agency, which kept coming up with different objections.
We got there in the end and the ASDA supermarket was built on South Quay. It took a while for the design to grow on local people but it reflected the accommodation with Natural England and the architecture has now been recognised as a good example of what can be achieved on sites like this when people put their minds to it. ING then sold the rest of the site as they withdrew from the UK. The supermarket was only ever supposed to be the first stage of the regeneration. The final aim was to transform North Quay and have additional residential development and commercial property on South Quay. Sadly, in the past few years things have stalled again but that is now changing and work is underway.
The current first phase of the development along North Quay will be for high specification apartments. There will be around 150 in all and many of these have already been sold off plan. It is likely that the first residents will start to move in around Christmas and things will be well underway by next summer. Once again, the design of the buildings has been chosen to reflect the industrial legacy of the site to accommodate the views of Natural England. The North Quay area was the location of the local Hayle Power Station and an ICI factory and the view is that the buildings should have a nod to this past with an industrial or wharf side feel to the development.
Alongside some of the residential development, there will also be commercial space and restaurants within the development. There are also later phases planned above the Quay and around the fields at Riviera Farm. Initial ground work has already commenced and these later phases should progress over the next 18 monthsor so. When this project is complete, it will transform the harbour area and will be a major boost to Hayle. It will be good to see the harbour area finally regenerated after decades of being overlooked. 

Thursday, 8 October 2020

A new vision for skills

On Tuesday last week, the Prime Minister visited Exeter where he announced in a major speech, plans to transform the provision of skills so that more people can retrain and find new, well-paid jobs as we Build Back Better from the Coronavirus Pandemic.
I have always been a strong advocate for apprenticeships and the skills agenda. When I was a student, I studied at Cornwall College between 1987 and 1990 for a BTEC National Certificate in Business Studies and then after that a City and Guilds in Agricultural Management. I have always looked back fondly on my time at Cornwall College and valued the skills that I learnt at the college.
The College has a deep-rooted history in our area and has been at the heart of all further and higher education in Cornwall for the last 80 years or so. It is a vital local asset delivering work-based learning in our area. Until recently there were around 800 apprentices currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering.
Colleges and higher education providers such as Cornwall College will be vital to people’s prospects and chances as a result of the changing economy and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic. Work is changing, and it is important that people develop the skills they need to create new and better jobs.
As part of the plans, the government will rapidly expand post-18 education and training. From April adults without an A-Level or qualification will be able to take up the chance of a free and fully funded college course, paid for through the National Skills Fund with the list of available courses to be published shortly.
Further to this, education loans will be made more flexible – allowing adults and young people to choose the length and type of course that is right for them allowing them to take more high-quality vocational courses and to support them to retrain for jobs of the future. But if we’re to encourage more people to pursue a skills-based education then it is important that they have access to the best facilities, and therefore the government are investing over £1.5 billion in capital funding so that our colleges are excellent places for people to learn.
Businesses will also be encouraged to support more apprentices with the government paying businesses £1,000 to take on trainees with £111 million to triple the scale of traineeships which consist of work experience placements, training and work preparation for 16-24 year olds. We know that there is more that can be done and central to this work will be making apprenticeship training work better alongside modern and flexible working practices in construction and the creative industries so that more examples are available. 
Further details of the government’s plans will be announced in the months ahead but providing people with the ability to gain the skills they need may be transformational in the years to come.