Thursday, 18 September 2014

GOOSEBERRY BUSH NURSERY

Last week I attended the formal opening of a new extension at the Gooseberry Bush Nursery at Rosemellin. It has enabled them to expand their provision for two year old toddlers, open a cafe for young parents to meet and support one another, create more room for their breakfast club for children at both the nursery and Rosemellin School as well as provide additional space for the Children's Centre. They also had some new gardens and outdoor adventure play space.

I first met Gill Smith, the founder of the nursery, about three years ago and became persuaded of the overwhelming importance of early years support along the lines provided by Gooseberry Bush and others like it. We know that the first three years of a child's life are the most formative. Unless they learn to communicate, to share, to explore and to socialise with other children then they will often start school behind their peers and struggle to catch up for their rest of their childhood.

We have some amazing primary and secondary schools in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle areas but there has been a worrying trend. Virtually all head teachers in primary schools tell me that over the last twenty years or so they have seen a persistent rise in the number of children in need of speech and language therapy or other forms of intervention when they start in reception class.

The reasons for this growing problem are no doubt varied, but those like Gill Smith who understand these things point to problems caused by modern technology as being at least one of the contributing factors because it has changed the way some parents engage with their babies. In the past, prams would face back towards the mother so that a toddler had visual contact with their parents and there could be eye contact and plenty of verbal engagement. Now, it is most common for prams to face forwards so there is less such contact and parents are often on their mobile phones. These days, when a baby smiles for the first time, rather than see that engagement reciprocated, he or she is just as likely to see a camera phone put in front of them so parents can capture the moment.

The government has recently extended free childcare for low income families with two year old children in recognition of the fact the younger we offer support, the greater the impact. We also need to do more to help parents before children reach two and consider extending the support for toddlers beyond fifteen hours per week. Things like breakfast clubs also have a role to play by making sure children are eating well and teaching them to sit around a table and socialise and, yes, hold a knife and fork properly

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.

Scottish Independence

I think it would be an absolute tragedy if Scotland were to leave the UK and break up our country but the referendum which will decide the future of our nation is now looking closer than ever with just a week to go. I have been to Scotland several times in recent months in my role as farming and fisheries minister to make the case that we are stronger together.

The United Kingdom is one of the most successful political and economic unions in history. We have so much rich diversity on our islands but a shared purpose which is what makes Britain great. Here in Cornwall, many of us would probably describe ourselves as Cornish before English but first and foremost, we regard ourselves as British.

It is not the first time Scotland has taken us all to the brink. In 1979, there was a referendum that was close. In 1997, Tony Blair thought that by having a new parliament in Scotland with new powers, there could be a new settlement that would put the debate to rest. However, as it turns out, Alex Salmond and the SNP used the new settlement as a means to an end and to foster new grievances and try to drive a wedge through society and divide our community of nations. But once the separatists won 70 percent of seats in the last Scottish election, there was little choice but to settle the argument through yet another referendum.

There is now one week to go to win that argument that we are better together. For those who want to divorce Scotland from the rest of the UK, there are so many questions they have not answered. What currency will they have? One thing we have learned from the euro fiasco is that you cannot have a single currency without a single government and a single tax system. Scotland does well financially by being part of the UK and it would have to slash public spending if it had to pay its own way. Finally, Scottish industry benefits from being part of the UK with a comprehensive network of international embassies to support exporters. For instance, Scotch whisky is one of the country's greatest export success stories but it is heavily dependent on all the help is receives in hundreds of countries across the world from British embassies and consular staff.

If we can get a no vote and keep the country together, it will be important to review the way the union works. It is not just about so called "devo-max" where new powers are given to the Scottish parliament. It would be an opportunity to think about governance of the whole United Kingdom so that we can get the balance right between having a national parliament that has the power to act decisively where required but with other powers and responsibilities moved locally. But if Scotland votes for outright divorce, it would be an incredibly sad moment in our island history.

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, 4 September 2014

Lanyon Farm

The recent planning approval on appeal for a massive 70 acre solar farm at Gwinear near Hayle has once again highlighted the need to strengthen the position of local communities against inappropriate development.

I am a realist and understand that there are no easy answers or magic bullets when it comes to our future energy supply. In reality, we are probably going to require a mixture of different sources. Onshore wind is the most mature of all renewable energy technologies and is certainly far cheaper than offshore wind, but developments must be done with local communities, not to them. When it comes to solar panels, I have always supported their use on the roofs of buildings. Last year I visited a project in Pool where a whole estate have installed solar panels on their roofs and the residents are benefiting from free energy and some income from their investment.

However, I think we are now seeing far too many field scale solar farms being built. Not only are they often a serious blight on the countryside but they also take important agricultural land out of production. In the next few decades food security is going to become an increasingly important issue with a growing world population and demand for food growing. That is why we should protect the best agricultural land. The parish of Gwinear has some of the best land in Cornwall and the farm where the giant solar farm development is planned is rated as grade 3a - which means it is some of the best arable land in the county.

In the context of Cornwall, a third concern with field scale solar farms is that they undermine the potential for other more promising renewable sources of energy like wave power. Wave Hub at Hayle is really taking shape with many developers now showing interest. However, one of the main reasons they are choosing Cornwall over Scotland is that we currently have surplus capacity on our electricity grid which means they do not have to wait and hope for hugely expensive new investment in the grid infrastructure to come along. However, every time a solar farm is built, we not only sacrifice land but we remove surplus capacity from the grid.

Last year the government set out new guidance which sought to increase the weighting given to the loss of agricultural land and also to strengthen the consideration given to heritage assets. To be fair to Cornwall Council, they have abided by the new practice guidance and have used it as a basis to refuse permission in a number of cases. However, some developers have sought to get around the new rules by advancing sham arguments that suggest they might still be able to farm the land. Any farmer knows that such suggestions are pie in the sky. Crops need sunlight to grow and if fields are smothered in solar panels, there is no light left for crop production.

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, 21 August 2014

UNEMPLOYMENT DOWN

UNEMPLOYMENT DOWN

One of my priorities since being elected has been to bring new industry to Camborne, Redruth and Hayle and to get unemployment down. Last week I met local staff at the Job Centre in Redruth for one of my regular meetings to discuss progress.

The news is really encouraging. Over the last twelve months the job market has been transformed with strong growth now returning. The fall in unemployment has accelerated and this year has seen the biggest drop in unemployment since records began. The number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in Camborne and Redruth, once running into thousands, is now down to the hundreds and has fallen by a third since the same time last year. Nationally, there are now 1.8 million more people in work than there were when Labour left office.

The most encouraging thing is that youth unemployment has fallen dramatically. One of the most depressing things about the first decade of this century is that, even though there was growth in the economy, young people struggled to get work and, all too often, we're left languishing on benefits. Youth unemployment was actually going up under the last Labour government even when unemployment in the wider economy was going down. Work is learnt at a young age and a major priority for this government was to create opportunities for young people.

When the various work experience schemes were introduced a couple of years ago to tackle youth unemployment, there were some who denounced them but they have been a huge success. In hundreds of cases, when young people have been given the chance to have a few weeks work experience, they have learnt new skills. They have also often been so impressive that employers have gone out of their way to find paid positions for them. In addition to the work experience schemes, the government has also had grant schemes in place to encourage employers to offer apprenticeships and other paid work to young people.

The focus now is on wage progression. Now that we have managed to get so many people back to work, often for the first time in their lives, we want to see them progress to higher pay initially and ultimately move on to develop a pathway to a career.

Worklessness is at the root of poverty which is why it had to be tackled. It is not just about the money because those who work have to live to a tight budget too. It is about self-respect, a sense of purpose and being part of a team. For all these reasons, work can be the cure to many other social problems and it is why shaking up the benefits system so that work always pays was the right thing to do.


Thursday, 14 August 2014

WAVE POWER

Last week I had two visits to discuss progress for the wave energy industry here in West Cornwall. I made reference to the potential for wave energy in my first ever Parliamentary Question and progress, although sometimes slow, is definitely being made.

In Camborne, Redruth and Hayle we have a great industrial heritage and even after the final mines closed, we kept the Camborne School of Mines. Now there are also a number of world class engineering firms here who have carved out a niche in the oil and gas exploration industry with their drilling technological knowhow.

Last week I visited Severn Sub Sea at Cardrew Industrial Estate in Redruth. The firm took over Calidus Engineering last year and has been continuing their world leading work developing a number of new technologies for the oil and gas industry with specialist instruments and drilling equipment. It is just one of a cohort of new businesses alongside Large Diameter Drilling who are currently building a new site at Tolvaddon and Fugro Seacore based near Falmouth.

Just as some of our world class engineers diversified away from mining towards oil and gas exploration, many are now looking at the potential to expand into the market for wave energy. This part of Cornwall has a wave resource because the powerful Atlantic swell contains huge amounts of energy that is not so powerful that it cannot be harnessed. Hayle is home to Wave Hub, the first commercial test facility for wave power in the world and four separate developers have now signed agreements to take a berth on the device. The technologies they are using are still quite varied but in the last twelve months Cornwall has become far more interesting to developers.

Unlike Scotland, we have spare capacity in our grid infrastructure which means we could develop commercial wave energy without having to spend billions. Last year the government announced a new "strike price" for wave energy which is attractive and has spurred renewed interest in its prospects. Hayle is also the central asset in a new South West Marine Energy Park, the first Marine Energy Park designated by the government. In addition we have the back up of leading academic centres such as Exeter University based at Tremough near Falmouth and also Plymouth University and their wave tank testing facilities.

All of this adds up to real potential for Cornwall. Last week I also visited the Offshore Renewables Development Project which was put in place by the Cornwall Development Company to help sustain momentum and remove any remaining barriers such as planning and licensing duplication. One of the lesser known asks in Cornwall's recently published "growth deal" was for more leeway when it came to licensing and consenting on the use of the seabed so that we can really maximise our advantages.

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, 12 August 2014

SUMMER IN THE CONSTITUENCY

With parliament now on summer recess, it is a great opportunity to spend August meeting people around the constituency and I have a packed and varied diary over the coming weeks. In the last week I have opened the newly refurbished club house at Camborne Rugby Club where they now have a new roof and refurbished changing rooms thanks to work by volunteers and some hard work to get successful grant applications approved.

I also attended the re-opening of the Angarrack Inn which had been closed for six months but has been bought from St Austell Brewery and reopened by a local group. Other events included the opening of a new memorial garden at Tregenna Care Home in Camborne and the new business premises at Pool for Charlie's Angels which is a successful and growing cleaning company set up by Charlotte Parker four years ago with some help from the Prince's Trust. Finally and most important of all, last Monday evening, along with dozens of others, I attended a service at Stithians to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. We lit candles for each of the local men who lost their lives in that appalling conflict.

I have also followed the debate, covered on the front page of the West Briton last week, about two new Facebook campaigns regarding Camborne. I hate it when people talk down our towns and it’s clear others do too. What's interesting is that the initial Facebook campaign was so negative about our town that there was a backlash from the community and those who were genuinely interested in improving our town rather than just denigrating it broke away and set up a rival Facebook page. Things may not be perfect in Camborne but no town ever is perfect. What I do know is that Camborne stands head and shoulders above many other towns in the country and it's time we started to get our confidence back and recognise the good work going on.

So let's recognise what local businesses are doing to improve the town centre. Let's welcome the major construction and regeneration work underway and the new jobs that will bring. We should be proud of the work being done by local schools like Camborne Science and International Academy and the pupils they are turning out. Finally, let's be proud of the fact that the brass band chosen to take a lead role in proceedings at the WW1 commemorative service at the Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium is none other than our very own Camborne Youth Band.

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, 4 August 2014

The Cornish Sardine

The Cornish sardine industry has a long history and is one of the recent success stories of the Cornish fishing fleet. Pilchards, as they were always known in Cornwall, were a staple part of the diet and a large industry grew up around them in the 19th century. The "huers" used to be scouts who looked out for the best schools of fish before setting out to sea and casting nets.

Like many other fish species, the pilchard was first over fished and then later fell out of fashion leading a decline in the industry. However, in the last decade or so a number of enterprising fishermen have revived the industry and the pilchard, now rebranded the "Cornish sardine", has been going from strength to strength.

At the end of last year we secured an important reform to the discredited Common Fisheries Policy. There is now a legally binding commitment to fish sustainably and we will be phasing in a ban on the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly good fish dead back into the sea from next year.

In order to make this new ban on discards work will be much more flexibility in the way quotas operate. Fishermen will be able to count surplus stocks on one fish species as another where they have spare quota. There will also be exemptions for fish that usually survive if returned to the water.

There had been concerns about the possible impact of the discard ban on our sardine industry. Cornish sardines are not restricted by quotas but while targeting schools of sardines, fishermen will sometimes unintentionally land other species such as herring and mackerel which are subject to quotas.

There has been a practice of occasionally releasing nets at sea before the school is drawn out of the water when it is clear that they are mainly juvenile fish. Some say that these juvenile sardines have high survivability rates and we need more time to look into these issues. I was keen to ensure that common sense prevailed on this issue and we managed to get agreement from the European Commission that the sardine industry can continue as now giving us several years more time to assess the issue of by catch species and to identify a solution.

If we want a future for our fishing industry then we must start by fishing sustainably and, for once, we have managed to get a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy that has a real chance of delivering a result.