Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Securing a brighter, better, greener future

Last week I introduced a new Agriculture Bill in parliament which will be debated later this autumn. Leaving the EU means that we have the chance to design the first independent agriculture policy for almost half a century. The last time we introduced such a wide-ranging Bill was in 1947. 
The current CAP accounts for almost 40 percent of the EU budget, and its influence is all pervasive. Some 80 percent of legislation affecting DEFRA comes directly from the EU and it is stifling. EU rules frequently make trying to do the simplest of things complicated and often impossible. The UK has argued for change over many years but the system has remained quite dysfunctional. Trying to design a one size fits all policy for twenty-eight different countries all with very different landscapes and agricultural structures has never made much sense. 
For far too long, our farmers have been held back by the stifling rules and often perverse incentives of the CAP. The lion’s share of money has been allocated based on the size of individual land holdings, not the contribution farmers make to society. These payments are skewed towards the largest landowners and are not linked to any specific public benefits. The top 10% of recipients currently receive almost 50% of total payments, while the bottom 20% receive just 2%. 
The new Agriculture Bill which I introduced last week marks a decisive shift in policy. We can now begin to reward farmers properly at last for the work they do to enhance the environment around us. We can now better appreciate the value farmers bring as food producers. It will help grow more high-quality food in a more sustainable way – and it will ensure public money is spent more efficiently and effectively. 
At the centre of the Government’s proposal is a new system that pays public money for public goods – those goods from which we all benefit but the market alone does not provide. The Bill will allow us to devote public money to enriching wildlife habitats, preventing flooding, improving the quality of air, soil and peat, raising standards of animal welfare and planting trees to help manage and mitigate the effects of climate change. 
A new Environmental Land Management system will be developed over the next few months and years and will be rolled out from 2021. The government will work together with farmers to design, develop and trial the new approach. Under the new system, farmers and land managers who provide the greatest environmental benefits will secure the largest rewards. 
We are also introducing new powers to improve fairness and transparency in the supply chain so that farmers can get a fairer share of the value of the food they produce. If farmers received a fairer share of the price their food sells for they wouldn't need subsidy. Finally, we are making provision to award Grant and investment to farms to help them reduce costs and improve their profitability. 
Despite all the arguments about Brexit, working on future policy with the freedom to innovate and think things through from first principles has been incredibly liberating for a department like Defra which had had to shoulder so much of the burden of EU membership over decades.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Cornwall’s Pasty and Mining Heritage

Last weekend I attended the annual Pasty Festival in Redruth, where we celebrated the international home of the Cornish Pasty. Luckily the weather remained warm and sunny and it was great to see a large number of people at the event. 
The Cornish pasty is recognised across the world. When Cornish miners fanned out across the world, they took the pasty with them. I remember a former colleague from Australia telling me about the Cornish festivals that used to take place in the town where he grew up. We have also developed great links with Real Del Monte in Mexico. I have met representatives of the town on several occasions, including local pasty makers. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time. 
Today the Cornish heritage is evident in some of their architecture and in their love of pasties (or pastes). Last Saturday, like many others, joined in the festivities and made a pasty of my own. Apparently, my attempt was not bad for a beginner and my pasty actually looked like a pasty you would buy from the shop! 
When I first became an MP, the Government announced that it would put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Along with my fellow Cornish MPs, I battled to ensure this didn’t happen. Thankfully, common sense prevailed. It was partly this debacle that led to the idea of a pasty festival in Redruth. 
Last week I also visited Moseley Museum at Tumblydown Farm in redruth. They have a really good museum at the Farm that showcases Cornwall’s mining heritage and has a variety of attractions for both children and grownups alike. From model train layouts, to exhibits about the mining experience, outdoor train rides and even a tea room, there is plenty for all the family to do. 
Cornwall has a unique culture and an industrial heritage to be proud of, with Redruth playing a particularly important role as one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution and as the centre of the Cornish diaspora across the world. In its prime, Redruth was at the heart of the tin mining industry and there were many feats of engineering developed in Cornwall at that time. 
After the decline in the fortunes of tin mining in the late nineteenth century, there was a huge exodus to the new world with Cornish tin miners founding the industry in Australia, California, South Africa, South America and Mexico. As a result, today there are some six to eight million people making up a worldwide Cornish diaspora and the vast majority of them can trace their family roots back to Redruth. 
Across Cornwall we are lucky to have a number of reminders that point us back towards our heritage. From our mining heritage commemorated at the new Redruth Town Archives to our pasties and international connections. In such a fast moving world it is often refreshing to be able to pause for a moment and remember all that has gone before us.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

This week

I very rarely use this column to comment on another political party. Generally, I prefer to focus on topical issues whether they be local or national. In addition, there is no doubt that every political party has its share of problems from time to time, I don't pretend otherwise so I tend not to point the finger. 
However, the resignation this week of the respected Labour MP Frank Field is a sad moment for our politics and a poor reflection on current events in the Labour Party. I have known Frank Field for almost twenty years. He was briefly a Minister under Tony Blair but was too independent minded so he got moved out. In the time since, he has carved out a position as a highly respected and, yes, independent minded, MP. While he has always been a passionate Labour politician, he was also always willing to work with MPs from other parties to try to deliver on issues. I first worked with him when he was one of a group of fifty Labour MPs who refused to toe the party line on joining the euro and he campaigned to keep the pound. Years later, he campaigned alongside many of us to leave the EU too. He has also been a passionate campaigner on issues such as poverty and has led some respected work on policies to help food banks. He has met representatives from the local food bank here in Camborne. 
Frank Field cited a culture of "nastiness, bullying and intimidation" that had taken hold in the Labour Party in recent times. He is not the first to raise the alarm at these tribal and aggressive tactics. Earlier this summer, in Cornwall, two leading Labour members, Anna Gillett and Penny West resigned from the party after saying that some activists in the local party had been using bullying tactics. In March, Tim Dwelly, the former Leader of the Labour Party in Cornwall also quit the party over bullying. The same story is being played out across the country. Lifetime Labour supporters and activists who have given years to helping in elections have been forced out and made to feel unwelcome as a new culture of factionalism, intolerance and aggression has taken hold. 
We had a glimpse of this in the 2017 General Election. The local hustings that took place were often hijacked by orchestrated heckling and shouting. Often local residents were made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable at such events and left early. The Labour Party has had to continue wrestling with these factions ever since. 
The tone of the debate in the 2017 election has caused a parliamentary committee to recommend new laws to try to stop bullying and intimidation of candidates. We live in a difficult time when politics is very polarised and divided and when we are trying to unite the country behind the decision to leave the EU, while putting in place a new partnership based on friendship and cooperation. I have always had great respect for the volunteers of all political parties who go out to knock on doors and deliver leaflets during elections to try to advance the cause they believe in. Our democracy could not function without them. However, whatever our political views, whatever party we vote for at elections and whether we voted to leave or voted to remain, we must always cherish free speech and treat one another with respect, even as we disagree and engage in vigorous debate. That applies within parties as well as the debate that takes place between parties. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Regeneration

When I was first elected I always made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. This summer I have been working to maintain momentum on some of the key projects I helped get off the ground. 
Firstly, on Hayle Harbour, I did a lot of work early on to help overcome some problems with English Heritage and to try to get the previous owner ING to work in closer partnership with the local community. Now that all the infrastructure has been put in place with a new bridge to North Quay and with the harbour walls repaired and the new ASDA built and trading successfully, we need to progress the other phases of the regeneration, completing the mixed development on the rest of South Quay and building the proposed flats and houses on North Quay. Progress has been complicated by numerous changes of ownership and a slowdown in house building but plans are now progressing for North Quay. Earlier this summer I met the current owners to discuss their plans and to encourage them to move forward now that all the other work has been completed. 
Secondly, the Kresen Kernow Cornwall archive is now really taking shape on the site of the old brewery in Redruth. I pressed hard to get Redruth designated as the venue for the archive project and also to help broker the agreement between the owner of site and Cornwall Council. We have also managed to secure substantial lottery funding. However, we now need to ensure that we get the design of the proposed development on the remainder of the site right. There have been some concerns expressed by councillors about the nature of the development currently proposed so there is more to be done to try to get a final outcome that everyone will be comfortable with. 
At Camborne, I needed to do a lot of work a few years ago to secure the funding needed to build out the east-west link road which has opened up the potential for new development around the old South Crofty mine site and the rest of the derelict land around Tuckingmill. There have been delays in bringing forward the development potential of this huge site because of difficulty in agreeing a joint plan between Cornwall Council, the Homes and Communities Agency and the private company that owns the majority of the site. I had to get involved last year to try to encourage the HCA to work more constructively with the other landowners on the site to try to keep things moving and I think progress has now been made and various plans are starting to come forward for approval. 
Finally, it's not just the regeneration of buildings and the urban environment that we need. We also need enterprise and industry that will create jobs. I am continuing to work with the new owners of South Crofty on their plans to build a new, modern mine targeting tin and lithium and I am also continuing to work on securing support to build a new Fibre Park that can be home to the growing computer software industry we have here in Camborne and Redruth.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

St Michael’s Hospital

This week over the skies of West Cornwall, a new baby was born en-route to Treliske hospital after his mother went into labour while on the Isles of Scilly. There was no midwife on the islands so midwife Linda Benson was picked up and travelled with the coastguard to run a special mission. 
The NHS is a great British institution which all of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of. Locally across Cornwall we are fortunate to have a number of excellent hospitals delivering high quality care to those who need it most. From St Michael's Hospital, which is already a national leader in breast surgery, to Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics, residents have access to some of the best care possible. 
Periodically there are scare stories about the future of St Michael's which is unsettling for staff and unfair. The truth is very different. St Michael’s hospital is helping more people than ever. According to the Friends of St Michael’s, the hospital already delivers over 95 percent of all breast cancer operations in Cornwall, about 1200 operations a year which is an extraordinary feat. A few years ago, I met some of the team who lead on this work and they are exceptionally talented, and renowned nationally for the quality of their care and expertise. 
The Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust has also recently announced additional funding at St Michaels to expand the work that it does on orthopaedic care and increase the number of people cared for at hospital in Hayle. For a number of years, it has been clear that there is capacity to do more at St Michael's and there were concerns two years ago that too much orthopaedic work was being centralised at Trelsike which is already under pressure and stretched to capacity. This change of approach with more done in Hayle should help tackle patient delay for operations, reduce cancellations and shorten the average length of stay as well as releasing space at Treliske. 
The improvements will also see the Trust increase the percentage of planned orthopaedic procedures at St Michael’s Hospital from the existing 69% to over 90% - more than 500 cases more per year by 2019. Treliske has had some difficult times in recent years but St Michael’s Hospital has been rated ‘Outstanding’ for caring by the Care Quality Commission and this investment by the Trust will help to build on this reputation and ensure all patients get excellent care. 
The story of investment across the local level is also being matched by that on the national level. Recently the Government 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. 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 that. The work done at St Michael's continues to be one of the positive stories about our local NHS.

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.