Friday, 4 September 2015

Improving Opportunities for the Next Generation

I have always thought the best way to promote social mobility is to make sure every child has access to a good education tailored to that child’s individual needs. We have some brilliant schools in Camborne, Redruth & Hayle and the A Level and GCSE results which came out last month show that they are going from strength to strength.

We also have some brilliant extra-curricular projects in the constituency which take place over the summer and are aimed at teaching young people life-skills and helping them to build their confidence. For eleven year olds about to start secondary school, Hayle School participates in CampFirst which runs a two week summer camp, allowing participants to get to know their future classmates before the start of term, while the Get On Track Project, run by the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust deploys retired Olympians to help mentor and inspire young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and uses sport to teach life skills such as team work and problem solving.

We cannot forget however, that the first three years of a child's life are the most formative and have a crucial impact on a child's life chances.  Many primary school head teachers tell me they have noticed a growing trend in the last twenty years of children arriving in reception class with language difficulties and, however much effort those schools put in, those children start at a disadvantage. 

The other week I visited the Gooseberry Bush Nursery at Rosmellin. Run by Gill Smith, the Gooseberry Bush stresses the importance of play based learning in developing basic communication skills so children can build relationships with one another.  The government has been increasing free nursery care for two and three year olds and the Gooseberry Bush have been piloting a new programme of early intervention based on rediscovering the importance of traditional play.  They are getting some really positive early results which proves that, in those first few years, it’s not about forcing academic learning ever younger but instead just about encouraging child's play.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Fairer Funding

I have always argued that we need to make progress to improve the historic unfairness in the way various funding formulae operate in Cornwall.  

In the last Parliament I led the campaign to get every Cornish household a £50 rebate on their water bills and also campaigned to introduce the new Pupil Premium which is paid to schools to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Progress was also made on the NHS formula with greater recognition given to the age of our population.

However, there is further to go and I want to build on the successes so far. This week I met Tony Hogg, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, to discuss some of his ideas to improve the police funding formula.

The current formula is too heavily based on population numbers and density. This favours more urban areas, but fails to address the challenges of policing a large, rural area like Devon and Cornwall. Nor does it address the fact that as a popular destination for holidaymakers, the police have to contend with the annual influx of tourists and the difficulties such a large increase in the population temporarily brings.

The Government has announced that it will be reviewing the way in which funding is allocated and I will be working with Devon and Cornwall Police to make sure the new formula takes into account the unique geography and challenges which our area faces so that we don’t stand to lose out.

In addition to police funding, I also recently met the head of the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group and other local NHS managers and I really want to focus on looking at ways to achieve a better deal in terms of healthcare funding. Again, I think we need to recognise the challenge of running a health service in rural areas. People also need healthcare most at the end of their life and that is why the government was right to increase the weight given to the age of the population.  We have started to put things right, but there is further to go.

Monday, 17 August 2015

Exam Results

It is that time of year when teenagers across the country get their exam results.  It can be nerve racking experience because, for many, the results they achieve at A level can have an important bearing on where they go to university.

Last week saw some exceptional A Level results from our local schools with Camborne Science and International Academy achieving a 100 percent pass rate and Redruth only just behind with a 97 percent pass rate.  

I am really proud of all of our schools and tried to visit our secondary schools before the end of last term.  They have each made tremendous progress in recent years and when you visit our schools you detect a real sense of pride from both students and teaching staff.  We now have some of the best schools in Cornwall here in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.  

Camborne has done impressive work on international exchanges and science, hosting the student science fair in 2013.  A few weeks ago I visited Redruth School which has come forward in leaps and bounds over the last few years and I was really impressed by the work they did to develop confidence in pupils.  Pool Academy also continues to deliver excellent results.  I remember seeing some of their students a couple of years ago running a mentoring scheme to help local children with their reading and Hayle School has also seen its results improve in recent years and has always done good work developing entrepreneurial skills and focusing on languages.

Over the last few years the government has been trying to raise standards by putting a new focus on subjects like maths, sciences and languages and by giving head teachers more freedom.  Every good school has one thing in common: good teaching staff who are well led.  Last week the Prime Minister made clear that he wanted to help more schools become academies.  Being an academy means that head teachers have control of their own budget and the ability to set their own curriculum.  I have never yet met a head teacher who regretted converting to academy status because of the freedom it gives them.  

Friday, 14 August 2015

Cornwall Archive Centre

Last week John Whittingdale, the Secretary of State for Culture, was in Redruth to see work on the new Cornwall Archive project and to confirm the £12 million of Heritage Lottery Funding needed to see the construction completed.

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.

It is this history that makes Redruth the ideal place to host the new Kresen Kernow archive project and that is why I have supported this initiative from the start. The new funding of £12 million secured from the Heritage Lottery Fund is a major boost.

The money will be used to help transform the old derelict Redruth brewery site into a centre for holding the world’s largest collection of maps, photographs and manuscripts relating to Cornwall. In addition, once complete, the centre will host a range of exhibitions and activities allowing audiences to celebrate and share in Cornwall’s history.

As well as safeguarding the iconic brewery, the site will also see the construction of homes and shops all of which will play a key role in kick starting the wider regeneration of Redruth and leading to an estimated 300 new jobs in the town.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

National Citizenship Service

Parliament has now dissolved for the summer recess which gives MPs the opportunity to take a break from the politics of Westminster and spend more time in their constituencies and in my case catch up on some of the good projects in Cornwall.

Last week I visited a group of young people taking part in the National Citizenship Service (NCS). 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.

As NCS is a residential course, it gives participants the opportunity to leave home behind for a couple of weeks and immerse themselves in a fresh environment and make new friends. This can be a great way to develop their confidence and independence as it means those taking part are all in the same boat. It doesn’t matter what school they go to or where their parents live and it’s a great way of breaking down social barriers.

The team I met had previously spent their first week of NCS enjoying water sports at Sibleyback Lake near Liskeard which was then followed by another week on a residential course at Tremough University where they took part in more team building exercises and began to plan their project to help the community. When I caught up with them, they were putting the finishing touches to a children’s play area at the BMX track at Parc Erissey, where they had spent the last two weeks helping to build sand pit slides, a tunnel and a scramble net. All of their hard work looked very impressive and those involved were celebrating the completion of the project with a well-deserved BBQ in the sun.

Speaking to those taking part, it was clear to me just how much they had learnt and benefited from NCS and I think they deserve a big congratulations for taking on the challenge.

Friday, 24 July 2015

PM visits link road

Last week David Cameron came to Camborne to see the new East-West link road which is now set to be completed in October.  It was part of a wider visit to Cornwall where he also agreed a new "Devolution Deal" with powers to join up spending on areas such as health and social care services being passed to Cornwall.

The East-West link road will play a crucial part in unlocking the potential of all the derelict land around the old South Crofty mine.  We have seen Pool transformed over the last four years with new businesses setting up at the Pool Innovation Centre, a makeover for the college and, of course, the completion of Heartlands.  Now it is time for the Tuckingmill end of Camborne to get the investment that it deserves with new homes built at the proposed Tuckingmill Urban Village and new employment space opened up to attract new industries and better paid jobs.

Building the new road has not been plain sailing and its completion has been a long time coming.  We had a real fight on our hands to secure funding for the project in 2011 and there have been quite a few complications during the construction due to many mine shafts and mine workings affecting the site.  There have also been major problems getting an engineering solution to crossing the Red River Valley due to the softness of the ground with an early attempt having to be aborted.

Perhaps most important of all, once the new road opens, the junctions at either end of it will start to make sense.  For several years now the traffic lights at the top of East Hill have not really worked properly because they were designed to predominantly carry traffic across the top from the new road to the A30.  The result is frequent congestion.  At the other end, the disruption around the Tesco roundabout in Camborne has also caused frustration.  Let's hope these problems are resolved when the new road opens.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Cornwall Deal

Plans for a new Cornwall Deal could take a big step forward this week with the Government expected to outline some areas where it plans to give more responsibility and power to Cornwall.

Cornwall has its own unique identity and being a peninsula at the end of the line, I have always said we should have more control over the way we configure key services.  Last month I spoke at the Cornish Constitutional Convention and made the case for Cornwall having more of a say over culture and heritage policy.  I also think that we can do more to ensure our bus routes work effectively by joining up bus services with train timetables and exploring the possibility of franchise models to make sure that rural routes link in with the main trunk routes.

Another area where we could join things up more effectively is in the area of health and social care.  The problems we have had with black emergencies at Treliske have largely been driven by the fact that Cornwall Council have been slow to roll out care packages for people waiting to be discharged from hospital. If we could join up funding streams more effectively by looking at increased joint commissioning of services we could reduce the tendency of different institutions working in the field of health and social care to operate in silos.  

We also need to look at how we can make things work more effectively within the NHS.  As people live longer there will always be growing demands on the NHS Budget.  That is why George Osborne was right to commit in to an increase in NHS spending of £8 billion.  However, we also need to make sure that funds are distributed fairly so Cornwall gets its fair share.

One of the ways you take pressure of A&E departments is through supporting alternatives like the minor injuries unit currently being piloted at Camborne and Redruth Hospital.  We also have a fantastic tradition of hospice care in Cornwall with charities supporting people with end of life care and support.  These hospices mainly run on charitable funds but, without them, there would be a lot more pressure on NHS services.