Thursday, 17 January 2019

Which way now?

As I write this column, Parliament has just rejected the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement from the EU by a huge margin and we are about to face a day of debate in a confidence motion in the government. The one thing we know is that things can always get worse in politics! 
However, out of the current chaos it is still possible that a consensus could emerge. The current impasse has been driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the country remains deeply divided over the decision to leave the EU and parliament reflects that. Secondly, too much emphasis was placed on what was "negotiable" with the EU and not enough on what would gain support back home and as a result, our negotiators made too many concessions that stored up serious problems that were then exposed when tested to a vote. Thirdly, Jeremy Corbyn desperately wants a General Election and that objective has been put above trying to find a settlement that the country could unite behind. 
The default position now is that we leave the EU without an agreement and revert to what is called "WTO rules". The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. We are probably as ready as we could ever be. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. However, it is likely that, even with this planning, there would be turbulence and problems that are hard to predict. Much would depend on whether the EU would behave in a responsible way and try to make things work smoothly or whether they would behave in a reckless way. We don't know exactly how smooth or difficult a no deal scenario would be. 
The ideal answer therefore, is for parliament to reach an agreement on an alternative approach and then force the EU to do something they are not always good at - making a decision quickly. The first thing that needs to happen is for Jeremy Corbyn to have his day trying for a no confidence motion in the government but hopefully get defeated. By the time you read this article you will know the outcome of that no confidence motion. If we have a General Election now, then nothing can be done for six weeks and if there were a new Labour government at the end of it, they would then immediately cancel Brexit and betray all those who voted for change in 2016. However, if Jeremy Corbyn loses that vote of no confidence, then it will focus minds and it is then it is possible that the Labour Party will be willing to engage sensibly in a discussion about what sort of agreement the they would support. 
The second thing we need to do is vanquish those who want to ignore the referendum result and force people to vote again until they learn to do what the political elites demand. There is no point at all having a second referendum if parliament lacks the integrity to honour the result of the first. A decision to ignore the 2016 referendum result would be deeply damaging to our country and must not be allowed. 
However, we then need to reach a settlement that reflects the result of the 2016 referendum and allows parliament and our country to make peace with itself. I have said before that there is now growing momentum behind a so called Norway option that would mean we leave the EU with immediate effect but delay our departure from the EEA agreement. Under this option, we would become an independent country again with our own agriculture and fisheries policy but we would remain in a free trade area with the EU. It was actually Britain that invented the idea of a European Free Trade Association as a rival to the EU back in the 1950s. We built an alliance of seven countries at a time when the EU only had six. With hindsight we made a terrible mistake by abandoning what we had created and surrendering our independence to the EU in 1972. Maybe in the end we will pick up where we left off but there will be more argument before we get to that point.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Supporting our local communities

Now that Parliament has returned from the Christmas recess, much of the focus and attention will shift back to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Parliament will have a huge decision to take about what we do next as a country. There are great divisions over how or, for some people, whether we should carry out the democratic decision to leave the EU. Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. 
Closer to home however, there have been a number of good news stories that demonstrate the work that is being done to support charities and businesses. Recently it was announced that the Government would be providing a funding boost of £5million to support lifesaving charities that work hard all year round to help keep our waterways safe. This funding has come as part of the inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme which has provided £1million for charities every year since 2014.
The two charities in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle that received extra funding were Hayle Surf Life Saving Club and Surf Live Saving Cornwall. The money will help to pay for new boats, safety equipment and other costs to support rescue teams. We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in keeping us safe.
Further Government support has also been provided to the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Trust by the Government in a bid to help deliver improved clinical facilities and backlog maintenance. £9.1million of extra Government funding comes as part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities. It comes on top of the £20.5bn per year extra funding for the NHS over the next five years - the longest and largest funding settlement in the NHS's history. The investment is part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities.
Supporting our local communities also comes in different forms. Recently, I attended an event in Parliament hosted by the charity Guide Dogs to raise awareness of discrimination against guide dog owners. In the UK it is against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances. However, a recent Guide Dogs survey found that three quarters of assistance dog owners reported that they had been refused entry by businesses. It’s important that as we work to make society more inclusive and accessible for all that we continue to support those in our communities, including those who are the most vulnerable.
My office is always open to help assist people with queries or cases that they may have. If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Happy New Year

The New Year has always been regarded as a time for hope and optimism. For some, it is a chance to turn over a new leaf, stop smoking or start exercising. For others it’s a chance to take up a new hobby or reflect on what’s happened in the previous year. 
The uncertainties that have dominated the Brexit negotiations mean that for some, we go in to this particular New Year with a degree of apprehension. Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. I firmly believe however that 2019 will be a defining moment in our country’s history as we leave the EU and re-establish the rule of British law in many policy areas including agriculture and fisheries. 
But closer to home there are many reasons to be optimistic. In the campaign to protect our greenfield sites we have achieved a number of victories protecting these valuable green spaces, particularly at Menehay Fields and Troon. I have always said 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. Planning decisions will always be contentious but by working together with residents and local councillors we can help protect what makes Camborne, Redruth and Hayle such a beautiful place to live. 
The work at Hayle Harbour has also continued to progress and 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. Up next on the list is the other phases of the regeneration and the completion of the mixed development on the rest of South Quay and building the proposed flats and houses on North Quay. 
At Redruth there has also been some great work done as the new Archive Centre is beginning to take shape, and at South Crofty, discussions are continuing with the owners of the mine on their plan to build a new modern mine targeting tin and lithium. This is an exciting time for the mine and local community as we rejuvenate an industry that is close to the hearts of many in Camborne and Redruth. 
Finally, in Portreath, the local Parish Council are working with the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council to progress plans for a flood alleviation scheme. This is an important step forward for the local community as we look to protect homes and businesses in the face of the extreme weather which we continue to experience. 
2018 was a turbulent year in British Politics and that looks set to resume when Parliament returns. In the meantime I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year and a break from the arguments about Brexit! 
If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Christmas

As I write this column, Parliament has just broken up for the Christmas period and the final Christmas Cards have been sent, ready to catch the last post in order to make it before Christmas. 
In an increasingly digital age, where a Facebook post or digital Christmas message has become the norm, it’s refreshing that the tradition of Christmas cards plays a vital role in keeping touch with old friends and family. Throughout life, there are always old friends who we are in danger of losing touch with. Sometimes because they have moved away, changed job or are preoccupied with other priorities. The annual Christmas card is often the final thread that prevents you from losing touch altogether, so time writing cards is time well spent. 
This year, as in previous years, I enlisted the help of local primary schools in the area to design my Christmas card. We certainly have many talented artists in this part of Cornwall! This year’s winning design was by Scarlet Tymms, and her as picked as the winner because of the wonderful design of looking through a window, seeing the festive holly and creating such a wonderful scene. 
At this time of year we should also acknowledge the extra work we create for the Royal Mail with many millions of extra items of post to process in just a few short weeks in December and our postmen go out in the worst weather that a Cornish winter can throw at them in order to make sure that families and friends keep in touch and receive their Christmas cards on time. 
It is also important to acknowledge that this time of year can often be a difficult and sometimes lonely time of year for people. We all get setbacks in life whether financial difficulty, a disability, problems with housing or difficulty getting the right benefits or support from the Council.
To make things worse, one of the frustrating things about modern life is that it sometimes seems hard to get through to anyone to explain the situation.  We all have experience of being held in a queue for a telephone helpline only to be told when we do get through that we are in the wrong place. 
I hold advice surgeries most weeks and also have a dedicated team who are here to help unblock problems.  At any one time we have about 300 live cases where we are trying to assist people.  We can't help in every case, but we always try our best.  Our offices in Westminster and Camborne can offer help and advice, and where necessary, pick up the phone on your behalf to try and get the problems sorted.   
If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ. 
2018 has been a turbulent year in British Politics and it looks set to resume in the New Year. However, now that Christmas is upon us, I would like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas, prosperous New Year and a break from the arguments about Brexit!

Thursday, 13 December 2018

Keeping people and their pets together

Animal rescue centres report that they are inundated with pets that have had to be offered up by their owners because landlords are to ready to put in place conditions in tenancy agreements that forbid pets. 
Last week in Parliament, Cats Protection held a reception to raise awareness of the problem and to launch their campaign to change attitudes. I think it is an important issue. My own pet cat, Gus, was adopted from a Cats Protection rehoming centre and he had to be given up by his previous owner because she was moving home, and the new landlord would not accept pets. 
We are a nation of animal lovers and, for many, their pet dog or cat provides vital companionship. Locally in Cornwall we have some exceptional charities who help keep elderly or vulnerable people united with their pets. The Cinnamon Trust in Hayle runs a nationwide network of volunteers who visit elderly people and take their dogs out for a walk. As well as providing their pets with exercise the volunteers also provide much needed social contact for people ask risk of loneliness and, should the pet’s owner sadly pass away before their pet, the dog has a social bond with their walker and this can help resettle them. 
Many elderly or isolated people gain so much from having the companionship of a pet. It can help combat loneliness which is a growing problem in our society. It is a tragedy when they are separated from them as a result of attitudes that come from some landlords or, more usually, the attitudes of estate agents that are managing properties for landlords and can’t be bothered to accommodate the needs of their tenants. To make matters worse, it is then the animal rescue centres that have to pick up the pieces and there can be emotional stress of the pet. 
In the summer my office was contacted by a constituent whose dog had sadly passed away. It was a relatively young dog, and she was clearly heartbroken by the loss of her companion. Unfortunately, she had been told by her housing association that she would not be able to get another dog. Whilst they had allowed the dog when she moved in, as she already had him, they couldn’t give permission for a new pet. I thought this made no sense at all and asked that they look at the case again. The Housing Association concerned has since reviewed their policy on these matters to do more to keep residents and their pets united. 
There are challenges and problem enough in life without making things difficult when they need not be. Often all that is required in areas such as this is an attitude change so that it becomes the default position to allow pets in rented accommodation rather than the lazy default position not to allow pets. Estate agents who draft standard template tenancies have an important role to play to ensure that they do not cause completely avoidable stress and a burden on animal welfare charities.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Brexit

The next week will be an incredibly difficult but important time for Parliament. We have a huge decision to take about what we do next as a country. There are great divisions over how or, for some people, whether we should carry out the democratic decision to leave the EU. 
Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. I have always said that we needed to read the referendum result as we designed our future partnership. It was a clear vote to leave but 48% voted to remain. The country voted for a cautious and slightly apprehensive Brexit. 
The Prime Minister has had a difficult task trying to reconcile a divided parliament. There are elements of the withdrawal agreement that reflect what people voted for. In the so called "backstop" arrangement we would have tariff free access to the EU, would have ended free movement and we would not have to pay any contributions. However, there are undoubtedly elements that are uncomfortable too. For many, the absence of a unilateral exit clause means that there are risks we get stuck in a rut and many issues in the negotiations have been postponed to a future date. 
There are multiple amendments that have been tabled to the motion and things could happen quite quickly. There is a group of people who think we should ignore the last referendum result and hold another referendum until people learn to do as they are told. Then, they intend to go back on their hands and knees and beg the European Commission to let them back in. I think that is a ridiculous idea. 
A separate group think that we should face down the EU, hit the accelerator and head for the exit without any agreement in place. I have some sympathy for that but there would be turbulence at borders which is difficult to predict. More importantly, governments can only really do what they can muster consent for in parliament and many MPs who agree we should respect the decision to leave, would balk at the idea of coming out with no agreement at all. 
In recent weeks, there has been growing momentum behind a possible alternative. If the Prime Minister's deal fails to command a majority, we could opt for a model similar to Norway and Iceland. Under this option we would leave the EU but remain a signatory to the EEA or re-join the looser EFTA group. We would have full control of our farming and our fisheries, free trade with Europe, and our own trade policy with the rest of the world. We would have to align some of our laws with the EU, but we would be an independent country again. 
It was actually Britain that created EFTA in the late 1950's as a rival idea to the EU. Initially we had an alliance of seven countries, including Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. The EU only had six members. We made a terrible mistake in 1972 by abandoning what we had created and surrendering our independence to the EU. It was a foreign policy blunder caused by the collapse of national confidence in the aftermath of the empire. Maybe, in the end, we will put right that historic error and pick up where we left off. 

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Cornwall College

It was recently announced that Raoul Humphreys, CEO and Principal of Cornwall College would be stepping down from his role. I have always had great respect for Raoul. He has been with the college for many years and always had a forward-thinking outlook. 
The college had a set back and some financial difficulties a couple of years ago after expansion and competition from Truro College. However, Raoul stepped in to take over the top job to shore things up. He had to take some difficult decisions, shedding a lot of staff and dropping courses. What is striking is that despite these tough decisions, he was highly regarded among staff. The way events unfolded, and the intervention of Whitehall officials has been unfair, but the important thing now is to help support the college getting back on its feet and facing the future. 
Cornwall 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. I was a student at Cornwall College where I learnt how to weld and went on to study for a BTEC in Business and then farm management. It was great to return there again two weeks ago on a Saturday to attend one of their careers sessions. 
The College is a vital local asset delivering work-based learning in our area. There are around 800 apprentices currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. 
Proposals for a new fibre park in Pool to bring together software companies and training from Cornwall College to create opportunities for local school leavers could take things to the next level. We have the chance to really put Cornwall on the map in this sector. There is a very successful cluster of software companies employing around 500 people in the Pool area. Some are based at the Pool Innovation Centre and some at Barncoose Gateway. Headforwards Software have recently taken some space at Cornwall College which is potentially the first step along the road to developing the fibre park idea. 
The concept behind the fibre park idea is a simple but really effective one. Up and coming enterprises who have outgrown the innovation centre can move to larger premises and they can also establish an academy in computer software co-located on the same site so that you can have a partnership between, say, Cornwall College and local businesses. Young people taking computer courses at Cornwall College will be able to develop their talents within real working environments rather than in a classroom detached from front line innovation. It will take a lot of work to move the idea from being an interesting concept to a real venture, but I think we should give it a shot. 
Despite the recent difficulties and sadness over the departure of Raoul, the staff from Cornwall College who I met two weeks ago remained totally passionate and committed to the work they do to prepare the next generation for the world of work.