Thursday, 2 July 2020

Climate Change

Last week the Climate Change Committee published its report into the progress that the UK is making in reducing carbon emissions and contributing to tackling climate change. As the Secretary of State in Defra I attended their virtual meeting to participate in the discussion about progress to date. Earlier this week, the Council for Sustainable Business also met. This is a new organisation that brings together some of Britain’s largest companies and which coordinates action by individual businesses to play their part for the environment.
Climate change and environmental concerns more widely have risen up the agenda in recent years. Fifteen years ago, David Cameron made it a central part of his agenda. When the Conservatives came to power we brought our environmental agenda with us. As the Committee of Climate Change report acknowledged, a great deal has been achieved. The UK has made significant progress over the last decade and is the best performing G20 country. We have reduced carbon emissions by about forty percent so far and we have ambitious policies that will achieve more in the years ahead. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act which sets targets for emission reduction. We have met the first two carbon budget targets and we are on course to meet the third in a couple of years time. However, everyone recognises that there is more to do to achieve our targets later this decade.
Over the last ten years, the huge strides we have made have been achieved principally through the huge growth of renewable energy. Major technological breakthroughs in offshore wind generation have been a game changer. Here in Cornwall, work is taking place to deploy the next generation of offshore wind in deeper water with floating offshore wind likely to be piloted at Wave Hub.
However, in the years ahead other changes will be made by the government to ensure we remain the global leader in carbon emissions reduction. The technology around electric vehicles is advancing very quickly which means we are on course to phase out the use of petrol and diesel cars. We also have huge ambitions to dramatically increase tree planting and to restore some of our peatland areas to their natural state. Helping nature recover is going to be an incredibly important part of future phases to address climate change.
Next year, the UK will host COP 26, which is the next global meeting of nations to discuss climate change. One of our key objectives from this conference will be to secure greater recognition and more commitments from every country towards nature based solutions to contribute to tackling climate change. I will be working with colleagues in government as we develop this ambitious agenda for the future.

Thursday, 25 June 2020

Cornwall is re-opening for business

Over the last twenty years Cornwall has developed a really powerful and unrivalled brand for tourism. The essential ingredients are our beautiful coast and striking landscapes, a warm welcome and our cultural distinctiveness and a fantastic reputation for great food. It has become a vitally important industry for our communities and the drastic measures that have had to be taken to control the Coronavirus have had a terrible impact.
Hospitality businesses always see the Easter break as a turnaround point when they emerge from the winter and start to turn the corner and get positive cash flow again. This Easter, we entered lockdown and they have lost half the season. The government opened some unprecedented support schemes, suspending business rates, issuing grants to small businesses and covering payroll costs for furloughed staff to prevent unnecessary redundancies. However, these could only ever offer temporary respite. Now that we have the virus under control, we need to take further steps to getting back to life closer to normal albeit with vitally important steps to prevent the spread of the virus and keep people safe.
The last few weeks have already brought a reduction in the restrictions with public gardens, parks and zoos tentatively reopening to the public with the evidence detailing that the risk of transmission outdoors is very low. This gradual easing of restrictions has so far been done while the infection rate of the virus has been held stable so far.
Earlier this week the Prime Minister announced the next stage. From Saturday 4th July, pubs, restaurants and hairdressers will be able to reopen, providing they adhere to COVID Secure guidelines. From the same date, he has set out that two households will be able to meet up in any setting with social distancing measures, and that people can now enjoy staycations in England and Cornwall with the reopening of accommodation sites such as campsites and B&Bs that make up many of the unique tourism businesses across Cornwall.
In order to begin restoring the arts and cultural sector, some leisure facilities and tourist attractions may also reopen, if they can do so safely – this includes outdoor gyms and playgrounds, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks and arcades, as well as libraries, social clubs, places of worship and community centres.
Of course, in the weeks ahead we all have a role to play to ensure that the virus does not re-emerge stronger and effecting more people. The Government’s approach will remain cautious as we seek to control the rate of infection but we are continuing to take steps that can help get people back closer to life as normal. A crucial part to controlling the virus in future will be to closely monitor local outbreaks through testing and tracing the virus and to have very targeted local approaches to asking people to self isolate if they have symptoms or have been exposed to someone else who has.
I understand that there will be a degree of apprehension among some about whether Cornwall in particular would become exposed through an influx of visitors. However, it may take some time to finally see the virus disappear altogether and for the the time being, we will all need to learn to live our lives alongside it and that includes finding ways to enable people to safely visit beautiful Cornwall and spend their money here so that our many fabulous restaurants, camp sites and hotels are given a future.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Think Local, Shop Local

Earlier this week, all non-essential retail shops were allowed to re-open and once more commence trading. For many businesses, this was the first time in months that they could open to the public. Businesses up and down the country have been preparing for this moment and precautions have been put in place with extensive guidance from the Government and Public Health England.
Many of these non-essential retail shops are integral to the fabric of our local communities, especially across Cornwall where there is a strong local community. As we emerge from the shadow of COVID-19, I and my Conservative colleagues across Cornwall launched the Think Local, Shop Local campaign to encourage people to shop locally and help local shops get back on their feet. From our local pasty shops, to fashion and hardware, our highstreets are full of opportunities and bargains.

An update on the Brexit negotiations
Whilst COVID-19 has dominated much of the political and media discourse in recent months, the Government has been actively going about its negotiations with the EU on a future free trade agreement. After years of wrangling we finally left the EU at the end of January and the Transition Period will expire at the end of December. Last week, Michael Gove led a meeting between UK and EU officials where he formally confirmed that there would be no extension to the transition period and that on January 1, 2021, the UK will take back control and regain our political & economic independence.
There have been a couple of sticking points in the discussion about a future trade agreement. Firstly, the EU are making unrealistic asks regarding the future of fishing access which is of great importance to the west country. The second sticking point is that the EU are requesting that we continue to follow their laws in some areas. Obviously neither of these requests are reasonable nor acceptable. We have left the EU so that we can control our own laws again and it is what every other independent country does. Likewise, on fisheries, we are just asking for what every other country has which is to be an independent coastal state like Norway and to control access to our waters and reach sensible annual agreements with our neighbours on the management of shared stocks.
There is now going to be an intensive approach to try to secure a breakthrough in the discussions over the next few weeks but if that does not occur then we will still have the agreement that was signed late last year and which provides a basis on which to proceed after the end of the transition period.

Thursday, 11 June 2020

A light at the end of the Covid tunnel?

Earlier this week, the Secretary of State for Health announced in the Government’s Daily briefing the country’s lowest recorded rate of deaths from COVID-19. Every life that has been lost to COVID-19 is one too many, and many of us will know of someone who has been affected by the virus. Inevitably there will be lessons learnt from how the state has reacted to the virus, but it is reassuring to hear that after all the sacrifices that many people have made, that there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Of course, in the weeks ahead we all have a role to play to ensure that the virus does not re-emerge stronger and effecting more people. The Government’s approach will remain cautious as we seek to control the rate of infection but we are continuing to take steps that can help get people back closer to life as normal. A couple of weeks ago public gardens and parks were told that they could start to tentatively re-open. The evidence is that the risk of transmission outdoors is very low. This week a further step has been taken to allow the partial opening of zoos in outdoor areas provided numbers are controlled. Caution has been needed because a spike in the rate of infection will see the measures once more tightened and a need for a lockdown to be re-imposed. The Government’s guidance on the plan for the months ahead can be found on the www.gov.uk website.
However with more shops and non-essential businesses re-opening in the weeks to come, it is important that we all do as much as we can to support our local Cornish businesses. Throughout the lockdown, there were stories of people increasingly shopping locally, supporting local businesses. In recent years we have seen a number of movements to support small businesses such as Small Business Saturday, and as we emerge from this lockdown, I would encourage as many people as possible to support our local stores. From our local bakeries serving fantastic pasties, to fruit and veg shops, our great Cornish economy can provide everything we need, right on our doorsteps. If we all buy something locally when retail reopens, we will all be able to make a difference to these businesses.
During these difficult times we have all looked out for each other and pulled together to support one another. Our unique Cornish spirit has shone through, however in the weeks and months ahead we all need to continue to do as much as we can and support these businesses that make up the fabric of our communities.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

A new vision for Camborne

This week, plans to revitalise Camborne stepped up a notch as the Towns Fund Board appointed a local project manager to help craft the vision for the improvements to our towns. With a local project manager in place, work will now continue to help revitalise our town centre with business and leisure opportunities to be enjoyed for current and future generations.
The towns fund was initially launched back in November 2019 by the Housing Secretary focusing on areas with proud industrial and economic growth but which had been less fortunate in years gone by. However, with the government firmly committed to levelling up our towns and cities and unleashing the country’s potential this funding was most welcome.
Our local towns were once at the heart of the industrial revolution and our expertise in mining engineering was second to none. Over the years, with the loss of mining our fortunes waned and 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.
When I was first elected, I always made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. Over the last 9 years, I have worked hard to achieve this and in recent years we have made progress in regenerating our towns with the new link road, developments around Tuckingmill, the prospect of South Crofty reopening and new jobs in industries like computer software.
Here in Camborne there are already a number of exciting and innovative ideas that are being talked about including the potential to redevelop the old bus station, and breathe new life into the high street but I want to ensure that the community is fully involved in discussions about priorities.
In addition to this, the Government also recently announced that Cornwall Council would be receiving £759,000 to kickstart an expansion of cycling and walking in Cornwall. The funding comes as part of a government initiative to encourage more people to take up walking and cycling in an effort to ensure that public transport and our roads do not become overcrowded.
Throughout the Coronavirus crisis many of us have been walking and cycling more than ever, and not only has this helped to contribute to healthier lifestyles, we’re also seeing cleaner air. Whilst we know that cars will continue to remain vital for many, we must continue to build a better country with greener travel habits, cleaner air and healthier communities.

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Pick for Britain

As our country has faced massive challenges in recent months, it’s been inspiring to see the people of Britain come together. From supporting neighbours with their food shop to volunteering for the NHS – our fighting spirit makes me proud to be British.
And we’re once again calling on everyone to play their part by helping our farmers to feed the nation.I spent ten years working in the farming industry, and at the peak of the strawberry season we used to employ 300 people from over a dozen different countries.
I know it can be a challenge to recruit, train, and retain people to pick fruit and veg and stay with the work over the harvest months. Over the past twenty years most of our summer fruit pickers have travelled over from places like Romania and Bulgaria for the spring and summer months. But this year, the unique challenge of the coronavirus means we need to think differently about how our homegrown produce gets to our plates.
That’s why there is an opportunity for people who are already here in the UK to play their part and lend our farmers a helping hand. We’ve already seen people signing up in their thousands to take on seasonal agricultural work this spring and summer.
In April, we launched our ‘Pick for Britain’ website to bring all the jobs in one place and confirmed furloughed workers could take up seasonal work to top up their incomes. But the growing season is only just getting started. From June through to September, bringing in the harvest requires a mammoth effort from farmers and growers across the country.
We’ve been working with industry, from the National Farmers Union’ to Waitrose, to make sure our farmers and growers have support they need in the months ahead. The Prince of Wales has also issued a message today calling on people to pick for Britain, with workers who can really stick at the job needed in the months ahead.
For university students with the summer months stretching ahead of them, this is also an opportunity to gain work experience while earning money and meeting new people. Those who are able and willing to pitch in this year can help to feed the nation in these tough times and do an invaluable service to their country.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Delivering a new Agriculture Policy fit for the 21st Century

Whilst COVID-19 continues to dominate our politics, many government departments have also been working on different bills and legislation as we continue to fulfil the Government’s promises that were made in our manifesto to the country late December last year. In my own department of DEFRA we have been working hard on two of the most important bills to come before Parliament for over half a century, the Agriculture Bill, and the Fisheries Bill.
Last week Parliament reached an important milestone in the progression of the Agriculture Bill with its passing of the Third Reading Stage meaning that it has now gone to the House of Lords for its consideration before a final vote is held. Leaving the EU on 31st December 2019 gave us the freedom to press ahead with our plans to develop this new policy creating one that was fit fir purpose in the 21st century and delivering British farmers and the environment.
Rather than arbitrary area-based payments, where land ownership and tenure is subsidised, we will instead direct future funding to support activities and interventions that deliver for our environment and enhance animal welfare.
We want a package of incentives to support sustainable farming practices and the bill creates the powers to do this. We recognise that Basic Payment Scheme payments currently make up a significant proportion of net farm income. However, rather than maintain a system that just masks poor profitability, the ambition behind our Agriculture Bill is to tackle the causes of that poor profitability.
So, the bill creates the power to make grants available to deliver a prosperous future for farming by helping farmers invest in new technology and equipment to reduce costs. There is a section in the bill to improve transparency and fairness in the supply chain, so that farmers stop being price takers and start getting a fairer share of the cake. Also, we want to make it easier for farmers to retire with dignity and simultaneously help new entrants get access to land.
I grew up on a farm and spent a decade working in the industry. Domestic food production is crucial and plays a vital role in contributing to our nation’s food security. The Coronavirus Pandemic has reinforced this message, and the government takes this very seriously. The revised bill therefore creates a duty to review food security every five years and a duty to consider the production of food when devising policy.
I also know that farming is a risky business and there will always be circumstances where the government must act and intervene in a crisis to support farmers or stabilise markets. The bill makes provisions for that too.
Whilst any change want take place over night, a decade from now, I want the rest of the world to be coming to the UK to see how it is done, and I know we have some of the best farmers in the world.