Thursday, 23 February 2017

Smart Savings

There are few things more demoralising than having debt problems and bailiffs at the door and I have always been interested in developing better ways to help people manage their finances and get back on an even keel.

Last week, I visited Smart Savings in Redruth. Smart Savings provides a range of social and financial inclusion services, including debt advice, money management training and employment skills training. They have helped over a hundred people over the last eighteen months or so and I met some of those who have benefited last week.

They now have plans for a new project aimed at helping young children from Redruth improve their numeracy skills. The "Numbers Nursery" project offers fun, forest school sessions which aim to help young children, aged between two and four, gain confidence in early year's maths and numeracy whilst being out in the fresh air, enjoying physical exercise, and also learning about the natural environment. The project will proactively support children in care, and socially excluded families on low incomes.

The outdoor maths sessions will take place on a weekly basis with activities including cooking on camp fires, learning about healthy eating, going on nature walks and treasure hunts, playing games, sowing vegetable and fruit seeds, building unique structures (e.g. dens, sand castles and moats, and mud pies), making forest and beach art, and enjoying free, healthy snacks and meals.

Smart savings is one of a number of good local projects that are helping local people with their finances.  Five years ago I became a member of the Kernow Credit Union. Unlike other lenders they don't judge people through credit agencies. Those who are in greatest need know that "subject to status" usually means "not you." With a credit union people earn their credibility. Those who save regularly each month can, after three months, borrow around three times the amount they have saved. Credit Unions are very common in other countries. In Ireland, around 60 percent of families are members and they are also common in countries like Australia. At a time when commercial banks have lost their way, credit unions are a reminder of what old fashioned, community based lending should be.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Planning: Brownfield before Greenfield

Last week, plans for a controversial new housing development near Tregenna Fields in Camborne were approved at appeal which has reignited debate about how we meet growing housing need while protecting green spaces.

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 we do need to build more housing.

However, I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. 

When Cornwall Council were developing their local plan, I argued that we should make clear that brownfield sites in places like Tuckingmill and around South Crofty should be developed first. There should then be a delay in developing greenfield, urban extension sites around areas like Treswithian until we have completed a mid-term review in ten years’ time where we could take stock and reassess local housing need. This would ensure that developers didn’t simply cherry pick easy greenfield sites.

There are some good examples of successful housing developments on brownfield sites which are designed to be consistent with, and to celebrate, our industrial heritage. Coastline regenerated the old Holmans site at Trevu Road next to Camborne Train Station and saved the beautiful Holmans building at the same time. Linden Homes have done some excellent work at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College. I was a strong supporter of the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project, and I was pleased that many homes there were offered through the “help to buy” scheme for first time buyers. 

However, I have also opposed other large scale developments where they have been on greenfield sites. Back in 2015, I asked the Secretary of State to consider calling in a planning appeal being considered for over 220 houses on St George’s Road in Hayle because I think we should develop housing on North Quay first, as planned. The scheme was blocked on that occasion.

Planning decisions will always be contentious and there are difficult balances to be struck.  However, I am still convinced that the basic principle of prioritising brownfield before greenfield development is the right approach.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Early Years Funding Formula


One of my priorities is to try to correct some of the historic unfairness to Cornwall when it comes to various funding formulas.  This includes the Early Years National Funding Formula, and I want to make sure that early years providers are funded on a fair and sustainable basis.

I recently met with Caroline Dinenage MP, who is the minister responsible for early years at the Department for Education. It was a constructive and encouraging meeting. I had been concerned about the way in which Cornwall was to be funded under initial proposals, and wanted to ensure that we are treated fairly.

The Government’s response to the recent consultation includes assurances that the Government will provide supplementary funding of £55 million a year to local authorities for maintained nursery schools for the duration of this parliament. This will keep funding stable during the implementation of the national funding formula.

I am also pleased that all local authorities will receive a minimum funding rate of at least £4.30 per hour. The Government is also introducing a new national Disability Access Fund to support access for disabled children.

 I am always hugely impressed by the work done at schools such as Camborne Nursery School. Last year, the school received its fourth successive “outstanding” report. Ofsted inspectors were impressed by the quality of education provided to children, and their levels of confidence. The school has opened a dedicated classroom for two year olds to enable staff to prepare them for their school years.

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. This is why I will continue to support local nursery schools, and fight to ensure that Cornwall is funded fairly.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Public Transport


Recently, we have seen some brand new double decker buses taking to routes in West Cornwall. The new "Tinner" service marks a major step forward in the quality of public transport in Cornwall.  It more than matches anything available elsewhere in the country and I hope this is just the beginning of some positive changes in the pipeline.  It is also great to see a brand with a local connection.  Not since the days of the iconic bus fleet run by Grenville Motors at Troon have we seen something that looks and feels so decidedly part of Camborne and Redruth (although this time the buses are brand new!).

My grandfather was the Chairman of the Grenville Bus Company back in the 1970s and 1980s and there were challenges making things work along rural routes even then.  In the last few years I have been working with the Transport team at Cornwall Council to try to help develop a more integrated approach to public transport and the idea has gained the support of government.  

We need to make connections work so that services become more frequent but also more viable. This is why I have pressed for a regular 30 minute local train service through Cornwall with buses then providing onward connections over shorter rural routes to our villages.  If we can join up commercial trunk routes of buses and trains with smaller, local, shuttle buses travelling shorter distances, you start to get the makings of something that can really work.

We are also making progress improving things on long haul journeys.  Since I was elected, I have been fighting to get an upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service, which will be introduced shortly. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service, using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike and I am pleased that it will be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport.

Newquay Airport is also going from strength to strength. It serves as a lifeline for businessmen and women who use the service regularly, and has seen impressive growth in the last year. It's not long ago that the very future of Newquay Airport seemed in doubt but we have seen a great turnaround in its fortunes.  A lot of work has gone in to making transport work better for Cornwall and we are now seeing important changes.

 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Brexit


This week saw the final judgement by the Supreme Court on the contentious issue of whether the decision that was taken directly by the country in the EU referendum last June must now be put to a separate vote of parliament to approve commencing exit negotiations.  The Judges were divided but, on balance, decided that parliament needed another vote.  It is a disappointing decision on one level because all sorts of democratic rights have been eroded by Brussels regulations and court judgements over the years and no one seemed to challenge these.  However, we have to accept the decision of the court and, in practice, it is just a technical issue which makes no material difference.  

Parliament has already held dozens of different debates on the issue of leaving the EU and the policies that will come after.  It has been invigorating for our democracy to be able to discuss new policies again in the knowledge that soon we will regain the power to fully govern ourselves.   

Last week, the Prime Minister set out her plan for Brexit in a landmark speech. As she said, we must now put the campaign behind us and unite the country.  The PM made it clear that she wants us to put in place a close partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation, and that the UK must be a generous and outward looking country that is a good global citizen.  But as we establish the rule of national law in this country, we must bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. 

Our future relationship with the EU will include co-operating with our European partners in the fight against crime and terrorism. We will also collaborate on initiatives in areas such as science, research and technology. However, there will be no EU auditors telling us what to do. In areas such as farming, we will be able to pilot new ways of doing things and deliver the change that British farming craves.

The Prime Minister was clear that we will be stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before. We are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe.

 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Mental Health Support


One of the consequences of the way people live their lives in the modern world has been a worrying increase in the number of those suffering mental health problems at some point in their life.  Many people can be affected and we need to remove the stigma and try to do more to support people's wellbeing.

The growth in the number of young people affected is of particular concern.  Maybe it’s the pressure to fit in and to belong - a sentiment that always existed - but seems to have been heightened by social media in the digital age which is relentless and immediate but often impersonal and sometimes offensive.  A number of schools are now encouraging parents to take mobile phones away from their children at night so that they can sleep and have a break from relentless twitter feeds.

Last week, the Government introduced new measures to transform the way we approach and deal with mental health locally, so that more children and young people receive support and care.

The new measures are good news for Cornwall. Our local secondary schools will be offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness around mental health and help to tackle the stigma around the issue. New proposals will also outline how mental health services for schools, universities and families can be improved, so that everyone in the community is supported, at every stage of life.

Across Cornwall, we will also see child and adolescent mental health services being reviewed. This will identify what works and what we can improve, so that more children and young people get the mental healthcare that they need.

Some good work is done by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) service, which helps children and young people deal with emotional, behavioural or mental health issues. There are also some good charities out there which help provide the support needed.  But all agree that this is a challenge of our age.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Unemployment


Unemployment is at its lowest level for many years. At the end of last year, official national statistics showed that the labour market finished a record breaking year with unemployment down by over 100,000 people and the unemployment rate running at 4.8%. Employment has consistently been running at an all-time high and there continues to be 31.8 million people in work, up by 2.7 million since 2010. In Camborne and Redruth, the number of claimants has nearly halved from 3.8% of the economically active population in 2010 to 2.3% in November 2016.

Locally, we have much to celebrate but there remains a lot to do. We must strive to continue to improve the support we offer to local people to help them back into work.

I do not want us to underestimate the significance of apprenticeships and training. Cornwall College is the most successful provider of work based learning in the South West. Over a thousand apprentices are currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. Last year, Ofsted praised the college as a catalyst for improving skills in Cornwall.

For too long, many of our brightest young people would leave Cornwall in search of new work opportunities. Now, as we continue to attract new industries and skilled jobs to Cornwall, it is vital that we continue to develop skills so that young people can take advantage of the new opportunities being created. As new companies arrive I want to see them become successful and profitable enough to offer higher wages so that we encourage people to take work and stay in work.

Economic regeneration and job creation have always been two of my top priorities. The Kresen Kernow archive project is progressing, the development of South Quay signals good news for the local economy, the East-West link road is unlocking Tuckingmill for development and facilities like the Pool Innovation Centre and Barncoose Gateway have attracted new businesses and start-ups to the area.