Thursday, 12 November 2015

Remembrance Sunday

Last Sunday, along with thousands of others throughout the county I attended Remembrance Sunday services.  This year I was in Camborne in the morning and then at Illogan in the afternoon.  Once again there was an incredibly strong turnout despite the weather.  In particular, it was great to see all of the various cadet groups out in force along with the Scouts and Brownies.  All making the effort to pay their respects to those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms.

There were other events including a "Live on" event with performances from the Military Wives Choir, the Bev Lin Dance School, singer Andy Marshall, a wonderful poem about the Poppy read by seven year old Poppy Stevenson and the band from HMS Seahawk.  Care for Casualties also organised a firework event in memory of David Curnow, the local soldier who was so tragically murdered in Redruth earlier this autumn and his father, Mike Curnow, delivered a very poignant reading at the Illogan service this year.  The incident has caused great shock locally and there is huge sympathy and support for his brave family and what they are going through at the moment.

Earlier this year marked the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and I recently held discussions with David Spencer Evans who lives locally and is the founder of the Spitfire Heritage Trust.  You learn something new every week and it turns out that, during the last war, the people of Lesotho (or Basutoland as it was then called) donated enough money to build two squadrons of Spitfires to help us at a time of great peril.  It is a reminder that the whole empire got behind the UK during the last war and the Spitfire Heritage Trust have been working on a project to build a replica Spitfire to be presented to the people of Lesotho in recognition of their role.  It is great to see such good work being led here in Cornwall.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Link Road Finally Completed

At last! The new East-West link road is finally open and I tested it out for the first time last weekend.

It has been a project that I have followed closely since becoming an MP in 2010. The road was always a key part of the regeneration plans for the area, but securing the funding to build it after the economic downturn in 2008 was not easy.  There were several rounds of assessments of the proposal and it had to compete with hundreds of other transport capital projects nationally.  We had to persuade the Treasury to alter their formula for assessing projects, but got there in the end.

There were also a number of challenges during construction. One of the wettest winters on record in 2013 led to a great deal of lost time.  Getting the design of the bridge crossing the river right presented technical challenges and took three attempts. Finally, there were mine shafts that needed to be capped.  I remember visiting the project around Dolcoath early on in 2013.  There is local saying, "deeper than Dolcoath", and civil engineers found out what that meant.  One shaft was so deep that when a rock was thrown down it, you never actually heard it land!

Now it's complete, the rest of the changes to the roads around East Hill will start to make sense. People from Troon, Beacon and Pengegon will have a shorter and quicker route to the A30.  The traffic congestion on East Hill will be eased because people can use the new road instead.  It opens up all of the derelict mining land around South Crofty and Dolcoath for regeneration with new housing and industrial space planned.  There are even ideas for a new Fibre Park in the area so that the growing computer software industry in Camborne and Redruth has new space to move to once it has outgrown Pool Innovation Centre.  So, if you have not tried the road yet, why not give it a go.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Police Funding

There is currently a lot of speculation around police funding and the impact this will have on Cornwall.  Like all government departments, the Home Office, which is responsible for allocating police grants, is having to make significant savings over the next five years. 

No one knows yet how much each department will be asked to save, but we all know we are in a situation where it is more likely that budgets will go down rather than up.  The huge debts piled up by Gordon Brown have left a painful legacy and we are only half way through clearing up the mess.

The immediate task is to ensure that Devon and Cornwall gets a fair allocation of the national funding pot and I have been making the case for improvements to the new funding formula within Government.  However, there will still be savings to be made and that means we need to think differently about the way we organise our services.  

There has been a lot of discussion recently about the possibility that the police station in Redruth might close. At the same time we have seen a brand new "Tri-Service" station open in Hayle.  There, one single, modern building is the joint location for the Fire Brigade, the Police and the Ambulance Service.  It is a great example of our public services working together to save money on overheads like old buildings so that the front line can be prioritised.

How we get our public services working more closely together is likely to be one of the key issues debated next May when we have the second elections for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner.  Although some people were sceptical about these new elections three years ago, the truth is Tony Hogg, our current PCC, has been visible and brought some much needed accountability.  

Friday, 23 October 2015

Fisheries Council

I am now entering my third year as Fisheries Minister and we are starting the annual negotiations leading up to the December Fisheries Council where quotas and fishing opportunities are settled.  At the moment much of the focus is on the agreements we must reach with those countries outside the EU such as Norway, Iceland and the Faroes.  This is particularly important for the agreements we need to reach for fish like mackerel in the North Sea.

However, I have also begun preparation work to develop our case for December Council where most of the agreements relevant to Cornwall are concluded.  I want to make sure that where we have a species where the scientific evidence is patchy, that we make the best assessment we can with the evidence we have rather than assume the worst.  If you set quotas that do not reflect the state of a particular stock, then you risk increased discarding.

Next year is also the year that the discard ban will start to come into effect and this week I announced our plans to introduce this.  This has been an important reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.  It means that the shameful practice of discarding will be banned, starting with a handful of species this year and rolling it out to cover all species over the next four years.  Instead, fishermen will be given an uplift to their quota to allow for the fact they are no longer throwing good fish back, they will be offered grants to improve the selectivity of their nets and there will be new flexibilities to make the discard ban work in practice such as flexibilities on quotas and exemptions for some fish species which will survive if put back. 

Finally, I also announced this week a plan to give more quota to our smaller inshore vessels. I made a clear pledge at the last election to rebalance quotas so that the small "under ten metre" boats received a fairer share of the national quota and from next January they will.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Party Conference

Last week I attended the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester. The mood was very positive although everyone recognises that there are further difficult decisions to take to get our country back on its feet.  As DEFRA minister, I took part in a number of meetings relating to food and animal welfare. There was a well-attended fringe event on the problem of irresponsible back street dog breeders which has been an issue I have championed since becoming an MP

However, the highlight of conference, as always, was the Prime Minister’s speech, where he set out his plans to tackle poverty and boost social mobility.  Before becoming an MP, I worked for David Cameron as his Press Secretary at a time when he was trying to develop new policies to tackle the country’s social problems. However, due to the economic crisis in 2008, some of these ideas had to be put to one side as he turned his priority to getting the country’s finances in order. This required the Government to make hard, often unpopular decisions.  However, with the economy now back on track, the Prime Minister has signalled a return to the reforming agenda he outlined a decade ago.

Part of his speech was dedicated to helping young families buy their first home.  This is really important in Cornwall.  There have been some schemes such as Help to Buy where the Government has provided financial help for those who don't have the huge deposits that most mortgage companies demand before offering a loan.   However, it does not help all.  I frequently come across hard working people who still cannot raise a mortgage because their income is judged too low to afford mortgage repayments even though their rental payments are even higher.  It is incredibly frustrating for them.  There are some other models such as shared ownership that can help but the announcement of a major increase in new housing that is "affordable to buy" where local first time buyers are able to purchase properties at a discount to the open market price will help many more local families.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Great British Beach Clean

Last week I took part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean where I joined over forty volunteers in helping to clean up litter at Porthtowan Beach. It wasn’t just about picking up litter however, as we also recorded our findings to help the MCS identify the main sources of litter on our coastlines and raise awareness about the threat it poses to the marine environment.

This was the second year in which I have taken part in the Beach Clean, which occurs at over a hundred beaches all across the country. So far over 6 tonnes of litter has been removed with the most common items found including fishing ropes, bottle tops and various pieces of plastic, the latter of which often takes hundreds of years to break down. Over the last twenty years the MCS has noticed a steady increase in the amount of litter being left at beaches and while this ruins them for visitors we must also recognise the terrible impact that litter has on marine wildlife, with animals often becoming entangled in netting or eating discarded pieces of plastic.

I have also had a lot of correspondence recently about the ongoing problems of sewage releases made by South West Water. Our old Victorian sewer system means that in most places water from drains off the streets is not separated from the sewage system meaning, that when you have heavy rain, the system is overwhelmed.  Without the discharges, sewage would back up into people’s homes.

We should also note that some of the apparently dramatic photos are misleading.  Raw sewage is not brown but grey. The brown water pictured is simply the minerals from the red river. However we clearly need a better solution in the long term. Water companies account for over a third of pollution in our rivers and we need to see improvement. I would like SWW to consider prioritising new investment in West Cornwall to increase its holding capacity so that the number of these sewage releases can be significantly reduced or stopped altogether.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Being in Opposition

It has been an eventful couple of weeks in Parliament with a new leader for the Labour Party and key votes to reform the welfare system and make Trade Unions more democratic. 

But the annual Party Conference season is now underway and next week Jeremy Corbyn will have to deliver his first party conference speech as leader of the Labour Party.  I was previously an adviser to two leaders of the opposition.  Firstly Michael Howard in the run up to the 2005 election and then David Cameron as he emerged from obscurity to become the leader of the Conservative Party.  

Being Leader of the Opposition is a gruelling task.  It is a big leap for any backbench MP to suddenly assume such a role.  You are under constant scrutiny from the media.  It is a struggle to get everyone in your own party singing from the same song sheet.  When things go wrong, people you thought were on your side turn on you.  If you don't get things right within the first few months, then perceptions about you start to set.  You are under constant pressure to react to everything in the news and just attack the Government which makes it hard to develop your own agenda.  You also have to get by with just a handful of key advisers who keep the show on the road and do not have access to all the resources that the Civil Service offer Government.  Jeremy Corbyn has all this to look forward to.

However, our system is designed to make being Leader of the Opposition difficult.  It should be a testing ground for would be Prime Ministers to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The job is tough but it gets no easier if you go on to be elected Prime Minister.  Those who think they can do the job need to be tested.  Being Leader of the Opposition either makes them or breaks them.  Time will tell what it does to Jeremy Corbyn, but it's been a bit of a shaky start.