Thursday, 23 March 2017

Article 50


The Prime Minister has announced that she will trigger Article 50 on 29th March. This will formally start the process of the UK leaving the European Union, and the most important negotiation for the UK for a generation.

The Prime Minister is clear that she wants us to put in place a close partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation. 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.

I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. Here in Cornwall, we are already starting to see such opportunities. Redruth based manufacturing company European Springs and Pressings has seen a post-referendum surge which has led to increased orders with future growth very much on the cards. Based at Treleigh Industrial site, the company has seen its turnover up by 15% on the previous year.

I recently attended Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food trade show in Dubai. The show brings together more than 100,000 buyers, investors and producers from around the world. I was proud to champion the UK’s world-class offer. We have ambitions plans to further our export success in the coming years, and we are strengthening our global reputation for good quality produce. It was great to see some of our local Cornish companies, including Rodda’s at the show, and to hear about their plans for continued growth in the years that lie ahead. This week, I attended an international food event in London and met local Redruth firm, CocoNuts.

In terms of funding and regional grant aid, we have the opportunity to put in place a national policy which will allow us to better run regional policy and support new businesses here in Cornwall. This will allow us to invest in projects that really deliver for the local area.

I said during the campaign that I wanted to be the first Farming Minister in 40 years to be able to design policies from first principles. I am optimistic about what lies ahead, and I think that 29th March will be a defining moment for our country.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Adult Social Care


I recently enjoyed visiting a Shared Lives South West family in Portreath, to find out more about the work done by Shared Lives and the services offered. Shared Lives South West is an independent charity and provides a range of services for people with additional needs. It is a way of providing care and support for vulnerable adults in ordinary family homes of Shared Lives carers.

It was great to meet people who use the Shared Lives services as well the Just Next Door service, which is a half-way stage between living with a family and living independently. The service is provided by Shared Lives carers who have an annexe or flat that is linked to the family home. It allows people to increase independent living skills whilst being able to access family based support when needed.  It is also a more cost effective model than some other approaches to social care.

How we support people in need of adult social care is a growing dilemma, and creative thinking is needed.  As more people live longer, more need help as they get older.  Finding the right solutions is also key to easing pressure on the NHS.

This week, the Chancellor delivered the Spring Budget. I am particularly pleased that the Government will provide an additional £2 billion to councils in England over the next three years to spend on adult social care services. £1 billion of this will be provided in 2017-18, ensuring that councils can take immediate action to fund care packages for more people, support social care providers, and relieve pressure on the NHS.

I also welcome the provision of an additional £100 million for capital investment in A&E departments, which will help to ensure that patients are able to access the most appropriate care as quickly as possible.

The NHS is incredibly important to everyone in Cornwall. I admire the work done by our local hospitals. I am a firm believer in helping the NHS deal with the challenges it inevitably faces, rather than talking it down.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

St Piran's Day


Last Saturday, I attended the St Piran’s Day celebrations at Heartlands. Despite the blustery weather, it was a well-attended event and a true celebration of our Cornish culture and identity. Heartlands had a difficult start, but has very much found its feet at the very heart of our community. Other local events were also very well attended, including the annual St Piran’s Day Parade in Redruth.

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in Cornwall’s history and culture. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are at the very heart of this revival. The new Cornish archive, Kresen Kernow, is really taking shape on the site of the old brewery. I lobbied hard to ensure that Redruth, home to most of the world-wide Cornish diaspora, was chosen as the location for this project, which will create new jobs, housing and continue the wider regeneration of the area.

I am pleased that the Government has committed £100,000 to a Cornish Culture Fund. This will be used to fund culture and heritage projects across Cornwall. I am hopeful that some of this money will be spent on the Cornish language.

Before 1996, students taking their GCSEs used to have the option of studying Cornish, but it was discontinued due to a lack of participation. I now think the time is right to reintroduce the Cornish language as a course. The evidence shows that there are benefits to learning a second language which go beyond the learning of the language itself, and while some students may feel uninspired by French or Spanish, they may feel more enthusiastic about studying their native language.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Marine Hub Cornwall

Last week, I announced the launch of Marine Hub Cornwall during Renewable UK’s Wave and Tidal Conference. I have always thought there was potential for wave power in Cornwall.  The Atlantic swell gives us a wave resource that is second to none and if we could get the technology right then it could offer consistent energy generation that is sustainable.  We also have great skills and expertise in precision engineering and marine science.

Marine Hub Cornwall seeks to bring together world class assets like Wave Hub and our universities and research and development programmes to provide a seamless co-ordinated offer to the marine renewable energy sector in Cornwall. The aim is to strengthen our position as the global leader in research and technology development.

Cornwall is already recognised as providing marine renewable developers a unique prospect within which they can test technology from prototype to fully operational systems. The Cornish coast provides optimal conditions for early-stage trials at FaB Test, while Wave Hub at Hayle, the world’s largest and most technologically advanced demonstration site, allows for more advanced testing.  Wave Hub boasts one of the best wave resources in Europe and has really put Cornwall on the map in this sector.  

The launch of Marine Hub comes just a few weeks after American wave energy developer GWave announced its plans for a 9MW project to be deployed at Wave Hub. GWave, based in Portland, Maine, USA has spent the past decade developing its Power Generation Vessel (PGV) technology, an innovative wave energy device of a scale that is unprecedented, and is preparing to bring the first full-scale vessel across the Atlantic for installation right here in Hayle. GWave chose Wave Hub in recognition of the strong wave resource, infrastructure, and industry experience available there.

There are still challenges to overcome.  We need a clear path to move from wave energy being an interesting idea, to being deployed at scale and generating electricity in a low cost and effective way.  But Marine Hub is a statement of Cornwall's commitment to the idea and if anyone in the world can make this work, Cornwall can.

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.