Thursday, 2 April 2020

Working together to beat the virus

Over the last week the Coronavirus pandemic has developed at pace with the numbers of those who have contracted the virus and died from it sadly rising. The epicentre of the outbreak remains London and other major urban centres like Birmingham. Currently, the number of cases in Cornwall remains lower but the numbers will continue to rise over the next few weeks. The NHS have been planning and preparing for the challenge ahead. We each have a part to play by staying at home where possible and reducing our contact with others to protect the NHS and help to save lives.
Last weekend, the Government announced the establishment of strategic coordination centres across the whole country which will bring together senior members of the emergency services with local authorities and the NHS to lead communities through this period. This will help to coordinate a local response.
From Cornwall to Cumbria they are ensuring that frontline people have the right protective equipment. As hospitals prepare their response across the country there has been a huge surge in demand for masks and other protective equipment. The National Supply Distribution Response Team have now delivered 170million masks, 42.8million gloves, 13.7million aprons, 182,000 gowns, almost 10million items of cleaning equipment, and 2.3million pairs of eye protectors, all to 58,000 NHS Trusts including GP surgeries and pharmacies. Every single GP practice, dental practice and community pharmacy has had a PPE delivery. All care homes, hospices and home care providers have or will shortly receive a delivery, and the Government will not stop until it has got people the equipment they need.
There has also been an amazing response in other ways and this crisis has shown our country at its best as it responds quickly. British manufacturers like Dyson and JCB are working together to develop and manufacture a big increase in the number of ventilators. We have built several huge new Nightingale Hospitals at places like the Excel exhibition centre in London to increase our hospital bed capacity. Food producers have pulled out all the stops to help good food to people’s homes and help those who are vulnerable top and unable to go out and there has been an explosion of offers from volunteers with a government call for volunteers leading to 750,000 people stepping forward to help.
Locally I wanted to assure you that I and my team have been working hard to answer all your questions and concerns that you may have amid the ongoing pandemic. Whilst we are receiving a large volume of correspondence we will always help you the best that we can.
At times like this it is important that we all look out for one another. Cornwall has always had a great ability to pull together as a community so play your part. Remember to pick up the phone to family and friends and offer to help elderly neighbours who may want you to assist with their shopping. We have some very difficult weeks ahead but it can also bring our the best in our communities.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Stay at Home, Protect Lives, Save the NHS

Over the last week the Coronavirus pandemic has continued to develop at pace and there have been major effects for us all with the decision to close all restaurants, pubs and non-food shops and strong advice to everyone to stay at home wherever possible and to take care to distance themselves from others when they do need to go out or go to work.
These quite extraordinary measures have had to be taken in order to protect lives and try to reduce the pressure on our NHS which is going to have a huge task trying to deal with those more serious cases that lead to people being hospitalised. While the vast majority of us can fight off the Coronavirus, all of us contribute to spreading it around and therefore passing it on to those more vulnerable people who might not be able to fight it off.
The steps taken will have huge impacts on the economy and it is a worrying time for many with businesses forced to close and many losing their jobs. It has also been an incredibly volatile time with public anxiety driving behaviours that are not helpful. Cornwall and many other parts of the country initially saw an influx of people fleeing to the countryside thinking that it helped them to isolate but the danger is that they carry the virus with them and out vulnerable local residents at greater risk. There have also been difficult situations in the food supply chain with panic buying in some areas meaning that Supermarkets struggled to keep food on their shelves.
The government has taken steps to give tougher guidance to people only to travel if absolutely essential, to stay at home and work from home if at all possible and when going out to do essential shopping to do all they can to keep their distance from others maintaining a 2 metre separation wherever practical.
In Defra my main focus has been on trying keep the food supply chain moving. In the last three weeks shops have put an additional £1 billion of extra food into people’s homes. We have a resilient food supply chain which is able to respond to increases in demand as it does every Christmas. Food manufacturers have increased their production by about 50% to meet the surge in demand. We removed time restrictions on lorry movements at stores and relaxed restrictions on drivers’ hours to keep the lorries moving more food to every store.
At times like this we discover as a country the jobs that are really valued. Those who work in the food supply chain whether on farms, in food processing factories, delivery drivers and staff in supermarkets have done a fantastic job keeping the nation fed and their jobs are of crucial importance. Some of them have faced anger and abuse from a tiny minority of the public but the rest of us are grateful for all that they are doing to keep us fed at a difficult time.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

COVID-19 - Coronavirus

In the past week public awareness and concern around the Coronavirus has risen sharply as governments around the world including the UK have taken some dramatic steps to dampen the spread of the disease in order to reduce the peak of infection and ensure that our NHS is able to cope with an expected increase in cases.
This disease has been monitored closely since the first outbreaks in China towards the end of last year and the Government has been working for months to put in place plans first to contain the disease and then to delay it and mitigate the effects. It has now become a global pandemic.
In most cases the symptoms are similar to flu with a fever and cough which lasts for up to a week and, like flu, in the overwhelming majority of cases people are able to fight it off. The reason there has been so much concern about it is because it is a new virus and, unlike most flu outbreaks, there is therefore no natural immunity within the population so nothing to check its spread. Unless steps are taken now to delay the transmission of the disease there is a risk that the NHS will be placed under considerable pressure.
So in the last week we have issued guidance to everyone that if they show symptoms of fever and a cough, even if those symptoms are mild, that they should stay at home. We have also said that where a member of a household shows symptoms of the disease then the whole family should try to self-isolate and stay at home to avoid the risk of onward transmission and there is wider advice to the whole population to try to reduce social contact by avoiding large gatherings, by working from home where that is possible and avoiding too much social contact for the time being. People should also wash their hands longer and more frequently which can have a significant impact if we all do it.
There will be significant impacts on the global economy from this pandemic and the Chancellor has stepped in this week with a package of emergency measures to support businesses facing severe disruption. The tourism industry will see severe disruption over Easter.
The most important thing is for people to remain calm and work together as we tackle this disease. Last weekend there were a few isolated cases around London of individuals being inconsiderate and aggressive to staff at supermarkets who were working to try to restock shelves following an increase in demand. The food supply chain is resilient and able to cope with sharp increases in demand as it does every Christmas and there is plenty of food for everyone if people are considerate.
It will also be important in the weeks and months ahead that we all look out for one another, helping elderly neighbours by doing a shopping run for them, or walking their dog if they are staying at home and keeping in touch with family and friends by phone. Once the initial shock over the Coronavirus has settled we all need to pull together to get through it.

Monday, 16 March 2020

St Piran’s Day

Last Saturday I attended the St Piran’s Day celebrations in Redruth. This event goes from strength to strength every year and it was good to see the town centre packed and many local schools and groups taking part in the parade.
Redruth has really led the way in using civic events and celebrations of this sort to bring people into the town and to bring the community together. Together with the pasty festival, the Christmas lights procession and, of course, Murdoch Day, there is something every few months. It is really heartening to see so much support from the local schools and it's a vote of confidence in the future of the town.
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, and its great to see these great industrial towns leading the way in promoting our rich and wonderful history. From the regeneration of Heartlands at Pool, the new Kresen Kernow Archive, and the redevelopment of Hayle Harbour, we are seeing a lot of regeneration done in a way that not only respects but celebrates our proud industrial past. With the added investment of the Historic Towns Fund in Redruth which will help spread the regeneration of the town that started at Krowji and the butter market, and the Towns fund which will support the further revival of Camborne town centre, there is potential to do much more in the years ahead.
Cornwall has a unique constitutional place within our United Kingdom which is recognised. Many of us consider ourselves as Cornish before English and there has been growing interest in the Cornish language in recent years.
COVID-19 (Coronavirus) - The Coronovirus situation continues to develop globally. The symptoms are similar to flu but the reason it is attracting so much attention is that it is a new virus and there is no natural immunity. As with flu, the overwhelming majority of people make a full recovery typically after a few days. The Government, supported by the Chief Medical Officer, Public Health England, the Department for Health and other government organisations are working hard to manage the outbreak. We have well established and rehearsed plans and approaches to deal with such situations. The most up to date advice can be found on the website.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

Constituency catchup

Its good to get out of Westminster at the end of each week and get back home to visit some of the many amazing charities, local schools and innovative businesses in Camborne Redruth and Hayle.
First on the agenda last Friday were meetings with representatives from ththe Council to discuss the progress it has made on its plans for the Towns Fund. Last autumn, the Government announced that Camborne was selected to receive funding from the new Towns Fund which focuses on areas with a proud industrial heritage that are in need of economic growth. There were some interesting discussions, particularly centring around the use of the bus station in the town, but there is still more to be done.
Following this I met the Mayor for Redruth who provided me with an update that the Council were doing especially with regards to the future of the Passmore Edwards library building, whilst also focusing on plans as to how the Council will implement the Historic Towns Fund which will help spread the regeneration that has been started with the opening of Kresen Kernow, Krowji and the Butter Market.
Next up on the agenda was a meeting with Portreath Parish Council and the Environment Agency to discuss their work in delivering a flood alleviation scheme for the town. Over the years Portreath has suffered particularly from flooding and storm damage to its sea defences. The meeting was very encouraging and shows the positive work that can be done when government and organisations come together to tackle issues such as flooding. This is also an area that I have been working on in my role as Secretary of State for the Environment as we support communities that have been affected by flooding and invest more in defences to prevent future flooding from taking place.
I also met with members from the local Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB). Over the years, we have built up good links with the local team and often work together to help constituents who require assistance. The CAB do a lot of good work locally and we’re fortunate to have a strong team that are easily contactable and that work hard for everyone.
Finally, on Saturday morning I held my regular advice surgery. I hold advice surgeries most weeks and have a dedicated team who are here to help unblock problems. If you have a problem that you need help solving, I can be contacted at, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Building the right homes for Cornwall

I have always believed it is important to help young families fulfill the ambition of owning their own home. Over time, owning an asset like your own home gives you some financial security and allows you to set down roots. Twenty years ago it was possible to get relatively affordable mortgages for 95 percent of the value of a property and this meant that people who were working could generally save a five percent deposit. However, after the banking crisis in 2008 things went into reverse. Banks and mortgage companies now expect a much higher deposit than was the case twenty years ago, typically 25 percent which means that it's much harder for young families to purchase their first home.
A few years ago the government introduced a new "Help to Buy" scheme where government would help to underwrite the deposit in order to ensure normal families who work hard but don't have large incomes or even large savings, could be supported to purchase their first home. The scheme was available on certain new build properties and it has been a success with some good examples across Camborne, Redruth and Hayle.
Building on this success, the Government this week announced further details on the new Help to Buy scheme that will run from 2021 to 2023. The scheme will be targeted and continue to help more people onto the property ladder including regional property price caps based on average first time buyer prices. Such caps will take average first time buyer prices for the region and add a further 50% to ensure there is good availability of the scheme. This is a positive step forward and demonstrates the Government’s commitment to building at least one million new homes over the course of this parliament.
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 homeowners. So, as well as helping first time buyers purchase their first home through schemes like Help to Buy, we do also need to build more homes.
However, the homes that we do build should be built to the highest quality. Every year, I have a number of constituents contact my office citing defects to their newly built home that they have just moved into. No one should expect to purchase a poor-quality home or receive poor customer service, but far too many do. That’s why this week the Government announced that it will be establishing a New Homes Ombudsman to protect the rights of homebuyers, holding developers to account when things go wrong, and including legislation to require all developers of new build homes to belong to this Ombudsman. Not only will this ensure a constant access to redress for all buyers of new build homes, it will also help to drive up standards across the country.

Thursday, 20 February 2020

Winter storms

Last Thursday I was asked by the Prime Minister to join his Cabinet as the Environment Secretary. It is a huge honour and I am looking forward to the task ahead with many important Bills to get right as we leave the EU and chart a new course for vital industries like farming and fishing.
However, my very first task within hours of being appointed was to take charge of our plans to manage the impacts of storm Dennis. The last two weekends have seen Britain battered by two storms, and once again, many communities are experiencing the distressing effects of floods. In Cornwall we have had plenty of gale force winds and lots of rainfall but, unlike a few years ago when the tidal surges damaged sea defences at Portreath.
This time the worst of the damage has been seen in Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and South Wales but there have also been widespread effects across the country. Part of the problem is that following a very wet winter land is already very waterlogged, the water table is very high and rivers are already brim full. That means that there is nowhere for additional rainfall to go. In recent years we have spent billions of pounds on over 600 flood defences which has protected over 200,000 homes and there are more under development that will protect a further 100,000 homes. In this last episode, although over 500 homes were flooded, the defences we had in place protected about 20,000 homes. A further £4 billion has been allocated for the next five years to build more still and the Met Office also recently announced that it was investing £1.2 billion into a new supercomputer to help predict future weather conditions and foresee extreme weather events.
The success of our flood defences in protecting many homes is, of course, no consolation to those who were affected and had their home flooded this week. Suffering flood damage is an incredibly traumatic event for people and that is why we have also announced a package of measures to help people get back on their feet with reliefs on Council Tax, payments to those affected to help them manage the short time crisis and grants to help them repair their homes in a way that will make them more resilient to future flooding events.
Around the world we seem to be seeing an increase in the frequency of extreme weather events. It is not just here in the UK. Over the Christmas period we saw massive bushfires across Australia fuelled by hot and windy conditions with more than 11 million hectares of bush, forest and parks across Australia burned. There were also higher-than-average rainfall and floods in Eastern Africa and droughts in south-east Asia.
One factor driving the increased frequency of extreme weather events is climate change and that is why we must continue to make progress to reduce carbon emissions and that is a key objective in both the Environment Bill and the Agriculture Bill that are going through parliament at the moment.