Thursday, 25 November 2010

Clamp down on the wheel clampers

Last year I became one of the thousands of victims of private car clamping firms. I had actually just stopped at this particular car park in Camborne to pick up some volunteers who were going to help me deliver leaflets. I had a permit to use the car park but on that day was borrowing my mother's car. I came out to find that it had been clamped. They said that if I came out with a temporary permit then they would remove the clamp so I went back to the owner of the car park to get a temporary permit. But then they said it was too late. I explained that the owner of the car park was happy for me to use it and had given me a permit but the wheel clamper said it was nothing to do with the owner of the car park. That's an interesting concept.

I resolved on that day that if I were to make it to parliament then cowboy clampers like these should be shut down. It turns out that a lot of other MPs feel the same way and so the new government is going to abolish wheel clamping on private land. Wheel clamping and "towing away" was first used in very rare cases in inner cities where an illegally parked car could cause huge traffic disruption. The development and growth of this industry into the sphere of private car parks has been a disgrace and amounts to little more than legalised extortion.

A couple of weeks ago I came across the case of a constituent who had parked his bike in a visitor’s bay while he met his grandmother. You can't display permits on motorbikes because they blow away but the permit was produced when the clamping van arrived. Too late he was told and given an extortionate fine. We all have enough frustrations in life without this sort of nonsense so I am delighted that the government is putting a stop to it.

We also need to look at the conduct of companies which issue parking tickets on private land. I would like to see new legislation that limits the powers of these companies by capping the maximum "fine" they can levy at the same rate of the local authority and which requires them to cancel any fine if a valid ticket is produced retrospectively. We also need an independent appeals process to end the ridiculous situation where the people who judge your parking appeal are the very ones trying to rip you off in the first place.

I don’t want to prevent the owners of private car parks from protecting their property but this private “enforcement” industry has become completely out of control and so new legislation is required to create limits.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A modern day National Service

Last Sunday I attended the Remembrance Sunday parade and service at Redruth. There was a very strong turnout. With so many casualties from the recent war in Iraq and the current fighting in Afghanistan, the work of the Royal British Legion seems more important than ever. We hear about those that are killed in action, but there have also been thousands injured and many of those will need support from charities like the Royal British Legion.

The fact that our armed forces are currently engaged in a difficult operation in Afghanistan means that people feel a strong need to remember the sacrifices being made on our behalf. The other thing that I have noticed in recent years is the growing support for remembrance services among young people and children. In particular there has been a really strong growth in the membership of groups such as the Scouts, Cadets, Boys Brigade, Girl Guides and Brownies. All were out in full force on Sunday and it was good to see the next generation doing their bit at such a young age.

Earlier this year, the Scouts Association announced the biggest surge in their membership for forty years to 500,000. But a shortage of adult volunteers means that there is also a waiting list of over 33,000 wanting to join. I remember speaking to a volunteer at one local branch who explained that they had managed to help deal with the problem by telling parents that their children could join as long as the parents did too!

Five years ago, before becoming leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron announced his plan to introduce a modern day National Service which would bring teenagers of all different backgrounds together to achieve something for their community. It would build on some of the excellent work already done among teenagers by groups like the Cadets. The aim is that it would be something universal that all young people do around the time they leave school. It would improve community cohesion, develop responsibility and confidence in young people and act as a "rite of passage" to adulthood.

Over the last few months, the government has been working on plans to make this new National Citizen Service a reality and many groups have submitted plans to run pilot projects next year so that we can see what works. Earlier this summer I discussed the idea with the Goody Grane Centre near Penryn which was established by the Bishop’s Forum to provide outdoor activities and challenges for young people and which has been a tremendous success. I also fed in a suggestion from a constituent that we should reward young people who take part in the scheme by giving them access to affordable car insurance. It is an exciting project and anyone else with suggestions should feed them in now.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Improving support for disabled people

One of the roles I accepted soon after being elected as a member of parliament was to become the new Chairman of the Conservative Disability Group. The CDG was formed some 25 years ago to champion new legislation to make life easier for disabled people.

The result was two ground breaking pieces of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher under the last Conservative government. First, the Disability Services Act which required local authorities to take their responsibilities to disabled people seriously and provide necessary support and secondly the Disability Discrimination Act to improve access.

Last week, the Conservative Disability Group held a major conference to discuss the challenges that disabled people face today attended by leading charities such as Scope and Mencap. One emerging theme was the need for greater flexibility in the way that support for disabled people and their carers operates and the need to reduce bureaucracy. At the moment people find themselves endlessly filling out forms, giving the same information over and over again. One idea is to condense all of that into a "single assessment" so that need is identified in detail once only and that all government departments recognise that. If someone has a long term condition, then it only really needs to be assessed once because the difficulties they face remain the same.

We also need to give people with impairments or the carers of the severely disabled much more control over how their financial support package is spent. I have come across parents of severely disabled children who complain that, while they are offered large sums of money for professional carers, what would really make a difference to their lives is more support to allow one parent to become a full time carer and stay at home. In some cases parents need to be present anyway to administer medication and the revolving door of different carers can lead to the situation where they feel their home is not really their own.

We are entering a period when money is tight but one of the things that the new government has been very clear about as it embarks on a programme to reduce public spending is that it is determined to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, many of the changes announced to Housing Benefit for other benefits such as Employment Support and Job Seekers, will not apply to those with serious disabilities. But beyond that we also need to do more to help those with less serious impairments back in to the workplace. Over fifty percent of disabled people already do some work and the government has announced a new Work Choice programme to help others lead fulfilling, working lives.

The thing about disability is that each and every case is unique and different people value different sorts of support. The system needs to be flexible enough to allow people that choice.

George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Cut the EU's budget

Should the EU be increasing its spending at a time when the rest of us are having to pull our belts in? My view is that they should be cutting their budget and Britain should be cutting its contribution and two weeks ago I supported a motion in parliament to that effect.

The last government went along with plans to increase the budget of the EU and one of Tony Blair's last acts as Prime Minister was to give away Britain's budget rebate. Last week David Cameron went to Brussels to try to knock some sense into the European Commission. The new government managed to halt plans to increase the budget by a staggering 6 percent and got the increase reduced to 2.9 percent. That's still too high but the best that could be achieved in the circumstances so David Cameron deserves credit for having forced this issue on the agenda.

My first job in politics was working for the anti-euro campaign. Ten years ago, people used to say it was inevitable that Britain would have to join the euro but no serious person today would say we should join. It has turned out to be a failure and countries like Ireland and Greece are seeing their economies wrecked by the inability to set their own interest rates and manage their own economy through an independent currency. I think it would be wrong for Britain to have to pick up the tab for bailing out those countries which were foolish enough to join the euro. Those that are now locked into the single currency must make the best of a bad job but those that remain outside the eurozone must retain the economic freedom that they opted to keep.

However, at the heart of this row is a wider debate about the future shape of the EU. European officials often appear to be trapped in the 1970s and have failed to notice that the world has moved on. They spend far too much time worrying about whether their silly blue flag appears next to regeneration projects they have supported and not enough time tackling important problems like fraud and corruption.

The truth is that EU is trying to do too much and needs to be streamlined. This is more true than ever since the EU expanded to include 27 countries. In the 21st century we need an EU which does much less but does what it does more competently. More powers need to be returned to nation states.

Modernising the EU starts with national governments and national parliaments. We need our Westminster parliament to assert its authority over the EU. In future, British law must take precedence over EU law. That is why I support the plans for a Sovereignty of Parliament Act which would make clear that it does. Once we have restored some much needed accountability then, who knows, we might even see the EU budget being cut at long last.