Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Christmas

There is nothing like Christmas to bring our communities together and demonstrate the strength and resilience of our society. In recent weeks I have seen many local examples of the Christmas spirit in action.

Firstly, this year I ran another competition for primary schools to design my Christmas card and they really rose to the challenge with eleven schools taking part and many excellent entries. This year's winner was Charlie Roberts from Bodriggy Academy with a very creative picture of a snow man.

The various Christmas lights ceremonies have also been well supported this year. The Children’s Procession at Redruth was one of the first where students from Redruth School led the pupils from local primary schools through the town. There were some amazingly well decorated umbrellas with fairy lights and all, but thankfully there was no rain this year and the town’s residents were out in force to support this annual event. Turnout was also higher than expected at Hayle and it was standing room only as people packed in to hear some great performances by the choir from Bodriggy Academy and Heyl Town band who even dragged me in to help with the bells on one of their Christmas numbers.

Then there are the many carol services. I attended one at St Elwyn’s church where there were performances from local schools including Penpol, St Piran’s and Bodriggy and another Christmas themed event at Camborne School run by the Holman’s Climax Choir. The fact that this choir continues many years after Holman Bros disappeared shows real resilience.

Meanwhile, last week, Murdoch House in Redruth organised their annual Merrit Carol Concert. It was a cold morning but St Day and Carharrack band and the local Cantabile Singers were undeterred and put in excellent performances. It is also the party season and last Friday I attended the Christmas celebration organised by Redruth Community Radio which has established a roster of 23 DJ’s and local presenters in just nine months.

But the most striking thing about the Christmas spirit is the generosity of local people. Last weekend, I visited the Food Bank project run by the irrepressible Don Gardner with the help of dozens of other volunteers from churches across Camborne. The idea is simple: people who are in desperate need of food are issued vouchers by agencies like social services and the Citizens Advice Bureau and referred to the food bank to see them through difficult times.

This year volunteers have already put together 163 Christmas hampers for families in acute need and the charity has received many generous donations of food from both residents and local businesses to meet the demand. The success of projects like this makes me optimistic about the future of our society because at times of difficulty, we can still pull together.

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.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Jobs for the future

I have always said that the main challenge in this part of Cornwall is to attract new industries and create more and better paid jobs. In Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, decision time is looming on a number of big projects that could help create new jobs and these have been my main focus over the last year.

Firstly, we will know next week whether funds are available to build the new east to west road link at Tuckingmill. I have championed this road within government ever since I was elected. It would unlock the potential of derelict mining land and pave the way for the building of new industrial units and the creation of up to 5000 new jobs in the years ahead. It would also complete the excellent work done by the team at CPR Regeneration over the last few years but competition for funds is fierce, so fingers crossed.

Next up is the plan to regenerate Hayle Harbour. This is another project that has dominated much of my time since I was elected and work to regenerate North Quay is already underway following a government grant last year. I have always said that, if we are going to have another supermarket in Hayle, we should put it in the middle where it will bring new life into the town rather than drain life away and that we should use it as an opportunity to finally restore the harbour area to its former glory. The plans have the unanimous support of Hayle Town Council and were given approval by Cornwall Council in October but, due to objections by English Heritage, the proposals have now been referred to the government for a final decision. I hope that common sense will prevail and that Hayle can look forward to a bright future.

This week I also organised a meeting to progress plans for this part of Cornwall to be designated the first ever Marine Energy Park in the UK. Wave Hub in Hayle is the first facility of its kind in the world but we need to maintain momentum and start getting wave devices plugged in. The government has already agreed to our demands that Cornwall be given the same subsidy regime as Scotland which levelled the field. If we are successful in the New Year at being designated the first Marine Energy Park, Cornwall will overtake Scotland as the world leader in developing wave power technology.

Finally, plans to build a new Cornwall Records Office are being discussed and I strongly believe Redruth is the natural place to locate it. Redruth is at the heart of Cornwall’s heritage and is the town most associated with the world wide Cornish diaspora who emigrated in the 19th century. So let’s hope Cornwall Council gets this decision right and gives Redruth a boost at the same time.

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

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Water bill relief

Late last year I had a meeting with George Osborne to discuss the current issues affecting the South West. He asked me what single thing he could do in his budget that would help people in Cornwall and I said “sort out our water bills”. The problem is well known and has been rehearsed for many years: three percent of the population pays for the cost of maintaining 30 percent of the nation’s coast. It means that annual water bills in the South West are typically fifty percent higher than the level charged in other regions such as the South East and, in some cases, as much as double.

But, in politics, it is no good just talking about problems. In the end, you have to secure agreement for a solution and the confirmation this week that all households in Cornwall will receive a £50 discount off their water bills represents a really important breakthrough.

I have had many constituents approach me who are struggling to cope with their water bills. I remember, in particular, one pensioner on a low income who had a bill of £700 per year. In many cases, people find that they are far better off if they switch to a water meter and this is something that the water companies are keen to encourage. In other cases, people on low incomes are eligible for what is called the “Water Sure” tariff which offers a special discount to those on low incomes who are struggling.

These measures to deal with affordability are welcome, but what we really needed was a policy that would make our water bills fairer and this week we finally got it. The scheme is worth £40 million per year and it is a good example of where Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs working together have been able to really deliver for our county.

MPs from Devon and Cornwall have had many meetings with Ministers to maintain pressure since March and to ensure that the pledge remained intact. We have also managed to maintain a high profile for this issue within the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee which made some recommendations at the end of last year to spread the burden for those on lower incomes.

There had been quite a lobbying operation from other water companies elsewhere in the country who thought that they should have a share of the fund but this would have defeated the object of the scheme. To his credit, George Osborne has refused to budge on the announcement he made back in the spring. Water bills in the South West have been too high for too long and it is great news that we have finally managed to deliver a meaningful policy to restore some balance.

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, 25 November 2011

Fuel Prices

Rarely has an issue prompted such a large flurry of e-mails into my inbox as the parliamentary debate on fuel prices held last week. I received literally hundreds of messages from constituents concerned at the damaging effect that such high prices are having on businesses and families, and so I was pleased to be called to speak in the debate.

In his last budget, George Osborne announced several measures to address this issue, such as scrapping Labour’s planned rise in fuel duty and the so called "fuel price escalator" where fuel tax automatically rises above inflation year in, year out. The government also announced a pilot scheme for a rural rebate of five pence off every litre and a trial is planned on the Isles of Scilly very soon.

These measures may have stopped the problem getting worse, but it is now time for the Government to reassess fuel duty all together, in particular addressing the issue of what is essentially a tax on businesses located in peripheral regions.

When I was in business in Cornwall, I would often drive the lorry that took strawberries from Trevaskis Farm to Birmingham. The reality is that Cornwall is 300 miles away from London. A typical 16-tonne lorry doing a round trip would incur, in total, tax of around £220, just on that one trip. Let us compare that with a lorry driving from Birmingham to London and back: the tax would be only £80. A similar business operating in Cornwall has to pay three times more tax than one in Birmingham. That is unfair, and it is felt acutely by businesses in the primary sector, particularly in areas such as fishing and farming, in which Cornwall has competitive strengths. Our unique climate gives us an advantage in allowing us to produce early potatoes and cauliflowers during the winter. We should have a policy that reinforces those advantages, not that seeks to undermine them.

The irony is that places such as Cornwall have EU grants and regional growth funds to help develop businesses in areas where we have strengths, including food processing, farming, and green energy. But at the same time we are undermining those efforts by regressive taxation through high fuel duties. The impact of which is to compound the single most important disadvantage that a peninsula like Cornwall has which is its distance from the market.

In my speech to Parliament during the debate I made a suggestion on how we might go forward. Alongside the rural rebate that is currently being piloted (and that I hope is rolled out in Cornwall as soon as possible) I think we should introduce a rebate scheme that takes into account the comparatively long distances that businesses in peripheral areas have to travel to market. To be eligible, a business would have to be located in a county such as Cornwall. The rebate would be available only on fuel supplies delivered to an address in the area. Difficult problems often require creative solutions; it should not be beyond the wit of man to come up with such a scheme and it could be a powerful driver of growth and jobs here in Cornwall.

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

Monday, 14 November 2011

Remembrance Day

Last Sunday I attended the service of remembrance in Hayle followed by a parade and outdoor service at Illogan in the afternoon. Two students from Hayle School read out all the names of those killed in both the first, and then second, world war. It was really powerful and punctuated the sheer scale of the sacrifices made in both those wars in just one town alone. Many of the names were from well known local Hayle families who are still living here today. Meanwhile at Illogan, my attention was particularly drawn to the recent addition of Captain Daniel Read to the memorial. Dan Read was from Cornwall and was sadly killed in Afghanistan at the beginning of last year.

I think that the immediacy of the current mission in Afghanistan has made people far more conscious of the sacrifices being made on their behalf and it is why attendances at Remembrance services seems to have risen sharply in recent years. It was also good to see the Cadets, Scouts and Brownies out in such force to show their support again this year.

A few years ago, when I worked as an adviser to David Cameron, I travelled to Afghanistan to see first-hand the work of our armed forces. You cannot help but be impressed by their professionalism and can-do attitude. On arrival at Kandahar airfield we were warned that the base was being subjected to daily attacks by improvised rockets. In typical character, personnel at the base had taken to placing sweep stakes to predict where the next rocket would land. I can remember too, the young soldiers who were no more than 18 or 19 making up the Rapid Reaction Force, on stand-by to scramble out of the base and in to the night in hot pursuit of those who had just launched the latest rocket attack. It was all designed to make sure it didn’t get at all easy for the insurgents.

We also visited Lashkar Gah, one of the main cities in Helmand province which had serious security issues at the time but where both the British Army and aid agencies were digging new wells to improve the lives of the local community. Today, the security situation in Lashkar Gah has improved considerably and it shows the importance of winning over the local population as well as winning on the battlefield.

The ongoing commitment of British troops in Afghanistan is the gravest responsibility facing any government or parliament. We can all agree that we should bring our troops home as quickly as possible. Afghanistan is not going to be a perfect democracy any time soon but creating a settled security situation in which stable government can develop is a realistic prospect. It is why the work to train the Afghan Army so they can take over responsibility for their own security is so important.

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

Monday, 7 November 2011

Stealth visit by the Olympic torch

It was predictable enough that next year's Olympic Torch Relay would start at Land's End but few could have imagined that the route would bypass the largest conurbation in Cornwall.

The Games organisers claim that they aim to bring the torch to all the main population centres. If that is the case, then the chosen route through Cornwall represents something of a cock-up.

The Camborne-Redruth conurbation is the heart of Cornwall with a population of 60,000 compared to a mere 20,000 for the "City" of Truro, and just 10,000 for Helston both of which are included on the route.

Carn Brea is home to Cornwall's only eight lane synthetic athletics track and the largest athletics club in Cornwall. Camborne and Redruth are also the centre of Cornish Rugby and the heart of Cornwall's industrial heritage.

What on earth were the organisers thinking?

Friday, 4 November 2011

Cornwall Council

Turning around failing organisations always takes time but I have watched the progress made at Cornwall Council over the past two years with interest. Much of the constituency case work that an MP receives relates directly to the work of the local authority. From highways and parking issues, to housing, anti- social behaviour, planning and school transport. There are many challenges that people face in their daily lives which need an effective response from Cornwall Council and, as an MP, you get to know where weaknesses exist and where improvements are taking place.

It is always easy to criticise and highlight those areas where improvements are still needed but I also think it very important to give credit where credit is due and to recognise the improvements that have been made. I think that Alec Robertson has grown into the job as Council Leader and that, bit by bit, the problems that have plagued Cornwall for years are being sorted out.

Three years ago, Cornwall Council was rated by the Audit Commission as one of the worst performing councils in the country, right down in the bottom 4 percent. But this year it was shortlisted for an award as the most improved Council of the year.

Three years ago, spending by Cornwall Council was out of control with debts rising and council tax going up. Now, the finances are back under control and council tax has been frozen this year and will be frozen again next year to help hard pressed households.

And who can forget how Cornwall was turned into a national laughing stock three years ago over the mismanagement which led to Newquay Airport being forced to close? But this year, Newquay Airport has been designated an Enterprise Zone with the potential to create hundreds of new, high paid jobs in the aerospace industry.

Finally, there has been solid progress improving services like adult social care and child protection. This year, the adult social care budget was protected and next year it will be increased. There have also been important personnel changes which mean that Cornwall’s social services are starting to raise their game.

The early action to sort out Cornwall Council's finances means that Alec Robertson has been able to bring forward other creative policy ideas including a new bursary fund to help Cornish students study for their degree and a new top up to the government's Learner Support Fund to help those in further education with costs like transport and text books.

I don’t pretend that everything is perfect. There is still a lot more to do, but Cornwall Council has made good progress over the last two years and we should give credit where credit is due.

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.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Breathing new life into our town centres

Last year, I organised a conference to explore how we can revitalise and give a new sense of purpose to our towns and, this week, I attended a meeting in parliament of a group of like minded MPs who are all aiming to deliver the same results in their own areas.

There is a lot of exciting new work going on in this area. Hayle has had a long wait but might, at long last, be about to see a major restoration of the harbour area complete with new restaurants and a cinema. Camborne has been boosted by the arrival of Wetherspoons in the centre of town and a few weeks ago I met the Chinese owner of the Redruth Brewery site to see how we can kick start some activity there because it must be Redruth’s turn next. I would like to see the Cornish Records Office moved from Truro to Redruth where it belongs because it could be the catalyst for a new retail offering based on Cornwall’s heritage and culture.

The inexorable growth of out-of-town supermarkets has taken people away from our towns so, in future, let’s put them in the centre where they bring life in rather than outside where they drain life away. Secondly, high business rates have driven some small retailers out of business so let’s make it easier for new shops to open by giving them soft rates for the first year to get on their feet and let’s help struggling retailers by giving them discounts from their existing business rates.

Thirdly, we should not duck the fact that free car parking is a factor that can encourage people back into town. If you are going to Camborne to buy a pasty or get some photos developed, the high cost of car parking is enough to put you off. So I think we need to look at ways of funding free car parking for the first hour. It has worked well in other towns elsewhere in the country and where there is a will, there is a way. Finally, we need to do more to attract destination retailers to our towns which would raise the tide for all the other shops too. There is often a lack of suitable retail space but you only need one or two brand names to create some momentum.

The government has made a lot of these ideas possible because it is allowing Councils to keep all the rates on new commercial premises so the income retained from new industrial units at Pool and Treleigh could be ploughed back into schemes to kick start our town centres. But we need a plan to make it happen.

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.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Getting alcohol laws right

Last weekend I did a stint working behind the bar at the Tyacks Hotel in Camborne. It was part of a project organised by the Beer and Pubs Association and it aimed to raise awareness of the issues affecting our pubs. I had a bit of a head start in that I used to occasionally do shifts behind the bar at Trevaskis Farm some years ago, although admittedly that was before the days of the sophisticated new tills that most establishments now use.

The local pub is an important part of many communities but many of them are facing difficult times with several thousand closing in recent years. We all have a role to play supporting them and there is truth in the adage that we should “use them or lose them” but we also need to get policy in this area right. There is no doubt that the smoking ban introduced by the last government did damage to many traditional pubs which sell drink rather than food. They have also been undermined by the advent of cheap alcohol sold by supermarkets.

Binge drinking and alcohol abuse is a problem but, if we are serious about tackling it then we have to start by picking the right target and it is wrong to target pubs. It is better by far to have people drinking socially and responsibly within a pub atmosphere than getting hammered on cider out on the streets. The evidence is also very clear that pubs are refusing to serve people who they believe to be underage or drunk in far greater numbers today than at any time before so they are taking their responsibilities seriously. And despite concerns about underage drinking, there is some evidence that more teenagers under 18 abstain from drinking now than was the case in the 1980’s. The problem is that some of those who do drink do so far more heavily than previous generations. It is a difficult balance to get right because introducing young people to a small glass of wine within the home over a meal on special occasions can help make them more responsible when they turn eighteen.

The truth is that serious alcohol abuse is often linked to other social problems such as social breakdown and chaotic lifestyles, so we need to start by dealing with those issues. A lot of problem drinking, including underage drinking, occurs outdoors on the streets and in the parks, so why don’t we take a tougher line on that? There have also been many studies which show that cheap alcohol sold in supermarkets has been a factor so perhaps it is time to increase duties on supermarket sales but reduce it for pubs so people can be encouraged to drink responsibly.

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.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

The importance of education

On Monday during our conference in Manchester, I took part in an event which discussed, among other things, education policy. I have always believed that one of the lasting legacies of the current government could be a transformation in our schools and I am a strong advocate of the policies being put forward by Michael Gove.

This part of Cornwall has had its share of hard knocks in recent decades and as a result there are thousands of local people who are trapped in welfare dependency and have lost the confidence to get a job. In some cases the culture of dependency and low aspiration spans generations with children leaving school when neither their father nor grandfather worked. Turning this culture around will take time but we have to start now and good schooling is the central ingredient to raising aspiration for the next generation.

Many schools in Cornwall have now become academies, becoming independent schools within the state sector. They have all the benefits of private schools but they are free to all. Last Friday I visited Bodriggy Academy in Hayle. This is a school that has come a long way in the last ten years and is now rated as outstanding by the schools regulator. One of the governors told me that at every meeting they ask themselves the question, “how can we make it even better next year?” So far they have used their new freedoms to create a new reception area and to employ a full time speech therapist to give intense support to children starting at school but who have difficulties with communication. I think that is absolutely crucial because unless children can communicate and use language, they will never learn other skills, will slip further and further behind the rest of their class and become resentful and disruptive by the time they are teenagers. Bodriggy had also bought new uniforms for all the children and it was touching to see the pride that they took in their newly formed Academy.

Many of our other schools are getting better and better each year. There is really healthy competition between the schools in Camborne, Pool and Redruth. Both Pool Academy and Redruth School have launched a new uniform this term following Camborne’s successful change a couple of years ago. The motto of Redruth, “Expect the best” sums up what we need our schools to do. They should all unashamedly champion excellence and achievement.

It is funny how things go full circle. During the 60’s and 70’s, the teaching profession went through a phase of thinking it was trendy and progressive to throw out old fashioned values and standards but the tide has turned and standards are on the way back.

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

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The party train to party conference

I am now on the 18.04 from Camborne to Paddington which will get me in to Paddington by midnight so that I can then drive to Manchester tomorrow morning for the start of our party conference.

The 6.04 is the very last train to London on a Saturday night and I am a frequent traveller on it. I call it the "party train" because through the course of the journey, you see a fascinating profile of a saturday night out. There are always pretty girls dressed for a night out waiting on the platform at Camborne, probably on their way to the L2 nightclub in Truro (it was called The Loft back in my day). At Par, all those who have had a day out in Newquay get in board, surf boards and all. By Liskeard, there are people heading for a night out in Plymouth. By the time you get to Bristol, people who have had a few too many drinks but are on their way home start to get aboard and it gets progressively more rowdy until people start falling asleep towards the end. I suspect that it is not the favourite shift for the wonderfully patient First Great Western staff but probably beats the sometimes overcrowded Sunday trains.

Tomorrow morning I will be driving up to Manchester for our Party conference. In my former role managing the press, conference was one of the most demanding and stressful weeks of the year but, as a backbench MP, you actually get the chance to enjoy the fringe events and various debates in a way that was never previously possible. I am speaking at two - one on education for Policy Exchange and another on the future of the EU for the Centre for European Reform.

And, lest I sound pious talking about people drinking too much on a Saturday night out, I suspect I will also have a drink or two in Manchester.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Guardian media debate

Yesterday I took part in packed Guardian debate to discuss how the press can restore public trust in the wake of the hacking scandal. On the panel with me were Carl Bernstein, the legendary investigative journalist who led the exposure of the Watergate scandal in the US, Sylvie Kauffman, from Le Monde and Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian.

It proved to be something of a role reversal for both myself and the audience of budding journalists and Guardian Media types. For the Guardian set, there was much hand wringing about the perceived unbridled power of Rupert Murdoch and those awful tabloids but a stubborn reluctance to countenance better regulation to deal with that power. Meanwhile, as a Conservative, I am ideologically opposed to excessive regulation but, after spending four years dealing with the fourth estate while head of media at the Conservative Party, reluctantly concluded that it was the only answer to restore some kind of accountability to our media.

People do not own national newspapers to make money – most papers make a loss. Newspapers are generally owned by people who made their money doing something else but own papers because, rightly or wrongly, they think it buys them status or, perhaps, influence. That can’t be healthy.

Carl Bernstein opposed any form of code which sought to require standards of accuracy or even truth in newspapers, saying that this would be tantamount to a “truth commission”. However, the only reason that newspapers are feared is that they have the unbridled power to print things that are untrue and to create, as the great propagandist Walter Lipman put it, a “pseudo-environment” of information which enables the opinion of the masses to be “regimented” in a particular way. Journalism should aspire to do better than that.

We can’t go on with a situation where the closest thing we have to accountability for the media is Private Eye’s 'Street of Shame' column. My argument is that journalists have nothing to fear from a properly enforced code of conduct backed up by sanctions because it would enhance the status of their profession. In my four years working at close quarters with the media, I saw frequent instances where “hatchet job” stories which were known to be untrue by their writers appeared in print, often for no better reason than the fact that an editor had thrown a tantrum because the party had just given a particular announcement to a rival paper and they felt they needed to extract revenge. What a betrayal of their readers.

In the early days of David Cameron’s leadership, we pursued a strategy that sought to deal with this. We believed that if politicians were less craven about courting the media but instead were a little more aloof, you could rebalance the culture and politely puncture media arrogance and re-calibrate their position within democratic society. So there were to be fewer exclusive briefings handed out like sweets, fairer treatment for papers who were not our natural allies, shrill leader columns were to be ignored as one would ignore a child’s tantrum and we would spend less time courting editors and proprietors over dinner but instead have a cup of tea with the journalists working at the coal face. We had some early successes but in the end if foundered when Gordon Brown arrived because, while technically weak, he was the most craven media tart of them all and the media lapped it up and gave him a honeymoon.

The phone hacking scandal means that people are, for the first time, willing to question the unbridled power of the media. The days of accountability applying to everyone except the newspapers themselves might finally be over and both journalism and democracy could be stronger as a result.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Time for Cornwall to take control of its own heritage

I have always believed that this part of Cornwall could make more of its amazing industrial heritage and earlier this summer I organised a mini conference to discuss how we can maximise the benefits from Cornwall’s World Heritage Site status. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle together make up the heart of the county’s industrial heritage. There are also around 8 million people around the world who are part of the Cornish Diaspora, with ancestors who can be traced back to Cornwall.

Some good work is already underway. Last week I visited the Heartlands project at Pool which is almost complete and which could create a strong central attraction to pull more people into the area. As well as bringing the engine house at Robinson’s shaft back into action, the project is also developing what promises to be an amazing landscaping project. Around the engine house will be a reflection pool and a bridge and beyond the bridge a series of gardens with plants from New Zealand, Australia, South America and South Africa to symbolise the route that thousands of Cornish emigrants took.

As I wrote last week, there is also a lot of potential for Hayle which played a central role in Cornwall’s industrial past. There are plans to restore the harbour to its former glory and to return home the famous Goonvean engine which was manufactured at Hayle Foundry. There would even be working sluicing gates to reduce the need for dredging and the plans recently gained the unanimous backing of Hayle Town Council.

However, in a bizarre twist to the story, the campaign against restoring Hayle harbour is actually being led by none other than English Heritage, the organisation that is paid for by you and I and is supposed to promote and celebrate heritage in Britain. English Heritage is one of those quangos which was very nearly shut down by the government last year but, instead, it was decided to place it on a review list and to streamline its operations.

In recent years there has been a growing feeling that Cornwall should have its own heritage organisation which takes over from English Heritage. After all, how can a quango whose nearest office is in Bristol possibly understand issues in Hayle? If you look at their website, there is not one single reference to Camborne, Redruth or Hayle, even though our towns are at the heart of a World Heritage Site. Instead, what you get are pictures of pretty castles in the home counties. Cornwall’s industrial heritage should be an attraction to the whole world but it belongs to Cornwall and Cornwall alone. It is time we started to make our own decisions about how best to bring it to life.

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

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Hayle

The opportunity to put Hayle on the map and restore the harbour area to its former glory came a step closer last week as Hayle Town Council unanimously backed the latest proposal put forward by ING for the restoration of South Quay.

There has been a lot of interest in Hayle over the last year or so with no less than four separate applications coming forward wanting to build a new supermarket. At times, both planners and residents have been presented with a very complicated set of options and it has been difficult to work out what best to do but the people of Hayle have now swung overwhelmingly behind the ING proposals for South Quay.

I have always been clear that, if we are going to have a supermarket in Hayle, then we must make sure our community gets something in return and we should put it where it will bring life into the town rather than drain life away. I think there has been a problem in the past with supermarkets being built in out of town locations which have undermined our town centres and smaller retailers. There are excellent independent clothes shops in Hayle including Dune and The Wharf at Copperhouse. Meanwhile, Penpol Terrace has Mr B’s, the best ice cream parlour in Cornwall. I would like to see successful development that spurs even more new businesses forward and it starts with South Quay.

The competitive interest shown by supermarkets in Hayle has created a once in a generation opportunity to deliver that thing which has eluded the town for far too long: the chance to restore and regenerate the harbour area around South Quay. It has been talked about all my life time and now we have a chance to deliver it. Over the last six months, many people in the community and heritage groups have worked closely with ING to try to improve the design of the scheme and to come up with something interesting and striking that respects and celebrates Hayle’s extraordinary heritage. They have done well. The plans would also see the return of working sluicing gates which would dramatically reduce the need for dredging so it would also be a victory for the long standing campaign run by Save Our Sand.

It has always depressed me that tourists staying at Hayle all too often drive around to St Ives for an evening out. I want to see people leaving St Ives and coming to Hayle because, in future, it will be the place to be. We could even run a shuttle boat service to improve communication between the two towns and bring people into Hayle. There are still one or two more hurdles to overcome but Hayle is a town which could finally be going places. Let’s do it.

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

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Kernow Credit Union

The last few years has seen a growing problem with loan sharks: unscrupulous money lenders who prey on families on low incomes and sting them with extortionate interest charges which often equate to interest rates of several hundred percent per year. Once on the hook families find that they are unable to escape their debts because every bit of money they have gets scooped up in interest charges.

I have never had much time for banks. In my early career when we were in the middle of a dispute with our bank, I always remember one financial adviser shrugging his shoulders and telling me that banks are money lenders and if you look in the bible, they don’t come too high up. But the loan sharks who prey on those most in need are the worst type of money lenders and I would support clearer regulation to curtail their sharp practices.

In the meantime, we must do much more to highlight better ways of helping families manage their finances in difficult times. Last week I decided to join the Kernow Credit Union based at Redruth. I think that credit unions are a fantastic idea and we need membership of them to become the norm. The concept is what can best be described as ethical and safe banking. Those who demonstrate commitment and thrift by saving for at least three months are then able to borrow up to three times the amount that they have saved at low interest rates. They do not do “credit checks” on people. There are none of those “subject to status” caveats in the small print of promotional literature. Instead, people earn their status by being conscientious to the credit union and demonstrating that they are willing to put aside a set amount of money each week or month.

People save regularly and are allocated shares in the local credit union so that they become shareholders with an asset. The credit union pays an annual yield or interest on those shares which equates to about 2 percent, higher than most banks would offer at the moment. The rates on the loans tend to be comparable with good rates from high street banks but less than credit cards. There is also one additional bonus. A life insurance scheme is automatically included. On death, the credit union pays the next of kin double the value of the shares held in the credit union.

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 and people who start saving today will be able to borrow for Christmas.

Kernow Credit Union is based on the ground floor of the Town Council office building, Penryn Street, Redruth, telephone 01209 314449. Their website is www.kfcreditunion.co.uk


Friday, 26 August 2011

Cornwall

It was a year ago this week that Florence Endellion Cameron was born while the Prime Minister and his family were on holiday here in Cornwall. Last weekend they were in Cornwall again in their second attempt this year at getting an August break.

You have to go back a long way to find a Prime Minister who has been so passionate for Cornwall. Margaret Thatcher used to regularly visit Cornwall on holiday and Harold Wilson famously loved the Scilly Isles but over the last twenty years, Cornwall hasn’t seen much of its Prime Ministers and it is good to see that trend well and truly broken. By my calculation, David Cameron has holidayed in Cornwall for four of the last five years and has been undeterred by the fact that there have been some very wet summers in that time. I am not sure if there has ever been a Prime Minister in history who had a Cornish daughter, let alone one named after a Cornish village.

Also in Cornwall last week was George Osborne who was here to announce that Cornwall has been successful in being awarded an Enterprise Zone at Newquay Airport to create new jobs by offering incentives for new companies to invest in the county. There was very tough competition across the country with many bids chasing only a handful of Enterprise Zones and so it has been a major achievement to get one here in Cornwall. It was always going to be important for the new Local Enterprise Partnership in Cornwall to deliver some early successes to build credibility so this was an important step forward. It was also a reminder of the benefits to Cornwall of being politically plugged in to the government so that we can get our voice heard.

Last week while canvassing in Camborne I met a constituent who was working at Parker, the American engineering firm in Redruth which is currently planning to close. He had worked in engineering all his life. Although he was understandably concerned for the future, he was also determined to find new work, had a can-do attitude and was the sort of person who should have no difficulty. But for me, it was a reminder that getting new industries and better paid jobs in Cornwall must remain the number one priority. We need to make sure that the benefits of the Enterprise Zone lift employment prospects across Cornwall and the task now for the LEP is to plan how there can be spin off benefits to towns like Camborne and Redruth perhaps by creating incentives on Business Rates. There are some good news stories with development at Hayle and new manufacturers such as Calidus and Seasalt opening in Redruth but there is more to do.

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

Monday, 22 August 2011

A busy August

August is usually a quiet month for politics, but this year has certainly turned out to be an exception. Not only have we seen the shocking spectacle to looting and criminality on the streets of our major cities, but the world economy has also been teetering on the brink and the financial markets have been spooked by problems in both the US and the Eurozone.

It was against this backdrop that parliament was recalled to debate the current troubles. The House of Commons was packed last Thursday and, as dozens of MPs rose to their feet to address incidences of violence and looting that had erupted in their constituencies, you got a sense of how many people had been affected.

Parliament also addressed the perilous state of the world economy. As Eurozone countries continue to limp from one crisis to another, the recent deadlock between the Senate and the Congress in the United States over how to deal with their own debt crisis sent the money markets into a tailspin.

The one thing that recent events do prove is that the early action taken by George Osborne to get Britain’s finances back in order was right. A year ago, some commentators were pointing to the laid back approach being taken by President Obama to America’s debt mountain and suggesting that we should do the same. But a year on, the credit rating of the world’s biggest economy has been downgraded in an unprecedented move and growth has stalled. The truth is that you can’t keep living on borrowed money forever. You can only borrow if people are willing to lend to you. In recent years, both the United States and Europe have borrowed and spent more and more money from countries like China who actually make things and so have a surplus. They will want to be paid back at some point and will stop lending if they think you are not serious about repaying them. That is what has been happening to both America and those countries trapped inside the euro in recent weeks.

As a result of Britain acting early to cut its deficit, the world financial markets are starting to see the UK as a safe haven and, as a result, the yields on UK Gilts (put simply the interest rate the government needs to pay to attract people to lend it money) has fallen to the lowest level for over 100 years. While growth is slowing around the world, it is still 1.5 percent in Britain compared to zero in France. These things are more than just statistics. Sound management of the economy means lower mortgage rates for families and a boost to economic confidence which means more jobs and new businesses starting up. That is why we must hold our nerve and continue to live within our means.

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

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Riots in London

The riots in London this week have highlighted the problems caused by a gangland culture which seems to have become a feature of our major cities in recent years. Those involved were very young, in many cases still of school age. This was not a protest that got out of control or hijacked. The fact that wanton violence and looting spread so quickly and opportunistically to other parts of London proved that there was no single event that prompted these riots, it was simply the case that people with a criminal tendency jumped on a bandwagon.

There are many reasons why this dire gang culture has grown in recent years. It is partly because of the gradual breakdown of the traditional family unit. This means that fewer boys have a positive role model when they are growing up and, in too many cases, they end up seeking their inspiration and sense of belonging from urban gangs. It is partly driven by popular culture and the mainstreaming of a gang culture through things like rap music. Finally, the authority of teachers to maintain discipline in some schools, especially in our inner cities, has been undermined in recent years.

Putting these problems right will take time but it is important that we start now. There are some things we can’t change: popular culture moves in cycles but rap music will eventually lose its street credibility. Of the things we can change, first, we need to rekindle the family unit and, when doing that, we must also recognise the incredible role that millions of men play as step-fathers, supporting children for whom they are not the biological father.

Next, we need to improve discipline in schools and that is why the government is currently introducing new legislation that will tip the balance back in favour of the authority of teachers and strike down some of the obstacles that have prevented them doing basic things like confiscating mobile phones, expelling pupils or using reasonable force to restrain violent children.

Finally, I think we need to introduce a modern day form of national service so that young people from all sorts of different backgrounds come together and achieve something together. Some countries do this better than we do and they recognise that it can break down barriers in society. There are many good organisations already such as sports clubs, youth clubs, dance groups and the cadets movement but we need to make participation in such activity more universal. This summer the government has been piloting the idea of a National Citizens Service which aims to do just that. We will see how it develops but I would personally not rule out making such a scheme compulsory so that the hardest to reach also benefit.

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

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Celebrating Cornwall's Industrial Heritage

With parliament now in recess, August is a very good month to focus on meetings and work in Cornwall. I am holding a series of public meetings across the constituency this month starting with two this week at Ponsanooth and Mount Hawke and with others to follow every week. It is a great way to keep in touch with people’s concerns.

The parliamentary recess is also a good time to take forward other local initiatives. Last week I organised a mini conference to discuss how we can maximise the benefits from Cornwall’s World Heritage Site status. Almost sixty people packed into Murdoch House in Redruth to take part in the discussion.

Camborne, Redruth and Hayle together make up the heart of Cornwall’s industrial heritage with most of the key attractions and old engine houses based here. Although people are aware of Cornwall’s industrial landscape, very few realise that we are a World Heritage Site. This is partly because most World Heritage Sites are clearly defined single locations and having a large site covering the whole of Cornwall (and part of West Devon) creates challenges.

I think we should make more of our heritage. We might be able to build a stronger tourist offering to visitors, especially those returning from overseas to trace their ancestors. There are around 8 million people around the world who are part of the Cornish Diaspora, with ancestors who can be traced back to Cornwall. These Cornish emigrants took mining technology around the globe to places such as Australia, the United States, Mexico and South America. The growth of the internet has made it easier for people to trace their family history and there has been a surge of interest in such research.

Some good work is already underway in Cornwall. We had a detailed presentation from the World Heritage Site team at Cornwall Council who have helped develop the offering of a number of local mining attractions, created a new website and done a lot of research into public perceptions. The Heartlands project at Pool is almost complete and there is the hope that this will create a strong central attraction which will pull more people into the area and benefit the other attractions too. We also heard from the Trevithick Society of their imminent plans to display Trevithick’s Puffing Devil engine in the old Holmans showroom beside Camborne railway station which I think is a great idea.

But there is also more to do. We need to do more to improve and support our tourist attractions, we need better signage so that awareness is raised and we need to do more to market the extraordinary heritage we have. There was certainly no shortage of enthusiasm and passion at our meeting and I hope people will work together to create success.

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

Friday, 29 July 2011

Student Fees

With schools breaking up for the summer, many young people will be making the most of a well earned break before they get their exam results in the middle of August. For those who have just taken their A levels, it is a particularly anxious time because the results they get can affect their hopes of going to the university of their choice.

The changes the government brought in regarding tuition fees raised the threshold before students have to repay any contribution to the cost of their fees, so graduates will only start to repay money if they earn over £21,000 per year. In that sense, graduates will have less pressure on their finances than their predecessors. However, it is also true that the overall student contribution to tuition fees, over their working career, has now increased. That is why it is so important that the next generation of students shop around and demand more from universities for less money.

I was disappointed to see so many universities decide to charge the maximum fee possible of £9000 per year. This highest fee was intended to ensure that the very top universities, such as Oxford or Cambridge, were able to maintain their position as international centres of excellence. Higher fees can be justified in such institutions because there is a genuine premium on the career prospects of a graduate leaving Oxford or Cambridge so they will be able to afford it. However, in a lot of other cases, the decision cannot be justified. It looks like some universities charged the highest amount because they regarded it as an issue of status: that, to be perceived as a “top university”, they had to charge as much as possible. This “spend as much as you can” mindset is exactly the sort of backward attitude that bankrupted the nation’s finances over the last decade and students should have no truck with it.

The solution is to increase competition. Earlier this summer, Cornwall College announced that it would be offering degree courses for £6000 per year. Some other universities are charging a full 50 percent more for identical degrees. In the old days, Colleges like Cornwall College could only offer degree courses through a franchise agreement with another university which then used to take a cut for themselves. The government has now decided to open the system up, cut out the middle man and let colleges offer degree courses directly which is good news for students.
Some academics have wailed that this is a “race to the bottom” but it is nothing of the sort. It is just healthy competition. We need students to realise that the universities and lecturers work for them now and students now decide what a course is worth. They should vote with their feet to get the best deal they can.

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.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Localism

I have visited many of the parish and town councils in recent months and plan to meet the remainder in the months ahead. The government has put the principle of “localism” at the heart of its agenda and I want to make sure that it works in practice as well as in theory. This is especially important in Cornwall because we are a dispersed county with a single unitary authority so we need strong town and parish councils as a counterbalance.

Localism means a radical transfer of power downwards: from national government to Cornwall Council, from Cornwall Council to the parish councils and from parish councils to local groups who can get things done. If you give institutions power, then they will develop greater responsibility. If we want to attract talented local activists to stand for election on parish councils then we must give them the tools to do the job. Serious people have no interest in attending a talking shop that gets ignored.

Under the last government, there were a lot of disappointed hopes. Some parish councils say that the old Cornwall Council paid lip service to localism but refused to let go of the purse strings. It is crucial that we get it right this time. The problem with previous attempts is that the balance of power within the relationship was wrong. Local authorities regarded parish councils as mere “stakeholders” to be listened to and talked at. The only way to change this is to change the law so that there is a presumption in favour of parish councils that gives them a proper negotiating position.

Everything the government has done has been aimed at driving this culture change. In future, parish councils will be able to put forward their own plans and put them to a referendum of local residents. If supported, these parish plans will take precedence over the opinions of Cornwall Council planners. A developer who has strong local support will be able, in some circumstances, to by-pass the planning authority altogether through a local referendum.

The government is also going to allow communities to keep all of the council tax on new homes that are built and match that pound for pound with an additional bonus. This creates a powerful incentive for local communities to build housing for local need (but no more). But Cornwall Council will only be able to build the houses it plans, if it gets the agreement of parish councils. This, at long last, gives parishes the negotiating position they need. They should demand their share of the new council tax bonus in return for their agreement to accept some new housing and they can use that money for the things the community wants. This would boost the authority of parish councils, giving them more money and ensuring that they can never be dismissed again.

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.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Health and Safety

One challenge facing the government is how to restore a culture where people are prepared to take more responsibility for themselves and their communities. Last week, Michael Gove made an excellent step forward by slashing health and safety guidance for schools from some 150 pages to just eight pages.

Adventure and learning by your mistakes is a crucial part of growing up but, in recent years, there has been an appalling growth of petty, back covering process and paperwork which has stifled personal initiative and undermined the values which make a civilised society.

Last week, I met a constituent who tried to organise a charity event by getting everyone in the village to open their gardens to people from the neighbourhood for a fee that went to charity. He was told by his insurance company that he wasn't covered for doing such a low risk good turn for society and so the event was put in jeopardy.

I have come across numerous events this summer where organisers have bemoaned the growth of ludicrous rules regarding road closures and the like which have hindered their communities. Camborne Chamber of Commerce is currently in a dispute with Cornwall Council over so called “bunting regulations” - petty rules which require a risk management assessment to be carried out before bunting can be put up for special occasions.

Last summer, the King’s Troop, were granted "freedom of the town" by Camborne Town Council during their visit to Cornwall and a ceremony was planned where the cavalry would parade through the town. In an ironic twist, safety concerns meant that freedom of the town was limited to a tiny stretch of Trelowarren Street at which point they had to turn around and go back.

A key driver of this risk averse culture has been the growth of sham litigation. Lawyers offering “no win, no fee” services have created a whole industry. Solicitors can even buy insurance so that if they lose a case, the defendant’s legal costs are covered. They can afford this because they take a big cut when they do win. The result is that people can sue at no risk to their own pocket and that is wrong. That is why the government also unveiled plans last week to crack down on this iniquitous compensation culture.

But another reason this risk averse culture has grown is that governments, local authorities and, to some extent, the public have failed to recognise the value of risk. Risk taking is an essential flip side to the pursuit of excellence. Successful business people take risks all the time. Life itself is a bit of a risk. I am not saying we should abolish health and safety regulation altogether – dangerous industries like farming and construction definitely need protection. But it needs to be proportionate. Surely we can take a chance on a bit of bunting?

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

Friday, 1 July 2011

Cornwall School Games

Last weekend I attended the Cornwall School Games which was taking place at a number of venues around the county. 1600 Cornish school children took part in a whole range of events including athletics, rugby, hockey, netball and even sailing, cheerleading and gig racing.
Cornwall was one of just nine areas across the country to pilot the idea of a major county wide games event covering many different sports. The aim is to boost the amount of competitive sport taking place in schools and to inspire all children, whatever the ability, to achieve their own personal best performance in the sport of their choice.

With the Olympics coming to Britain next year, we need to do all we can to leave a lasting legacy and if one of those legacies is a new games event that lasts for years to come and helps children find the sport that is right for them, that would have been one good outcome.

I have always thought that sport has a crucial role to play in education. Despite the old stereotype of the brainy children at school being the less sporty, the truth is that there is actually a lot of evidence that physical activity and fitness can boost the performance of the brain. There has also been concern in recent years about the growing problem of childhood obesity. The growth of electronic games and home computers means that some children are less active now than they perhaps might have been in the past and it requires a special focus on sport to try to counterbalance that development.

Because of our coast, Cornwall is also blessed with a whole range of sporting activities that are not realistic prospects in other parts of the country from surfing to sailing and so everyone can find something that they enjoy or are good at. At Stithians reservoir, we also have the best site in the UK for windsurfing.

The other striking thing about sport is the strong network of support with all of the voluntary clubs and we should take our hat off to the hard work of volunteers who keep those clubs going. When I was growing up, my passion was running and I will never forget the volunteers at Cornwall Athletic Club who gave up their time to coach us, drive the mini bus to competitions at the weekend and act as officials at all the events. Quite often, these volunteers started because their own children were interested in the sport, but once involved, they were committed and would often stay involved for many years after their children had moved on.

I hope that last weekend, some of those 1600 children will have discovered a new passion for a sport they excelled at and will go on to pursue it through one of the many local clubs.

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

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Education

New figures released last week concluded that Pengegon is the most deprived neighbourhood in Cornwall. I think that politicians and officials need to be careful when they talk in broad terms about "deprived communities". It is very easy to sound patronising when the truth is that people who live at Pengegon know things about life that the officials who compile data and write these reports will never understand.

There is also some very good work being done at Pengegon led by Claire Arymar, the neighbourhood manager. Whether setting up youth groups, taking children for a day out at the beach, organising community events such as the summer barbecue or helping protect families against loan sharks. It has all started to have an impact and there is pride.

Longer term, education is the key. It is the single most important thing that can help raise aspiration and get families off benefits and in to work. Last Friday, Michael Gove visited six schools in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. He was very impressed by what he saw, whether the focus on languages and enterprise at Hayle, science and international exchanges at Camborne, the focus on reading and literacy at Pool and the new school uniform being introduced at Redruth.

We also visited Trevithick Primary school which educates most of the children who live at Pengegon. Michael Gove was impressed. This school had been failing eight years ago but, today, is rated as outstanding by Ofsted and has just become an academy. Much of the change is down to good leadership and the commitment of the teaching staff and the children were clearly enthusiastic about learning and were happy. The officials who compiled the data on deprived neighbourhoods in Cornwall ought to meet them.

There is a strong emphasis on reading and literacy at Trevithick with one to one tuition outside the classroom where teachers develop the reading skills of individual pupils. I think this is so important because, in the past, things have sometimes gone wrong in the early years. Unless children learn to read and write at primary school and develop basic numeracy skills, then they will struggle to keep up at secondary school and before you know it, their morale suffers and they start to conclude that school is not for them. That is an appalling waste of human potential and we need to do all we can to ensure that standards are high and that the system does not fail children in those crucial early years.

Parents have a responsibility too. There is very clear evidence that the first three years of a child’s life are crucial to their later life chances and good parenting, with plenty of love, lots of communication and opportunities to play and explore their surroundings can make a huge difference to a child’s development. We must ensure that parents really understand this.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

NHS

Last week I met local NHS campaigners to discuss the concerns that they had with the current legislation going through parliament. I agreed with a lot of what they said and took their petition back to parliament. This week the government has made major changes to its proposals having listened to the views of thousands of medical professionals.

I used to work for David Cameron and I know that the NHS is very dear to his heart. He was the only party leader to guarantee an increase in NHS spending despite the pressures on public finances. He always argued that the NHS was special because of the commitment and sense of vocation among doctors and nurses. What motivates them is helping cure people who are ill, and that is more powerful than abstract ideas about markets.

That is why David Cameron was absolutely right to listen to the concerns expressed by doctors and nurses. Some political opponents will jump on his decision to amend the legislation and condemn it as a “u-turn”. But do we really want a government that refuses to listen? The brave thing to do is to have an open mind to your critics, take on board their views and reappraise your proposals. That is especially true with the NHS which is such a crucial British institution and which is literally a matter of life and death. So David Cameron has done the right thing and it comes as no surprise to those of us who know him.

The thrust of the government’s proposals on health is right. It cuts spending on managers and bureaucrats so that spending on the front line can be boosted. It gives more power to doctors and nurses so that they can decide what is best for their patients. It allows the private sector to offer a helping hand to our NHS so that waiting times can be cut. These are all things that people agree with.

However, when it comes to choice and competition in the NHS, I think we need to take a pragmatic view. The point about choice is that it should be an option for doctors, not a requirement. One of the problems with the way the legislation was originally drafted is that it suggested to some that competition was an end in itself rather than just a means to an end. The last thing we want to see is a bureaucratic process with unintended consequences.

In practice core services and major operations will remain within NHS hospitals and they need a critical mass of skills to remain viable. However, there are other areas where even the last government was open to making use of private providers such as occupational therapy, hearing services, physiotherapy and speech therapy. We would be foolish to close the door on such excellent services.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Economic Regeneration

Economic regeneration and job creation has always been my number one priority and this week, with parliament not sitting, I have spent a lot of time visiting some of the good projects underway and identifying any barriers that remain to be removed. If you drive through our towns now, there is a lot happening.

I spent time with CPR discussing their plans to bring forward the redevelopment of the old brewery site at Redruth. I have backed their plan and will be pressing the Council to prioritise it and I also want to make the case for Redruth to be designated a new enterprise zone to attract new businesses.

Hayle is also a town that has had many false starts and talk of regeneration is met with a weary scepticism by some. However, last year I managed to persuade the government to come up with the £5 million needed to progress development on North Quay and I am delighted to see that work well underway. On South Quay, I have had dozens of meetings in the last six months trying to bring together all of the various parties and get them to work through their differences. I think we might just get a breakthrough this September.

Moving up the road to Camborne, I met Coastline to discuss the work at Trevu Road. There had been some initial local concern about this scheme given the historic significance of this former Holman's site but I think it is shaping up well. The new building on the corner opposite the library even has a similar character to the original Holman factory. I have always liked the idea of moving Trevithick's Puffing Devil into the show room building by the station. It would be a fantastic feature at the gateway of the town and I hope the Trevithick Society will take up the opportunity. There is also now hope for the old assembly rooms building.

Next, I visited another former Holmans site, Boslowen which is currently being built by Linden. This was also a controversial scheme but shaping up well. I was pleased to see that there were some 4 bedroom houses on the site because we have a severe shortage of such larger homes in this part of Cornwall.

Further along the road, the Heartlands project is now at a very advanced stage and it is clear that it really will transform Pool and create a special focus for Cornwall’s industrial heritage. Over the road, it is good to see that Cornwall College have managed to progress a scheme to refurbish their campus and the buildings really do look like new.

All in all, despite the doom and gloom of spending cuts, this part of Cornwall is definitely on the way up and we should all get behind those who are rolling up their sleeves and getting the work done.

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Euro - A lucky escape

My first job in politics was campaigning against British membership of the euro. It is hard to believe now, but less than ten years ago, it was seen by many as inevitable that Britain would join the euro even though the vast majority of people thought it was a stupid idea. The debate raged for several years before Tony Blair finally concluded he would not be able to win a referendum and so he kicked the issue into the long grass.

Britain had a lucky escape. For those poor countries who abolished their currencies and locked into the single currency, the experiment has been a complete disaster and has caused havoc with their economies. The central flaw of the euro was always that a single economic policy could not possibly work for every nation in Europe. Each country is unique and faces different challenges at different times and each needs to be free to set its own interest rate and allow its currency to fluctuate in value.

A currency is a bit like a pressure valve. When a country is experiencing economic problems, the value of its currency relative to others goes down. That makes imports more expensive and gives a boost to domestic manufacturers so they can create new jobs and hasten the emergence from recession. That is what Britain has been able to do in the last few years.

But this has not been an option for countries like Ireland, Portugal, Greece and Spain and so their economies have nosedived. As a result, they are all now having to come to Britain to be bailed out.

It is an odd situation to be in and has caused a lot of disquiet in parliament. The issue was debated last week At a time when we are having to take really tough decisions to get our own finances in order, can we really afford to bail out the rest of Europe? And is it right that we should be expected to bail out countries which were stupid enough to join the euro?

The clear message sent to the government was that it should tread with caution when bailing out other EU countries. None of us benefits from economic meltdown among our nearest trading partners so it would be wrong to rule out any help whatsoever. But at the very least, we should insist that any bail outs are done on a bilateral basis, country to country and should not be done through the EU which has proved itself to be an incompetent institution.

Longer term, the backward looking political class in Europe will have to face some hard facts: the euro was an idiotic idea which has no long term future and the quicker they work out how to scrap it, with minimum disruption, the better.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Freedom of the Press

The furore over the privacy of a famous footballer has thrown into the spotlight the thorny issue of press freedom and the right to privacy.

I have always opposed international bureaucracies deciding policies which ought to be set by national parliaments. We have a long tradition in this country of the clear separation of powers between parliament, which makes laws and the courts, which independently implement those laws. When the courts start to interpret laws in a way that neither parliament nor the public intended, then parliament must give greater clarity to judges.

On the face of it, that is what is happening in these cases relating to so called “super-injunctions” lodged by the rich and famous to protect their privacy. In the absence of clear political guidance, the courts have made what are termed “public policy decisions” and decided for themselves how to interpret the very vague principles that are set down by the European Court. That is usually a recipe for a bit of a mix up, so the orders that the courts have set down have been difficult to enforce because they didn’t stem from clearly thought through laws.

That said, this is a problem that has been brewing for a long time. The reason the courts have been pulled in to this area in the first place is that parliament has consistently ducked the challenge of trying to create a stronger framework of expectations around our media. There is an accepted principle that one person’s right to privacy must be balanced against the right to freedom of speech. The agreed test is that if it is in the “public interest” that a piece of information be published, then freedom of speech trumps the right to privacy.

The trouble is that, over the years, some of our national newspapers who want to boost their circulation have confused things that are “in the public interest” (ie for the common good) with things that are simply “an interesting read for the public” and sex sells certain newspapers. The boundaries have been gradually pushed further and further as newspapers fight off falling circulations. Meanwhile, politicians have never felt it a good time to address the issue and face up to the brewing problem because no government or party in opposition wants to face an angry backlash from newspaper editors who guard the status quo with zeal. So things have been allowed to drift along.

The current clash between the media, the courts and parliament will probably force greater clarity. The answer probably lies in toughening up the current voluntary code that newspapers work to so that it is clearer, more independent and with tougher sanctions for breaches but where there is a clearer test of what is in the public interest and an unambiguous defence of freedom of speech.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Fish Discards

Last week I spoke in the parliamentary debate on fish discards. I feel strongly that the way we kill fish unnecessarily and throw them back, dead into the sea on such an industrial scale is an absolute scandal and it has continued for far too long.

The environmental consequences of the Common Fisheries Policy have been recognised for more than twenty years. Around 22 percent of the fish discarded are fish which are caught but for which there is no quota and the remaining 24 percent are fish which are undersize. It’s time the practice stopped and if we need to break up the CFP to achieve that, then so be it.

The truth is that most successful policy innovation in recent years has taken place where national governments have been free to experiment with new ideas and new approaches. Norway has found a way of dealing with the problem of discards caused by fish that are caught over quota by allowing fishermen to land them but paying them only a fraction of the market price. Scotland has had success with “real time closures” where areas are closed to fishing when there is a problem with excessive by-catch. This creates an incentive for the industry to use netting gear which reduces the number of fish caught for which there is no market. Devon fishermen have been involved in another successful project which brought scientists and fishermen together to find ways of improving fishing practices in a way which has reduced fish discards by over 50 percent.

How do we expand ideas which have worked? The structure of the European Union does not really lend itself to such an evidence based approach. Policy making is frequently reduced to a mere negotiation. We need to make the CFP more flexible and that is why I am attracted to the idea of breaking up the current structure and putting in place a regionalised management system. You could retain a common objective: to protect the eco-system and have sustainable fishing. But the way you would deliver that common objective would respond to the local realities and there would be room to try new approaches.

It is not all the fault of the EU. Over half of the fish that are discarded are fish for which there is currently no market. One of the most important outcomes from Channel 4’s recent Fish Fight series was to create demand for other fish species. I recently visited Falfish, a fish processor in Redruth, who reported a significant increase in demand for Pouting which, while far smaller, has a similar texture to cod. Creating a market for currently unfashionable fish is an area where we all have a role to play. Consumers should be more adventurous and the industry should do more to promote the values of these lesser known fish species.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Back to the issues that matter

Now that the contentious issue of whether to change our voting system has been settled once and for all, it’s time for the government to knuckle down to the real priorities of people in Cornwall such as water charges, the NHS, welfare reform and job creation.

Last week I attended a meeting with the DEFRA Minister to discuss how we take forward the government’s commitment to make available £40 million per year to finally resolve the historic unfairness of high water bills in the South West. It’s a major step forward and a good example where Conservative and Lib Dem MPs in Cornwall have achieved something together. The proposals could deliver savings of over £50 per household but we have to get the details right.

Earlier this week, the proposed changes to the NHS were also debated in parliament. The government aims to give more power to doctors and spend less money on managers. But the proposals are controversial and have caused concern from some quarters. While I support the principle of putting doctors and nurses in charge, the NHS is a big organisation and major reorganisations always carry the risk of unintended consequences so I am pleased that the government has decided to take a pause, listen to all of the concerns people have and, yes, make changes to their proposals to ensure we get it absolutely right.

This month also sees the start of a new approach to help those trapped on benefits back to work and important reforms to the process for assessing people on Incapacity Benefit. In the past, the assessments have been far too much of a tick box routine and I frequently have people attending my surgery who feel that the assessment didn’t identify the problems they have. The new system will take far greater account of medical evidence from doctors from the start and will give people the right to have a second opinion if they don’t agree with their assessor. Finally, there will be intensive help to support people back in to some sort of work. Pilots elsewhere in the country have shown that, of those currently on Incapacity Benefit, almost two thirds are able to do some work and desperately want the help to get there.

Finally, more than anything else, Cornwall needs new jobs. Last Monday I met a group of students from Hayle Community School who were on a visit to parliament. We discussed at length the potential for job creation in Hayle. The school places enterprise at its heart. Every student learns a foreign language (some two) and there is a real focus on encouraging students to set up their own business. It is exactly the sort of approach that we need more of and there was no shortage of good ideas from the Hayle pupils I met.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Royal Wedding

The Royal Wedding has made it a week when we can all be proud to be British and it has shown the value to our country of having a non-political Head of State. There are times when you need consistency and resilience and an institution that can unite the whole country. The Queen has seen twelve Prime Ministers come and eleven go. Our monarchy has proved itself capable of adapting over the generations and the thousands of street parties around the country showed that it is still held in affection

Those of us in Cornwall had a second reason to be proud last weekend because it was also Trevithick Day in Camborne. Star of the show, as always, was the replica of the Puffing Devil, invented by Richard Trevithick. It is a wonderful contraption and can travel at an incredibly fast pace. I made my maiden speech in parliament about inventors like Richard Trevithick and William Murdoch and the lessons we can learn from them.

As is so often the case, Richard Trevithick didn’t make his fortune from his endeavours, in fact quite the reverse. He ended his life with no money at all. And as he pioneered new ideas and tried new approaches deemed unthinkable at the time, he was lampooned by critics who attacked his new technology as dangerous.

While Trevithick was Cornish through and through he was open to the rest of the world and craved what could be learnt from the experiments of others. He spent many years of his life working alongside other engineers in London and mining in South America. It was a time when Cornwall was at the forefront of the industrial revolution and they didn’t allow distance to get in their way.

What can we learn from him? First, this part of Cornwall left an incredible legacy to the world and we should celebrate it but also have the confidence to be pioneers again. Second, we are at our best when we face out towards the rest of the country and the rest of the world and should never allow inward looking isolationism to hinder our potential.

In my research into Trevithick, I came across this quote from the great man: "I have been branded with folly and madness for attempting what the world calls impossibilities. This so far has been my reward from the public; but should this be all, I shall be satisfied by the great secret pleasure and laudable pride that I feel in my own breast from having been the instrument of bringing forward and maturing new principles and new arrangements of boundless value to my country. However much I may be straitened in pecunary circumstances, the great honour of being a useful subject can never be taken from me, which to me far exceeds riches".

That says it all.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Encouraging Responsibility

Last Wednesday I spoke at a meeting of the Lent Group at St Andrew’s Church in Redruth. The subject for discussion was the Big Society, what it means and how we can encourage more of it. We had a lively debate.

I sometimes come across people who say there is nothing new about the Big Society. There are many voluntary groups that have practiced it for years and the Church is perhaps the longest and most enduring example of such community spirit and activism. I couldn’t agree more. The idea is not new. I see it all around this constituency from youth groups like Searchlight in Redruth to social enterprises such as CN4C and the Redruth North Partnership. Last December I attended the 10th anniversary of the refurbishment of the All Saint’s Centre in Camborne which has been a great success and now hosts a whole range of community activities from home help services for the elderly to day care and many other community groups.

But the Prime Minister has never pretended that the idea of the Big Society is something new. In fact what he is saying is quite the reverse: that our society needs to rediscover some of those older values to create a stronger society and the question for government is what policies would foster a renaissance in such community groups and to make them stronger.

During the last 50 years or so, people have increasingly withdrawn from their responsibilities to society and retreated into their shell. They are now less likely to support their local church, less likely to be involved in local politics and less likely to know all their neighbours than they once would have been. In the past, if there were teenagers misbehaving in the street, they would have been challenged. Adults feel less inclined to do so today. We have ended up treating children like adults and adults like children.

One of the reasons for this is that a culture developed where people started to think that sorting out society’s problems was someone else’s responsibility. If things went wrong, then it was someone else’s fault. As government increasingly seemed to come forward with new laws, individuals started to think they couldn’t make much difference on their own any more. The pressures of the mass media compounded the situation by demanding new crackdowns and initiatives from government in response to isolated events. This in turn created a mass of bureaucracy. The pervasive growth of “risk assessments”, CRB checks and the like has stifled the natural human desire to do a good turn and created a culture where people think they need permission to be active citizens.

They shouldn’t and to reverse the trend, we need to encourage responsibility, scrap pointless bureaucracy, be more grown up about risk. Most of all, people need to realise that they can make a difference.

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Defend one person, one vote and say no to AV

THE PRINCIPLE of one person, one vote has been the hallmark of our democracy since the days of the suffragettes and now is not the time to abandon it. It is fair because every man and woman has an equal vote. It is simple and clear because you put a cross in the box and the candidate with the most votes wins. It generally gives us strong and decisive government. Our current system is the most widely used in the world and it puts voters in charge – people know how to throw out tired governments.

The Alternative Vote system is used by just three countries – Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Australia. Polls show that most Australians don't like it and want to return to the British system. When they introduced AV in Australia, turnout went down and two elections later compulsory voting had to be introduced.

So why on earth are we even considering switching to such an unpopular and discredited system? The answer is that it was the bottom line demand by Nick Clegg as the price for forming a coalition. This referendum has not been demanded by the public, it has been forced on the public by Lib Dem politicians who think it will advance their own narrow political interests. The cost of switching to AV has also been estimated at £250 million. At a time like this, we can all think of better things to spend that money on.

If we switch to AV, such political stitch-ups will become far more common. It will create a culture where political parties promise the earth, knowing that they can abandon their manifestos in the horse trading that will follow. That is bad for democracy.

Under AV, some people get more of their votes counted than others. You only get a second or third vote if you voted for the most unpopular candidates. So, someone who votes for the BNP will be given a second bite of the cherry whereas someone who votes for a mainstream party will be restricted to one of their votes being counted. That's not fair.

It also means that one person's first choice for the candidate they are really passionate about is valued no higher than another person's fifth choice, for a candidate they care little for. During the count, you end up with all sorts of different numbers muddled together on the same pile which is clearly ridiculous.
We should not blame the voting system for the problems of Parliament. There is nothing wrong with the principle of one person, one vote. But what I want to see is more conviction in politics, where candidates plant a flag in the ground and take a stand for what they believe in. We can change Parliament to make that possible, but AV would send things in reverse and create politicians who pretend to be all things to all men. That would undermine democracy. So, to defend one person, one vote, say "no" on May 5.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Green energy suppliers must learn to earn support

I recently attended a stormy meeting at Constantine over plans to build a field scale solar power farm. I generally support green energy and have championed the potential for wave power in Cornwall but what has happened over solar farms gives green energy developers a bad name and undermines people’s faith in local democracy.

The last government set up a policy to encourage solar panels on roofs and so called "micro-generation”. Those installing solar panels are paid a "feed in tariff", a guaranteed payment per unit of electricity put in to the national grid, which is above the prevailing market rate. The cost is ultimately absorbed by electricity consumers through slightly higher electricity bills.

The new government fully supports micro-generation. Recently Camborne Church told me that they were investigating the possibility of putting solar panels on their roof which would generate an income to support some of their good work in the community. That is positive: individual communities taking small steps to expand green energy while simultaneously strengthening our society.

However, things went wrong. The last government made a mistake in the way it drafted the legislation and so failed to adequately cap the size of eligible projects. There was a stampede from large commercial developers who wanted to set up field scale solar farms and rake in huge profits at the expense of the long suffering electricity bill payer.

So the current government moved quickly to review the rates and slashed the so called Feed-in-Tariff by about 70 percent for such field scale farms from this August. This aimed to ensure that this unsustainable gold rush was cooled down and that the money available was used wisely to develop community schemes rather than creamed of by commercial operators. In most parts of the country, it worked. However, some projects in Cornwall are now racing faster than ever to try to get their foot in the door before August which gives them the inflated profits of the old system locked in for 25 years. In some cases, planners have been bounced into agreeing plans even where there is no local support.

Every time planners ride rough shod over local opinion they damage local democracy. The idea of field scale solar farms is new and planners should be proceeding with caution. It is the job of commercial developers to work hard and earn public support for their schemes. In some parts of the country, progress has been made with community ownership schemes where local communities who are asked to accept, say, a wind farm or an energy-from-waste plant on their doorstep, are given free shares in the company or maybe guaranteed free electricity for the life of the project. That is one way of taking the conflict out of such schemes but it has yet to happen in Cornwall.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Banking

This week saw the publication of the report on the future of banking by Sir John Vickers. I have always argued that the banking industry needs to be sorted out and that new regulation might be required to achieve that.

The central recommendation by John Vickers is that banks should clearly separate their retail banking operations, that is dealing with people like us in High Street branches, from so called “casino banking”, where the banks speculate on world markets. It was the mixing of these two that got the industry in a mess last time round. The banks were like gambling addicts who had lost the plot and they were raiding our wallets to keep their habit going. Worst of all, the banks lost the ability to distinguish between an asset and a liability. Some banks treated toxic debt as an asset against which they borrowed yet more money. It couldn’t go on, and so we all paid the price.

Sir John Vickers has also identified another problem with the banks: the lack of competition. I frequently have people come to see me who have been treated appallingly by their banks and ripped off with loads of invented, cooked up charges which the banks just add on people’s account without a hint of shame. I have also seen small businesses bullied by banks because they currently hold most of the cards in their relationship with their customers.

We need to rebalance the law in favour of enterprise and against the vested interests of the banks. That is why I have introduced a Private Members Bill which will protect small businesses against aggressive sharp practice by lenders.

It annoys me that some people in the banking industry think it is acceptable to carry on regardless and still claim whopping bonuses just because they used to. I don’t agree that you need to pay that sort of money to get good people. There are far more intelligent and able people at the top of medicine, education or the military in this country. Such people are paid well but don’t expect a seven figure bonus at Christmas. The truth is that the banks have enjoyed a totally unsustainable high pay culture which bears no resemblance to the true value of the work they do and, in their own jargon, a “correction in the market” is required.

Of course, any suggestion that we should introduce some sort of accountability on these people immediately causes them to threaten us. They tell us that they might stop lending to small businesses, that they will take us to court to protect their contracts and bonuses or that they will leave the country. But they have cried wolf enough. Let them go if they want to. Otherwise, they should get over it and get on with their work.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Past and future brilliance

Last Friday I went along to a second evening of nostalgia at Camborne School led by the Holman-Climax Choir with a slide show of old photographs. The evening was a celebration of Camborne’s extraordinary industrial past and draws a big audience. Last year, the event was oversubscribed and, this year, there is such demand that David Oates has had to organise a second showing set for this Friday.

The fabulous architecture in Camborne stands out in the old photographs but, sadly, many of the buildings have since been lost. The efforts of Jean Charman and others to preserve the last remaining Holman building at Trevu Road has come a step closer which is welcome news. I have always believed that the best way to preserve beautiful architecture is to find a modern use for it. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle have amazing architecture from their industrial past which is frequently underappreciated. We should use it or lose it.

Last Friday’s event left me with two strong impressions. First, the pride and self confidence which surrounded Holmans was striking. You can see it in the old photographs and archive footage. This was a world beating team with high standards.

The second thing that struck me was the resilience of the community that had grown up around Holmans. There last Friday was Agnes James who has played the piano for the choir for the last forty years. That’s tenacity and commitment for you, and the packed audience proved to me that the will to succeed in this part of Cornwall is as strong as ever. We can’t bring Holmans back, but we can rekindle the pride, confidence and can-do attitude that it was built on in the first place.

Rekindling pride and confidence starts with the next generation and there have been some really important steps forward in our local schools. Last week, both Pool and Camborne Schools were granted Academy status along with numerous local primary schools. These will now become fully independent and free to drive up standards in the way they see fit.

I also visited Redruth School where the new Head Teacher, Craig Martin, has made a brilliant start. As well as a new emphasis on reading and homework, the students at the school are currently selecting the design of a new school uniform with traditional blazer and tie. Just as was the case at Camborne School last year, this is a move not just supported by the pupils, but led by them. It might seem a small thing but I think it is an incredibly positive sign because it shows a commitment to raising standards and an aspiration to be the best which is the very culture that created places like Holmans in the first place. It bodes well for the future.