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.