Thursday, 13 December 2012

Autumn Statement

Nine months ago Cornwall’s MPs were thrown into combat with the government after the Budget bowled a few unexpected problems our way, such as VAT on pasties. It took a couple of months to sort things out but we got there. So I was a little bit apprehensive last week as George Osborne got to his feet to deliver his Autumn Statement which is a sort of mini-budget. However, despite having very limited room for manoeuvre, this year’s statement contained some very good news for Cornwall.

Firstly, the planned 3p rise in fuel duty will not just be postponed as before but scrapped altogether. This is vitally important for a county like Cornwall because we are at the end of the line and our businesses have to transport their goods hundreds of miles to market which is a major cost and because many people who work cannot rely on public transport and have no option but to use their car. Filling up the car with petrol is a major cost for many families and I have always argued that fuel tax is a regressive tax that hits remote areas unfairly and we should be aiming to get these costs down.

Secondly, it was decided to accelerate the increase in the new tax threshold meaning that those struggling to get by on low incomes will be taken out of tax altogether. Again, this is really important to places like Cornwall where thousands of families work hard but have to rely on low incomes. It can’t be right to tax people on one hand only to have to give them some money back in benefits on the other. It would be better by far if you didn’t take their money in the first place so that there was more of an incentive to take a job.

There was also some good news when it comes to investment in roads and infrastructure to try to get the economy moving. The lesson from past recessions is that governments should try, as far as is possible, to maintain investment in infrastructure because, it improves future competitiveness and provides immediate short term work in construction. Here in Cornwall, the government has finally come up with the money to start work on dualling the A30 at Temple which will remove a longstanding bottle neck which causes havoc in the summer months. This has been talked about for years and it is a real vote of confidence in Cornwall that this work will now begin.

Finally, there was some good news for businesses as the government increased “capital allowances” substantially to encourage businesses to invest any profits they make into new machinery which will increase their productivity as well as giving a much needed boost to manufacturing.

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

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Europe

There is now a lot riding on David Cameron’s much trailed “big speech” on the future of Britain’s relationship with the EU. It has been talked about since last summer. Number 10 would certainly not have wanted to have so much advance speculation about what it might say and, as expectation in the speech grows, they have been minded to delay the day, presumably fearful that they might disappoint. So, instead, speculation has become like a growing monster.

The first thing David Cameron needs to do is to untangle what negotiations can take place right now and in this parliament from those which must be postponed for another day and until after the next election. There are two major areas where the current coalition government (Lib Dems and all) will necessarily end up in a renegotiation with the EU. Firstly, the brinkmanship over delivering a real terms freeze to the EU budget which has been led by Britain is likely to continue well into the New Year. David Cameron must stand firm on this. We should not be making cuts in Britain only to give inflation busting budget increases to inept officials in the EU.

Secondly, the British government has already made clear that it will exercise a right it has under the Lisbon Treaty to opt back out of 130 EU directives that Gordon Brown signed up to relating to justice and home affairs but will then seek to pick and choose those it wants to cooperate with and those which will be vetoed for good. There is nervousness among some Liberal Democrats about some of these renegotiations but the Prime Minister must stand his ground and exercise the treaty right that Britain has to sort out the mess in some of these laws.

Then there is the longer term picture. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are, emotionally, poles apart when it comes to views about the EU and it is no good ignoring that central coalition dynamic. Many Conservatives, myself included, want to see a more fundamental renegotiation of Britain’s relationship with the EU with powers returned in many areas while we remain an enthusiastic and committed member of the single market. But, because of the dynamics of the coalition, this more fundamental renegotiation must be postponed. Ironically, the intervention of UKIP at the last General Election might have denied the country a Conservative majority thus undermining the cause they claim to believe in.

So David Cameron must start to set out what would be in the next Conservative manifesto. It is no longer enough to use slogans like “in Europe, not run by Europe.” We need to flesh out in more detail what a future renegotiation would look like and seek a mandate for that position at the next election. This could include taking powers back in areas such as social and employment policy, a looser relationship with the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy and the return of responsibility for regional policy which could mean we have more to spend on regeneration in Cornwall. Such a new deal could also involve clipping the wings of wayward EU institutions like the European Court of Justice which currently has too much power and needs taking down a peg or two.

Some say such a fundamental renegotiation is impossible but they are wrong. There are growing calls within Germany and the EU Commission for a new Treaty in Europe which would totally re-order the European Union and accelerate political union among some members. No longer would this be something done by stealth, but political integration would become an overt aim in order to try to save the euro. But countries like Germany fully understand that it is impossible for Britain and possibly many others to follow, so there would be a fork in the road and Britain would need to be given new powers back in return for agreeing to such a new order. If Angela Merkel is re-elected at the end of next year, this agenda will rise rapidly during 2014 and Britain must get into in the driver’s seat now.

Any discussion about the EU always ends up slipping into the rut of whether or not we need a referendum. My own view is that this is a distraction which undermines the central aim of renegotiation but, at the end of the process, there is a case for having such a referendum on the outcome to draw a line under things and move on.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

The Food Bank

As we begin the run up to Christmas, there are a number of vital charities in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle area which are getting to work to help those less fortunate. Last weekend I visited a number of Christmas Fayres which aimed to raise much needed funds to support their good work, including Searchlight, the excellent youth group based in Redruth, and Camborne Church.

Visits to such groups always boosts my faith in human nature. The central dynamic is nearly always the same. It usually starts with the energy, determination and leadership of just one person. The energy and commitment they show becomes infectious and spreads so suddenly there is a small team of people who can make things happen. When others in the community see the good work being delivered, many others become inspired to get involved and the whole enterprise can snowball.

On Saturday I also visited the Food Bank project based at the Centenary Chapel on Wesley Street which has now been running for a number of years and is starting its preparations for Christmas. The driving force behind the project is Don Gardner but he has incredible support from volunteers both connected with churches in Camborne and outside. I was really heartened to hear of the excellent contribution being made by the Sixth Form at Camborne Science and International Academy. Students there have made it their charity this year and have already run projects to raise some £100 which they then used to buy fresh supplies for the Food Bank.

The concept is simple: members of the public and sometimes local businesses donate food to the charity and local agencies can issue vouchers for food to those families facing genuine financial crisis. As well as helping those facing problems all year round, they make a special effort at Christmas. Last year they put together 190 Christmas lunch hampers for families in the area and this year they are set to deliver 200. They have also branched out to take over the running of the Toy Library from the Council where families can choose from a selection of hundreds of toys which can be hired at a cost of just 20 pence per week. When thieves recently stole a cash box from the charity, Don Gardner was overwhelmed by the generosity of local people with many coming forward to contribute financially or to give toys that their own children had outgrown so that another child could benefit from them. This year they also plan to run another project to buy Christmas presents for children so that there are no “no-go areas” for Father Christmas this year.

If you would like to volunteer time or money to help the Food Bank this Christmas or have unwanted toys, bikes etc you could donate, please email donovan.gardner@sky.com or telephone 01209 714592.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Leveson

This week sees the long awaited publication of the report by Lord Leveson into the ethics and conduct of the press. The inquiry was set up after it was revealed that the News of the World had hacked the phone of the murdered schoolgirl, Milly Dowler, as well as the phones of servicemen killed in action which prompted public outrage. The inquiry was uncomfortable for both politicians and the press but it also represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to put things right and to place the newspaper industry on a firmer footing.

I believe passionately in a free press and think it has a vital role to play in a free society. But you can never have true liberty unless you also have accountability and the major weakness of the national press is that it harbours unaccountable power which has been abused and the end result is that the police have now had to get involved and make arrests of journalists. None of us should feel comfortable about that. It would be better by far to have a credible and independent regulator recognised in law so that we don’t have to have the police crawling through newsrooms in future.

The idea of replacing the current “self regulation” of the press with a new regulator backed by statute is anathema to some of the wealthy proprietors of the big national newspapers, but I have come to the view that the system would be far more independent and more stable if it had the benefit of recognition in the law. It would allow you to create real incentives for newspapers to take part in the system by creating exemptions from exemplary fines or by creating a more affordable system of arbitration so that newspaper editors didn’t live in fear of having to fight billionaires with deep pockets through the courts.

I spent several years as Press Secretary to David Cameron so saw the workings of our media up close. My experience led me to make my own submission to the Leveson Inquiry. In my evidence I said I thought that concerns about the impact of an independent regulator on free speech were hugely exaggerated. We already have a Broadcasting Act but some of the best investigative journalism in Britain is done by broadcasters on programmes like Watchdog and Panorama.

I also said that Lord Leveson’s inquiry could learn lessons from regional and local papers like the Western Morning News and the West Briton and Cornishman because, in all my experience, the editors of local newspapers have always approached the Editor’s Code far more conscientiously and diligently than the major national newspapers. This is partly because they are part of the community and feel a greater sense of responsibility. If national newspapers had behaved in the same way, the system might not be broken.

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, 22 November 2012

Reining in the power of the supermarkets

On Monday, parliament debated the Bill being introduced which will establish the new Groceries Code Adjudicator to protect farmers and growers from sharp practices deployed by the big supermarkets. It is an important step forward supported by all parties and, as a member of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee, I spoke in the debate.

It is an area where I have some direct experience because, long before entering politics, I spent ten years in the farming industry supplying strawberries and cauliflowers to the major supermarkets. In that time I saw first-hand some of the sharp practices used and the way that supermarkets would often abuse their dominant market position to treat suppliers unfairly. They would often insist on farmers buying other goods and services such as haulage from “approved” contractors who would invariably charge more than the market rate. Growers would be required to take part in cut price promotions in store. Often the cost of perished stock on the shelves would be clawed back from the supplier, in some cases with their own retail margin taken too. And if a buyer had made a mistake and placed an order for more than they actually needed, they would find any excuse to reject a consignment, throwing the cost back on the farmer. Things haven’t got much better. Last year I met a supplier to supermarkets who said that he was now required to show them his annual accounts so that they could work out how much harder they could drive him into the ground and I still come across examples of supermarkets making unfair demands on their suppliers.

The Groceries Supply Code of Practice was introduced a couple of years ago and set out some standards on how supermarkets should behave such as paying their suppliers on time, not making retrospective changes to pricing and no longer forcing suppliers to use certain third party contractors which restricts the functioning of a fair market. The new adjudicator will help to enforce that code properly. It will allow farmers to make anonymous complaints about supermarkets and it will be able to “name and shame” those who breach the code and order changes in the way buyers manage their relationship with suppliers.

There has been much debate about whether the adjudicator should have other sanctions at its disposal, such as the ability to levy fines against persistent offenders. The government is currently saying that the adjudicator will not initially have the power to fine but that this could be added at a later date if necessary. In my view, they might as well make this sanction available from day one because if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing properly.

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.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Remembrance Day

Last weekend I attended remembrance services in both Illogan and Camborne where there was a record turnout and standing room only in the church. All of the various cadet and scout groups were out in force. I have noticed the attendance from all of these fantastic youth groups grow significantly year after year and it really bodes well for the future.

Next year will see the phased reduction British troops on active combat in Afghanistan the handover to a British trained Afghan Army is acclerated and due be completed by 2014. If the experience in Iraq is anything to go by, peace and normality can follow such a withdrawal of troops provided the groundwork has been done. After more than a decade of conflict, ending the mission in Afghanistan will be a relief for all. As well as the rising number of those killed in action, there have been thousands wounded and tens of thousands who suffer from some form of post traumatic stress and find it difficult to return to normal life.

I went to Afghanistan in 2006 when I worked for David Cameron and saw first-hand the extraordinary professionalism of our armed forces. While there, David Cameron was introduced to a specialist sniper in the army who had just completed his first tour of duty. He can’t have been much more than twenty years old but was earnest beyond his years. His job was to protect patrols from ambush using a long range rifle, particularly in built up areas where Apache attack helicopters could not be used. Later that day we were told in a matter-of-fact, army way that this young man had something they described as “twenty six confirmed kills.” I always remember the phrase because it drove home to me the extraordinary burden we put on our young soldiers. It is not just the risk they take but the things we expect them to do in our name. The then Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan showed me a photo of a platoon of 19 year old soldiers who were on a Chinook helicopter back from their first night time combat mission. They had a haunted look in their eyes and he explained that some soldiers can put things away in their heads better than others but it is never easy.

A couple of weeks ago I visited Surf Action which is a charity that tries to help combat veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Some of their work involves bringing people with similar experiences together socially along with their partners. They organise wildlife walks and surfing lessons, using nature to reconnect people with life. Like some other charities, they also use a range of other psychotherapies and forms of sensory or hypnotherapy to help former soldiers recover from the events that this decade of war has exposed them to. The work of groups like this is vital.

Surf Action is based at Unit 5, Heartlands, Pool. www.surfaction.co.uk. Telephone 01209 613300.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Nurturing enterprise in the next generation

I have always believed that the key to getting the country moving again and creating new jobs is in doing all we can to encourage new business start-ups and to create an environment that allows the next generation of entrepreneurs to flourish. I remember a Cornish farmer once telling me, “you don’t have to be clever to be smart” and he was right. Some of the most successful entrepreneurs in Britain did not have a university education and did not enter a profession but they had an idea and a natural talent for making things happen coupled with the fortitude to keep going in the face of the inevitable setbacks.

It is why earlier this year I encouraged a number of schools from our area to enter a national competition to come up with a new business idea and design a new product and I was delighted that Hayle Community School took up the challenge. Last time I visited Hayle School I was struck by the emphasis that they placed on developing young enterprise which is something they have made a priority. Last year I tried some of the excellent “Currantly Cornish” ice cream recipe which was developed by students and was on sale in the town.

We had some excellent product ideas developed by Year 10 pupils ranging from sunglasses that change colour in the heat to novel camera bags, swimming goggle carriers, unusual bed and chair designs, a kangaroo style shoe rack, docking stations for remote controls, solar powered dog trackers, a medical history chip and a children’s drawing table.

The entry that we chose to go through to the national competition was the idea of having wireless headphones for ipad devices designed by Charlie Martin and Millie Jenkins with the runner up being a special training football which uses smart sensors to connect to computers and monitor performance which was designed by Jacob Nicholas, Connor Smith and Tom Pascoe.

The next couple of years will see the transformation of Hayle with the regeneration work already well underway on North Quay and work expected to begin on South Quay in the New Year. There is also an advanced plan to develop the potential of the harbour for the fishing industry on East Quay. I have consistently argued in favour of the scheme to regenerate Hayle because the town has been waiting for change all my lifetime.

There will be many new business opportunities created by these changes and some new businesses are already starting to open. I hope that by the time the current Year 10 students at Hayle leave school in a few years time, some of them will choose to develop their enterprising talents further and become their own boss.

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, 1 November 2012

Cutting the EU budget

This week saw the thorny issue of EU spending stumble back on the agenda with the moment for negotiations over the future EU budget fast approaching but with EU member states getting further away from any kind of consensus.

It really shouldn’t be that difficult. Every EU country is having to make swingeing cuts to public spending in order to deal with the mountain of debt accumulated over the last decade and to tackle the economic crisis caused by the crackpot idea that is known as the euro. You might think that, since its own policies have contributed to the mess that Europe is in, the EU might have a bit of humility, that they might empathise with the pain being experienced by Europe’s people and might therefore recognise that they, too, must pull in their belt and show some restraint.

Not a bit if it. Instead, the European Commission opened discussions by suggesting a staggering seven percent increase in their budget. Two years ago, David Cameron put his foot down and led a group of EU leaders calling for a real terms cut or, at the very least, a freeze in the EU budget. He managed to get the support of the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, the President of France and the Prime Ministers of Finland and Holland. Later, other countries joined in this principled position including Sweden.

However, then the horse trading started and some of the countries who initially supported Britain in controlling the EU budget started to go wobbly. The worst offender was Angela Merkel who has now abandoned her stance and has decided that caving in on the EU budget might gain her leverage over some of the poorer member states in other areas of policy. Such counterproductive horse trading is a major weakness in the EU which means it frequently makes serious mistakes because shady, backroom deals eclipse any intelligent or reasoned debate. That is why eventually, if it is to survive, the EU must be streamlined and modernised with many of its powers stripped away and returned to national governments.

The good news is that, in the short term, Britain has a veto over the EU budget and can put its foot down and block any new inflation busting increases. If this happens there is then automatically a real terms freeze in the budget followed by a painstaking process of agreeing individual items in the budget one line at a time. Once again, it looks like it will fall to Britain to show leadership and risk unpopularity with other leaders by knocking heads together in order to sort things out and deliver what is right for the people of both Britain and Europe. David Cameron has done it before and he should do it 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, 25 October 2012

Time to reform the structure of Cornwall Council

It has been an eventful and, let’s face it, rather chaotic ten days at County Hall with the loss of Alec Robertson as Council Leader followed by a series of bizarre events which resulted in every political grouping voting for a leader from someone else's party.

Alec Robertson deserves credit for the hard work he has put in over the last three an years. It is easy to criticise, but leading a divided council without a majority is a thankless task and there have been achievements. Under the last Lib Dem regime, Cornwall Council was one of the worst performing councils in the country, in the bottom four percent, adult social care and social services were in special measures and borrowing was out of control. Now it is one of the most improved councils in the country, adult care and social services are improving rapidly and the finances are back on track with council tax frozen.

The jury is still out on the new council which has its work cut out to establish authority. After the divisive events of last week, there was a very strong case for a “unity” administration where all parties worked together over the next six months for the good of Cornwall. Extraordinarily, the Lib Dems rejected an offer to work with the new council leader they themselves elected which shows a real lack of maturity on their part.

Once the dust settles, it will be important to learn lessons and sort out the institutional weaknesses inherent in the way this unitary authority was set up. Firstly, the notion that, after a vote of no confidence, councillors must elect a new leader immediately is clearly bonkers and the procedural rules need to be overhauled to enable an interim leader to act as caretaker for a couple of weeks to allow time for a considered transition to someone new.

Secondly, the council is too large and finds it difficult to reach clear decisions, so we should consider cutting the number of councillors. At the same time, we need to strengthen local accountability by passing more control to parish and town councils.

Finally, we need to review the way the council is structured. The advantage of the current "cabinet" system is that it is easier to make decisions but too many councillors feel excluded. The alternative is a "committee system" where more councillors are involved but it is harder to make decisions. A third option would be to replace the office of the Chief Executive with a directly elected Mayor for Cornwall with a political staff to manage the council day to day. However, my own favoured model is that pioneered by Kent County Council who have adopted a cross between a cabinet and a committee system which gives them the best of both worlds.

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, 18 October 2012

Police and Crime Commissioner Elections

This week nominations closed for candidates putting themselves forward for the election to decide who will become the first Police and Crime Commissioner for the Devon and Cornwall Police Force, and in just four weeks time, local people will have the opportunity to vote for the candidate they think is best placed to cut crime.

The powerful new, elected role will replace the largely invisible Police Authorities that went before. The old Police Authority was drawn from local councils but members of it were never in a position to genuinely hold the Chief Constable to account and hardly anyone could name the chairman of the Police Authority. That is about to change.

There are no less than ten candidates standing for the role in Devon and Cornwall which shows that, whatever the critics might say, enthusiasm for the idea is starting to pick up as election day nears. I have always argued that this is a brand new role and will be an election unlike normal general elections so we need a different sort of candidate to do the job well. I was involved a year ago in trying to encourage talented people with experience outside conventional politics to throw their hat in the ring and stand as the Conservative candidate and we found just the man for the job.

Tony Hogg was the Commanding Officer at RNAS Culdrose and has experience of managing a large budget of over £80 million and leading a military base with 3000 personnel. He saw active service in the Falklands conflict where he was a helicopter pilot and he captained a group of minesweeper ships during the first gulf war. In 1978, he was decorated for his role in an audacious rescue operation of a stricken trawler off the Cornish coast. Although he lives in Cornwall, he spent some of career based in Devonport and he trained at Dartmouth, so he understands Devon too. After leaving the Navy, he went on to become the Chief Executive of BF Adventure which provides outward bound courses to drill discipline and confidence into young teenagers who have had a hard start in life and who are at risk of being excluded from school.

Because he worked in the Navy at the most senior level, he understands the forces and knows how to lift morale within the team. I think this is incredibly important because the police force is going through many changes at present and we need clear leadership to boost morale. But his experience in the charity sector means that he also understands that to cut crime, we need early intervention to turn around the lives of young people. It is a winning combination which makes him ideal for the post.

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, 11 October 2012

A lot done, a lot more to do II

I spent a couple of days this week at the Conservative conference in Birmingham. The government has been through a difficult period over the last six months with a string of things going wrong but conference is a good opportunity to draw a line under the past and get things back on track.

All governments suffer from the fact that bad news floats to the top while good news tends to sink without trace and it is easy to forget some of the things that have been achieved. This government has started to get the country’s finances back under control and the deficit has been cut by a quarter. The credibility that Britain has internationally means that mortgage rates are at record lows. Millions of people working hard on the lowest incomes have been taken out of tax altogether. There has been an overhaul of the benefits system so that work pays with intensive support introduced to help those who have lost their confidence get back in to a job.

Although there have been losses in public sector jobs, there have been almost a million jobs created by private enterprises in the last couple of years and unemployment has been falling over the last six months or so. There has also been a shake-up of government spending in Whitehall with around £8 billion slashed from budgets on wasteful things like management consultants and expensive advertising agencies. Finally, there is additional funding to help schools in some of the poorer areas give children the best possible start in life and schools have been given new freedoms and independence to allow head teachers to become captains of their own ship.

So, a lot has been achieved but there is undoubtedly more to do and the government has also made some mistakes. Any new policy will have unintended consequences and create unforeseen problems so one of the most important things that government must do is to refine and adjust its policies once they start to bed down. For instance, while the principle behind simplifying the benefits system is right, we need to monitor the detail carefully. I still see far too many examples where medical assessments have not been carried out correctly and where the wrong judgement has been reached. And I am concerned at proposals to prevent Housing Benefit being paid directly to landlords because, while well intentioned, it will only lead to rent arrears and ultimately mean that some people lose their home. So called, “u-turns” tend to be perceived as a sign of weakness in politics but no government should be too proud or too stubborn to admit when things don’t work as planned and therefore need to change.

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

Friday, 5 October 2012

Chance to take stock...

As the political parties convene for their annual conferences, it is a good opportunity to take stock of what has been achieved as we reach the halfway stage of this parliament.

At the last election, I made economic regeneration my number one priority in the local area and in the last two years have made ensuring that our towns get the crucial investment they need my main focus. In Hayle I always argued that, if we were going to have another supermarket, we should put it right in the centre so that it brings life into the town rather than on the outskirts draining life away. Following the success in securing a government grant, work is already well underway on North Quay and we should now see work starting on South Quay next spring.

In Camborne I have always said that we should develop brownfield sites before greenfield sites and we need to attract new industries to create the jobs of the future. The new development at the former Holman site on Trevu road is a good example of what can be achieved when people put their minds to it with regeneration that restores and safeguards our heritage while creating new homes. The £25 million new road scheme between Camborne and Pool will unlock the economic potential of the derelict mining land at Tuckingmill creating new jobs and business opportunities and I am hopeful that we will now also see South Crofty mine reopened.

Finally, I have always said that Redruth is at the heart of Cornish heritage. A quarter of all the six million people around the world with Cornish ancestry can trace their roots back to Redruth. So I am delighted that the council has now made the decision to locate the new Cornwall Archive project on the old brewery site. This project will reinvigorate the town centre, become a catalyst of regeneration elsewhere and it is estimated it will bring an extra £1.4million of revenue to Redruth each year once established.

So, in the next two years, significant work should be underway in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle which will create jobs locally and I hope will start to transform the fortunes of this part of Cornwall but we must not be complacent and should use this fresh momentum to try to drive forward other changes. In Redruth, we should press for something to be done to other difficult sites such as the old Avers Garage site at the gateway to the town. In Camborne, we need to work to get one or two larger retailers to show interest in the town to make it more of a shopping destination and in Hayle, plans are already afoot to develop a new project around East Quay to develop and support the fishing industry there.

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, 27 September 2012

Cornwall Council proposal will save jobs

I have always been pragmatic on the issue of privatisation. I don’t believe in the automatic assumption that the private sector is better at doing things than the public sector. I am a champion of small private enterprises and will always stand up for those with the courage to set up their own business. But if you look at very large multi-national corporations, you will frequently find more waste and inefficiency than in the public sector. Professions such as health and education are also stronger because of the fact that money is not the only motivating factor. A nurse or a teacher has a vocation for their profession, a desire to care for others or to pass on knowledge to the next generation and that creates a depth to the work they do.

It is with this pragmatic view that I have watched the unfolding debate about the new Strategic Partnership proposal being developed by Cornwall Council. What if it were possible to marry the energy and creative thinking of small private sector organisations with the values and skills of the public sector?

Contracting out the delivery of certain services to the private sector is hardly new. For decades councils have paid private contractors to deliver core tasks such as collecting the rubbish, repairing the roads, delivering domiciliary care to the elderly and operating day care centres. Is it such a major step to do something similar with other services such as advice lines, payroll services and social care? Hardly. The “Strategic Partnership” proposal is not even about outsourcing to a private contractor but instead to a joint venture company in which the Council would retain a major stake and with policy still controlled absolutely by the Council.

The proposals will help to join up the work of the NHS and Cornwall Council when it comes to delivering social care. A major problem in the past has been the fact that both organisations work in silos which means that there is duplication and lack of coordination. Some steps have already been made to improve this situation with the joint commissioning of some services and the new Strategic Partnership will take it to the next stage and also enable Cornwall to pioneer the development of “Telehealth” services which use modern technology to help people manage their care needs from home.

Finally, in an era where money is tight and budgets under pressure, Cornwall Council has a choice between creating jobs or losing jobs. The plans are projected to create 500 new jobs in Cornwall by providing new services in health. There are always risks to any venture which must be managed but doing nothing is not an option and the alternative would be cuts to jobs and front line services.

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 September 2012

Education...

You only get one education and we need to do everything we can to make sure that it is right for the individual child concerned. Over the last two years I have visited every secondary school and virtually every primary school in this area and I have seen some really good work going on and some really inspirational teachers.

I have always thought that a good education is the single most important thing that can increase social mobility and help the next generation to get on in life. We must constantly strive to strengthen primary education, bring greater rigour to both secondary education and the exams system and also support those who want to go on to university or take on an apprenticeship.

This week, Michael Gove announced changes to the exams system so that there will be a new “English Baccalaureate” to replace the old GCSE which will put greater emphasis on final exams and will create a new gold standard qualification at the age of 16. I think this is a positive move. There is evidence that the current emphasis on course work and modules gives children from middle class backgrounds an unfair advantage over other children and the growth of the internet means that it has become ever harder to ensure that course work done at home is genuine. If we are to compete with the best in the world then we need qualifications that are highly regarded throughout the world and this week represented a step forwards.

The government is also opening new schools, following the success of a similar policy in Sweden. Last week I visited the new St Michael’s Free School which has just opened in Camborne. This is a small, catholic school which is free and open to all children. In the old days, only wealthy parents with money could choose which school their child went to, but that is now changing. While it is likely that most children in the Camborne and Redruth area will continue to choose from the excellent, larger secondary schools in the area, for some, a small school like St Michael's will be the right option to nurture their talents and, in my view, we should not deny parents that choice.

Finally, we need to help young people who want to go to university or enter an apprenticeship. The government has created some 300,000 new apprenticeships where young people can learn a skill while earning an income. Meanwhile, Cornwall Council has announced a ground breaking new policy to introduce bursaries that will be made available to help young people from Cornwall attend university. Cornwall Council gets its fair share of criticism, but this is a really thoughtful policy aimed at helping the next generation get ahead and the Council deserves credit for bringing it forward.

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 September 2012

New developments

Last week I attended the opening of the new housing development at Trevu Road opposite the train station in Camborne. I think it is a great illustration of what can be achieved if people work together to overcome their differences and focus on what can be done rather than what can't be done. The development is a wonderful amalgamation of the old and the new, is unique and distinctive, a great place to live and the work has been done sensitively and celebrates the history of this old Holman’s site.

I have always been clear that I favour the development of brown field sites over green field sites in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle area. We need to find ways of rejuvenating our towns and that means taking on difficult, derelict sites in the centre and finding a way to bring them back into use, not just leaving them to one side and going for the easy option of urban sprawl on the outskirts of towns. That’s why I got behind the harbour scheme in Hayle and the new road at Tuckingmill.

Next week, the Cornwall Council Cabinet will make its decision regarding the location of the new Cornwall Archive and Records Centre. This is an exciting project which will bring together all of Cornwall’s old records as well as some ancient manuscripts in one place. Redruth is the obvious location for the new Cornwall Archive and the Town Council has been working on some really creative proposals that would see the complete regeneration of the old brewery site in town.

Redruth is at the heart of the world wide Cornish diaspora which numbers some 8 million people. Of the people who emigrated from Cornwall in the late 19th century to take mining around the world, around a quarter came from Redruth alone. The town is already the county’s cultural heart and is home to initiatives like the Cornish Migration Project, the Cornwall Studies Library and Murdoch House so it makes sense to build on this.

However, last week, one advisory committee in County Hall suggested that the project should be based in St Austell apparently on the basis that the car park on which they propose to build it might be easier and involve less effort. We should not accept such complacency. The Cornish Archive will only happen if the project is able to attract the support of agencies like the Heritage Lottery Fund and EU regeneration funds and Redruth makes a far more powerful proposition than St Austell. We need a beautiful building that restores and celebrates our heritage, not a soulless building on some car park on the outskirts of St Austell. We need to be imaginative and ambitious for Cornwall, so let’s build it in Redruth.

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 September 2012

Free Parking

For the next two months, you can park for free in Camborne. It is part of a new deal that has been struck by shops and traders in Camborne who are really pulling together to boost the town’s prospects and it is an idea that I have long wanted to see piloted properly in Cornwall because, if it works, it could drive broader policy on car parks in Cornwall. It is great to see Camborne leading the way with such creative thinking.

Cornwall Council car parks are not taking part in the scheme at this stage but the privately owned Trevithick Road Car Park behind Argos is. So make sure you go to the right one! The free car park is really close to the town centre and you can park there at absolutely no cost for the first two hours at any time of the day. To access the car park, you just have to turn down Wellington Road opposite Camborne Church and then, at the end, turn up Trevithick Road to the rear of Argos (there are unfortunately barriers which prevent vehicle entrance from the front).

Traders in Camborne have created what is called a “Business Improvement District”. In effect, all of the shops group together and contribute to a central fund that they can use in any way they choose to promote fresh ideas to get people into town. Solutions range from better marketing to improving the townscape. So far, the Camborne BID team have introduced free car parking, run a series of children’s activities over the summer and persuaded the Co-op to decorate the exterior of their building by Camborne Church.

A couple of years ago, I organised a conference on town centre regeneration. I think it is really important that, as we push forward major regeneration projects like Heartlands in Pool, we also ensure that our town centres are not forgotten and that we do all we can to make them vibrant public places. Sometimes this can involve regeneration through building new, modern retail space in the heart of towns to bring in larger retail chains and increase the footfall which helps everyone. One of the best ideas I have heard for Camborne is that the bus station be moved nearer the train station and the current site used to create a new retail hub in the heart of the town.

But quite often, we need to think afresh about what our town centres are for. Where building modern retail space is less of an option, we need to look at other options to make them vibrant public spaces with restaurants, coffee shops and pubs. Full marks to Camborne’s shops for showing some initiative and if you have not shopped in town for a while, why not try it while you can park for free!

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, 30 August 2012

Exam results...

The anxious wait that teenagers have to endure for their A Level and GCSE results is finally over and many young people locally have cause to celebrate. I was at Redruth School on the day their A Level results came in and they had achieved a 99.3 percent pass rate, with results that were significantly above both the national and the county average, with a couple of students on course for Oxford and Cambridge.

Redruth has made rapid progress in the last few years and is recognised by the Department for Education as one of the top 100 performing schools in the country based on sustained improvement in academic achievement. Camborne Science and International Academy also had another good year with all their students intending to go to university securing their places.

I have been really impressed by all of the secondary schools in this area. Hayle does good work on languages, Camborne has cut out a niche on international exchanges, Pool is consistently rated highly by Ofsted and Redruth has a strong sports department. There is a healthy but friendly competition that exists between all of our schools and they learn from one another. Three of the four schools have introduced new, smarter school uniforms in the last couple of years and all are doing more on science and languages, looking at international exchanges and trying new methods of intervention to support children falling behind. Most important of all, when you visit our schools, there is a real sense of pride and aspiration which is great to see.

There is also good work being done in primary schools. On a visit to Pool Academy last year with Michael Gove, we saw Year 8 pupils at Pool helping year 6 children from one of the local primaries learn to read. Quality primary education is vital because, unless you get the basics right by the time children start secondary school, they are in danger of falling behind and losing interest.

I think it is important to create a culture of excellence in the education system where schools are constantly striving to achieve more for all children, whether by stretching the most academic children so that they can go to university or giving additional support to help inspire those falling behind. The government has made a number of changes aimed at raising standards still further from making the inspection regime more demanding to creating a new “English Baccalaureate” to recognise schools who achieve good results in difficult subjects. Many schools have become independent academies and now control their own budget. Next term, there will be a new catholic school opening in Camborne under the “free schools” policy, giving local parents even more choice. You only get one education, so we must do all we can to make it a success.

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

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Getting back to work...

I have always been clear that economic regeneration is my number one priority locally. The towns of Camborne, Redruth and Hayle all made an astonishing contribution to the industrial revolution but in recent years, things have been harder, key industries went in to decline, there was a loss of confidence followed by the growth of welfare dependency which has trapped too many people in poverty.

Despite the gloom and doom that you hear in the news, when it comes to unemployment there have been some encouraging signs which might mean we have started to turn the corner. Unemployment has been falling for five months now, including here in Camborne and Redruth. For the first time we have started to see more young people between the ages of 16-24 finding jobs. This is important because youth unemployment started rising as long ago as 2005, even as the world economy was booming, and the longer people are out of work, the harder it is to start.

People sometimes say that there is high unemployment locally, but if you look at the facts we are actually about average and mid way down the table compared with other towns across the country. I am by no means complacent but we should not talk ourselves down. I would like to see more jobs and better paid jobs locally and I think there are a number of things that must be done. First we need to attract new industries and support the construction of new infrastructure that will unlock the potential of derelict land and create jobs.

Secondly we need to ensure that we have a skilled workforce to encourage employers to locate here and that is why I think the expansion of real apprenticeships has been so important so that young people can learn skills in a real working environment while also earning money.

Finally, we need really intensive support to help those who have been out of work for a long time, have lost their confidence and are trapped on benefits. Sometimes you see households where people have not worked for two or three generations and it is a really damaging cycle which leads to wasted human potential. In the long term, it does no favours to those condemned to a life on benefits.

Last week I met a new organisation which has recently started up in Cornwall which runs intensive courses to motivate people and raise their confidence and self esteem ready for work. They often encourage those attending the courses to do unpaid voluntary work initially and they are getting good results with the majority of those doing unpaid work trials being offered paid jobs afterwards. We need to cut through the defeatism and let it be known that Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are towns that get things done.

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.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

The Olympics

Britain looks set to have its most successful Olympics ever, with athletes making history and, in some cases, winning events we have never won before. I spent last Saturday night with friends and watched what was undoubtedly the best night for British athletics in a lifetime, with Team GB collecting three gold medals in the space of just one hour. Mo Farah made history by being the first British man ever to win gold in the Olympic 10,000 metres, Greg Rutherford seemed to surprise himself with his extraordinary performance in the Long Jump and the determined performance by Jessica Ennis to win that final 800m metre event in her heptathlon and take overall victory was a priceless moment of the Games.

Cornish athletes have also played a big part in the success of Team GB with seven athletes in the team in all. It was great to see Helen Glover drive ahead to take Britain’s first gold of the Games and to watch the tenacious Ben Ainsley win the sailing for the fourth time, a remarkable achievement.

The pride across the country during these Olympic Games makes the riots which shamed some of Britain’s cities a year ago feel like a completely different era. Much has been said about the importance of a legacy from the Olympics but I hope that the most important legacy will be a whole new generation of young people inspired to take up sport and strive to do their best. In the space of just two weeks, we have seen the emergence of many new role models for young people and they come from all sorts of different backgrounds and reflect the diverse nature of Britain today. The great thing about sporting role models is that they are not just about celebrity for the sake of it, they are first and foremost about real achievement and excellence through hard work and dedication and their notoriety becomes incidental.

Earlier this summer, Cornwall held its second Schools Games where over three thousand young people from Cornish Schools took part in over 20 different sports and I presented the awards at the athletics contest at Carn Brea. It was like a mini version of the Olympics Games and I think it is a great way of raising the status of sport in our schools. I used to be a member of Cornwall Athletic Club when I was younger and running was my passion. I was not fast enough to make the Olympic Team but have fond memories of my time running for Cornwall and it is great to see Cornwall Athletic Club going strong today. At that time, the rivalry between Coe and Ovett boosted middle distance running for years. Let’s hope that these Olympic Games kick starts a golden era for British sport.

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, 3 August 2012

Pengegon

Parliament has now broken up for the summer which is a good opportunity to catch up with work in Cornwall. During August, I hold public meetings around the constituency so that people have an opportunity to ask questions or discuss individual problems they might need help with and I also try to visit as many parish and town councils as possible.

This week one of the meetings I held was at Pengegon. I have followed the growing confidence in Pengegon in recent years with interest. It is a great example of how having a few people in a community willing to make that initial effort can spread really quickly and inspire the rest of the neighbourhood too. I am not pretending that all is rosy in the garden. Pengegon undoubtedly has its share of poverty and these are difficult times. At my meeting this week, concerns about youth unemployment loomed large. But there is also growing pride and commitment within this community and that really matters.

Pengegon is often named as being the most deprived area in Cornwall. I have always thought that politicians and councillors should be careful when talking in broad terms about “deprived communities” because there is a danger they sound patronising. Many of those who live in Pengegon will have overcome adversity in their lives that a desk bound official could not understand and they are often more grounded and more resilient people because of that.

Last year when council officials published figures which cast Pengegon in a negative light, there was something of a backlash. Local residents called in the West Briton and let it be known in no uncertain terms that they were tired of seeing their community talked down and they highlighted some of the good work being done by local residents. Quite right too.

There are now some sixty young people taking part in football training sessions; there is a basketball team; a few weeks ago 22 people from the estate attended a training session at Stithians lake to learn about course fishing which looks set to continue; there are support groups for young parents and next Thursday the whole community will hold its annual family Fun Day which was really well attended when I went last year. Most important of all, people have become more neighbourly and look out for one another. Crime and anti-social behaviour in the area has tumbled.

There is more to do and top of the list is accelerating the plan to build a long awaited, new community centre to pull all the good work together under one roof and we also need to bring new industries and better paid jobs to Camborne. But the progress at Pengegon is proof that where there is a will, there is a way.

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, 27 July 2012

Transport

The Cornish economy has always had to contend with the challenge of its geography. There is no getting away from the fact that we are a peninsula located hundreds of miles away from the main population centres of the UK and this has always been a factor and a cost that businesses will take into account when deciding where to locate.

That is why communication and transport infrastructure is so important to the future success of our economy. It is why the decision last year by Cornwall Council to invest in superfast broadband was right because it gives Cornwall the edge in some of the emerging digital and technology industries for whom distance is less of a barrier.

But we also need to safeguard and upgrade our existing transport infrastructure to help overcome the barriers of distance. Firstly, we need to see the duelling of the A30 completed and representatives from Cornwall Council held a meeting with the Roads Minister last week to discuss plans to implement the much awaited duelling of the A30 around Temple. One plan is that you could “de-trunk” the road with Cornwall Council taking control of it and also being given some additional funding by central government to manage and upgrade it.

Secondly, Cornwall has one of the deepest natural ports in the world at Falmouth and it has great potential for the future but it needs investment and upgrading which would open up the possibility of making it accessible to cruise ships and boost the economy of West Cornwall. Reaching agreement over the environmental impact of any change has been a long, drawn out process but we might just be nearing a final agreement.

Newquay airport is also an important link for the business community and we should continue to work to secure its financial viability. Finally, and by no means least, we need to improve our rail infrastructure. This week, the government published the detailed franchise specification for the Great Western line connecting Cornwall to London. It has been a contentious issue and I, and other MPs, met the Rail Minister late last week to secure some 11th hour amendments to the original proposal.

It is excellent news that the vital sleeper service to London has been secured for another fifteen years but there was some alarm that the government initially appeared to be contemplating reducing the number of guaranteed direct services to London from nine down to six per day without any corresponding improvement in the quality or frequency of the local service. A compromise has left a number of options on the table during the franchise period which can be assessed once the bids are finally in. Such flexibility makes sense. I hope that we will not only be able to safeguard the existing service but improve it.

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, 20 July 2012

Dairy Farmers

Last week dairy farmers from across the country came to Westminster to highlight the plight of their industry in the face of a further cut of 2p per litre in the price they receive from processors which will push tens of thousands of farmers into heavy losses for the coming financial year.

One of my roles in parliament is as a member of the Select Committee on Environment and Rural Affairs and we took an emergency evidence session on Tuesday of this week to get to the bottom of the problem.

I grew up on a farm and spent ten years working in the farming industry before going in to politics and have therefore had first-hand experience of the problems that the industry faces. In a nutshell, farmers all too often end up being “price takers”: effectively given whatever price large dominant processors or supermarkets decide to pay them and with far too little clout to demand better. Nowhere is this problem more acute than in the dairy industry.

As a Conservative, I do not have a problem with market forces coming in to play but I do object to the anti-competitive, market fixing behaviour of many large processors in the dairy sector. These companies frequently force farmers into contract arrangements where the farmer is required to supply all of his production to a single firm for often as long as a year at a time, but with no guarantee about the price he will receive or even the basis on which the price he is paid will be calculated. That is wrong and it goes against all the principles of a free and fair market economy.

We need a situation where farmers are free to shop around week to week or, at the very least, month to month to ensure that they are getting the best possible price for their produce. This would force processors to compete for their supply and pay farmers what their production is worth.

The government will shortly bring forward its legislation to introduce a tough new Groceries Adjudicator which will police the behaviour of supermarkets and prevent them from breaking their code of practice and engaging in anti-competitive behaviour which is unfair on their suppliers. This is an important step forward but it will be of little help to dairy farmers because their problem is not so much with the supermarkets but with the middle men who process their milk. That is why I have argued that the Office for Fair Trading should step in to deal with market failure between the producer and the processor, not just between the consumer and retailer. It is time for them to take a look at the way some of these contracts operate.

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, 12 July 2012

Banking Bill

Just when you thought the banks might have learned their lesson, yet another scandal emerges which underlines the need for root and branch reform of the banking industry. The scandal over the fixing of LIBOR interest rates, the rate at which banks lend money to one another and use to calculate interest charges to their business customers, is the latest crisis to rock this beleaguered industry.

Two weeks ago I took part in a debate in parliament which explored another banking scandal - how the banks bounced their business customers into accepting complicated "swap agreements" which were supposed to cap their interest charges but instead cost many businesses hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds because it turned out the product they had been sold was not an insurance policy at all but instead a risky bet on the financial markets.

Later this year the government will set out its proposals for a new Banking Bill which aims to sort out some of these problems and it comes not a moment too soon. For too long, the banks appear to have carried on regardless, awarding themselves big bonuses despite being a loss making, down the pan industry. The big salaries at the top and so called "golden parachute" deals which reward failure have been out of control. They are not driven by market forces but instead by a high pay culture that is fueled by head hunter agencies who are paid commission.

I think we now need to look at breaking up the major banks to increase competition. There are too few banks and the ones we have are seen as too big to fail, so we are expected to bail them out in order to avert catastrophe. We need a system where we can let a bank go bust without there being a major crisis otherwise there is no incentive for them to exercise care and caution.

We should also separate the investment banking arms which speculate on world financial markets from the retail banking operations which manage funds for businesses and individuals because there has clearly been a serious conflict of interest in some cases and we also need a fundamental review of regulation of the banking sector.

Finally we need to look at the way banks behave when businesses experience difficulties and rebalance the law away from money lenders by strengthening the rights of businesses. I have argued that we should require banks to obtain a Possession Order from the courts before being allowed to seize and sell assets and the courts should also have the power to grant a moratorium to protects a business from lenders and give them the space and time they need to restructure or refinance their operations when things go wrong.

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.

Monday, 9 July 2012

A referendum is on the way

Last week David Cameron sparked a run of speculation about whether and when there might be a referendum on Britain’s relationship with the EU. Critics said that he didn’t actually give a firm commitment to hold one, gave no date and didn’t even suggest what the question might be. Therefore, their theory goes, his comments amounted to very little, right? Wrong.

David Cameron was intentionally moving the position of the Conservative Party. Having worked as his Press Secretary, I know there are times when stories appear in the papers because journalists, collectively, get a bit carried away but there are also times when stories appear because although, on the face of it, nothing very new has been said, the background briefing given to journalists by a spokesman means they understand something significant is happening. Last week’s announcement definitely fell into the latter category.

So why didn’t he just name the date and set the question? There is huge uncertainty about where current events in the EU will end. A partial break up the eurozone is still highly likely. Against that backdrop, it is events that will drive the timetable and events which will determine the final shape of any renegotiation. It would be foolish for any government to be too prescriptive about things at this stage. But they should be preparing the ground for change and last week, David Cameron confirmed that he was. For the first time, he explicitly said that the “status quo” of Britain’s relationship with the EU was no longer acceptable. That is a significant change.

The majority of people in Britain don’t want to leave the EU altogether but they do want a new relationship with many powers returned. At times of crisis, the future belongs to those with both a plan and the political will to drive that plan through. If the eurozone countries do decide to integrate politically and fiscally in order to save the single currency then our membership of the EU will have to be renegotiated because some of the measures we are already signed up to could start to act against our national interest. Alternatively, if the euro collapses or a number of countries leave it, we will be in a totally different situation anyway. Either way, change is on the cards.

Some say that you can’t renegotiate our membership of the EU but no one has really tried yet. I don’t think we should be defeatist about this issue because where there is a will, there is a way. The EU has accumulated too much power and the more competences it takes on, the less competent it becomes. It is time to clip its wings and take powers away from Brussels. Rather than the dogma of “ever closer union” we need to see powers passing back in the opposite direction to national governments.

There are already different tiers in the EU. There are currently 27 member states but only 17 of those are members of the euro. There are countries in the EU but not members of the Schengen agreement on border controls. There are some EU members who are neutral and have never worked with the EU on defence matters. The challenge now is to expand the “pick and mix” principle so that more policies in the EU become optional. We should aim to remain part of the single market which is what we signed up to in the first place but take powers back in many other areas.

It is sometimes argued that now is not the time to talk about re-negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU because the euro is so feeble that it is not capable of withstanding democratic process or discussion about the EU’s future. But now is not the time to put our heads in the sand and ignore the failure of the euro. So, let’s negotiate.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

The EU...

This week David Cameron edged closer to renegotiating Britain’s membership of the EU and putting the outcome to a referendum which is a positive step in the right direction. At times of crisis, the future belongs to those with both a plan and the political will to drive that plan through and the crisis in the eurozone means that the whole situation in Europe is changing and this is a time for British leadership.

If the eurozone countries do decide to integrate politically and fiscally in order to save the single currency then our membership of the EU will have to be renegotiated because some of the measures we are already signed up to will start to behave differently and against our national interest. Alternatively, if the euro collapses or a number of countries leave it, we will be in a totally different situation anyway. Either way, change is on the cards.

Some say that you can’t renegotiate our membership of the EU but no one has really tried yet. I don’t think we should be defeatist about this issue because where there is a will, there is a way. As the Prime Minister has said, the status quo in Europe is not acceptable. The EU has accumulated too much power and the more competences it takes on, the less competent it becomes. It is time to clip its wings and take powers away from Brussels.

There are already different tiers in the EU. There are currently 27 member states but only 17 of those are members of the euro. There are countries in the EU but not members of the Schengen agreement on border controls. There are some EU members who are neutral and have never worked with the EU on defence matters. The challenge now is to expand the “pick and mix” principle so that more policies in the EU become optional. We should aim to remain part of the single market which is what we signed up to in the first place but take powers back in many other areas.

Some say that now is not the time to talk about re-negotiating Britain’s relationship with the EU because the euro is so feeble and the countries that use it so pathetic, that they are not capable of withstanding democratic process or discussion about the euro’s future. I say that now is not the time to put our heads in the sand and ignore the failure of the euro. The people who want to sweep discussion about the future of the EU under the carpet now are the same sorts of people who told us a decade ago to close our eyes and blindly join the euro. They were wrong then and they are wrong now.

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

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Police & Crime Commissioners

Next Friday, 6th July, everyone in Cornwall will have an opportunity to select the candidate who could become the first Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall as the Conservative Party holds a series of hustings open to the public.

I have always supported the proposal for elected Police and Crime Commissioners. They will replace the old Police Authorities which have been largely invisible and have had little impact. Who can name the current Chairman of the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority? An election will lead to more powerful commissioners who represent local communities and will be better placed to hold the Chief Constable to account and stop interference Whitehall.

The Conservatives are the only party to open up their candidate selection process to the whole electorate. Anyone who considers themselves a Conservative voter can choose who they think should be their candidate, whether or not they are a party member. If you are on the electoral roll, all you have to do is pre-register to attend the meeting at Kingsley Village next Friday evening to hear what the candidates have to say and then decide who you want.

There will be three candidates to choose from. Two are from Devon but one, Tony Hogg, is from Helston and in the preliminary selection round he gave a very powerful performance and showed that he had done his homework, understood the challenges in great detail and was ready for the task ahead.

Tony Hogg was a Commodore in the Navy and the Commanding Officer at RNAS Culdrose responsible for 3000 personnel and a budget of £80 million. I first met him shortly after being elected in 2010 when he was the Chief Executive of BF Adventure, an excellent charity which turns around the lives of young people who have lost their way or lost their confidence. I was immediately impressed by his commitment and enthusiasm.

One of Tony Hogg’s strengths is that he has a modest manner despite some incredible achievements during his career. He was decorated for his role as a helicopter pilot in an audacious air sea rescue operation in 1979. He was a veteran of the Falklands war and was one of the pilots in the brave operation to defeat the threat from exocet missiles. He captained five ships in all during his career and led the Royal Navy’s mine sweeping operation during the first Gulf War in the early 1990’s. So he is a tough cookie but his latter career at a youth charity means that he also understands the issues that contribute to the causes of crime. Why not come and see what he and the other candidates have to say?

To register to attend and vote at the Conservative open primary at Kingsley Village in Cornwall next Friday, call 01395 233503 or go to www.policeselection.co.uk

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Murdoch Day

Despite some of the dire warnings, the weather just about held up for Murdoch Day in Redruth last Saturday. It was blustery and threatening to rain for most of the day but it was only towards the very end of the day that the heavy showers finally came in.

As well as the excellent procession in the morning involving many local schools, there were other impressive dance acts and bands performing throughout the day. I was particularly impressed by the a cappella singing of “Raising the Ruth”, in the bandstand outside Murdoch House during the afternoon.

It was also an opportunity to catch up with the team at Murdoch House – the former home of William Murdoch, the inventor and engineer who was one of the pioneers of steam power development in Cornwall and also famously invented the first ever gas light using piped gas. It is great to have such an important heritage asset right in the middle of the town and I have used it as a venue for a couple of events over the last year.

Last Saturday, they had a fascinating exhibition of old photographs and newspaper cuttings on show. It was a reminder of how much this town and the surrounding area gave to the rest of the world. Redruth is not just the industrial heart of Cornwall, it is also the home town for a great many of the seven million people around the world whose ancestors left Cornwall in the late 19th century to build the new world. Around a quarter of all the people who left Cornwall during this period came from the Redruth area and they travelled as far afield as Cape Town, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia and Wisconsin in the Unites States. Press cuttings from that time underline the human and social cost of this mass migration across the world in search of work with many instances of families separated for the rest of their lives and with wives and young families often left behind.

Cornwall Council will shortly decide where to locate the new Cornwall Records Office. It is an exciting idea which creates the opportunity to build on the resources which already exist in the county and could become a really important attraction for foreign tourists keen to trace their roots. Redruth is already home to the Cornish Studies Library and the Cornwall Migration project which helps people trace their Cornish ancestry. As the centre of the world-wide Cornish Diaspora, Redruth has a very strong claim to be the home of the new archive and there are currently some detailed proposals to perhaps locate it on the site of the old brewery so that we can transform that end of town and start the process of renewal and regeneration.

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

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Leveson

Last week the Leveson Inquiry reached its peak with David Cameron, George Osborne, Gordon Brown and John Major all giving evidence. The inquiry has been uncomfortable for both politicians and the press, but I think it is a once in a generation opportunity to give good journalism the fresh start it needs and, hopefully, to reverse the decline in newspaper circulations.

Journalism has a crucial role in democratic society. At its best, it challenges the powerful, tests prevailing assumptions, gives voice to a plurality of competing views and provides a forum for national discussion on topical and important issues. If the public are to hold politicians to account at the ballot box, it is essential that they have access to reliable and accurate information. The role of the press is to give them that information.

But those who own the national press have not always been good custodians of journalism and have often elevated the commercial interests of papers above the interests of society. In some cases, they have provided the public with inaccurate information in order to promote their own agenda. Meanwhile, politicians from all parties got too close to newspaper proprietors.

When I was David Cameron’s Press Secretary, we pursued a strategy of quietly puncturing the arrogance of both editors and proprietors, and raising the status of what I termed real journalism. We wanted to take some of the swagger out of the press. We would spend less time having editors over for dinner but instead deal with journalists writing the stories and there would be fewer exclusive briefings to favoured papers. We were not going to pick a fight with the press, but we hoped that by behaving differently we could gradually change the culture in a way that would be healthier for all. But when a political party is subjected to a negative media frenzy, it is hard to ignore.

There is not much wrong with the Editors' Code which was used by the former Press Complaints Commission, the problem is that it was not really observed properly by some of the national newspapers. The phone hacking scandal and the widespread use of an illegal market in personal information happened because the definition of what is in the “public interest” has been too elastic and all too often has meant what the papers wanted it to mean, rather than being independently enforced.

I think that local and regional papers, like the Western Morning News, have done better and approached the Editors' Code conscientiously. They take complaints seriously, are much closer to their communities and tend to steer clear of gratuitous personal attacks. While they have clear views on issues, they tend to be more careful about taking sides politically because they need to appeal to the whole community. In contrast, I think that some national newspapers have regarded themselves as being above the Press Complaints Commission which has landed them in this mess.

If journalism is to operate in the public interest, it needs a credible public interest test. This will not only protect society but also journalists by giving them a valid defence in law for crossing boundaries to expose genuine wrongdoing or corruption. While I am sceptical about having a statutory regulator of press content, there is a powerful argument for some statutory underpinning to make self regulation actually work this time. For example, an auditor given powers to ensure that newspapers followed basic internal compliance procedures before invading someone’s privacy would be a step forward. But it is a difficult balance to get right and Lord Leveson has his work cut out.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Dangerous Dogs

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee of which I am a member recently launched an inquiry into the welfare of dogs. I have been arguing for this for some time. Two years ago I visited the National Animal Welfare Trust just outside Hayle and was shocked to hear about the problem of Staffordshire Bull Terriers being abandoned. I have also been struck by the excellent work done by the Cinnamon Trust, a national charity also based here at Hayle, which organises an army of volunteers to help exercise dogs whose owners are no longer able to and to re-home dogs whose owners have passed away.

There has been an appalling trend in recent years towards people breeding aggressive dogs to become so called “status dogs” which some young men now take with them, frankly, as an alternative to carrying a knife. In many cases, they lack the commitment to care for their dog or find that they cannot cope once the dog matures. As a result, dog kennels have been inundated with abandoned dogs which have often been reared to be aggressive and which, sadly, are usually unsuitable to be re-homed with families. All too often they have to be put down which is a shameful indictment on our society.

In the last year, there has been an increasing trend towards larger breeds, such as mastiffs, also being abandoned because their owners cannot handle them. And there have been a growing number of instances of gentle natured Labrador guide dogs being attacked by aggressive dogs on the street, prompting calls for a change in legislation.

I think we need to look again at the law in this area. The Dangerous Dogs Act was brought in over 20 years ago and sought to ban certain violent breeds of dog but it was always arbitrary and is increasingly out of date. During a recent visit to Battersea Dogs Home I was told the harrowing story of a young (and friendly) Pitbull Terrier which had been neglected and almost starved to death but had been rescued just in time. However, because of its breed, it would have to be put down anyway.

It’s not the dogs we need to target but their owners. I think we should require licensing for the breeding of certain types of dog which are intended to become guard dogs so that you have reputable breeders, not back street puppy farms. I would also be open to the idea of some basic vetting before people are allowed to own a dog to ensure they will provide a loving home. The RSPCA would not re-home a rescue dog without first assessing where it was going, so why do we allow unsuitable people to buy a puppy?

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.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Jubilee Celebrations

Last weekend’s celebrations to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee demonstrated the affection felt for the Royal Family throughout the country. Travelling around, it has been great to see so many union jack flags on display and so many local communities pulling together to hold a jubilee party.

I can just about remember the Silver Jubilee celebrations in 1977, or at least remember being given a commemorative mug as a gift. Sixty years makes the Queen one of the longest reigning monarchs ever and she has seen an era of extraordinary change both for our country and the world during that time. She has had no less than twelve different British Prime Ministers leading government’s under her reign, each coming in with big ideas to sort everything out. And she has so far seen eleven of them come unstuck for one reason or another.

But I think that is what is so special and unique about the British constitution. We separate our politics from the Royal Family. Politicians come and go. They take the decisions that they think and believe are right for the country at the time but when things go wrong they are thrown out. But, all the while, the monarchy provides consistency and continuity for the country and none more so than our current Queen. The monarch as head of state symbolises Britain’s staying power and its ability to unite in common endeavour.

Whatever political views people might have, they can still come together to celebrate the Queen’s jubilee. Our politics can be fought out on the issues of the day between rival political parties, but the Queen symbolises our country’s ability to unite. When the Queen delivers her speech to parliament at the start of each parliamentary session, it is the convention that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition walk side by side from the House of Commons to the House of Lords making friendly conversation along the way and every MP must sign an oath of allegiance to the Queen on taking their seat in parliament.

The British constitution has, famously, evolved over many centuries in a rather unusual way. Cornwall’s special position in the United Kingdom as a Duchy is expressed through the Crown. When many other countries were throwing out their monarchies and introducing new, political presidents, Britain found a better way. The power of the Crown was not destroyed but was effectively loaned to democratically elected governments which meant we retained the best of both worlds. It means that no government can sign a treaty or take a decision which binds its successor and that is what guarantees Britain’s absolute independence as a nation. But it also means that ultimate power rests in a Head of State around whom everyone can unite.

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, 31 May 2012

Pasties...

My main focus over the last two months has been working with George Osborne and others in the Treasury to find a solution to the problem of the “pasty tax”. The Cornish pasty has been an incredible success story over the last decade with a huge growth in demand across the country. I wanted to ensure that this success was not compromised.

In his budget in March, the Chancellor announced that we was seeking to close something called “borderline anomalies” to ensure that all hot takeaway food attracted VAT in future. The real target was the supermarkets who have exploited loop holes in the law to sell rotisserie chickens without charging VAT while the local cafe would. The initial proposal was that any food sold above ambient temperature would attract VAT but the Cornish pasty is unique in that it can be eaten hot or cold and is actually best eaten when lukewarm rather than hot. There was a big campaign locally.

As with all such issues, the easy bit is to point at the problem and complain, but the most important thing is to roll up your sleeves and do the serious thinking that might identify a workable solution. I met all of the major pasty producers in Camborne and Redruth to discuss the approach they took and I also studied all of the detailed case law dating back to 1988 to see how the courts had interpreted disputes in the past. My recommendation to the Treasury was that they should apply a simple principle: provided pasties were not kept warm in cabinets after being cooked and were simply freshly baked and being allowed to cool naturally, they should not attract VAT. That would deal with the problem of the supermarkets exploiting a loop hole to sell hot chickens without VAT but allow the Cornish pasty to escape and it would be easier for the HMRC to enforce than the original proposal.

In my discussions with the Treasury, the idea of introducing the further condition of an exemption for hot food that had not been cooked to order emerged. This works well for the Cornish pasty because it takes the best part of an hour to cook a pasty so no one would ever have one cooked to order. It was a neat compromise and I am delighted that the Treasury have finally given this idea the green light.

George Osborne has faced criticism over the last couple of months but I think it is to his credit that he listens to what people have to say and is not afraid of adjusting proposals when mistakes have been made. It makes a refreshing change from the old fashioned politics of ploughing on regardless which we endured under Gordon Brown.

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, 24 May 2012

Olympic Torch comes to Heartlands

The fact that the Olympic Torch relay started in Cornwall was undoubtedly good for our county and helped put Cornwall on the map. The event was well managed and some of those from the Camborne and Redruth area who carried the torch for part of its journey have commended the good work of the organisers in conversation with me.

I know that the torch could not go everywhere but, without wanting to be churlish, I have to confess that it does still annoy me that officials working for the Olympics could decide to exclude Camborne and Redruth from the route. This is the biggest conurbation in Cornwall and at the heart of Cornwall’s history with links across the globe.

To make matters worse, when the Heartlands project initially tried to help and offered to organise a celebration off their own bat, officious Olympic organisers told them that they could not use the word "Olympic" or "torch" in any promotional material. That really wasn’t on.

The thing that grates most with me is the impression that Camborne and Redruth might have been passed over because they were not considered flash enough and that the organisers just wanted picture postcard scenes with beaches and the sea in the background instead. Such a narrow mentality fundamentally misunderstands Cornwall. The thing about Camborne and Redruth is that they are, and have always been, the one bit of Cornwall that can hold its own against any other major urban centre in Britain. This is where you find the companies that make things and the people who get things done. We don’t have second home owners in their yachts and yellow wellies around here but Camborne and Redruth are the towns that stop Cornwall being just another holiday destination. They make Cornwall a serious contender on the national stage and they should be valued for that.

You can't keep a good town down and I would argue that the best Olympic celebration in Cornwall actually took place at Heartlands anyway. The place was packed with children paddling in the red river and in the play area and with thousands visiting the site to take part. The Diaspora play by a local drama group went down particularly well. We showed them how it should be done.

But the star of the day was local girl Amy James, who I had the privilege of meeting at Heartlands. She had carried the torch for a leg of the relay in Rosudgeon. When she had finished she promptly told the organisers she was going straight back to her home towns with her torch because they had been left off the official route and she wanted them to share in the day. Good on her! So Camborne and Redruth got the torch after all.

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, 17 May 2012

A lot done, a lot more to do...

National headlines about the crisis in the eurozone paint a gloomy picture about the prospects for the economy but, locally, while things are undoubtedly hard, we are putting in place the building blocks for the future.

As you drive through our towns, you see a lot of important work underway. The regeneration of Hayle harbour is progressing well and will transform the town’s prospects over the next two years. The old Holmans site around the train station in Camborne has finally been rebuilt after years of dereliction but many of the original features and buildings have been retained. The first phase of regenerating the other Holmans site opposite Tesco is also complete. Last month the Heartlands project opened in Pool and Cornwall College are about to start the next phase of the face lift for their campus having already transformed the look of the new Tamar tower.

Last week the regeneration of the Tuckingmill and South Crofty areas of Camborne also came a step closer as Camborne Town Council finally removed their objection to the new East-West road link. I think this project has an important role to play in creating new industry and jobs in our area and, for the first eighteen months after I was elected, securing government funding for the project was my number one priority.

The junction at the top of East Hill actually became more difficult to navigate after they introduced the new dual carriageway to join the A30. There is a reason for this. The new road layout will only work properly once the scheme is complete. The East-West link road will offer a faster route to get to the A30 from Pengegon and Troon, reducing congestion in both the town and at East Hill junction.

I have always argued that, when it comes to new housing developments, we should build on brownfield sites before greenfield sites. The new road will provide the infrastructure that makes it possible to build new housing at the proposed Tuckingmill Urban Village. It will also mean that derelict land which was previously not viable to re-develop suddenly becomes attractive on which to build new industrial units. And it has allowed a land swap deal to go ahead so that South Crofty can build a modern, state-of-the-art mine at the bottom of the valley which could create up to 400 jobs over the next few years.

While a lot has been done, there remains much to do. In particular, my main focus is to try to get things moving on some of the derelict sites in Redruth, including the old brewery site, Avers roundabout and the bottom of Penryn Street. In all three cases, there must be a way forward if everyone turned their minds to 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.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Queen's Speech

Parliament has just begun what those in Westminster term a “new session” following the Queen’s Speech yesterday which set out the main legislative priorities for the government over next eighteen months or so. Top of the government’s priorities will be proposals aimed at getting the economy moving again and spur growth by making it easier for people to set up their own business and easier for existing businesses to expand. But the run up to this year’s Queen’s Speech was dominated by speculation about whether or not there would be a Bill to reform of the House of Lords. It is an issue that is way down the list of priorities for most people across the country. One recent poll of 1000 people showed that the number of people wanting Lords reform was a big fat 0! I think we need to tread with care when meddling with our constitution. There is actually more to democracy than just politicians and elections. For instance, you need an independent judiciary, an independent police force and the rule of law. When it comes to the House of Lords, it is not there to create policy but just to amend and scrutinise the policy of an elected government in the House of Commons. I think the relationship between the two houses should be a bit like that between a father and son. The House of Lords should be different to the House of Commons with people who have a life time’s experience in their field and who have some wisdom to offer. At a time when most people enter parliament in their 20s or 30’s, we should nurture a place for experience within our constitution. But if you had an elected House of Lords, you would lose that. The twenty something politicians who failed to get elected as MPs would stand for the House of Lords instead. The election would be decided on a PR system like we have in the European Parliament where political party managers decide who is at the top of their list. Worst of all, the system proposed would not even allow Lords to be thrown out if they failed. They want you to vote them in for a fixed term of 15 years but deny you the chance to vote them out if they failed. What is the point of an election if you can’t even fire them? The House of Lords is not perfect and I would support some changes. You could reduce its size, limit the duration of their tenure and broaden the nomination criteria with roles reserved for former chiefs of the armed forces, leading surgeons, retired head teachers and senior charity workers. But let’s not reduce it to a joke like the European Parliament. 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.