Thursday, 26 January 2012

Marine Energy Park

I have been arguing for two years that if the country wants to generate electricity from the sea then they should build it where the waves are. This week, the government announced that Cornwall would be the location of the UK’s first Marine Energy Park. It’s an important achievement for Hayle because Wave Hub and the new industrial units currently under construction on the North Quay will be the crucial ingredient of this new industry.
About 25% of all the wave and tidal technology development in the world is happening in Britain and now Hayle is at the heart of it. Cornwall’s marine resource is second to none with a powerful Atlantic swell but not so powerful that the sea’s energy cannot be harnessed. It has been estimated that wave power could eventually meet 15% to 20% of Britain’s power needs producing enough electricity to power 11 million homes. There is also economic potential. If wave power succeeds, the industry could be worth £2 billion by 2050 creating more than 16,000 jobs. Some estimates suggest that the wave and tidal power industries together might provide as many as 10,000 jobs by as early as 2020.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This will not happen overnight because it is an embryonic industry. There is no shortage of things that can go wrong and many obstacles remain. We now need to focus on the hard work of making this industry a success. Firstly, we need to get pioneering electricity generators to choose Cornwall and plug their wave devices into Wave Hub. We must ensure that there is financial support to help them through the research and development phase. That is why Hayle should have first call on the new £10 million development fund created by the government to progress wave power technologies.
Secondly, it is hard enough getting new industries off the ground without having bureaucratic burdens on top of everything else. So we need to be willing to simplify the myriad of risk assessments and licensing processes that so often kill good ideas before they can even begin. Finally, we need to link up the ground breaking academic work going on at the University at Tremough with the pioneers who will be developing devices at Hayle.
I have been concerned that in the last ten years, Scotland has been doing more to encourage this industry than the British government but that is now changing. Last year, the government increased the subsidy it pays to developers in Cornwall – so that they now match what is paid in Scotland. This latest decision to designate Cornwall as the first Marine Energy Park means that we have now overtaken Scotland as the UK’s leading centre for wave energy, so let’s 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.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Regional Policy

It was Michael Heseltine who proved that government action could help create the conditions for economic revival in the regions with major successes in areas like Docklands in London and in Liverpool. There were even policies at the time to encourage major manufacturers like Pall in Redruth to invest in Cornwall.

A successful regional policy is incredibly important to the far South West because action is needed to create new industries and higher paid jobs. In the last decade, the UK has largely contracted out regional economic policy to the EU. There have undoubtedly been some successes, particularly in Cornwall. The new university at Tremough and high speed broadband to name just two examples.

However, some EU programmes have been restrictive and employers in some sectors complain that they are not considered fashionable enough to qualify for grants. We must also remember that there is no such thing as EU money. Since 2007, Britain has paid in £30 billion towards EU structural funds and received just £9 billion back. We simply get some of our own money back. Analysis by Open Europe concludes that if we repatriated regional policy to the UK government, Cornwall could receive an extra £207 million in funding over the next seven years.

Some say they prefer the devil they know and are frightened of change. But this is no time to bury our heads in the sand. The EU is a declining institution. The euro is no longer a viable currency and will face further tests this year. Some EU leaders have even said that the collapse of the euro would mean the end of the EU. I don’t think that will happen but the EU will face major cuts to its budget. Here in the South West, we need contingency plans to protect our economic interests.

One idea is to put all the extra funding that Britain would have if structural funds were repatriated into a second pillar of the Regional Growth Fund specifically targeted at areas like Cornwall but with less bureaucracy. It’s an interesting idea which could be right for the future.

ENDS

Thursday, 19 January 2012

BBC

In difficult times, every organisation needs to think carefully about how much money it is spending and where it might be able to make savings. It is why last year the government made clear to the BBC that it expected it to freeze the TV Licence Fee for the next few years. I think this is important because families have a lot of pressures on their incomes and, in the current environment, it would not be fair to expect people to pay an even higher TV Licence Fee.

I have always been a supporter of the BBC. I actually think it is an important British institution. Sure, there are times when I can disagree with its coverage of certain political issues but I do think that BBC journalists make a genuine attempt to be impartial and the BBC certainly devotes time and resources to giving coverage to political issues and informing public debate in a way that is the envy of the rest of the world and which we should cherish. Our broadcasters, including the BBC, have an important role to play alongside a robust and questioning newspaper industry. Without the mass media providing a platform for local and national debate, public engagement would decline and democracy itself would be severely weakened.

But it is important that any savings are made in the right areas and that the BBC does not just pick on soft targets and cut services in areas which have less clout within the organisation and so struggle to get their voices heard. Last summer, the BBC published some draft proposals for the savings it would make and has been consulting on them ever since. I have been very concerned that local radio was being unfairly singled out for more than its fair share of cuts and have made this case to several senior policy makers within the BBC. The further you get from London, the more important both local newspapers and local radio become and Radio Cornwall has one of the strongest and most loyal audiences of any local radio station in the country.

The BBC is the largest broadcaster in the world. It employs 23,000 people and has a budget of over £3.5 billion. Of that budget, around £2.5 billion is spent of TV and just £600m on radio. Of that £600 million on radio, little more than £150 million is actually spent on all the local radio stations in the whole country. Radio Cornwall costs a fraction of the amount spent on Radio Wales. I think the BBC needs to find a way of putting money back in to the budget of local radio and instead find additional savings from its vast national TV budget. They could possibly start with some of the huge salaries paid to celebrity TV presenters.

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 January 2012

Curbing senior salaries

David Cameron started the political year with a tough approach to curbing senior pay packages and not before time. His proposals have been criticised by some, including the Daily Telegraph, as interfering in the market but I think that is rubbish and he is right to take on these vested interests.

Real leaders lead by example and are the first to make a sacrifice for the cause. So what has gone wrong in Britain's board rooms? At a time when people in both the private sector and the public sector are accepting pay freezes, all too often we see pay at the very top of organisations running out of control. Last year, the average salary of a Chief Executive in 87 of Britain's largest companies was up by a third to over £5 million while performance at many had stalled. The banks have failed on such a catastrophic scale that they have had to be bailed out by the rest of us but still they have the audacity to pay themselves huge bonuses and lecture small businesses about management.

The truth is that in both the private and the public sectors, there has been a lack of accountability and this has allowed a high-pay culture to develop. These high salaries are not driven by market forces but by a failure of market forces. In recent years, so called head-hunter agencies have had a field day, stoking up pay awards at the top and taking huge commissions themselves. Not enough power has been given to shareholders or elected councillors to veto pay packages.

The answer is to restore accountability so that this artificial, high-pay culture is punctured and market forces come back into play. Last year the government announced that, in future, local authorities would have to put pay awards of senior officers to a vote of full council so that every councillor takes direct responsibility for what is agreed. If council tax payers think that senior officers are being overpaid, they can hold their own councillor to account. It won't change existing contracts overnight but it will restore accountability and drive down senior pay in future.

But we also need to do the same in the private sector, giving shareholders the power to veto salaries. It is extraordinary that, despite owning the company, shareholders’ views are only considered “advisory” at present and things are decided by cosy remuneration committees instead. Many people own shares in companies indirectly through their pension fund and these institutional investors have been too soft on senior pay in the past. So we also need to improve transparency so that the people who actually put their own savings on the line can demand action to cut pay at the top and restore some common sense.

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 January 2012

Happy New Year

The New Year has always been regarded as a time for hope and optimism. For some, it is a chance to turn over a new leaf, stop smoking or start exercising. The uncertainties in the world economy mean that we all go in to this particular New Year with a degree of apprehension. Governments are struggling to find their way through the mountain of debt accumulated in the past decade and the only thing we know for sure is that there are no easy answers. We don’t know whether the euro will survive or what impact its collapse would have.

But locally, there are many reasons to be optimistic. The Heartands project at Pool is almost complete and will open this spring, transforming the area. The government has now confirmed that it will fund the East West road link so work can start this year to redevelop derelict land around Tuckingmill, re-open the mine and create thousands of new jobs in the years ahead.

Just before Christmas, the government also agreed to make available some funds to help refurbish and redevelop the campus at Cornwall College. I am a former student of Cornwall College and have always championed their work, particularly with apprenticeships and foundation degrees. Part of the way to cut unemployment is to improve skills. The recent improvements to clad the Tamar Tower have had an extraordinary impact on the landscape at relatively low cost. Now they can do even more and also build new teaching facilities at Duchy College.

Early this year, with a bit of luck, we will finally get the green light to commence work to rejuvenate South Quay in Hayle. Work is already underway on North Quay and much progress has been made. The next phase will transform the Foundry end of Hayle with the harbour walls repaired, sluicing reinstated and new development including a supermarket, restaurants and other retail space.

Finally, momentum is gathering for a new Cornish Archive to be established on the old brewery site at Redruth and this will be my main focus in the months ahead. Most of the 8 million people making up the world wide Cornish Diaspora can trace their roots back to Redruth and it is the obvious location for a Cornish Archive.

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.