Thursday, 26 April 2012

Heartlands

Last Friday I attended the launch of Heartlands at Pool. The weather was a little unsettled for the parade, which was supported by over 800 young people from local schools, but nothing could dampen spirits among those present. This is an extraordinary success story which is a tribute to the perseverance of all those involved over the last ten years. The contribution that this part of Cornwall made to mining around the world is second to none and is celebrated at Heartlands. There is something for everyone, ranging from the best adventure playground I have ever seen, which was partly designed by students at Pool School, to the Diaspora Botanical Gardens which have a number of themed gardens with plants from around the world to signify the journey that Cornish miners took in the late 19th century to areas as diverse as the United States, South America, New Zealand and South Africa. Then there is a 270 degree film projection which tells the story of Cornish mining and many other attractions, including a modern depiction of the Red River. But this site is not just a tourist attraction. There is also workspace for small businesses and a plan for a regular farmers’ market. There are also some amazing conferencing facilities and a mixture of housing for local people. Those behind this project always wanted it to be something first and foremost for the local community but which would also become an attraction for those outside our towns and, judging by the local support they enjoyed on Friday and the weekend, they have got the balance just right. In the speeches on the opening evening, the one thing that stood out was that this project was very much a joint effort and lots of people played a role along the way. Many of the current trustees have been involved from the very start. Malcolm Moyle has been there from the very conception of the idea to its launch and his work is still not done! So he deserves a special mention. Then there was consistent support from Cornwall councillors such as Carolyn Rule and others from the former Kerrier District Council who got the ball rolling. Local schools were also fully engaged and students from Pool School contributed to the design of the adventure play area. Scott James, the project manager from Cornwall Council was also involved from an early stage and took responsibility for delivering the project with the support of what was clearly a very able team. This project received significant public funding, especially from the National Lottery Heritage Fund but I think it will have enormous value to the local community and is a major confidence boost to the area which I very much hope will spread. 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, 19 April 2012

Defending the rights of those who take risks

Those who put their own money on the line to set up a business are the lifeblood of a free market economy and when they give a bank security over their assets, they have a special right to be treated honourably. But most entrepreneurs need to discover how to lose money before they learn how to make money.

Sometimes, the failure of a business will be terminal and liquidation can be the right option. But, very often, a business that hits hard times can emerge from the other side of its troubles stronger than ever. But the value of experiencing failure can only be realised if the business is given the chance to survive. So this week, I published a policy paper that set out proposals to rebalance the law in favour of small businesses.

America has always had a better attitude towards failure than Britain. There, companies can file with a federal bankruptcy court for protection under what is termed “Chapter 11” where the focus is on trying to save the business. The UK law on bankruptcy was reformed in 2002 to borrow some aspects from the US system. Under the new form of “administration”, there is some protection from the court and the emphasis is on trying to hold a company together until it can be restructured or sold as a going concern.

But there remains one giant hole in the UK system: it doesn’t cover smaller businesses. Receivers appointed to small businesses under the Law of Property Act (LPA Receivers) are totally unregulated and, in many ways, behave like the discredited, old style receivers that the government thought it had abolished ten years ago. The banks hold all the cards and frequently exploit their bargaining position to bully their small business customers into accepting higher interest charges or less favourable terms.

The original Law of Property Act 1925 envisaged that receivers would simply receive income from the assets over which they were appointed. It also said that their fees should be limited to 5 percent of the income they received. However, clever lawyers working for banks have constantly undermined the original intention of the law. They use their “standard terms and conditions” to give receivers general powers of sale and to rack up unacceptable charges. They have seized new rights for themselves through their standard terms and conditions and it is totally unacceptable.

To make matters worse, many of the high street banks pay “permanent retainers” to the most able law firms which prevent the best lawyers from acting against the banks. It’s all a bit of a stitch up and I think it’s time to place limits on the powers of the banks and their receivers and to stand up for smaller businesses.

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 April 2012

Hayle set for recovery

My number one priority for this area is economic regeneration. We need to attract new industries to create better paid jobs for the future and we need action to sort out derelict land and get our towns moving again.

There has been some good news regarding Hayle recently. The application to restore the harbour area to its former glory had its share of objectors but has now been given a green light by government. The plans were supported unanimously by Hayle Town Council and also approved by Cornwall Council last autumn but bureaucrats based up at English Heritage attempted to block the scheme for reasons which fell apart under scrutiny.

I came out in support of regenerating Hayle from the start. One of the first things I did as an MP was lobby the government for the £5 million of funding that would enable the development of North Quay and the new bridge to be built. A couple of weeks ago, concrete mixers worked throughout the day to complete the most sensitive phase of the bridge construction and things are really starting to take shape. The new work on North Quay will create light industrial units to support the Wave Hub project along with housing and possibly some retail space.

I also came out over a year ago in support of the ING proposal to restore South Quay. This has been a controversial scheme and there were many supermarkets touting rival bids elsewhere, including one on Hayle Rugby Club. The easy thing for a politician to do with contentious issues is sit on their hands and try not to get involved but the right thing to do is to weigh up all the arguments from all sides and then exercise judgement and help the community reach a final decision.

My view was that, if we are going to have another supermarket in Hayle, then let’s build it right in the centre where it will bring life in to the town rather than drain life away. And let’s also demand that the supermarket pays for the works needed to restore the harbour walls and reintroduce working sluicing gates to help maintain a clear channel out of the harbour without the need for so much dredging. The plans for South Quay will also create other retail space on the quay such as restaurants and coffee shops and the final design was striking but in keeping with the industrial history of the site.

These are exciting times for Hayle. Within two years the town could be transformed and there could be more to come. One idea I have been pushing is the establishment of a new shuttle boat service or possibly even a small hovercraft between St Ives and Hayle so that we can bring more people in to town.

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, 4 April 2012

Protecting Pasties

The government has experienced a difficult week to say the least. Media sentiment towards governments is a bit like the weather and can certainly change as quickly. When it rains, it pours and nothing you do goes right.

In Cornwall, the row over VAT on pasties reflects a genuine problem. But it is not enough to just talk about problems, the most important thing is to try to come up with solutions. Once the initial storm dies down, politicians must roll up their sleeves and do the serious thinking required to identify a policy solution to this dilemma and that is why I have spent the last week meeting some of the pasty producers in Camborne and Redruth to try to identify a way forward.

The government was initially trying to close a loop hole being exploited by supermarkets to cook hot, spit roasted chickens but then claim these did not attract VAT. Some cafes and fish and chip outlets complained that if they did a takeaway chicken they would be charged VAT but supermarkets seemed to get away with it. Supermarkets were the intended target of the proposal.

However, the law of unintended consequences means that the Cornish pasty has ended up dragged into the argument and that was a mistake. There is also a difference between the Yorkshire pies and slices sold by companies like Greggs and the Cornish pasty. Greggs pies are sold so hot that they sometimes burn your mouth but Cornish pasties are at their best when they have been allowed to cool and are just gently warmed so that the full flavour comes through. That is how the best bakeries sell them and this needs to be recognised and understood in the VAT system in my view.

The current government proposals contain an exemption for bread. What if we were to simply extend that exemption to cover “bakery products”? That would deal with the supermarkets who have pushed their luck too far with spit roasted chickens but spare the pasty from VAT. We could also bring more clarity to what is meant by “ambient temperature” which is vague. A tweak in that area might allow warm pasties from Cornwall to continue to be sold without VAT.

This part of Cornwall is the home of the Cornish pasty. Its origins date back to the mining industry in the Redruth area and, even today, the best pasties are made here. I want to work with local pasty producers to try to identify a way forward and to develop the strongest possible submission to put to the Treasury during their consultation so that we can get this proposal changed.

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.