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.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Trevithick Day

We were lucky with the weather at Trevithick Day this year. Despite the forecast and the fact that it appeared to be threatening to rain for most of the afternoon, everyone stayed dry and all the parades went well. I made Richard Trevithick the central theme of my maiden speech to parliament. His achievements were extraordinary and a reminder of what Camborne contributed to the development of modern engineering. The replica of the Puffing Devil is always the star of the show and this year was no exception. It is worth remembering that events like Trevithick Day are only made possible because of the work of dedicated volunteers from groups like the Trevithick Society. Also helping at Trevithick Day were fifteen members of the Camborne branch of the Police Cadets. I met Ben Davies, one of the cadets, during a visit to Camborne Police station on Friday for a briefing on some of the excellent work that volunteers are doing to support the work of our police locally. I have been really encouraged to see the renewal and growth of branches of the Police Cadets. The Camborne branch now has some 28 members and has been going from strength to strength in recent years. I have always felt that, if we want to bring policing closer to the community, we should start with the next generation. Wouldn’t it be good if young people left school feeling an affinity towards their local police force because they had actually been involved? Neighbourhood Watch schemes were established some thirty years ago to ensure a much stronger involvement from local communities in tackling crime but, today, the work of volunteers goes well beyond the activities that people traditionally associate with Neighbourhood Watch schemes. I met three volunteer drivers, John, Ben and John, who give up their own time in retirement to help drive police officers around for meetings and appearances at court. They drive unmarked police cars and their work enables the police to make far more effective use of a smaller fleet of cars. Rather than having one car parked all day and unused, the network of volunteers work on shifts to ferry the police between meetings and court appearances to maximise the use of the unmarked vehicles based in Cornwall. Then there is the work of the local Neighbourhood Watch coordinators and I met Adam, Pam and June who are all longstanding volunteers who take a lead in bringing together local groups and organising meetings where people can share local concerns. The introduction of community police officers has strengthened ties between local communities and has also enabled Neighbourhood Watch groups to expand and become stronger. Many of those who help have retired but feel they have more to contribute to society. Why not volunteer to support your local police? To find out more contact Sergeant Steve Parr on 01209 611379 or email steven.parr@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk