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