Tuesday, 26 March 2013

A day in the life of an MP...

8.30 am. There had been concerns that the flooding in South Devon would have delayed the sleeper train but, as is so often the case we rolled into Camborne bang on time. My first meeting of the day was an 8.30 breakfast meeting at Cornwall College. They have just received a prestigious national award recognising their success in promoting science in further education and engaging employers. I have always argued that science is the key to the future prosperity of our nation so it is good to see a local college taking the lead.

10.15 am. Next, it was down to Hayle for a visit to Julian Foyes new furniture store. This company made a major investment in Hayle two years ago which has been an important boost to the Copperhouse end of the town and I wanted to check how it was going. It is good news which is always a relief. When local businesses take a risk to invest in our area and create new jobs and prosperity, I always want the best for them. Julian Foye have done a fantastic job on the layout of their new shop and have an incredible stock of quality furniture.

11.30 am. Back to Camborne for a meeting at the Apollo Bingo Hall. There is an anomaly that means, bizarrely, bingo halls are taxed more highly than betting shops which is wrong in my view. Bingo, while a form of gambling, is a more social and less harmful pursuit than other forms of gambling and it seem crazy that we should tax this more. At the very least we should aim to achieve parity of treatment. It was quiet at that time of the morning but I plan to come back one evening to try my luck.

12.45 pm. Next up I had a lunch with party agents to discuss the upcoming council elections. Four years ago, under Lib Dem control, Cornwall Council was one of the worst performing councils in the country, in the bottom four percent. Now it is one of the most improved councils in the country. Council tax has been frozen, there have been efficiency savings of £170 million and failing services like social care and children's services have been turned around. There is more to do but Conservative councillors have a record they can be proud of.

2.00 pm. Then it's off to Redruth for a meeting with the team at Prospects, one of the contractors operating the government's flagship "work programme." This has a crucial role to play in getting the long term unemployed back into work, offering everything from confidence building programmes to training and interview practice. I was really impressed by what I saw here and was told that around 30 percent of those entering the programme are getting back into work. But I want to keep in close contact with providers to ensure that we continue to refine it and iron out any creases.

3.30 pm. I then head up the road for a visit to Home Start at Gweal an Top which is a great charity based locally that organises a team of 60 volunteers to offer befriending and peer support for young parents trying to cope with challenges in their lives. These can range from a bereavement to the pressure of having twins to one parent suffering from depression. The volunteers come in on a regular basis to offer emotional and practical support to help families through a difficult patch. The evidence is so clear that the first three years of a child's life are crucial and I have always been a huge supporter of the work projects like Home Start do.

7.00 pm. Tonight is the annual AGM for the Constantine branch of the Conservative Party and we have a very good turnout for their reception at the village hall. I am asked to deliver a speech and take questions afterwards. We cover a broad range of topics including planning policy, TB in badgers, support for farming, the need for party unity and so on. It is good to see that we are getting such strong support in these areas.

9.15 pm. The Camborne branch of the Conservative Association have a variety show tonight at the Conservative Club to raise funds for the Children's Hospice. My engagement in Constantine meant that I was unable to be there for the first half but I arrive in time for the second half which included singing from the Holman Climax Choir, Richard Trethewey, Janette Eathorne and some magic by Philip Southwood! This event started this year and was a great success and I hope it will become an annual feature.

11.30 pm. It's been a long day and I arrive home at Trevaskis to microwave my dinner. My father has got pretty good at stir fries lately and wanted to try this latest one out on me which did not disappoint. We have a packed day of surgeries tomorrow morning covering all sorts of problems and the afternoon will be spent out canvassing in Connor Downs with Lionel Pascoe, our council candidate for Gwinear and Gwithian. So time to get some sleep.

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, 18 March 2013

Banking reform


This week parliament discussed ways to prevent a future crisis in banking with the introduction of the Banking Reform Bill which will bring in new regulations to prevent the sort of risky behaviour which led to the banking crisis and contributed to the global recession which we have been grappling with for five years.

At the very heart of the new legislation is a requirement for banks to clearly separate into different legal entities their retail banking operations (that is to say the day to day banking on the high street) from their so called investment banking arms, which is often appropriately dubbed “casino banking” and has involved traders placing large bets on the financial markets using other people’s money as if it were their own.

There are a number of things we need to achieve to clean up the banking industry. Firstly, we need to end the situation where individual banks have become too big to fail. At the height of the credit crunch, most banking institutions were so huge, that the cost to the wider economy of letting them go bust was too high for governments to contemplate. We need to break the banking industry up so that, in future, there are many smaller banks fighting each other for customers, but where any one of them could go bust and it wouldn’t matter. That way, they would no longer be able to hold the taxpayer to ransom for their own mistakes.

Secondly, it is absolutely right to require the legal separation of retail banking from casino banking in law. The world of investment banking had grown completely out of control by the time of the financial crisis with toxic debt being bundled up and sold on to the next institution and then treated as if it were an asset against which to borrow and speculate even more. It became like a giant game of pass-the-parcel and the tax payer was left holding the debt when the music stopped. By forcing the legal separation of investment banking from retail banking, those of us working in the real economy could be insulated from the risks being taken by city traders because they would not be allowed to use the public’s savings to gamble as they were in the past.

Finally, we need to tackle the high pay culture in the banking industry. Some claim that you have to pay seven figure salaries to the top jobs in the city in order to get the best talent. The truth is that these grotesque pay packages are not actually driven by market forces at all but instead they represent a high pay culture that grew up in an era of false affluence. That era has now ended and so must the high pay culture that went with 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.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Freezing council tax was the right thing to do


Last week democracy prevailed at Cornwall Council with a decision to protect Cornish families by freezing council tax for a third consecutive year. When most people's incomes are frozen and bills for things like fuel are still rising, we must do everything we can to pin down those costs that are within our control. The move follows the success of an earlier Conservative motion to quash the planned rise in councillors’ allowances because it cannot be right to freeze wages for council employees but increase their own allowances.

Since the last election, the government has being pursuing policies to encourage prudence in county halls across the country. Firstly, there is now a requirement for councils to hold a referendum to get public consent for any rise over two percent. That's fair because it gives people a direct say in the council's budget.

The government has also offered additional cash to meet councils half way and help them deliver a freeze in council Tax. In the case of Cornwall, the government was offering an additional grant of £5 million if the council did its bit to identify savings of around £5 million which would deliver a freeze next year.

Accountants in the council argued that accepting the extra grant now might put them in a difficult position in a few years time because they might not win a referendum to put taxes back up. Rather than accept a £5 million bonus from government, they said they would rather just take an extra £10 million from Cornish families instead. That's not on. They even wanted to increase the size of the Council’s reserves which already stand at around £50 million. We all know that savings are something you put aside for a rainy day, but it is raining now. Many households in Cornwall will have found themselves needing to dip into their own savings to meet the pressures of hard times. It would have been wrong for the council to raid the piggy banks of Cornish families only to transfer the cash to their own piggy bank.

Now that a freeze in council tax has been delivered, councillors must plan to ensure that savings are delivered in the right way. One of the proposals from the Conservative group was to make major savings to the £5 million a year budget from the Chief Executives Department. It is also time to look afresh at the possibility of making savings by working together with other public services like the NHS and the police. Last year when such proposals were put forward they were unfairly attacked as "privatisation" which was nonsense. The council should be encouraged to work with other public services so that, together, we can share costs and find efficiencies without having to cut 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.