Thursday, 25 April 2013

Getting the economy back on its feet

Last Friday I met a group of local business leaders to discuss some of the opportunities in our area. Work is about to begin on some major projects. Hayle harbour is going to be transformed, work is about to commence on the new road at Tuckingmill, and plans to build a new Cornwall Archive Centre at the brewery site in Redruth are set to go to the planning committee for approval. However, once the construction work is done, we need new businesses to start up, employ people and make the profits to generate new wealth in our towns and that is the next priority.

Holman Brothers might have gone some thirty years ago, but their legacy continues to this day. What I find striking as I go around our industrial estates is how much world beating manufacturing still goes on in this part of Cornwall. There are some specialist manufacturers in the oil and gas industry which emerged from our heritage in rock drilling expertise. Fugro Seacore near Falmouth are world leaders in offshore oil platforms, while Calidus at Redruth manufactures high tech electronic devices for use in deep underground oil exploration. A new local firm, Large Diameter Drilling which is also a leading player in oil exploration, is planning to open a new plant at Tolvaddon which will create over a hundred jobs.

There are other businesses that developed a specialism in precision engineering. DP Engineering at Redruth produces high quality, precision components for use in the aerospace industry. Pall is a world leader when it comes to air filtration systems for helicopters. Meanwhile Rigibore in Hayle makes specialist components for the manufacturers of hydraulic systems and Teagle is a specialist in farm machinery.

That’s just a handful of the success stories in engineering. We then have national leaders in other sectors like Frame UK which makes timber frame homes, OMC which develops fibre optics and LED lighting, Contico which is a leading plastics moulding business and then leading food processors like Falfish in Redruth, Roddas Cream at Scorrier and Tulip and Furniss at Pool.

Together all these manufacturing businesses already employ thousands of local people so we have the foundations to build on. Their diversity proves that we shouldn’t be prescriptive about which business sectors we support. Economic planners in the Council should not devise strategies that are biased in favour of fashionable sectors. Instead, they ought to back talented people with a winning idea, whatever their line of business. At a time when the Council needs to find back office savings in order to protect front line services they should also be reducing duplication and it’s time to review the approach to economic development. We have a Local Enterprise Partnership, a Cornwall Development Company and an Economic Development Department. There could be greater clarity of purpose if roles were simplified.

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, 19 April 2013

Getting planning right

One of the things that communities find most frustrating is the sense that they are unable to change the decisions that affect them and, a few years ago, these concerns reached their peak after the last government introduced “Regional Spatial Strategies” which sought to second guess the views of local authorities when it came to planning policy. Here in the Camborne and Redruth area, it had been proposed to build some 11,000 new homes by 2030 when there are only about 18,000 homes now. It represented a huge increase in housing stock and would have required extensive building on green field sites.

The first thing that the coalition government did on coming to power was to abolish these Regional Spatial Strategies and shut down the regional quangos that were devising them. In 2010, power was immediately returned to local councils. The result has been that the number of new homes proposed for our area has been almost cut in half by Cornwall Council to a much more sustainable level which is more in line with the historic trend and what the old Kerrier Council had mooted in the first place.

However, while some important changes have been made there is still more to do and the current local elections provide a good opportunity to have a debate about planning policy in Cornwall. Firstly, we need to strengthen the planning guidance when it comes to wind turbines and field scale solar farms. The sudden proliferation of random, single turbines is starting to blight the Cornish countryside. There is no uniformity. Some turbines are tall, some short. Some have two blades, some three. Some are black, some are white. And they are everywhere. I raised this issue last summer and, to be fair to Cornwall Council, they did introduce some planning guidance last July and have used this guidance as a basis to refuse permission on a number of applications. However, there are still too many getting through and we need to toughen that guidance so that the cumulative impact of these things on the landscape is considered. The same goes for solar farms which are popping up like industrial developments.

When it comes to Cornwall Council’s planning guidance on house building, while I welcome the cut in numbers, I would also like to see a policy that favoured brown field development over green field development. We have some important schemes for house building proposed at places like Tuckingmill in Camborne, Heartlands in Pool and the old brewery site in Redruth and we should bring these schemes forward first. We should not be making it easy for developers to build on the outskirts of town while leaving the more difficult parts of our urban landscape derelict.

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, 15 April 2013

Margaret Thatcher's legacy

My first memory of politics is the 1979 election and Jim Callaghan's resignation speech. Margaret Thatcher took the reins at a desperate time for Britain and, while some of her policies were contentious, few can deny that she was a strong leader who had the conviction to drive through essential changes. For me, the most important thing she achieved was to challenge the post war assumption that Britain was in a spiral of inevitable decline that couldn’t be stopped.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Time to get the benefits system back on track

People have talked about welfare reform all my life time but the current government has made the most concerted effort yet to try to actually change things. The most important change is to simplify the system so that many former types of support are merged into one single "universal credit". Support will be tapered so that it always pays to work rather than get by on benefits and it should always pay to take on more hours and move to full time from part time work.

I think this is crucial because the major fault over the last decade or so has been the complexity of the system. People who want to do the right thing and work longer suddenly find that by working, say, 19 hours rather than 16 hours, they lose more benefits than the extra work brings in, so they can literally be worse off. It's bonkers and we need to change the system so that there is a gradual taper that gives people support when they need it but creates the persistent incentive to get on in life, work longer hours and earn more.

Some of the other changes proposed by the government are more controversial but I think they are also right. I really don't understand why anyone can disagree with the idea of capping benefit receipts at £500 per week, the level of the average earnings for working families in Britain, least of all in Cornwall where far fewer families take home that amount anyway. It can never be right that families living on benefits can receive more than those families where parents go out to work, support their own families and pay their taxes. Equally, the decision to increase benefit payments by 1 percent a year has also caused a storm, but most people working in the public sector have had a pay freeze for several years already.

MPs routinely encounter really frustrating cases of families living in overcrowded housing where teenagers lack the privacy of their own room or where older children struggle to do their homework because of a noisy environment. So why do we pay some people extra Housing Benefit so they can keep spare rooms standing empty? It is never going to be easy but we must think again about the unintended consequences we have created in the benefits system.

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, 4 April 2013

Helping people back to work

Last week I visited Prospects in Redruth. They are one of the two firms in Cornwall tasked with running the government’s flagship Work Programme which is the most intensive scheme ever deployed to try to help the long term unemployed back to work.

At the heart of their project is one simple aim: to help people get their confidence back so that they can find work and escape poverty. I think this is really important to areas like Camborne and Redruth. The loss of the mining industry and industrial giants like Holman Bros a generation ago was a major blow to this area. But we still have cutting edge industry here and I want to see our towns get their confidence back and see local people taking the jobs that are created.

Too often in the past, providers of training schemes for the long term unemployed appeared to be going through the motions with perhaps a bit of practice on interview skills or purchasing a new suit and not much else. In most cases the barriers to employment are far more complex than that. A key feature of the new scheme is that organisations like Prospects who provide the training and support are paid well, but only if they succeed. They receive a small fee for initially taking someone on their books but only get the full payment once they have placed someone in work for six months. “Payment by results” really focuses minds on tailoring support to each individual. Sometimes this might require a focus on helping people regain their confidence and self esteem. Alternatively, it might require efforts to develop motivation. Sometimes all that might be needed is some skills training and, in many cases, simply being given a break and having the chance to do voluntary work for a charity or have work experience with an employer is a stepping stone to paid work.

When the idea of developing work experience programmes to help tackle youth unemployment was first raised, some of the unions denounced the idea as “slave labour”. I think that’s nonsense and the facts have proved them wrong. Around 25 percent of the people who have gone on to the Work Programme in Cornwall have already got back into work and, in many cases, the chance to have work experience has been the decisive factor. I heard of young people who, during their few weeks work experience, impressed employers so much, that the employer created a paid vacancy for them. We need more of that.

I don’t pretend it’s perfect. We need to constantly refine the way the Work Programme operates, especially when it comes to supporting those with a disability where more needs to be done, but the principle is right and it has made a good start.

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.