Thursday, 30 May 2013

Turning the corner on unemployment

Unemployment has been in the press a great deal recently, with new figures showing a slight rise nationally. However, in Camborne and Redruth, where I'm still often struck by the culture of hard work, we have actually bucked the trend, with an increase in employment over the last couple of months. The most recent statistics also show that fewer people have been claiming jobseeker's benefits, especially younger people where there has been a dramatic reduction and this is encouraging news.

One of the reasons I have always prioritised economic regeneration in this area is that there is nothing more demoralising to a community than worklessness. It undermines people's self confidence and can lead to welfare dependency and a poverty trap. So first we need to create more jobs and better paid jobs but then we need to ensure that people who live in Camborne and Redruth take the jobs that are created.

A few weeks ago I visited the Job Centre at Redruth to discuss their role in this and to try to understand what works and what doesn't because I am of the view that no system can ever be perfect and we must constantly strive to develop and improve things. When it comes to youth unemployment, it is clear that the most powerful tool to help young people get their first job is work experience. Work is learnt young and, in the past, it used to be much easier for teenagers of school age to take weekend jobs on farms or in shops. Changes in the law have now made that much harder which is a backward step. However, the new Work Experience programme which has been introduced allows young people to gain experience of work for around a month which is then an important first step to getting paid employment. There have been many examples of employers being so impressed by the young people doing work experience in their business that they go out of their way to try to find a paid position for them.

However, it does require everyone to have the right attitude. While at the job centre I heard one very depressing story of a young lad who had never had a job and lacked motivation. The one thing he was really passionate about was mountain biking so the Job Centre arranged for him to have work experience at a bike shop so his work could be something he was passionate about. He was really keen on the idea but then, to the surprise of everyone, never turned up for work. When they contacted him to ask why, he revealed that his father had stopped him from going saying, "my son is not going to work for nothing.". It is a missed opportunity and that young man's father has done him no favours at all.

For those who have been unemployed for a long time and who need support that the Job Centres are unable to provide, the government introduced the Work Programme which is an intensive back to work programme to equip people with the skills to find work. One of the key features of the scheme is that the companies who provide the support only get paid if they are successful and actually get people into work. In the past, there was often a problem of firms going through the motions to collect their fee but not really helping at the end of the process. Payment by results focuses minds on getting an outcome.

A couple of months ago, I caught up with Prospects, one of the companies contracted to implement the programme in the South West. The Work Programme was criticised by some when it was first launched but it is now starting to show real results. Since the start of the programme Prospects have helped over 16,000 people and around a third of those have got back into work. We have further to go, but there are signs that we may have turned the corner on unemployment

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, 24 May 2013

We must protect our bees.

I recently attended and spoke at an event in Parliament organised by Friends of the Earth after I pledged a couple of months ago to support their campaign on falling bee populations, and I was reminded again of this incredibly important issue. Bee numbers are falling dramatically. Managed honey bee colonies have halved since 1985, whilst wild honey bees are nearly extinct in many parts of the country. Bumblebees have also declined nearly 60% since 1970. Bees are vital to our agricultural economy, and to replace bee services with hand pollination would cost the government close to £2 billion a year, a huge amount of spending that needs to be avoided.

As someone who grew up on a fruit farm, I was always very conscious of the importance of bees to life. We used to keep colonies of honey bees to pollinate the apple orchards but there were also many different types of bumble bees that lived on the farm. I also used to look after commercially cultivated hives of bumble bees on a large heated glass house nursery that I used to run and it was brilliant to watch them work. I learnt that there needs to be a diversity of bee breeds to ensure the best quality crops as well as a consistent yield. Most fruit and vegetables are pollinated by bees, as well as wildflowers enjoyed by many such as bluebells and poppies.

There has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the European Commission’s recent decision to ban Neonicotinoids for the next two years following some scientific recommendation and in response to various campaigns against them. Whilst I appreciate the argument for caution with pesticide use, I also think there are plenty of other reasons for bee decline that need to be addressed and we shouldn’t get too bogged down in one particular area. One problem is the lack of bee keepers, who as a group have declined 80% in the last 60 years. More needs to be done to attract new blood to an enjoyable and important task.

More also needs to be done in creating a better farmland environment for bees, having lost much of their natural environment to intensive agriculture. The Government have made some impressive steps in the Stewardship schemes available to farmers, and new options are available which subsidise land beneficial to pollinators. The Government is also working with beekeepers to provide them with training and the ability to respond to disease threats. They have also taken the lead in researching bumble bee decline and these studies will be extremely useful as most previous research has been solely focused on honey bees. I think these are steps in the right direction, but I also look forward to further schemes to help these great creatures.

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, 20 May 2013

Let's celebrate Redruth's international connections


Last week we received the excellent news that Redruth has secured Heritage Lottery Funding to support the first phase of the new Cornwall Archive Centre at the old brewery site. Competition from the rest of country was fierce with projects totalling around £150 million chasing a pot of money of just £50 million but Redruth came out ahead being one of the most competitive bids submitted. Congratulations to all involved.

I have been arguing for the last eighteen months that Redruth was the natural home for this archive project. Initially there had been some discussion about locating it in St Austell but it was always clear that the regeneration benefits of locating the project in Redruth were far greater. Redruth is the most international of Cornish towns. Of the 8 million strong world-wide Cornish Diaspora, around a quarter can trace their roots back to Redruth. We exported mining expertise around the globe from Australia and South Africa to California, South America and Mexico.

The new archive centre will help us rekindle these international links. Last week I met some guests from Mexico who organise a "pasty festival". They had visited Cornwall to discuss links with heritage organisations and the Cornish Pasty Festival in Redruth. Having met them at Heartlands, I invited them back to visit parliament on Wednesday where they managed to see the Queen's state opening of parliament.

Last month I met Horace Yao, the Honk Kong based owner of the brewery site in Redruth who was bringing Chinese investors to see the potential for the Camborne and Redruth area. Mr Yao bought the brewery site some twenty years ago and ran the Cornish Rebellion beer brand for several years. Since then there have been a couple of schemes to try to find a future for the site. It is fair to say that, ten years ago, there were some misunderstandings between the council and the owners of the site. I think that was a great shame so have spent a lot of time over the last year trying to get everyone to work together for a solution and great progress has been made.

The most prestigious and sought after street in Hong Kong is actually called Cornwall Street. This got me thinking and, with the help of the Cornish Migration Project, we were able to research the links between Redruth and Honk Kong. While the numbers leaving for Hong Kong were smaller than, say, Australia, there were definitely important links. There were Cornish people who lived their lives out in Hong Kong. Some had connections with the navy and there were also well known Methodist preachers. This archive project will be a good way to celebrate all of Cornwall’s international links as well as reviving the fortunes of Redruth so we should get behind 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, 9 May 2013

The future of the EU


The strong showing for UKIP in the local elections last week has reignited the debate about the future of the EU. I first got involved in politics to campaign for Jimmy Goldsmith’s Referendum Party in 1997. My first job in politics was at the anti-euro campaign and, in 1999, I was even a candidate for UKIP myself.

I left UKIP shortly afterwards partly because I was concerned that they had a tendency to undermine the very cause they claim to believe in. At the time, UKIP had started to argue that it was impossible to keep the pound and stay in the EU which is what the majority of the public wanted. UKIP deliberately undermined the case being put forward by leading businesses who wanted to keep the pound but stay in the EU because they thought it would help their own narrow party interests to do so. I thought that was wrong and we now know that their argument was false because, for the last ten years we, and several other EU countries, have been in the EU but outside the euro.

I think we should fundamentally renegotiate our relationship with the EU with the return of powers in some areas and with the role of the European Court of Justice restricted in future. At the end of that renegotiation, we should have a referendum where the British people can decide whether they want to stay in the EU under the revised terms or whether they simply want to leave altogether. This would clear the air and settle the debate. David Cameron’s speech on Europe at the beginning of this year committed a future Conservative government to do just that and was the most important any Prime Minister has given on the issue since the war. It means that if there is a Conservative government after the next election, there will be a referendum where the public will have their say.

Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats believe in a referendum so people will only get their say if there is a Conservative government. That is why I think those of us who want change must pull together and work towards getting a majority Conservative government. Ironically, just as in the euro debate a decade ago, UKIP is actually a counter-productive force which undermines the very cause they claim to believe in.

Since David Cameron’s speech in January, there has been a change in sentiment in other countries too. Germany now has a new and growing political movement which is calling for withdrawal from the euro and major changes to the way the EU is structured. The crisis in the eurozone means that change is on the cards like never before and David Cameron has put himself at the head of an agenda to shake up the way the EU works.

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, 3 May 2013

How to reinvigorate local democracy

When he was appointed, the acting Chief Executive of Cornwall Council said that he believed we should "take the politics out" of local government and Cornwall Council. In some areas he seems to have got what he wished for because many town and parish councils don't even have enough candidates nominated to fill the vacancies they have and, in the majority of cases, those who put themselves up for their parish council will just be appointed without any contest whatsoever.

I don't think that is a good thing. However unpopular politics might often be, without it there is no democracy. Those who say they want to take politics out of local government are actually saying they want to take the democracy out of local government. Cornwall now has a large unitary council which would function more smoothly if there were a single political party with an overall majority so that it could deliver a clear agenda backed by a mandate from local people.

In his defence, I am sure what the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council was actually complaining about was political point scoring between rivals which is an understandable sentiment coming for an officer in the Council but is also a bit like farmers complaining about the weather.

Many people forget that political parties are voluntary organisations. The leaflets that are pushed through letter boxes are paid for by voluntary donations from local members. They are delivered by unpaid volunteers who go out in all weathers to try to help the candidates they believe in. I have been out with volunteers all week. The candidates who come knocking on doors are also unpaid. In each ward, all but one of them will fail to achieve their aim of being elected and many will feel that their efforts were in vain. I take my hat off to the unpaid volunteers in all our political parties (but especially my own) without whom democracy would not work.

After these elections, we need to have a serious look at what can be done to reinvigorate our town and parish councils. Firstly, in future we should have parish council elections separate from Cornwall Council elections. Let's hold them at the same time as the next Police Commissioner election in three years time to end the confusion voters feel about who is standing for what and to allow over stretched political parties to commit far more time than they currently do to finding and promoting good candidates for parish and town councils. If we want parish councils to develop a stronger sense of purpose then we need proper contests and, yes, political parties.

Secondly, we should give parish and town councils a stronger say on how elements of Cornwall Council's budget is spent in their area so that they have more power and are therefore likely to persuade more people to want to get involved.

George Eustice MP
Member of Parliament for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle House of Commons, London, SW1A 0AA 020 72197032 www.georgeeustice.co.uk