Thursday, 27 June 2013

Water bill relief

Well, credit where credit is due. This week George Osborne found another £40 million from under the Treasury mattress to renew the £50 per year discount on Cornish water bills in his new spending review. Generally, this has been another tough spending round with more savings having to be made to try to get the country living within its means, so the decision to send another £40 million our way is very welcome.

Earlier this year, every household in Cornwall received a £50 rebate on their bill which, for the average household means a cut of around 7.3%. It must be the first time water bills in the westcountry have bucked the trend and actually gone down. Bills are still high but, at a time when everything else seems to be going up, it is good that at least one bill is definitely going down. 700,000 households in Devon and Cornwall benefited from the discount and a further 13,000 customers are expected to see their bills fall dramatically by over £300 as a result of switching to a water meter.

All of this has been a welcome respite for hard pressed Cornish families but, I have always been clear that we needed this support to continue. A clear aim over the last year has been making sure that the government renewed their support for the discount scheme once the new Comprehensive Spending Review was announced this week, so this confirmation is great news.

For years, people had talked about the problem of high water bills but, throughout the first decade of this century, when money was being spent on all sorts of other things like there was no tomorrow, the last government never found it in its heart to help us. Soon after being elected, I put together some detailed proposals to try to find a solution to the historic injustice of high water bills in the south west. It soon became clear that the problems were quite specific to South West Water which has a small population but looks after water quality over a vast coastline. The company also had to make expensive improvements to its water treatment facilities which we have been paying for ever since. So the discount approach seemed the right solution.

I recognise that many people will still struggle with their water bills despite this cut but there are other ways they might be able to get even more savings. As well as considering a switch to a water meter South West Water also offer something called a “WaterSure” tariff which is a special discount for those with 3 or more children who are on low incomes and receiving some benefits. To find out more look at their website or give them a call on 0800 1691133.

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, 20 June 2013

Difficult choices can’t be avoided

One of the challenges facing any political party when it is in opposition is how to resist the temptation to score easy political points by opposing everything the government of the day does only to find that they then have to eat their words the closer they get to an election. Last week these problems started to dawn on Ed Milliband as he started to outline his own plans to cut benefits and pensions.

2010 was not an easy time for David Cameron and the new coalition government to take the reins. The finances were in a mess with the country spending £150 billion per year more than it was receiving in tax revenue. The huge losses accumulated led to large debts. So much so that the country was spending more on interest charges alone than it was on schools.

The biggest area of government spending by a long way is welfare and benefits at around £200 billion per year. That equates to a cost of around £6000 for every household in Britain. It is impossible to tackle the losses the country is making without taking some tough decisions on benefits. Housing Benefit payments rocketed between 2005 and 2010 with some evidence that benefits were driving up rents beyond the reach of working people. There were over 1.5 million people effectively written off and left on various forms of incapacity benefit and even more sensitive areas such as disability allowances had seen an unexplained surge in cost.

When money is tight, you have to target it where need is greatest so last week the government did outline plans to ensure that those who have disabilities get the right level of support. There has been an intensive effort to help the long term unemployed get back to work through schemes like the Work Programme which are starting to get results. There is a new scheme to help improve disability access to the work place so that people with an impairment are not excluded. Housing benefits have also been cut and there is a new cap on the maximum amount of benefit any large family can claim. None of these decisions are easy but they have been necessary and, in the long run, if we can reduce dependency and encourage more people to take work then we will help them escape poverty.

I think the mistake Ed Milliband made was to oppose every one of these changes without thinking about how the country would make ends meet. Over the next couple of years, he is going to have to come clean with people and admit that he would not, as it turns out, reverse these decisions and even plans cuts of his own.

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, 13 June 2013

New rules on wind turbines

Last week the government announced a shake-up of planning laws surrounding wind turbines so that local objections from a planning authority will now be given far greater weight and with a requirement for green energy companies to share their income with local communities rather than just hording all the profits for themselves.

The changes will be welcome here in Cornwall where the sudden proliferation of random, single turbines is starting to blight our countryside. There is no uniformity to their design. Some turbines are tall, some short. Some have two blades, some three. Some are black, some are white. And they are everywhere. I first raised this issue a year ago and, to be fair to Cornwall Council, they did introduce some detailed planning guidance last July and have used this as a basis to refuse permission on a number of applications. In particular, where a planning committee judges that the cumulative impact of lots of turbines on the countryside is too great, they have been able to refuse permission. However, too many applications have then been winning on appeal and that is why the national planning guidance that planning inspectors use as their reference point needs to be changed too so that far greater weight is given to local views.

I remember when one of the first wind farms in Britain was built at Carland Cross some twenty five years ago, there seemed to be potential for proportionate projects of that kind. They were of a uniform design and in one concentrated area. However, over time, a general sense has set in that we have reached saturation point. As little as five years ago, people talked about the potential for so called “micro-generation” projects where small single wind turbines could be attached to farm buildings or small factories to help contribute to their own energy needs. Few people objected to such limited additions to existing buildings and it was an approach that could contribute to our energy needs. However, what has evolved suddenly over the last eighteen months in Cornwall is a completely different sort of industry where “micro-generation” now often means a random, single turbine in the middle of a field on an 80 metre high tower with all of the electricity going into the national grid rather than being used on the buildings in the immediate locality and that unintended consequence of a well intentioned idea has forced a rethink.

There are no easy answers or magic bullets when it comes to our future energy supply. In reality, we are probably going to require a mixture of different sources. Onshore wind is the most mature of all renewable energy technologies and is certainly far cheaper than offshore wind, but developments must be done with local communities, not to them.

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, 6 June 2013

Children need a good start in life

It is that time of year when parents with young children are being allocated places for primary school. A good education is essential to a child's life chances and I have every sympathy with the parents I meet who want the best for their children. We have many good primary schools in this part of Cornwall and, over the last few years, I have visited almost all of them. However, there has been pressure on the school rolls in recent years due to a spike in the number of children of primary school age and this means that, every year, there are some parents who are unable to get their children into their first choice of school. I always think the saddest cases are those where siblings are separated in different schools because brothers and sisters ought to go to school together.

The schools that perform best are the ones that put greatest effort into recruiting, developing and keeping really good teachers. It is one of the reasons that I support changes the government has introduced to make it easier for schools to reward good teachers by paying them more and also making it easier to move on poor performing teachers. While these changes have been unpopular with teaching unions, I think they are right. Children only get one education and we owe it to them to take sometimes tough decisions to ensure they have the best teachers possible.

While everyone understands the need for a good education, one area that is less understood is the very early years of a child’s life and more needs to be done to highlight the significance of this stage in a child’s development. Primary schools report a huge increase in the number of children now starting school with communication problems and needing extra support.


A couple of years ago, and proof that politics is not always partisan, David Cameron commissioned the Labour MP Frank Field to write a report on ending child poverty and helping children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds achieve their full potential. The report concluded that a stable and caring environment during a child’s first five years is absolutely vital and that good parenting is rightfully the key to ensuring this. By the age of three a child’s brain is already 80 percent formed and the experiences of the child in those first few years will influence how their brain grows and which parts develop more or less. A healthy pregnancy, a safe bonding between mother and child with a great deal of love at home, clear boundaries and a focus from parents on helping a child’s communication abilities either through reading books or speaking to them are all essential experiences that really influence the future of a child’s life.

I recently visited Homestart Kernow, a charity in Redruth that does some fantastic work in lending a supportive hand to parents with small children. Homestart consists of trained volunteers who visit those parents feeling the stress of parenthood and needing a little extra guidance. It is one of the few charities out there who really appreciate the early years of a child’s life and they do all they can to make sure toddlers get the treatment they need.

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.