Thursday, 19 September 2013

The bumpy road to recovery

The bad news last week that the Pall plant in Redruth is planning to make over 170 jobs redundant following a decision to transfer their industrial products division to Slovakia is a reminder that the road to recovery is not always going to be smooth.

I spoke to the UK Manager for Pall on the day the news was announced. While it is clear that the US corporation has made a decision which it is unlikely to reverse, it was reassuring that the aerospace division, which represents about half of the production in Redruth, will stay. The company is apparently trying to make each of its plants more specialised. There is a good chance that some of those affected will be found work either in the aerospace division at Redruth or at the Newquay plant where they manufacture specialist filtration systems for the pharmaceutical industry. It is also unlikely that anything will happen for six months or so which at least gives people time to plan their next move, but, conversely, also means a long period of uncertainty.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that the decision is a tragedy for those affected and is incredibly frustrating because the bigger picture is more encouraging than it has been for years. Growth is returning to the economy. The number of people claiming unemployment benefit in Redruth is down from 1500 last year to a little over 1000 now. Across Devon and Cornwall, the number of people claiming Job Seekers Allowance is at the lowest level since 2008. New engineering firms like Large Diameter Drilling have announced plans to move to the area creating new jobs and there have been dozens of successful firms starting up at the Pool Innovation Centre. Construction of the new link road at Camborne is now underway and Redruth has managed to strike a deal that will lead to the new Cornwall Archive Centre being built on the site of the old brewery.

One of the problems with large multinational companies is that they make investment decisions thousands of miles away in some US office block and the people who make those decisions simply don’t share the same commitment to the area that those who work in their plants do. Pall was one of the companies encouraged to locate in Redruth with financial incentives during the 1980’s along with others such as the tractor and loader manufacturer Case. Case left as soon as the government incentives expired. To be fair to Pall, while it has always been a rather aloof corporation that keeps itself to itself, it did seem to put down roots. Last week’s announcement is a deep disappointment but we must not let it get to us. We have to push ahead with the plans we have to bring new industries and better paid jobs to our towns.

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 September 2013

The legacy of the ‘pasty tax’ debacle

Last Saturday I attended the second Pasty and Mining Festival held in Redruth. The idea was conceived last year by the Town Mayor Judy Davidson, the Town Council and Marion Symonds of Portreath Bakery who has done a lot of work developing international links between Cornwall and Mexico which hosts its own pasty festival.

When we think of the mass Cornish migrations of the late nineteenth century, we tend to think of the moves to Australia, South Africa or the US but Cornish miners fanned out across the world taking their mining and engineering expertise to new countries. Wherever the Cornish miners from Redruth went, they took the Cornish pasty with them. I always remember Lynton Crosby, the Australian campaign strategist now advising David Cameron, telling me of the Cornish festivals they used to have in the town where he grew up and of the pasties that Mrs Pengelly (there’s a clue there) used to make which, from memory, were described as savoury at one end and sweet at the other.

Cornish miners also settled at Real Del Monte in Mexico. Earlier this year I met some of the local representatives from the town when they visited the Heartlands project in Pool and there were other Mexican pasty makers in attendance last Saturday. Cornish miners were responsible for developing silver mining in Real Del Monte during the nineteenth century. They also introduced football and other sports to Mexico. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time.

Today the Cornish heritage is evident in some of their architecture and in their love of pasties (or pastes). Last Saturday, like many others, I tried a Mexican pasty for a change. It is made with potato, beef, leeks, parsley and chillies which gives it an edge but they were delicious. Also, like many others, I tried my hand at making a pasty of my own. Apparently my attempt was not bad for a beginner despite losing the corner momentarily during the crimping operation!

A little over a year ago, I and Cornwall’s other MPs were in the middle of a battle to reverse the government’s decision to put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and George Osborne intervened to reverse the measure and ensure that the Cornish Pasty continued to be given the special treatment it deserves. It was partly the pasty tax debacle that led to the idea of a pasty festival in Redruth. Last Saturday was really well attended with a buzz about the town. Perhaps it will become one positive and enduring legacy from the pasty tax row.

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 September 2013

Why I voted for action in Syria

Wars leave a profound imprint on the public consciousness and we are always at risk of allowing the experience of our most recent conflict to cloud our judgment about the events of the day. The horrors of the First World War led to the policies of appeasement and disarmament which then contributed to the Second World War. The world did too little, too late in Rwanda and in Bosnia but was then too ambitious in its intervention in Iraq.

Tony Blair has a lot to answer for. He did not behave as a British Prime Minister should and poisoned the well of public trust in their leaders over matters of war. The debate last Thursday in Syria was laced with constant references about the need to “learn the lessons of Iraq.” However, having listened to the debate, rather than learn the lessons of Iraq I think Parliament was repeating the mistakes we made in the Balkans and that is why I voted in support of action.

The military intervention proposed by David Cameron did not compare with Iraq. We would neither be trying to change a regime, nor to impose some Western style democracy. There would be no British troops committed to the region. There would be no risks taken with British pilots. Instead, there would be one clear and modest objective: to prevent and deter the use of chemical weapons which have been subject to a worldwide ban since 1925 and the use of which is a war crime. The most likely response would have been delivered through a Cruise missile strike to destroy Syria’s own Scud missile facilities which were being used for the chemical attacks. This would have been a very limited intervention rather like the successful Anglo-French action in Libya two years ago and nothing like our engagements in Iraq which were hugely ambitious.

In the Balkans twenty years ago, the world did too little too late. The diplomatic establishment stood on the sidelines insisting that nothing could be done, reciting the ancient adage that you should not “mess with the Balkans” and fearful that they might upset Russia. As a result around 100,000 people were killed, 8000 men and boys were massacred at Srebrenica in 1995 and an estimated 30,000 women and girls were subjected to systematic rape which was used as a weapon of war. There were lots of “what if?” doubters at the time who cautioned against involvement but when we did finally intervene in Kosovo in 1998, we actually found it was a relatively simple operation that should have been done far sooner.

There are only three countries in the world that have the military capability to stop the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Syria: Britain, America and France. As Britain votes to sit on its hands, it now falls to France and the United States to do the right thing.

END