Thursday, 10 October 2013

The challenges facing DEFRA

Earlier this week, all three parties had reshuffles of their front bench teams. While there were no big changes to the members of the cabinet, there was quite a lot of change within the other ministerial ranks. I was delighted to be made a minister in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I grew up on the family farm at Trevaskis and spent ten years working in farming before I went into politics so it has always been an issue close to my heart. Cornwall is also affected more than most parts of the country by the decisions taken by DEFRA. Firstly, we have historically always suffered from high water bills. The fact that we have to maintain water quality on such a large coastline but have a small population means that the cost of investment has had a big impact on individual household bills. In my first year as an MP I, and other Cornish MPs, made a really concerted effort to get some redress to help alleviate the problem and since April this year there has been an important first step with a £50 rebate off the bill of every household.

Secondly, Cornwall still has a very important fishing fleet operating mainly out of Newlyn but Hayle also has a small fishing industry. It already houses a distribution centre for most of the lobsters caught off the Isles of Scilly. A couple of weeks ago I met the harbour master to discuss plans to develop mussel beds in Hayle and there are some really interesting plans being put forward by the town to renovate East Quay into a new facility to develop fishing further. In Redruth we also have Falfish, Cornwall’s leading fish processing plant and a well known market leader when it comes to Cornish scallops. For as long as I can remember, the lack of flexibility in the Common Fisheries Policy has been a problem for fishermen but there are some important changes underway which means decision making will start to be returned to national governments.

Agriculture also suffers from its share of problems caused by the Common Agricultural Policy and there are some complicated changes about to be implemented. Cornwall has an important farming industry but there have been huge changes in the fifteen years since I left the industry with a smaller number of large players. This part of Cornwall has the most productive agricultural land in the county and is home to Cornwall’s biggest growers of potatoes, cauliflowers and daffodils. With a growing world population, food security is once again becoming an issue so we will need to have a vibrant farming industry in the future. I have always been keen to explore ways of making it easier for new entrants to get into farming because all successful industries need new people bringing fresh ideas.

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.