Thursday, 30 January 2014

Superfast Broadband

I have always been enthusiastic about the potential for modern fibre optic infrastructure like Superfast Broadband to put Cornwall ahead of the pack and to help overcome some of the geographical challenges we face as a peninsula. Infrastructure today is not just about roads and rail (important though those are), it is also about digital connection. The way that many modern industries like computer software operate means that, if we get the fastest broadband speeds, we are ahead.

Cornwall has so much beauty that many entrepreneurs actually want to set up their business here provided they have the right infrastructure. A couple of months ago I visited Head-Forwards Software which is one of a number of new computer software companies that are bringing new jobs to this part of Cornwall. Evidence suggests that almost 90 percent of the economic benefits of investment in broadband flow to areas outside the South East and the Home Counties. That makes a change and it is why investment in digital infrastructure is one of the best regional policies you can have.

The project to install Superfast Broadband across Cornwall is moving to its final stages. By end of this year they hope to reach their target of 95% of businesses and homes connected. Much progress has been made with over 80% of Cornwall now having access to fibre broadband. This equates to 210,000 premises, 21,000 of which are businesses. By the end of the year, with enough fibre optic cable to circle the globe three times 95% of Cornwall will have access to superfast.

What makes the project even more innovative is that alongside the normal superfast broadband being installed there is a further roll out of an even more advanced system that gives people even greater speeds, known as fibre to the premises or FTTP. Cornwall is now home to half of all the households in the country that have this cutting edge technology which increases internet speeds by up to forty times what we now experience. That's worth repeating: half of all the homes in the UK that have fibre to the premises can be found in Cornwall.

This is really positive news, and whilst I know some people are concerned that their house or business is not yet covered it is reassuring that the vast majority will finally have access by the end of the year. For the last remaining 5% where it is too difficult, the provider is going to make sure they will still see a boost in speeds using alternative methods such as advanced copper wiring or satellite. It is important this is done properly because I want to see every home; even those in the most remote areas see a difference from this investment.

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, 23 January 2014

THE MINIMUM WAGE

As each month goes by, there is growing evidence that the economy has turned a corner. Growth is predicted at 2.4 percent. There have been 400,000 new businesses created since 2010 and over 1 million new jobs. Unemployment is falling and now stands at its lowest rate since 2009. In Camborne and Redruth, unemployment is at 3.3%, lower than the national average.

One of the main priorities for the government has been to make work pay again. I have met too many people who say that if they work more than, say 16 hours a week, they lose more in benefits than they would gain in wages. We have to reform the benefits system so that it always pays to work longer hours. The new Universal Credit will have a tapered system so that you avoid sudden drops in benefit entitlements and by placing a cap on the maximum amount any one household can claim in benefits and reducing benefits like Housing Benefit, you increase the incentive to work.

However, the other side of the equation is trying to raise the income on those who are low paid and on the minimum wage. At the moment almost one and a half million people receive the minimum wage which is set at £6.31 per hour. Those who are at the lowest end of the pay spectrum have also had to grapple with the spiralling inflation left behind by the last Labour government. Inflation is now decreasing but the previously high rate has meant that even though there has been a strengthening of our national economy in real terms this hasn’t been allowed to really hit home and find its way into people’s pockets.

At the end of last week George Osborne said that it was time to consider increasing the national minimum wage because the returning strength to our economy means an increase can now be afforded. It's a difficult to get the balance right in a place like Cornwall. On the one hand, we know if we want to make work pay and help those on the minimum wage, we should be trying to increase the pay of those at the bottom. On the other hand we have a larger number of small businesses who are themselves struggling and we don't want to make it harder for them to take people on and create new jobs.

Both George Osborne and the Low Pay Commission, who advise the government on the minimum wage, have signalled that the rate should stand at £7 an hour which would be slightly above the rate of inflation and would see the wage return to its proper value before the recession hit. This will be a welcome boost in income for those on the minimum wage and should also increase the incentive to get off benefits and get into work.

Monday, 20 January 2014

Compassion and Charity in CPR

I have always hated the way some people talk down my home towns. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle have undoubtedly had their share of knocks in recent decades but this is also the part of Cornwall where the work gets done and where stuff gets made. There is real talent here, we can hold our own against any other urban centre in the country and we have an amazing industrial heritage to be proud of.

So I was very annoyed to read a recent article written for the Guardian newspaper by an academic who basically set out to trash our area and claim, extraordinarily, that there was a lack of small local charities. What makes it especially irritating is that I met the author, James Mumford, a year ago because he contacted me about his project. I gave him a whole list of excellent charitable organisations all doing their bit and encouraged him to see their work.

The community at Pengegon he cited is rightly proud of what has been achieved in recent years with antisocial behaviour down dramatically and a strong community spirit. I attended the community fun day last August organised by Claire Arymar and the atmosphere was great. Andy Richards, the local PCSO not only polices the area but runs football and basketball teams for younger residents in his spare time and he and the other members of the neighbourhood policing team have become highly respected.

If he had taken my advice, the author could have visited groups like Home Start, where volunteers offer practical support in the home for struggling parents. He could have visited WILD which supports girls trying to cope with the responsibilities of motherhood. He could have visited Young Mums Will Achieve which raises aspiration among single mothers. He could have visited charities like CN4C, the Redruth North Partnership or the All Saints Community Centre at Tuckingmill which each in turn host many vibrant social enterprises and charities on the front line. He could have visited some of the food banks run by volunteers from our churches. He could have visited great charities like Penhaligon's Friends where volunteers support children who have suffered bereavement. Or he could have visited small youth groups like Searchlight where he would find local children, who haven't got much for themselves, regularly donating some of their modest pocket money to help less fortunate children in developing countries. This part of Cornwall doesn't need lectures on charity.

As for his comments about our schools, I have visited over thirty schools in the Camborne and Redruth area in the last couple of years. Many have opted to become academies and standards are rising with interventions to ensure primary school children learn to read and write and with new school uniforms and a renewed focus on maths, science and languages in all our secondary schools. We can be proud of our schools and the next generation coming through.

The main argument of the article was that small charities have an important role to play in helping to get communities back on their feet. I don't disagree with that. However, there is another factor that holds some parts of the country back: low self esteem. I want to see our towns get their confidence back because we can beat the best of the rest and what we don’t need are people only expressing defeatist and negative sentiments about our area.

Monday, 13 January 2014

The Triple Lock



Over the weekend David Cameron made a really important pledge to continue the ‘triple lock’ protection for pensions if the Conservatives win the next election. This promise was one of the key Conservative manifesto commitments during the election almost three years ago and an election victory would mean it would continue to at least 2020. I think this pledge is really important because the idea is straightforward and because it offers huge peace of mind to people drawing pensions up and down the country and especially in Cornwall.

The ‘triple lock’ is simple. It ensures that state pension pay rises by whichever is higher out of inflation, wages or 2.5%. It also protects the state pension from variation in the economy, because it doesn’t attach payments in any way to average earnings which can fluctuate all the time. By April this year, the basic state pension will be £440 a year more than if it had been pegged to average earnings from 2011 onwards. That is a substantial amount and a huge help in what has been difficult economic times.

I think the ‘triple lock’ has been a success for the Government and this pledge offers some reassurance for those in retirement. Our pensioners are people who have contributed a huge amount to society and have been sensible in saving money for the future. After a life of hard work and supporting their families, they deserve a dignified old age without financial worry and a pension that provides some security for them. When I meet either groups of older people or individuals I am often reminded of how their pension offers a real lifeline and the capacity for independence which could otherwise be lost.

Some people are critical of the policy and say that pensioners should face cuts too but I think that ignores the fact that people have contributed all their lives. It is strange to criticise a protection for those who have already done their bit.

However, helping provide a little more security for pensioners doesn't negate the need for us to help the next generation too. In many ways it is a difficult time for school leavers who have to contribute more to their university education and young families who find it hard to raise the deposit to buy their first home. It is why schemes like the Help to Buy initiative to help people with their deposit are so important and why we must do more to encourage apprenticeships to give school leavers a good start. This weekend I will be attending the launch of a great initiative from Truro College that wants to encourage business to employ more apprentices throughout Cornwall and is just one example of the important steps being taken to support those just starting their working lives.

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.