Thursday, 27 March 2014

REFORMS IN THE BUDGET

Last week’s budget brought positive news and a strong sense that the country has well and truly turned the corner. There was good news for Cornwall and some radical ideas to reward those who save for their own retirement. George Osborne announced at the beginning of his speech that the economy was going to grow even more than at first thought, with growth this year set at 2.7%, the biggest revision in the budget forecast for over thirty years. Not only that, it is now predicted our deficit will be down by a halve next year and by 2018 the country will even be running on a surplus.

There is still plenty more to do and no one is saying these forecasts mean we can rest on our laurels. That said, economic growth means the government can now feel more confident in offering further economic incentives and help to those who have been hit hardest by the downturn. Some of the measures the Chancellor announced do just that.

Firstly the personal tax allowance will be raised even further to £10,500, starting next year. This should lift almost thirty thousand people in the South West out of tax altogether and importantly it will make sure low and middle earners are hit by as little tax as possible.

Secondly savers will see some crucial changes to how their savings are taxed and how they can invest their hard-earned money. The 10p starting rate on savings income will now be abolished and replaced with a zero pence rate, helping expand savings of up to £5,000. As well as this, a new pensioner bond, which people can invest in more than before, will also offer better returns than any on the market today and people will be able to invest more in ISA’s. I am often approached by savers who have felt that the economic recovery is passing them by despite their efforts and these new measures are a step in the right direction.

Finally there will be more flexibility in the pension system, which is news that will be welcomed by many. If you pay a certain defined amount into your pension, no longer will you be forced to buy an annuity, unless you have decided you want to. On top of this, if you have pensions savings of £30,000 or less you can now take these pots as a cash lump sum which is double the threshold it is now. There will also be a cut in the amount of income you need to access your pension’s savings flexibly, down from £20,000 to £12,000. All these changes will make it easier and cheaper for people to withdraw money from their pension pots and they represent some pretty fundamental reform.

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, 24 March 2014

NEW HOUSING

Last weekend I officially opened a new housing development at Carharrack that has been built by Ocean Homes. The housing was exactly the sort that we need more of in our area, with shared ownership and equity on offer as well as social housing and others available on the open market. It is these affordable and mixed developments that are helping first time buyers get on the first rung of the property ladder and it was clear during my visit just how popular the housing is with younger families and couples who want a place of their own.

We need to make sure this aspiration becomes a reality and over the past couple of years the government has been doing a lot to help people get their foot in the door. The ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, which comes in two parts, has already helped thousands. The mortgage guarantee part underwrites some of the lenders exposure to enable mortgage companies to offer 95 percent mortgages and a deposit of just 5 percent. Until the credit crunch, 95 percent mortgages were very common and I actually remember using them to buy my first flat. Even with the economy in recovery first time buyers are being given the impossible task of raising around a 30 percent deposit so this part of the scheme can really help.

The second element of ‘Help to Buy’ provides an equity loan for the deposit of households looking to buy a new build home. As well as helping about 25,000 people already, it also makes sure new houses are being built because it provides the security for housing developers to get building and not sit on land reserves. This week the Chancellor announced that the scheme will be extended until 2020 and I believe this is another step to make sure home ownership in Britain is the norm and not the preserve of the privileged few.

It is clear that we need to be building new and affordable housing in Cornwall to help those who dream of their own home and want to get on in life. The development at Carharrack was also an example of one sensitive to the area, adding just a small extension to the village and not disruptive to the original community. I have always said that there needs to be a balance when it comes to new housing that makes sure the community is involved, and certainly that we should build on brownfield instead of greenfield whenever possible.

I want to make sure that we get these developments right but also that we encourage affordable housing to be built. Young families moving in to an area can really add to the economy and dynamic of a community and I look forward to opening my next development.

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, 17 March 2014

St Michael’s Free School

Last weekend I was privileged to open the new school building at St Michael’s Catholic Secondary School in Camborne. The building will be providing some brilliant new teaching facilities, with new science laboratories, design and art classrooms as well as drama, music and ICT suites. It was great to officially open such an important resource for the school and take a look round the new facilities.

I first visited St Michael’s about eighteen months ago when it opened with just 45 pupils. Today it has 122 on the roll and it is growing, with aims to reach over 300 pupils in the next few years. It is not easy starting anything new, least of all a school, but this new Free School has made a very strong start.

Parents have been attracted to the school because of its high standards, small classroom size and encouraging environment to students of all backgrounds and interests. I was really interested to learn that at St Michael’s pupils from many different backgrounds were progressing at the same rate, with early data indicating the school has little or no attainment gap for those pupils on free school meals when compared with others.

The government has been keen to support the opening of new schools like St Michaels because the simple truth is that all children are individuals and will respond to different approaches in education. We want young people to find something they are passionate about and then have the support to really excel. For some that might mean a school that has a major focus on science or languages or indeed a focus on numeracy or sport. Some pupils flourish in larger schools but others will best develop their confidence if they have the support and nurturing environment provided by a smaller school.

We should not deny parents the choice if they feel that for their children a smaller school would be better at nurturing their individual talents. In the old days, only wealthy parents could choose where their children were placed but the opening of schools like St Michael’s prove that is now changing. Whilst it is likely that most will attend and be given the opportunity to thrive at our larger secondary schools, giving parents different options can only be a good thing.

I think it is so important to create a culture of excellence in the education system where schools are constantly striving to achieve more for all children, whether by stretching the most academic children so that they can go to university or giving additional support to help inspire those falling behind. The government’s reforms are a really positive step because a good education is the single most important thing to increase social mobility and help the next generation to get on in life.

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 March 2014

ST PIRAN’S DAY

Last Saturday I attended the St Piran’s day celebrations in Redruth. Although, due to my weekly surgery, I missed the start of the parade, the event was a fantastic success with the police estimating that around 5000 attended and with over 200 children and young people from our local schools taking part.

Redruth has really led the way in using civic events and celebrations of this sort to bring people into the town and to bring the community together. Together with the pasty festival, the Christmas lights procession and, of course, Murdoch Day, there is something every few months. It is really heartening to see so much support from the local schools and it's a vote of confidence in the future of the town. Children from Trewirgie Junior School were even going around completing questionnaires about the event to see how it could be improved in future years.

It is great to see such a steady and consistent revival of interest in Cornwall's unique culture and events like this are a really important way of celebrating what is distinct and special about Cornwall. Redruth is at the heart of Cornish history with the vast majority of the six million strong international Cornish diaspora tracing their roots back to our town. That is why Redruth was the natural home for the new Cornwall Archive Centre of Kresen Kernow which is currently going through the various stages of planning. It was a major breakthrough for the town to be designated as the chosen location and the project will regenerate the old brewery site and kick start the revival of the town.

Plans for the Kresen Kernow project were on display last Saturday and there are other events planned to get community feedback on the project. Like many others, I took a trip down memory lane watching some fascinating TV news archives about the final years of the old Devenish Brewery between 1986 and 1991. Growing up in the eighties in Cornwall, the familiar Devenish branding and those green Lorries were all around and, when I was older, I remember the famous Newquay Steam Bitter. Devenish was finally finished off by some sharp practice in the City by Whitbread and Boddingtons who were aiming to launch a hostile takeover bid. A management buyout followed by a further extended period under the current owner of the site, Horace Yao, gave the brewery a few more years, but in the end they couldn't continue. The Trevithick Society were there too having rescued some final cans of the beer (now very out of date!) along with beer mats and other branding which they are preserving.

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.