Thursday, 24 April 2014

The importance of sport

Last week I visited RedYouth, a really successful dance group which has gone from strength to strength in recent years. The current trend for talent shows on TV has inspired a number of such groups to set up, including the ‘TR14-ers’ in Camborne but RedYouth actually has its origins in the negative public perceptions about Redruth caused by the media portrayal of the pilot "curfew" project about 5 or 6 years ago. A group of volunteers came together to create a community group that could promote the talents of young people in the town.

Today, the group engages over 400 children and young people ranging from under the age of five to teenagers and even some family groups to get parents involved as well. Their activities have also moved beyond just dance and during the summer they run other activities and visits, promoting interests and hobbies as diverse as cooking, photography and jewellery making as well as community days at the beach. RedYouth also offers days to introduce children and young people to a range of alternative sports. The group employs Jen, a trained instructor, but it is then supported by a number of truly dedicated volunteers who liaise closely with schools in the area. They are also supported by a qualified SEN assistant, which ensures that no child is left out or feels excluded.

The development of groups like RedYouth has been really positive. Meeting the young people involved last week it was clear that many had developed self confidence from their involvement in the group and had also made new friends. With debate this week about sport in schools, it is also important to remember the role of alternatives like dance to conventional sports. Sport has an incredibly important role in developing confidence in young people and establishing a healthy lifestyle with exercise from a young age. However, competitive sport is not for everyone. In particular, too many teenage girls drift away from sport later in school, but dance groups like RedYouth can provide a really inspiring alternative.

RedYouth is just one of the many great sports clubs and community groups that offer opportunities to young people. I will never forget the support that I had from volunteers at Cornwall Athletic Club when I was growing up, and I fought hard to make sure the new running track will be located in the CPR area because in doing so it offers the most to all of our community athletics groups. Above all it is volunteers today who keep all of our sports clubs going from rugby and football to cricket, swimming and dance.

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.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

BETTER TRAINING, MORE JOBS

A couple of weeks ago I visited the new premises of Questions and Answers, a Community Interest Company who have recently moved to Station Road in Redruth. Questions and Answers offer specialist adult training and apprenticeships across Devon and Cornwall either through individual tuition tailored to the needs of the client or through a variety of established courses focusing on employability. A lot of the courses on offer are free and they will also work with companies to help them further develop employees.

I was really impressed by Q & A’s new offices, complete with public access PCs, a young enterprise zone and dedicated training rooms for a wide variety of courses. It is clear that adult training is a growing market, and as the workplace becomes increasingly IT dominated many adults want to take advantage of courses helping their computer literacy. There are also young adults who really want to get to grips with a subject before embarking on a career or who feel they need that little bit extra training after leaving school or college.

Training and improved skills offer the best route to new job opportunities. I have always been clear that delivering economic regeneration and creating more and better paid jobs is the number one priority for this part of Cornwall. We are making progress and in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle recent published figures show that the number of people claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance has fallen by 500 since the beginning of last year. Despite perceptions to the contrary, we actually have a level of unemployment that is about average for the UK at 3.4 percent.

Whilst better training is one way to find a job, we also need to make sure young people or those who have been out of work for a while can find the right experience to make them more employable. The work experience scheme has been a real success nationally and overall has helped over half a million 18 to 24 year olds find placements in the past couple of years. In plenty of cases employers have been so impressed with the young people involved they have gone out of their way to find them paid employment. There is also the Work Programme, administered by Working Links and Prospects in our area which helps the long-term unemployed find lasting jobs and gets them off benefits.

We need to do more and as the economy turns a corner we need to make sure we create better paid jobs for this part of Cornwall. As new companies arrive I want to see them become successful and profitable enough to offer higher wages so that we encourage people to stay in work.

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, 14 April 2014

DAWLISH

Last weekend saw the reopening of the railway line at Dawlish in time for the Easter holidays and the reconnection of Cornwall to the rest of the country by rail. Credit where credit is due it has been a huge effort by First Great Western and Network Rail and it is a great achievement to have the line up and running two weeks ahead of schedule. Every weekend I travel down from London to Camborne on the sleeper and I will be just one of many in our area who are welcoming this news.

The last few weeks at Dawlish have seen a large team of engineers, known as the 'Orange Army' for their fluorescent vests, work around the clock to get the line restored. It has been a massive job because overall around eighty meters of the track was deemed unusable and the logistics of working so near the sea made it even more difficult. There was also further bad weather to deal with and a landslide had to be forced just south of Dawlish when a large chunk of earth became dangerously exposed at Teignmouth. Overall it is estimated that the initial costs are around £35 million, although the costs to our local economy meant we needed to see the line restored as soon as possible.

We now need to look at what can we can do to further improve our rail link and to make sure that this kind of thing never happens again. There has been a lot of talk around developing an existing line via Okehampton as an additional emergency line in case of further damage, or as an alternative main line in the future. There are also other ideas around further tunnelling on the existing route. Network Rail has commissioned a report to look at these and I think that is a good first step. No one doubts that more should be done but we need to make sure change is sensitive to the places like Dawlish whose economy has grown up around the railway.

We also need to make sure we get a better deal for Cornwall and I have always pushed for fairer funding to allow this to happen. Finally we are making some progress and there are discussions taking place that could see an extensive sleeper upgrade as well as a huge improvement to signalling on the tracks. This in turn could see far more frequent services from Penzance to Plymouth and with more rolling stock becoming available in the next couple of years it would also mean more capacity.

I think this is encouraging news because these targets are achievable in a short timeframe and will make a real difference. As we are on a Peninsula the journey to London is always going to be a long one, but we need to keep prices down and offer more flexibility.

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, 7 April 2014

HELPING WITH PERSONAL DEBT

One of the challenges of economic growth is to make sure everyone benefits. It is why the reforms to the benefits system so that work pays are so important and also why we need intensive support to help those who have been out of work for a long time get their confidence back. It's also why we need to maintain momentum when it comes to local regeneration.

We also need to recognise the demoralising affect that personal debt can have on those on the bottom rung and it isn’t just those on benefits. Many people who work hard also have debt problems and shouldn't be overlooked. It can start with a one off bill like a repair to the car or an unexpected tax bill but end up with court costs and thuggish bailiffs at the door adding huge cost and stress. Some people turn to loan sharks or payday loan companies who seem to offer a quick fix but actually end up compounding the problem. There are few things more demoralising to people than having bills and debts that stalk them.

There is good work being done to help. The Citizens Advice Bureau regularly offers debt advice to those at their wits end. In extreme cases they can help people apply to the court for a Debt Relief Order to remove some of the burden. Last week I met the local organiser for Christians Against Poverty to discuss their work locally. CAP was founded by someone who had worked in finance but then suffered his own debt problems. Volunteers with experience visit families at home and help them put together a budget. If there are difficult debts overhanging them, CAP will manage the relations with those companies, sometimes securing a write off of some of the debt and a consistent payment plan which they manage on behalf of the family. Their service is free to those in need.

In 2012 the Government set up the Money Advice Service with the key objective to encourage people to better manage their money and prevent them from getting into unmanageable levels of debt. The MAS offers free and impartial information on money matters and they can be contacted online, by telephone or even face-to-face. There has been a crackdown on loan sharks. The Financial Conduct Authority is strengthening the rules, by making sure payday loan companies research whether their clients can actually pay back the money and is also considering a cap for the loans.

There are better ways for people to manage their money. Two years ago I became a member of the Kernow Credit Union. Unlike other lenders they don't judge people through credit agencies. Those who are in greatest need know that "subject to status" means "not you." With a credit union people earn their credibility. Those who save regularly each month can, after three months, borrow around three times the amount they have saved.

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.