Friday, 21 April 2017

Local Elections


It is now just a couple of weeks until polling day on Thursday 4th May when people right across Cornwall will have their chance to elect their local representatives to Cornwall Council.  The Lib Dems have been in charge for the last four years with the Independent bloc supporting them.

Cornwall Council has a very large budget of round £1.2 billion per year but a lot of people feel that they don't always get their priorities right. They say they can't find money for the things that really matter, like adult social care, but then they can always find money for pet projects like spending £536,000 on a bid to make Truro the "European Capital of Culture" - even though we will have left the EU by then and are therefore unlikely to be successful.

The Council is not getting its approach to social care support right at the moment.  I have seen many parents of disabled children or carers of adults with special needs who have previously benefited from quite modest support payments to help with a few hours a week of respite care or three hours a week from personal assistants.  It just helps them keep things together.  But all too often that small amount of support is being pulled away by Cornwall Council which is leading to anxiety.  It is also a false economy because when funds are tight we should be looking for more ways to provide a small amount of money that can make a big difference and reduce the need for more expensive care options later on.  Cornwall Council have it back to front at the moment.

Planning is another area where change is required.  In the last few years, the Council has had a poor track record in defending Cornwall from urban sprawl and inappropriate development on green field sites.   They do not pay enough attention to the need for infrastructure and services to support new development.

Local Council elections are always very close in this area so anything can happen.  Although I am a Conservative, I also have a lot of respect for everyone who puts themselves up for election whatever Party they represent and also to all the volunteers who give up their time to help deliver leaflets.  So, whichever way you decide to vote, make sure you do vote.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Marine Hub Cornwall


This week, twelve new Enterprise Zones have gone live, including Marine Hub Cornwall. Located over sites at Hayle, Tolvaddon and Falmouth Docks, the Zone will build on what has already been achieved and establish Cornwall as a global centre for the marine renewable energy sector.

Marine Hub Cornwall seeks to bring together world class assets like Wave Hub and our universities and research and development programmes to provide a seamless co-ordinated offer to the marine renewable energy sector in Cornwall. The aim is to strengthen our position as the global leader in research and technology development.

Cornwall is already recognised as providing marine renewable developers a unique prospect within which they can test technology from prototype to fully operational systems. The Cornish coast provides optimal conditions for early-stage trials at FaB Test, while Wave Hub at Hayle, the world’s largest and most technologically advanced demonstration site, allows for more advanced testing.  Wave Hub boasts one of the best wave resources in Europe and has really put Cornwall on the map in this sector. 

There are lots of different technologies under developmemt with different modes of operation.  Local firm Seatricity has already deployed a device at Wave Hub twice to test their technology which pumps water at high speed through a series of small turbines. 

American wave energy developer GWave has announced its plans for a 9MW project to be deployed at Wave Hub. GWave, based in Portland, Maine, USA has spent the past decade developing its Power Generation Vessel (PGV) technology, which uses very large equipment and captured kinetic energy.

Last year, Carnegie Wave Energy, a wave energy developer from Australia, was awarded a grant to support the first phase of its £60m commercial wave energy project at Wave Hub. Carnegie Wave Energy is the only company in the world to have operated a grid-connected wave energy project over four seasons.

There are still challenges to overcome.  We need a clear path to move from wave energy being an interesting idea, to being deployed at scale and generating electricity in a low cost and effective way.  But Marine Hub is a statement of Cornwall's commitment to the idea and if anyone in the world can make this work, Cornwall can.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

A new mental health facility for Cornwall


This week, Cornwall’s Air Ambulance Service celebrated its 30th birthday. Towards the end of last year, Cornwall Air Ambulance was awarded £1 million from the Libor banking fund, boosting their fundraising for a new helicopter. I remember when the Cornwall Air Ambulance began in 1987. It was the first air ambulance in the UK. Since then, it has completed more than 26,000 missions and saved many lives.
 
Other good news this week was the announcement that a new mental health unit will open in Cornwall in the summer of 2019. The purpose-built 12 bed unit will open in Bodmin. This is a much needed facility in Cornwall, that will help young people. Previously, young people have had to travel out of county, as far afield as Cheshire and Norwich, in order to access treatment.

In recent years, the number of young people affected by mental health problems has increased. Maybe it’s the pressure to fit in and to belong - a sentiment that always existed - but seems to have been heightened by social media in the digital age which is relentless and immediate but often impersonal and sometimes offensive.

There is good work being done. Last year, measures to transform the way we approach and deal with mental health locally were introduced, to ensure that more young people receive support and care.

Some good work is done by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) service, which helps children and young people deal with emotional, behavioural or mental health issues. There are also some good charities out there which help provide the support needed. A great example is the Invictus Trust, a small charity which aims to support and offer services to local teenagers who are suffering from mental health problems and associated issues. But all agree that this is a challenge of our age.

 

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Westminster Attack


The best answer to those who seek to undermine our way of life with acts of terror is to simply carry on.  The appalling murders that took place in Westminster last Wednesday were a reminder that every country can be affected by acts of violence: the attack in London was similar to the devastating attacks in Nice last year.  However, the very next day, Parliament was back to business and the streets of London were once again packed with tourists who have come to visit the greatest city on earth. 

Our thoughts are with all those who have lost loved ones.  Keith Palmer, the Police Officer who lost his life trying to stop the attacker, showed extraordinary bravery.  As details emerged of the other victims murdered on Westminster Bridge, it was clear that many families are suffering tragic bereavement this week. By the end of last week, the area was adorned with flowers from those who had come to pay their respects and books of condolence had been opened throughout Westminster.

One of the warped objectives of those who commit crimes like this is to try to sow division in our society and to turn one faith against another.  It is important that we do not allow them to succeed.  The murders last week were committed by a sad and deranged individual acting alone.  It was striking how quickly Muslim communities condemned the acts and made clear it was not in their name. 

Our security services work around the clock to monitor extremism and to try to keep us safe and they have successfully foiled dozens of planned attacks in recent years.  Sadly, everyone suspected that it would only be a matter of time before one got through.  Managing murders by lone extremists poses a challenge for our security forces because such events are not even coordinated by an organisation.  In fact, the term "terrorist attack" probably overstates what we are dealing with because there is no organised movement.  Rather, we are dealing with lone murderers who have been radicalised which is no less a challenge. 

We can but hope that, over time, this phenomena of radical extremism will recede and disappear.  But in the meantime, we must remain vigilant, support the work of our security services and carry on with our lives.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Article 50


The Prime Minister has announced that she will trigger Article 50 on 29th March. This will formally start the process of the UK leaving the European Union, and the most important negotiation for the UK for a generation.

The Prime Minister is clear that she wants us to put in place a close partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation. Our future relationship with the EU will include co-operating with our European partners in the fight against crime and terrorism. We will also collaborate on initiatives in areas such as science, research and technology.

I am excited about the opportunities that lie ahead. Here in Cornwall, we are already starting to see such opportunities. Redruth based manufacturing company European Springs and Pressings has seen a post-referendum surge which has led to increased orders with future growth very much on the cards. Based at Treleigh Industrial site, the company has seen its turnover up by 15% on the previous year.

I recently attended Gulfood, the world’s largest annual food trade show in Dubai. The show brings together more than 100,000 buyers, investors and producers from around the world. I was proud to champion the UK’s world-class offer. We have ambitions plans to further our export success in the coming years, and we are strengthening our global reputation for good quality produce. It was great to see some of our local Cornish companies, including Rodda’s at the show, and to hear about their plans for continued growth in the years that lie ahead. This week, I attended an international food event in London and met local Redruth firm, CocoNuts.

In terms of funding and regional grant aid, we have the opportunity to put in place a national policy which will allow us to better run regional policy and support new businesses here in Cornwall. This will allow us to invest in projects that really deliver for the local area.

I said during the campaign that I wanted to be the first Farming Minister in 40 years to be able to design policies from first principles. I am optimistic about what lies ahead, and I think that 29th March will be a defining moment for our country.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Adult Social Care


I recently enjoyed visiting a Shared Lives South West family in Portreath, to find out more about the work done by Shared Lives and the services offered. Shared Lives South West is an independent charity and provides a range of services for people with additional needs. It is a way of providing care and support for vulnerable adults in ordinary family homes of Shared Lives carers.

It was great to meet people who use the Shared Lives services as well the Just Next Door service, which is a half-way stage between living with a family and living independently. The service is provided by Shared Lives carers who have an annexe or flat that is linked to the family home. It allows people to increase independent living skills whilst being able to access family based support when needed.  It is also a more cost effective model than some other approaches to social care.

How we support people in need of adult social care is a growing dilemma, and creative thinking is needed.  As more people live longer, more need help as they get older.  Finding the right solutions is also key to easing pressure on the NHS.

This week, the Chancellor delivered the Spring Budget. I am particularly pleased that the Government will provide an additional £2 billion to councils in England over the next three years to spend on adult social care services. £1 billion of this will be provided in 2017-18, ensuring that councils can take immediate action to fund care packages for more people, support social care providers, and relieve pressure on the NHS.

I also welcome the provision of an additional £100 million for capital investment in A&E departments, which will help to ensure that patients are able to access the most appropriate care as quickly as possible.

The NHS is incredibly important to everyone in Cornwall. I admire the work done by our local hospitals. I am a firm believer in helping the NHS deal with the challenges it inevitably faces, rather than talking it down.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

St Piran's Day


Last Saturday, I attended the St Piran’s Day celebrations at Heartlands. Despite the blustery weather, it was a well-attended event and a true celebration of our Cornish culture and identity. Heartlands had a difficult start, but has very much found its feet at the very heart of our community. Other local events were also very well attended, including the annual St Piran’s Day Parade in Redruth.

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in Cornwall’s history and culture. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are at the very heart of this revival. The new Cornish archive, Kresen Kernow, is really taking shape on the site of the old brewery. I lobbied hard to ensure that Redruth, home to most of the world-wide Cornish diaspora, was chosen as the location for this project, which will create new jobs, housing and continue the wider regeneration of the area.

I am pleased that the Government has committed £100,000 to a Cornish Culture Fund. This will be used to fund culture and heritage projects across Cornwall. I am hopeful that some of this money will be spent on the Cornish language.

Before 1996, students taking their GCSEs used to have the option of studying Cornish, but it was discontinued due to a lack of participation. I now think the time is right to reintroduce the Cornish language as a course. The evidence shows that there are benefits to learning a second language which go beyond the learning of the language itself, and while some students may feel uninspired by French or Spanish, they may feel more enthusiastic about studying their native language.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Marine Hub Cornwall

Last week, I announced the launch of Marine Hub Cornwall during Renewable UK’s Wave and Tidal Conference. I have always thought there was potential for wave power in Cornwall.  The Atlantic swell gives us a wave resource that is second to none and if we could get the technology right then it could offer consistent energy generation that is sustainable.  We also have great skills and expertise in precision engineering and marine science.

Marine Hub Cornwall seeks to bring together world class assets like Wave Hub and our universities and research and development programmes to provide a seamless co-ordinated offer to the marine renewable energy sector in Cornwall. The aim is to strengthen our position as the global leader in research and technology development.

Cornwall is already recognised as providing marine renewable developers a unique prospect within which they can test technology from prototype to fully operational systems. The Cornish coast provides optimal conditions for early-stage trials at FaB Test, while Wave Hub at Hayle, the world’s largest and most technologically advanced demonstration site, allows for more advanced testing.  Wave Hub boasts one of the best wave resources in Europe and has really put Cornwall on the map in this sector.  

The launch of Marine Hub comes just a few weeks after American wave energy developer GWave announced its plans for a 9MW project to be deployed at Wave Hub. GWave, based in Portland, Maine, USA has spent the past decade developing its Power Generation Vessel (PGV) technology, an innovative wave energy device of a scale that is unprecedented, and is preparing to bring the first full-scale vessel across the Atlantic for installation right here in Hayle. GWave chose Wave Hub in recognition of the strong wave resource, infrastructure, and industry experience available there.

There are still challenges to overcome.  We need a clear path to move from wave energy being an interesting idea, to being deployed at scale and generating electricity in a low cost and effective way.  But Marine Hub is a statement of Cornwall's commitment to the idea and if anyone in the world can make this work, Cornwall can.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Smart Savings

There are few things more demoralising than having debt problems and bailiffs at the door and I have always been interested in developing better ways to help people manage their finances and get back on an even keel.

Last week, I visited Smart Savings in Redruth. Smart Savings provides a range of social and financial inclusion services, including debt advice, money management training and employment skills training. They have helped over a hundred people over the last eighteen months or so and I met some of those who have benefited last week.

They now have plans for a new project aimed at helping young children from Redruth improve their numeracy skills. The "Numbers Nursery" project offers fun, forest school sessions which aim to help young children, aged between two and four, gain confidence in early year's maths and numeracy whilst being out in the fresh air, enjoying physical exercise, and also learning about the natural environment. The project will proactively support children in care, and socially excluded families on low incomes.

The outdoor maths sessions will take place on a weekly basis with activities including cooking on camp fires, learning about healthy eating, going on nature walks and treasure hunts, playing games, sowing vegetable and fruit seeds, building unique structures (e.g. dens, sand castles and moats, and mud pies), making forest and beach art, and enjoying free, healthy snacks and meals.

Smart savings is one of a number of good local projects that are helping local people with their finances.  Five 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" usually 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. Credit Unions are very common in other countries. In Ireland, around 60 percent of families are members and they are also common in countries like Australia. At a time when commercial banks have lost their way, credit unions are a reminder of what old fashioned, community based lending should be.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Planning: Brownfield before Greenfield

Last week, plans for a controversial new housing development near Tregenna Fields in Camborne were approved at appeal which has reignited debate about how we meet growing housing need while protecting green spaces.

There is no doubt that nationally we have a housing shortage.  A combination of population growth and issues like family breakdown means that many families are struggling to find a home that delivers their needs.  In Cornwall, the issue is exacerbated in some areas by second home owners.  So we do need to build more housing.

However, I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. 

When Cornwall Council were developing their local plan, I argued that we should make clear that brownfield sites in places like Tuckingmill and around South Crofty should be developed first. There should then be a delay in developing greenfield, urban extension sites around areas like Treswithian until we have completed a mid-term review in ten years’ time where we could take stock and reassess local housing need. This would ensure that developers didn’t simply cherry pick easy greenfield sites.

There are some good examples of successful housing developments on brownfield sites which are designed to be consistent with, and to celebrate, our industrial heritage. Coastline regenerated the old Holmans site at Trevu Road next to Camborne Train Station and saved the beautiful Holmans building at the same time. Linden Homes have done some excellent work at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College. I was a strong supporter of the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project, and I was pleased that many homes there were offered through the “help to buy” scheme for first time buyers. 

However, I have also opposed other large scale developments where they have been on greenfield sites. Back in 2015, I asked the Secretary of State to consider calling in a planning appeal being considered for over 220 houses on St George’s Road in Hayle because I think we should develop housing on North Quay first, as planned. The scheme was blocked on that occasion.

Planning decisions will always be contentious and there are difficult balances to be struck.  However, I am still convinced that the basic principle of prioritising brownfield before greenfield development is the right approach.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Early Years Funding Formula


One of my priorities is to try to correct some of the historic unfairness to Cornwall when it comes to various funding formulas.  This includes the Early Years National Funding Formula, and I want to make sure that early years providers are funded on a fair and sustainable basis.

I recently met with Caroline Dinenage MP, who is the minister responsible for early years at the Department for Education. It was a constructive and encouraging meeting. I had been concerned about the way in which Cornwall was to be funded under initial proposals, and wanted to ensure that we are treated fairly.

The Government’s response to the recent consultation includes assurances that the Government will provide supplementary funding of £55 million a year to local authorities for maintained nursery schools for the duration of this parliament. This will keep funding stable during the implementation of the national funding formula.

I am also pleased that all local authorities will receive a minimum funding rate of at least £4.30 per hour. The Government is also introducing a new national Disability Access Fund to support access for disabled children.

 I am always hugely impressed by the work done at schools such as Camborne Nursery School. Last year, the school received its fourth successive “outstanding” report. Ofsted inspectors were impressed by the quality of education provided to children, and their levels of confidence. The school has opened a dedicated classroom for two year olds to enable staff to prepare them for their school years.

The first three years of a child's life are the most formative and have a crucial impact on a child's life chances.  Many primary school head teachers tell me they have noticed a growing trend in the last twenty years of children arriving in reception class with language difficulties and, however much effort those schools put in, those children start at a disadvantage. This is why I will continue to support local nursery schools, and fight to ensure that Cornwall is funded fairly.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Public Transport


Recently, we have seen some brand new double decker buses taking to routes in West Cornwall. The new "Tinner" service marks a major step forward in the quality of public transport in Cornwall.  It more than matches anything available elsewhere in the country and I hope this is just the beginning of some positive changes in the pipeline.  It is also great to see a brand with a local connection.  Not since the days of the iconic bus fleet run by Grenville Motors at Troon have we seen something that looks and feels so decidedly part of Camborne and Redruth (although this time the buses are brand new!).

My grandfather was the Chairman of the Grenville Bus Company back in the 1970s and 1980s and there were challenges making things work along rural routes even then.  In the last few years I have been working with the Transport team at Cornwall Council to try to help develop a more integrated approach to public transport and the idea has gained the support of government.  

We need to make connections work so that services become more frequent but also more viable. This is why I have pressed for a regular 30 minute local train service through Cornwall with buses then providing onward connections over shorter rural routes to our villages.  If we can join up commercial trunk routes of buses and trains with smaller, local, shuttle buses travelling shorter distances, you start to get the makings of something that can really work.

We are also making progress improving things on long haul journeys.  Since I was elected, I have been fighting to get an upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service, which will be introduced shortly. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service, using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike and I am pleased that it will be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport.

Newquay Airport is also going from strength to strength. It serves as a lifeline for businessmen and women who use the service regularly, and has seen impressive growth in the last year. It's not long ago that the very future of Newquay Airport seemed in doubt but we have seen a great turnaround in its fortunes.  A lot of work has gone in to making transport work better for Cornwall and we are now seeing important changes.

 

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Brexit


This week saw the final judgement by the Supreme Court on the contentious issue of whether the decision that was taken directly by the country in the EU referendum last June must now be put to a separate vote of parliament to approve commencing exit negotiations.  The Judges were divided but, on balance, decided that parliament needed another vote.  It is a disappointing decision on one level because all sorts of democratic rights have been eroded by Brussels regulations and court judgements over the years and no one seemed to challenge these.  However, we have to accept the decision of the court and, in practice, it is just a technical issue which makes no material difference.  

Parliament has already held dozens of different debates on the issue of leaving the EU and the policies that will come after.  It has been invigorating for our democracy to be able to discuss new policies again in the knowledge that soon we will regain the power to fully govern ourselves.   

Last week, the Prime Minister set out her plan for Brexit in a landmark speech. As she said, we must now put the campaign behind us and unite the country.  The PM made it clear that she wants us to put in place a close partnership with the EU based on friendship and cooperation, and that the UK must be a generous and outward looking country that is a good global citizen.  But as we establish the rule of national law in this country, we must bring to an end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain. 

Our future relationship with the EU will include co-operating with our European partners in the fight against crime and terrorism. We will also collaborate on initiatives in areas such as science, research and technology. However, there will be no EU auditors telling us what to do. In areas such as farming, we will be able to pilot new ways of doing things and deliver the change that British farming craves.

The Prime Minister was clear that we will be stronger, fairer, more united and more outward looking than ever before. We are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe.

 

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Mental Health Support


One of the consequences of the way people live their lives in the modern world has been a worrying increase in the number of those suffering mental health problems at some point in their life.  Many people can be affected and we need to remove the stigma and try to do more to support people's wellbeing.

The growth in the number of young people affected is of particular concern.  Maybe it’s the pressure to fit in and to belong - a sentiment that always existed - but seems to have been heightened by social media in the digital age which is relentless and immediate but often impersonal and sometimes offensive.  A number of schools are now encouraging parents to take mobile phones away from their children at night so that they can sleep and have a break from relentless twitter feeds.

Last week, the Government introduced new measures to transform the way we approach and deal with mental health locally, so that more children and young people receive support and care.

The new measures are good news for Cornwall. Our local secondary schools will be offered mental health first aid training to increase awareness around mental health and help to tackle the stigma around the issue. New proposals will also outline how mental health services for schools, universities and families can be improved, so that everyone in the community is supported, at every stage of life.

Across Cornwall, we will also see child and adolescent mental health services being reviewed. This will identify what works and what we can improve, so that more children and young people get the mental healthcare that they need.

Some good work is done by the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) service, which helps children and young people deal with emotional, behavioural or mental health issues. There are also some good charities out there which help provide the support needed.  But all agree that this is a challenge of our age.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Unemployment


Unemployment is at its lowest level for many years. At the end of last year, official national statistics showed that the labour market finished a record breaking year with unemployment down by over 100,000 people and the unemployment rate running at 4.8%. Employment has consistently been running at an all-time high and there continues to be 31.8 million people in work, up by 2.7 million since 2010. In Camborne and Redruth, the number of claimants has nearly halved from 3.8% of the economically active population in 2010 to 2.3% in November 2016.

Locally, we have much to celebrate but there remains a lot to do. We must strive to continue to improve the support we offer to local people to help them back into work.

I do not want us to underestimate the significance of apprenticeships and training. Cornwall College is the most successful provider of work based learning in the South West. Over a thousand apprentices are currently training in areas such as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. Last year, Ofsted praised the college as a catalyst for improving skills in Cornwall.

For too long, many of our brightest young people would leave Cornwall in search of new work opportunities. Now, as we continue to attract new industries and skilled jobs to Cornwall, it is vital that we continue to develop skills so that young people can take advantage of the new opportunities being created. As new companies arrive I want to see them become successful and profitable enough to offer higher wages so that we encourage people to take work and stay in work.

Economic regeneration and job creation have always been two of my top priorities. The Kresen Kernow archive project is progressing, the development of South Quay signals good news for the local economy, the East-West link road is unlocking Tuckingmill for development and facilities like the Pool Innovation Centre and Barncoose Gateway have attracted new businesses and start-ups to the area.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Superfast Broadband


The Superfast broadband project of a few years ago helped get Cornwall ahead of the rest of the country in terms of broadband speeds and paved the way for a new generation of businesses who could benefit from being located in Cornwall without the usual problems of distance from the market.

However, the fact that most of the county has high speeds makes it all the more galling for those communities who were left behind and who have had to struggle on with very poor broadband connections.  Getting high speed broadband solutions to the remaining five percent of households not covered by the original programme is now a priority for government and work continues.  So I was pleased to learn that parts of Camborne and Redruth, including Connor Downs, Sandy Lane and Four Lanes, are the latest in the Duchy to receive superfast broadband.

£7.6 million will be invested in the latest phase of the fibre broadband rollout in Cornwall, reaching more than 8,000 premises in Cornwall's most challenging locations by early next year. Additionally, Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership are investing alongside the Government's Broadband Delivery UK programme and BT.


I want us to make the most of the opportunities that superfast broadband offers. The computer software industry has really taken off in this part of Cornwall in recent years. Superfast broadband means that software companies can compete around the world from a digital connection in Cornwall. 


We are already beginning to feel the benefits, with software companies like Headforwards, Blue Fruit and Netbooster thriving. Innovation centres at Pool and Tremough play an important role in incubating new start-ups.  Meanwhile, proposals for a new fibre park in Pool to bring together software companies and training from Cornwall College to create opportunities for local school leavers could take things to the next level.  We have the chance to really put Cornwall on the map in this sector