Friday, 27 July 2018

Universal Credit

Last week I made one of my regular visits to the local Job Centre at Redruth. One of the biggest successes of the last eight years has been the astonishing turnaround in the job market. Britain is working again. When Gordon Brown left office, youth unemployment was a major problem and unemployment was rising. Eight years later, the unemployment rate is the lowest since the early 1970s and level of employment are at an all time high.
In Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, unemployment is now significantly below the national average which is quite a change and reflects the fact that we are attracting new industries to the area. The total number of unemployed claimants for June 2018 was 840. This represented a rate of 2.1% of the economically active population aged 16-64, lower than the equivalent UK average claimant rate of 2.8%.
It is also worth noting that since 2010, the majority of employment growth has been in both full-time and permanent roles so the allegation that all jobs today are on so called "zeros hours contracts" is not correct. In addition, this astonishing turnaround has been achieved while there have been major increases in the minimum wage and also the new roll out of the National Living Wage so that those on the lowest incomes have had a significant pay rise. These changes have had particular relevance in Camborne and Redruth.
However, my main reason for wanting to meet the Job Centre this time was to get a view from the coal face about the new Universal Credit which is now being rolled out in earnest. The idea behind the Universal Credit is to simplify the benefits system so that many former types of support are merged into one single benefits payment. Support will be tapered so that it always pays to work more hours or seek higher pay rather than get by on benefits. It also means that the level of benefit support automatically changes month to month based on how much they earn in real time. So, if someone takes more hours during a busy period they will be better off but they will also have the security of knowing that if their hours go back down a few months later then support will automatically kick back in without them having to fill out a load of forms again.
This is vital because for far too long people have been trapped in poverty by the old system because if they worked too many hours or earned too much then they would lose all their benefits and then find it a fight to get back on the system should things change again. Under the old system it literally was not worth working longer hours or in some cases people would be worse off working more hours. Employers used to complain that people told them they were "not allowed" to work more than sixteen hours a week. That is crazy. The old system disincentivised work and change was desperate required.
However, as with any policy, you have to get the delivery right as well as the concept behind the policy right. Critics have recently cast doubt on the new system so I wanted to work out whether anything was going wrong in terms of the delivery that needed addressing. Just over a year ago there had been concerns that making payments monthly rather than weekly would cause problems. So, changes were made to address that. It is now very easy to get an advance payment to help cashflow in the changeover.
Talking to staff who, in some cases, had been with the Job Centre for over twenty years, they were really enthusiastic about the change. They say that they have been really engaged in the design on the new system. Whereas, in the past, everyone had to come in every week to "sign on', now there is much more discretion for an individual "job coach" to decide how frequently a job seeker should attend the office. There is far more done on a simple online portal which is easy to use and can be used to give advice and support. Anyone who needs help in the job centre to use the online system automatically gets it. There is an assigned case officer who looks after a group of job seekers meaning that trust can develop. The system is easier both for those who need to use it an those who are implementing it. The conflict and tension of the old system has been largely removed.
Reforming the welfare system and supporting people back into work go hand in hand. For too long, too many people were left languishing on benefits and trapped in a life of poverty. Helping them go back to work has been one of the primary objectives of the Government in recent years and the results are showing.
As with any new system there will always be problems that come up which require attention, and lessons were learned from some of the pilots. However, I am now very optimistic about the benefits that the new Universal Credit will deliver for people on lower incomes in Camborne and Redruth.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Cornwall – The Powerhouse of the South West

After another turbulent week in parliament it was good to get back to Cornwall at the end of last week to focus on some of the local issues where things are more positive and less fraught with argument. Liz Truss, the Treasury Minister was on a visit to Cornwall to meet some of the new entrepreneurs in the computer software industry around Camborne, Pool and Redruth and to hear about their plans to take this sector to the next level.
Over the last two or three years, we have seen growing momentum behind the embryonic computer software industry here in West Cornwall.  A recent national study identified Camborne and Redruth as one of the fastest growing computer software clusters in the country with huge growth in jobs and turnover. Last week saw the annual "Agile on the Beach" conference at Falmouth University which brings together leading computer software experts and designers to address the challenges and developments in the industry. The event was put together by a forward-thinking group of software entrepreneurs from the area and is now judged to be among the top three events in the world for software technologies.
"Agile" is a new management concept which can be applied to many disciplines including even in financial management but is especially used in software development.  It is about removing rigid processes, targets and management plans and replacing them with something more flexible, holistic and iterative so that complex challenges can be overcome by natural adaptation.
I have always said that I wanted to see new industries and higher paid jobs in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle. The ingredients of success are the right infrastructure, like Superfast broadband, and the raw talent of bright individuals who can make things happen. Then you need critical mass so here is local resilience which we are now starting to get. Previously, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career up country, or taking the lifestyle choice to live in the most beautiful part of the country but accepting a lower salary. The plans for a new Fibre Park and software academy at Pool continue to develop. It is the brainchild of Toby Parkin from Headforwards Software who we met last week. The concept is that you could have modern workspace perfect for the software industry co-located with a software academy so that you break down the barriers between training and industry. Talented code writers would occasionally take lectures and students would take part in real projects in real businesses to develop their skills.
Last week I also met a group of young people taking part in the annual National Citizenship Service (NCS) programme. Set up back in 2011 as a type of modern day, non-military National Service, NCS is open to all 16-17-year olds in England and aims to bring together young people from all sorts of different backgrounds, helping to break down social barriers and develop self-confidence. The group I met were working on a project to make a film raising awareness about the dangers of drug abuse.

Thursday, 12 July 2018


A Brighter Future for Cornwall
Last week I launched our new White Paper on the future of fisheries. It sets out how we will take back control of our waters after we leave the EU and how we will adopt a new methodology for the allocation of fishing quotas internationally so that we get a much fairer settlement for our own industry and can develop sustainable fishing policy for the future. 

There has long been an historical injustice in quota allocations to the UK fleet. In 2015 the UK allocation of Cod was just 834 tonnes compared to 5,500 for France. For Plaice in the Channel it was 1,300 tonnes for the UK, but 2,600 for France.  Many local fishermen feel frustrated that they sometimes have to tie up their boats because they have run out of quota but they see French vessels continuing to fish in Cornish waters.  Taking back control of our fishing grounds will give us the opportunity to revisit quota allocations and make things fairer. 

However, I have always been clear that the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries.   We will not allow a free for all and one of the conditions of any future access we grant will be that all vessels fish sustainably and within limits to protect our marine environment. That is why the White Paper is so important because it sets out what our future relationship will be whilst still maintaining the highest possible standards for our marine life.

This is an exciting time not only for fishermen across Cornwall as we start to take back control of our waters and the fish stocks in them. I am proud that we have a White Paper that clearly sets out how the Government will monitor and maintain our future fishing stocks so that we can pass them onto future generations of fishermen. We will be able to re-establish national control for fisheries management out to 200 nautical miles or the median line as provided for in international law.  We will then negotiate new access and quota sharing arrangements that are fairer to our fishermen. 

Last week was also the NHS’s 70th birthday. The NHS is a great British institution which all of us will rely on it at some point in our lives. That’s one of the reasons why the Government recently announced that it will increase NHS funding by almost £400 million a week - more than £20 billion a year - by 2023/24 as part of a historic long-term funding plan for the NHS. The many hard-working nurses and doctors who contribute to this success have a lot of be proud of.

Locally we have some great health services such as at St Michael's Hospital, which is a national leader in breast surgery, and Camborne and Redruth Hospital which has a number of specialisms including stroke and prosthetics. While there will always be some challenges facing our NHS given the size of the organisation and its complexity, we should recognise its achievements and celebrate the good news. 

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Another busy week


Last week, it was good to catch up with various projects in and around the constituency.
Early Friday morning I met children from Portreath School who were going to clean up litter at Portreath Beach. It was great to be joined by so many enthusiastic children willing to give up their time and help clean up the beach, helping to raise awareness about the threat that rubbish poses to the marine environment.
Next on the agenda was a meeting with the Council where we talked through the issues affecting people throughout Cornwall. From planning and development to healthcare and funding arrangements, it was good to catch up with Council Officers and raise individual cases and concerns that I had. Following this I attended a Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group meeting. I regularly meet the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group, and most recently I asked the KCCG about funding for children and adolescents funding helping to ensure that we have the right provisions in place to care for those who are most vulnerable.
In the afternoon I took time out to visit Mary Anson of Anson Care Services at Tremethick House. Mary has always done great work in helping provide a safe and caring environment for the elderly, and it was great to find out more about the work being done by her company. 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 and we are lucky in Cornwall to have companies like Anson Care Services to step in when families and carers need help.
Shortly afterwards I visited Valued Lives, an innovative charity based in Cornwall offering community based care and support and helping change mental health care. In recent years, the number of 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.
On Saturday I began the day with my usual weekly advice surgery to meet some of the people who have written to me to ask for help. One of the things that persuaded me to stand for election in the first place was seeing the work that MPs do in their constituencies to help people deal with specific problems in their daily lives. You can’t always solve the problem, but you can always try, give advice and lend a helping hand. When you do succeed, it makes the job worthwhile.
I then popped along to a charity event at Jenn’s Diner where they were raising awareness for Cornwall Blood Bikes. The charity are a group of self-funding volunteers who provide an ‘out of hours’ courier service to our NHS partners throughout Cornwall and beyond. It was great to hear first-hand some of the stories they have as well as the challenges they face. Later in the day I attended the Kehelland Methodist Chapel Tea Treat, meeting constituents and listening to their concerns before heading off to an evening meeting back up in Devon with a group of farmers to discuss future policy.
I was shocked to hear that the recent fire on top of Carn Marth may have been started deliberately. I want to thank the emergency services for their hard work and dedication in putting the fire out and keeping residents safe. I know what a beautiful area Lanner is and I hope it recovers from the fire.