Thursday, 31 January 2019

Reasons to be positive

As I write this, the ongoing deadlock in Parliament over how to leave the European Union looms over everything else. I know that virtually everyone across the country feels deeply frustrated and, in some cases, angry, at the inability to reach a settlement and deliver what people voted for. 
The deadlock also crowds out discussion and debate on many other important issues and means that some good news gets overlooked. One area is the continuing success of our economy to create growth and new jobs. Recent figures have confirmed our continued progress but has gone under reported. In 2010 when Gordon Brown left office, our national debt was spiralling out of control, there was a recession, unemployment was rising, and youth unemployment was a persistent problem. 
As a government we had to take some tough decisions in order to restore fiscal responsibility and get our country’s finances back on track. Everyone has made sacrifices and played their part and now, because of the hard work that we have put in in, we’ve begun to turn our country around and get the economy moving again. 
Nine years after the Labour Party left government, unemployment is at its lowest level for 50 years with a record number of just under 33 million people now in work, and the highest employment rate since records began in 1971. What this means is that the number of people working has continued to grow, whilst the share of the workforce looking for work and unable to find it remains at its lowest level for over 40 years. In Camborne and Redruth, the unemployment rate remains below that of the national average with the total number of unemployed claimants for December 2018 totalling 1,245 or 3%. This is less than the equivalent UK claimant rate of 3.1%, and more significantly that of the national unemployment rate of 4%. 
Recent figures confirmed that the country’s debt is also continuing to come under control with the Government delivering the lowest yearly borrowing rate for 16 years and recent figures showing that overspending by the Government has fallen with it being at its lowest level since 2012 and £13.1billion less than last year. 
These statistics are no accident but the product of a series of reforms introduced by the government to improve our economy and a lot of hard work by everyone to achieve for their family. We’ve cut taxes, reformed welfare, made it easier for businesses to employ people, frozen fuel duty and increased the national living wage. As a country, we’re now growing faster than other EU nations, with the International Monetary Fund recently stating that they expect the UK to have the joint-fastest GDP growth among European countries in the G7 nations in both 2019 and 2020, further strengthening the case that Britain is a great place to live, start a business and raise a family. 
All of this is built on the foundations of the principles of fiscal responsibility and delivering a strong economy that works for everyone. Despite the current Brexit gloom felt by many, Britain is back on its feet, strong and growing stronger every day. Whilst there is still a long way to go, the progress that we have made demonstrates the flair, ingenuity and hard work of the British people, and the Government’s resolve to improving our economy.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Honouring the result of the referendum

Although people are weary of talking about Brexit, as we approach the critical moment of departure it does dominate everything in political debate and events are moving quickly. Difficult negotiations often go all the way to the wire and this one is certainly difficult. 
I have always thought that it would be better to come out of the EU in an orderly way with an agreement on a future partnership to ensure there was no disruption to trade. However, to deliver this required both the EU to act responsibly and for parliament to work towards finding a consensus that would end the Brexit argument and put our country back together. In the event, the EU dragged its feet and made the negotiation protracted and far more difficult than it needed to be. Meanwhile, parliament has so far stubbornly refused to bridge the differences in opinion that exist to secure a consensus. 
My hope has always been that a compromise around an option similar to Norway might eventually prevail. It would mean we became an independent country again, took back control of agriculture and fisheries and could have an independent trade policy while aligning some of our technical rules with our closest trading partner to facilitate trade. 
However, there is one group of MPs who refuse to consider such an option because they want to go further and another group who refuse to consider it because they still think that they can use a parliamentary ruse to frustrate the referendum result, block Brexit altogether and force people to keep voting until they vote to stay in. As a result, deadlock currently reigns, and the clock is ticking. 
If parliament cannot forge a consensus and the EU refuses to make concessions, then we have no option but to walk away without an agreement. In the weeks ahead, I will still argue for compromise and continue to offer an olive branch to other MPs who have dug themselves in to polarised positions. However, in the final analysis we must honour the referendum result. I strongly oppose those who argue that we should ignore a democratic vote and try to force a second referendum. I will not support cancelling Brexit nor holding a second referendum. 
Leaving without an agreement will cause some friction and it is difficult to predict the extent of this until we actually do it. The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. It won't be smooth, but we are probably as ready as we could ever be. People want us to get on with it.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Which way now?

As I write this column, Parliament has just rejected the Prime Minister's withdrawal agreement from the EU by a huge margin and we are about to face a day of debate in a confidence motion in the government. The one thing we know is that things can always get worse in politics! 
However, out of the current chaos it is still possible that a consensus could emerge. The current impasse has been driven by a number of factors. Firstly, the country remains deeply divided over the decision to leave the EU and parliament reflects that. Secondly, too much emphasis was placed on what was "negotiable" with the EU and not enough on what would gain support back home and as a result, our negotiators made too many concessions that stored up serious problems that were then exposed when tested to a vote. Thirdly, Jeremy Corbyn desperately wants a General Election and that objective has been put above trying to find a settlement that the country could unite behind. 
The default position now is that we leave the EU without an agreement and revert to what is called "WTO rules". The government has been actively planning for this contingency for two years since it was always a possibility. We are probably as ready as we could ever be. In my own department, Defra, huge amounts of work as gone into the systems that would be required for borders and for new documentation to accompany exports and to consider what our trade policy should be in a "no deal" scenario. However, it is likely that, even with this planning, there would be turbulence and problems that are hard to predict. Much would depend on whether the EU would behave in a responsible way and try to make things work smoothly or whether they would behave in a reckless way. We don't know exactly how smooth or difficult a no deal scenario would be. 
The ideal answer therefore, is for parliament to reach an agreement on an alternative approach and then force the EU to do something they are not always good at - making a decision quickly. The first thing that needs to happen is for Jeremy Corbyn to have his day trying for a no confidence motion in the government but hopefully get defeated. By the time you read this article you will know the outcome of that no confidence motion. If we have a General Election now, then nothing can be done for six weeks and if there were a new Labour government at the end of it, they would then immediately cancel Brexit and betray all those who voted for change in 2016. However, if Jeremy Corbyn loses that vote of no confidence, then it will focus minds and it is then it is possible that the Labour Party will be willing to engage sensibly in a discussion about what sort of agreement the they would support. 
The second thing we need to do is vanquish those who want to ignore the referendum result and force people to vote again until they learn to do what the political elites demand. There is no point at all having a second referendum if parliament lacks the integrity to honour the result of the first. A decision to ignore the 2016 referendum result would be deeply damaging to our country and must not be allowed. 
However, we then need to reach a settlement that reflects the result of the 2016 referendum and allows parliament and our country to make peace with itself. I have said before that there is now growing momentum behind a so called Norway option that would mean we leave the EU with immediate effect but delay our departure from the EEA agreement. Under this option, we would become an independent country again with our own agriculture and fisheries policy but we would remain in a free trade area with the EU. It was actually Britain that invented the idea of a European Free Trade Association as a rival to the EU back in the 1950s. We built an alliance of seven countries at a time when the EU only had six. With hindsight we made a terrible mistake by abandoning what we had created and surrendering our independence to the EU in 1972. Maybe in the end we will pick up where we left off but there will be more argument before we get to that point.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Supporting our local communities

Now that Parliament has returned from the Christmas recess, much of the focus and attention will shift back to the ongoing Brexit negotiations. Parliament will have a huge decision to take about what we do next as a country. There are great divisions over how or, for some people, whether we should carry out the democratic decision to leave the EU. Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. 
Closer to home however, there have been a number of good news stories that demonstrate the work that is being done to support charities and businesses. Recently it was announced that the Government would be providing a funding boost of £5million to support lifesaving charities that work hard all year round to help keep our waterways safe. This funding has come as part of the inshore and inland lifeboat grant scheme which has provided £1million for charities every year since 2014.
The two charities in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle that received extra funding were Hayle Surf Life Saving Club and Surf Live Saving Cornwall. The money will help to pay for new boats, safety equipment and other costs to support rescue teams. We owe emergency service workers a debt of gratitude for the courage, commitment and dedication they demonstrate in keeping us safe.
Further Government support has also been provided to the Royal Cornwall Hospital’s Trust by the Government in a bid to help deliver improved clinical facilities and backlog maintenance. £9.1million of extra Government funding comes as part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities. It comes on top of the £20.5bn per year extra funding for the NHS over the next five years - the longest and largest funding settlement in the NHS's history. The investment is part of the wider plan to provide better services for patients, integrate care better and renew aging facilities.
Supporting our local communities also comes in different forms. Recently, I attended an event in Parliament hosted by the charity Guide Dogs to raise awareness of discrimination against guide dog owners. In the UK it is against the law to refuse access to a disabled person accompanied by an assistance dog except in the most exceptional circumstances. However, a recent Guide Dogs survey found that three quarters of assistance dog owners reported that they had been refused entry by businesses. It’s important that as we work to make society more inclusive and accessible for all that we continue to support those in our communities, including those who are the most vulnerable.
My office is always open to help assist people with queries or cases that they may have. If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Friday, 4 January 2019

Happy New Year

The New Year has always been regarded as a time for hope and optimism. For some, it is a chance to turn over a new leaf, stop smoking or start exercising. For others it’s a chance to take up a new hobby or reflect on what’s happened in the previous year. 
The uncertainties that have dominated the Brexit negotiations mean that for some, we go in to this particular New Year with a degree of apprehension. Although we are in the eye of the storm right now and it seems impossible to see a way through, it is just possible that there could soon be an outbreak of consensus. I firmly believe however that 2019 will be a defining moment in our country’s history as we leave the EU and re-establish the rule of British law in many policy areas including agriculture and fisheries. 
But closer to home there are many reasons to be optimistic. In the campaign to protect our greenfield sites we have achieved a number of victories protecting these valuable green spaces, particularly at Menehay Fields and Troon. I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. Developments should also be done with communities, not to them. Planning decisions will always be contentious but by working together with residents and local councillors we can help protect what makes Camborne, Redruth and Hayle such a beautiful place to live. 
The work at Hayle Harbour has also continued to progress and earlier this summer I met the current owners to discuss their plans and to encourage them to move forward now that all the other work has been completed. Up next on the list is the other phases of the regeneration and the completion of the mixed development on the rest of South Quay and building the proposed flats and houses on North Quay. 
At Redruth there has also been some great work done as the new Archive Centre is beginning to take shape, and at South Crofty, discussions are continuing with the owners of the mine on their plan to build a new modern mine targeting tin and lithium. This is an exciting time for the mine and local community as we rejuvenate an industry that is close to the hearts of many in Camborne and Redruth. 
Finally, in Portreath, the local Parish Council are working with the Environment Agency and Cornwall Council to progress plans for a flood alleviation scheme. This is an important step forward for the local community as we look to protect homes and businesses in the face of the extreme weather which we continue to experience. 
2018 was a turbulent year in British Politics and that looks set to resume when Parliament returns. In the meantime I would like to wish everyone a happy and prosperous New Year and a break from the arguments about Brexit! 
If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ.

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Christmas

As I write this column, Parliament has just broken up for the Christmas period and the final Christmas Cards have been sent, ready to catch the last post in order to make it before Christmas. 
In an increasingly digital age, where a Facebook post or digital Christmas message has become the norm, it’s refreshing that the tradition of Christmas cards plays a vital role in keeping touch with old friends and family. Throughout life, there are always old friends who we are in danger of losing touch with. Sometimes because they have moved away, changed job or are preoccupied with other priorities. The annual Christmas card is often the final thread that prevents you from losing touch altogether, so time writing cards is time well spent. 
This year, as in previous years, I enlisted the help of local primary schools in the area to design my Christmas card. We certainly have many talented artists in this part of Cornwall! This year’s winning design was by Scarlet Tymms, and her as picked as the winner because of the wonderful design of looking through a window, seeing the festive holly and creating such a wonderful scene. 
At this time of year we should also acknowledge the extra work we create for the Royal Mail with many millions of extra items of post to process in just a few short weeks in December and our postmen go out in the worst weather that a Cornish winter can throw at them in order to make sure that families and friends keep in touch and receive their Christmas cards on time. 
It is also important to acknowledge that this time of year can often be a difficult and sometimes lonely time of year for people. We all get setbacks in life whether financial difficulty, a disability, problems with housing or difficulty getting the right benefits or support from the Council.
To make things worse, one of the frustrating things about modern life is that it sometimes seems hard to get through to anyone to explain the situation.  We all have experience of being held in a queue for a telephone helpline only to be told when we do get through that we are in the wrong place. 
I hold advice surgeries most weeks and also have a dedicated team who are here to help unblock problems.  At any one time we have about 300 live cases where we are trying to assist people.  We can't help in every case, but we always try our best.  Our offices in Westminster and Camborne can offer help and advice, and where necessary, pick up the phone on your behalf to try and get the problems sorted.   
If you have a problem that you need help solving, why not email us to provide some detail or drop into our Camborne office to arrange to meet one of our team. George Eustice can be contacted at george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk, by telephone on 0207 219 7032 or by appointment in our Camborne Office at 13 Commercial Street, Camborne, TR14 8JZ. 
2018 has been a turbulent year in British Politics and it looks set to resume in the New Year. However, now that Christmas is upon us, I would like to wish everyone a happy and peaceful Christmas, prosperous New Year and a break from the arguments about Brexit!