Thursday, 30 May 2019

Why I’m backing Michael Gove

Like many people, I felt sympathy for Theresa May when she stood down. She was a decent and hardworking individual and her heart was in the right place but she was simply overwhelmed by the task before her, had lost her authority, couldn’t get things done so there was no alternative but for her to stand down. In politics, life goes on and Conservative MPs must now turn their attention to selecting a new leader and Prime Minister.
The European Elections were not even supposed to be happening and when the results came through last weekend they were a reminder, just in case we needed it, that the Conservative Party faces annihilation in any future General Election unless we have first delivered the decision to leave the European Union. Anything that precipitates an early General Election, before Brexit is delivered would leave our Party in tatters, Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister and our country facing a bleak future.
So, as we face this leadership election, we need someone with the resolve and the ability to unite our party and our country and get Brexit delivered. That leader must deliver the biggest and most complex peacetime negotiation our country has every faced and must do that against the backdrop of a hung parliament and a divided country. They must immediately reverse the low morale and division in the Conservative Party caused by two years of drift. They must grab this sorry situation by the scruff of the neck and fix it. Time will be an enemy. There will be no summer break for whoever takes over, just hard graft.
It is not enough for the next leader to “respect” the 2016 referendum result - we have tried that in Theresa May and it didn’t work. Nor is it enough for them to just believe in Brexit. The next leader must respect it, believe in it and, crucially, have the wherewithal to deliver it. I am backing Michael Gove because I think he is ready to lead, ready to unite our party and ready to deliver for the British people.
He exercises judgement, he has an eye for detail and he has the conviction to deliver Brexit. Michael Gove led the Leave Campaign which was one of the most successful campaigns in recent history. Working alongside him in Defra I saw how hard he applied himself to ensure that the opportunities opened up by the leave vote were not squandered. He energised the department on his arrival injecting momentum and pace in everything he did. He weighed up arguments carefully but always made decisions in a timely way.
Michael Gove has always been passionate about the Union of British nations and in my time working with him has shown a particular interest in ensuring that every part of the UK gets the support they need. I think that for those of us representing constituencies in places like Cornwall, Scotland or Wales, of all the candidates standing he is the most supportive of an agenda to help address regional disadvantage. As we confront this most serious of challenges as a country, I believe Michael Gove has what it takes to lead us out of the EU successfully and the future of both our country and our party depends on that happening.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Openness and transparency in our planning system

As an MP, one of the main issues that I’m frequently contacted about is that of local planning applications and enforcement cases. These can often be simple matters pertaining to a constituent’s property or larger more controversial planning applications for major new housing developments. 
I have always argued that we should prioritise brown field development before greenfield so that we can protect our green spaces and countryside but also force developers and planners to apply themselves to thinking about to how regenerate our urban environment and reduce dereliction. Because Cornwall is a narrow peninsula, our landscape, beautiful though it is, is also particularly vulnerable to being blighted by inappropriate development so we need to tread with caution. 
For the majority of cases I encounter, the matter falls outside of my remit as an MP since it is a matter for the Council, however we will always try and help wherever possible and often advise them to contact the Council’s planning department for further information. 
I have always been of the opinion that developments should also be done with communities, not to them. Planning decisions will often be contentious but by working together with residents and local councillors we can sometimes identify a way through. It needs people to be open and engaging to work. 
I was therefore surprised to hear that there has been a move by the Council to reduce the openness and transparency that our planning system requires. Until recently members of the public were automatically informed when a planning application they had commented on is ‘called in’ for a decision before a planning committee. This provided members of the public with the chance to attend the meeting and make representations to committee members in advance if so desired. Now the Council has stated that they will no longer inform people automatically when a case is called in for decision. The result is likely to be that more people who have expressed a concern about an application will feel bounced and ignored. 
The Council have claimed that this measure has been introduced to save costs, but this reasoning does not look very convincing since the council are still prepared to produce hard copies of agendas for cabinet members and it ought to be possible to use email where possible but letter where necessary. That way people would still be informed but there would be a gradual transition to a paperless model. 
At a time when trust in our democratic institution both local and national is being questioned by so many, we should be trying to increase engagement and transparency. 

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Creating a new shared prosperity fund

Last week I took up a position on a newly formed All Party Parliamentary Group for the South West. Supported by the Local Enterprise Partnership in Cornwall and Isles of Scilly as well as Devon, Somerset and Dorset, the aim is to promote coordination for the economic benefit of the westcountry. 
Being a peninsula like Cornwall creates unique economic challenges. Our industries have to transport their goods further to market which adds costs. Recruiting staff can be more of a challenge for business. A lack of profitability means that average wages can be lower. When it comes to further transport infrastructure, the further west you go the fewer MPs there are left making the case for investment, and government departments like the Treasury often fail to understand the dynamics of local economies. For all of these reasons, the case for Cornwall and economic investment in Cornwall has to be made repeatedly and consistently and the new Parliamentary Group we have established will help to do so in a sustained. 
One of the most important emerging policy areas that we need to get right is in the sphere of the new Shared Prosperity Fund, which will replace EU structural funds when we leave the EU. I campaigned to leave the EU and I want us to decide our own regional policy and have the freedom to design our own grant schemes that really work for places like Cornwall. However, with the power to set our own policies of economic regeneration comes the responsibility to get it right. Whitehall has largely abdicated responsibility for economic development in poorer areas in recent years and there is a danger that it will fail to step in and occupy the space left through a lack of knowledge and experience. 
This government has a clear priority to develop more balanced growth across our country and that is why there will be a new Shared Prosperity Fund. The whole purpose of the new fund is to support industry in poorer parts of the country and to ensure that we see new industries and better paid jobs in places like Cornwall, rather than just seeing prosperity collect around the Home Counties. That requires a culture change in some Whitehall departments like the Treasury. They should not just favour the financial services industry in London at the expense of the rest of us. As a country we need to learn to value industries that make things and produce balanced growth across our nation. 
As the new fund is developed, I want to ensure that it is directed to areas based on their needs rather than administered as a centralised pot in London and directed to projects in already wealthy areas that are sometimes deemed to give a higher return on the Treasury’s economic models. The EU funds were welcome but were also cumbersome and overly restrictive. They did not allow support for industries like tourism which were seen as out of fashion and they did not generally support harbour infrastructure. Applicants often contorted their bid in order to fit arbitrary EU criteria rather than do what they knew would work and be able to feel confident that they could access the support they needed. We can do better if we design our own schemes but only if we force Whitehall departments to take their new role seriously.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Recognising the importance of Climate Change

In recent weeks there has been much coverage of the climate change protests led by various groups across the country. We’ve all seen the rise of extreme weather events that have at times had a devastating impact on communities not just in Cornwall but also across the country, and we have to work hard to ensure that we have a world to pass onto our children and grandchildren. 
Much of the work that we have been undertaking to climate change has been going on for some time now. Last year the government published a new 25 year environment plan which set out ambitious plans to tackle the scourge of plastic waste in our oceans and a new way of supporting our countryside and environment so that we help habitats recover and see more farmland birds and other wildlife in the future. Since then we’ve become a world leader in banning single use plastics and microbeads, extending the 5p plastic bag charge, tackling the illegal wildlife trade and committing overseas aid to help developing nations combat plastic waste. 
As a country we have also worked hard to reduce emissions on our roads and are becoming less reliant on fossil fuels for our energy supply, instead turning to renewable energy sources. Recently it was announced that we’ve now gone a record 139 continuous hours without coal. Now 40% of all electricity is generated by renewable sources. But there is clearly more that can be done to help better protect our country and environment and that is why the government is bringing forward its Environment Bill. 
At its heart the Bill will create a new framework for environmental governance, demonstrating our commitment to maintain environmental protections as we leave the EU. A world leading governance body will be established – the Office for Environmental Protection – which will have powers to hold government and public bodies to account on environmental standards. The bill will also implement the 25 year environment plan into legislation setting out how we will recover nature, replenish depleted soils, rid seas and rivers of the rubbish damaging our planet, cut greenhouse gas emissions, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants, and develop cleaner, more sustainable energy sources. 
In the other bills that I worked on such as the Agriculture bill and the Fisheries bill we also worked hard to include a number of environmental protections in them that will preserve our sectors for years to come. Clearly, we have made progress over the last few years to tackle this important issue, and we can be proud of the work that we have done. But there is still more to be done to tackle the challenges that we face and that is why I and colleagues from, across the house will continue to work hard to deliver on climate change.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Trevithick Day

On Saturday I attended the annual Trevithick Day celebrations in Camborne. It was a cold and blustery start but by lunch time the sun was up, and the crowds came out to celebrate the achievements of Richard Trevithick.
Outside my office this year was the engine that has travelled all the way down from Staffordshire as part of the True 600 Challenge which is raising money for mental health charities including the local Invictus Trust. The challenge is being organised by Martin True in memory of his son Ben. So far, they have raised close to £20,000 and donations can be made via the Facebook page for the True 600 Challenge. 
As a pioneer Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive and epitomised the contribution made by Cornwall to the Industrial Revolution. Back in 2010, when I was first elected to Parliament, I made Richard Trevithick the main focus of my maiden speech. I found a wonderful statement from him saying that, although he had been criticised for trying new principles and was left in severe financial hardship as a result of his pioneering endeavours, he knew in his own heart that he had brought forward new ideas that would be of boundless value to his country. Despite all the setbacks he had in life he never stopped inventing. For many years, Trevithick's achievements were not really recognised which makes it all the more important we celebrate them now. 
It was the efforts of pioneers like Trevithick that put Cornwall on the map as a leading centre for industry and innovation. Whilst towns like Camborne and Redruth experienced some decline after the closure of the tin mines and Holmans, new industries and technologies are beginning to establish themselves into our communities which offers the prospect of higher paid employment in the future.
Work to reopen South Crofty mine continues and Cornwall has some of the largest deposits of lithium in Europe. The metal is extremely important in the production of batteries for emerging technologies like electric vehicles. We also have a growing computer software industry clustered around Pool and the historic expertise in drilling continues through a number of companies specialising in oil and gas exploration. 
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. That is starting to change.