Thursday, 21 October 2021

A tribute to Sir David Amess MP

The appalling murder of the Essex MP David Amess has caused great shock and sadness in Westminster and across the country over the past week.  There were some moving tributes in Parliament from some of those closest to him, after which we all attended a memorial service at St Margaret’s Church next to Westminster Abbey.

David had been an MP for many years since 1983 in fact.  I can remember that when I first became an MP in 2010, he was the sort of person who was always there to offer helpful advice and support as we all tried to find our feet and learn the ropes.  He was very approachable and unassuming and he had a sunny optimism and a beaming smile, with constant good humour that could lighten the mood on any occasion.  He was undoubtedly one of the kindest people in politics.

As a Minister in Defra, I got to deal with him quite often because of his lifelong passion for animal welfare issues and we would often discuss policies such as banning live animal exports, tightening the laws around licensing for those who breed and sell puppies and improving slaughterhouse regulations.  Next Monday, I will introduce a new Bill to Parliament that will bring forward the ban on the export of live animals.  He would undoubtedly have been there, in the Chamber, offering support and encouragement from a couple of benches behind me in the normal way and we will all feel his absence.

A few years ago we saw the tragic murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in very similar circumstances and I attended the memorial event in Camborne Town Square alongside the local Labour Party.  Despite sometimes profound differences in opinion, everyone in politics in this country is united in their unshakeable belief in our democracy and all parties were united in their grief again this week.

David Amess’ murder has inevitably led to discussion around security for MPs and the coarseness and aggression directed to people in social media and online.  My view is that we need to keep these things in perspective.  This was ultimately a senseless murder.   Our focus should be on the violence that we see from a tiny number of individuals and how we address that.  In recent years we have sadly seen a rise in violent incidents against the police, against healthcare workers or those working in other public-facing roles such as job centres.  Sometimes these are linked to mental health problems or to drug or alcohol addiction.

Our democracy is designed to ensure that MPs are grounded by what they see and hear from the constituents in the seat they represent.  Surgeries, which are where an MP hears directly about the trials and tribulations that people are wrestling within their life and then tries to offer a helping hand are crucial to making sure any government is responsive to what is actually happening on the ground.  In the absence of this, things become far more remote and out of touch.  We should make every effort to ensure that we retain that connection. 

RIP Sir David Amess MP – 1952 - 2021 

Thursday, 14 October 2021

GPs and Dentistry in Cornwall

As we emerge from the pandemic and life gets back to normal, there are pressures on multiple fronts to contend with.  The lockdown restrictions around the world have caused significant turbulence in global supply chains from shipping to energy.  Our NHS was on the front line of dealing with the pandemic, however, as that threat recedes, other work that was necessarily affected during the Covid response has returned to the fore.  In addition, months of isolation and staying at home during the pandemic has placed burdens on families and relationships and we are seeing a significant increase in people suffering from anxiety and other mental well-being problems.

As a result, many GP surgeries are struggling to cope with the increase in demand.  Most GP surgeries in the Camborne and Redruth area are reporting an increase in demand for appointments of around 30 percent and, in order to manage, they are having to triage calls so that those who definitely need a face to face appointment can receive one, while others with a query about medication or where a nurse could book tests are being dealt with differently.  Face-to-face appointments are crucial in medicine for many conditions.  For instance, a doctor can only really detect a condition like appendicitis if they are able to physically examine a patient.  That is why the government was so clear that face to face appointments needed to be reinstated as quickly as possible.  However, as doctors surgeries try to get back on an even keel given a big uplift in demand, we also need to work with them to manage this spike in demand.

Another longstanding issue relates to access to NHS dentists.  Ironically, we have a dental school in Truro and train many dentists every year but getting them stay in Cornwall is proving more difficult. Waiting lists for dental treatment are not uncommon in Cornwall. Prior to the Pandemic, 52% of adults in Devon and Cornwall recorded as not seeing an NHS dentist in the previous two years. This means that when patients do visit their dentists, it is often for more complex treatments that take longer to solve. 

Some dentists have pointed to changes made to contracts under the last Labour government that make it less attractive to work in some areas where need is greatest and this needs to be looked at.  It is also the case that recruiting GPs to work in parts of Cornwall has also been a challenge.  In part this is because the traditional route into General Practice, where a qualified GP becomes a partner in a local practice is less attractive to many today.  Doctors often want more flexibility and less commitment to one area or to a single job.  A portfolio career where they have two or more part time jobs suits many better and we need to recognise these social changes and reconsider the way the model operates.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

Party Conference

This week saw the political conference season draw to a close with the Prime Ministers speech to the Conservative Party Conference.  It has been good to get back to holding these conferences properly again after eighteen months when we have all had to get used to virtual meetings online and webinars.
During the pandemic we all had to get used to having meetings on Zoom or other teleconferencing systems.  It had some advantages which we are likely to keep and made it easier to get more people on a meeting quickly because they didn’t need to travel, so you could bring people in from around the country.  However, we humans are social creatures and there is no substitute for meeting properly.  At Conference, you have chance encounters, bump into old friends, have conversations and people can exchange their thoughts or ideas.  In meetings, having an audience in a room makes a huge difference.  You can read the room in a way that’s not possible online and discussion and debate flow better.
The big theme of the Conservative Conference has been how we Build Back Better as we emerge from this pandemic.  The phenomenal success of the vaccine rollout means we have been able to emerge more quickly from the restrictions than most other countries and that, in turn, means that we have the fastest economic growth in the developed world.  People have returned to pubs and restaurants with vigour to meet old friends, as normal, which has been a big boost for that sector.  In Cornwall, the tourism sector has had an incredible busy, with a somewhat stressful summer, but the result has been a welcome boost to our local economy.
However, as the world emerges from the pandemic there has been some turbulence in international supply chains.  The surge in demand for gas in Asia has driven up gas and energy prices worldwide, while a disruption to shipping routes over the past year means a shortage of some goods and, finally, labour shortages in many sectors of our economy is causing issues.  
Nine months ago some economists were predicting that there would be 4 million unemployed by now.  Thankfully that never transpired and instead we have 1 million job vacancies.  The high demand for skilled workers is leading to a welcome, overdue correction in the labour market with wages rising for the lowest paid.  However, we will never take risks with the security of our food supply chain and that is why we have also introduced some temporary visas to ensure that the skilled workers are available for the turkey industry and for food lorries in the run up to Christmas.
As I write this, the Prime Minister will be putting the finishing touches to his speech which he is due to deliver in a few hours’ time.   I am expecting a big focus on the need to Build Back Better and greener after the pandemic.  For DEFRA, that means making sure that the important of the environment and nature if factored into all our thinking in future policy. As a Cornish MP, I will also be watching closely to see what he has to say about the “levelling up” agenda so that places like Cornwall get the support they need to attract new industries and better paid jobs and to create opportunities for the next generation. 

Thursday, 30 September 2021

City of Culture Bid

 Cornwall has a significant place in our nation’s cultural history and, as such, we will be submitting a bid for the four-yearly title of UK’s City of Culture for 2025. We have a unique culture and identity, with some six to eight million people making up a worldwide Cornish diaspora and the vast majority of them can trace their family roots back to the Camborne and Redruth area.

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, and it’s great to see these great industrial towns leading the way in promoting our rich and wonderful history. Camborne and Redruth play an important role as two of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution. In its prime, Redruth, in particular, was at the heart of the tin mining industry and there were many feats of engineering developed in Cornwall at that time. We exported mining expertise around the globe from Australia and South Africa to California, South America and Mexico. The Redruth-based Kresen Kernow Cornish Archive shows this well, providing an excellent facility to record our history and store important artefacts. 

Ever since I was first elected, I have made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. In the past, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career upcountry 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. By hosting events like the G7 and the opening stages of the Tour of Britain, we have confirmed our place as both a cultural and a political force within the United Kingdom, my hope is with the forthcoming submission of the City of Culture Bid this will be recognised.

Thursday, 16 September 2021

Geothermal Power in Cornwall

In Cornwall, we are privileged to have access to a beautiful landscape with a wealth of resources and have a rich history of leading the world in new and innovative technologies. At the height of the tin mining era, Camborne and Redruth were once some of the wealthiest towns in the land. However, as the tin mines closed, the fortunes of our local towns fell behind other parts of the country, but this is changing. 

There are several businesses across Cornwall that are working hard to create new, green industries that make use of the natural resources in a sustainable way. Recently, Cornwall hosted world leaders as part of the G7 summit, which gave us a very positive opportunity to promote some of the leading work that Cornwall does on green energy and the environment. Some thirty years ago, Cornwall was home to the first-ever wind farm in the UK, now plans for locating offshore wind in Hayle are swiftly taking shape and we are leading the country in the development of Lithium mining and Geothermal Energy. 

The first deep geothermal power project in the UK is here in Cornwall at United Downs. Geothermal Engineering Ltd (GEL) is a small Cornish company which has successfully proved the concept by drilling two deep wells, one to bring the naturally hot water to the surface and the other to deposit the used fluid back underground. Geothermal electricity is known as baseload, because it is generated 24/7 regardless of the weather at the surface, balancing out the peaks and troughs of other renewable energy sources. 

While the geothermal powerplant at United Downs is expected to be supplying electricity for the National Grid by the end of 2022, GEL have just announced that following their initial success, they are looking at opening four new sites. These new prospective sites are located in Tolvaddon, Manhay, Mawla and Penhallow.

Climate change and environmental concerns more widely have risen up the agenda in recent years. Fifteen years ago, David Cameron made it a central part of his agenda. When the Conservatives came to power, we brought our environmental agenda with us. The UK has made significant progress over the last decade and is the best performing G20 country. We have reduced carbon emissions by about 44% so far and we have ambitious policies that will achieve more in the years ahead. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act which sets targets for emission reduction. We have met the first two carbon budget targets and we are on course to meet the third in a couple of years’ time.

However, everyone recognises that there is more to do to achieve our targets later this decade, particularly with the UK hosting the COP-26 summit in Glasgow later this year. Cornwall has led the country on innovative technology in the past, we can be proud that we are continuing this tradition by helping the whole country by cutting emissions, and establishing a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.

Thursday, 9 September 2021

The Return of Parliament

This week Parliament has returned with some key arguments on the ongoing difficulties in Afghanistan and a big debate about how we fund adult social care.  It is the return of Parliament in more than one sense because it is also the first time in over a year that Parliament has been sitting properly without social distancing. 

During the lockdown, like every other working environment, there were restrictions with strict limits on how many MPs could be in the chamber at any one time, electronic voting and social distancing measures.  The return of voting in the old fashioned way with MPs passing through voting lobbies to be counted as a reminder of what we lost during the lockdowns.  The ability to bump into people and have open, chance conversations about issues or problems other MPs want to raise; the ability to attend events and proper meetings of the Cabinet around a table rather than on a zoom call.  Our democracy relies on those personal interactions and while we have all made things work as best we can over the last eighteen months, there is no substitute for meeting people in person.

The issue that has dominated debate this week has been the new proposals on how to fund social care in old age.  This has been a growing problem over many years.  Under the current rules, those who end up in residential care homes at the end of their life have to pay the full cost of their care until they are down to their last £23,000.  Many have to sell their home or use all their life savings and it has been seen as unfair for years.  Under the new proposals, any contribution will be capped at £86,000 and there will be a taper so that those with assets worth less than £100,000 will get help with the costs.  To fund the cost of care in old age, there will be a new levy attached to National Insurance Contributions that will be ring-fenced for the NHS.  New taxes or contributions will always cause some controversy but people also recognise that, if we want to tackle difficult issues like social care costs, we need to be realistic about how to fund them.
The return of parliament meetings properly has also created the possibility for events and engagement with external organisations again.  This week I spoke at an event organised by the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England on the theme of hedgerows in the farmed landscape and how we can create new ones and better manage the ones we have.  When hedges were torn down in the post-war years, we lost a lot of nature along the way. Hedges are probably the single most important ecological building blocks in our farmed landscape today and if we manage them sensitively and create new ones, the impact on nature could be significant which is why financial support aimed at hedges will be a key feature of our new agriculture policy.

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Tackling Plastic Pollution

Throughout lockdown, our beaches, parks and green spaces have been a source of comfort to so many of us. But all too often we see plastic litter carelessly strewn aside, to the detriment of both wildlife and the natural environment. According to one estimate, approximately 5,000 items of marine plastic pollution have been found per mile of beach in the UK. That is why we are going further to tackle the scourge of single-use plastics blighting our countryside and our oceans.

We’ve made progress in recent years. We banned plastic microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, we introduced a 5p plastic carrier bag charge – which cut plastic bag use by 95% in the major supermarkets – and increased it to 10p alongside an extension to all retailers, and we have banned the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds.

I am determined to see us go further though. That is why we will consult this autumn to ban further single-use plastic items, including single-use plastic plates, cutlery and polystyrene cups. Every year, it is estimated that each person uses a staggering 18 single-use plastic plates and 37 single-use plastic items of cutlery. Plastic cutlery in particular is devastating for turtles and sea birds, often causing fatal internal injuries. 

Polystyrene is equally damaging. Largely made up of air, expanded polystyrene can travel a long way – blown along by the wind, or floating on water. Its very structure means it breaks up into pieces easily and all too often is eaten by fish, birds and marine mammals who mistake it for food. 

That is why it is so important that we use alternatives, and make good on our commitment to preventing all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042. Many businesses are already taking action through the UK Plastics Pact, which is a collaboration between businesses, supported by the Government and coordinated by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme). One of the Pact’s targets is to eliminate problematic or unnecessary single-use packaging through redesign and innovation.

Our Environment Bill, which is currently completing its passage through Parliament, gives us a raft of new powers to make it easier to place charges on single-use plastics that threaten our ecosystems, and reform our waste system to ensure that we can step up our war on plastic pollution and litter.  

This year, we have consulted on our proposals for an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging, where companies will be expected to cover the full cost of recycling and disposing of their packaging, incentivising them to meet higher recycling targets, as well as a deposit return scheme for drinks containers and the introduction of consistent collections of household waste in England. We have also published further guidance on the introduction of a plastic packaging tax on the packaging that does not contain at least 30% recycled content. All these measures will drive up reuse, refill and recycling rates, reduce the amount of plastic waste created and enable us to manage the waste we do generate more effectively.

The measures that we are outlining today will build on the progress that we have already made, as we up the ante in our fight against plastic pollution.

Thursday, 26 August 2021

Supporting the RNLI

A considerable impact of the Pandemic has been the restrictions on people’s ability to go away on holiday this summer. This had led to a dramatic rise in those seeking to holidays in the UK with Cornwall being one of the number one destinations. We have seen perhaps one of the busiest summers on record with thousands of people coming down.  

It has been a demanding time for those working in hotels, pubs and restaurants as a shortage of labour combined with record demand create pressures.  Many restaurants and hotels find themselves fully booked and staff have worked incredibly hard, but it is also an important opportunity to help that sector get back on its feet after the lockdown. 
There have also been added pressures on our roads.  Heavy traffic on the main roads is normal but we have also seen an increase in the number of drivers who are unfamiliar with our narrow country roads and how to navigate them!  The increase in visitor numbers also means pressures on the police and the NHS.  Some major events like Boardmasters have contributed to localised increases in covid infection among the young.
Our beaches have also been extremely busy and very crowded. This has put considerable pressure on those helping ensure holidaymakers and locals alike stay safe and aware of the dangers that the sea can pose. The RNLI has gone above and beyond to protect those who enjoy the Cornish Beaches this summer.
Figures released this week show that RNLI lifeguards in the southwest responded to 163 incidents and aided 208 people over last year’s August Bank Holiday weekend.  While the region’s volunteer lifeboat crew launched 27 times, aiding 40 people and of those saved two lives. As we approach the August bank holiday weekend, this year, the RNLI expect it to be one of their busiest on record.
While the weather is forecast to be pleasant and the surf conditions settled across the coming weekend, it’s important to remember the beach and especially the sea, can be an unpredictable environment. That’s why when you are planning your trip to the coast, the RNLI recommend you should visit a lifeguarded beach and swim between the red and yellow flags.  RNLI lifeguards are operating on over 90 beaches across the south. Locally, these include Godrevy Beach, Gwithian Beach, Porthtowan Beach among others. Locally, Cornish lifeguards will also be following the progress of former Cornish Lifeguard, Melissa Reid, who is competing at the Paralympics this year in the Paratriathlon.  We all wish her the very best of luck!
Despite the pressures that increased visitor numbers have created, it is, of course, also a good problem to have in one sense.  The success of the vaccination programme has meant people can get out again, meet friends and family and get back to life as normal and that is good to see.
If you would like to support the RNLI in their work, The South West Lifeguard Appeal has now been launched and is aimed at raising money to support the training of SW Lifeguards. You may donate by visiting: or scanning a QR code from the lifeguards at the beaches. 

Thursday, 19 August 2021

Afghanistan and Redruth Skate Park

The current events in Afghanistan are deeply distressing.  The decision by the US to fully withdraw its remaining presence earlier this summer left its allies, including the UK, with little option but to do the same.  The speed at which the Afghan government has collapsed has been a surprise.  They were well trained and equipped after many years of support but it is clear that there was a collapse in confidence in their ability to stop the Taliban in the absence of other support.  

The war in Afghanistan was difficult and hard-fought.  In 2006 when I was an adviser to David Cameron I went to Kandahar and Camp Bastion and the professionalism of our troops and the task they were undertaking was extraordinary.  The real focus now must be to do all that we can to help those Afghans who supported us during those difficult years.  We have said we will take 20,000 refugees but much more urgent is to use the next days and weeks to evacuate as many of those people as we can to ensure their safety. 


Redruth Skate Park 

For a number of years, town councillors in Redruth have wanted to create better facilities for young people and the idea of a skate park has been frequently mooted.  A few years ago there was an idea of doing something at Gweal-an-Top and interest in the concept was tested by having a temporary mobile skate park set up.  The idea has finally come to fruition as we recently received the welcome news that the Redruth Skate Park project has been awarded an additional £48,000 from the SUEZ Communities Trust.  

Redruth Town Council and Redruth Skatepark Association have been working on the skatepark project at East End playing field for some time and were very pleased by the new allocation of funding which has got the project across the line. Work on the site began on the 2nd of August and is progressing well so far. 

The new facility will mean local people, and in particular young people, will have a great facility within their own town rather than having to travel to Truro as many currently do. The skate park will be accessible and suitable for use by scooters, BMX bikes as well as skateboarders and roller skates. The design that has been created will permit the future addition of a large Skate bowl area once funding has been secured. Meanwhile, through separate funding, pathways will be created to ensure that the playground and new skatepark are fully accessible. Skateboarding is a developing sport that has recently featured at the Olympics that were held in Japan. In particular, Team GB saw success with 13-year old Sky Brown who won a bronze medal in Skateboarding and Charlotte Worthington who won a gold medal in Freestyle BMX, another sport that has quite a strong following in this part of Cornwall.  

It is great to see this new facility progressing in Redruth which I am sure many young people will take advantage of to get outside after spending the last 18 months in lockdown. 

Thursday, 12 August 2021

A-Level and GCSE Results

This week students across the country have received their GCSE and A-Level results. The last 18 months has been particularly difficult for children and young people with them having to adjust and cope with school being shut and working from home. This is why the government took the difficult decision not to hold exams this year and allow teachers to decide the student’s final grades which will allow the strain that has been put on young people to be rewarded fairly.
Over the course of the pandemic, our local schools have done an amazing job making sure that they could offer a safe environment when they were open.  Timetables were adjusted to try to reduce the disruption of students moving between classes and ending up in crowded corridors, with some putting more time between lessons so that teachers could move from one class to another more easily to reduce the movements of students. However, this only lessened the impact that the pandemic had on young people and many have still struggled considerably.
The decision to close schools earlier this year did not just have the obvious effects around disruption to exams and teaching. It is much more profound than that.  Children in both primary schools and secondary have been separated from friends.  Children’s birthday parties couldn’t happen as they normally would and should.  School sports events did not go forward. We, humans, are social creatures. Friendships and the company of others are important. Forming those bonds and friendships is a crucial part of growing up, whether it is in the formative early years as children start their first years as infants at primary school, or whether it is in those tricky teenage years as young people wrestle with all the insecurities and concerns that accompany that stage of life.
Given the impact that the last year has had on many young people in terms of welfare and their education, the Government has made every effort to ensure those who have fallen behind are able to catch up. An important element of this is the Government’s Education Recovery Plan, which is helping schools deliver long-term catch-up support, so every child can reach their full potential.
As part of our long-term education recovery plan, we will deliver six million, 15-hour tutoring courses, targeted at pupils most in need, and provide training and development for teachers. In the next stage of our plan, we are reviewing the impact of time spent in school and college on helping students catch up. We will also be investing a total of more than £3 billion in additional catchup support, so we can help every child who has fallen behind. Our new £1.4 billion packages of support builds on the £1 billion Covid Catchup Fund announced last year and the £700 million we are providing for an extensive catch-up programme, which includes a £302 million Recovery Premium to help schools bolster summer provision and support pupils most in need from September.
The government is clear that, as we return to normality and learn to live with Covid-19, we are going to have to pay special attention to help all those children and young people who have been affected by the lockdowns to get back on track. They are all going to need support to overcome the trauma of this episode and we will work hard to ensure that this support is there.

Thursday, 5 August 2021

Reducing Flooding Risk

In recent weeks, we have seen images of catastrophic flash flooding in Germany, Belgium, China, and India. Closer to home, Storm Evert caused substantial disruption in the Cornwall and the wider South West last week and, earlier this year, Storm Christoph caused significant damage to homes, businesses, and communities across the North of England. My thoughts are with all of those affected by these devastating events.

Climate change means more extreme weather, a higher risk of flooding events and coastal erosion. All too often, we are seeing households suffering repeated flooding – something this government is determined to tackle. Following our recent call for evidence to look at better protecting and better preparing our communities, we will be consulting this autumn on ways to strengthen the assessment of local circumstances when allocating funding. This will include looking at ways to ensure that our flood defence investment programme can further benefit frequently flooded communities. 

We have already made progress. Between 2015 and March this year, the Government invested £2.6 billion into flood defences. This has led more than 300,000 home being better protected. In areas like the Calder Valley, this has made a huge difference. Areas that were damaged by previous bad weather were spared this year, thanks to this investment.  

But there is more to do. Over the next six years, we are doubling the amount of money invested to £5.2 billion. Last week I announced that 1,000 flood schemes across England will receive over £860 million in 2021/22 for building conventional walls and embankments, improving flood water storage, and harnessing the power of nature to slow the flow of water and reduce risk. 

More locally, this new funding includes further funds for both the Portreath Stream Flood Alleviation Scheme and the Copperhouse Gate Refurbishment in Hayle to help deliver each project. Over the years, Portreath has suffered particularly from flooding and storm damage to its sea defences and I welcome the news that the Environment Agency will be commencing work on the new alleviation scheme around September 2022 which aim to offer additional protection the residents impact by this flooding in the past.

Across Cornwall, the aim is to have an additional 275 extra homes given additional protection against flooding and costal erosion. This is all part of the governments wider Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management Investment Plan for 2021 to 2027, which sets out how new flood and coastal schemes will better protect 336,000 properties by 2027, helping to avoid £32 billion in wider economic damages and reducing the national flood risk by up to 11 per cent.  At a time when we are seeing more extreme weather both here in the UK and abroad it is vital that we continue to invest in these vital schemes.

These are just some of the steps we are taking in our comprehensive plans, all designed to give us the best chance of adapting to climate change. It is important that we act right across the system.  We will sadly never save every home or business from the effects of flooding, but it is my sincere hope that many more can be protected in the years ahead.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Green Recovery Challenge Fund

This week we have announced the outcome of the 2nd round of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund. The Fund was established late last year to help kickstart our green recovery and increase access to nature by creating and retaining thousands of green jobs in areas including tree planting, environmental education and the restoration of damaged habitats, such as peatlands and wetlands.

This additional funding will help support even more environmental projects to help tackle the nature and climate crisis. There are 90 innovative projects, which will each receive a share of £40 million, spanning over 600 sites from North Northumberland to the tip of Cornwall. The successful projects range from new ‘insect pathways’ in our countryside and towns, to tree planting projects in deprived urban areas – contributing towards the Government’s commitment to treble tree planting rates across England by the end of this Parliament. 

Locally, two projects have been successful in Cornwall. The Cornwall Wildlife Trust is set to receive over £618,000 to support building a greener Cornwall through jobs and nature’s recovery. Furthermore, South West Lakes Trust is using its share of over £160,000 to launch an ‘It’s Your Outdoors’ campaign which will support communities connecting with their blue and green space.

In the first round of the Green Recovery Challenge Fund, the Cornwall Seals Research Trust received over £75,000 to help support their work protecting seals. Since receiving the funding the trust used the funding to expand their work and hire more staff to grow the size of their operation. The UK is home to 38% of the entire world’s population of grey seals and 30% of the European subspecies of common seals, yet these precious mammals face an extensive list of threats including climate change, toxic pollution, entanglement, collisions with vessels, plastics and other marine debris. Of these threats, disturbance from human interaction is a significant and growing problem. The funding from the Green Recovery Challenge Fund has allowed the trust to expand their ‘give seals space campaign and prevent more decline in the Cornish Grey Seal population through education and conservationism. 

One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important. Once this pandemic is over, we will have an opportunity through our new policies to protect our wildlife and leave the environment in a better state for future generations - turning the tide on the decline that we have seen in recent decades.

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Lockdown, Sport and Mental Health

 On the 19th of July, we reached the 4th step of the Roadmap out of lockdown, which the Prime Minister laid out back in February. This is a cautious, but considerable step forward toward normality. While we may not fully understand both the physical and economic impacts of lockdown for some time, it is clear that spending months locked inside being unable to socialise and relax properly puts an added strain on our mental health.

Young people, in particular, have been severely impacted by the lockdown restrictions since the start of the pandemic. The decision to close schools earlier in the year did not just have the obvious effects around disruption to exams and teaching.  It is much more profound than that.  Children in both primary schools and secondary have been separated from friends.  Children’s birthday parties can’t happen as they normally would and should.  School sports events are not happening.  We humans are social creatures.  Friendships and the company of others are important.  Forming those bonds and friendships is a really important part of growing up, whether it is in the formative early years as children start their first years as infants at primary school, or whether it is in those tricky teenage years as young people wrestle with all the insecurities and concerns that accompany that stage of life.

Recently, the Government’s Mental Health in Education Action Group committed to making mental health and wellbeing a central part of education recovery plans in education settings across England. Since its launch earlier this year, members of the group have taken feedback on areas to improve support for pupils and students as well as staff working in all areas of education, reflecting on the main challenges facing them including the increase in eating disorders and self-harm among young people and how to help staff manage their own mental wellbeing. 

In practice, this means the Government has committed £7 million for the Department for Education’s Wellbeing for Education Recovery programme, to facilitate training and resources for staff in schools and colleges. We have also created resources for students in higher education, collating the guidance, tools, and services available to support their mental health, raising awareness of the support available and empowering individuals to seek help.

In addition to this, I welcome the launch of The Terry Pryor Trust that will be taking place on August 21st. The Trust’s purpose is to provide opportunities for young people in the Redruth community and beyond to participate in and benefit from the social, physical and developmental aspects of rugby union. Terry’s contribution to not only Redruth Rugby club in particular, but also to Cornish rugby, in general, was substantial. He had a career spanning over 50 years as a player and coach making 55 appearances for Cornwall.

Sadly, Terry Pryor passed away in March 2020 leaving a huge hole in our community. However, because of Covid restrictions, it was not possible to properly plan and recognise his achievements in the game, until now. On Saturday, August 21st Redruth RFC will be hosting ‘The Terry Pryor Day’, which will include a Redruth versus Cornish Pirates training game that will get underway at 3pm. Admission to the Recreation Ground will cost £10 and 50% of gate money will go to The Terry Pryor Trust and support young people’s mental health. I am certain it will be a great day and a fitting tribute to a remarkable sportsman. 

Thursday, 15 July 2021

The Fourth Step of the Roadmap: Cautious Reopening

This week the Prime Minister announced that we would move the fourth and final step of the roadmap out of the lockdown restrictions.  It means that from the 19 July, the remaining legal restrictions introduced to help tackle the Covid pandemic will be removed.  This includes legal requirements on social distancing, mask wearing and final legal restrictions on the numbers of people allowed to meet in groups.   
It is important that we exercise caution in order to try to dampen the spread of the virus over the next couple of months.  We know that infection rates are rising sharply at the moment, especially among the young who have not been vaccinated but we also know that they are least affected and rarely develop any serious symptoms.  The confidence to move to this final step comes from the fact that the vaccination programme has been a huge success and this has almost (but not quite) broken the link between infection rates and hospitalisation.  If we can’t remove the legal restrictions now in the summer when the schools are on holiday, it is harder to see when we ever could.  However, not everyone was vaccinated and the vaccine is not 100 percent effective so there will still be an increase in hospital admissions over the next eight weeks. 
The move to Step four was delayed by four weeks to ensure that the maximum possible number of people could be vaccinated.  Nearly 7 million vaccines have already been administered during this delay. By 19th July, over two thirds of adults will have received two doses and every adult will have been offered a first dose. All adults should take up the offer of two vaccine doses, to protect themselves and others against Covid-19. Thanks to the continued success of our historic vaccination programme, the link between infections and hospitalisations has been severely weakened, with an estimated 8.5 million infections and 30,000 deaths prevented in England alone.
Data from Public Health England suggests that one dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is 80% effective against hospitalisations with the Delta variant, increasing to 96% after two doses. The vaccination programme will continue, and all adults will be offered two doses by mid-September. Dependent on final JCVI advice the booster programme will begin from September, offering additional protection to the most vulnerable. 
The change next week will be a huge relief to many, particularly those in the hospitality sector who can begin to return to more normal levels of service. From the 19th of July, all remaining closed businesses, and venues such as nightclubs will be able to reopen. All capacity limits at sporting, entertainment, or business events will be lifted.  Venues such as pubs, restaurants and bars will no longer be required to provide table service or follow other social distancing rules.
While there are reasons to be cautious, there are also reasons to be hopeful and optimistic too.  While the Government’s approach will remain vigilant as we seek to control the rate of infection, we will continue to take steps that can help get people back closer to life as normal as swiftly as possible.

Thursday, 8 July 2021

Devon County Show

Normally around this time of year, I and many other local people would be attending the Royal Cornwall Show. Sadly this year, due to the pandemic it has been cancelled. I have many childhood memories of the Royal Cornwall show. When I was growing up my father was one of the many volunteer stewards who gave up his time each year to make the event possible so it was a shame we were all unable to attend this year.

However, while the Royal Cornwall show was sadly cancelled, It was great to return to the Devon County Show last week. We’ve learnt a lot from Zoom, but I’m glad to be rid of it. Farming is real, it happens outdoors, and demonstration projects that you can see in action on the ground are so important. 

It is an exciting time for agriculture here in the South West. We are developing our future agricultural policy and in doing so we want to support the choices that individual farm enterprises make. That is why we have already announced plans for an exit scheme to help farmers who want to leave the industry to do so, and it is why we are developing new grants to support farmers who want to invest in their business, reduce their costs and improve their profitability.  

Last week, we published details of the first options under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, which will open to farmers in spring next year. We’ve decided to start with soil health since that is where everything connected with successful farming starts. Enhancing the natural health and fertility of our soils is one of the most important things we can do to start making our farming more profitable and sustainable. 

In recent years, we’ve seen a renewed interest in ancient knowledge - the knowledge around what makes healthy, fertile soil. Farmers instinctively understand this - we know that soil is more than a growing medium, we know that soils are alive, and farmers know that the extent to which they have humus and organic matters in the soil is key to plant health.

Through our soils standards under the Sustainable Farming Incentive, we could save as much as 60,000 tonnes of CO2 each year from 2023 to 2027, increasing to 800,000 tonnes per year by 2037. Our initial sustainable farming incentive offer will also include a Moorland and Rough Grazing Standard designed to help us assess the condition of the moorlands and work out how best to invest in their restoration through sustainable farming practices.

To incentivise a high take up of the new scheme, we are adopting a new approach to payments that is more generous than the old EU schemes so we can get the levels of uptake we need to achieve our environmental goals. We have also reviewed payments in Countryside Stewardship so that we can increase the number of farmers providing environmental outcomes as we move towards the rollout of our new offers.

I have said many times that we want the move from the old system to the new to be an evolution, not a revolution. We recognise the dependency on area payments that the old EU schemes created and the distortions it caused on land rents and input costs, so we will unwind those distortions with care over seven years. However, it is also my hope that farmers who embrace these new schemes will discover that healthy soils and healthy livestock lead to higher profitability.