Thursday, 2 December 2021

The Omicron Variant

This week the Prime Minister set out a proportionate set of actions to tackle the newly identified Omicron Variant of Covid-19 that was first discovered in Southern Africa.  It includes new temporary and precautionary measures that will allow scientists time to better understand how the new strain of the Covid virus has developed. This was an extremely difficult decision.  None of us wants to return to the sorts of restrictions we have had to endure over the last two years, however, there are some uncertainties around the new variant, so we need to make the space to better understand it.
These measures include making face coverings will be compulsory in shops and other settings such as banks, post offices and hairdressers, as well as on public transport and requiring all travellers to take a PCR test when arriving back in the UK, on or before day two of their arrival. We have also placed South Africa, Botswana, and other African nations on the red list as a precaution to prevent unnecessary spread of this variant.
The main concern is that the Omicron variant contains a large number of spike protein mutations as well as mutations in other parts of the viral genome. Urgent work is ongoing internationally to fully understand how these mutations may change the behaviour of the virus with regards to vaccines, treatments, and transmissibility. Vaccines remain our best line of defence and experts remain confident that our current vaccines will provide protection against the new variant, but the extent of this continues to be investigated.
However, our extensive vaccination programme and test, trace and isolate system continue to be the most effective way of reducing transmission, along with practicing good hygiene, keeping spaces well ventilated, and wearing a face covering in enclosed or crowded spaces. Over 16 million people have already come forward for their booster jabs, and we have seen a fall in hospitalisations and deaths. All adults who have not yet received their first or second dose of the vaccine, or those who are eligible for their booster should be encouraged to come forward to help protect themselves and others.
Both the Prime Minister and the Health Secretary have been clear that these measures will only be in place for as long as is strictly necessary and not one day more. If it proves to be the case, as many initial investigations indict, that the Omicron Variant of COVID-19 is no more deadly or significant that the Delta variant, these restrictions will be reversed. As such, the government has committed to a review three weeks from now.
Cornwall has been particularly vulnerable throughout the pandemic, and with the existing pressures on our health service we have to act with caution when considering the risks on new variants. However, it is important to understand that vaccination is our best way out of this pandemic and put us firmly back on the road to normality. As such, I strongly encourage you to have both your first and second vaccine and your booster when called up.

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Male Mental Health

 As we emerge from the pandemic there are many challenges that the government is currently grappling with.  There is a degree of turbulence in international supply chains, a labour shortage, work to be done to help children and young people catch up with their education, and a backlog of operations caused by NHS being focused on Covid over the last two years.

Another emerging challenge relates to mental health.  It is clear that two lockdowns have led to heightened anxiety, more loneliness, and more cases of depression.  Doctors’ surgeries locally are currently under intense pressure and much of the new case load is due to mental health related issues.

We humans are social creatures.  Friendships and the company of others are important. It is scientifically proven that spending quality time with loved ones and friends in a social setting has a considerable positive impact on our mental health. While we may not fully understand both the physical and economic impacts of lockdown for some time, it is clear that spending months confined to home and being unable to socialise and meet friends and family has put a strain on some.   On a more optimistic note, there is also a lot of evidence that people are extremely resilient, schools report that most children have rebounded very quickly as they have returned to school and society has largely picked up where it left off.  People are socialising again, going out for a drink with friends and have returned to work.  

It has long been recognised that men are more likely to be affected by depression than women because they are less likely to discuss their worries, thoughts or concerns with others and can bottle up negative thoughts. Often fear is the most prohibitive factor in men not having these discussions; fear of judgement, fear of losing control or fear of being weak. This makes it even more important that as a society we work hard to address this inequality and cannot ignore the issue of male mental health.

In the UK, men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women with men aged 40-49 having the highest suicide rates. Furthermore, only 36% of referrals for NHS psychological therapies are for men. Men are more likely to go missing, end up homeless, become dependent on alcohol or drugs and suffer from clinical depression. Men are often expected to be the breadwinners and to be strong, dominant and in control. While these aren’t inherently bad things, they can make it harder for men to reach out for help and open up. Some research also suggests that men who can’t speak openly about their emotions may be less able to recognise symptoms of mental health problems in themselves, and less likely to reach out for support.

While this may paint a gloomy picture, it is important to highlight the important work that many charities such as MIND do to promote male mental health. One group, called Strong Men, does brilliant work supporting men that have suffered from a bereavement. There are also efforts of organisations such as Movemeber that has men all over the UK growing moustaches to raise awareness for men’s mental health and prostate cancer.

Tragically, we have recently seen a rise in suicide throughout the pandemic including here in Cornwall. Such incidents are often not predicted and can take friends and family by complete surprise.   There are no easy answers to the complex factors that influence mental health but getting a focus on wellbeing and trying to nurture a culture that promotes it in our society is going to be increasingly important.  

Thursday, 18 November 2021

Remembrance Day 2021

Last Sunday was Remembrance Day and I joined many others attending services in both Hayle and Illogan. Last year, the lockdown meant that parades and services could not be held so it was good to see such a strong attendance return again this year on the 100th Anniversary of Remembrance Sunday.  Once again local Cadets, Scouts, Brownies and other youth groups like the Illogan Football Club and Hayle Life Saving Club were out in force.
This year also marks the 100th year since the creation of the Royal British Legion, which was first created in May 1921 as a voice for the ex-service community- incorporating several other organisations that were created following the end of the First World War. The organisation was granted a royal charter in 1925 and has enjoyed consistent patronage from members of the Royal family ever since.
The scale of sacrifice in our country is apparent through the names listed on memorial stones up and down the land and both the First and Second World Wars and all the wars since touched every community and virtually every family.  I take one of my Christian names from Charles Botterell, my Great Grandfather who fought in the First World War and suffered ill health as a result of his shrapnel wounds.  At the service in Hayle, the names of the fallen from the town in each of the world wars were read out which was powerful but drove home the scale of loss.
The Royal British Legion is best known, aside from Remembrance Day, for creating the Poppy Appeal. The red poppy was chosen as the flowers grew quickly in the war-torn region of Northern France and Belgium. The poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ refers to the poppies growing among the graves of fallen soldiers. Ever since, the flower has been a symbol of remembrance for many, showing that the individual has chosen to give a donation to the Royal British Legion and support their vital work for those that have served in our country’s armed forces.
Charities such as the Royal British Legion, or others such as Help for Heroes or Combat Stress, play a vital role in our country supporting veterans and highlighting issues such as PTSD or other mental health conditions resulting from serving in combat. The issues they highlight directly led to the government establishing the Office of Veterans Affairs in 2019 and the Prime Minister giving the clear commitment to make this the best country in the world for veterans to live in. I firmly believe that it is our duty to ensure that those who served our country continue to receive the very best possible care.
We also have a number of local veterans’ groups that do good work supporting former service personnel including Turn to Starboard, Surf Action and Active Plus. These charities do vital work with those suffering from the effects of PTSD, physical injury or who have difficulty re-adjusting to civilian life. This gives the veterans a chance to take up new activities and learn new skills; be that circumnavigating oceans or learning to surf alongside men and women who have shared similar experiences and trauma.

Thursday, 11 November 2021

COP-26: Protecting Nature

Over the past two weeks, world leaders and Ministers have been in Glasgow at the COP 26 meeting, working on new agreements to tackle climate change.  I was there for four days over last weekend to lead some of the discussions on forests and nature recovery and took part in sessions on forestry and sustainable agriculture.
We have made some good progress.  More than 120 world leaders signed up to commit to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030, in an agreement known as the Glasgow Leaders Declaration on Forest and Land Use. Those leaders represent over 90% of the world’s forests – from the northern forests of Russia to the tropical rainforests of Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Crucially, it is also being backed up by £8.75 billion of public funds and £5.3 billion of private investment. Forests are the lungs of our planet, absorbing around a third of the global CO2 released from burning fossil fuels every year. We have been losing them at a terrifying rate.  This has to be the moment to reverse this trend, protect our forests and restore degraded land.
We have put nature at the heart of our COP presidency, and we have worked closely with countries around the world on this agenda. For example, Costa Rica has done incredible work in restoring natural ecosystems and it is a case study of how economies can benefit from the revival of nature and biodiversity.
Against a backdrop of the most significant and ambitious commitment to forests in a generation, we asked countries to commit to radical action on nature, food, and farming and help people adapt to the impacts of climate change. Of course, land can be a great source of emissions, or a great carbon sink, depending on how we manage it.
We have secured a consensus around a number of key actions contained in a new roadmap around the sustainable commodities trade, which will put the world on a pathway to ensure that the link between deforestation and the production and trade of agricultural commodities does not put pressure to forests. We have already seen 28 governments endorse a statement committing to deliver this.
It is something that I have been working on for the last eighteen months since the UK has co-chaired the dialogue with Indonesia. We’ve had the open and honest conversations needed with countries that represent over 90% of global exports of palm oil, 80% of cocoa and 85% of soya – as well as the major consumer markets of these commodities.
It is encouraging that we are seeing countries committing to transform agriculture and food systems.  We have also seen countries coming forward to make other commitments with 90 per cent of the world’s economy now committed to getting to “net-zero” greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of the century.  As the Prime Minister said earlier this week, we will have a chance to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead, become its custodian. Let’s hope that a final agreement offers some good progress.

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Protecting our Forests

This week the COP-26 Conference is taking place in Glasgow. This is an important moment for both the UK and the international community in the battle against Climate Change. One of our key objectives from this conference is to secure greater recognition and more commitments from every country towards nature-based solutions to contribute to tackling climate change. In particular, we were seeking to get an agreement to halt the loss of forestry around the world by 2030 and get as many countries as possible committed to that. 

On Tuesday, we announced that we have managed to get the commitment made by over 100 world leaders, representing countries containing more than 85% of the world’s forests, to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. This is a hugely important breakthrough. Five days ago, I would have probably been apprehensive about whether we would have landed this agreement on forests, however, we have managed to find an agreement among a large portion of the world’s nations which is very positive. 

This agreement on forests is backed by £14 billion of public and private money that will mainly help to protect the Amazon, and tropical forests in Indonesia and the Congo Basin as well as other significant forests around the world. The money will support activities in developing countries, including restoring degraded land, tackling wildfires, and supporting the rights of indigenous communities. The declaration specifically recognises the rights of those communities, which should help in hitting the 2030 target, as they tend to be effective at protecting forests under their control.

Gaining the commitment of countries like Russia and Brazil is a huge step forward for the global effort to halt and reverse the effects of climate change. An area of forest the size of 27 football pitches is still being lost every minute around the world, so it is vital we engage with these large countries to help keep the global temperature below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels. 

Locally, we must recognise the brilliant work of organisations like the Eden Project and the work they have done to promote conservation both within the UK and across other countries. As part of the COP-26 summit in Glasgow, the Eden Project have announced that they will be opening a site in South America, in Colombia’s Meta region to further promote their conservation efforts. It is great to see this important project grow and expand as the work they carry out has significantly contributed toward climate change awareness. 

It is clear we have a great deal to do further before we overcome climate change, however, this agreement is a significant step forward. 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, 28 October 2021

Supporting our Carers

When we consider the role of carers, we often think about residential care homes or nursing homes but there are millions of people who are unpaid carers for loved ones and family members, and it is important to consider ways of helping to support these individuals.  One in ten adults in the UK provide unpaid care for a friend or family member, and these people should be supported and recognised in the same way as NHS staff for the invaluable work they do.  There are also many young people who often help as carers for their parents in the home and their role should be especially recognised.

A few years ago there was a cross-Government National Carers Strategy to look at what more can be done to support existing and future carers. After a lengthy consultation with carers themselves, the Government announced a two-year programme of support. This includes support for young carers, effective action to help carers balancing their caring and employment responsibilities and ensuring that health and social care services are responsive to their needs.

Locally, there are several groups that work to support and promote the work of unpaid carers. Promas is a local community run company that provides free courses for unpaid carers in Cornwall. The key focus of their work is on helping train carers to be able to deal with the health conditions they are managing and also, crucially, to teach carers how to have regard for their own wellbeing and make time and space for themselves. If a carer cracks under the strain, then no one benefits. The courses are a great way of offering support to carers who can often feel isolated.

I visited Promas prior to the pandemic and learnt more about the variety of courses they offer covering things like dementia, mental ill health and managing stress. The group do a great job of making people feel welcome, important, and understanding the difficulties which people experience.

Another group I have visited previously is Shared Lives which is an independent charity that provides a range of services for people with additional needs but in a home environment. The central feature of the model is that adults with some special needs join a family and become lodgers in a carers home, rather than being placed in a more formal care setting. It can be a really powerful approach with a homely ethos.

As we emerge from the pandemic the Government is committed to ensuring young carers are not left behind. The Carers Action Plan, published in 2018, outlined a number of measures for young carers, which included steps to better identify young carers, measures to safeguard vulnerable children, and improvements in educational opportunities and outcomes.

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.