Thursday, 19 May 2022

Digital Skills and Connectivity

One of the ways we can raise wages and incomes in the area is by promoting more apprenticeships and locally Cornwall College which I attended have always been an important part of the community.  Earlier this month, the new ‘Skills and Post-16 Education Act’ became law. This aims to change the post-16 education and training landscape, opening new avenues for people both young and old to learn new skills and to help drive growth across the county.

In the past, many people in Cornwall who wanted to pursue a higher income found they had to leave the county but that is starting to change with new industries in computer software and precision engineering offering better-paid jobs locally.  The changes the government have introduced place employers at the heart of the skills system, by requiring colleges and other education providers to work with local employers to develop skill plans and ensure local skills meet local needs.

A few years ago, Cornwall College hit a difficult patch and was losing out to some other colleges like Truro College on some of their courses, but they have bounced back stronger than ever.  In March, this year they received a glowing Ofsted report, and they are now rated good across the board and the leadership and passion of the staff were singled out for praise.  It is great to see my former college performing so well and this is such an important local asset for our community and for young people in the area.

From the end of May, colleges are participating in a new ‘Basic Digital Skills Course’ that will be a five day, fully funded connectivity and digital skills course. This course uses hybrid learning and covers topics such as digital basics, online safety, communicating online, completing online application forms, and using the best job search tools available. Participants will receive their own free tablet at the end of the course and will gain a free Microsoft Office skills qualification, which can then be put on their CV.
The first course will be delivered in Pool in June, and further sessions will be throughout the Duchy over the summer in other locations across Cornwall. To book your free place or for more details call 0333 015 0699, email hello@peoplehub.info or visit https://peoplehub.info/getconnected/.

As we recover from the considerable impacts of the Pandemic, it is vital to recognise that while many things will return to normal, many things will not. The way we work has been fundamentally changed with many more people working from home or using technology much more often in their day-to-day lives. It is important that we offer the right training to ensure people can take advantage of these changes and no one is left behind in our recovery.

Thursday, 12 May 2022

The Queen’s Speech

On Tuesday, it was the State Opening of Parliament in Westminster. This marks the formal start of the parliamentary year and the Queen’s Speech sets out the government’s agenda for the coming period. This was the first full State Opening since 2019 due to the constraints of the Pandemic so it was positive to be back as in previous years.  However, it was also the first in over sixty years that the Queen was unable to attend herself, with Prince Charles delivering the speech on her behalf.

This year, the Queen’s Speech focused on some 38 different Bills but at its heart was an agenda to get the country back on track after the pressures of the pandemic and to continue to implement the agenda we were elected on in 2019.  We want to see a country where conditions are perfect for a high-wage, high-skill economy that reaches all parts of the United Kingdom, including Cornwall.

There were several bills aimed at delivering for the Cornish economy and improving life chances including the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill, the Schools Bill, the Transport Bill, and the Renters Reform Bill. Economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle is my number one priority so it is very positive to see that the Government is developing a vision for how we can improve all areas not just focusing on the large cities such as Manchester or London.

I particularly welcome the new powers that will be given to Cornwall Council through the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill which will allow them to levy a high rate of Council tax on 2ndhomes in Cornwall if they are furnished but not occupied as a sole or main residence. This will serve two purposes: allow for more investment and income for Cornwall Council and reduce the burden of second homes on the overall housing stock in Cornwall.

Given there are currently around 72,000 homes that have been empty for more than two years in England, the revamped system goes much further than existing rules, where homes can lay dormant for up to two years before Cornwall Council can act.

In addition to having the power to apply greater premiums at a level of their choice, Local Authorities will enjoy flexibility on how to spend the funds raised and can decide to prioritise keeping council tax bills low for local households. This will also help deliver the infrastructure that communities really need, including genuinely affordable housing, social care, and children’s services.

In many villages across Cornwall, especially in coastal areas, we have seen much of the housing stock being bought up by 2nd homeowners or turned into holiday homes. This takes much of the community out of these areas leaving few options for local people to live in the areas they often grew up in. This policy is an important step in the right direction by giving Cornwall Council the powers they need to address the problem.

Thursday, 5 May 2022

Trevithick Day 2022

Last Saturday, there was the traditional parade and celebrations in Camborne to mark Trevithick Day. There was a large turnout this year to celebrate the achievements of one of Camborne’s favourite sons, which is welcome particularly given the more muted celebrations we saw last year for the 250th anniversary.

 

Back in 2010, when I was first elected to Parliament, I made Richard Trevithick the 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.  For many years, Trevithick's achievements were not really recognised which makes it all the more important we celebrate them now even if we can’t do so in person.

 

As a pioneer Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive and epitomised the contribution made by Cornwall to the Industrial Revolution. 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 Holman’s, new industries and technologies are beginning to establish themselves in our communities which offers the prospect of higher-paid employment in the future.

 

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.

 

Since I was first elected twelve years ago, I have made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority so it is very positive to see that the Government is developing a vision for how we can improve all areas not just focusing on the large cities such as Manchester or London. The recently published Levelling-Up White Paper, for example, set out a new vision for Cornwall within the United Kingdom by inviting us to be one of the nine counties invited to negotiate a new ‘county deal’. This will give local leaders more control over areas such as transport, skills, and infrastructure and is part of the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times. This is further boosted by the £23.7 million ‘Town-Deal’ package for Camborne, which is supporting projects such as the ‘Fibre Park’ tech hub and other projects regenerating areas in the town centre which will make a genuine difference and are a welcome boost for the town.

 

This is being further built on by the confirmation last week that the Government will match the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will match the previous complex, rigid, and bureaucratic EU Structural Funds, pound-for-pound. My hope is that we can start to see the funding really deliver on projects that substantially improve both quality of life and maximise the potential for growth and prosperity in our communities.


Thursday, 21 April 2022

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund

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 even 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.

Back in 2019, the Government gave a clear commitment to replace the cumbersome and overly restrictive EU structural funds once Brexit was complete with our own UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). This was intended 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. 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.

Last week, the Minister for Levelling-Up confirmed the promise made in 2019: the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will match the previous complex, rigid, and bureaucratic EU Structural Funds, pound-for-pound. This will begin with a £132 million share for Cornwall of the full £2.6bn packages for 2022/23 and increase by 2024/25 once the final EU funds have been wound down, at which point the UKSPF will match the average of previous EU funding each year.

This new funding will be tailored to fit Cornwall’s needs and bring additional powers and more investment that is needed to help regenerate our communities. Cornwall Council has recently announced their ambitious plan for sustainable growth and regeneration called Prosperous Cornwall 2050. This plan sets out the Council’s plan to tackle the housing shortages in Cornwall, as well as expand our transport infrastructure, and make Cornwall a prime environment to start and grow a business.

In addition to the UKSPF, the recently published Levelling-Up White Paper set out a new vision for Cornwall within the United Kingdom by inviting us to be one of the nine counties invited to negotiate a new ‘county deal’. This will give local leaders more control over areas such as transport, skills, and infrastructure and is part of the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times. This is further boosted by the £23.7 million ‘Town-Deal’ package for Camborne, which is supporting projects such as the ‘Fibre Park’ tech hub and other projects regenerating areas in the town centre which will make a genuine difference and are a welcome boost for the town.

Since I was first elected twelve years ago, I have made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority so it is very positive to see that the Government is developing a vision for how we can improve all areas not just focusing on the large cities such as Manchester or London.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Cornwall’s Bid for the New HQ for Great British Rail

Making public transport work effectively in Cornwall has always had its challenges due to the fact that we are a peninsula and there are rural areas that make maintaining the right frequency of buses difficult to achieve.  However, some positive changes have been made in recent years.  We have seen the introduction of the new fleet of Tinner buses which has marked a major step forward in the quality of our bus network, the introduction of more frequent train services every thirty minutes and a renewed attempt to get better integration between the bus and train timetables so that people can take the train for part of the journey and then connect to a bus. Costs of fares are also an issue and a barrier to people using buses more so this week there was a new pilot announced which makes bus travel more affordable. 

The government has also decided to make some quite fundamental changes to the way that our railways operate.  Over twenty-five years ago the railways were privatised with a system of competitive franchises introduced and a body to manage the railway infrastructure.  Private investment has led to some important improvements with the number of passengers travelling by rail increasing by about a third, but the model of privatisation introduced all those years ago by John Major also had many drawbacks.  Railtrack, which was supposed to operate the network, was not a success and had to be replaced by Network Rail.  Some of the franchises ran into financial difficulties and were returned.  In order to maintain the quality of services, the government often had to be quite prescriptive which then stifled innovation. 

So last year the government announced that it would bring the railways back together to end fragmentation and bring to an end John Major’s franchise model.  There will be a new organisation called Great British Railways which will plan timetables and services and ensure that tickets can be used on any route.  Rather than long term franchises, where a single company had the concession to run services on a particular section of the railway, in future, Great British Railways will commission private organisations to run services on its behalf on shorter term “passenger contracts”.  This will enable them to plan a holistic service but make use of private companies who can bring innovation and efficiency to aspects of running the national railway network.  It’s a model that has some similarities with the way that Transport for London operate services in the London area currently.  It enables you to have the benefits of private investment while regaining the coherence of a fully integrated national railway network.

As part of the Levelling Up agenda, the Government has also launched a competitive process to decide the location for Head Quarters of Great British Railways and, last week, Cornwall formally submitted a bid to the Department for Transport for Cornwall to be the new home of Great British Railway’s new HQ. This bid is being led by Camborne given its important role in the industrial revolution and the development of the steam engine and, most notably, the ground-breaking work of Richard Trevithick, the inventor of the first steam locomotive.  The proposal includes several potential sites near Treswithian or near Tuckingmill, with a potential for a visitors’ centre inside the town centre. There are 42 applicants across the country with a shortlist produced in May and the winner being announced in the summer after a public vote.  



Thursday, 7 April 2022

Bus Back Better

In a peninsula like Cornwall, there will always be challenges to building resilient public transport infrastructure. However, some good progress has been made in the last few years. We have invested to improve our railways and there is now a regular half hourly service running through Cornwall which has led to a significant increase in passenger numbers

In the past, I have written about the plans to introduce Britain’s first SuperBus network here in Cornwall. The network was part of the government’s plans to reverse the impacts of dwindling services in local towns and drive forward a bus revolution that will improve access for everyone.

The pioneering investment will direct support towards more frequent public transport in the countryside, introducing new apps that will improve the information available to commuters whilst also ensuring that the bus fleets will be cleaner, more environmentally friendly, and better integrated with our train network.

In March of 2021, the Government published the new Bus Back Better plan. This was a post-pandemic National bus strategy that set out how we would fundamentally overall our transport system with a view to making it more accessible. As part of this announcement, Cornwall was awarded £23.5 million to develop and launch a Bus Service Improvement Plan for the county.

From next Monday, 11th April, Cornwall Council will be launching a new pilot under the Bus Service Improvement Plan called ‘Make Big Savings by Bus’. This new scheme will fundamentally change the fare structure of buses in Cornwall, saving the average consumer up to 1/3 on the cost of their journey. For instance, a journey between Camborne and Redruth, or a ‘short-hop fare’ will be reduced by up to 20%, while a longer journey, such as Camborne to Truro will see a reduction of around 40% in some cases.

Furthermore, the Transport Portfolio holder, Cllr Phillip Desmond, and his team have been working hard with all the bus companies across Cornwall over the last 6 months to create a new day pass for unlimited travel across Cornwall that works on any bus service. This new pass will cost just £5 a day or £20 a week and allow for limitless travel on the bus network across the Duchy.

In addition to this new bus pilot, this week the Secretary of State for Transport has announced a further £13.3 million for Cornwall to expand services, which is part of a wider £7 billion package to help improve public transport outside of London. It aims to make buses more reliable and greener. 

Since being elected, I have prioritised economic regeneration and green recovery. Investing in and improving the public transport system for Cornwall is a significant step forward in ensuring that our local communities are supported and connected. These announcements should encourage more people to use our growing bus network, supporting both businesses and residents alike, and driving regeneration across the whole Camborne and Redruth area.


See here for more information: https://www.cornwall.gov.uk/media/xojf2whr/tfc-bus-service-improvement-plan-web.pdf 

Thursday, 31 March 2022

Opportunity for All

Now that Covid restrictions have gone, I have the chance to resume visits and meetings with our local schools. I will never cease to be impressed by the commitment and dedication of all our schools and the work they do to give the next generation the best possible start in life.  

Last Friday, I visited the Nexus Campus of Camborne Science and International Academy. The ‘Gifted Programme’ is unique in Cornwall and provides state-funded specialist education to young people with a particular talent for science and maths. During my visit, I met a number of students, some who had recently come into the school as well as others in the sixth form who were contemplating their next step to university.  We discussed a wide range of issues including how the Covid lockdown had affected study, sport and friendships.  Schools worked hard during the lockdown to try to offer online study and, while all schools will find there is some catching up to do, the remarkable thing is how resilient young people are and how quickly they have bounced back. 

On Monday this week, Nadhim Zahawi, the Secretary of State for Education, announced the ‘Opportunity for All’ Schools White Paper that is setting out how the Government intends to level up education. Literacy and numeracy are the building blocks of world-class education, and the White Paper sets out key targets and pledges that the Government is seeking to achieve. These include having 90% of primary school children being expected to achieve Key Stage 2 reading, writing and maths by 2030 and see the national average grade for GCSE English and Maths rise to 5 by 2030, from 4.5 in 2019.

These targets will be achieved through the introduction of several measures including requiring schools to offer a minimum of a 32.5-hour school week by September 2023 and increasing Ofsted inspections. These ambitious proposals are further expanded by the additional announcement that the Department for Health and the Department for Education will launch a new consultation with a view to developing a stronger national system for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), supporting teachers, parents and most importantly children. This will ensure that no child is left behind in our recovery from the Pandemic and we build back an education system stronger and more resilient than before.

The Opportunity for All White Paper and the new consultation for a stronger national system for children requiring SEND or alternate provision is further building on the announcement from February that Cornwall was one of the 55 areas in England selected as an Education Investment Area. These policies will make a real difference to children across the country.

Since I was first elected, I have made clear that regeneration and job creation have been my top priorities and that includes ensuring that we are opening new routes for people of all ages to learn new skills and enhance their productivity. As such, I look forward to seeing how these new policies will make a tangible difference for all our children in Cornwall, ensuring they have the best start in life.

Digital Skills and Connectivity

One of the ways we can raise wages and incomes in the area is by promoting more apprenticeships and locally Cornwall College which I attende...