Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Reforming the CAP

Is a Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? Is Dolmio a soup or a vegetable? I suspect that most of us don't really care but the European Parliament has hours of fun arguing over issues like this, usually because how such products are defined can affect VAT or taxes of some sort.

As long ago as the 70’s, James Callaghan bemoaned the fact that he was tired of going to Brussels to argue about the size of rear view tractor mirrors. Earlier this summer I was elected to the select committee on the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and last week we went to Brussels for a briefing ahead of an Inquiry we are about to launch into CAP reform.

The Common Agricultural Policy takes up about 43 percent of the EU's total budget. For as long I can remember, the CAP has always been followed by the word “reform” when discussed which suggests that changing it is a slow process indeed. In the early days the CAP was seen as a success, ending the shortage of food in the aftermath of the war but then it came under fire for creating so called "butter mountains" and for a controversial market support mechanism which distorted world trade.

In the 1990s it was slowly reformed and market support systems were taken away and direct subsidy payments were paid to farmers instead. Finally, ten years ago the direct subsidy payments made to farmers were switched to a simpler "single farm payment" based on land area rather than what was being produced on the land to discourage intensive farming. More support also went into schemes to enhance the environment and wildlife.

But guess what? Now people are worried that we don’t have enough food again. The butter mountains are long gone. With a rising world population, food security has become a pressing issue and farmers, who have often been derided as subsidy junkies, are suddenly needed again. One of the most fascinating statistics I came across last week was that 35 percent of farmers are over 65 years of age and only 7 percent are under 40. What happens in twenty years time? I think we need to do more to support and encourage young farmers in Britain today.

I have long held that the expansion of the European Union from the original 12 member states to 27 means that we need to significantly streamline the role of the EU. It is currently a failing institution and has become so big that the countries can rarely agree and struggle to get anything done. There are two possible solutions to this problem. The solution favoured by the European Commission is to undermine the power of member states even more and centralise power. But a better solution is to cut back the role of the EU so that it does much less but does what it does much more efficiently. We will find out in the year ahead how strong the mood for change is.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Let's regenerate Hayle

Really big decisions are always difficult, usually contentious and often divisive. The easy thing for a politician to do is keep their head down and try not to get involved. But the right thing to do is to study the detail, exercise judgement and do what’s in the best interests of the people you represent.

I grew up near Hayle and my family have lived in the area for over four hundred years. We have seen the town built from scratch and parts of it fall back down again. All my lifetime they have talked about regenerating Hayle Harbour but, over the years, too many people have bottled the big decisions and so nothing has happened. I want that to change.

If it was easy to regenerate Hayle then it would have been done years ago. It isn’t easy so we need to be prepared to compromise to get a result. We should also respect differing views. Earlier this summer the Mayor of Hayle, John Bennett, was criticised for expressing a personal opinion at odds with the Town Council. I didn’t agree with that criticism. People should be free to say what they think. I respect John Bennett and weighed up his arguments carefully before reaching my own conclusion.

There are four rival plans for a supermarket in Hayle. Three are out of town and one, the ING proposal, would be in the centre at the Foundry end of South Quay with restaurants and other mixed development on the rest of the quay. I think that out of town supermarkets have done a lot of damage over the last twenty years. So if we are going to have a supermarket in Hayle, then let’s at least put it where it will bring new life in to the town rather than bleed more life away from the town. The South Quay proposal would be connected in the most literal sense possible with a footbridge over the harbour to Biggleston’s, one of Hayle’s oldest shops.

If all these supermarkets want to locate in Hayle, I also feel strongly that we should demand something in return. That is why I pushed to get serious negotiators on the other side of the table from ING early this summer. It is also why I have insisted that a community cinema should be part of the plan because Councillor Bob Amos’ Pioneerium project is the brightest idea to come out of Hayle for years.

The ING option on South Quay gives Hayle at least £6 million more than any rival plan because it repairs the harbour walls and delivers the necessary flood defences before anything can happen at all. I have nothing against Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s or ASDA. Each has something different to offer and any one of them could locate on South Quay. They should start thinking about this now. Hayle was built by people with the courage to take big decisions. Now it’s our turn, so let’s seize the day.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Clamp down on the wheel clampers

Last year I became one of the thousands of victims of private car clamping firms. I had actually just stopped at this particular car park in Camborne to pick up some volunteers who were going to help me deliver leaflets. I had a permit to use the car park but on that day was borrowing my mother's car. I came out to find that it had been clamped. They said that if I came out with a temporary permit then they would remove the clamp so I went back to the owner of the car park to get a temporary permit. But then they said it was too late. I explained that the owner of the car park was happy for me to use it and had given me a permit but the wheel clamper said it was nothing to do with the owner of the car park. That's an interesting concept.

I resolved on that day that if I were to make it to parliament then cowboy clampers like these should be shut down. It turns out that a lot of other MPs feel the same way and so the new government is going to abolish wheel clamping on private land. Wheel clamping and "towing away" was first used in very rare cases in inner cities where an illegally parked car could cause huge traffic disruption. The development and growth of this industry into the sphere of private car parks has been a disgrace and amounts to little more than legalised extortion.

A couple of weeks ago I came across the case of a constituent who had parked his bike in a visitor’s bay while he met his grandmother. You can't display permits on motorbikes because they blow away but the permit was produced when the clamping van arrived. Too late he was told and given an extortionate fine. We all have enough frustrations in life without this sort of nonsense so I am delighted that the government is putting a stop to it.

We also need to look at the conduct of companies which issue parking tickets on private land. I would like to see new legislation that limits the powers of these companies by capping the maximum "fine" they can levy at the same rate of the local authority and which requires them to cancel any fine if a valid ticket is produced retrospectively. We also need an independent appeals process to end the ridiculous situation where the people who judge your parking appeal are the very ones trying to rip you off in the first place.

I don’t want to prevent the owners of private car parks from protecting their property but this private “enforcement” industry has become completely out of control and so new legislation is required to create limits.

George Eustice can be contacted at or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

A modern day National Service

Last Sunday I attended the Remembrance Sunday parade and service at Redruth. There was a very strong turnout. With so many casualties from the recent war in Iraq and the current fighting in Afghanistan, the work of the Royal British Legion seems more important than ever. We hear about those that are killed in action, but there have also been thousands injured and many of those will need support from charities like the Royal British Legion.

The fact that our armed forces are currently engaged in a difficult operation in Afghanistan means that people feel a strong need to remember the sacrifices being made on our behalf. The other thing that I have noticed in recent years is the growing support for remembrance services among young people and children. In particular there has been a really strong growth in the membership of groups such as the Scouts, Cadets, Boys Brigade, Girl Guides and Brownies. All were out in full force on Sunday and it was good to see the next generation doing their bit at such a young age.

Earlier this year, the Scouts Association announced the biggest surge in their membership for forty years to 500,000. But a shortage of adult volunteers means that there is also a waiting list of over 33,000 wanting to join. I remember speaking to a volunteer at one local branch who explained that they had managed to help deal with the problem by telling parents that their children could join as long as the parents did too!

Five years ago, before becoming leader of the Conservatives, David Cameron announced his plan to introduce a modern day National Service which would bring teenagers of all different backgrounds together to achieve something for their community. It would build on some of the excellent work already done among teenagers by groups like the Cadets. The aim is that it would be something universal that all young people do around the time they leave school. It would improve community cohesion, develop responsibility and confidence in young people and act as a "rite of passage" to adulthood.

Over the last few months, the government has been working on plans to make this new National Citizen Service a reality and many groups have submitted plans to run pilot projects next year so that we can see what works. Earlier this summer I discussed the idea with the Goody Grane Centre near Penryn which was established by the Bishop’s Forum to provide outdoor activities and challenges for young people and which has been a tremendous success. I also fed in a suggestion from a constituent that we should reward young people who take part in the scheme by giving them access to affordable car insurance. It is an exciting project and anyone else with suggestions should feed them in now.

George Eustice can be contacted at or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Improving support for disabled people

One of the roles I accepted soon after being elected as a member of parliament was to become the new Chairman of the Conservative Disability Group. The CDG was formed some 25 years ago to champion new legislation to make life easier for disabled people.

The result was two ground breaking pieces of legislation introduced by Margaret Thatcher under the last Conservative government. First, the Disability Services Act which required local authorities to take their responsibilities to disabled people seriously and provide necessary support and secondly the Disability Discrimination Act to improve access.

Last week, the Conservative Disability Group held a major conference to discuss the challenges that disabled people face today attended by leading charities such as Scope and Mencap. One emerging theme was the need for greater flexibility in the way that support for disabled people and their carers operates and the need to reduce bureaucracy. At the moment people find themselves endlessly filling out forms, giving the same information over and over again. One idea is to condense all of that into a "single assessment" so that need is identified in detail once only and that all government departments recognise that. If someone has a long term condition, then it only really needs to be assessed once because the difficulties they face remain the same.

We also need to give people with impairments or the carers of the severely disabled much more control over how their financial support package is spent. I have come across parents of severely disabled children who complain that, while they are offered large sums of money for professional carers, what would really make a difference to their lives is more support to allow one parent to become a full time carer and stay at home. In some cases parents need to be present anyway to administer medication and the revolving door of different carers can lead to the situation where they feel their home is not really their own.

We are entering a period when money is tight but one of the things that the new government has been very clear about as it embarks on a programme to reduce public spending is that it is determined to protect the most vulnerable in our society. As a result, many of the changes announced to Housing Benefit for other benefits such as Employment Support and Job Seekers, will not apply to those with serious disabilities. But beyond that we also need to do more to help those with less serious impairments back in to the workplace. Over fifty percent of disabled people already do some work and the government has announced a new Work Choice programme to help others lead fulfilling, working lives.

The thing about disability is that each and every case is unique and different people value different sorts of support. The system needs to be flexible enough to allow people that choice.

George Eustice can be contacted at or 1 Trevenson Street, Camborne, Cornwall TR14 8JD or by telephone on 020 72197032.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Cut the EU's budget

Should the EU be increasing its spending at a time when the rest of us are having to pull our belts in? My view is that they should be cutting their budget and Britain should be cutting its contribution and two weeks ago I supported a motion in parliament to that effect.

The last government went along with plans to increase the budget of the EU and one of Tony Blair's last acts as Prime Minister was to give away Britain's budget rebate. Last week David Cameron went to Brussels to try to knock some sense into the European Commission. The new government managed to halt plans to increase the budget by a staggering 6 percent and got the increase reduced to 2.9 percent. That's still too high but the best that could be achieved in the circumstances so David Cameron deserves credit for having forced this issue on the agenda.

My first job in politics was working for the anti-euro campaign. Ten years ago, people used to say it was inevitable that Britain would have to join the euro but no serious person today would say we should join. It has turned out to be a failure and countries like Ireland and Greece are seeing their economies wrecked by the inability to set their own interest rates and manage their own economy through an independent currency. I think it would be wrong for Britain to have to pick up the tab for bailing out those countries which were foolish enough to join the euro. Those that are now locked into the single currency must make the best of a bad job but those that remain outside the eurozone must retain the economic freedom that they opted to keep.

However, at the heart of this row is a wider debate about the future shape of the EU. European officials often appear to be trapped in the 1970s and have failed to notice that the world has moved on. They spend far too much time worrying about whether their silly blue flag appears next to regeneration projects they have supported and not enough time tackling important problems like fraud and corruption.

The truth is that EU is trying to do too much and needs to be streamlined. This is more true than ever since the EU expanded to include 27 countries. In the 21st century we need an EU which does much less but does what it does more competently. More powers need to be returned to nation states.

Modernising the EU starts with national governments and national parliaments. We need our Westminster parliament to assert its authority over the EU. In future, British law must take precedence over EU law. That is why I support the plans for a Sovereignty of Parliament Act which would make clear that it does. Once we have restored some much needed accountability then, who knows, we might even see the EU budget being cut at long last.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Investing in the future

With the painful decisions on public spending now done, it is time to start thinking about how we can create new jobs in the future. One of the keys to creating new prosperity in the long term is strengthening education and it’s no surprise that spending on schools was protected in last week’s Spending Review.

There is to be a new Pupil Premium to ensure that more money goes to those schools supporting children from the most deprived areas so that they can employ the best teachers. There was also hope for those Schools in Camborne and Redruth who earlier this year had started working on plans to build new schools. The so called "Building Schools for the Future" programme introduced by the last government was extraordinarily wasteful. Schools were expected to spend millions on consultants before they could lay a single brick. It was costing twice as much to build a school in Britain than it was to build a school in Ireland and that means the money was not going very far. The scheme had to be scrapped.

But last week George Osborne announced a £16 billion fund to refurbish or rebuild 600 schools across Britain over the next few years. That could go a long way and makes far more sense than the old scheme. He also stripped away all of the ring fencing on capital grants to schools so that they will have far more control over how money is spent in their school. One of the things that infuriates head teachers at the moment is the fact that they have to go without important things they need because someone else has decided to spend their money on something they don't really need. Head teachers have been telling me is that when money is tight, we should just let them make the decisions about how it is spent.

The new government wants all parents to have the sort of choice that today only money can buy and this school term, the first wave of schools became academies, were set free from council control and given the money to manage their school as they see fit. The rest will follow in the years ahead. These newly independent schools will be free to all and publicly funded but they will have the freedom that today only private schools enjoy. They will have control over their curriculum and will be able to set terms and conditions for teachers so that they can reward and retain the best staff. The single most important factor determining school performance is strong leadership from the top and good teachers but all too often, good teachers leave the profession early and we need to do more to retain them.

Competition is good and the one thing that I have detected in our local schools is a healthy rivalry that goes beyond the sports pitch. We should harness it to give our children the best possible start in life.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The spending review

By the time you read this, we will know all of the details of the Comprehensive Spending Review and months of number crunching will finally have come to a conclusion. There will be announcements on a number of substantial decisions but there will also still be some local projects where decisions are postponed until later in the year.

There is no doubt that we need to get to grips with the scale of the debt that Britain currently has. Last year the government spent some £150 billion more than it received in taxes. That is more than the entire NHS budget and all of it had to be borrowed from other countries. As a result of all the borrowing that has been piled up over the last few years, next year this country will be spending more money on interest charges than it does on schools. You can’t keep borrowing money forever. In the end it catches up with you and the longer you leave it, the harder it is to put things straight. We have to bite the bullet now.

But I am also very conscious that the tough decisions taken this week will have a real impact on people’s lives. There will be public sector job losses, some projects cancelled and there will be cuts to some benefits.

No one relishes the prospect of job losses and I wish there was another way through. But given that there isn’t, I think there are two key things the government needs to get right. First is the importance of fairness. I think it’s very important that we share the pain and that no single group of people are singled out and expected to carry more of the burden. That is why in the budget George Osborne announced some tax rises as well as spending cuts. It is why the government has left the higher rate of tax at 50 percent, increased Capital Gains Tax and it is also why they have taken Child Benefit away from the highest earners who pay the top rate of tax.

Secondly, it is crucial that we do all we can to help those who lose their jobs or are affected by the cuts. The government has set up a £1 billion Regional Growth Fund to help develop new businesses and private enterprise. We need to support people who want to set up on their own and be their own boss. We also need to redouble our efforts to help people get off benefits and in to work. There are thousands who are trapped in poverty by welfare dependency and often it becomes a culture that spans generations. I have seen some really good projects that help break that cycle with effective mentoring given over a long period of time to instil a work ethic in people and give them the skills and the self confidence to get a job and earn a living. We need more work like that.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Cornwall’s LEP

Cornwall looks set to get government approval for a Local Enterprise Partnership covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to replace the old Regional Development Agency which went all the way up to Swindon. I think the new organisation offers us a chance for a fresh start on local economic policy.

I have always believed that smaller organisations can be more effective than larger ones because they are more agile and responsive and a small group of talented people can break through, take control of the reins and really get things done. One of the problems with the old RDAs was that they were too big, covered too large a geographic area and often cut across accountable bodies like Councils when it came to their priorities. Many businesses also found them remote and out of touch.

An LEP covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly starts with some plus points. It is much smaller and therefore more agile than the RDA and there are fewer councils to contend with which makes it easier to take and implement decisions. But the big test is still to come. We need to make sure there is strong business leadership on any new LEP.

Economic regeneration is one of the most important issues in this area. Since the loss of the mining industry and iconic firms like Holmans in Camborne and J&F Pool in Hayle, we have struggled to regain our footing and incomes have fallen well below average. I want to see that reversed. We need to develop new industries and build the wealth that will create new jobs in the private sector.

CPR Regeneration has made a good start locally under the leadership of David Brewer and Nigel Tipple. The culmination of six years work should come to fruition over the next couple of years with the Heartlands project at Pool and the regeneration of Tuckingmill which will probably even include the reopening of South Crofty mine.

But we are entering an era where there will be less public money around for capital investment and so the lead will need to come increasingly from the private sector. We need more people with a bright idea to have a go, set up their own business and, hopefully, make money. Helping people get off the ground with their business idea must become the main focus. The sorts of people who in the last decade might have worked for government agencies like "Business Link" advising businesses what to do are the sorts of people who must now fly the nest and do it themselves. Our economy depends on it.

The problem in recent years is that there have been a plethora of government quangos tripping over one another to tell businesses what they should be doing. We need to turn the tables so that real life businesses tell the Local Enterprise Partnership what they need and then together they make it happen. Time will tell whether we get it right.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

The coalition is working

This week marks the start of the political conference season kicking off with the Lib Dems in Liverpool. I recently met the Political Editor of a major national newspaper who informed me that he was attending the Lib Dem conference for the first time ever and the same is true for many others too.

For the first time in almost a century, the Lib Dems are part of the government and what happens at their conference is of significance. Journalists who, just a few years ago, would have scoffed about the Lib Dems and their resolutions to ban goldfish and the like, this year take the party far more seriously and will be there in many cases for the first time in their life.

The advent of coalition government has created its challenges for both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems. As a Conservative, I firmly believe that we should renegotiate our relationship with the EU and scrap the Human Rights Act. My views on these things have not changed but the new coalition government has had to compromise and delay such policies for the time being.

But I am also conscious that, for the Liberal Democrats, there have been compromises too. Some of the traditional support for the Lib Dems in Cornwall comes from voters on the left of the political spectrum and there will be some nervousness about the priority the new Liberal Conservative coalition has placed on getting to grips with the budget deficit. But I think this judgement will be proved right in the end and, in a few years time, people will look back and realise that the action being taken today was necessary.

I think a Liberal-Conservative coalition is what the country voted for and certainly what Cornwall voted for. Although there was no outright winner on election night, there were some clear messages from voters. People wanted Gordon Brown and the Labour Party out. But they were not willing to give David Cameron full control. What they actually wanted was David Cameron as Prime Minister but working together with a third party and that is what they got. It’s proof that our electoral system is capable of delivering the will of the people and one of the reasons why I will be protecting our current voting system in any referendum.

In Cornwall, well over 80 percent of voters supported either the Conservatives or Lib Dems. Now we must work together to deliver for our duchy in a way that has not been possible for years. It is undoubtedly awkward for all the Cornish MPs to suddenly work together having just come through tough election campaigns against one another, but I detect that the will is there. There has been a gradual warming in relations between the Liberals and Conservatives and a clear sense of common purpose on many fronts such as water charges. Above all, it is what the voters asked us to do.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

The Big Society

What is the Big Society? It is the idea that David Cameron has put at the heart of his agenda but critics say they don't understand what it means and that the public don't get it either.

In a nutshell, it is about getting more people to do more for their community. Why is it that in some cases brilliant ideas and successful charities apparently spring from nowhere and grow whereas in others no amount of government help seems able break the cycle of social breakdown?

The answer is that in virtually every single case, successful community groups start with just one single person who initiates action and takes a stand. They soon find that they are not alone and that there are other like minded people in their community who will lend a hand and support their lead. Then it grows further. When other people see that it is possible to make a difference and that things can change, they get involved too and so there is a snowball effect and the result is a stronger society.

But if government intervenes too much and has an "initiative" to try to deal with every problem, then people retreat from their responsibilities to their community. An attitude can develop which says it’s the government's job to make things happen. People start to think they can't make a difference anymore. That has been the story of the last twenty years and we need to reverse the trend.

There are some great examples of community action here in Cornwall. From youth groups like Searchlight in Redruth to social projects that provide work for former offenders or help the long term unemployed back in to work.

One way to help such groups grow lies in smarter procurement by the public sector. There is nothing new about “outsourcing” work, but, in the past, too much money has been hoovered up by huge companies such as Serco and Capita who want as much money for as little work as possible. Imagine if we could change that so that small and local social enterprises who give something back to the community were awarded those contracts instead?

A few weeks ago I visited the Foyer at Carn Brea. It takes young people who have had a hard start in life and creates a community where they live in the same block of flats and support one another. As part of their presentation Shaun, one of the residents, read a poem. Another resident, Sophie, had discovered it while doing some research on the internet. It was called the Power of One and included the lines:

“One smile begins a friendship. One candle wipes out darkness. One laugh will conquer gloom. One step must start each journey. One life can make the difference.”

This is the essence of the Big Society and, whatever the critics might say, people like Shaun and Sophie understand it.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Cornwall is a duchy, not just an ordinary county

Parliament returned this week, much earlier than usual after changes to cut the length of the summer recess that MPs used to have in the past.

They say that turkeys don't vote for Christmas but in a separate move last Monday MPs did exactly that by voting through legislation that will cut the number of MPs sitting in parliament by almost 10 percent.

I think that's right. There are going to be some very difficult decisions to be made on public sector spending in the months ahead and I think MPs need to lead by example and be the first to cut their own numbers. We cannot expect other people in the public sector to take job cuts but then protect our own positions and so I supported the Bill.

The legislation also aims to make our electoral system more proportionate by moving towards equal sized constituencies. At the moment, there is too much variation in the size of constituencies with those in the North and Scotland generally being smaller than other parts of the country. The effect of this anomaly is that a vote cast in Scotland currently counts for more than a vote cast in Cornwall. That's not fair and it needs to change so that voters in Cornwall are given an equal voice in how our country is governed.

There will be a lot of debate in the months ahead about the prospect of a parliamentary seat that straddles the Devon and Cornwall border. I have always been clear that Cornwall is not just an ordinary county, we are a duchy and have always had special status so I think we should try to find a way to avoid a cross border constituency if possible.

The final thing agreed in this week’s Bill was that there should be a national referendum to decide whether or not to change our voting system. I have always supported the use of referendums because I think they are good for our democracy. Having a national debate on a single issue can be a powerful antidote to the growing trend of personality politics in General Elections and it also forces politicians from all sides of the political spectrum to work together on an issue where they have a shared conviction.

But in that debate, I will be campaigning for a no vote to protect our democracy. Our current one person, one vote system, where you mark a cross in the box next to the candidate you want, is simple and clear and has stood the test of time.

The so called "Alternative Vote" method is a multiple voting system where you write lots of numbers on the ballot paper and where some people get more votes than others, depending on how they order their votes. I don't think that's fair and it does nothing to help smaller parties like Mebyon Kernow.

It promises to be an interesting debate!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Does university matter?

I left school at 15. It’s a statement that makes me sound older than I am but it’s true. Although I had a very good set of O Level results, I decided I wanted to go into the family business. But I also did a part time Business Studies course at Cornwall College so that, when I changed my mind and decided I wanted to go in to higher education after all, I had a qualification that allowed me to take that step.

This year’s A level results are now in but there are thousands of students who are going to struggle to get to university because of a shortage of places. In a final bizarre twist, the last government set a target of getting 50 percent of young people to university but then fined universities who expanded to meet that challenge.

Does education matter? It is the title of a book by Alison Wolf and at a time when students are expected to pay towards their university education it has become a salient question to ask. There is evidence that a good school age education counts for much more than university. That was certainly my own personal experience.

That is not to take away the importance of our academic institutions. They are centres of excellence, have a vital role in rebalancing our economy towards new industries and are absolutely the right choice for many young people to continue their studies, especially those who want to enter the professions.

But they are not the only choice. I think there is a danger that by over-emphasising university education you can create the impression that those who don't go to university are somehow a failure. They are not and we need those young people to understand that there are other routes to success in life.

I recently met a group of teenagers who had had a tough start but were getting their lives back together. I told them that some of the most successful people in the country suffered adversity early on in their lives and that, with the right support, they could turn that experience to their advantage.

Last week I visited a project in Redruth called Real Base Training. It aims to take teenagers who are falling behind at school or college and inspire them with the idea that they could set up their own business and be their own boss. They have a cluster of new businesses which are given support and mentoring at the centre. Sometimes if you take a young teenager and put them in a working environment their confidence blossoms in a way that is simply not possible in a formal learning environment and so you can help them on the road to success.

Someone once told me that you don't have to be clever to be smart. He was right and we need to encourage approaches which show young people how to use their talents.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Curbing senior pay at County Hall

In the last two weeks the West Briton has questioned senior executive pay at Cornwall Council and the “golden parachute” deals paid to senior staff in some cases. This week, Alec Robertson, the Leader of the Council, returned from holiday and took immediate action to tackle the issue. All credit to him for taking a lead.

Getting to grips with the financial mess left by the last government requires some painful decisions on public spending. We need to make sure the pain is shared and I believe that any cuts must start at the top.

It is not a problem limited to Cornwall. Across the country senior pay in local authorities has got out of control. Some people say that council chief executives manage large budgets and so should be on a salary comparable with those in major companies. But there is a big difference. The Chief Executive of a large company has to make money whereas a Council Chief Executive only has to spend money and we all understand that it is easier to spend money than make it.

Then there is the fact that the really big decisions in a council are taken by the Council Leader and his cabinet, not by the Chief Executive whereas the boss of a large private company has to take the major decisions himself.

I think the civil service provides a better guide to the right salary for local authority chief executives. The Permanent Secretary of a typical government department is around £150,000. There is no logical reason why the pay of a council chief should be more than this. But across the country they are regularly paid £100,000 a year more than the Prime Minister. How can that be right? Such high levels of pay are not driven by the market, it is more the case that a high pay culture has been allowed to develop over the last decade and this must now be quashed.

Kevin Lavery is a talented Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and I rate him. I have also met many of the directors of service who have impressed me too but I don’t think we can duck the issue of pay any longer. Some say that you can’t change someone’s contract of employment but just this week I met a woman who works for Cornwall Council who has been asked to consider a 5 percent pay cut as part of a consultation. If it’s ok for the junior ranks to take a cut, it’s ok for those at the top to do the same.

I don’t like to see people at the very top of organisations seeking refuge in arbitrary employment contracts. People who are worth their salt in such positions are guided by what is right not by some piece of paper. They should lead by example and always be the first to make a sacrifice and we should give them credit if they recognise this.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Getting the banks under control

Last week the major high street banks between them announced combined bumper profits of over £8 billion for the first six months of this year. A different statistic showed the other side of the equation. Four thousand businesses were forced into liquidation in just three months as the banks horded the money for their own bonuses rather than lending it to hard pressed businesses trying to generate real wealth for the country.

This can’t go on. The banks have got to learn that they can’t just go back to the way they behaved before the financial crisis. The bonuses they were paying themselves were totally out of control and divorced from reality. So much so that they had to be bailed out by the taxpayer because all of them had become “too big to fail.” So a first step is to look at ways of breaking them all up again so they are smaller and could just go bust without anyone really bothering. That way, you encourage some much needed responsibility in this wayward industry.

Second, if we want to rebalance our economy away from banking towards wealth creating industries, then we must also rebalance the law. There is only one way out of this recession and that is through enterprise. We need talented individuals to have a go, take risks and try to turn new ideas into industry and business. But an integral part of enterprise is risk and how the law regards risk is important.

Earlier this summer I was one of the twenty MPs to be given a chance to introduce a Private Member’s Bill. Private Members Bills are a way of introducing legislation through parliament but outside of the government agenda. Individual MPs draft their own laws on issues they think are important and must then win support for them from across the political spectrum.

My Private Member’s Bill has the not so catchy title of the “Secured Lending Reform Bill.” At its heart is a simple premise. If an individual or business offers a bank a charge over their assets, then they have a special right to expect that bank to behave honourably. Among those four thousand businesses shut down by the banks in the last three months will be cases where hard working, conscientious people had offered their home as security to a bank in order to secure support. But having made this extraordinarily generous gesture they currently have no real protection under the law. Banks can and do enforce their security recklessly and prematurely, without regard for either the entrepreneur or their other unsecured creditors.

So my Private Member’s Bill would rebalance the law, making it harder for banks to enforce their security and throw people out of their homes. It will encourage and reward real enterprise and might well mean that the banks have a little less money left to waste on their Ferraris which is no bad thing.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Reasons to be cheerful

As Parliament enters recess for the month of August, we end term on a much brighter note.

Last year Britain spent some 150 billion pounds more than it raised in taxes which is completely unsustainable. So there has been much talk of cuts in recent months, whether the suspension of capital building in schools or delays in match funding for major redevelopment projects until after the Comprehensive Spending Review is completed in the autumn.

But last week we managed to get money flowing on a whole range of projects which are important to Cornwall and which are dependent on tight time scales in order to draw down public grants managed by the EU.

All projects funded under the European Regional Development Fund which don't require government match funding have now been given the green light. That means that all but two of the 49 projects that looked in doubt two weeks ago are now ready to go without further delay.

This week the government also agreed to inject £5 million into the regeneration of Hayle harbour, which is at a crucial stage. The investment will help repair the harbour walls along the north quay and put in place the infrastructure to support the new Wave Hub project which is the first of its kind in the world and really puts this part of Cornwall in a world beating position to develop this new technology.

But as well as putting in place the infrastructure, we also needed to support the small firms that are developing the technology. So further technology grants to drive development have been made available to ensure that wave power developers choose to come to Hayle.

Three projects at the new Combined Universities for Cornwall at Tremough have also been given the green light this week which means we can continue to develop our academic lead in Cornwall in sustainable energy and the digital and creative industries.

So there is a lot more to be optimistic about than there was a month ago, but much more to do. As a former student, I was incredibly disappointed not to have been able to get Cornwall College access to funding to refurbish the campus at Pool. They do some great work there and have built strong links with business. We need to look for other options to try to take some of their plans forward.

There are other important projects still on hold until after the Spending Review in October including the East-West road link at Pool and some other businesses are still waiting to hear whether their grants will go ahead. Finally, I want to make sure that those schools who are not now going to get funding under the old, rather bureaucratic "building schools for the future" programme, are at least prioritised when it comes to allocating the capital spending that is made available for schools after the spending review. So my in tray will be full when parliament comes back in September.

But August will also an important month because we are in the process of putting together plans to replace the Regional Development Agency with a new Local Enterprise Partnership covering Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Making sure that the business community decide the shape and form of that LEP is a key priority,because if we don't get it right, we will not succeed in accessing the newly created Regional Growth Fund.

But my main focus in August will be getting around the constituency and meeting as many people as possible. Have a good summer.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Giving schools more freedom

When I was at Cornwall College in the late 80’s, I remember one project we were given was to weigh up the pros and cons of the "Net Book Agreement.” This was an arcane law that fixed the price for all books. Those who supported it said it was needed to protect book shops. Those who wanted to scrap it said the market should decide book prices. As one politician said at the time, “The only way to find out who is right is to scrap it and see what happens.” They did, and no one today can remember why we ever had it.

Which brings me to the lengthy debates we have been having on the Academies Bill this week. Opponents say school independence is a bad thing and the accountants at Cornwall Council wring their hands and worry about money by-passing their bank account and going direct to schools. But head teachers, governors and parents want more independence. They want the freedom to reward good teachers, change their syllabus, change term times and basically be captains of their own ship.

The only way to find out who is right is to try it and see. The key thing about this reform is that is up to schools to decide. No school is being forced to become an independent academy. Some will decide to stay under the wing of Cornwall Council and that is their choice. But those who do want to take control of their own school only have to ask.

I think it’s a great idea. We need our schools to have the freedom and independence that previously only private schools were allowed to have. I have met some fantastic head teachers in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle but they sometimes have to work with one hand tied behind their back. At the moment, head teachers work for the council but under these reforms, the council will work for head teachers. If a school judges that the support services being provided are falling short, then they will be able to fire the council and employ someone else.

The changes which passed into law this week give schools much more independence. Schools will control their own budget and decide their own curriculum and their own school ethos. It also makes it easier for head teachers to reward good teachers by setting pay and conditions. I think this is really important because too often good talent leaves the teaching profession early because the current system is too rigid.

The Prime Minister has often been attacked for the fact that he went to a particularly well known private school. But what some people fail to realise is that few issues motivate him more than education and the new government wants to give all parents the sort of choice that today only money can buy. In ten years time, we might well look back and wonder why on earth it wasn’t done sooner.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

European funding

Last week there was a flurry of speculation about the future of regeneration schemes after the RDA suggested that all projects under the European Regional Development Fund had been stopped. Cornwall’s MPs found themselves hard at work making the case for important plans like “Next Generation Broadband.”

Regional development programmes have played an important role in the regeneration of Cornwall. Objective One helped kick start some really worthwhile projects such as the Combined Universities for Cornwall and there are good plans being put forward under the new “Convergence” programme too.

But the new coalition government has its work cut out getting to grips with the financial crisis. Although George Osborne made clear in his emergency budget that he would make no further cuts to capital spending, the last Labour government had already put in train a 50 percent cut in capital spending and those cuts now have to be reconciled against specific projects.

As the government identifies which projects to cut and which to keep, I think it must apply some clear criteria to ensure we get things right.

Firstly, where no government match funding is required, projects should be approved immediately. That is why the swift decision to make clear that projects like “Next Generation Broadband” will go ahead unhindered was so important.

Secondly, one of the key criteria applied should be the extent of match funding on offer. In Cornwall, because of the support we are entitled to from EU funding streams, each pound that national government spends usually levers in three pounds of additional investment. That puts us in a strong position relevant to other projects elsewhere in the country.

This case would be made stronger still if EU rules on the amount of match funding needed could be modernised. At the moment, the EU sets rigid rules stipulating that projects must have “match funding” from other sources – usually national government. It leads to the ridiculous situation where the inability of a national government to find the cash demanded means that its poorest regions lose everything –not just the money from national government but also the EU money which makes no sense at all. EU officials need to be ordered to prioritise spending in areas most in need and on projects that add most value and not to get bogged down by petty rules setting arbitrary requirements for match funding.

Finally, when it comes to prioritising capital spending, the most important factor considered should be the impact on jobs and enterprise. There is only one way out of this recession and that is through creating new businesses and new industries. The government needs to separate out the "nice to have" projects which could wait from the essential projects that unlock economic potential. If all these criteria were applied, then many of the projects currently being reviewed in Cornwall will come out well from the current spending review and this puts us in a strong position.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Bringing new life to our towns

Earlier today I opened a new shop in Redruth for Rodda and Hocking, the conservatory specialists who also have a shop in Cross Street, Camborne. They have done a fantastic job fitting out the shop and this is exactly the sort of organic change we need to see in our town centres.

I have always thought we need to focus on measures that will bring new life to our towns and, earlier this year I organised a mini conference on the subject. It sought to answer the question, "How do we bring new prosperity to our towns?"

I am conscious that all too often such events are attended by councillors and advisers, Business Links and other employed experts, but not by the hard pressed business people who have to man the shop because they can't afford the staff cover that would allow them to attend.

So to make sure their views were represented, I spent two days walking through Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, going in to shops and talking to as many entrepreneurs as possible. It was an eye opener.

The first thing I found is that "regeneration" was seen as a dirty word by some. There is a reason for this which we need to recognise. Too often in the past, town centre regeneration has been associated with "townscape" issues: one way systems, pedestrianisation, new pavements, resurfacing car parks. In practice, work like that can be incredibly disruptive in the short term for businesses trying to build a customer base and we all know it’s a lot easier to lose customers than to gain them.

So as we discuss ways to increase the number of people visiting our towns we should apply a clear principle of "first, do no harm." Any disruptive work must be done in the fastest possible time and we must really test to destruction the value we expect to get from changes to urban layout.

My own view is that having one or two destination retailers that make towns a place people will make the effort to visit and thereby lift the tide for all traders is the single most important objective we should have. It is why I think the prospect of a JD Wetherspoon pub in Camborne creates a lot of new potential.

There were two other issues that came up in my meetings with retailers. The first was business rates. I came across a number of good businesses who took a real pride in what they did and their work added to the overall offering of the town but they were struggling to make ends meet. I think this is particularly sad in the case of new businesses starting out because there is a danger that morale can fall quickly. So I am keen to explore ways of cushioning such businesses against business rates in the early years.

Secondly, we cannot ignore the importance of parking. There is a reason why many major players moved out of town. They have the space to offer free car parking. The reality is that people want to be able to park their car, fill it with stuff and drive home. We should not side step this issue. I have seen some argue that free car parking has not helped towns where it has been piloted. It won't on its own but I do believe it could have an important role to play alongside other measures and we should look at how this might be made possible.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Why I will be campaigning against AV

The notion of giving each and every adult in Britain an equal vote in the election of our national government has been the cornerstone of democratic government since the days of the suffragettes. It became the core principle of a free society and it has stood the test of time. In the last century Britain has had governments of every hue, coalition governments and even governments of national unity. So in the forthcoming referendum I will be defending our democracy against those who want to meddle with our voting system.

Under our current system, you mark an ‘X’ by the name of the candidate you want. Everyone’s vote counts for the same. Under the system they call “AV” some people get more votes than others. It is a complex multiple voting system with unpredictable results. Some people get two or three votes counted while others only get one.

At the moment, voters weigh up the pros and cons of each candidate and then make a decision about what they want. There are numerous factors that affect their decision. The views of the candidate, the policies of the party they are standing for, people’s experiences of those parties in the past and their chances of success in a given seat.

Under a multiple voting system, it is all about political tactics. The name of the game is to read the runes and vote tactically to try to keep out the person you hate the most. I don’t think that’s a good basis on which to run an election. The evidence from countries like Australia is that the Alternative Vote system leads to more negative campaigning and more personal attacks in politics. We don’t want that in this country.

In private company, the political activists who say they want an Alternative Vote system admit that it’s just a “foot in the door” and their real aim is to have a continental style PR system where the political parties call the shots and decide who represent them. I don’t agree with PR myself because I think it cuts voters out of decision making, but I do understand the argument for it (namely that is allows representation for minority parties like the Greens). I admire those who are honest enough to say what they really want. But what I cannot accept is the trickery of pretending you want one thing when you actually want to sneak through something else on the sly.

The AV system doesn’t even help smaller parties. If you are a Lib Dem and decided to vote Mebyon Kernow as your second preference, then that vote would not get counted. But if you were BNP and voted Labour as your second preference, both your votes would count. That can’t be right but at least we will have the chance to vote ‘no’ to this system in a referendum.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

DEFRA Select Committee

This year, parliament changed the way that it chooses MPs to serve on Select Committees. Members used to be appointed by the whips offices of the main parties but this time round all MPs got the chance to vote members on. With some 30 Select Committees in total, it made for a lot of ballot papers!

Select Committees were introduced thirty years to improve the accountability of parliament. Although made up of MPs, they are cross party and independent of the government of the day and the political parties. They can take expert evidence to really try to get to the bottom of issues and their recommendations can have an impact on government policy.

I managed to get elected on to the Environment Food and Rural Affairs Committee. It is a subject close to my heart. I spent the first nine years of my working life in the farming industry in Cornwall and I studied horticulture at agricultural college. Britain's self sufficiency in food has declined sharply in the last 12 years and I think we need to reverse that trend. Food production should not just be about economics because it also has an impact on the environment and implications for animal welfare standards. I think we should be producing our food as close as possible to the communities that consume it, and that is why we need to make issues like animal welfare a much more important dimension of trade negotiations.

But DEFRA is also the department responsible for water policy. Water bills in the South West are the highest in the country because 3 percent of the population are expected to carry the burden of maintaining 30 percent of our coastline. I have long said that we need to address this unfairness but that it is time to move on from talking about the problem to implementing a solution.

There were three ideas highlighted in the Walker Review into water charges. One was to introduce a seasonal tariff in the South West so that bills are higher in the summer but lower in the winter. I don't think that is the right answer because it could be seen as a tax on tourism which is a vital industry in Cornwall.

The second was to offer specific help to those on lower incomes, but, while the cost of that could be spread nationally, it wouldn't help everyone here in the South West.

The final option, which is the best in my view, is to charge an annual tariff to other water companies to help deal with the cost of maintaining our coastline. This could equate to a small increase of say 13p per month on water bills in other parts of the country but would allow a significant reduction of around fifty pounds a year here in the South West.

All we need to do now is persuade the rest of the country that they should accept such a policy!

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Making cuts fair

The one thing that was always expected regardless of who won this year's election was a cut in public spending. You can't spend money you don't have for very long and over the last year the government spent some £170 billion more than it received in taxes.

Many government departments are now having to review their spending and look again at the projects they are supporting. Last week the Department for Transport announced they could not confirm their support for any transport projects until they know how much money they will have this autumn. This could affect some projects here in Cornwall.

I think the most important thing we need to see in next week’s emergency Budget is fairness. As the Chancellor, George Osborne has said before, we are all in it together and must share the pain of any cuts. Last week, Vince Cable expressed the view that the North should be spared some cuts in spending, putting more pressure on other regions. Such an approach would be completely unfair in my view and would not be the right way to maintain public support for the difficult decisions ahead.

I hope that many important projects in Cornwall will still be able to go ahead, albeit in some cases by cutting their cloth to fit the new financial reality and I am going to be making their case over the summer.

Cornwall College was a victim of the fiasco last year where funding for a rebuild of the college was suddenly withdrawn. The new coalition has found a way to make some money available to colleges caught out in the disaster but in return has asked them to revisit their plans and find ways of saving money. I think this is the sort of solution we are likely to see more of.

Our schools in this part of Cornwall need capital investment and have been overlooked over the last decade, and I will be making their case too. But many schools say they would be only too happy to spend less on the architects and consultants who proved to be such a costly component of the old "Building Schools for the Future" programme run by the last government. When money is tight we should spend what we have on schools and children's education rather than architects and consultants.

And when it comes to other development projects we have a strong case too. In some instances there is match funding from the EU. In others the projects form an important element in the regeneration of our towns.

Finally when it comes to making savings, I think it is clear where government should start. We need to cut back the 900 or so quangos and government agencies that currently exist. Many duplicate the work of each other and have grown out of control. In difficult times, it is where we should start.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Royal Cornwall Show

Today I will be up early in the morning to make my way to the Royal Cornwall Showground in time for a breakfast meeting with local farmers.

There before me will be the many volunteer stewards who keep the show on the road. I remember when I was growing up, we would often come up to the show with my father who was a steward on one of the gates. It often meant a 5am start and made for a long day.

Some agricultural shows have suffered in recent years but the Royal Cornwall remains one of the strongest. I think you can put that down to the strength of community spirit down here in Cornwall. As well as being a major agricultural show it is an important meeting place where we bump in to old friends that we haven't seen since last year.

One of the things I hope people will see from the new coalition government is a better understanding of farming and rural communities than we have seen in recent years.

We used to have the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. But the last Government removed any mention of farming from the title. You couldn’t escape the feeling that they thought farming was an old industry that didn’t really fit in with their “new” agenda.

I was brought up at Trevaskis Farm and spent the first nine years of my working life in the fields. I think the issue of how and where our food is produced runs far deeper than just economics. If we want to protect our environment, have healthy food and raise animal welfare standards then we must produce food as close as possible to the communities that consume it. We should not be traipsing livestock over long distances or flying vegetables half way round the world.

Our self sufficiency in food has fallen sharply in the last decade and "food security" has started to be recognised as a concern. We need to reverse that and support local producers.

There are things that government can do to help. First, we need to curtail the power of supermarkets who all too often abuse their position in anti- competitive practices which undermine producers. So we need a powerful new watchdog that brings them into line.

Next, the least government can do is buy British food itself. So we need to make sure that government departments buy produce that comes up to British standards.

And finally, we need to make sure consumers know what they are buying so we need to improve labelling to get rid of misleading claims that food is British when in some cases it has only been processed in Britain.

It’s a start but as someone whose heart is still in the countryside, I want to find out what else needs to be done and where better to start than the Royal Cornwall Show.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Bringing new prosperity through enterprise

A couple of months ago, I attended a night of entertainment organised by the Holman Climax Choir at Camborne School to celebrate the history of the iconic firm that played a huge role in shaping Camborne. The event was attended by over 300 people and included some fantastic old footage and photographs.

Here in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle we take a lot of pride in our heritage and history. But since the loss of mining and iconic firms like Holman Brothers in Camborne and J&F Pool in Hayle, this part of Cornwall has struggled to regain its footing. How can we get our local economy back on its feet?

There were initiatives as long ago the 80’s under the last Conservative Government to encourage businesses to locate here and create jobs. Some firms, like the US engineering firm Case, left again once the benefits that tempted them down expired.

But there were other success stories which have endured. Pall at Redruth is one of the firms that was attracted to Cornwall at that time and is still one of the largest employers in the area today and they have played an important role in helping us retain a strong skills base in precision engineering.

Building lasting prosperity depends on taking an international lead in new industries where our geographic location as a peninsula is an advantage rather than a disadvantage. For instance, when it comes to wave power, Cornwall is the place to be because we have a huge coastline, powerful waves and the engineering know-how to turn ideas into industry. And when it comes to the new creative industries like digital animation, distance is no longer a barrier. What matters is having the best talent in one place and high speed broadband connections to the rest of the world.

The building of the university at Tremough has been a significant step forward. The result has been some world leading academic work in marine energy and world leading courses in the creative industries. The hope has to be that the best talent in these new industries settles where it is being fostered.

The last decade has seen a focus on capital projects with the help of public funding. There are some important plans still taking shape, for instance the regeneration of Hayle Harbour, Wave Hub, the Heartlands project in Pool and the Redruth Action Plan.

But regeneration work can only be judged a genuine success once the conditions are right for private enterprise to take flight unsupported and bring real prosperity in its path. So we need more people to have a go and set up their own businesses. Ten years ago, the challenge was to get young people into university. As a result of the latest recession, the challenge now is getting them from university in to work. Many will decide to set up on their own and build a business. I hope they do and wish them luck.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Getting things done

I held my first surgery in Camborne last Saturday morning to meet some of the people who have written to me to ask for help. One of the things that persuaded me to stand for election this year was seeing the work that MPs do in their constituencies to help people deal with specific problems in their daily lives. You can’t always solve the problem, but you can always try, give advice and lend a helping hand. When you do succeed, it makes the job worthwhile.

I think that one of the problems in society today is the relentless growth of bureaucracy in recent decades. It sometimes seems so hard to get apparently simple things done. People find themselves passed from one agency to another; “held in a queue” on the phone; being told they have the wrong form, are in the wrong place or need to call a different number and being told different things by different people. There seems no shortage of ways to lodge a complaint but actually getting things changed is harder. We have all experienced it in our daily lives and it gets very frustrating.

I have heard it argued that such complexity is a fact of modern life and can’t be changed. But why is it? The way people live their lives today is not that different to the way it was in the past. Perhaps we just need to change our mindset and make a conscious effort to reverse the trend because government doesn’t have all the answers.

This was the aim behind many of the announcements in this week’s Queen’s Speech. If we want people to take more responsibility for their lives, their families and their communities then they need to feel that making an effort will make a difference. If people feel that the decisions that affect them have already been taken somewhere else anyway then they won’t bother.

So we need to rebuild local institutions and replace bureaucracy with accountability. For instance by giving parents and local voluntary groups the ability to set up new schools; giving people the ability to elect a Police Commissioner to set priorities for their police force; giving local people the right to take over local facilities like post offices and community centres and getting voluntary groups to step in where government has failed to deal with difficult problems like welfare dependency.

These are potentially bold plans, but they need active people to play their part too. It is likely to be an evolution rather than an overnight revolution because it will take time for people to realise that they can make a difference and get back into the habit of doing their bit. But in the meantime, I will be holding a surgery most weeks to try to help people wade through the treacle of government bureaucracy. So do get in touch!

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Making the coalition work for Cornwall

My first job in politics was working for the cross party ‘no’ campaign against the euro. It was a diverse coalition of business leaders, trade unionists, greens and MPs from all parties. Keeping everyone happy was a challenge at times, but it was also refreshing to get people from so many different backgrounds working together for a common cause. It might prove good training for the sort of politics we are now in.

Making a coalition government work is undoubtedly more difficult than running a government of one party with a clear majority. The compromises made to form this new Liberal Conservative coalition have understandably caused some unease among both Conservative and Lib Dem supporters. But there are strengths in coalitions too. They force a change in the culture of our politics and encourage people to set aside differences and work together in the national interest.

Here in Cornwall, a new coalition government offers the prospect that, at long last, we can move on from talking about the problems our county faces to actually implementing the policies that will solve them.

There are some areas where the Lib Dems and Conservatives have long agreed. We need to tackle the unfairness of water charges in the South West. The proposal that I favour to deal with this problem is to charge a small tariff to water companies in other parts of the UK to help cover the cost of maintaining our coastline so that there could be significant reduction in water bills here in Cornwall. All MPs in the South West must now work together to try to make such a policy a reality.

Then there is the problem of the NHS funding formula. Despite the squeeze on public funding, we need a new formula that recognises the fact that we have an older population in Cornwall and therefore a greater need for medical care. Again, I want to work with all MPs of both parties in our county to make a reality of such a change in the NHS funding formula.

Here in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, I have always maintained that economic regeneration is the single most important task facing us all. There are some important decisions to be made about the plans to regenerate Hayle Harbour, the Heartlands project at Pool is at a crucial stage and we need to make sure that we are able to sustain the progress made at the Wave Hub project in Hayle and actually convert a good idea into a world leading position in marine energy.

Delivering all of this will need not only a coalition at the top but a spirit of cooperation among MPs in the South West and a willingness among all the MPs in Cornwall to take a stand in the interests of our county.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Thank you...and now to work

It was a tense night at the count. We all knew it was close and spent the final day reminding people that the Conservatives and Lib Dems were "neck and neck" in this seat. But I don't think any of us expected it to be quite so close. In the end just 66 votes between us. We won fairly comfortably on the ballot boxes from polling day but the Lib Dems had done surprisingly well at getting together postal votes.

Camborne, Redruth and Hayle certainly lived up to its reputation for being a marginal seat.

With the election over, I want to pay tribute to the other candidates who took part in this election. It is sometimes easy to forget that our democracy depends on unpaid volunteers who are willing to give up their time to deliver leaflets and campaign for the party they believe in.

But most of all I want to thank everyone who put their faith in me and especially those who helped me. I will do my utmost to ensure that this part of Cornwall gets its voice heard and I will also represent everyone, regardless of whether they voted for me or not.

I will be holding regular surgeries so, if you need any help, then please get in touch. You can contact me by email at: or by post at: The House of Commons, LONDON, SW1A 0AA.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Vote for change

The last but one door I knocked on tonight was answered by a woman who said she was still undecided, "it's between Julia Goldsworthy and you" she said, "but you are the only person to turn up at my door." As I shook hands to leave, she wished me luck. If it comes down to one vote then deciding to do that last road in Gweek will be what counted.

I have attempted to cover each and every part of the constituency in a gruelling canvassing programme since January. It has been a really enjoyable campaign. You meet so many people that you learn a lot and you can sense changes in the public mood. Early on in the year, there was disillusion with all politics and all politicians. As the campaign has progressed, the mood among voters has become far more positive and during the last couple of weeks people have started to make their minds up and I have been getting more and more support.

Cornwwall has failed to get its voice heard in recent years and I want to put that right. From NHS funding to water bills, Cornwall has been taken for granted. I think we need to move on from talking about problems to implementing solutions. If we had a Conservative government and Conservative MPs in Cornwall, at last we would be able to get things done rather than just talk about problems.

But tomorrow is also a big chance to change our country and we probably won't get another opportunity for five years. Unless the Conservatives win seats like Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, Gordon Brown will cling to power and no one will be able to stop him. That is why the way people vote tomorrow is so important.

We have a saying in Cornwall, "one and all". Let's see that spirit of unity on polling today to give Cornwall and Britain the change that is so desperately needed.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

The home straight...

So, we are in to the final few days of campaigning. In the days ahead our many volunteers have a lot of letters and leaflets to deliver and I will be making one last tour of the constituency to knock on as many doors as possible before polling day.

I have noticed a change in mood over the last week or so. People are starting to make their minds up. Even Andrew George, the dithering former Lib Dem MP for St Ives, has apparently decided that he will vote Lib Dem after all. This has been bizarrely flagged up by local Lib Dems in their literature as some sort of coup for their campaign.

Leaving aside Andrew George's surpise decision to vote for his own party, the reception on the doorstep is very good. Many former Lib Dem voters are switching to the Conservatives this time. They want change. The negative Lib Dem campaign and the vandalism of posters has also offended many. Julia Goldsworthy boasts that she is going to win and that anyone who votes for another party is wasting their vote. But I think she is wrong to take people for granted.

Cornwall has failed to get its voice heard in recent years. From water bills to NHS funding, under the Lib Dems' watch, Cornwall has lost out. I want to put that right. It is not enough to talk about problems, we need to implement solutions. If we can get a Conservative government and Conservative MPs in Cornwall, we can get Cornwall's voice heard at last. So let't make it happen...

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The puffing devil

We had better weather for Trevithick Day this year and the crowds turned out in force. Last year it rained for most of the day and we all ended up drenched. This year we have been lent the use of a shop right in a prime location in Commercial Street which attracted a lot of interest.

At one point we had a queue and I got held up talking with a gentleman at length about pensions. I had to run across town to make it to Trevenson Street by 2pm for the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate the work of the Holman family over two centuries in the town. It was at the site of the old Holman No 3 works with the Holman Climax choir in attendance. I recently met Nigel Holman at a meeting where we were talking about the possibility of salvaging the old assembly rooms building on that site which is opposite the Conservative office in Camborne.

But the highlight of the day was, as always, the replica of the Puffing Devil, the very first steam locomotive which was invented by Richard Trevithick. It is unique and moves at quite aa pace as it comes up Camborne Hill...

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The first rule of online lobbying: get the email right

I have written previously about the politically motivated smear campaign being run by local Lib Dems over the fact that I used to work for a media consultancy called Portland.

Last week they returned to the fray with a leaflet which made great play of the issue. Their timing couldn’t have been worse because the biggest story on lobbying of this election is that Nick Clegg used to work for a lobby firm called GJW which he failed to disclose on his election literature and does not mention on his CV. GJW controversially advised Colonel Gadaffi over the Lockerbie trials. Perhaps Julia Goldsworthy would like to publically condemn her own party leader over his “secret lobbying past”?

A couple of months ago, I read a story in the Observer newspaper that there was going to be an online lobbying campaign against me. It was initiated by a girl called Tamasin Cave, a political activist who writes regularly for Lib Dem blogs. It focused only on Labour and Conservative candidates and was immediately condemned by other commentators in the blogosphere. Tamasin was teaming up with a group of lobbyists called “38 degrees”. A curious name, but apparently, 38 degrees is the angle at which an avalanche happens. The idea was that I would receive an avalanche of 100,000 emails. So what sort of avalanche did I experience? Not one single email.

Initially I assumed there was no interest but it transpires that they had spelt the email address wrongly on their system. I think that’s a shame because I always make the effort to reply to every constituency email I receive in person and I don’t like the idea that there might be some people out there who think I ignored their email as a result of the incompetence of this group. I also pity the poor person somewhere else in the world who has a similar email address to me and must be completely bewildered by it all. Last night I met one of the 38 degrees team at a hustings and gave him my email so he could sort their problem out.

There are already strict rules that mean MPs must declare all their financial interests from clients to directorships and major shareholdings. I think that’s right because it is essential that there is transparency where there might be a conflict of interest. The Conservatives have gone further still. We are the only party where candidates have already made a declaration of their own interests at the point of nomination.

There are many charities and campaign groups out there who encourage their members to email parliamentary candidates. Many have their own manifestos and pledges. In this election, they range from the NSPCC to Macmillan Cancer Care, the Ramblers, Greenpeace and the Woodland Trust. I rarely sign up to pledges directly even where I have a lot of sympathy with the cause, but I always reply to the constituents who email me to explain my views.

The reason I generally don’t sign the pledges of other organisations is that I think politicians should be independent minded, listen to all of the arguments from all sides and then exercise judgement about what they think is the right thing to do.

When it comes to so called “lobbying”, the answer is to make sure that any financial interests of MPs are declared so there is no conflict of interest. That already happens. People shouldn’t fear that politicians are exposed to the arguments made by charities, campaign groups or businesses. After all, we live in a democracy and we should have free debate. So I don’t support a mandatory register of meetings which would just be a tier of bureaucracy that adds nothing to our democracy. But they should expect their MPs to remain of independent mind and exercise judgement themselves rather than do what lobbyists ask them. That is why declaring financial interests is what matters.

The irony is that 38 Degrees are a lobby group themselves and, to date, the only candidate in this seat to resist their lobbying is me.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

A new constituency and a fresh start

I spent today canvassing in Connor Downs and Hayle. I am really pleased that Hayle is included in the new boundary. We are getting a good reaction here. I was brought up at Connor Downs and came across many people who knew the family or have been involved in Trevaskis Farm over the years.

The new Camborne, Redruth and Hayle constituency stretches from Hayle up to Mount Hawke on the north coast and from Budock Water to Gweek in the south. The Lib Dems have got themselves in a real muddle over it all.

Last week I spent a lot of time explaining the new boundary to residents in Mawnan Smith and Constantine. Terrye Teverson has been delivering leaflets in the wrong constituency and many signs bearing her name have gone up in the wrong place, causing confusion and irritating former Lib Dem voters.

The Lib Dems used to have local activists to deliver their leaflets and put up signs but this time round are relying mainly on party workers parachuted in from up-country who don't know what they are doing.

Hayle has been ignored for far too long and the new constituency offers a chance for a fresh start. The area has struggled to regain its footing after the loss of iconic local firms like J&F Pool and has had no political voice for thirteen years. We need to attract new industries and new jobs. The Wave Hub project in Hayle is promising and I would like to build on it and establish this area as the international centre of excellence in such technologies. There are also potential plans to redevelop the harbour area which could strengthen the town's position as a tourist destination. But there are some big decisions that need to be got right and, if I am successful on May 6th, it will be an important focus for me.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Food yards, not food miles

We have had a busy week canvassing many areas across the constituency with teams out every day. This morning we were back in Redruth around Albany Road, Carknown, Westbourne Heights and Trewirgie Hill. Its going well and the reaction is good.

This weekend, Ed Staite, an old friend from the Conservative Press Office is down to help and its been good to catch up.

This afternoon, we had a vist from another old friend, Nick Herbert, who gave me my first job in politics at the anti-euro no campaign and who is now Shadow Secretary of State for DEFRA. He was down to see the work that is taking place here at Trevaskis.

My parents founded Trevaskis Farm in 1979. It quickly became the leading farm shop and pick-your-own fruit business in the westcountry. It has always prided itself on offering quality local food to the local community. All of the pork comes from our own free range British Lop pigs and we source local South Devon breed beef. My brother returned home a few years ago and runs the business today. Nick had a thorough briefing on their work and also the educational role that the farm now plays with local schools.

The Trevaskis slogan "Food yards, not food miles" fits with the Conservative agenda for agriculture.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Canvassing in Hayle

Over the last three days we have successfully delivered 25,000 leaflets across the constituency. Its been hard work and on the first day we all got drenched in the rain. But we have covered just about every town and village in the constituency.

Today we are pressing ahead with the canvassing in Hayle. We are getting a good reaction. I came across someone who knew the family and whose wife used to work at Trevaskis. Then there were others who used to know my grandfather.

There is disullusion with politics too. A lot of people feel let down by MPs, like Julia Goldsworthy, who abused the system. Its important to remember that most candidates and those helping them in an election are volunteers. We have a great team doing their bit for their country. But we all know we have a lot of work ahead.

My favourite moment today was meeting a lady who initially waved me away because she was sick of all politicians and thought they were all the same. She had previously voted Lib Dem but was not going to bother again. But we ended up chatting for 10 minutes and she ended by saying I had her support...

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

The election is called at last...

The decision by Gordon Brown to go to Buckingham Palace this morning has been long predicted and awaited. Our priority today is to get around all three towns and make a start on the formal election campaign.

We started this morning in Hayle with a strong turnout from our Hayle branch and delivered leaflets across much of the town. The weather was dry if a bit breezy and we were getting a very good reaction from the people we met.

On the way back, the weather started to break up. As we headed back to the car ready for lunch, I passed a man with a young daughter who must have been about 4. "Look!" she said to her father, pointing at us in our blue rosettes "They have won something." Not to Redruth this afternoon and Camborne later on.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Cornwall Deaf Centre

A few weeks ago I met a number of parents of disabled children. Among them were Kate and Martin whose youngest son is deaf and who have another son with a learning difficulty that gives him problems with communication. They invited me along to a new parents' support group they have helped get going and its first meeting took place today at the Cornwall Deaf Centre in Camborne.

If you want to understand the challenges that disabled people and their families face, you can't beat meeting them. Each case is unique and every one of them has their share of frustration with the system. It can range from a lack of specialist support, like language therapists or signers, to problems navigating the bureaucracy of the benefits system. All of the people I meet would welcome a simplified and more flexible system of support where they have more say over the support that they need and how their budget is spent.

After meeting parents at the Cornwall Deaf Centre, Toby, a regular user of their facilities gave myself and Katy a lesson in British Sign Language. We covered most of the alphabet and a few other words.

Jude Robinson, the Labour candidate in Camborne, Redrtuh and Hayle has come up with the great idea of holding a hustings at the Cornwall Deaf Centre with a signer on hand to do the translation. So I might be coming back here soon.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Holman Climax Choir

The place to be last night was Camborne School where hundreds of people packed the main assembly room for a night of nostalgia and entertainment put on by the Holman Climax male voice choir.

It followed the highly successful Holmans reunion which took place earlier this year and featured the recently discovered treasure of old footage and photos from the iconic engineering firm that was once at the heart of life in Camborne and exported world beating air compressors across the globe.

I found the old photos fascinating. I can remember the last days of Holmans at the main works along Wesley Street and also the old Maxam building at Pool.

The Holman Climax Choir, now coached by leading musical director Angela Renshaw, treated their audience to an impressive and often poignant performance and there was plenty of audience participation too. We all took part in old favourites like Camborne Hill and finished the evening with Trelawney, Cornwall's anthem. Singled out for praise was Agnes, who has played the piano for the choir for half its 70 year life. What a commitment.

This part of Cornwall has struggled to regain its footing since the loss of firms like Holmans and it is why I have championed initiatives to bring new industries and new prosperity to our area - such as wave power which would need support industries that play to our engineering heritage and strengths.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

The Redruth North Partnership

I had arranged to meet Kevin Hawkes and some of the residents of the Redruth North Partnership at their base,the Kabin on Strawberry Lane. As I arrived they were in the process of sorting out some strimmers for the volunteers working on their Green Fingers project - where volunteers look after the grounds locally and learn a skill.

The first person I met was Jack Clemens, one of the residents who has been involved in the Redruth North Partnership from the start. "What relation are you to Skipper?" he asked. Its a long time since I have heard that one. "Skipper" was the nickname given by people locally to my great grandfather and Jack had worked with him at Bezurrel Farm around the time of the war.

The Redruth North Partnership was formed by the merger of several local residents associations and in the few years since it was founded has achieved some fantastic results - ranging from the voluntary curfew to help reinforce the authority of parents, to homework clubs, to their Green Fingers Project. They even saved Close Hill Post Office. They have recently been celebrating their success in securing lottery funding to help support their work for the next three years.

The voluntary curfew at Redruth was a great success. Sometimes it is misunderstood. This was not like all those headline grabbing "crackdowns" or "initiatives" which Tony Blair used to announce all the time and then forget. It did not require government to do anything and it did not require any new laws.

It was a simple case of the police and the community setting clear boundaries which helped to reinforce the authority of parents. It is not always easy for parents with teenage children. Peer pressure starts to take hold and making sure their children get back home in good time at night is easier said than done in some cases. But what if everyone's children had to be back home at a particular hour and the police made sure it happened? You soon deal with the problem of peer pressure and strengthen the authority of parents. Once you establish new social norms and give new authority to local communities and parents, then it lasts. So the voluntary curfew was run during the summer of 2008 but has not been needed since.

The Redruth North Partnership is about to evolve into a fully fledged social enterprise and aims to take over grounds maintenance contracts and other services from the local authority so that it becomes self funding and can return even more benefit to the community.

This is one small example of a process that needs to take place across our whole society.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Lobbied by the Lib Dem lobbyists

Guidance issued by the Lib Dem Party to local activists orders them to "Be wicked, act shamelessly, stir endlessly...don't be afraid to exaggerate...positive campaigning will not be enough to win."

It's advice that has been practiced with zeal by Lib Dems here in Camborne and Redruth and has undermined their credibility locally. Last year, Julia Goldsworthy's office sanctioned a bitter and twisted leaflet which described the Mebyon Kernow candidate as a "greasy haired tw*t."

Earlier this year, local Lib Dems attacked me for having a real job in the private sector with Portland Communications - and even attempted to claim that I had been "parachuted in" from London. This week while canvassing I came across one former Liberal voter who said she was so disgusted at this negative campaigning that she emailed Julia Goldsworthy to complain. Julia's response was to blame her agent, saying that she had not seen the leaflet before it went out.

This week local Lib Dems have returned to the same old theme. Terrye Teverson, wife of the failed MEP, has claimed that I did not disclose the fact that I had worked for Portland. Her allegation is completely false. The day that I joined the firm at the end of March 2009, a press release was issued and there was widespread media coverage at the time and since.

Portland is one of the UKs leading communications agencies and it supports the industry's voluntary code of practice so is transparent about its clients. They range from firms like Coca Cola, Vodafone and Apple to leading charities, particularly in Africa, such as Kofi Annan, the Tutu Foundation, the Africa Progress Panel and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation - which works for better governance in African countries.

I make no apology for having done real jobs in the real world. I think one of the weaknesses of our current Lib Dem MP is that she has only ever worked in politics and has no life experience. The jobs I have done range from back breaking work on the farm in the worst weather Cornwall can throw at you, to working on a nursery in Worcester that raised trees and roses, to being Press Secretary to David Cameron and, yes, working in the commercial world helping firms with issues like Corporate Social Responsibility.

It is easy to forget that most candidates in this contest are unpaid volunteers and the majority also have to work for a living - Nick Clegg worked for a lobby firm while a candidate. Of course, this is not a problem that Julia Goldsworthy herself has because she claims over £159,000 a year from the tax payer in so called "expenses." The real scandal is not that volunteer candidates have real jobs in the real world. It is why the Lib Dem MP thinks it is OK to claim £400 a month from the taxpayer for extra food without even submitting receipts.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Canvassing in Redruth and Hayle

I have spent much of this week canvassing in Redruth. We now have teams out every day. The reaction has been good - a strong mood for change with both life long Labour voters and former Lib Dem voters saying they are going to unite behind the Conservatives this time to give the country the change it needs.

We have the next wave of Question Time meetings coming up - where we invite local residents to come along and throw any question they like at me. I really enjoy them and always learn something new myself.

Next up is Hayle with Camborne and Redruth following soon afterwards. On Saturday we switched our canvassing efforts to Hayle with a team of eight working hard across the eastern end of town. My family have deep roots here and we came across a number of people who had links with Trevaskis Farm or knew the family for other reasons. "What relation are you to...?" was a question that came up several times.

Hayle has previously voted strongly for Andrew George - but people understood that he had now decided to leave the town and go to Penzance due to new boundaries and were looking for someone else from Hayle to stand up for them. The issue of expenses being abused by local Lib Dem MPs was also front of mind for many.

We have decided to hold our Redruth Question Time meeting in the heart of the community in the Redruth North ward and I spent all day today delivering invitations around Murdoch Close, Montague Avenue and Close Hill. This is an area that has its share of deprivation and needs a helping hand. The current Labour government have had good intentions when it comes to tackling poverty, but have made very little impact. It is not enough to treat the symptoms of poverty. I believe we need to tackle the causes of poverty: educational disadvantage, family and social breakdown. Today it is the Conservative Party that has the answers to helping the least well off in our society and it's why I regard this part of the constituency as an important priority.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Who said apathy?

Today myself, Julia and Jude are all taking part in a hustings as part of a cultural diversity week being organised by Cornwall College.

Chris Price had asked us all to meet him outside the main reception at 2.15. At just after 2.15, I got a call as I was getting out of my car to check I was on the way. Anyone who has ever organised a political meeting knows that feeling - 15 minutes to go - where are they?!

We waited another ten minutes for the other two candidates who had actually gone straight to the lecture theatre - and there were concerns too about how many students would actually turn up. But concerns that there might be apathy among the students proved completely wrong.

The lecture theatre was packed with standing room only. Sometimes people say that young people don't care about politics but this group certainly did. There were searching questions too - on everything from immigration policy to the Educational Maintenance Allowance, MPs expenses and the Human Rights Act. Julia Goldsworthy was there for the first half an hour but the event kept going for almost another hour after she left.

The issue of cultural diversity and commumnity cohesion is an important but sensitive area. I think we can gain strength from diversity and we can learn from other cultures but it is also crucial that we celebrate the values that unite us all as a British nation: tolerance and freedom under the rule of law.

One of the last jobs I did for the Conservative Party involved building stronger links with the muslim community. That year, I probably had more Christmas cards from muslims than I did from christians. The vast majority of muslims take their own religion seriously and respect other religions too. But we cannot ignore the threat to community cohesion posed by political Islamism - a distorted and extreme strand of Islam which does not respect the rule of law or our democratic institutions. Striking a balance that faces down those extremists without alienating other muslims is an important task in which we all have a role: politicians, the media and the public.