Friday, 26 February 2016

EU Referendum

Like many others I have been weighing up the arguments over EU membership. It has not been easy.  I like the idea of working in cooperation with other countries and wanted to stay part of the Single Market, while returning to national control fundamental powers over issues such as justice, home affairs, farming and the environment.  

However, it was not to be.  The sorts of changes I wanted to see were deemed "not negotiable" by diplomats before the process even started.  Therefore, with some reluctance, I have come to the conclusion that the only way to deliver the changes I want to see is to vote leave, end the supremacy of EU law and replace our membership of the EU with a new UK-EU partnership instead. 

In government, there is a real premium on being able to act decisively to get things done and deliver change.   However, huge areas of government policy are now emasculated by EU law.  There is a constant torrent of regulation coming from Brussels backed up with endless threats of fines and legal proceedings.  Rather than being free to think creatively of new ways of doing things, our Civil Service instead spend their days fretting about whether they are complying with this or that regulation.  

There must be a better way of doing things.  If we were to end the supremacy of EU law we could act with confidence.  We would see more creative policy making.  It would be easier to deliver change.  We would be stronger and more influential on the world stage.  We could work in close partnership with the EU but on our own terms.  We would no longer have to put up with the European courts telling us what to do.  

David Cameron deserves credit for being the first Prime Minister in forty years to actually deliver a referendum on the EU.  Each and every one of us finally gets a say.  On polling day your vote will be worth just as much as my vote or David Cameron's vote.  Use it wisely.

Thursday, 18 February 2016

Local Government Funding

There has always been an historic imbalance in the amount of funding that is given by central Government to local authorities, with urban councils disproportionately benefiting at the expense of more rural ones like Cornwall Council, which face the challenges of providing services to an aging population in remote, geographically difficult areas. 

That is why I joined the other local MPs in pressing the Secretary of State at the Department for Communities and Local Government to address this longstanding problem-and to give him credit-the Local Government Finance Settlement, which was announced this week, takes an important step in the right direction. 

Under these new proposals, the amount of assistance provided to rural authorities, the Rural Services Delivery Grant, will be increased fivefold from £15.5million in 2015/16 to £80.5 million in 2016/17, which is recognition of the extra costs faced in delivering services in rural areas. Cornwall Council in particular will received £2.95 million in additional RSDG funding in 2016/17 and £1.46 million in 2017/18.

In addition, the Government has also announced that they will review the formula which is used when deciding how much funding local councils receive. This formula hasn’t been changed in ten years, but will now be amended so that it takes greater account of our ageing population and the pressure which this places on local services. This is a good deal for Cornwall, and will help close the unfair funding gap which has existed between rural and urban councils. 

There has also been some positive news from the Department for Transport, which has announced that, despite earlier concerns, funding will be provided for Network Rail to carry out two important studies that will look at improving the railway infrastructure between London and Cornwall. I wrote to the Department for Transport, pressing them to provide funding for this study on electrification and journey time reduction-which will inform an important report that the Peninsula Rail Task Force is presenting to the Government this summer on the future of further investment and improvements in the South West rail network.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Water Bills

Cornwall has always suffered from high water bills when compared to the rest of the country. This is partly due to the larger amount of coastline we have to maintain, but also due to our relatively low population, which means there are fewer people to shoulder the burden. 

That is why in the last Parliament I made it a priority to press the Treasury to introduce a new £50 rebate for all household water bills in the South West. We managed to secure the £40 million funding for this, and for the last three years I have worked to make sure it was maintained, with George Osborne pledging again at the Autumn Statement to continue the scheme until 2020. 

As a result, the average water bill in Cornwall will be £488 in 2016/17-lower than it was last year. Furthermore South West Water has also pledged to keep bills below the rate of inflation, which will also be welcome news for people in Cornwall struggling with the cost of living. 

I recognise that despite this rebate, there will always be people who struggle to pay their water bills. However, there are other measures which people can take up in order to keep bills lower.  This includes having a free water meter installed, which can typically bring savings of £400 a year, and SWW also offer something called a “WaterSure” tariff which is a special discount for those with 3 or more children who are on low incomes and receive some benefits.

Given that our water bills are still higher than the national average, I would also like to see further progress made on tackling the issue of emergency sewage discharges in Cornwall. The problems are partly caused by heavy rainfall, but exacerbated by our old, Victorian sewage system.  I am therefore pleased that SWW have recently pledged to invest in delivering improvements at the Gwithian Sewage Treatment Works, along with other sewage improvements in places like Redruth.  These won't solve the problem entirely, but they are another step in the right direction.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Protecting Green Spaces

I have always been clear that we should aim to protect green spaces in Cornwall and have always taken a strong stance against field scale solar farms which I believe are trashing the countryside and taking away valuable agricultural land.  I have been working to get improvements in the planning system and, locally, we have received some positive news over the last week.

The Government has introduced tighter rules over the last couple of years to provide greater protections for good land. These measures includes a strong presumption against building solar developments on good agricultural land and the scrapping of farm subsidies on land that has been developed into a solar farm, to make clear that such land is no longer agricultural.

Locally there have been two ongoing proposals in particular which have attracted controversy, one at Lanyon in Gwinear and another at Butteriss Farm in Edgcumbe Both these applications were opposed by local residents, and rejected by Cornwall Council, yet were still referred to the Planning Inspectorate causing concern locally.

I am a realist, and recognise there are no easy answers in regards to our future energy supply. However, while I support solar panels being used on the roofs of buildings and the development of offshore marine renewables we are now seeing too many solar farms being built, with developer’s often riding rough shod over local views and concerns. 

That is why I wrote to the Department for Communities & Local Government, asking that the applications for Lanyon and Edgcumbe be "recovered" from the Planning Inspectorate for final determination by the Secretary of State.  

In each case I think they raised issues about the way that national planning policy is interpreted and the Secretary of State agreed with both cases being recovered.  It has subsequently been confirmed that the appeal at Edgcumbe has now been refused, which will be a relief for everyone living in Edgcumbe. We now await a new appeal hearing for Lanyon so that the community have a chance to make their case.

Digital Skills and Connectivity

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