Thursday, 31 March 2016

New Visions for Agriculture

The debate regarding the pro and cons of the EU is now well underway and last week I spoke at the Launch of Farmers for Britain where I outlined my vision for a new UK agriculture policy post Brexit.

The CAP accounts for almost 40 percent of the EU budget, and its influence is all pervasive. Some 80 percent of legislation affecting DEFRA comes directly from the EU and it is stifling.  EU rules frequently make trying to do the simplest of things complicated and often impossible. After decades of trying to achieve reform, I think it is time to face up to the truth.  That the very concept of a pan-European legal system that tries to regulate everything related to agriculture is fundamentally flawed, and it is time to change the way we do things.

I think there should be four key themes to a future UK agriculture policy. Firstly, we must invest more in science and technology if we want our farms to make the next step forward. This includes adopting new genetic breeding techniques along with a new UK regulatory regime based on science, rather than the politics of the EU. 

Secondly, farming has always been a risky business because of the weather and price volatility.  Farmers want to earn their profit from the market but they need a helping hand when things go wrong. I want us to explore the potential for government backed insurance schemes like they have in Canada to help mitigate risk.

Thirdly, we must replace the existing system of "cross compliance" rules and the chaos caused by an annual application process with something simpler and more rounded.  

Finally, to promote improved wildlife habitats and higher animal welfare standards, we would put in place a scheme similar to the environmental stewardship scheme we have now but we would make it simpler and broaden the remit of schemes to include measures that improve animal welfare.  

If we vote to leave there would be no such thing as EU law.  Ministers and their civil servants would be free to pilot new ways of doing things and we could actually deliver the change British farming craves. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016


The row that erupted last weekend regarding the Budget shows how difficult it can be to strike the right balance. I am a former chairman of the Conservative Disability Group which has argued for more support to help people with disabilities find work. Progress has been made.  The Access to Work scheme provides grant funding to purchase any equipment or support that might help people take up work.  However, there is no doubt that Personal Independence Payments are important to many people, and we need to exercise caution when considering change, so I was pleased that George Osborne announced he would review the decision to make further changes to PIP, and take time to consider alternative approaches.

The Budget contained good news for Cornwall on other fronts.  Firstly, it was announced that there will be a new Enterprise Zone at Hayle to support the development of Wave Energy.  Now that we have the new Marine Business Park built having these incentives are an important step forward.

George Osborne also announced the next steps to introduce the country’s first National Funding Formula for schools. For too long there have been inconsistencies in the way that schools are funded. The data used to inform the current formula is ten years old, and too often funding does not reach those students who need it most. The proposed National Funding Formula will change this, targeting need, and tackling some of the longstanding inequalities in the current system.

There was also help for small businesses who are the lifeblood of the Cornish economy.  The permanent doubling of Small Business Rate Relief, alongside changes to the maximum threshold for relief from £12,000 to £15,000, means that 600,000 small businesses will never pay business rates again. This is important for Cornwall.  Too often, I see new businesses set up in our local towns, but the burden of business rates knocks them out before they have the chance to establish themselves.  This will now change, and is an incentive for anyone thinking of setting up on their own business.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Environmental Sustainability Institute

Last week I visited the Environmental Sustainability Institute at the Tremough University campus in Penryn.  They have been in operation for a few years now, and have just had an extension which reflects the high level of interest in the work being done there.

The university has been a catalyst for the creation of new businesses and new industries. Falmouth University has spun off many new businesses in the captive industries and digital media, while from the Exeter University part we are seeing world beating environmental science and, of course, the world’s foremost centre of excellence for geology at Camborne School of Mines.

The Environmental Sustainability Institute carries out leading environmental research for government departments like Defra and for private businesses.  They have some state of the art science labs, and during my visit I saw some of the work being done to research bee populations, and their movements to try to provide the evidence base that will help our pollinator strategy, and help reverse the decline in bee populations.

I also saw some of the excellent work being done on drone technology which offers many new opportunities to help us understand the environment with drones being able to offer sophisticated survey data, and photography, providing us with a better understanding of the topography of the land, and a better assessment of issues like flood risk, plant health, soil quality and landscape features. This sort of sophisticated data is transforming our ability to manage both our environment, and to promote more efficient farming.

I also saw some of the work being done by a team investigating badger populations and movements which is of particular interest in my role as Defra minister when it comes to fighting TB.  The badger cull policy is contentious, but we know it is an essential component of any coherent policy to eradicate this terrible disease, alongside other measures such as improving cattle movements.  The more we can understand about badger populations, the better.

Thursday, 10 March 2016

St Piran's Day

Last Saturday I attended the St Piran’s Day celebrations in Redruth. This event goes from strength to strength every year and it was good to see the town centre packed and many local schools and groups taking part in the parade. 

Over the last few years we have seen a growing interest in Cornwall’s history and culture, and our part of Cornwall is right at the heart of this revival.  In Redruth, the new archive, Kresen Kernow, is now really starting to take shape on the site of the old brewery.  The smart, new walkways and public spaces give a good indication of how the centre will look once completed.

I lobbied hard to have Redruth (the home of Cornwall’s world-wide diaspora) chosen for this project, and once complete the archive will bring about new jobs, housing, and kick-start the wider regeneration of the town centre. Elsewhere, Heartlands at Pool, having had a difficult start, is now starting to find its feet with a number of events such as concerts and the fireworks display that make it a community focus. 

As well as projects that celebrate our historical achievements, it is also important to celebrate our unique, cultural heritage, and shortly before Christmas I proposed an idea to re-introduce a GCSE in the Cornish Language.  Before 1996, students taking their GCSEs used to have the option of studying Cornish, but it was discontinued due to a lack of participation. I now think the time is right to reintroduce the Cornish language as a course. The evidence shows that there are benefits to learning a second language which go beyond the learning of the language itself, and while some students may feel uninspired by French or Spanish, they may feel more enthusiastic about studying their native language.

Thursday, 3 March 2016


I was a student at Cornwall College where I learnt how to weld and went on to study for a BTEC in Business and then farm management.  So it was great to return there again last Friday for one of my regular updates on some of the good work they are doing on apprenticeships and training.

Cornwall College is currently the largest provider of apprenticeships in the South West, with over a thousand apprentices currently training in fields as diverse as plumbing, carpentry and engineering. There are over three hundred of these apprentices being run at Pool making it the largest site. The college has excellent facilities, dedicated staff and you could sense the commitment and enthusiasm of the students. In January, Ofsted recognised this, and praised the college as a catalyst for raising skills in Cornwall, highlighting the quality of the apprenticeships on offer.

The value of apprenticeships as a route into a rewarding career is increasingly recognised with talented students now often choosing an apprenticeship over a degree.  It means they earn while they learn and begin their career progression far faster.  The Government has its own ambitions to keep increasing the number of apprentices, and at the Autumn Statement in November, the Chancellor announced he would be introducing an apprenticeship levy on big business, with the goal of raising £3 billion in order to fund 3 million new apprenticeships by 2020. This will build on what has already been accomplished since 2010. According to the Office of National Statistics, there were 100,000 more young people in full time employment than last year-while in 2014/15, there were 500 new apprenticeship starts in Camborne and Redruth alone. 

This is important and encouraging news for Cornwall. For too long we have seen our brightest young people leave for other parts of the country in search of new work opportunities, and as we seek to attract new industries and skilled jobs to Cornwall it is important that we continue developing skills so young people can take advantage of the new opportunities being created.

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...