Thursday, 28 April 2016

George in Japan

Last week I represented the UK at the G7 summit in Japan where we discussed how to address the challenge of feeding a growing world population while protecting the environment. 

Around the world countries are turning their attention to the challenge that demographic changes pose. The world population is currently projected to grow to about nine billion by 2050 and demand for food could increase by around fifty percent. The truth is we are going to need our farming and fishing industries like never before and we will need leaps forward in technology to deliver more food more sustainably.

In the UK we are leading the world in developing new technologies which mean we can make better use of things like satellite data to have more precise use of inputs like fertilisers.  We are also doing work to breed new proteins from peas that will enable us to reduce our reliance on imported soya beans for animal feeds and we are funding a range of breeding programmes to develop new varieties of crop that are drought tolerant so that developing countries will still be able to produce food even from land where water becomes scarce.

Fish protein will also be important.  We have made big strides over the last two decades in understanding the science of our oceans and in improving the sustainability of the fishing industry. There is also scope to do far more by way of aquaculture and the UK is funding work that would enable essential Omega 3 fish oils crucial to fish farms to be synthesised in crops grown in the soil. 

While in Tokyo I also did some trade promotion work to promote British food and drinks products.  It was great to see Cornish company Tregothnan out in Japan selling Cornish grown tea to the Japanese and other Asian markets. They had even been asked to be the judge in a competition to assess the quality of tea!  We have some amazing and unique food and drink producers in Cornwall who are increasingly finding an interest for their products overseas.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Schools Funding

One of my priorities is to try to correct some of the historic unfairness to Cornwall when it comes to various funding formulas.  In terms of education, per-pupil funding in Cornwall is £4,782 compared to a national average of £5,225. To put it another way, Cornwall Council is ranked 143rd out of 151 Local Authorities, placing our pupils amongst the most poorly funded in the country.  This has been the case for decades and I am pleased that the Government has committed to a complete overhaul of the existing funding system to try to put things right.

Under current arrangements, the Dedicated Schools Grant is based on information that is over ten years old. This means that the existing system does not take into account all that has occurred over the last ten years regarding demographic changes, thereby preventing funding from reaching those pupils that need it most. 

This outdated system is further compounded by the fact this funding does not go directly to schools, but rather to councils, who then use their own formula to distribute it locally. Different councils use different formula, and spend different amounts on factors like sparsity and attainment. This means we end up with a confused, inconsistent system where a secondary pupil with low attainment would attract over £2,200 of additional funding in Birmingham, compared with £36 in Darlington. 

Under the proposed formula, pupils will now attract the same basic level of funding regardless of where they live in the country. This basic per-pupil funding will then be augmented by additional factors such a deprivation ensuring that those pupils who require the most help will receive the support they deserve. 

Most importantly, by 2020, this funding will bypass councils entirely, and go directly from Government to schools, removing the need for councils to set local formula. This will provide head teachers with certainty about their budgets, and do away with the post code lottery which defines our current system.  There is further to go, but the commitment to overhaul the funding system offers Cornwall's schools an opportunity for the future.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Fishing and the EU

Last week I met with fisherman in Newlyn to discuss the future of the industry in the event of a vote to leave the EU. 

There are some things which we would definitely retain. We would still target sustainable fishing limits to ensure our fisheries remain profitable for the future, and we would still have as a quota system as it is the only system that works in a shared fishery with mobile species. In addition, we would still strive to challenge the wasteful practice of discarding dead fish back into the sea. 

However, free from the hindrance of the EU, the UK would be able to assert itself in the North Sea to deliver fair and sustainable fishing. There are two key reasons why we would be better off. 

Firstly, the North Sea is the most important fishery in the UK. However, fishing opportunities for stocks are decided by the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, not the EU, which only has a seat at the table, alongside Norway, Iceland and even the Faroes. It is extraordinary that the UK, despite being the country with the greatest interest in the North Sea, is denied a seat at the table and we must put our faith in the hands of an EU negotiator, who more often than not, fails to deliver. 

The second reason for voting leave is important for fisherman in the West Country. Outside the EU we would re-establish national control for 200 nautical miles as provided for in international law. We would then be in a strong position to argue for a fairer share of quota allocations in many fish stocks. 

There has long been an historical injustice in quota allocations to the UK fleet. In 2015 the UK allocation of Cod was just 834 tonnes compared to 5,500 for France. For Plaice in the Channel is was 1,300 tonnes for the UK, but 2,600 for France. The list goes on. If we take control of our fishing grounds we will have the opportunity to revisit these issues and deliver a fairer share of fishing opportunities. 

Friday, 8 April 2016

Recess in the Constituency

The great thing about recess is that it allows MPs to get away from Parliament, and catch up with work in their constituencies.

On Tuesday I started off in Constantine where I met volunteers from the Helford River Association where we discussed the issue of boats being abandoned and left to decay. There is often a problem with boat owners avoiding mooring fees by simply tethering their boats to trees on the banks of private land and it can prove difficult to identify the owners.

Then I met volunteers involved in the conservation of the Helford passage and we discussed some of the issues of illegal netting in the river which could pose a threat to diving birds. The Helford has numerous different marine protection designations and it’s good to have such an enthusiastic volunteer network.

This was then followed by a visit to the Mawnan Smith Crafts Workshops, where I met the talented craftsmen based there, ranging from carpenters to jewellery makers and the local blacksmith.  

I also had two meetings last week with local farmers where we discussed a number of issues including TB and the Rural Payments Agency and some of the debate around the EU referendum.

Wednesday brought me back into Camborne, where the main event for that day was a two-hour drop in surgery which I held in my constituency office. Case work is the bread and butter of any MPs job, and it was a good opportunity for anyone to come in off the street and speak with me about any issue that might be troubling them.

On Thursday I had a meeting about the closure of Cardrew Health Centre, which gave me the chance to seek assurances about the new walk in service that will be opening at Barncoose Hospital. I also visited the new memory café at Cornwall College Camborne which is a great project that allows those suffering from memory loss and their carers to come together in a social setting and take part in a number of challenges such as quizzes.

The Food Strategy

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister was at a farm outside Hayle to announce the government’s first-ever food strategy.  SEF is one of a nu...