Thursday, 29 September 2016

Marine Conservation Society's Great British Beach Clean

This week I took part in the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Beach Clean at Porthtowan, joining volunteers to clean up litter and record what we found. I have taken part in the event for several years and, as a Minister in Defra, the evidence collected across the country helps inform policy on reducing litter.

Plastic is a particular concern; it takes hundreds of years to break down and has been the subject of high profile debate recently.  The problem is compounded year after year as new plastics find their way into the oceans while those that have already been there for decades remain and break down into smaller particles.  While the precise impact of plastics in the marine environment is difficult to quantify, I have always taken the view that we should be on the side of caution. 

We know that ghost nets lost from fishing vessels can have considerable impact on marine life.  Each year, the Cornwall Seals Group based near Hayle find seals that have been entangled in nets or caught in discarded sections of net.  We know that tiny particles of plastic attract toxins in the marine environment and when ingested by fish and marine mammals, those toxins can enter the body. With other marine species like molluscs and shell fish, plastics can block their digestive systems or affect their ability to function normally.

 Last year the government introduced a 5p plastic bag charge. The result has been amazing with a drop in carrier bag use of about 80 percent.  This year there has been debate about the use of microbeads in cosmetics. Microbeads are tiny plastic particles used to give a gritty texture to some soaps but which sewage systems are incapable of filtering so they end up in the sea.  Earlier this year I told the House of Commons that we were considering implementing a ban on the use of such plastics in the manufacture and sale of cosmetics and this was adopted as policy a few weeks ago.  

 We also need to tackle littering onshore. Last year 5,500 people were taken to court for littering offences and 30,000 on the spot fines were introduced.  There is more to do, but we are making progress in tackling the challenge.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Hayle Harbour and Foundry Day

Last week, I had the pleasure of formally opening Hayle’s first Harbour Festival. Hayle Harbour and Foundry Day is a celebration of local business, local talent, Hayle heritage and our community. The organisers deserve huge credit. There was great entertainment throughout the day, and it showed that Hayle really is on the up.

There has been an event in Foundry for several years, but this was the first year it has been broadened to cover the harbour. The day aimed to bring Hayle Harbour back to the forefront of the community, and to bring different businesses, charities and clubs together to show off what Hayle has to offer.

When I became an MP I said I wanted to see Hayle Harbour regenerated. It had been left derelict for too long and plans had been talked about all my life time. It was time for action.  While a lot of work needed to go into planning something that local people could get behind, and we needed government grants to put infrastructure in place, like the new bridge into North quay, great progress has been made.  As well as the new harbour walls, we now have a marine energy park on North Quay.

The next stage is to complete sensitive development at the end of South Quay, put in place the footbridge to link the quay to Penpol Terrace and get things moving on North Quay.  There are now two new developers who have bought the harbour from the Dutch bank, ING, and I will be working with them to ensure we get the rest of the development right.

Hayle is going from strength to strength and there is a new confidence in the town but we have to see through what has been started.
On a less optimistic note, this week saw a reminder of the threat of flash floods in Cornwall. Homes, businesses and schools have been affected. We can't legislate for the weather but we can prepare. In the last parliament, the Government spent over £1.5 billion on investment in flood defences. During the current parliament we plan to invest an additional £2.3 billion, supporting around 1500 schemes that will help protect some 300,000 homes.  

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Annual Pasty Festival

Last Saturday I attended the annual Pasty Festival in Redruth, where we celebrate the international home of the Cornish pasty. The weather was glorious, and I even tried my hand at making my own pasty!

When we think of the mass Cornish migrations of the late nineteenth century, we tend to think of the moves to Australia, South Africa or the US but Cornish miners fanned out across the world taking their mining and engineering expertise to new countries. Wherever the Cornish miners from Redruth went, they took the Cornish pasty with them.

Cornish miners also settled at Real Del Monte in Mexico. I have previously met local representatives from the town when they visited the Heartlands project in Pool and there were other Mexican pasty makers in attendance last Saturday and there was a Mexican band.

Cornish miners were responsible for developing silver mining in Real Del Monte during the nineteenth century. They also introduced football and other sports to Mexico. Hundreds of Cornish miners ended their lives in the area and many are to be found in one of the local cemeteries, apparently facing home to Cornwall which was a common request at the time.  This cemetery was damaged by storms earlier this year and credit is due to Mike Kiernan from the Cornish Global Migration Programme who helped raise funds to repair it.

Today the Cornish heritage is evident in some of their architecture and in their love of pasties.  

Four years ago, I and Cornwall’s other MPs, were in the middle of a battle to reverse the government’s decision to put VAT on freshly baked pasties. The traditional exemption from VAT was what civil servants described as an “anomaly”. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and George Osborne intervened to reverse the measure and ensure that the Cornish Pasty continued to be given the special treatment it deserves. Last Saturday was really well attended with a buzz about the town.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

National Citizenship Service

During the Summer Recess, I have enjoyed spending time in the constituency. A particular highlight was a visit to a group of young people taking part in the National Citizenship Service (NCS). NCS was set up in 2011, and is open to all 16-17 year olds in England. It aims to bring together young people from all sorts of different backgrounds, helping to break down social barriers and develop self-confidence. 

Programmes like this have a crucial role to play in giving opportunities to young people when they are on the cusp of adulthood but will be finding their feet socially and emotionally. 

This year, the group I visited were taking part in a variety of community projects: contributing to the development of a sensory area at BF Adventure, participating in a project at the Dreadnought Centre (which provides a range of support programmes for children and young people who are facing emotional and behavioural problems) and a beach litter clean.

NCS is a residential course, so it gives participants the opportunity to leave home behind for a couple of weeks and immerse themselves in a fresh environment and make new friends. This can be a great way to develop their confidence and independence as it means those taking part are all in the same boat.

I have met groups participating in NCS previously, and it has always been clear to me just how beneficial the scheme is. I was working for David Cameron when he first came up with the idea over a decade ago and it is good to see the scheme growing. Huge congratulations to all those young people who took on the challenge and for delivering something in their community.  It was clear from speaking to them that they enjoyed it and made new friends.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Exam Results

Getting exam results can be a nerve racking experience because, for many, the results they achieve at A level and GCSE can have an important bearing on where they go to university, and their future career paths.

In the last fortnight, we have seen some exceptional A Level and GCSE results from our local schools. Redruth School has had its best ever year for GCSE results, and a 98.5% pass rate at A Level. Camborne Science and International Academy achieved a 100% pass rate at A Level, as well as topping GCSE league tables in Cornwall. Hayle Community School and Pool Academy have both seen their GCSE results improve this year and they are all achieving more against a backdrop of a curriculum which is tougher and more rigorous than ever.

I am really proud of all of our schools, which are some of the best schools in Cornwall. They have each made tremendous progress in recent years. When I am visiting them, I always find that there is a sense of pride from students and teachers alike.

 Clearly, our secondary schools are going from strength to strength.  Earlier this year the Maths department at Pool Academy was short listed for a national teaching award for the success of their innovative work teaching Maths.  Hayle continues to do excellent work on modern languages; Camborne boasts impressive international exchanges and work on science and Redruth has a particularly strong sports department and as been on the way up over the last few years.  I am proud that our schools cooperate and learn from each other, whilst maintaining healthy but friendly competition.

I think it is important to create a culture of excellence in the education system where schools are constantly striving to achieve more for all children. You only get one education, so we must do all we can to make it a success. I wish all of our schools the very best for the 2016/17 academic year, and look forward to working with all of them to continue the success that we have seen this summer.

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...