Thursday, 23 February 2017

Smart Savings

There are few things more demoralising than having debt problems and bailiffs at the door and I have always been interested in developing better ways to help people manage their finances and get back on an even keel.

Last week, I visited Smart Savings in Redruth. Smart Savings provides a range of social and financial inclusion services, including debt advice, money management training and employment skills training. They have helped over a hundred people over the last eighteen months or so and I met some of those who have benefited last week.

They now have plans for a new project aimed at helping young children from Redruth improve their numeracy skills. The "Numbers Nursery" project offers fun, forest school sessions which aim to help young children, aged between two and four, gain confidence in early year's maths and numeracy whilst being out in the fresh air, enjoying physical exercise, and also learning about the natural environment. The project will proactively support children in care, and socially excluded families on low incomes.

The outdoor maths sessions will take place on a weekly basis with activities including cooking on camp fires, learning about healthy eating, going on nature walks and treasure hunts, playing games, sowing vegetable and fruit seeds, building unique structures (e.g. dens, sand castles and moats, and mud pies), making forest and beach art, and enjoying free, healthy snacks and meals.

Smart savings is one of a number of good local projects that are helping local people with their finances.  Five years ago I became a member of the Kernow Credit Union. Unlike other lenders they don't judge people through credit agencies. Those who are in greatest need know that "subject to status" usually means "not you." With a credit union people earn their credibility. Those who save regularly each month can, after three months, borrow around three times the amount they have saved. Credit Unions are very common in other countries. In Ireland, around 60 percent of families are members and they are also common in countries like Australia. At a time when commercial banks have lost their way, credit unions are a reminder of what old fashioned, community based lending should be.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Planning: Brownfield before Greenfield

Last week, plans for a controversial new housing development near Tregenna Fields in Camborne were approved at appeal which has reignited debate about how we meet growing housing need while protecting green spaces.

There is no doubt that nationally we have a housing shortage.  A combination of population growth and issues like family breakdown means that many families are struggling to find a home that delivers their needs.  In Cornwall, the issue is exacerbated in some areas by second home owners.  So we do need to build more housing.

However, I have always said that there should be a principle of building on brownfield sites before greenfield sites, especially around our towns. 

When Cornwall Council were developing their local plan, I argued that we should make clear that brownfield sites in places like Tuckingmill and around South Crofty should be developed first. There should then be a delay in developing greenfield, urban extension sites around areas like Treswithian until we have completed a mid-term review in ten years’ time where we could take stock and reassess local housing need. This would ensure that developers didn’t simply cherry pick easy greenfield sites.

There are some good examples of successful housing developments on brownfield sites which are designed to be consistent with, and to celebrate, our industrial heritage. Coastline regenerated the old Holmans site at Trevu Road next to Camborne Train Station and saved the beautiful Holmans building at the same time. Linden Homes have done some excellent work at Pool on the site opposite Cornwall College. I was a strong supporter of the regeneration work started through the Heartlands project, and I was pleased that many homes there were offered through the “help to buy” scheme for first time buyers. 

However, I have also opposed other large scale developments where they have been on greenfield sites. Back in 2015, I asked the Secretary of State to consider calling in a planning appeal being considered for over 220 houses on St George’s Road in Hayle because I think we should develop housing on North Quay first, as planned. The scheme was blocked on that occasion.

Planning decisions will always be contentious and there are difficult balances to be struck.  However, I am still convinced that the basic principle of prioritising brownfield before greenfield development is the right approach.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Early Years Funding Formula

One of my priorities is to try to correct some of the historic unfairness to Cornwall when it comes to various funding formulas.  This includes the Early Years National Funding Formula, and I want to make sure that early years providers are funded on a fair and sustainable basis.

I recently met with Caroline Dinenage MP, who is the minister responsible for early years at the Department for Education. It was a constructive and encouraging meeting. I had been concerned about the way in which Cornwall was to be funded under initial proposals, and wanted to ensure that we are treated fairly.

The Government’s response to the recent consultation includes assurances that the Government will provide supplementary funding of £55 million a year to local authorities for maintained nursery schools for the duration of this parliament. This will keep funding stable during the implementation of the national funding formula.

I am also pleased that all local authorities will receive a minimum funding rate of at least £4.30 per hour. The Government is also introducing a new national Disability Access Fund to support access for disabled children.

 I am always hugely impressed by the work done at schools such as Camborne Nursery School. Last year, the school received its fourth successive “outstanding” report. Ofsted inspectors were impressed by the quality of education provided to children, and their levels of confidence. The school has opened a dedicated classroom for two year olds to enable staff to prepare them for their school years.

The first three years of a child's life are the most formative and have a crucial impact on a child's life chances.  Many primary school head teachers tell me they have noticed a growing trend in the last twenty years of children arriving in reception class with language difficulties and, however much effort those schools put in, those children start at a disadvantage. This is why I will continue to support local nursery schools, and fight to ensure that Cornwall is funded fairly.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Public Transport

Recently, we have seen some brand new double decker buses taking to routes in West Cornwall. The new "Tinner" service marks a major step forward in the quality of public transport in Cornwall.  It more than matches anything available elsewhere in the country and I hope this is just the beginning of some positive changes in the pipeline.  It is also great to see a brand with a local connection.  Not since the days of the iconic bus fleet run by Grenville Motors at Troon have we seen something that looks and feels so decidedly part of Camborne and Redruth (although this time the buses are brand new!).

My grandfather was the Chairman of the Grenville Bus Company back in the 1970s and 1980s and there were challenges making things work along rural routes even then.  In the last few years I have been working with the Transport team at Cornwall Council to try to help develop a more integrated approach to public transport and the idea has gained the support of government.  

We need to make connections work so that services become more frequent but also more viable. This is why I have pressed for a regular 30 minute local train service through Cornwall with buses then providing onward connections over shorter rural routes to our villages.  If we can join up commercial trunk routes of buses and trains with smaller, local, shuttle buses travelling shorter distances, you start to get the makings of something that can really work.

We are also making progress improving things on long haul journeys.  Since I was elected, I have been fighting to get an upgrade to the “Night Riviera” sleeper service, which will be introduced shortly. I am a regular and devoted user of the sleeper service, using it every weekend to get down to Camborne. I know how important the service can be for businesses and visitors alike and I am pleased that it will be able to provide more capacity and better facilities to compete with other forms of transport.

Newquay Airport is also going from strength to strength. It serves as a lifeline for businessmen and women who use the service regularly, and has seen impressive growth in the last year. It's not long ago that the very future of Newquay Airport seemed in doubt but we have seen a great turnaround in its fortunes.  A lot of work has gone in to making transport work better for Cornwall and we are now seeing important changes.


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...