Thursday, 31 December 2020
Thursday, 24 December 2020
As I write this column, Parliament has just broken up for the Christmas period and the final Christmas Cards have been sent, ready to catch the last post in order to make it before Christmas. This year, as in previous years, I enlisted the help of local primary schools in the area to design my Christmas card. As always, I was very impressed with the many talented artists we have in this part of Cornwall.
2020 has been an unexpectedly difficult year. However, while many have spent much of the year inside and unable to meet with friends or family, it has also brought out the best in people. We have seen how vital the brave frontline workers are to our country, particularly those working in the NHS who have been working tirelessly to protect lives and slow the spread of the virus.
Social distancing has made people value friendships and family connections as many had perhaps started to under-appreciate them, given the frantic pace of life in the modern world. People have also discovered a new connection with the natural world during the full lockdown as access to public spaces was just about all we had.
In an increasingly digital age, where a Facebook post or digital Christmas message has become the norm, it’s refreshing that the tradition of Christmas cards plays a vital role in keeping touch with old friends and family. Throughout life, there are always old friends who we are in danger of losing touch with. Sometimes because they have moved away, changed job or are preoccupied with other priorities. The annual Christmas card is often the final thread that prevents you from losing touch altogether, so time writing cards is time well spent.
We should also be looking ahead to 2021 and the chance to turn the corner in this pandemic and try to get back to life as normal. The UK was the first country to approve the Coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer. This is the culmination of months of rigorous clinical trials and is a brilliant reflection on the world-class scientists and clinicians that we have in the UK. In the months ahead we will be rolling this out to millions of people starting with those who are most vulnerable to the virus.
We should also see 2021 as an opportunity to press reset and build back better from the pandemic. For the first time in nearly 40 years, we will be an independent trading nation, abiding by laws set in our borders, not on the continent. 2021 will be a new start for the UK and I am confident we will seize that prospect readily. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year!
Thursday, 17 December 2020
Thursday, 10 December 2020
Last week the UK became the first country to approve the Coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and this week deployment of it began. Developing a successful vaccine has been the only way out of this difficult pandemic and a huge amount of work has gone into dozens of different candidate vaccines as the world has wrestled with this most difficult challenge.
The government accepted the recommendation from the Independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine for use. This is the culmination of months of rigorous clinical trials and is a brilliant reflection on the world-class scientists and clinicians that we have in the UK. The MHRA is confident that the vaccine has met its strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness.
It was clear from the outset that producing a safe and effective vaccine quickly would be a huge challenge. The reality is that most vaccine projects fail and vaccines usually take many years to discover and develop. But some big advances in vaccine technology emerged over the past decade and they have come right to the fore in this pandemic.
Time has been of the essence, but science cannot simply cut corners. It is a discipline that works only if it is rigorous, transparent, scrutinised by regulators, and its findings published and peer-reviewed. Everything from the laboratory work through to the clinical trials is pored over by independent experts in the regulatory agencies. The approval of this first vaccine is a huge breakthrough in our fight against this virus.
However, we cannot let our guard down yet. Keeping the infection rate low is vital because that's what will allow us to push the virus into the ground as quickly as possible once vaccinations begin. Back in September and October, the virus was spreading rapidly in all parts of the country. As a result, the government responded with new national restriction measures and this brought the R number down and the virus back under control. The newly revised tier system will help ensure we do not waste that success and keep the numbers down.
The vaccine will be rolled out in earnest over the next few weeks with the first doses arriving at hospitals and care homes across Cornwall this week. The priority will be to vaccinate those most at risk in our society, including care home residents, health and care staff, the elderly and the clinically extremely vulnerable, from there other age groups will be vaccinated in turn. The Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust is one of the 50 designated 'vaccine hubs' that will distribute the inoculations. Around 800,000 doses are expected to be delivered this week to hubs all over the country, with millions more in the coming weeks.
If we can keep the spread of the virus under the control over the next few weeks and months and remain cautious over the winter, then we can see light at the end of the tunnel and could turn the corner in Spring or early summer and finally get back to normal life again.
Thursday, 3 December 2020
This week is National Grief Awareness Week 2nd to 8th December. Of course, we have got used to the growing number of “days” and “weeks” designated by campaign groups or charities seeking to raise awareness of their particular issues. However, every single one of us, at some point in our lives, will lose someone close to us, so bereavement and grief affects us all.
Some experience grief instantly, others seem to cope but are then affected some years later. Some put on a brave face, others pour their heart out. But the first time anyone loses an immediate family member is often the hardest. There is never any shortage of well-intentioned advice about the need to 'move on' and 'get on with life' but that's not always helpful.
I remember an experienced volunteer at the Samaritans once telling me that losing someone close to you is a bit like losing a limb. You never really get over it but you do get used to it and can eventually learn to cope. Anniversaries of the date that a loved one was lost are often particularly difficult as can be family events like Christmas when the absence is felt more keenly.
In this current year, the measures that have had to be taken to control the Coronavirus have created new challenges. Many will have lost loved ones this year, but the myriad of restrictions and limitations have left some feeling unable to come to terms with the loss. It has been more difficult to visit loved ones in the hospital, funerals have been closed to all but the immediate family. Families have not been able to reach out to relatives and friends for a much-needed hug and human connection, making the process more difficult than it already is. Picking up the phone to those who have suffered a loss has never been more important and, when this pandemic is over, there will doubtless be many memorial services held in lieu of the funerals that could never fully be held so that we can properly remember those who were close to us.
The local charity, Penhaligons Friends, based in Redruth does fantastic work to support children and young people who have suffered a bereavement. Learning to cope is every bit harder for teenagers who have a lot of emotional changes in their life as it is, and younger children who often struggle to understand why such a tragedy has happened to them and can often feel it might even be their fault and need reassurance. Penhaligon’s Friends is there for these children and teenagers. It has built up over 80 volunteers across Cornwall and, at any one time, will be helping and supporting hundreds of Cornish children. The charity runs some excellent support groups where young people going through the same grieving process can share their feelings and receive support. The volunteers have seen a lot of tragedy but, over the years, they have helped thousands of young people come to terms with what life has dealt them.
There are many other support groups available. At Heartlands, for instance, there is regular a grief café available and volunteers will be available locally to support you if you should need it. You can find more details by going to the Good Grief Trust’s website. SEE HERE
Thursday, 26 November 2020
Last week the Prime Minister announced the Government’s new 10-point agenda for a green industrial revolution, setting out an ambitious plan for clean energy, transport and nature using innovative technologies. The Coronavirus Pandemic has led us to appreciate the difference nature makes to our lives. Now more than ever, we are reminded of the importance of looking after our natural environment. The Government is committed to placing the environment at the heart of national recovery as we build back better and greener from the pandemic.
The plan will bring new investment in hydrogen, nuclear and wind power helping transform the national grid, ending reliance on fossil fuels. By 2030, the government will quadruple the amount of offshore wind power we are producing, enough to power every home and supporting up to 60,000 jobs. Cornwall will be a beneficiary of this particular part of the new plan, with the Celtic Sea offering the required depths to build the offshore wind towers. In Hayle, the Wave Hub project has diversified in recent years utilising its existing infrastructure for the deployment of Floating Offshore Wind. Placing the turbines out at sea helps to reduce the disruption and enhance their efficiency.
In addition to wind power, the government will expand the use of other clean energy sources such as hydrogen and nuclear power. Working with industry, the government is aiming to generate 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, creating the first town heated entirely by hydrogen by the end of the decade. Advancing nuclear power as a clean energy source, including the development of small and advanced reactors, will allow the UK to become less reliant on fossil fuels for our energy supply. Last week I met a group of entrepreneurs working on plans to build a new sustainable commercial laundry powered by Hydrogen as well as a research facility to develop this technology.
The new renewable sources of electricity will allow us to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles and revolutionise our transport infrastructure. To achieve this, we will invest £1.3 billion to accelerate the rollout of charging points and nearly £500 million in development and mass-scale production of electric vehicle batteries. Cornwall is a natural source of lithium which is an important part of electric car battery production. Cornish Lithium is prospecting for lithium within the hot springs that naturally occur beneath the surface in and around Cornish granites, including in South Crofty. This creates an exciting opportunity for Cornwall to be at the forefront of this transport revolution.
Since being elected, I have prioritised economic regeneration and green recovery. Cornwall leads the way in some of the green technologies of the future, bringing new jobs and investment to Cornwall. The UK has made great progress in de-carbonising our electricity generation with carbon emissions falling by about 40% as the technology around offshore wind was perfected and we are now starting to see the same happen in other areas. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle have always had a rich industrial heritage leading to some of the most important inventions and discoveries that this country has made. Hopefully, this will continue as we create a cleaner and more resilient society over the next decade.
Thursday, 19 November 2020
The new BBC documentary on Cornwall by Simon Reeve which started this week is a thoughtful project which could bring to life some of the broader challenges and issues that Cornwall faces, but also to show the rest country some of our unique characteristics. Beautiful though our coastline is, there is more to Cornwall than beaches and the programme has the opportunity to explore these.
Camborne featured quite heavily in the first episode with the charitable work of Don Gardner being rightly recognised and with a tour of South Crofty mine and the potential for it being reopened also explored. My family have lived in this area for some 400 years and have lived through the changing fortunes of my home towns. At the peak of the tin mining era, Redruth was one of the wealthiest towns in the country and you can still see today in the beautiful Victorian architecture around the town the legacy of that wealth. In Camborne, Holmans developed into a world-beating engineering company exporting its technology around the world employing thousands. It was still a major employer when I was growing up in the late 70s and early 80s and when it finally closed it was a blow to the fortunes of our town. There were other successful local companies like the Tyacks Group, which my grandfather was involved with.
The loss of Holmans was a bitter blow and did lead to some deprivation and initially high unemployment. However, there has also been great resilience in our community. Many of the apprentices who worked at Holmans went on to set up their own businesses. Today we have some new, world-beating engineering firms like Large Diameter Drilling (LDD) at Tolvaddon and DP Engineering which continue the tradition of precision engineering and drilling technology while great local companies like Teagle continue to do well. We have also seen a new computer software industry develop in a cluster around Pool with companies like BlueFruit and Headforwards Software growing exponentially and with the computer software sector now employing about 500 people on good salaries in our area. We have a new Cornwall Archive on the site of the old Redruth Brewery and the regeneration of Hayle Harbour now fully underway and unemployment is actually below the national average.
In common with many other areas around the country, we have pockets of deprivation and we need to address that by continuing to increase the National Living Wage to help those on the lowest incomes, attract new industries and better-paid jobs and also support the excellent schools we have locally who at raising aspirations so that young people growing up in our area today can take those new jobs.
However, while recognising some of the challenges we must not undermine the self-confidence of our area. Once again, Pengegon was singled out for coverage in the documentary. I remember Claire Arymar, a community co-ordinator in Pengegon, telling me those who lived there often felt patronised by people constantly going there to talk about poverty when actually they were a community who looked out for one another and had resilience; not everyone wanted to go to the beach, and it wasn’t always helpful to tell them they should. We have a history to be proud of and great ability and expertise still to draw upon, and it is very important that we instil the confidence in the next generation to fulfil their potential.
Thursday, 12 November 2020
The current lockdown meant that we were not able to mark Remembrance Sunday in the way that we normally would. While wreaths have been laid at memorials across the country, there have not been the usual services or parades. However, on both Sunday and Wednesday, many people across Cornwall and the country will have paused to remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom.
This year is an important anniversary on multiple fronts. It is the 75th Anniversary since the end of the Second World War, a conflict that had theatres in almost every continent and saw millions engaged in fighting. This year is also the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain where RAF pilots from all over the world fought to defend our island from an invasion. Many of the men who flew the Spitfires and Hurricanes were as young as 18 or 19 and showed tremendous bravery in such a critical battle that was the first big setback for Hitler and started to turn the tide of events.
Thursday, 5 November 2020
Thursday, 29 October 2020
Since I was first elected, I have always made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority. Our local towns were once at the heart of the industrial revolution and our expertise in mining engineering was second to none.
At the height of the tin mining era, Redruth was once one of the wealthiest towns in the land. As the tin mines closed, the fortunes of our local towns like Redruth fell behind other parts of the country but today there remains a legacy of that era with some fabulous and unique architecture in the town. All too often the political attention was on big northern cities, but now we have an opportunity to reset this imbalance and deliver the economic regeneration that our towns and communities need.
A fundamental issue for our part of Cornwall is economic regeneration and how we can make sure our towns get back on their feet and revive. The way people shop has gone through fundamental change and recent events will have accelerated some trends further. Thirty years ago we saw major destination retailers all start to congregate in Truro and towns like Camborne and Redruth lost out and some of the excellent independent department stores were lost. Now, shopping is moving online at great pace and that has left places like Truro in a very vulnerable position.
We therefore need to think about our towns differently in the future. It may be that the 20th century model of retail taking over the town centre and residential being primarily on estates around the outskirts of town has run its course. We need to get better at making our town centres more of a mixed space for living and working and improving the public realm and streetscape. As more people opt to be self-employed and often make use of digital media to work from home, there is likely to be a change in what our towns are for in the decades ahead.
In Redruth, the new Kresen Kernow Archive is an excellent start. Projects like Krowji and the work around the Butter Market also show just what is possible with some imagination, passion and local leadership and we now have funds to help facilitate further work. In recent weeks further funding of an additional £1.68m was announced, by Heritage England, to aid in the regeneration of the town. The scheme will focus around Fore Street, increasing its attractiveness to a wider range of residents and visitors and better exploiting its potential.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen many high-streets all over the country suffer from a lack of footfall. When we turn the page on this terrible setback we need to think creatively about how to build back better and allow our town centres to find new purpose.