Wednesday, 3 March 2021

2021 St Piran’s Day

This week, we celebrate St Piran’s Day. However, this year will be a more muted celebration, given the pandemic, with regular events such as the parade in Redruth unable to take place. Instead, the St Piran’s Festival will take place virtually starting on Saturday 6th March with videos, music, and pictures. While we may not be able to enjoy the full day of celebrations, it is still an important opportunity to celebrate our Cornish identity and heritage.

Over the past few years, we have seen a growing interest in Cornwall’s history and culture. Camborne, Redruth and Hayle are at the very heart of this revival, and it’s great to see these great industrial towns leading the way in promoting our rich and wonderful history. Cornwall has a distinct culture and an industrial heritage to be proud of, with Redruth playing a particularly important role as one of the birthplaces of the industrial revolution and as the centre of the Cornish diaspora across the world. In its prime, Redruth was at the heart of the tin mining industry and there were many feats of engineering developed in Cornwall at that time. We exported mining expertise around the globe from Australia and South Africa to California, South America and Mexico.

The Kresen Kernow Cornish Archive, based in Redruth, is an excellent facility to record our history and store important artefacts.  It was a major breakthrough for the town to be designated as the chosen location and has regenerated the old brewery site. Redruth beat competition from other towns to win designation by Cornwall Council as the preferred site for the project and saw off fierce competition from dozens of other bids nationally to successfully land funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Redruth Town Council has shown tremendous enthusiasm for the new archive project and credit should also go to both existing and former local councillors for their support in getting this great project completed.

There has also been some good progress in bringing some of our heritage buildings back into use.  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 November 2020, 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.

Cornwall has a unique constitutional place within our United Kingdom which is recognised. Many of us consider ourselves as Cornish before English and while we may not be able to celebrate St Piran’s day collectively this year, we can still all take a moment to be proud of our heritage. I am looking forward to building on what we have started as a local community once we have defeated the pandemic.

Wednesday, 24 February 2021

2021 NFU Conference

This week I spoke at the annual NFU conference, which, like all such events was held virtually this year.  It has been a mixed year for farming.  Floods a year ago made it difficult to get on the land to sow crops and dry weather in parts of the country led to low yields.  However, other sectors are performing really well.  Lamb prices are running at record highs and the beef sector has seen a strong recovery over the last year.  Although there was a bit of a blip around the start of the pandemic, diary prices have also remained stable and farm incomes in many areas have seen a boost. 

In many ways, this has been a uniquely challenging year as the whole world has wrestled with the greatest public health challenge since the influenza pandemic of 1918.  At home, it has been a reminder that domestic food production makes up a critical component of our nation’s food security.  It has also been a year of some uncertainty as the UK re-established itself as a truly independent, self-governing nation for the first time in almost 50 years.  The negotiations on a future trading relationship with the EU were fraught, but we secured the tariff-free trade agreement we always sought, but with the freedom to make our own laws again and to chart a new direction for agriculture policy.

However, now that we have left the EU, we can face the future with some confidence. We are living through a moment of great change. We’re thinking through from first principles what a coherent policy actually looks like, and we are charting an orderly course towards it.  We are not wasting time.  I am a great believer that whatever you want to achieve in life, you should begin it now.

We have passed the landmark Agriculture Bill that signals a major shift in British agriculture policy toward a more efficient, user-friendly, and importantly, greener future. A vibrant farming industry needs to attract new talent and fresh thinking. We understand that new entrants can find it difficult to start a new business, in part because of strong competition and high prices for land. We will work with councils with ‘county farms’ estates as well as other landowners to create a scheme that will foster new opportunities and offer business mentoring to the next generation of farming entrepreneurs.

Our newly found freedom allows new payments and incentives that will reward farmers for farming more sustainably helping them contribute to our net-zero target by creating space for nature on their land, enhancing animal health and welfare, and reducing carbon emissions. We will continue to work closely with groups like the NFU and farmers themselves to help farming businesses become more productive and sustainable in the future as we recover from the pandemic.

My family have farmed in this part of Cornwall for six generations. The names of fields were passed from one generation to the next. Like all farmers, we knew our land and so I understand the responsibility that farmers feel to the hard work of previous generations and also their commitment to the future.  That is why I want to get our future policy right and to ensure that it delivers not just for the farmers of today but for the farmers of tomorrow too.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Progress of the Vaccine Rollout

Last Friday, I took part in a virtual visit to the vaccination site at Stithians Showground. I got to hear about the brilliant work that is being carried out there to help defeat the pandemic. In the last six weeks, we have made some fantastic progress with the rollout of the vaccine, over 16 million people nationally and about 150,000 in Cornwall with everyone playing their part.

As I write this, we have now vaccinated the first 4 groups set out by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) in December, which means almost everyone over the age of 70. We will now begin work on groups 5-9 working toward the target of vaccinating everyone over the age of 50 by the end of April.
While there has been some discussion about the priority the JCVI gave, we now know that the over-70s represent 88% of those most at risk of dying from Covid-19. Once we have vaccinated the groups 1-9 we will have hopefully eliminated 99% of all potential deaths in the future.
The roll-out of the vaccine is a key route for us out of lockdown and the pandemic. Next week the Prime Minister will announce the road-map for exiting from the lockdown. This is likely to begin on the 8th of March with the opening of schools. Young people have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Children in both primary schools and secondary have been separated from friends, those studying for exams have been disrupted and there will be some who have lost confidence, drifted away from friends or have insecurities exacerbated. That is why it is vital that we get schools open first and as soon as it is safe to do so.  Hopefully, this milestone marks an important point in our return to normality. After that, there is likely to be a gradual easing of other restrictions on retail and later on restaurants and pubs.
The last 12 months have been exceptionally challenging, but we have seen key workers from the NHS to food production and supply really step up. Over the next few weeks, we should begin to see the effect of the vaccine programme show results but we really want this to the last lockdown so we should be cautious as we take the restrictions off to make sure we don’t end up with a reversion back to high infection rates.

Wednesday, 10 February 2021

Importance of First Aid and Emergency Awarenes

 Recently, my office was made aware of the efforts of two young children from St Meriodoc’s Infant’s School who helped and supported their mother when their youngest sister had a severe allergic reaction to some medication.  Seren and Reece Pope had recently covered emergency awareness and how to help during a home learning session that the school had run so we're prepared and knew how to act, helping to keep the rest of the family calm while they waited for an ambulance to arrive.

In recent years there has been a growing number of cases involving food allergies.  There are thought to be around 1.5 million people in the country who are affected by such conditions.  It is a complex area and no one knows exactly why such allergies develop or why they are becoming more prevalent.  Such reactions are caused when the immune system becomes hypersensitive to a particular food or medication or, in some cases, a bee sting.  One theory is that the condition is genetic and that populations have evolved over tens of thousands of years to recognise natural substances in their local environment but because foods and are now moved around the world, the immune system is more likely to detect something it doesn’t recognise and therefore reacts to.  Other theories are that modern living may lead to a situation where the immune system becomes more sensitive in some cases.  More work is needed to understand the drivers of such allergies.

Last year I met the parents of Natasha Ednan-Laperouse who was just fifteen when she tragically lost her life on a flight from Heathrow after she had eaten a baguette that had sesame seeds on it and to which she had a severe allergic reaction.  The case prompted calls for a review of the law regarding the labelling of foods and Natasha’s parents have been leading work to improve understanding of allergies.  At the moment pre-packaged foods are required to label all of the ingredients in the pack but there has always been an exemption for sandwiches and foods prepared on-site.  There has been a growth in chains like Pret A Manger who increasingly prepare all of their sandwiches on site which means the risk has become greater because more products are on the market that is not required to have every ingredient fully labelled.  Food chains have gone a long way to try to address the problem with changes to their own systems but the government is also working on some changes to legislation to require labelling of ingredients in more scenarios to help those with allergies avoid the foods that cause a reaction.

We will shortly be issuing a consultation on some changes to the law.  It will not solve the problem that many people have to live with but it will be a step in the right direction and help those suffering these conditions to avoid the products which prompt and allergic reaction. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

Carn Brea Railway Station

In a peninsula like Cornwall, as with many rural areas, there will always be challenges to building a really resilient public transport structure.  Despite the current lockdown we must continue to think about how we will improve local transport infrastructure once we emerge from the pandemic.  Some good progress has been made in recent years. The majority of people who use the railway in Cornwall continue to use public transport primarily for local journeys including students going to school or college, going to shops or, in normal times, to see friends and family.

Since I was elected, I have made clear that regeneration was my number one priority and this includes improving and renewing our public transport network. Since 2010, there have been improvements to the ‘Night Rivera’ Sleeper Service, signal upgrades so that there could be regular half-hourly services on the railway and the introduction of the new fleet of buses marking a step forward in the quality of our bus network. However, many communities still feel disconnected and more work is needed.

One area of possible improvement I believe would be very beneficial would be the reopening of the Carn Brea Railway Station in Pool. The station had been a stop on the Cornish Main Line since the 1800s, however, it closed in 1960s along with many other stations following the Beeching Reports.

I believe that the reopening the station would offer many benefits to the local community. Since the station closed in the 1960s, the local area has developed significantly. We have seen Pool transformed over the last few years with new businesses setting up at the Pool Innovation Centre, a makeover for the college and, of course, the completion of Heartlands which includes many new homes. In addition, the area around Pool has become something of a local retail hub with many travelling some distance to make use of the new shops and retails spaces, this all strengthens the case for a new train station at Carn Brea.

Like many people who grew up in this part of Cornwall, I have fond childhood memories of Carn Brea Leisure Centre. It has been an essential part of the local community for well over forty years. So I was very pleased when the refurbished swimming pool reopened in 2018 and this adds to the overall draw to the area and helps to further the argument for investment in a dedicated Pool Railway Station which would be a stone’s throw away.

From conversations with the local councillor, Phillip Desmond, and representatives of Cornwall Council, it is clear there is considerable local support for reopening the station at Carn Brea. As a result, I will be writing to my colleague Chris Heaton-Harris MP, Minister for Transport, in the next few weeks to apply for the 3rd round of the ‘Restoring your Railways’ ideas fund. If successful, this will mean new funding for Cornwall Council to carry out important feasibility work to identify benefits, possible problems and to explore sites where the station could be located. This would set an important foundation for the future development of this project and I will continue to encourage progress toward the goal of reopening of this important transport link.

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Schools and Young People

One of the most difficult aspects of the current lockdown is the effect on children and young people.  The government really wanted to avoid having to close schools again, but in the end, the rapid growth in infections right across the country meant that there was no option. The new strain of the virus was more virulent and this would place intolerable pressure on our NHS.

Locally, our schools did an amazing job making sure that they could offer a safe environment during the autumn term.  Timetables were adjusted to try to reduce the disruption of students moving between classes and ending up in crowded corridors, with some putting more time between lessons so that teachers could move from one class to another more easily to reduce the movements of students.  Year groups were sometimes separated into different parts of the school and bubbles were created in individual forms.  

Our schools continue to do their utmost in these very difficult circumstances with most offering a full programme of online lessons.  It is crucial that education continues in any way it can but, of course, nothing can be a substitute for actually being able to physically attend school.  For those in year 11 or taking their A-levels, there is going to be another year where exams are disrupted, like last year and we need to ensure that the process for awarding grades is fair and takes account of the difficulties.  Universities are going to have to take a much more pragmatic and grounded approach to assess students who want to go to university rather than just lazily looking at hard grades as they normally would.

However, the closure of schools does not just have the obvious effects around disruption to exams and teaching.  It is much more profound than that.  Children in both primary schools and secondary have been separated from friends.  Children’s birthday parties can’t happen as they normally would and should.  School sports events are not happening.  We humans are social creatures.  Friendships and the company of others is important.  Forming those bonds and friendships is a really important part of growing up, whether it is in the formative early years as children start their first years as infants at primary school, or whether it is in those tricky teenage years as young people wrestle with all the insecurities and concerns that accompany that stage of life.

For all of these reasons, we must ensure that we do everything we can to get schools back as soon as we can.  As important, when they do return, we are going to have to pay special. attention to help all those children and young people who have been affected by the lockdown to get back on track.  It’s much more than just making sure they catch up on subject knowledge.  There will be some who have lost confidence, drifted away from friends or have insecurities exacerbated.  They are all going to need support to overcome the trauma of this episode.  For now, it falls to families and parents to do everything they can to provide a supportive home environment.

Celebrating Cornish Heritage: This week a new website launched called Cornwall Yesteryear, trying to spread positivity by highlighting how unique Cornwall is and how proud we should all be in our heritage, head to cornwallyesteryear.com to check it out. 

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

2021 G7 in Cornwall

Last weekend the Prime Minister announced that the 2021 G7 summit will be held at Carbis Bay in June. Some have asked, “why Cornwall?” But I say why not? Major summits like this don’t have to be all about London or Manchester. They are a chance to shine a light on some of the world-beating work going on in other parts of the country.  This will be a great chance for Cornwall to showcase its leading role in green energy, great food and our beautiful landscape.

The G7 is an annual summit of the world’s major democracies to discuss global challenges. It is made up of the UK, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US. The EU has also been invited. This year, Australia, India and South Korea have also been invited as guest countries. This is one of the highest-profile summits in the international calendar, bringing some of the world’s most powerful leaders together.

This year, as the holder of the Presidency, the UK will direct the agenda for the summit, choosing to focus on issues that will help the UK and the world build back better from coronavirus. There will be a lot of focus on international coordination to tackle pandemics learning from experiences in the current one and the environment and nature will also be prominent on the agenda. The G7 is an opportunity for the world’s most influential democracies to use our shared values and diplomatic might to create a more open and prosperous planet.  

Some have raised concerns about the numbers of people coming for the summit and whether this poses an increased risk from the virus. The numbers who attend the summit are quite limited being restricted to the seven world leaders and their support staff and the media who will cover it, but steps will be taken to ensure that it is Covid secure and, of course, we all hope that by June we will have turned the corner on this virus. As with all such events, wherever they are held in the world, there may be some protesters but this should not prevent democratic discussion about important issues like the environment from taking place.

Cornwall has a rich industrial heritage, in particular our area around Camborne and Redruth, leading to some of the most important inventions and discoveries that this country has made. We retain a distinct cultural identity, including our own customs and traditions, and are recognised as one of the six ‘Celtic nations’. While we are proud of our industrial heritage, today Cornwall leads the way in some of the green technologies of the future, bringing new jobs and investment to our region. For example, in Hayle, the Wave Hub project has diversified in recent years utilising its existing infrastructure for the deployment of Floating Offshore Wind. We are also world leaders in geothermal technology. Cornwall is also a natural source of lithium which is an important part of electric car battery production and there are numerous tentative projects in Cornwall to develop a new industry around this natural resource. 

As a leader in green innovation, Cornwall is an ideal location for global discussions on building back better from the coronavirus pandemic. A warm Cornish welcome awaits world leaders in June!

Wednesday, 13 January 2021

Access to Nature

One of the things that we have valued more during this pandemic is the ability to have access to the natural world and outdoor spaces. With all of the restrictions in place and three lockdowns which have required us to stay at home, the ability to get out and exercise, and form a connection with the natural world has been important.
There has been growing recognition and evidence over several years that access to the countryside and a connection with nature can have a really powerful role in our lives and improve our mental health and wellbeing. There are a number of projects that aim to help those suffering from some mental health conditions to get out and others that use outdoor spaces and nature as a teaching resource for children.
Last year the Government commissioned a review by Julian Glover into our various National Parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty to see how we could reform and improve the way we manage them to increase engagement and get more people to visit them. The Glover Review made many important recommendations. Our new Agriculture Act also recognises access as a policy objective and something where we can pay and reward farmers for improving access to the countryside. This can range from supporting educational visits to farms to investment that improves access for the disabled in some of our National Parks and AONBs.
The current network of National Parks and AONBs were established shortly after the Second World War. In both cases, they are afforded strengthened protection in law, with National Parks having their own planning authority and AONBs having a special designation within the planning system. The Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is quite unique in that it is a cluster of sites right across the county and including most of our coastline. In fact, at the time the area was almost designated as a National Park but the nature of the landscape and the uniqueness of Cornwall meant that it didn’t quite match the criteria for either designation so, in the end, we had a rather unique AONB. 
AONBs have for too long been something of the poor relation to National Parks in terms of the support and investment they receive and the attention given to them. One of the conclusions of the Glover Review into National Parks and AONBs is that we should seek to narrow the gap between them and that we should also do more to join up strategic oversight of the whole network nationally so that there can be more emphasis on building back nature and supporting nature’s recovery in these areas through national policy. 
Once this pandemic is over, we will have an opportunity through our new policies to do more both to increase and improve the number of people who access our beautiful countryside and to do more for nature’s recovery within these designated areas.

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

National Lockdown

This week the UK’s Chief Medical Officers have advised that if action is not taken the NHS may be overwhelmed within 21 days. As a result, the government has made the difficult decision to reimpose a national lockdown. 

We tried our best to avoid this outcome and, in particular, wanted to try to keep schools open.  Access to the school is incredibly important for the social confidence and education of young people. We recognise that this will mean it is not possible or fair for all exams to go ahead this summer as normal, so alternative arrangements will be put in place. We also know that these constant interruptions to life are deeply frustrating.  They are incredibly difficult for businesses like pubs, tourism and the hospitality industry.  However, there is now a new variant of Covid-19 that is between 50 and 70 per cent more transmissible – that means all of us are considerably more likely to catch the virus and pass it on.

In Cornwall, we started in tier one restrictions and levels remained at a relatively low level but like other parts of the South-West, the case numbers have been rising quickly recently. We are particularly vulnerable, as we have an older population and because we are at the end of the line, it is harder to share resources around the NHS so the capacity to deal with a surge in demand is more limited. It was vital we take swift and strong action in order to prevent our local health services being overcome by this new variant.

This lockdown will be very similar to that which we undertook back in March. We are all being asked to stay at home and only leave for essential purposes such as food shopping or for work.  We can leave the house for exercise once a day and support and childcare bubbles will remain in place.  Those who are able to work from home should but many in Cornwall will work in food retail or distribution, in factories or in trades like construction and are able to continue to work.

As part of the set of measures that the Prime Minister announced, the Chancellor has announced an extension of the economic support available. There will be one-off top up grants for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses worth up to £9,000 to help businesses through to the Spring. Additionally, there will be a £594 million discretionary fund also made available to support other impacted businesses. This comes in addition to £1.1 billion further discretionary grant funding in Local Support Grants worth up to £3,000 a month and extension of furlough and SEISS scheme through to April.

However, while this lockdown is similar to last year there is a major difference: the vaccine. We are rolling out the biggest logistical program in this country’s peacetime history. With the arrival of the UK’s own Oxford/Astra Zeneca vaccine, the pace at which vaccinations are taking place is accelerating. We have already vaccinated more people in the UK than the rest of Europe alone. By the middle of February, we realistically aim to have offered the first dose of the vaccine to everyone in the top 4 priority groups including everyone over the age of 70.

During the last 10 months, we have all looked out for each other and pulled together to support one another as a community. Our unique Cornish spirit has shone through, however, in the weeks ahead we all need to draw on this again and continue to support one another through these difficult times.