Thursday, 6 May 2021

Pet Theft and Animal Welfare

When it comes to animal welfare, we have a record that we can be proud of. We were the first country in the world to pass legislation to protect animals. Since 2010, we have banned the use of battery cages for laying hens, made CCTV mandatory in slaughterhouses in England, made microchipping mandatory for dogs, modernised our licensing regime for dog breeding and pet sales, and banned commercial third-party sales of puppies and kittens.
Our 2019 manifesto committed to going further, and we have just delivered on one of our flagship commitments. The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill has achieved Royal Assent and become law. This means that the maximum prison sentence for animal cruelty will be raised from six months to five years from 29 June.
We are a nation of animal lovers, and a 2017 public consultation on this issue attracted over 9,000 responses with a clear majority supporting tougher sentences. Locally in Cornwall, we have some exceptional charities that help keep elderly or vulnerable people united with their pets. The Cinnamon Trust in Hayle runs a nationwide network of volunteers who visit elderly people and take their dogs out for a walk. As well as providing their pets with exercise the volunteers also provide much needed social contact for people ask risk of loneliness and, should the pet’s owner sadly pass away before their pet, the dog has a social bond with their walker and this can help resettle them.
There is absolutely no place in this country for animal cruelty of any kind, and we must make sure that those who abuse animals are met with the full force of the law. The new maximum penalty will enable courts to take a firmer approach to cases including dogfighting, abuse of puppies and kittens, illegally cropping a dog’s ears and gross neglect of farm animals.
These sentences will be amongst the toughest in Europe and will help ensure that courts are able to enforce extended penalties for those who cruelly mistreat any animal, sending a clear message that animal cruelty will never be tolerated.
In 2019, we passed Finn’s Law. Finn was a police dog who was stabbed whilst pursuing a suspect with his handler PC David Wardell. Finn sustained serious stab wounds to the chest and head, but only criminal damage charges could be brought against his attacker. This Act, coupled with Finn’s Law, ensures that those who harm either service or any other animals are punished properly. PC Wardell has campaigned tirelessly on this issue, as have various animal welfare organisations including the RSPCA and Battersea Cats and Dogs Home.
There is more to do though. In recent months, there have been alarming reports of an increase in pet theft. I know just how important a much-loved pet is, and in recent weeks I have met both the Home Secretary and the Lord Chancellor to discuss the matter. We are all determined to crack down on pet theft and will say more about our plans to do so in the weeks ahead.
We will continue to work to cement our position as a world leader in animal welfare, and we will continue to pursue our ambitious commitments in this space. I am determined that, in addition to treating our own animals well, we will tackle some of the unacceptable practices that take place abroad and set a clear sense of direction on animal welfare issues.

Thursday, 29 April 2021

Climate Change, the G7 and COP-26

This year important steps are being taken to establish the UK’s leading role on the issue of climate change, with Cornwall hosting the G7 in June and the COP26 Summit taking place in Glasgow later in the year.

Climate change and environmental concerns more widely have risen up the agenda in recent years. Fifteen years ago, David Cameron made it a central part of his agenda. When the Conservatives came to power, we brought our environmental agenda with us. The UK has made significant progress over the last decade and is the best performing G20 country. We have reduced carbon emissions by about 44% so far and we have ambitious policies that will achieve more in the years ahead. We were the first country to introduce a Climate Change Act which sets targets for emission reduction. We have met the first two carbon budget targets and we are on course to meet the third in a couple of years’ time. However, everyone recognises that there is more to do to achieve our targets later this decade.

Last week, the Government announced that we would adopt the recommendation of the Climate Change Committee and set the world’s most ambitious climate change target, cutting emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. The is also the first time that the UK’s Carbon Budget will incorporate the UK’s share of international aviation and shipping emissions, which is an important step in truly tackling our global emissions. This announcement and the recent changes will bring the UK to more than three-quarters of the way to achieving net-zero ahead of our final target of being carbon-neutral by 2050.

In addition to this, earlier this week I hosted a Sustainable Agriculture round-table discussion. The discussion included representatives from Costa Rica, Vietnam, Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, New Zealand, Germany, the EU, Italy, the US and Brazil. The discussion explored some of the issues around sustainable agriculture and soil health which are increasingly on the agenda around the world. Furthermore, our new Agriculture Act sets out how farmers and land managers in England will be rewarded in the future with payments directed to enhance environmental assets like soils or hedgerows.

All of this forms the backdrop to the UK hosting the G7 summit in Carbis Bay in June of this year. Climate Change will certainly represent an important part of the summit's agenda. It is vital that as we build back better from the huge impact of the pandemic that we also build back greener. As we are the hosts for both COP26 in Glasgow and the G7 in Cornwall, is important that we set a high standard for our international partners. From changing the way business operates, reforming our key industries like agriculture and setting ambitious, yet achievable targets for cutting emissions, we are on a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Trevithick Day 2021

This year we are celebrating the 250th anniversary of the life of Richard Trevithick. Sadly, this year will be a more muted celebration, given the pandemic, with regular events such as the parade with the engine and other celebrations being unable to take place. Instead, the festival will be taking place mostly virtually with some elements such as a window-shopping competition taking place in-person. While we may not be able to enjoy the full day of celebrations, it is still an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of one of Camborne’s favourite sons. 

Back in 2010, when I was first elected to Parliament, I made Richard Trevithick the focus of my maiden speech.  I found a wonderful statement from him saying that, although he had been criticised for trying new principles and was left in severe financial hardship as a result of his pioneering endeavours, he knew in his own heart that he had brought forward new ideas that would be of boundless value to his country.  For many years, Trevithick's achievements were not really recognised which makes it all the more important we celebrate them now even if we can’t do so in person.

As a pioneer Richard Trevithick invented the steam locomotive and epitomised the contribution made by Cornwall to the Industrial Revolution. It was the efforts of pioneers like Trevithick that put Cornwall on the map as a leading centre for industry and innovation. Whilst towns like Camborne and Redruth experienced some decline after the closure of the tin mines and Holman’s, new industries and technologies are beginning to establish themselves into our communities which offers the prospect of higher-paid employment in the future.

In the past, people had to choose between leaving Cornwall and taking a well-paid career upcountry or taking the lifestyle choice to live in the most beautiful part of the country but accepting a lower salary. That is starting to change.

Ever since I was first elected, I have 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. In Camborne, plans to revitalise the town have been stepping up with the Towns Fund Board formally submitting a proposal to the government in January.

While we may not be able to celebrate Trevithick Day in the usual manner this year, but we can still all take a moment to be proud of our local heritage and the significant leading role that this part of Cornwall played in the industrial revolution.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1921-2021

On Friday morning we all received the sad news that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and Consort to Her Majesty the Queen, had died peacefully while at home at the age of 99.  While in some ways it was not unexpected, many of us were moved by it.  He has been such a central part of the Royal Family and our national story for so many years.  Having been married to the Queen for 73 years, he was the longest-serving Royal consort in history.
We all understood that he had offered huge support to the Queen throughout her reign.  However, like many others, through the many tributes and obituaries, I actually found that I learned new things about his life story that I hadn’t realised before. In particular his early childhood and how he and his family had to leave Corfu and how, as a baby, he made the journey in a crib made from an orange box.  He fought in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and was mentioned in dispatches for his part in the Battle of Cape Matapan in the Mediterranean in 1941.
Reflecting on his life is also a reminder that he was a forward-thinking man who embraced new ideas and was ahead of his time in many areas.  He was fascinated by engineering and technology and championed these industries all his life and embraced new ideas on the Royal estates and new technology within the Palace.  He was instrumental in the decision to open the Royal Family up to make them more accessible, persuading the Queen to participate in a televised documentary during the late 1960s and early 1970s.  He was also passionate about environmental issues long before they became fashionable.  He had spotted in the 1960s that the way we were living posed a threat to nature and that we had to change our ways.  He was the first president and a co-founder of the World Wildlife Fund which has championed nature across the world ever since.
He was famous for straight-talking and we will all recall moments where reports of his latest colourful intervention have raised a smile.  Those who knew him well say that this was more often than not his way of breaking through stilted formality, of breaking the ice to put people at ease or to put things in perspective and challenge people to recognise what mattered in life and not to stand on ceremony too much - although he did his share of that too.
He was also someone who believed passionately in the potential of the next generation and the importance of supporting young people to find their vocation and develop the confidence to thrive.  A large part of his legacy will be the long-running Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme. Many will have memories of taking part in the D of E Scheme while at school or college; discovering an opportunity to build confidence, work with others and grow and learn vital life skills. The scheme has allowed many over the last 60 years, particularly from poorer backgrounds, to support their local community and improve their chances in life. 
This Saturday we will all pause to reflect on his huge contribution to British National life throughout his 99 years.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

The Second Step on the Roadmap: The Opening of Shops and Pubs

This week the Prime Minister confirmed that the second step on the roadmap would be going ahead; this will begin on April 12th, which is this coming Monday. The first step of reopening schools and the continued success of our vaccine rollout have allowed us to meet the four tests that the Prime Minister previously outlined. 

Throughout the last five weeks, the government has made every effort to offer schools support in the form of tests and PPE to prevent infection and monitor the situation. There was some concern that the reopening of schools would lead to a rise in cases and would force us to delay this second step. However, thanks to a brilliant effort by teachers, students, and parents this has been avoided and numbers have continued to fall or remain stable at a low level across the country.

As I write this, we have now vaccinated over 31 million people, with an additional 5.5 million have had their second dose. The roll-out of the vaccine is a key route for us out of lockdown and the pandemic. The first priority was getting our young people back to school and help get their education back on track. However, now we have achieved this, we can begin to reopen parts of our retail and hospitality sectors and begin the process of undoing the untold damage caused by this pandemic.

The change next week will be a huge relief to many, who have been longing for the chance to see friends and family again for a drink in the pub or to go out to the shops. However, it is vital that we do not let ourselves get complacent and allow ourselves to let our guard down. The progress we have made up to this point has been brilliant, but costly, so we must all try to ensure that we preserve the benefits. 

From drawing examples of other countries around the world, we can see that the progress of an effective vaccine rollout can be undone by outside factors. For example, Dr Chris Witty, the Chief Medical Officer, gave the example of Chile to show this. While Chile have managed to vaccinate a large proportion of their population, they have not managed to see as significant a drop as other countries. While it is speculation at this point, this may be due to the impact of cases coming in from Brazil or other areas. As a result, it is vital we all work hard to protect the progress we have made so far. 

Nonetheless, while there are plenty of reasons to be cautious, there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful too. The progress we have made up to this point should be celebrated. I am sure many, myself included, will be looking forward to a pint of beer or glass of wine in a Cornish pub garden over the next few weeks.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Tackling Littering

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.

However, the blight of litter on our environment has come into sharp focus over the last year in Cornwall. We have all seen our favourite walks, beauty spots and green spaces suffer from dropped masks, plastic bottles or food wrappers. 

Last week the government launched two consultations that aim to strengthen some of the laws around the way we manage waste and to encourage companies to use less packaging and take more responsibility for recycling the packaging they do use.

It is vital that we stop the millions of tonnes of plastic that are being dumped every year. In the UK alone, we go through an estimated 28 billion drinks bottles and cans a year, with nearly 12 million tonnes of packaging placed on the market in 2019. As we strive to tackle climate change and build back greener from the pandemic, we need to come together for our planet across all of society to make a lasting difference.  

We have already made huge strides to tackle plastic pollution, including banning microbeads in rinse-off products, announcing a plastic packaging tax and prohibiting the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds. But there is still a lot more to do to turn the tide on plastic. 

Our 5p plastic bag charge has shown just how effective small financial incentives can be in encouraging far-reaching behaviour change, with a 95% drop in supermarket sales and billions of harmful bags taken out of circulation.  

Through new powers in the new Environment Bill, manufacturers will take more responsibility for the packaging they produce, with the levying of fees not only encouraging more recycling but also greater recyclability. Much of our packaging is too difficult to recycle and we must ensure that more is captured and turned back into new products. 

We are also developing plans for a new deposit return scheme.  Many of us remember the old glass Corona bottles where you could return them and receive a 10 pence deposit.  The idea is to do something similar with plastic bottles which will attract a surcharge and people will be able to return them to collection machines or retailers to get a refund.

We want to bear down on the waste and carelessness that destroys our natural environment and kills marine life. With the G7 in Cornwall this year, it is important that we set a high standard for our international partners who will be visiting our region in June. From changing the way business works to increase recycling and helping households, we are on a pathway to protect our precious environment for future generations.

Thursday, 25 March 2021

Cornwall’s 2021 Council Election

In a few weeks, it will be polling day on Thursday, May 6th when people right across Cornwall will be able to exercise their democratic right to elect their local representatives to Cornwall Council.  Last year elections had to be delayed in parts of the country due to the Coronavirus but the progress made on vaccination means we can now allow elections to take place as we emerge from the pandemic.  Here in Cornwall,  there has been a Lib Dem led coalition that has been running the council for the last four years, and the May 6th elections are an important opportunity to hold them to account.

The last 12 months have certainly been difficult for many people and the support offered by local government organisations has been vital to many individuals and businesses alike all over the county. Recognising that different areas had different challenges, one of the things the government did was give local councils a discretionary grant fund which they were free to distribute to local businesses in a way that suited their locality.  Some councils in other parts of the country gave a larger number of awards in smaller grants to ensure that the money they had gone as far as possible and really targeted support to those who had fallen between other schemes and therefore needed it most. 

Cornwall Council chose not to exercise the discretion they had been given nor to be creative about the design of the support they gave.  Instead, they just doled out the money along the formula is was allocated to them and then said they wanted more. The result of this is that many businesses received £10,000 when they did not really require it, and some are now actually better off through being closed than open and trading. It also meant that some businesses that needed support received nothing at all.  Had the Lib Dem/Independent administration used their discretion and exercised judgement then more businesses would have been able to benefit from this Government funding.

We desperately need an administration in County Hall that has the courage to exercise judgement and to make decisions even though they might sometimes involve difficult choices. In recent years Cornwall has suffered by having a Lib Dem administration that calls for more decision making power but lacks the courage to take decisions.  They have been too preoccupied with their latest press release, or their latest leaflet to actually think about their responsibilities as an elected administration.

In addition, this year the Lib Dem’s will be increasing Council Tax by almost 5% with some households seeing their bills go up by around 7-8%. This would be particularly concerning in normal times and I have opposed these rises in the past. However, we are currently living through one of the most substantial economic downturns since the Second World War with many businesses being forced to close and many people losing their jobs.

This is why the forthcoming elections are so important. It is a vital opportunity for residents to make clear that they are unsatisfied with the council's performance and that the rise in council tax is unacceptable, particularly while Cornwall Council is spending £80,000 a year on rent an office in Brussels despite Cornwall overwhelmingly voting to leave the EU. 

Over the next few weeks, the Conservatives will be fielding candidates in every ward in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle and I invite you to contact them to discuss any concerns that you might have or to discuss their plans for your area.

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Tackling Fraud

The last 12 months have been difficult for many people; isolation and loneliness have proved one of the biggest challenges many people have faced while the country has been in lockdown. 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. However, we have also seen a worrying increase in unscrupulous crime, with online fraud and scams seeing a big increase.

Fraud is one of the fast-growing crimes in the UK and the last 12 months have offered a perfect opportunity for these ruthless criminals to expand their reach. Action Fraud- the UK’s national reporting centre for fraud and cybercrime- recently reported that an email attempting to trick people into handing over bank details was reported to it more than 1,000 times in a single 24 hour period. Over the last few months, my office has heard of a number of tragic cases of people in Cornwall losing houses, cars and other valued possession as a consequence of falling victim to this horrific crime.

As we are approaching the end of the third lockdown, we are all well aware of the impact of having to learn new technology and the challenges being unable to work from an office have brought. This has hit older people particularly hard. Many of these people are using some online sites for the first time and are less aware of the dangers that the internet can pose.

These scams come in many forms and are often very sophisticated.  Often these emails can be purporting to come from the NHS, various banks, parcel delivery firms including Royal Mail or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, telling people they are eligible for a tax rebate because of coronavirus. These criminals will use any opportunity to exploit their victims but they generally have the same thing in common: they are after your bank or credit card details so they can take your money.  Once they have taken your money it is juggled to foreign bank accounts which can make it a crime that is very hard to pursue.  That is why the single most important thing anyone can do is be incredibly cautious about which websites they use their bank cards and not give details to unsolicited emails.  

If you believe that you have been a victim of one of these scams you can report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040. If you or a loved one has been impacted by fraud, you may also wish to contact the Devon and Cornwall Victim Care Unit on 01392 475900 as they can offer comprehensive support. Additionally, the National Cyber Security Centre offer advice including the 7726 text service that enables you to report spam texts for free.

My office is always happy to help constituents who are unsure or in need of support. I am doing regular telephone surgeries to discuss issues with local residents. If you have an issue that you would like to discuss with myself or the team that supports me then please call 01209 713355 or email george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk and we will do our best to help.

Thursday, 11 March 2021

The First Step on the Roadmap: The Return of Schools

This week we have started the first step toward ending the national lockdown with the reopening of schools. The government had hoped to avoid having to close schools in January but, in the end, the rapid growth in infections right across the country meant that there was no other option. The new strain of the virus has been more virulent and placed intolerable pressure on our NHS.
However, as the Prime Minister set out two weeks ago, the amazing success of our vaccine rollout and a substantial fall in cases has allowed us to begin the process of returning the country back to normal. As I write this, we have now vaccinated nearly 23 million people and over 2 out of 5 of all adults have had their first dose. The roll-out of the vaccine is a key route for us out of lockdown and the pandemic. The first priority is to get our young people back to school and help get their education back on track.
Locally, our schools did an amazing job making sure that they could offer a safe environment when the children were in schools.  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. I have no doubt that this huge effort will continue as we get children back to school this week.
It is inevitable that with the return of schools that there will some rise in transmission, however, the government has made every effort to offer schools support in the form of tests and PPE to prevent infection and monitor the situation. Children will be encouraged to wear masks in the classroom where social distancing is more difficult and home testing will be available in the next few weeks.
The decision to close schools in January did 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 are 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.
As schools 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. 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 and resume their education.

Thursday, 4 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.

Thursday, 25 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.

Thursday, 18 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.

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Importance of First Aid and Emergency Awareness

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 from these conditions to avoid the products which prompt and allergic reaction. 

Thursday, 4 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.

Thursday, 28 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. 

Thursday, 21 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!

Thursday, 14 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.

Thursday, 7 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.