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.