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 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.

Digital Skills and Connectivity

One of the ways we can raise wages and incomes in the area is by promoting more apprenticeships and locally Cornwall College which I attende...