Thursday, 21 April 2022

The UK Shared Prosperity Fund

Being a peninsula like Cornwall creates unique economic challenges. Our industries have to transport their goods further to market, which adds costs. Recruiting staff can be even more of a challenge for business. A lack of profitability means that average wages can be lower. When it comes to further transport infrastructure, the further west you go the fewer MPs there are left making the case for investment, and government departments like the Treasury often fail to understand the dynamics of local economies. For all of these reasons, the case for Cornwall and economic investment in Cornwall has to be made repeatedly and consistently.

Back in 2019, the Government gave a clear commitment to replace the cumbersome and overly restrictive EU structural funds once Brexit was complete with our own UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF). This was intended to support industry in poorer parts of the country and to ensure that we see new industries and better-paid jobs in places like Cornwall, rather than just seeing prosperity collect around the Home Counties. I campaigned to leave the EU and I want us to decide our own regional policy and have the freedom to design our own grant schemes that really work for places like Cornwall. However, with the power to set our own policies of economic regeneration comes the responsibility to get it right.

Last week, the Minister for Levelling-Up confirmed the promise made in 2019: the UK Shared Prosperity Fund will match the previous complex, rigid, and bureaucratic EU Structural Funds, pound-for-pound. This will begin with a £132 million share for Cornwall of the full £2.6bn packages for 2022/23 and increase by 2024/25 once the final EU funds have been wound down, at which point the UKSPF will match the average of previous EU funding each year.

This new funding will be tailored to fit Cornwall’s needs and bring additional powers and more investment that is needed to help regenerate our communities. Cornwall Council has recently announced their ambitious plan for sustainable growth and regeneration called Prosperous Cornwall 2050. This plan sets out the Council’s plan to tackle the housing shortages in Cornwall, as well as expand our transport infrastructure, and make Cornwall a prime environment to start and grow a business.

In addition to the UKSPF, the recently published Levelling-Up White Paper set out a new vision for Cornwall within the United Kingdom by inviting us to be one of the nine counties invited to negotiate a new ‘county deal’. This will give local leaders more control over areas such as transport, skills, and infrastructure and is part of the largest devolution of power from Whitehall to local leaders in modern times. This is further boosted by the £23.7 million ‘Town-Deal’ package for Camborne, which is supporting projects such as the ‘Fibre Park’ tech hub and other projects regenerating areas in the town centre which will make a genuine difference and are a welcome boost for the town.

Since I was first elected twelve years ago, I have made clear that economic regeneration in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle was my number one priority so it is very positive to see that the Government is developing a vision for how we can improve all areas not just focusing on the large cities such as Manchester or London.

Thursday, 14 April 2022

Cornwall’s Bid for the New HQ for Great British Rail

Making public transport work effectively in Cornwall has always had its challenges due to the fact that we are a peninsula and there are rural areas that make maintaining the right frequency of buses difficult to achieve.  However, some positive changes have been made in recent years.  We have seen the introduction of the new fleet of Tinner buses which has marked a major step forward in the quality of our bus network, the introduction of more frequent train services every thirty minutes and a renewed attempt to get better integration between the bus and train timetables so that people can take the train for part of the journey and then connect to a bus. Costs of fares are also an issue and a barrier to people using buses more so this week there was a new pilot announced which makes bus travel more affordable. 

The government has also decided to make some quite fundamental changes to the way that our railways operate.  Over twenty-five years ago the railways were privatised with a system of competitive franchises introduced and a body to manage the railway infrastructure.  Private investment has led to some important improvements with the number of passengers travelling by rail increasing by about a third, but the model of privatisation introduced all those years ago by John Major also had many drawbacks.  Railtrack, which was supposed to operate the network, was not a success and had to be replaced by Network Rail.  Some of the franchises ran into financial difficulties and were returned.  In order to maintain the quality of services, the government often had to be quite prescriptive which then stifled innovation. 

So last year the government announced that it would bring the railways back together to end fragmentation and bring to an end John Major’s franchise model.  There will be a new organisation called Great British Railways which will plan timetables and services and ensure that tickets can be used on any route.  Rather than long term franchises, where a single company had the concession to run services on a particular section of the railway, in future, Great British Railways will commission private organisations to run services on its behalf on shorter term “passenger contracts”.  This will enable them to plan a holistic service but make use of private companies who can bring innovation and efficiency to aspects of running the national railway network.  It’s a model that has some similarities with the way that Transport for London operate services in the London area currently.  It enables you to have the benefits of private investment while regaining the coherence of a fully integrated national railway network.

As part of the Levelling Up agenda, the Government has also launched a competitive process to decide the location for Head Quarters of Great British Railways and, last week, Cornwall formally submitted a bid to the Department for Transport for Cornwall to be the new home of Great British Railway’s new HQ. This bid is being led by Camborne given its important role in the industrial revolution and the development of the steam engine and, most notably, the ground-breaking work of Richard Trevithick, the inventor of the first steam locomotive.  The proposal includes several potential sites near Treswithian or near Tuckingmill, with a potential for a visitors’ centre inside the town centre. There are 42 applicants across the country with a shortlist produced in May and the winner being announced in the summer after a public vote.  

Thursday, 7 April 2022

Bus Back Better

In a peninsula like Cornwall, there will always be challenges to building resilient public transport infrastructure. However, some good progress has been made in the last few years. We have invested to improve our railways and there is now a regular half hourly service running through Cornwall which has led to a significant increase in passenger numbers

In the past, I have written about the plans to introduce Britain’s first SuperBus network here in Cornwall. The network was part of the government’s plans to reverse the impacts of dwindling services in local towns and drive forward a bus revolution that will improve access for everyone.

The pioneering investment will direct support towards more frequent public transport in the countryside, introducing new apps that will improve the information available to commuters whilst also ensuring that the bus fleets will be cleaner, more environmentally friendly, and better integrated with our train network.

In March of 2021, the Government published the new Bus Back Better plan. This was a post-pandemic National bus strategy that set out how we would fundamentally overall our transport system with a view to making it more accessible. As part of this announcement, Cornwall was awarded £23.5 million to develop and launch a Bus Service Improvement Plan for the county.

From next Monday, 11th April, Cornwall Council will be launching a new pilot under the Bus Service Improvement Plan called ‘Make Big Savings by Bus’. This new scheme will fundamentally change the fare structure of buses in Cornwall, saving the average consumer up to 1/3 on the cost of their journey. For instance, a journey between Camborne and Redruth, or a ‘short-hop fare’ will be reduced by up to 20%, while a longer journey, such as Camborne to Truro will see a reduction of around 40% in some cases.

Furthermore, the Transport Portfolio holder, Cllr Phillip Desmond, and his team have been working hard with all the bus companies across Cornwall over the last 6 months to create a new day pass for unlimited travel across Cornwall that works on any bus service. This new pass will cost just £5 a day or £20 a week and allow for limitless travel on the bus network across the Duchy.

In addition to this new bus pilot, this week the Secretary of State for Transport has announced a further £13.3 million for Cornwall to expand services, which is part of a wider £7 billion package to help improve public transport outside of London. It aims to make buses more reliable and greener. 

Since being elected, I have prioritised economic regeneration and green recovery. Investing in and improving the public transport system for Cornwall is a significant step forward in ensuring that our local communities are supported and connected. These announcements should encourage more people to use our growing bus network, supporting both businesses and residents alike, and driving regeneration across the whole Camborne and Redruth area.

See here for more information: 

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