The Feeding Britain Inquiry

I have enjoyed a longstanding relationship with our local Foodbanks. Members of my team work closely with the volunteers who do a great job offering more than food to the local people they help. My team work with the volunteers to tackle the underlying reasons why people need to go to our local Foodbanks and they try to help people individually with those problems. As a result of this work, together we have been able to help many people back onto their own feet. I have been able to take up systemic issues about some administrative problems with benefits and get improvements such as the early withdrawal of the last Labour government’s ATOS contract for work capability assessments.

I don’t want to see Foodbank use become an entrenched part of our welfare system. I am a member of the APPG, chaired by Bishop Tim Thornton of Truro and Frank Field MP that produced the Feeding Britain report that was published last week. It was well received, considered a thorough and thoughtful piece of work and welcomed by the Government who are carefully considering its recommendations.

Last week I also spent time highlighting the excellent work of Shelterbox and in particular their work in supporting the refugees from the conflict in Syria. Shelterbox have brave teams of aid workers in Syria now providing more than accommodation and including teaching material and medical support. I am looking forward to spending tomorrow afternoon visiting Shelterbox to personally thank the professionals and volunteers for their work which contributes to Britain leading the humanitarian support in this region, as it does in so many others parts of the world torn apart by man made or natural disasters.

Everyday of the year, including over this festive season, local people are serving their community and their fellow citizens both in our own country and around the world. Our society is made up of people from all walks of life, and from the public, private and voluntary sectors. It works best when we all work together.

One of the key recommendations of the Feeding Britain Inquiry was for those who can make make a difference in tackling poverty in our society to work more closely together in their communities. No two communities are the same and it is the people living in them who have the solutions. The causes of poverty are complex and require a range of solutions. This is a really important political issue that needs a political solution, there will be different ideas but that shouldn’t mean name calling and blame games.

Some politicians are trying to conjure up old 20th century politics based on failed ideology. The state versus the individual and the private sector. This is a false choice and nonsense.  The Conservatives are committed to balancing the nation’s finances. When we have done this public expenditure will be broadly where it was in 2007. That is not a return to the 1930s! The real debate is how taxpayers money is spent to deliver a better future.

The Autumn Statement

Last week the focus in Parliament was the Autumn Statement. For people who own their home or who are saving up to do so, the changes to stamp duty are welcome news. Our new system will work like income tax, so people only pay the higher rate on the part of the property that falls within that band – over 90% will pay the same or less. But the statement was about much more.

Since 2010 the Government has been focused on rebuilding our economy and putting it on a more sustainable basis. The Coalition inherited the largest deficit in post-world war history. If unchecked, the historical level of borrowing could have undermined fairness and economic stability. The Coalition has delivered stability and security and as a result the UK is currently the fastest growing major economy in the world. There are more people in work here than before and the deficit is forecast to have fallen by a half by 2014-15. However, the deficit is still too high and for more spending on our vital public services, we need economic growth. I want to see good progress on building a fairer society but this can only be done with a strong economy.

The statement set out a package of measures to boost the productivity of our local economy by investing in infrastructure such as our A30 and A303 and flood defence schemes such as in Perranporth.  To make progress towards full employment and enable more highly skilled, better paid, employment opportunities, the Government is abolishing National Insurance contributions for young apprentices and offering new loans for post graduate study.

While more people having the security of a job is good news, for too many, wages have been too low for too long. I have been pushing hard for further increases in the tax-free Personal Allowance and am pleased it will now increase to £10,600 in April and this will be passed on in full to higher rate taxpayers – the first increase in the higher threshold in line with inflation for five years. This is a down payment on a Conservative commitment to raise the higher rate threshold to £50,000 by the end of the decade. While I continue to campaign for the living wage, recent increases in the minimum wage are welcome and I am determined that further progress will be made so that no one working full time on the minimum wage pays income tax.

Rebuilding a strong economy is also about supporting local entrepreneurs, and allowing small and medium sized businesses to grow.   I am delighted to report that a significant bug bear of local businesses is set for a major over haul – Business Rates. The full review of the structure of business rates will reported before the 2016 Budget.

In the meantime we will again extend the doubling of Small Business Rate Relief and continue to cap the inflation-linked increase in business rates at 2%. In further welcome news the £1,000 discount for shops and cafes on the high street will also increase to £1,500.

 

 

A ‘Can do’ attitude and investment in our infrastructure

As an MP I get asked a lot of interesting questions. The most insightful are always asked by primary school children. Last week, I had the great joy of visiting the new Truro Learning Academy in Truro. I was inspired by the teachers and pupils and their positive vision of their future, enabling each child to reach their potential – and I survived a whole school assembly with lots of good questions!

I also get to ask lots of questions. Every week I meet ‘can do’ people who are doing things differently, with passion and determination to improve the quality of lives and wellbeing of people around them.  People working in all sectors of our community.

When I ask them what I can do to help them realise their aspirations, the topic of infrastructure pops up at or near the top of the list. Essential infrastructure from roads, rail, cycle and footpaths, to air services, ports, the internet and mobile phone coverage. So these have been key priorities for me since being elected in 2010.

This week, I was delighted to welcome a Minister from the Department of Transport to Cornwall. I make sure Government Ministers are regular visitors so they understand our challenges and opportunities. My Conservative colleagues in the Government have been enormously supportive of my ambition for long overdue investment in our transport infrastructure.

 

I am pleased to have secured the support of the Government in enabling the dualling of the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross – a notoriously congested and dangerous stretch of road for locals and visitors alike. This was achieved because of the skilful and ‘can do’ Nigel Blackler of Cornwall Council. With the support of the Local Enterprise Partnership, he is working with me and other Cornish MPs to secure record levels of investment into Cornwall’s transport infrastructure. I will make sure that people directly affected by this road improvement are fully consulted and involved in the design and implementation.

 

During the Minister’s visit I also, pressed for more investment in our rail services. We have already secured investment into the sleeper service, upgraded signalling, free internet access, an extra carriage on the Maritime Line and more rolling stock on the intercity services. To complete the jigsaw we need more regular, thirty minute services through Cornwall. We also need to upgrade Truro station car park. The lack of lighting is a real problem as is the uneven and poor quality surface. I want the Minister to get the best deal on ticket prices too as she is currently considering the next period of our rail franchise. Finally, I made the case for the Paddington to Penzance service to get the new, designed and built in England replacements to the 125s.

 

I have a positive vision of our future here in Cornwall. It is based on unleashing the creativity, inventiveness and enterprise of local people. With your support, I am determined to see it through, improving the health, wellbeing and prosperity of all my constituents.

Winter Wellness

As we feel the first real chill of winter this week many of us have turned on the heating and perhaps succumb to a cold but there are local people who don’t turn on the heating and suffer much more than a cold. Public Health Cornwall have estimated that this winter 300 local people will die and many more will have their chronic health conditions exacerbated and end up in hospital because they live in cold homes.

So what is being done to prevent this unacceptable situation. Over the past three years, I have worked with a partnership of local organisations from the NHS and Cornwall Council to voluntary organisations and charities to promote access to the help that is available. Help with reducing fuel bills by installing energy efficiency measures and insulation, through to claiming benefits and getting cash support. This Winter Wellbeing partnership of over 30 organisations has helped over 4,000 people with advice and information and practical support to keep warm and well.  I am grateful to the volunteers who are delivering my Cornwall Now magazines to 25,000 homes across my constituency that includes a pull out guide of help that is available now. If you or someone you know is really struggling to stay warm please call the free, award winning Cornish Community Energy Plus helpline on 0800 954 1956.

Older people who receive Winter Fuel Payments who feel they do not need them can donate them to the Cornwall Community Foundation and they will make sure the money reaches those that do need it this winter.

It is good news that there is help now to prevent people suffering from the cold but it is not the long term solution to fuel poverty that we need. Last week I was pleased to bring into law England’s first proper fuel poverty strategy. It aims to ensure that people living in homes in fuel poverty will be insulated and energy efficiency measures installed so that by 2030 all homes are Band C. The average fuel poor home is currently Band E and pays twice the cost for their energy bills. This is a national problem and a local problem with an estimated 11% of homes in Cornwall living in fuel poverty. The strategy was developed by Professor John Hills and a team of independent experts. We know more about fuel poverty than ever before and this has enabled the strategy to target support and action to where it is most effective, to the people living in the coldest and least energy efficient homes. Many people in Cornwall live off the gas grid and in types of home that can be difficult to insulate so the targeted approach of the strategy will make a real difference. While we work towards this target, with your support, I will continue to do everything I can to make sure people get the help that is available now and will continue to reduce the number of people living in cold homes to zero.

Lead up to the Autumn Statement

Over the next couple of weeks I will be making the final push to secure the investment in my constituency and Cornwall that I want to see the Chancellor announce in the Autumn Statement on Truro Fatstock Day. This is the culmination of months of hard work.

I have been working with my Conservative colleague Graham Stuart MP,  leader of Rural Fair Share Campaign, which is a group of MPs whose constituencies contain “super sparse” (or “R80”) local authorities. We will be meeting with the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Statement calling for a fairer deal for rural local authorities. Currently urban authorities receive more in local government funding per head than their rural counterparts, despite the fact that rural residents on average earn less than those in cities, pay more in council tax, and face greater costs to access services.

Following our campaigning ahead of the 2014/15 Local Government Finance Settlement, the Government gave £11.5m to the sparsest rural authorities via the “Rural Services Delivery Grant”. Whilst it is welcome that the Government recognised the additional costs of providing services in sparsely populated areas, the amount is inadequate when divided up, adding just £1.10 per person in each authority.

 

I don’t agree with those Cornwall Councillors that want to increase your Council Tax and remove Business Rate reliefs. I want you to keep more of your hard earned money. I do want Cornwall Council to be fairly funded. Since 2010 my colleagues and I have made real progress in closing the historic funding gaps in other public services, most notably our local NHS funding and per pupil funding for our local schools.

I am delighted that Conservatives have pledged to increase the amount of money anyone earns before they start paying income tax to £12,500. I don’t think anyone working full time on the minimum wage should pay income tax.

I am also pushing to close the deal on funding further improvements to our transport infrastructure. I am delighted that we have enabled a public service obligation on our Newquay to Gatwick air service that has secured the service for at least the next four years. With firm plans for investment in local rail services agreed, including more and upgraded carriages, an upgraded sleeper service, free internet and upgrading of signalling that will pave the way for thirty minute train services through Cornwall, as well as historic levels of investment in the rail network up country that will greatly improve our connectivity with the rest of England. I am very much hoping that my calls for an upgrade for Truro Station’s car park will be heeded and the Chancellor will announce that work can begin next year.

The Chancellor has agreed investment in the dualling of the A30 at Temple, so now I want him to announce the dualling of the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross. With careful consultation and planning, this road improvement would make a significant difference to local people and businesses alike.

 

Remembrance Sunday

My week was centered on remembrance. From joining a service in Westminster remembering the 22 MPs, including Captain, The Hon. T.C.R. Agar-Robartes for part of this constituency, who lost their lives in military service during the First World War to participating in the wide range of special events at Truro Cathedral, including a spectacular performance of Britten’s War Requiem performed by magnificent, local musicians.

Laying wreaths of poppies during Remembrance Services in my constituency is always an honour and privilege, remembering the bravery and sacrifice of our local armed services personnel and their families past and present. Having spent time with our armed services, participating in the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme and championing Falmouth as our nation’s fifth Naval Port, I know that for the vast majority of those serving in the Armed Forces the experience is a positive one.

I also know that for some, who have been physically or mentally impacted, we are duty-bound to honour their dedication and commitment by ensuring that they continue to receive the very best possible health care when they return to civilian life. The Armed Forces Covenant places a responsibility on us all to ensure that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should not face any disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. I believe special consideration is appropriate, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.

We have achieved a great deal over the past four years in providing services to those who have served their country. I am pleased that at the weekend the Government announced what I had been calling for on behalf of local war widows. I am particularly concerned that the NHS is enabled to play its essential role in delivering the Covenant. Over £22m of funding has been provided that has enabled amongst other things: nine veterans’ prosthetic centres; ten veterans  mental health teams; a 24-hour veterans mental health helpline; Big White Wall online mental health counselling service for the Armed Forces Community; an e-learning package for GPs on Armed Forces, veterans and service families health; and a veterans information service, where veterans are contacted a year after discharge with information to help them with health and other issues.

In addition, up to £18m is being provided through NHS specialist commissioning arrangements to charity Combat Stress to provide acute PTSD services to veterans. The LIBOR banking funds are also being used to contribute directly to the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families.

I know that more can be done and the centenary of the First World War that prompted me to reread the poems of soldier poets, brings this into sharp focus. I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to deliver the best possible health services for our Armed Forces, reservists, veterans and their families.

 

 

A referendum on Europe

I spend a lot of my time listening to local people. Most tell me what a good job the Government is doing, recalling the fact that in May 2010 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed to put aside their differences to drag Britain out of the economic mess left by Labour. Over four years later we can say that this central goal of the Coalition is being delivered. Britain’s economy is now growing faster than any other major economy, over two million more people are in work, with the nation’s current account forecast to be balanced by 2018. We can then begin the essential work of reducing the national debt rather than passing the problem onto future generations. With record levels of investment into our infrastructure, this balanced recovery is helping sustainable growth in Cornwall. The job is not complete; I especially want to help raise Cornish incomes.

As a Conservative I am now looking forward to the next vital reform this country needs – a transformation of our relationship with the EU. I believe that many of the decisions being made in Brussels and Strasbourg should be made here. This will enable a more sensible immigration policy.

David Cameron’s Government has made a dogged effort to reduce immigration, clamping down on bogus student visas, ensuring that immigrants have skills in need in the UK in order to come here, and changing benefit rules to mean that new arrivals have to work to stay. This has had an impact, with net immigration from outside the EU halving in comparison to the Labour years. Similarly whilst 9 out of 10 new jobs under Labour were taken by foreign nationals 8 out of 10 new jobs created in the UK over the past year have been taken by UK nationals.

However, without control of immigration from within the EU, this can only ever be one side of the coin. We do need a sensible approach recognising the fact that millions of British people live and work in the EU for some of their lives and we want to continue to attract people from around the EU to our world class universities, including Falmouth and Exeter universities.

At the General Election next year David Cameron will be seeking a mandate from voters to negotiate a new British relationship with the EU, including increased control of our borders. If that mandate is given, through the election of a Conservative Government, he will then negotiate a new settlement for Britain within the EU and will then allow the public to pass their verdict on whether it goes far enough through an in/out referendum.

At the 2010 General Election the LibDems promised an in/out referendum on EU membership, so last week I was very disappointed that they blocked a Conservative attempt to get an in/out referendum by 2017 into law. Now more than ever a Conservative election victory is needed to secure the democratically decided transformation of Britain’s relationship with the EU that I and others seek.