Remembering the sacrifices of a hundred years ago

On the anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War I joined the Royal British Legion in Truro for the dedication of a floral display in Victoria Gardens to the memory of the local men who lost their lives. It was a deeply moving event, and as the candles that we all lit were snuffed out, while the bugler played ‘Sunset’ in the fading evening light, the sacrifices of a hundred years ago seemed very close indeed.

Like every other community of Great Britain, Truro and Falmouth, along with surrounding villages, sent their share of men to fight over the Channel. Mid-Cornwall had its own ‘Pals battalion’, a group of civilians from the same community who joined up and served together in a specially created unit. The 10th Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was raised in March 1915 by the Mayor of Truro and attracted hundreds of recruits from the City, from Penryn, Falmouth, Perranporth and nearby villages. After just over a year’s training the men were sent to France in June 1916 and served in the trenches throughout the war, participating in the dreadful battles of the Somme, and the Third Ypres. One hundred years on the regimental descendant of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, the Rifles, are still in Truro. I continue to fight to keep a base for D Company 6 Rifles at the Moresk Road Reserves Centre so that these links between City and Regiment continue into the future.

Of course Cornish men didn’t only serve on land, our maritime traditions meant that many joined the Navy. Falmouth became a naval headquarters during the Great War, a base from which minesweepers and submarine hunters, many crewed by Cornish fishermen, patrolled to keep merchant shipping safe. These patrols were co-ordinated from Pendennis Castle, which also served as a training ground for artillerymen waiting to cross over to France.  It is good to see this Great War heritage being commemorated at Pendennis this summer though a new ‘Fortress Falmouth’ exhibition. In Penryn too where the museum commemorates the contribution of Penryn Engineers, from building a hospital to bridges in France.

One of the most moving aspects of Cornwall’s Great War experience was the response of thousands of ‘Cousin Jacks’ to the outbreak of war.  These Cornishmen crossed oceans to enlist at home or served in the Commonwealth contingents that fought in France and in the Mediterranean. The Commonwealth countries made a remarkable contribution to the war, with Canada and Australia between them sending over a million men to fight, many Cornishmen among them.

There can hardly be a family in Cornwall whose male or female ancestors were not affected by the Great War. Whatever your views are about the war, what is indisputable is that, when called on by their community, thousands of Cornish people voluntarily left their families, their friends and their workplaces to risk their lives for what was understood to be the common good. That is remarkable, and a sacrifice we should never forget.







Improving our sewer system

It is fair to say that sewerage management isn’t the most enchanting subject. However, what it lacks in glamour, it makes up for in importance. If we want to keep our homes and businesses safe from being flooded with raw sewage, and keep our beautiful rivers and coasts clean, we have to have decent sewerage management in place.

The Government has given South West Water new tools to help it do a good job upgrading and maintaining the sewerage management systems. Building on legislation that secured a yearly £50 rebate for all South West Water customers, the Water Act helps water companies manage the challenges of increased population and a changing climate.

How are we doing in facing these challenges in Cornwall?

South West Water are firstly investing in our sewerage system to ensure that it meets current demand. Last week I met with South West Water in Truro. Truro’s growth over recent decades has meant that the old sewers that run beneath the city centre have struggled to cope. Over recent months South West Water have spent £3.5 million on upgrading these sewers to ensure that they are fit for the twenty first century. The works are due to be completed in September. Throughout the works I have liaised closely with Totally Truro and the City Council who have done a great job in speaking up for the local community and securing workable solutions to problems.

I visited South West Water’s Newham sewage treatment works to inspect a newly completed upgrade to facilities there. This work, representing an investment of £2.8 million, means that the facility has extra capacity to meet the needs of an increasing population. During my visit I was struck by the amount of items that had been flushed down the toilet or sink rather than put in the bin, from cooking fat to wet wipes – all causing problems and adding cost to the water treatment process. Costs we all end up paying for on our bills. So do think carefully about what you put down the loo or sink.

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Visiting Newham Treatment Works

I also visited Calenick, were last winter’s excessive rainfall caused sewer discharges into private property and into the Fal estuary. Working closely with the Environment Agency, South West Water are considering how they can prevent this happening and are drawing up plans to invest £3.5 million on measures to further improve water quality in the Fal. This is essential – last winter’s heavy rains, which resulted in excessive run-off from fertilised fields as well as untreated sewerage discharges, caused pollution in the Fal that has affected mussel fisheries. Cornwall Port Health Authority and the Environment Agency are working hard to find a way forward and have assured me that pollution levels are falling, paving the way for full shellfish fishing to resume.

I will continue to do all I can to see this happen as soon as possible and to support all those working to ensure that our sewerage system functions as well as we need it to.




Renewable energy

Readers who follow national or international news do not need reminding of the increasing uncertainty and instability in many countries around the world near and far away. As a trading nation with one of the largest economies in the world we are all directly affected and rightly concerned.
The daily news underscores the fact that the first responsibility of our government is to protect its citizens. Our security is more than just making sure we have capable and well equipped armed forces, it is also about ensuring we have energy and food security.
In 2010 when the Coalition Government was formed, the UK was almost entirely dependent on imported energy. Thankfully we are not dependent on Russian gas. Since 2010 the Government has set in train a radical overhaul of our energy market in the UK and committed long term, large scale investment to producing more home generated energy.
I am pleased to report that progress is being made in generating more of our own energy, including renewable energy. ReGen SW, the organisation that supports renewable energy businesses in the South West, has recently published their annual report looking at what progress is being made in building a green future for our peninsula.
Their findings are encouraging as the South West now generates 8.3 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, enough to power a quarter of homes across the region. This means that we are in with a chance of meeting the ambitious, but achievable Government target of generating 15% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
This surge in renewable energy production has not come about by accident, it is the result of sustained Government investment in the South West’s energy sector. 21% of all projects supported by the Government’s Feed in Tariff scheme are in the South West, as are 14% of all projects supported by the Renewable Heat Incentive. As well as direct taxpayer funding, the energy sector in the South West is benefiting from private investment secured in part by two flagship Government projects, the Energy Act and the Green Investment Bank.
As well as this, the FabTest site in Falmouth is hosting a range of locally engineered devices that are generating energy from the sea. There are a wide range of engineering companies based around Falmouth that are contributing to offshore wind and marine renewable energy generation. New energy sources, particularly marine energy, need to be supported, so it is good to see local plans being drawn up on how to spend the UK Growth and EU funding for Cornwall, including renewed investment and support for Cornwall’s marine energy sector. In a fast changing and competitive world it is good to see this sustained investment in new technology where the UK currently leads the world.



Cornwall and civil liberties

I have always believed that Cornish distinctiveness extends to politics. Certain political beliefs are particularly prevalent in the Duchy and key amongst them is a commitment to individual liberty. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the Christian nonconformists who defied discrimination to express their faith in their own way, or possibly the lingering legacy of the Cornish men and women who marched to London in 1497 to protest at crippling levels of taxation. Whatever the cause we have in Cornwall a shared consensus that people should be able to live their lives as they want, with minimal intrusion from the state.

In Parliament I have been proud to represent these traditions. One of my first votes on being elected was cast to scrap Labour’s compulsory ID cards scheme and since then I have supported a range of legislation designed to roll back the intrusion of the state into the everyday lives of my constituents. This includes the Protection of Freedoms Act, a law designed to boost the rights of UK citizens. Amongst other reforms the Act forced the police to delete all DNA they had belonging to people found to be innocent, and erased old convictions for consensual gay sex. When voting to introduce income tax reforms that have so far taken 4,500 Truro and Falmouth residents out of income tax altogether and secured a tax cut for a further 38,000 local people, I bore the marchers of 1497 in mind.

Last week in Parliament we considered legislation that some feel represents a new threat to these hard won liberties. The Data Retention Bill concerns the ability of the Government to, in specific circumstances, authorise the Police to intercept retained information about messages and emails sent or received by UK citizens.

I have considered the Bill closely, as I simply will not support any new infringement of the civil liberties of my constituents. I have been assured personally by the Home Secretary that although the legislation is new, the powers contained within the Bill are not. The Bill has been introduced following a European Court of Justice ruling and in response clarifies the current status quo, in which phone and email companies retain communications information which the Police can, when specifically authorised by the Home Secretary, access. The information retained is the ‘who, when, where and how’ of a communication but not its content.

This status quo has applied for decades, and has enabled intercepted information to be used in 95% of serious crime investigations, including those into terrorism and child abuse. These investigations include the recent ‘Operation Notarise’ which saw the arrest of over 650 individuals suspected of child abuse. I was pleased last week to secure praise from the Home Secretary in the House of Commons for the pivotal role Devon and Cornwall Police officers have played in this operation.

I am assured that the new legislation will help this good work continue, without further comprising the civil liberties that we in Cornwall rightly hold so dear.



Lets boost skills to make sure that no one is left behind

It is fair to say that it has been a good July for Cornwall. Hot on the heels of the £146 million investment in our railways has come confirmation that £198 million of growth funding is coming Cornwall’s way, with decisions on how to spend it and our EU funds being made in Cornwall.

I have been pressing for this some time and it has been great to work with parliamentary colleagues, the LEP and Cornwall Council to deliver this real shift in power from London to Cornwall. Spending decisions being made in Cornwall, with meaningful input from local businesses, mean that investment can be focused on areas where it is needed, such as Cornwall’s transport infrastructure.

Crucially the new funding can be used to support the new growth industries that will create high quality jobs for local people. Industries like marine renewables and engineering, creative arts and the science based businesses, like those based at Goonhilly and Newquay Airport Enterprise Zone, that are putting Cornwall at the cutting edge of technology.

For these industries to thrive they need people with the right skills to work in them. I am pleased that, in drawing up proposals on how to use the funding, the LEP have put a focus on boosting skills and training opportunities for local people of all ages. They will be exploring proposals put forward by the Prime Minister’s advisor on business and enterprise, Lord Young, that a network of ‘Enterprise Advisers’ be created. Local business people would volunteer to be Enterprise Advisers and would work with local schools to encourage young people to take the first steps towards rewarding and skilled careers. This encouragement would range from regular motivational talks and meetings, to practical work with teachers identifying the right training and work experience opportunities for individual pupils and then ensuring that these opportunities are accessed.

Vocational courses are being overhauled and are available to young people alongside traditional subjects. The Government has introduced Technical Awards, which may be taken alongside GCSEs, and Tech Levels, which may be studied instead of or alongside A Levels, with the curriculum for both being partly written by business people. It is good to see Cornwall at the forefront of these efforts to embed workplace skills within education, with Truro and Penwith College last month becoming a ‘Maths Hub’. This is an excellent education institution that will provide tailored maths teaching support to local schools, with a focus on boosting skills and employability.

Business led skills training within education gives young people the experience and qualifications they need to build rewarding careers. Recent research by the Office of National Statistics has confirmed that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to be in work. Tragically this means that someone with few or no qualifications is more likely to be unemployed than to be in work. In the 21st century, as one of the wealthiest and fastest growing global economies, we must not let people be left behind in this way anymore.