HMOs

Houses in Multiple Occupation often provide cheaper accommodation for people whose housing options are limited. Some of the occupiers of HMOs are the most vulnerable people in our society so regulation of this type of housing is essential. Mandatory licensing of HMOs came into force in 2006 and applies to those properties of three storeys or more.

In the decade since mandatory licensing was introduced the number of HMO’s has expanded significantly with flats and single and two storey houses, originally designed for families, let as HMOs. While many are managed to good standards by reputable landlords, unfortunately this is not always the case. The increased demand for HMOs has been exploited by opportunist rogue landlords, who feel the business risks for poorly managing their accommodation are outweighed by the financial rewards.

Typical poor practices include: overcrowding, failure to meet the required health and safety standards, housing of illegal migrants and intimidation of tenants when legitimate complaints are made. Tenants are sometimes exploited and local communities blighted through, for example, rubbish not being properly stored, excessive noise or anti-social behaviour.

Although only a minority of landlords, the impacts of their practices are disproportionate, putting safety and welfare of tenants at risk and adversely affecting local communities. They cause much reputational harm and it is often pot luck whether a vulnerable tenant ends up renting from a rogue or a good landlord. We want to remove that uncertainty by creating a level playing field between landlords, so the rogues cease to be able to operate substandard accommodation for maximum profit.

Following my campaigning and a public consultation, the Government has decided that properties used as HMOs in England which house 5 people or more in two or more separate households should be licensed by local authorities. This will help ensure they are not overcrowded and do not pose risks to the health or safety of occupiers.

Mandatory conditions in licences will regulate the size and use of rooms as sleeping accommodation in licensed HMOs. They will also require the licence holder to comply with Cornwall Councils rules for the provision of facilities for the proper disposal and storage of refuse. Private providers of purpose built student housing will require a license and will have to pay the full price to the Council.

The new measures complement those in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 which tackle rogue landlords. They will also operate within the new enforcement regime introduced last year that is enabling Cornwall Council to take action against rogue landlords, initially funded by a grant I helped secure.

It’s a shame that Cornwall Council has chosen not to voluntarily license/register more private rented property. But this mandatory licensing of HMOs is a significant step in the right direction to improve standards. Also, as a result of these changes it should be easier for Cornwall Council to calculate the loss of Council tax from student accommodation and seek compensation through business rate retention, an important source of Council funding.

First published in the West Briton 11/01/18

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Challenges for the New Year

Thank you to Western Power and our emergency services who worked hard throughout the challenging stormy Christmas period into the New Year.

There seems little doubt 2018 will be a challenging year. We live in uncertain times. I believe that we must remain positively engaged with other countries in trying to shape a peaceful and sustainable future. In difficult times it is all too tempting to withdraw from the world and look inwards and backwards. Our great strength as a nation has always been our ability to look confidently outwards and to the future.

2018 will be the year that we seek to reset our relationship with the European Union. I remain positive that we can achieve a mutually beneficial and deep partnership involving a wide range of activities related to our mutual security and future prosperity. It will not be easy and will take a great deal of hard work, resolve and determination, but I believe it is possible.

2018 is the year that the Commonwealth countries come together for an important meeting in the UK. This is a great opportunity to deepen our relationships outside Europe, working as a collective force for positive change on the most pressing issues of our time, from tackling poverty and climate change, to preventing terrorism and serious and organised crime, especially human trafficking and modern day slavery, while also improving our stewardship of our natural environment.

I don’t doubt the determination of the many ‘can do’ people I know in all walks of life who have a positive vision of Britain in a new partnership with friends around the world. 2018 will demand much of many of us and I am looking forward to the challenge.

What could make the task of tackling these enormous challenges more difficult is how we respond to the reporting of them. A free media and engaged, well informed, citizens are essential for our democracy. Yet at a time when it has never been easier to communicate, getting to the truth seems harder than ever.

In Falmouth The National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition, Titanic Stories, will remind us that fake news is not new. It examines some of the stories arising out of the Titanic’s sinking, re-appraising some of the myths that quickly sprang up and still persist around this tragic event. Exploring the passengers of Titanic’s lifeboat number 13 will help us to examine myths such as ‘women and children first’. Looking at who was actually in that lifeboat boat we will see a more complicated picture.

I am planning to visit the exhibition and challenge my assumptions. I would encourage you all to look for factually accurate and balanced reporting of the news in the turbulent year that lies ahead. The BBC, especially the World Service and Radio 4, have good analysis and fact checking.

Another important source is the Parliamentary website. If you are interested in what is going on, I encourage you to visit the site and sign up for regular updates.

First published in the West Briton 04/01/18

Reducing Poverty

Happy New Year! While we all expect it to be chilly outside at this time of the year I don’t expect anyone to be living in a cold home. Thousands of people across Cornwall will be lifted out of fuel poverty and live in warmer homes following an £8m funding investment over the next year.

Around 36,000 homes in Cornwall are in fuel poverty, with Cornwall in the top 10 of fuel poor areas in England. I am delighted to have helped secure this new funding to tackle a long standing problem in Cornwall. Having been a part of the Winter Wellness partnership for some time, I have seen first-hand how effective this partnership of public sector organisations, businesses, charities and community groups is in delivering positive change for people living on low incomes in Cornwall. Living in a warm home is a matter of social justice and this new programme and investment will help more local people.

The Winter Wellbeing Partnership, including 30 partners, from our local NHS to Cornwall CAB, the Fire Service and Cornwall Council has secured over £3.5m from National Grid’s Warm Homes Fund to work with thousands of people to stay warmer for less and be lifted out of fuel poverty.

The new fund – ‘Warm and Well Cornwall’ – targets residents who are in poor health or at risk of ill health, or with underlying health issues, or caring for a vulnerable person or worried about their home being cold or damp.

Warm and Well Cornwall will help 220 private homes, including owners, landlords or tenants and up to 800 social housing homes with first time central heating, such as renewable heating, mains gas, oil, or LPG, with many more to follow in future years.

Social housing partners Ocean, Coastline, Cornwall Housing, Guinness and DCH are investing around £2.5m to improve heating for their tenants with renewable heating and gas central heating.

Funding has also been secured from SSE Energy Solutions, Cornwall Council’s Energy Efficiency partner. SSE has ring-fenced Energy Company Obligation (ECO) eligible measures targeted at fuel poor and vulnerable households in Cornwall and is a key partner to delivering Warm and Well Cornwall. By January 2019 the programme is expected to have helped more than 1,000 homes out of fuel poverty, keeping people warm and well.

Private landlords with tenants can also apply for funding to upgrade their properties. From April 2018, private landlords cannot re-let existing rented properties rated EPC F or G, unless they have registered a valid exemption and from 2020 landlords won’t be able to let any (non-exempt) properties if they are rated F or G.

The WinterWellness Freephone 0800 9541956 is the place to get more information about the wide range of help and support available. It is run by the great Cornish charity called Community Energy Plus. There is cash available for emergency heating payments made available from the Cornwall Community Foundation surviving winter appeal.

Of course tackling fuel poverty is not just about bringing down the cost of heating a home and improving energy efficiency, it’s also about increasing household incomes. So Winter Wellness can provide access to impartial and expert information and advice over the phone or face to face with saving money as well as checking eligibility for cash benefits and discounts. Referrals can also be made to organisations that can help people increase their incomes and employment opportunities.

Helping people out of poverty and putting more money into the pockets of my constituents is a top priority for me in 2018.  I will be continuing to support local employers to protect and grow their enterprises so that more people have the opportunity of a good job. Increasing access to in work skills and training is really important to enable people to increase their wages too.

In 2018 I will build on the progress of the recent Budget that increased the personal allowance, so more people keep more of the money they earn before they start paying taxes. I will also make the case for further increases in the Living Wage. I am pleased that thanks to the hard work and dedication of local employers, the number of people of all ages in work is much higher than 2010. Throughout 2018, I want to see the number of well paid good jobs grow here and people keep more of the money they earn.

First published in the Falmouth Wave January 2018

Cancer Services

I am sure that we were not the only family toasting absent friends on Christmas Day. Sadly, some time ago my mum died of cancer. I know how important access to high quality cancer services are to families living in the Duchy. I remember the strain on my mum and dad, having to travel to Plymouth for some of her radiotherapy treatment. My father starts radiotherapy at Treliske in January.

NHS England are currently consulting on a new model for radiotherapy services in England. The consultation is seeking feedback on a new specification for adult radiotherapy services.

Radiotherapy is a core part of modern cancer treatment. It can cure cancers, can assist in alleviating symptoms and is cost effective. It is second only to surgery in its effectiveness in treating cancer and around 40% of patients who are cured receive radiotherapy as part of or the whole of their treatment. The development of the proposed service specification sits alongside NHS England’s £130 million investment in radiotherapy equipment which was announced last year.

The specification has been developed by talking to doctors, nurses, radiographers and public and patient engagement groups and was informed by a period of stakeholder engagement in 2016. The aim of the specification is to encourage radiotherapy providers to work together in Networks to concentrate expertise and improve pathways for patients requiring radical radiotherapy for the less common and rarer cancers. This will help to increase access to more innovative radiotherapy treatments, increase clinical trial recruitment and make sure radiotherapy equipment is fully utilised. There is no intention to reduce the number of radiotherapy providers, nor is it considered to be a likely outcome of these proposals.

NHS England is keen to receive feedback and answer your questions on the proposals through the consultation. You might want to read the Radiotherapy Service Specification and Consultation Guide and Impact Assessment.

The consultation ends on 24 January 2018. You can email: england.npoc-cancer@nhs.net or write to:   Radiotherapy Consultation, NHS England, Floor 3B, Skipton House, 80 London Road, London, SE1 6LH.

I have been in touch with a number of constituents who are worried about the possibility of some services moving from Cornwall to Plymouth or Exeter in Devon.

I share their concerns and have written to NHS England reminding them of Cornwall’s special geography. I appreciate that centres of excellence based in urban areas with large populations can achieve better outcomes for patients, especially rare conditions. However, if people have to make long journeys on a daily basis over a many weeks for their treatment, I am concerned that the improved patient outcomes that motivate NHS England to centralise services won’t be realised. Long and difficult journeys might prevent people from accessing treatment. Considerable extra journey times would make combining caring with employment responsibilities more challenging too. There would also be considerable extra patient transport costs for individuals, their families and the NHS.

It can be a long journey from Penzance to Truro, let alone Plymouth.

First published in the West Briton 28/12/17

Happy Christmas!

December has been a busy month not only in Parliament but working with constituents on a wide range of local matters.

I was pleased to visit A & P docks in Falmouth and to hear the good news about commercial, naval and fleet auxiliary vessels that are in the pipeline.  Since being elected I have worked hard to support the docks to win vitally important Ministry of Defence contracts. I was particularly pleased to hear that managers are planning on taking on more apprentices.

Neighbouring business, Pendennis Shipbuilders, has award-winning apprenticeship programmes partnering with the Falmouth Marine School and it is great to see the superb quality of their work celebrated around the world.

I was pleased to participate in a meeting of the organisations working to keep Falmouth town centre open for business during the road closure, which comes into effect on 6th January, enabling vital electricity infrastructure improvements. I hope you will join me in making an extra special effort to shop in Falmouth in the New Year. The Town Team are doing a great job and our local retailers deserve our support to keep them trading at this challenging time of year.

I am very grateful to The Poly in Falmouth for responding so positively to my request to show “Unrest”, a film about ME.  A constituent contacted me and asked me to take an interest in ME. I was happy to do so as a close family friend and member of the local life boat suffered from this much misunderstood condition. The film will be followed by a panel discussion to raise awareness, so do consider coming along to The Poly, 24 Church Street, Falmouth, TR11 3EG, 01326 319461, info@thepoly.org on Saturday 27th January 2018 at 7.30 pm.

I have visited a number of schools and was pleased to see the progress at Falmouth School towards the much anticipated opening of the new community sports facilities in 2018. The leadership and determination of Brett Miners to deliver these new facilities that will benefit not only the school community but the whole community is to be commended.

We are very fortunate, thanks to teachers and parents working together, that all our local schools are now ranked as good or outstanding. The Roseland, Falmouth and Penryn are ranked the top three secondary schools in Cornwall. Well done to all concerned.

Before I was elected as the local MP, I was a volunteer at Falmouth Primary, listening and encouraging children with their reading. I am delighted that, as a result of government reforms to the teaching of reading, latest data shows more children are now confident readers. Like many families over Christmas we will enjoy reading to each other, including my favourite Cornish poet, Charles Causley, and his poem The Ballad of the Bread Man.

Finally, a huge thank you to the volunteers who will be staying in night shelters and providing community meals for people over Christmas. Also to our emergency services and all those working over the holidays. Happy Christmas.

First published in the West Briton 21/12/17

Animal Sentience

Since being elected, I have been actively working with local people to improve animal welfare. With my Conservative MP colleagues, we have taken action to ban the plastic microbeads which do so much damage to marine wildlife and new laws come into force in January. We will make CCTV mandatory in abattoirs to ensure animals are not abused or mistreated. We are banning the trade in ivory which puts the lives of African elephants in danger. And we will legislate to increase the sentence for the worst acts of animal cruelty to five years imprisonment. That will ensure the sanctions for cruelty towards animals are as strong here as anywhere in the world.

And, as we leave the EU, new opportunities arise to further improve animal welfare. Having long campaigned against exporting live animals for slaughter, I am pleased the Government will take action to restrict and, if possible, end this trade. Also ensuring that food imports meet the highest welfare standards. And we will take action to deal with puppy farming and the cruel trade in pets reared in unacceptable conditions.

We will also legislate to ensure that the principle that animals are sentient beings, capable of feeling pain and pleasure, is embedded more clearly than ever before in UK law. Some have been arguing that we must vote to amend the EU Withdrawal Bill to uphold this principle and a Labour amendment has been laid for debate next Tuesday which seeks to amend the bill accordingly.

Due to faulty drafting, this amendment would mean animal sentience was only recognised in law for the next 2 years and would only apply to Ministerial decisions made in that period. Conservatives believe animals are sentient for life not just for the next two years, so our legislation will ensure this happens.

First published in the West Briton

Disability Confident

While we have near record levels of people in employment, too many disabled people are missing out. We need to close the gap between the number of disabled people who want to work and the opportunities available to do so – not just to benefit those who have the skills and desire to work, but also to ensure employers are not missing out on a huge pool of talent.

Many employers already have a strong track record in this area, which is why we want to encourage a business to business approach where organisations can learn from each other.

A range of government support is on offer from our Access to Work service, which provides disabled people with support or adjustments they need in the workplace, to the Disability Confident scheme, which helps employers do more to recruit and retain disabled workers. To date more than 5,000 employers have signed up to Disability Confident. Across the country, almost 600,000 disabled people have entered work in the last four years. I’m determined to build on this so that everyone has the chance to fulfil their potential.

Last week I helped launch our ten year vision to see one million more disabled people work. Our new Work and Health Programme brings together employers, the welfare system and health services and will not only support disabled people and people with health conditions who want to enter work, but also focus on supporting them to stay in work. No two people are the same and the Health and Work Programme will be testing and evaluating new approaches to find out what works best.

The change needed is not one Government can deliver alone. We all have a part to play to enable disabled people to play as full a part in our community as possible.

First published in the West Briton