Apprenticeships in Food and Farming

The next generation of food entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to combine a high quality degree and on-the-job training under plans announced last week for new food degree apprenticeships.

Last year the Government announced a target to treble the number of apprenticeships in food and farming by 2020 and is increasing the annual level of spending on apprenticeships between 2010-11 and 2019-20 in cash terms to £2.5 billion. We have many talented apprentices working locally including at Rick Stein’s, apprenticeships are a real alternative for those who want to start their careers in this growing industry.

The new degree apprenticeships – spearheaded by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink (NSAFD) – are being developed by a consortium of employers and industry representatives working to enhance the sector’s productivity. The creation of the degrees will help safeguard the UK’s position as a world leader in high-tech food innovation. Today the UK produces more new food and drink products each year than France and Germany combined.

While food and drinks exports to countries around the world are growing, the EU is a hugely important export market for British food and agriculture – around 60% of our food and drink exports go to EU countries generating around £11 billion for our economy. Maintaining our world leading food and farming industry is dependent on continued access to the EU market with no barriers. Thousands of young people benefit from valuable apprenticeships across the EU through support from the European Social Fund and European Regional Development Fund, providing the bright new talent needed to deliver growth in the UK.

Food and farming should be a top career destination for our young people, as prestigious as medicine, as stimulating as the gaming industry and as cutting-edge as London’s Tech City.

Wave Article – April 2016

Over the last fifteen years or so we have seen some significant changes to our local community. Some would say nothing short of a transformation. These changes result from a determined plan not only to provide more and better education and skills opportunities for local people but to grow the local economy by creating Falmouth University and attracting the University of Exeter to Penryn. At the same time Falmouth Marine School has also been redeveloped.

There is no doubt that these universities have been successful in attracting world class academics and students from across Cornwall and the world. Since setting up at Penryn, Exeter University has joined the prestigious Russell Group of universities that are the best of British research led universities and Falmouth has become the UK’s top arts university.

There can be few families in Falmouth or Penryn that do not have a family member or someone that they know who has either studied or worked at one of the universities, or helped build the universities or works for one of the many companies that provide services for the institutions or their students. Many of the staff are active citizens and are contributing in a wide range of ways to the local community. Some students have stayed in the area and set up vibrant companies, such as Rebel Brewery. Local companies employ graduates who are helping them grow their businesses here. Local people are supported at the Penryn campus to set up and develop their businesses here.

While both towns are vibrant, there have of course been growing pains. Most significantly the impact on house prices and the availability of good quality homes to rent or buy for local people. There has also been an increase in anti-social behavior and parking problems too.

The total number of students in Falmouth, Penryn and Truro are set to grow from the current population of about 6,300 to 8,600 by 2020. The University of Exeter and Falmouth University are currently consulting the local community on their plans, including to build accommodation for more than 1,000 new beds on their campus in Penryn as well as converting a number of possible locations in Falmouth and Penryn into purpose built accommodation.

While I do support this planned growth over the next few years, I feel much more could be done to develop purpose built student accommodation in Truro on land that has already been given planning permission. This would build on the success of providing homes for students at Treliske, where the University of Exeter has a base. The Maritime Line between Falmouth and Truro enable commuting for students and staff of the universities. The partnership between local bus service providers and the universities has improved bus services locally and this work could also be built upon.

At the same time Cornwall Council needs to work much more closely and effectively with Falmouth, Penryn as well as Truro City Councils to meet the housing needs of local people as well as working with partners to deliver the infrastructure we need to support our growing community. The top priority should be developing more community based NHS services, led by our innovative and forward local GPs.

The continued rise of housing costs over recent decades have hit those earning modest incomes very hard. If we are to reduce housing costs for average and low income families we have to reform the private rented sector, which provides homes for many local people. Cornwall Council has not used all the powers it already has including the Article 4 Direction and needs to do so, as plans are drawn up for Falmouth & Penryn.

While the vast majority of tenants in the private rented sector in Cornwall receive a satisfactory service from their landlords, a small number of landlords act unlawfully, and place tenants in overcrowded or poorly maintained accommodation.

Cornwall Council was recently awarded £127,500 to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector after it successfully bid for funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The DCLG funding aims to crack down on this minority of landlords by providing funding to selected local authorities who have a large proportion of private rented housing stock. Cornwall Council is using this money to improve the skills of investigating officers and increase enforcement activity.

This money along with recent legislation, means Cornwall Council will have stronger powers and incentives to tackle ‘rogue’ landlords, including a database of rogue landlords and property agents, fines of up to £30,000 and the introduction of Banning Orders for the first time.

I am pleased that as a result of reforms introduced since 2010, more ‘council’ homes have been built locally and a range of housing options are available to enable more local people to part own or buy their own homes. This government is determined to reverse the trend of people not being able to afford to own their own home. There is a wide range of support from help with a deposit to discounts on the purchase price. We do however need the support of Cornwall Council and the local community in enabling more homes to be built as well as playing their part in enabling the infrastructure to support a growing community.



Plastic Microbeads

Over past week, I have been contacted by many local people regarding the use of non-biodegradable, plastic microbeads in everyday items such as toothpaste and cosmetics. These microbeads can’t currently be filtered out during water treatment processes and end up in the sea and being ingested by marine life.

Having joined local beach cleans over the years, I have become increasingly concerned by the amount of plastic in our marine environment. I am pleased the 5p carrier bag tax is reducing plastic getting into the sea and support more steps to further reduce the use of plastic.

I have been working with local charities to raise awareness of marine pollution. This week, I met with the Department for the Environment and I am pleased to report that the UK and our neighbouring countries are working with the industry to see the use of microbeads phased out.

The UK, along with several of our European neighbours is part of the Oslo and Paris Convention for the Protection of the North East Atlantic. One of its important objectives is to reduce marine litter, and in 2014 its members agreed a regional action plan to address this problem, including microbeads. This plan includes co-operating with manufacturers to achieve a voluntary phase out of their use.

Following this agreement, the European trade body for the industry, Cosmetics Europe, issued a formal recommendation to its member companies to discontinue the use of microbeads and many of its member companies have so already.

This agreement is being carefully monitored by the Government and if necessary, a ban will be put in place. Active consideration is being undertaken by UK Ministers as how best to implement and operate a ban. I will be carefully monitoring developments and will post regular updates on my website.

Creating Education Excellence in Cornwall

Along with a loving family, a good education is an important building block for our children’s futures. As two members of my family are recently retired teachers, I have seen first-hand how dedicated teachers are to providing a great education.

The recently published White Paper entitled ‘Education Excellence Everywhere’, sets out that by the end of 2022, all schools will be academies or in the process of becoming academies and local authorities will no longer maintain schools.

In Cornwall, the Learning and Achievement Service of Cornwall Council has supported schools that wish to become academies. Many local schools have chosen to become academies. 55% of all pupils in Cornwall are now in academies and there has recently been a marked increase in the number of applications for conversion to Multi Academy Trusts (MAT). If all schools in the current round are successful in converting, a maximum of 70 schools out of a total of 272 will still be under the control of Cornwall Council. Officers of Cornwall Council tell me that there are very few of these that are not actively looking at future academy or MAT options.

Conversion to academies in Cornwall has improved educational outcomes for children and young people. Cornwall now has a good, above average proportion of ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ schools, and a proven track record of securing improvement. In 2009, 62% of our schools were judged to be ‘good’ or better, and this has risen to over 90% in March 2016. It is well reported that throughout this period school inspections have become tougher.

Cornwall Council’s role is as champion of children, young people and their families rather than of individual institutions. This is echoed by the white paper’s definition of the role of local authorities. They will continue to have this important role.


Creating Greener Local Schools

Local school children have the chance to plant saplings in their communities as part of a Government-backed scheme to give free trees to schools, which is being rolled out this spring in partnership with the Woodland Trust—on top of an existing Government commitment to plant 11 million trees by 2020.

The scheme, designed to help children grow and learn about native UK trees and connect with the natural environment, will provide a million trees to schools in total, funded by Defra and the Woodland Trust.

So far 800 schools have applied for packs of 30 saplings, planted silver birch, rowan and hazel trees in the school grounds, to create an outdoor ‘mini-forest’ classroom as an oasis for birds, bees and butterflies.

This will not only benefit the local environment, but will also support the new national curriculum to ensure children can identify iconic native trees and help the next generation understand the benefits of a healthy environment for our prosperity and wellbeing.

Woodland cover is at its highest since the 14th century, however at only 11%, one of the lowest in Europe, it is vital that we all do our bit in growing more trees.

Outdoor classrooms are just as valuable as indoor ones. The trees will help boost nature areas, creating habitats for wildlife and a living science laboratories. Many early years children prefer to learn outdoors—it is good for them physically, socially, and developmentally; and the trees will make schools a greener and more attractive environment.

The Woodland Trust, is welcoming applications from state-funded primary schools for saplings to plant in their grounds or local communities. Schools can apply now and those that qualify will receive a pack of 30 young trees, enough to create a small copse or hedge, to be delivered in November 2016.

Tackling Homelessness in Cornwall

I can’t think of anything worse than being homeless, so for years I have undertaken voluntary work supporting homeless people. As an MP, I have spoken up for and supported measures to prevent homelessness and brought Ministers to meet local homeless people at St Petrocs and formerly homeless people now moving on with their lives supported by Glen Carne, near St Agnes.

Since 2010, more honest government data collection about people rough sleeping in Cornwall has improved the understanding of the scale of the problem. More funding has followed the data enabling more joined up working across the public sector and support services through initiatives such as ‘No Second Night Out’. While this work has helped many people, there is still much more to do.

The recent Budget committed £100 million to further tackle homelessness, including more support for ‘second stage’ accommodation for rough sleepers leaving hostel accommodation and domestic abuse victims and their families moving on from refuges to more independent living. This will help to free up hostels and refuges for those in most acute need.

There is also money for investment in preventing rough sleeping. New research, carried out by homelessness charity St Mungo’s, found the three main tipping points that ended in people rough sleeping were an end to temporary accommodation with friends or family, being asked to leave the family home, and the threat of eviction from a rented property.

The research findings led to the development of a new assessment tool for some London Borough councils’ specialist housing officers, so they can identify people and intervene before they end up street homeless, enabling “No First Night Out’.

Let’s hope Cornwall Council consider this approach and also use some of the £936,000 Transformation Challenge Award provided by the government to support improved access to local advise and support services that can prevent homelessness.



The Recent Budget & What it Means for Cornwall

In January, there were over 830 fewer people claiming unemployment benefit than in May 2010 in Truro and Falmouth. There are more people of all ages in employment now than ever before. Most of the new jobs created are full time jobs too, although for some people, flexible employment enables the balancing of caring responsibilities with employment.

I want this progress to continue, and to see Cornwall at the forefront of the march towards a full employment economy. Unemployment here is already significantly below the UK average. I want to see more home grown food, home generated energy, goods and services created here and sold across the UK and the growing economies of the world.

We can deliver this by giving people the skills that businesses creating new jobs need their employees to have. Apprenticeships are crucial and since 2010, over 3,580 new apprenticeships have been created in Truro and Falmouth alone.

Cornwall Apprenticeship Service, based in Falmouth, offer a first class service to small businesses enabling them to provide a wide range of high quality apprenticeships.

We must also support the great local businesses that are creating jobs. A range of policies, including increased VAT thresholds, large reductions to business rates and business taxes, an employment allowance worth £3000, reduced red tape and £500 million of EU investment are helping businesses grow and wages rise locally.

From April 1st the National Living Wage is being introduced at £7.20 an hour – rising to £9 an hour by 2020. Personal taxes are going down too. Since 2010, 3.8 million people have been taken out of tax altogether and 27.5 million have seen their income tax cut. As of 2015, Mums who stay at home can transfer 10% or an average of £1060 of their personal allowance to their partner.

Of course the difficult task of reducing the budget deficit continues. We have made good progress, with the deficit now one third of what it was in 2010, but more needs to be done to reduce public expenditure so we live within our means. I don’t think we should duck this and pass on the nation’s debt to our children and grandchildren. This does mean that we are pressing ahead with some changes to welfare payments. Those people who are able to work but who are not currently doing so will have their benefits capped at £20,000 per year. Benefit payments for people with disabilities will continue to increase every year. Our expenditure is greater than other wealthy nations such as Germany and France. Pensioner’s benefits and pensions are also fully protected.

I know many people feel that large international companies such as Google or Amazon don’t pay their fair share of tax. I share those frustrations and I am pleased that the Government has led the international community in closing down the tax loopholes that have enabled some international companies to shift their profits around the world to avoid tax. This Government has introduced a diverted profits tax to stop multinationals using contrived arrangements to shift profits outside of the UK. I am pleased the Government has also made more than 40 changes to tax law to close loopholes, and introduced a new general anti-abuse rule to deter abusive tax avoidance.

It’s worth noting that according to independent data, since 2010, the wealthiest 1% of British people have contributed 28% of all tax receipts. The poverty gap is closing according to figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) which demonstrate that income inequality has fallen since 2010.

Having grown up near Falmouth, I know only too well of the poverty that has blighted the lives of too many people here. However, I believe the foundations are being laid to ensure that every local person has the opportunity of a good education and skills training to enable them to make the most of the improving employment opportunities that are growing here. Investment in our local infrastructure and economy is also creating an improved environment to set up or grow a business.

I am delighted that in the recent budget, the Chancellor announced the MarineHub Enterprise Zone. These zones are delivered locally by Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEP), Local Authorities and businesses. Enterprise Zones are about delivering long term, sustainable growth based on cutting edge technology and enterprise. They have three key incentives; up to 100% Business Rate discount of up to a value of £275,000 per business over 5 years; 100% enhanced capital allowance tax relief and all growth in business rates related to the zones are kept by the LEP and Cornwall Council to reinvest in the local economy.

This is good news for marine renewables. The MarineHub Enterprise Zone includes A & P and will attract more investment from international companies to develop and test devises that make energy from wave and tide. This will further develop our reputation as a centre for innovation and high skilled marine engineering expertise.

Of course there are some real local challenges not least of which is housing. More about that next month…..