Closing tax loopholes to fund our NHS

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted down the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.  The Prime Minister showed great statesmanship in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. She made a statement inviting the Opposition parties to table a vote of “no confidence” in the Government.  Jeremy Corbyn MP had previously threatened this but not delivered but on this occasion did accept the challenge. 

I hope the Prime Minister wins and on Monday she will make a statement setting out a plan that will enable MPs from all parties to work together to find a solution to the current impasse.  

I have a section on my website dedicated to the EU referendum and regularly update it. I am easily contactable and always happy to listen to or read the opinions of my constituents. 

Despite Brexit grabbing the headlines, my daily work for you continues at pace. Many and varied issues are raised with me during my weekly constituency meetings. Sometimes these require changes to a particular “system” and working with local people to do this is a rewarding part of my role, especially when I am able to help to bring about positive change.   

A good example was a local business person who told me how overseas sellers were undercutting his business by selling their products online and not paying their fair share of taxes. Having raised this with Treasury Ministers, HMRC has taken action and in 2016 introduced new powers that has enabled the collection of £200m lost VAT. HMRC recently reported issuing over 4,600 ‘red flag’ notices to online marketplaces such as Amazon, ASOS, Etsy and Ebay since 2016. 

The number of overseas businesses making applications for VAT registration has grown to 58,000, in comparison to just 1,650 applications between 2015 and 2016. 

These new rules protect thousands of local entrepreneurs as well as enabling previously uncollected taxes to fund our vital public services. This is just one tax avoidance and evasion measure amongst more than 100 introduced since 2010 that has generated more than £200 billion revenue. 

As regular readers know, I work closely with our local NHS leaders, doctors and nurses. During meetings with local GPs the impact of the increasing costs of indemnity insurance on their ability to provide local GP services was discussed. I raised these concerns with the Department of Health and after a great deal of work with the medical profession, I am pleased that a solution has been found. 

April this year will see the launch of the long-awaited government backed GP indemnity scheme. This was announced in October 2017 and will cover all practice staff performing clinical roles under a General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) or Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. 

The scheme will be free at the point of use and will cover all practice work, as well as extended and out of hours services. This will enable more GPs and healthcare professionals to work flexibly and improve the accessibility of healthcare services that we all depend upon.

First published in the West Briton 17/01/19

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Backing the PM’s deal

The Parliament I returned to on Monday is almost as divided as it was before Christmas. It is still divided into several factions; those who support Mrs May’s EU deal and those who oppose it, those who want a general election and those who want a second referendum. No one has come up with a better deal – including “no deal” – that commands more support than that of the Prime Minister. These same divisions exist across our nation, in our communities and in our homes. 

I have received around one thousand letters and emails from constituents passionately expressing their views one way or another, with each appealing to me to do the ‘right thing’ by representing their position in Parliament. It is my job to listen to the arguments and then carefully draw my own conclusions.  

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people are very supportive of the Prime Minister, and rightly so in my view. I agree that her deal is not perfect, but it does offer a compromise which I can support and I would urge others to do so too. As I have said before, this deal will give us free, no tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration and would avoid a “hard border” between North Ireland and Ireland. There will be no payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and there will be no customs union, so we will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the European Union. These key objectives, which are often referred to as the Prime Minister’s ‘red lines’, actually represent the promises made to British voters in the referendum campaign and at the most recent General Election. 

The much debated “backstop” in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, if used at all, would allow us continued, contribution free access to the EU whilst having total control over migration. This is why it is designed to be, and will prove to be temporary; for the first time ever, and contrary to the EU’s oft-repeated position of not splitting the ‘four freedoms’, they have done exactly that. Any suggestion that such an arrangement would, in effect, become permanent would cause an existential crisis within the EU. Their incentive not to use it, or to leave it quickly, would be at least as great as ours. 

If we do not support this deal, then anything could happen. This would have unknown and potentially untold consequences. The vast majority of local employers who have contacted me want certainty and do not want a “no deal” Brexit. 

There might also be a vote of no confidence in the present Government, which could result in a General Election, which Mr. Corbyn might win. For most, I do not need to explain the consequences of this for our economy, on investment and on jobs. 

I think it’s time to come together and support the deal. 

 First published in the West Briton 10/01/18

Improving our local health services

Dame Sally Davis is the independent Chief Medical Officer for England, and her recently published annual report on the NHS provides invaluable insights. I agree with her analysis when she says, that while the NHS is often a source of national pride, but despite this, a narrative of health being a cost to society prevails. As the late Hans Rosling said, “When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.” 

Dame Sally says her report “offers cause for optimism and I conclude that it is realistic to aspire to better and more equitable health in the next 20 years. As the NHS has developed its long-term plan for the coming ten years, this report looks at the strategic opportunities over the coming two decades for the health of the nation more broadly.” 

Like Dame Sally, I believe we need to reposition health as one of the primary assets of our nation, contributing to both the economy and happiness. We also must measure and track progress in our development of health as a nation and our fairness as a society in delivering improving health outcomes. I support her recommendation that the Government need to develop a composite Health Index that recognises this and is tracked alongside our nation’s GDP and the Measuring National Well-being programme. 

Health is generally used to mean the ‘absence of ill-health’. We often focus on the NHS as an ‘illness service’ rather than acknowledging the complex interactions in society that influence our health as individuals. Healthcare is often spoken of as a cost to the state and society rather than an investment that generates returns for the individual, communities and the nation. The NHS and public health services are not a burden on our finances – they help to build our future. Moreover, the good health of our nation is the bedrock of our happiness and prosperity. 

Health is an asset that we must protect and promote and is affected by the conditions in which we live and work. These conditions can be health-promoting or health-harming, and often governments, industry, and societies are responsible for those conditions, not the individual. We all have some responsibility for our own health, but we are not individually responsible for the house or neighbourhood we are born into, the school we attended, nor the health environment we live in. 

The health system needs to adapt for each individual and ensure both their environment and the care that they receive is helping them achieve ‘good health’. One example is our local social prescribing, which acknowledges our expanded understanding of physical, mental and social health and is an opportunity for the traditional health service to utilise, enhance and amplify existing schemes, including employment. Our local WinterWellness programme is another. One size clearly does not fit all, and this requires different types of care accessed through different places and different ways. 

 

Combating Homelessness

Happy New Year! A new year brings new opportunities to make a positive difference in our community. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen. 

Since my early twenties, when I lived and worked in New York, and was so shocked to see people sleeping rough in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, I have been actively involved in tackling this issue. During my time in America, I volunteered in a shelter for homeless men. My voluntary work continued in London and Truro, with the Truro Homeless Action Group. 

I believe that everyone should have a decent, warm and affordable home. Since being elected in 2010, I have been working with Government Ministers, Cornwall Council and local organisations that work with rough sleepers and homeless people to enable us to tackle this issue. 

It all started with making sure that, as far as possible, we have the correct information about the number of rough sleepers. The Government has made improvements to enable people undertaking the rough sleepers count to build up a clearer picture of the scale of the problem. I joined those undertaking the count here and we were able to find many more people than the previous system enabled. This information led to Cornwall Council realising the scale of the problem and more funding from the Government. 

While more money is important, it’s just as important to spend it wisely. Resolving the complex challenges people face requires team work from our public services and support from our community. So I am pleased that new legislation and guidance, that I helped shape, is also enabling this to happen. Sharing what works from around the country is also important. 

I am now seeing much improved collaboration and coordination of local services and that is beginning to make a significant and sustained positive difference. 

Cornwall Council has a Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and with the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd and partners like St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall.  

Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. This year’s count has recently taken place and validation of the numbers of rough sleepers is awaited. I very much hope we continue to see a reduction.  

While we are making progress, I know that there is more to do. If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. Over the Winter there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate until 18 February providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February too. 

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assistive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible. 

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

All of this work is supported by a small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction, Coastline Housing, Truro Homeless Action Group and many churches and local organisations who provide practical and emotional support for members of our community. Thank you to everyone who makes a contribution to help the most vulnerable people in our community. Together, I am sure we can end rough sleeping and homelessness. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave January edition

Supporting High Streets in Truro & Falmouth

New Year sales shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops and markets selling a wide range of locally produced items, including food and drink. There is no doubt that our local high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.   

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.    

Building on previous business rate reductions and increases in the VAT threshold, Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  While out Christmas shopping I heard first hand from local independent retailers the positive difference these savings are making to their sustainability. 

From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a further business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets fit for the future.  

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.   

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures.   

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties, helping prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street.  

The government is also taking longer term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created.  

Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! 

 First published in the West Briton 27/12/18

Spearheading action to reduce climate change

Last week, policymakers and climate experts from around the world gathered in Katowice, Poland, for pivotal talks on ambitious global action. 

In October, world leading scientists delivered a stark warning of the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on our health, prosperity and energy security. 

We are in this together, which is why the UK spearheaded action in Poland to establish a ‘rulebook’ for curbing climate change. 

This rulebook creates a level playing field for every country to play their part. Greater transparency will ensure scrutiny of progress toward targets and increase sharing of best practice. We must spread collective action using our combined wealth of knowledge to find the most effective and innovative ways of tackling climate change. 

The UK has a solid track record, since 1990 we have cut emissions by more than 40%, while growing our economy by more than two-thirds. During our first-ever Green GB Week, more than 30 UK-based businesses committed significant action to tackle climate change, from investing hundreds of millions in new solar panels to converting fleets of trucks to biofuels.  

But it’s not all about economics. There is a moral imperative too, as the effects of climate change already dominate our lives. It will be the poorest and most vulnerable people who will inevitably feel the effects hardest. 

That is why three years ago, the UK and other developed countries committed to mobilising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help these countries cope with the increasing risk of droughts and floods and provide access to clean energy. We know that every pound spent reducing CO2 today pays for itself between five and 20 times over in offsetting climate impacts. 

UK climate finance has, to date, supported 47 million people across the globe cope with the effects of climate change and provided 17 million people with improved access to clean energy.  

Investing this money overseas keeps us secure too. In the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, climate change was recognised as leading to and exacerbating instability overseas through crop failure, droughts and climate-change related migration.  

I am often asked – does leaving the EU mean the UK will row back on its ambitious climate action? Let me say it once again: absolutely not. 

The UK has always been ahead of the curve in setting climate ambition, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the UK’s landmark domestic Climate Change Act passing into law with near-unanimous cross-party support, setting an ambitious legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. 

Our ambition will not be hindered by leaving the EU. In fact, when the Government asked the independent Committee on Climate Change for advice on setting a net zero target in response to the October report, we were the first major developed country to take such action. 

Last week’s global agreements were a hopeful end to the Parliamentary year. Wishing you a very happy Christmas. 

First published in the West Briton 20/12/18

Tackling Homelessness

Several local residents have contacted me about people rough sleeping on Old Railway Walk from Newham to County Hall and Coosebean/Comprigney to Newmills. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen.  

I have raised my concerns and those of residents with the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and have been assured action is being taken to help. 

Cornwall Housing Limited has contacted the St Petroc’s Assertive Street Outreach and the Anti-Social Behaviour Team and has raised my concerns with the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Operational Group (CRSOG) and Safer Cornwall Truro Operational Group. 

St Petroc’s have provided assurances that they regularly visit these areas. The individual at Comprigney Fields and the individuals currently at Newham are known to them and are generally engaging with services at either their Truro Resource Centre or the Outreach Team. Cornwall Housing’s Rough Sleeping Link worker is also working with those who wish to engage to find a solution to their rough sleeping and I can confirm that these site visits and works to engage with the rough sleepers will continue. 

The Chief Executive of Cornwall Council confirmed that through the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd. and partners are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall. Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. 

If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. 

Over the Christmas period there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate from 17 December 2018 until 18 February 2019 providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February 2019.  

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April 2019. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assertive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible.  

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. 

The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

Finally, thank you to the small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing.  

First published in the West Briton 13/12/18