“A” Level Results

Congratulations to the young people, teachers and their families who worked so hard for the excellent “A” level results we saw from our local schools and Truro & Penwith College. I believe that a good education is essential for people to realise their full potential and play as full a part in our society as possible.

We have, yet again, seen record university application rates, a four percent rise on last year, from every part of the UK. As importantly to me, more young people, including high achieving young people, are starting apprenticeships.

As we build a Britain that works for everyone and not just the privileged few, we want to ensure that every young person going to university or starting an apprenticeship receives the high standard of education they deserve.

Building on the progress of recent years, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds will be going to university this year. 18-year-olds from the least advantaged backgrounds are seven per cent more likely to be placed than in 2015.

While more needs to be done, more people from disadvantaged backgrounds go to university in England than in Scotland despite free tuition from the Scottish Government. For 2014, the latest figures available, the entry rate of university students from disadvantaged backgrounds was 18.2%, up 5% from 2009. For Scotland the comparable figure was nearly half that at 9.5 % despite free university education.

Jeremy Corbyn in his recent visit to Cornwall pledged to scrap university tuition fees. While constant scrutiny is essential to ensure everyone who has the ability to benefit from a university education has the opportunity, scrapping the current system, introduced by Labour and made much fairer by Conservatives in Government and described by the independent OECD as offering the most scalable and sustainable approach to university finance, seems reckless.

Combating Modern Slavery

Thousands of law enforcement officers across the United Kingdom will be empowered to join the fight against modern slavery at sea using new powers in the Modern Slavery Act which come into force this week.

The new powers will enable officers from Border Force, police forces and the National Crime Agency (NCA)  to board and search vessels, seize evidence and arrest offenders, where it is suspected that modern slavery is taking place.

Officers will be able to intercept vessels with reasonable grounds, arrest offenders and rescue victims from ships in UK waters. I was pleased to meet our local Border Force team in Falmouth and local police this week.

Modern slavery is a crime that rips victims from their families, trapping them in a cycle of abuse at the hands of ruthless gangs.

Officers from the Shetlands to the Isles of Scilly now have the power to arrest offenders and protect victims from this abhorrent crime whether on board a ship or on our shores.

Our message is clear – the UK is taking action to protect victims.

Offenders arrested at sea for modern slavery offences now face up to life imprisonment for their crimes under the Modern Slavery Act.

The new powers are in addition to the support announced by the Government last week, including a new taskforce to coordinate cross-government action, £33.5m in official development assistance funding and a HMIC inspection to assess police response to modern slavery.

Over 2013 and 2014, the NCA identified 37 potential victims of modern slavery who reported exploitation in the maritime industry. Victims onboard vessels will be brought to the mainland and will be able to access tailored care and support through the National Referral Mechanism, as part of the Government’s National Care and Coordination Contract administered by the Salvation Army.

National Citizenship Service

While Parliament is in Recess I have more time to spent at home, in my constituency. Over the last couple of weeks I have enjoyed meeting people on their doorsteps in Goonhaven and Holywell Bay as well as visiting a wide range of local organisations from charities to local businesses. My weekly surgeries continue through the recess too.

Each year, a highlight of my summer is joining local young people taking part in the National Citizenship Service (NCS). Open to all 16 and 17-year-olds, it helps build skills for work and life, while they take on new challenges and meet new friends.

Last week I caught up with a group of local young people participating in the NCS, at the excellent local charity Young People Cornwall, at Zebs Cafe, in Truro. I learned that in their first week they had lived with their team at an outdoor activity centre taking on some adrenaline-fuelled challenges. During the second week, it was time to discover something new as they spent some time away from home, often for the first time, learning to cook, meeting local organisations and developing valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership and communication.

I met them during the last couple of weeks of the programme where they brought together their experiences and delivered their own social action project, in this case supporting the work of St Petroc’s with homeless people. I can’t put it better than the young people I listened to – it’s “a life changing” opportunity.

Congratulations to Cornwall College and Young People Cornwall for delivering the NSC here, enabling over 100 young people from across Cornwall, from different backgrounds, to spend time together, learning new skills that not only benefit them but us all. I encourage all Year 12 students to sign-up in October.

The Unacceptable Face of Capitalism

Like many local people, I was sad when BHS closed in Truro and was concerned for the staff. I am pleased that MPs have investigated the demise of BHS and reported this week a catalogue of failures culminating in ‘at any cost’ disposal of company and pension deficit to wholly unsuitable “chancer”. In their report on BHS, the Work and Pensions and Business, Innovations and Skills Committees conclude that Sir Philip Green chose to rush through the offloading of a beleaguered high street institution, losing money and encumbered with a massive pension fund deficit, to a buyer who he was clearly aware was “manifestly unsuitable”, with Sir Philip forced to finance the sale himself.

MPs heard hours of oral testimony and considered thousands of pages of written evidence in the inquiry. The Committees say the evidence at times resembled a “circular firing squad”, with a series of key witnesses appearing to believe they could absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming others. Sir Philip Green himself “adopted a scattergun approach”, liberally firing blame to all angles except his own.

The report documents the systematic plunder of BHS at the cost of the 11,000 jobs and 20,000 people’s pensions now at risk. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and the respective directors and advisers who all got rich or richer are all culpable, with the only losers the ordinary employees and pensioners.

The Committees say that the story of BHS begs much wider questions about the gaps in company law and pension regulation that must be addressed. The two Committees will now turn to those question in new inquiries.

I support the Committees’ demands that Sir Philip Green must act now to find a resolution for the BHS pensioners, a “moral duty” which will undoubtedly require him to make a large financial contribution.

Published in the West Briton on 28th July 2016

 

How do we share prosperity more equally across all of society?

There is a pressing question that’s posing a real dilemma to politicians: how do we share prosperity more equally across all of society?

The quiet insistence that inequality be comprehensively addressed can only grow as anger about it festers.

To make my point, the typical FTSE company chief executive now makes 183 times more than their average employee, and some take home even more.

But it hasn’t always been like this. The ratio of FTSE 100 chiefs’ pay to that of average workers has jumped significantly since the millennium turned. In 1998, the multiple was only (if ‘only’ can be the right word) 47 times. And these ‘average’ employees are themselves typically paid up to four times what the office cleaners get.

These chief executives are, of course, few in number. They would argue they do a skilled job and the companies they run would add that if they didn’t pay so much, they couldn’t hire the top talent to drive companies forward to create jobs and prosperity.

So what to do to address this dilemma? Well, since 2010 there has been some progress with a small reduction in inequality in the wake of the financial crisis, driven by large income falls at the top.

More encouragingly, we have seen a recent return to wage rises and, crucially, faster earnings growth of the lowest incomes. These earnings increases, combined with swift rises in employment, have meant income gains for the bottom outpacing the top. The new National Living Wage is also something that will start to improve the situation over the long term.

We must now shape future growth so that the vast majority see their living standards rise with the nation’s economic growth, this is vital to delivering a One Nation Conservative government. Read full article piece on Executive Pay http://bit.ly/29OT0Qe

 

 

Securing Britain’s Future Energy Supply Through Digital Infrastructure

As Britain’s weather finally warms up, news coverage of fuel poverty melts away like ice in the sun.

But, if we are to tackle the issue, we need year-round focus on the cost of heating and electricity in the most deprived areas of the UK.

The sad truth is that there are over four million people living in fuel poverty in the UK at the moment, according to the charity National Energy Action.

This means that millions of people are living in under-heated homes, which can severely affect their health and put an unnecessary strain on the NHS.

In the summer months, while heat may not be as much of an issue, simple things that we often take for granted like using a washing machine, having a warm shower, and boiling water to cook food, are still daily challenges for the fuel poor.

By the government’s own definition, this means that by simply buying the energy they need for basic necessities, they fall below the official poverty line.

In 2016 that’s unacceptable.

Both Labour and Conservative and the last Coalition governments have launched countless initiatives to combat this scourge.

But results still lag behind our ambition.

In Cornwall, we recognise this is an urgent issue – my own constituency of Truro and Falmouth is among the top 20 constituencies with the least energy efficient households, according to the Association for Conservation of Energy. Our neighbours in St Ives have the least efficient households in England.

We also know that those who use prepay energy meters are much more likely to be in fuel poverty.

There are about 10 million prepay energy customers in the UK.

According to Citizens Advice, they pay on average over £200 more a year than they would on the cheapest direct debit deal.

If households don’t have enough money to top up the meter or live in fear of the next bill, then many simply go without energy altogether.

I’m determined that we all work together to find a better, fairer deal for millions of households who can’t afford to heat their homes properly.

There’s no silver bullet that will eliminate fuel poverty.

But smart meters – which allow customers to see their energy use in pounds and pence – are important weapons in this fight.

In collaboration with other MPs, I am working with Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for communicating about the smart meter rollout, and also local council members, business leaders and landlords to better understand the opportunities that new technology presents to help address fuel poverty in Cornwall.

We see smart meters as a key part of this.

Three million of these new digital energy meters have already been installed.

They will be offered free to every home in Britain by 2020.

Smart meters replace the antiquated analogue meters and will put an end to ‘estimated billing’ that has caused so much confusion for decades. The absurdity of estimation is demonstrated in Smart Energy GB adverts such as this one:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaSte4UGnZE

The advantage for customers is that they will have much more control of their use of electricity and gas.

Instead of being plunged suddenly into cold and darkness, they will be able to track their costs more accurately and on prepay top up their accounts quickly and easily.

I hope this will also take away some of the stigma that constituents tell me can be attached to using prepay for home energy needs.

Research by Smart Energy GB has found that over three quarters of people currently using prepayment meters are interested in smart pay-as-you-go.

With smart meters, it will also be possible to obtain much more detailed information about where fuel poverty is biting.

When a home suddenly loses power because a resident can’t afford to top-up their account, energy companies will have that information.

If a household is found to be frequently disconnecting, this could trigger an intervention by the relevant party.

Energy suppliers could then install energy efficiency measures to help the household manage costs.

In the future, it will be easier for friends, carers and family members to top-up an account on someone else’s behalf making an energy bill one less thing to worry about.

It’ll also be possible to add on winter fuel payments remotely and there will be no need to enter the property to add credit to someone’s energy account.

We’ve got to make the most of this new smart technology. Not only can this allow us to start winning the battle against fuel poverty, but also allow us to secure Britain’s future energy supply through digital infrastructure.

You can find more information on how to get a smart meter on the Smart Energy GB website http://bit.ly/1NmVNlC

Published in the The Wave Magazine 19th July 2016