West Briton column 22 August 2013

It is a real cause for a concern that some people who work hard and full time cannot earn enough money to make ends meet.

Low paid work is subsidised by taxpayers via measures such as tax credits to the tune of £4 billion every year. Labour policies, including the introduction of zero hours contracts in 2004, have left a growing number of workers with insecure and low paid work. As we move our economy from rescue to recovery we must tackle the unfair working practises that some employers are utilising. While I am very supportive of flexible and part time working that enable people to juggle caring responsibilities with employment, I applaud the public stand made by my constituent Ulrike Vaughan against her daughter’s treatment by a local employer deploying zero hour contracts.

I fully support the aim of the Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership in working with Cornish employers to bring in a living wage. Employers in other parts of the UK have voluntarily brought in living wages so this step can be taken here.

I am also very concerned by the skills gap that widened under Labour.

My colleague, John Hayes MP as Minister for Skills couldn’t have put it better: People should not just be left floundering without education, employment or training. No one deserves to be broken on the wheel that revolves from a dead-end job to unemployment and back again.’

The Government is making progress in its efforts to tackle this sorry situation.

Colleges have been given new freedoms, with bureaucracy and external controls reduced so that they can focus on what they do best – providing first class further education to local people. The Government has increased the skills budget to support Colleges in this role, and is providing £270 million up to 2015 to improve further education facilities across the UK. Local authorities have been given new powers to work with colleges and local businesses to co-ordinate skills provision, to ensure that training programmes are fully supported and meet the needs of local businesses. Funding for older learners is available too.

More money has been provided to fund new apprenticeships, over 1800 being created in Truro and Falmouth since 2010. Open to people of all ages, the number of new apprentices aged 25 and over has doubled over two years.

These are real steps forward, but there is still much to be done. Research undertaken by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills has shown that if real improvements in skills are delivered, up to 1.5 million families could be lifted out of poverty by 2020. I will continue doing all I can to help deliver this. I would encourage everyone to consider how the new opportunities to acquire new skills could help them increase their income and job satisfaction and have produced a help sheet summarising where you can go locally to access new skills training. This can be accessed through my website http://www.sarahnewton.org.uk

West Briton column 15 August 2013

As regular readers will know my work on improving the welfare and wellbeing of some of the most vulnerable members of our society, is of the greatest importance to me. In looking at the ways in which troubled lives can be lightened one thing is always readily apparent; mankind’s best and oldest friend can be an invaluable source of comfort and joy. Dogs large and small, old and young, bring so much to the people with whom they live. Having grown up with dogs, and owned one until 2010, I know from my own experience how wonderful it is to have a dog as part of the family.

Given all they do for us, we owe dogs a duty of care. Having met with many residents and groups passionate about dogs, including the K9 Crusaders rescue kennels, I know how crucially important it is that this duty is fulfilled. I am pleased that Ministers, working closely the RSPCA and other animal charities, are putting forward a range of measures that will make a real difference to dog welfare.

In February it was announced that microchipping will be made compulsory for all dogs by April 2016, with microchips provided free of charge by a range of charities. This measure will make it easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners, meaning that fewer and fewer dogs will face the horrors of life as a stray.

Now the Government is taking further steps to target perhaps the greatest threat to dog welfare – irresponsible owners. When owners neglect and abuse their pets, unhappy and dangerous dogs result. The Government has set up a £50,000 fund to be used to promote better ownership, and is amending the law so that owners will always be liable for prosecution if their dog injures someone, wherever the attack takes place.

Last week the Government launched a public consultation on the sentences that people who own dangerous dogs that attack people should receive. At the moment the maximum sentence is two years, and Ministers are exploring whether harsher sentences would act as a greater deterrence to turning pets into dangerous animals. To have your say visit www. consult.defra.gov.uk/animal-health-and-welfare/dda_dog-attacks_sentences_survey

One of the reasons for this proposed change is to ensure better protection for one group of dogs in particular; guide dogs. Attacks on guide dogs from out of control pets are at an all time high of ten a month. Having met with a constituent whose guide dog had to be withdrawn from service following a vicious attack, I am deeply concerned about such incidents, and the trauma and distress they cause to both dog and owner.

I would encourage everyone who shares my concern to participate in the consultation, and to also spare a thought from another group who suffer most from out of controls – our postmen and women, who experienced 5000 dog attacks last year. Irresponsible dog ownership can ruin lives, both human and animal, now is the time to come together to end it once and for all.

West Briton column 8 August 2013

Immigration is a word that has increasingly negative connotations, associated with heated political debate characterized by allegations of racism on one side, and accusations of disconnection with the public on the other.

It hasn’t always been like this. In the past immigration was recognised widely as a benign force, bringing new skills and ideas to the benefit of all. Records from the reign of Charles II reveal a Government sponsored scheme to encourage Dutch families to settle in the South West, into the nineteenth century Jewish merchants from central Europe were persuaded to come to Falmouth to bring their trading expertise to the growing Port town. Individuals from immigrant backgrounds have played an important role in Cornish history, from Daphne Du Maurier with her French heritage, to the Africa-born composer Joseph Emidy, to Saint Piran himself. This continues today, with students and lecturers from all parts of the world coming to study and teach at Tremough and Woodlane campuses.

For the majority of the second half of the twentieth century the numbers of people from aboard moving to the UK every year stood at the tens of thousands. Even during the 1950’s, when families from Commonwealth nations were encouraged to settle in Britain, the number of migrants rarely exceeded fifty thousand a year. This stable pattern of migration continued up until 1997, when forty eighty thousand new migrants settled in the UK. Then came Labour.

Between 1998 and 2010 over two million migrants settled in the UK. This large increase in population over a short space of time had a profound effect; straining public services and causing an over-supply of labour in some sectors of the economy. Those who raised concerns about these very real problems were all too often labeled as racists. This combination of difficulties caused by immigration, and the stifling of debate on the issue, proved toxic. Labour’s short sighted decision to enable vastly increased migration to the UK soured public discussion.

The Coalition’s commitment to restoring immigration to pre 1997 levels is vital if we are to
address this legacy. In order to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands the Government has imposed a limit on economic migration from outside the EU, cut out the abuse of student visas and reformed family visas. The UK Border Agency is being overhauled, to ensure that our borders are better protected and that immigration rules are more effectively enforced. These changes are having an effect, net migration to the UK has now ben cut by a third since 2010.

This work must continue, to ensure that immigration returns to the right level for the UK, and that the problems resulting from Labour’s immigration policies fade into history. Once this has been achieved, I am hopeful that immigration can once again be recognised a positive force for good in our national life. When managed properly migration contributes to economic growth, enriches our culture and strengthens our friendships with other nations. These are rich gifts that we can all celebrate.

West Briton column 1 August 2013

As with every Summer families from across the UK, and indeed across the world, are heading to Cornwall to enjoy our spectacular landscape. From the rolling hedge-rowed hills, to the deep green woods and lanes, to the sparkling sea, the jewels that make our stunning Duchy are priceless assets to our economy, and blessings on the lives of all those who enjoy them.

With the Cornish countryside rejoicing under the summer sun, it is perhaps a good time to consider the future of this precious landscape of ours, and the threats it faces.

Some voices proclaim that there is only one threat- humanity. According to this narrative ever increasing human activity poses a growing threat to unspoilt nature. For me this argument simplifies the complex, and often harmonious, relationship between mankind and nature, and overlooks the role that economic activities have played in creating the Cornish landscape. From hedgerows first planted and pruned by Iron Age smallholders, to the emblematic engine houses built amidst the gorse during the tin years, to the ocean going ships that to this day enliven the waters of the Fal estuary, human activity has helped forge the way the Cornwall looks.

The challenge that faces us all is how best to ensure that the harmonious relationship between Cornwall and its people can be maintained. The Fal estuary, and the ongoing work to ensure that dredging can take place there whilst protecting marine habitats, is just one example of how important the relationship between the landscape and its population is to all our futures.

Many local residents feel that the recent increase in wind and solar farms in the Duchy threaten the harmony of this relationship. All too often in the past these developments have been imposed on communities, marring cherished local landscapes. Along with George Eustice and Sheryll Murray I have for some time been raising concerns about this. I am delighted that, following a visit to Cornwall, Energy Minister Greg Barker MP has announced that new guidance will be issued to local authorities on how to asses wind and solar farm applications. The views of the local community, and the impact such developments have upon on landscapes, will now be key considerations.

A similar focus on community views is now in place within the planning system concerning residential development. Concerns have been raised over a recent focus on large out of town developments built on green fields. Many feel that local-need driven genuinely affordable housing schemes, centered around converting empty properties into new homes, would be kinder to the environment. Thanks to the Localism Act communities can now come together to draw up neighborhood plans that can make such an approach a reality.

This community centered approach to local development embodies the concept of stewardship. This is the idea that those who live on the land should have the powers to decide its future; the ability to maintain the harmonious relationship between the Cornish and Cornwall that has helped create the landscape we know and love.