West Briton column 24 September 2013

It is important remember that whilst overall Government spending has gone down in recent years, certain budgets have seen their funding maintained or even increased. Without exception these are the budgets that make a real difference to people’s lives, particularly the NHS.

The decision to focus protection for spending cuts on budgets supporting those in the greatest need has meant that some parts of Government have faced challenges. This includes Local Government. The previous administration at Cornwall Council instigated a savings plan based on new more efficient ways of working, which did succeed in protecting the parts of the Council’s budget that serves those in need – adult social care being a key example. The new Cabinet at the Council are now setting out their approach to the financial challenge the Council faces.

While I welcome their public engagement, it is important that the Council is open and transparent about the scale of the challenge it faces, whilst also recognising the other side of the coin, namely the new opportunities now available to Cornwall Council.

A particularly exciting opportunity has been presented through Government giving Cornwall Council more control of revenue produced by the Duchy, including business rates, and the power to take decisions that will increase that revenue in future. This new ability to take decisions that will help local businesses to grow is being supported by funding, including £592 million of EU funds now controlled from Cornwall by the LEP.

The Council needs to publicly explore these opportunities more, and be clearer about how they are making their predictions about future funding cuts. A lack of such clarity can lead to inaccuracies.

An example of this can be found in what Cllr Alex Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance, has been saying about the Rural Fair Funding campaign. This campaign, which I have supported in Parliament since its inception, highlights a long standing disparity between funding given to rural and urban Councils. Cllr Folkes has been saying that Cornwall suffers greatly from this disparity, having £100 less to spend per head than an urban council. The problem is that this £100 figure is not Cornwall specific, it is an average for all rural Councils. The campaign’s own figures show that Cornwall’s spend per head is actually £43 less than the average urban Council. Whilst this is still a real problem, Cornwall has more to spend per head than most other rural Councils, and indeed more than Plymouth Council. Furthermore in February this year, responding to the concerns colleagues and I raised regarding urban/rural disparities, the Government promised to review the current situation and do more to support rural Councils.

It is unfortunate that Cllr Folkes has made the situation look worse than it is through the inaccurate use of generalised figures rather than Cornwall specific ones.

I very much hope that Cllr Folkes and his colleagues will make budget decisions based on solid facts with the aim of ensuring that the most vulnerable in our community continue to receive the support they need.

West Briton column 19 September 2013

While most economic indicators show that the UK economy is on the road to recovery, there is still much to be done to ensure sustainable growth. Growth in a rebalanced economy where we grow more food, generate more of our own energy and make more good goods and services for export around the world. Growth that is not just in London. While the economy in the SW is doing well, being the fast growing region in the UK outside London and the South East, I am not complacent. While overall employment is up on 2010, the consultation on potential job losses at A and P demonstrate what a competitive global economy our businesses compete in.

Since being elected I have worked with A and P in securing naval contracts, the RFAs and most recently the River Class maintenance contracts. I have also worked hard to help the organisations in Falmouth developing the Port Master Plan. The Master Plan has been widely consulted upon and sets out the future of the Port, developing its reputation as a centre of high quality ship and boat building, repair and maintenance as well as a world class centre of recreational water sports and of course fishing.

The Master Plan maintains Falmouth’s historical connection with the Royal Navy, whilst at the same time builds on the Port’s unique geography to develop a centre of marine renewable energy.

I am delighted that the government designated the SW as the first UK Marine Energy Park and that the Cornwall LEP has recognised this sector and Falmouth as a key strategy for the economic future of Cornwall. The Government has given the LEP £592 million of EU funding to invest in skills, businesses and jobs in Cornwall from 2014 to 2020, funding that will help Cornwall’s marine energy sector, alongside other key industries, grow further.

Central to the vision of the future Port of Falmouth is access for larger vessels. Ships are getting bigger and on too many occasions they have turned away from Falmouth because the dredged channel into the port isn’t deep enough. As the port is such a precious natural environment, plans to undertake a new and deeper dredge have to go through a licensing process so make sure the environment isn’t too adversely effected. I have been supporting the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners in working with the licensing organisation, the Marine Management Organisation, to gather the necessary evidence to ensure a dredge can take place that won’t harm the native oysters and other valued marine habitats. A trial dredge, undertaken by independent, academic experts has taken place. The results should be with the MMO in January and a decision taken soon thereafter.

We do live a very beautiful, natural environment and I am sure we all want to see its protection secured for future generations. At the same time we need to ensure the future of the port with all the jobs and prosperity it brings to not only Falmouth, but the rest of Cornwall.

West Briton column 12 September 2013

As a Backbench MP I have the ability to ensure good ideas raised with me by my constituents are raised in the House of Commons and considered by the Government.

I was pleased to be able to demonstrate this last week, as I responded to the letters I had received from local people considering what action we could be taking in Syria. One of those letters was from Chris Jones of Ladock, who made the suggestion that, rather than a military response to the dreadful chemical weapons attacks made by the Syrian regime against their own citizens, the Government should instead consider sending special equipment to help protect Syrians from any further attacks as well as specialist medical care following the use of chemical weapons. I was keen to pursue this idea further and raised it with the Foreign Secretary William Hague. As a member of the Science and Technology Select Committee, I also discussed the possibility with one of the leading UK experts on weapons of mass destruction ascertaining what more the UK could do in terms of reducing harm to Syrian people affected by these dreadful weapons.

The Government listened closely to these discussions, and announced that an extra £52 million of aid would be sent to Syria. This new funding will include providing civilians with protection equipment and support medical training to deal with the horrendous aftermath of a chemical attack. Responding to my question on the topic in the House of Commons William Hague gave further details on this equipment, confirming that it would include 5000 protection hoods and a large stock of medicine to treat exposure to nerve agents. This support forms part of a wider £400 million package of UK aid to the Syrian people, both in Syria and in refugee camps outside inside neighbouring countries. From small acorns, and the everyday workings of our democratic system, life saving oak trees can grow.

As this aid is delivered Cornish charity Shelterbox is at the frontline. Shelterbox has so far sent vital equipment to over 4,500 Syrian families, including tents, water purification kits and lamps. Shelterbox are currently preparing thermal tents and blankets for distribution in refugee camps over the winter to help refugees cope with plummeting temperatures.

The vital work of Shelterbox forms one part of a coordinated British humanitarian team on the ground in Syria. The range of this work is immense, from the distribution of shelter and cooking equipment by Shelter and others, to the provision of food and medical care. Specialised work includes therapy for those who have experienced trauma in the conflict, particularly children. For many in the refugee camps sanitation is a real problem, and work is being done to ensure that as many people as possible have access to clean water for drinking and washing.

As the people of Syria face the horrors of the escalating civil war, we must continue to do all we can to make a difference to lives threatened by violence and blighted by conflict.

West Briton column 5 September 2013

Thank you to the sixty or so constituents who contacted my office last week with their views on the current situation in Syria and what could or should be done. I very much appreciate constituents sharing their views with me in this way, as well as the many people I have met out shopping and at a range of local events.

During the more than two years of civil war in Syria, I have met with people from or with families living there, our armed forces, charities working in Syria and neighbouring countries caring for the huge number of refugees. I have also met with Ministers and joined debates and asked questions in Parliament. All this time I have supported the Government’s efforts, working with allies to urge the Assad regime to enter a meaningful peace process to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria. I have urged great caution about any sort of military intervention.

The debate last week was about how the UK should respond, after the UN inspectors report over the weekend, to the Syrian regime’s alleged use of chemical weapons against their own citizens. The use of chemical weapons is against international law and constitutes a crime against humanity. The Government was not proposing an invasion of Syria or joining the Syrian civil war. Not proposing regime change. I do not support such military action by our armed forces in Syria. The Government was proposing that we condemn the use of chemical weapons and work with the UN and our allies to deter the further use of chemical weapons in Syria. Evidence regarding who used the weapons was published.

I voted for our Government to respond to the calls for help from countries in the region, using the UN process to send a strong message to the Syrian regime that they should not use chemical weapons, that there are consequences if they do. We all want a political solution and the peace that the Syrian people so desperately need. Peace that the region so desperately needs.

During the debate the Government made it crystal clear that following the UN inspectors report to the UN and after UN consideration of next steps, Parliament would have a further debate and vote on any proposed military action.

I understand that the toxic legacy of Tony Blair and the war in Iraq has left the nation scarred and sceptical. We must learn the right lessons lesson from history. I am however deeply disappointed that the House of Commons did not pass any motion at all. That the Leader of the Opposition went back on what he had agreed. That Parliament did not send a clear message to the Syrian regime condemning the use of chemical weapons.

The Prime Minister has reconfirmed his determination to work with our allies and the UN for a peaceful resolution to the current crisis as well as continuing our significant support for refuges and humanitarian aid. The Government has my full support for these actions.