Renewable energy

Readers who follow national or international news do not need reminding of the increasing uncertainty and instability in many countries around the world near and far away. As a trading nation with one of the largest economies in the world we are all directly affected and rightly concerned.
The daily news underscores the fact that the first responsibility of our government is to protect its citizens. Our security is more than just making sure we have capable and well equipped armed forces, it is also about ensuring we have energy and food security.
In 2010 when the Coalition Government was formed, the UK was almost entirely dependent on imported energy. Thankfully we are not dependent on Russian gas. Since 2010 the Government has set in train a radical overhaul of our energy market in the UK and committed long term, large scale investment to producing more home generated energy.
I am pleased to report that progress is being made in generating more of our own energy, including renewable energy. ReGen SW, the organisation that supports renewable energy businesses in the South West, has recently published their annual report looking at what progress is being made in building a green future for our peninsula.
Their findings are encouraging as the South West now generates 8.3 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources, enough to power a quarter of homes across the region. This means that we are in with a chance of meeting the ambitious, but achievable Government target of generating 15% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
This surge in renewable energy production has not come about by accident, it is the result of sustained Government investment in the South West’s energy sector. 21% of all projects supported by the Government’s Feed in Tariff scheme are in the South West, as are 14% of all projects supported by the Renewable Heat Incentive. As well as direct taxpayer funding, the energy sector in the South West is benefiting from private investment secured in part by two flagship Government projects, the Energy Act and the Green Investment Bank.
As well as this, the FabTest site in Falmouth is hosting a range of locally engineered devices that are generating energy from the sea. There are a wide range of engineering companies based around Falmouth that are contributing to offshore wind and marine renewable energy generation. New energy sources, particularly marine energy, need to be supported, so it is good to see local plans being drawn up on how to spend the UK Growth and EU funding for Cornwall, including renewed investment and support for Cornwall’s marine energy sector. In a fast changing and competitive world it is good to see this sustained investment in new technology where the UK currently leads the world.



Cornwall and civil liberties

I have always believed that Cornish distinctiveness extends to politics. Certain political beliefs are particularly prevalent in the Duchy and key amongst them is a commitment to individual liberty. Perhaps it’s the legacy of the Christian nonconformists who defied discrimination to express their faith in their own way, or possibly the lingering legacy of the Cornish men and women who marched to London in 1497 to protest at crippling levels of taxation. Whatever the cause we have in Cornwall a shared consensus that people should be able to live their lives as they want, with minimal intrusion from the state.

In Parliament I have been proud to represent these traditions. One of my first votes on being elected was cast to scrap Labour’s compulsory ID cards scheme and since then I have supported a range of legislation designed to roll back the intrusion of the state into the everyday lives of my constituents. This includes the Protection of Freedoms Act, a law designed to boost the rights of UK citizens. Amongst other reforms the Act forced the police to delete all DNA they had belonging to people found to be innocent, and erased old convictions for consensual gay sex. When voting to introduce income tax reforms that have so far taken 4,500 Truro and Falmouth residents out of income tax altogether and secured a tax cut for a further 38,000 local people, I bore the marchers of 1497 in mind.

Last week in Parliament we considered legislation that some feel represents a new threat to these hard won liberties. The Data Retention Bill concerns the ability of the Government to, in specific circumstances, authorise the Police to intercept retained information about messages and emails sent or received by UK citizens.

I have considered the Bill closely, as I simply will not support any new infringement of the civil liberties of my constituents. I have been assured personally by the Home Secretary that although the legislation is new, the powers contained within the Bill are not. The Bill has been introduced following a European Court of Justice ruling and in response clarifies the current status quo, in which phone and email companies retain communications information which the Police can, when specifically authorised by the Home Secretary, access. The information retained is the ‘who, when, where and how’ of a communication but not its content.

This status quo has applied for decades, and has enabled intercepted information to be used in 95% of serious crime investigations, including those into terrorism and child abuse. These investigations include the recent ‘Operation Notarise’ which saw the arrest of over 650 individuals suspected of child abuse. I was pleased last week to secure praise from the Home Secretary in the House of Commons for the pivotal role Devon and Cornwall Police officers have played in this operation.

I am assured that the new legislation will help this good work continue, without further comprising the civil liberties that we in Cornwall rightly hold so dear.



Lets boost skills to make sure that no one is left behind

It is fair to say that it has been a good July for Cornwall. Hot on the heels of the £146 million investment in our railways has come confirmation that £198 million of growth funding is coming Cornwall’s way, with decisions on how to spend it and our EU funds being made in Cornwall.

I have been pressing for this some time and it has been great to work with parliamentary colleagues, the LEP and Cornwall Council to deliver this real shift in power from London to Cornwall. Spending decisions being made in Cornwall, with meaningful input from local businesses, mean that investment can be focused on areas where it is needed, such as Cornwall’s transport infrastructure.

Crucially the new funding can be used to support the new growth industries that will create high quality jobs for local people. Industries like marine renewables and engineering, creative arts and the science based businesses, like those based at Goonhilly and Newquay Airport Enterprise Zone, that are putting Cornwall at the cutting edge of technology.

For these industries to thrive they need people with the right skills to work in them. I am pleased that, in drawing up proposals on how to use the funding, the LEP have put a focus on boosting skills and training opportunities for local people of all ages. They will be exploring proposals put forward by the Prime Minister’s advisor on business and enterprise, Lord Young, that a network of ‘Enterprise Advisers’ be created. Local business people would volunteer to be Enterprise Advisers and would work with local schools to encourage young people to take the first steps towards rewarding and skilled careers. This encouragement would range from regular motivational talks and meetings, to practical work with teachers identifying the right training and work experience opportunities for individual pupils and then ensuring that these opportunities are accessed.

Vocational courses are being overhauled and are available to young people alongside traditional subjects. The Government has introduced Technical Awards, which may be taken alongside GCSEs, and Tech Levels, which may be studied instead of or alongside A Levels, with the curriculum for both being partly written by business people. It is good to see Cornwall at the forefront of these efforts to embed workplace skills within education, with Truro and Penwith College last month becoming a ‘Maths Hub’. This is an excellent education institution that will provide tailored maths teaching support to local schools, with a focus on boosting skills and employability.

Business led skills training within education gives young people the experience and qualifications they need to build rewarding careers. Recent research by the Office of National Statistics has confirmed that the more educated people are, the more likely they are to be in work. Tragically this means that someone with few or no qualifications is more likely to be unemployed than to be in work. In the 21st century, as one of the wealthiest and fastest growing global economies, we must not let people be left behind in this way anymore.

Investing to build a prosperous Cornish future

It is always satisfying to see an exciting project come to fruition after years of work. This was very much the case last week when David Cameron came to Cornwall to announce a package of Cornish rail improvements worth over £146 million. This package had been proposed to me some years ago by Nigel Blacker of Cornwall Council and since then I have been working with Nigel and his colleagues, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership and Ministers to deliver it. The improvements announced will create new skilled jobs for local people, help local businesses to grow and pave the way towards more frequent and reliable train services. It marks a solid step towards building the rail network Cornwall needs in the 21st Century.

Our rail links aren’t the only thing benefiting from new investment. Cornwall’s creative sector, another force in local life that is central to the livelihoods of many and helps our Duchy to grow, was also boosted last week by Arts Council investment. This includes protected funding for Cornish arts organisations up until 2018 and new funds for the wonderful Hall for Cornwall, to help them move forward with exciting expansion plans. Major Museum Status has been granted to a consortium of six Cornish museums and galleries, which include Falmouth Art Gallery, the National Maritime Museum Cornwall and the Royal Cornwall Museum. This status will unlock new funding for these great institutions.

These welcome funding announcements formed part of #CreateUK, a week dedicated to celebrating the creative arts in the UK and all they do for us. The arts, in all their glorious diversity, bring beauty and light into the lives of millions, sweetening everyday life whilst providing means of expression and relief at meaningful moments, whether good or bad. In Parliament, in my role as Co Chair of the APPG on Arts and Wellbeing, I continue to explore and celebrate this creative impact on life, particularly the lives of those living with health problems. The creative sector also plays an important role in the economy. Since 2010 employment within the creative industries has grown at 5 times the rate of the wider UK economy. Cornwall is at the forefront of the sector, which is now estimated to add over £100 million a year to the Duchy’s economy.

This includes the film industry, which is benefiting from new tax reliefs that are bringing more and more filmmakers to Cornwall. The artistic hub that is Falmouth University is also going from strength to strength, benefiting from the conferring of full university status in 2012. The ever-increasing range of high quality courses on offer have helped produce thousands of talented creative professionals, many of whom stay on in the Duchy after their studies, setting up creative businesses and creating local jobs. Alacrity Falmouth, a digital games company supported by the University, is a good example of how new jobs can come out of the lecture room and workshop.

These are investments to build a prosperous Cornish future.






Inquiry into child abuse claims

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about historic allegations of child abuse concerning Members of Parliament and others.

I share the concerns expressed about how these allegations were responded to. I do not sign EDMs as they have no legislative effect, instead I find it more useful to go to Ministers directly with my concerns. As such I have spoken directly to Home Secretary Theresa May to request that the cases in question be re-examined. I am pleased that the Prime Minister has now confirmed that this investigation will now take place, saying yesterday:

‘‘I am absolutely determined that we are going to get to the bottom of these allegations and we’re going to leave no stone unturned to find out the truth about what happened – that is vital.

It is also vital we learn the lessons right across the board from these things that have gone wrong.

‘And it’s also important that the police feel that they can go wherever the evidence leads and they can make all the appropriate arrangements to investigate these things properly.Those three things need to happen – robust inquiries that get to the truth, police investigations that pursue the guilty and find out what has happened and proper lessons learned so we make sure these things will not happen again.

‘That is what will happen under my government.’’

Further details, given in the House of Commons by Home Secretary Theresa May can be found here

I will be closely monitoring the progress of this forthcoming inquiry. I believe it is essential that mistakes in such cases be highlighted, so that lessons can be learnt that will allow appropriate and effective responses to all allegations of child abuse in the 21st century. The inquiry will be over-arching and will look at all the institutions about whom concerns have been raised about responses to child abuse allegations, including the Police and the Home Office.

Whilst this process of learning lessons from the past continues, good progress is being made by Devon and Cornwall Police in tackling this horrific crime in the 21st century. More information on this progress can be found here:

Bring Agung home

Thank you to everyone who has contacted me about my constituent, Mr Agung Mantra.

I very much share local concerns reagrding Agung’s plight.I will be doing everything I can to reunite Agung with his wife and children as soon as possible. I have written to the Home Office to make his case and will keep up the pressure.

Updates will be posted on my website

We need to build more council houses

I believe that one of the primary roles of government is to enable people to help themselves earn a secure and comfortable income to support their families. How are we doing in delivering this? For those that can work, education and employment are the foundation stones of a secure income and it is great that the number of people in work has increased by over 1.5 million since 2010. In Truro and Falmouth this May there were fewer people claiming JSA than there were in May 2005. Meanwhile Coalition Government reforms have lifted 5000 of the lowest paid people in Truro and Falmouth out of income tax altogether and reduced tax for 38,000 local people.

These are steps in the right direction, but not the end of the journey. To ensure a decent standard of living for people earning modest incomes we need to also reduce the amount they have to spend to live. On Tuesday I helped the Joseph Rowntree Foundation launch new research looking at how much people have to spend on the essentials of life. The findings show that the continued rise of housing costs over recent decades have hit those earning modest incomes very hard. Poorly insulated homes and rising energy costs are not helping.

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 nearly 20% of the UK population. Rents have been rising for decades. I wrote some weeks ago about this and am pleased by a further £53 million of investment in new housing announced by the Government last week. As well as reforming the private rented sector it is crucial also to expand the socially rented sector, including what is popularly referred to as council housing.

Local authorities have now been set free to build more council houses. A measure I helped to introduce, self-financing, means that local authorities retain the rental income they receive from existing council house tenants and can top it up by borrowing to invest in existing and new homes. A £3.5 billion Affordable Homes Guarantee, which allows social housing providers to use a government guarantee to secure private investment in council housing, is further driving forward the delivery of new council homes. A new £23 billion affordable housing funding pot known as the Affordable Homes Programme 2015-18 will deliver more affordable homes. I am disappointed that Cornwall Council has to date been slow in applying for funding from the Programme and want the Council to utilise all the new tools now available to build many more genuinely affordable homes for local people, including new council houses.

Advances in technology means that council housing can help lower energy bills as well – in built cutting edge insulation and energy efficiency devices means that the newest council houses can cut energy costs for the people who move into them. When combined with increased earnings from work this could be the path to securing the income families need.

HFC succeeds in first stage of ACE Capital Bid and retains National Portfolio status

Hall For Cornwall today had the good news that it has been successful in the Stage One Arts Council Capital Grant application.
This came alongside the news that the Hall is also to continue as one of Arts Council England’s National Portfolio Organisations – ensuring the venue can sustain its high-quality artistic work and grow its participation and talent development programmes.
The Capital Bid is an important first step in the Hall’s plans of a redevelopment project to reconfigure the ‘tired’ Grade II listed building. The challenge will be to overcome its existing physical constraints to create an updated, fit-for-purpose venue offering greatly improved facilities for both audiences and artists – ensuring it can continue to be a major cultural asset for years to come.
The award recognises that Hall For Cornwall makes a significant contribution to regional economy both as a cultural hub and great place to visit – bringing in an estimated £12 million to the city economy and providing 60 full-time equivalent jobs (or 100 employees). Annual audiences of 180,000 boost local food and drink trade too. The proposed capital investment will not only sustain this essential contribution, but provide the Hall with the best possible chance for growth.
Following today’s announcement Julien Boast, Chief Executive at Hall for Cornwall said: “This is a great result for everyone who works and comes to enjoy Hall For Cornwall’s work. We are delighted that Arts Council England has invested in our redevelopment and future growth. Our ambitions for the building will not only add enormous value to our programming and income potential, but enable us to create a truly vibrant cultural centre for the county and the wider South West.”
Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: ‘This award will help Hall For Cornwall further develop their exciting plans for a major refurbishment of Cornwall’s principal theatre. By investing £344,995 through our National Lottery-funded Capital programme, we are supporting the organisation to move forward with a project that will secure their role as a leading regional theatre and a centre for Cornwall’s burgeoning cultural economy.’