Winter Wellness

As we feel the first real chill of winter this week many of us have turned on the heating and perhaps succumb to a cold but there are local people who don’t turn on the heating and suffer much more than a cold. Public Health Cornwall have estimated that this winter 300 local people will die and many more will have their chronic health conditions exacerbated and end up in hospital because they live in cold homes.

So what is being done to prevent this unacceptable situation. Over the past three years, I have worked with a partnership of local organisations from the NHS and Cornwall Council to voluntary organisations and charities to promote access to the help that is available. Help with reducing fuel bills by installing energy efficiency measures and insulation, through to claiming benefits and getting cash support. This Winter Wellbeing partnership of over 30 organisations has helped over 4,000 people with advice and information and practical support to keep warm and well.  I am grateful to the volunteers who are delivering my Cornwall Now magazines to 25,000 homes across my constituency that includes a pull out guide of help that is available now. If you or someone you know is really struggling to stay warm please call the free, award winning Cornish Community Energy Plus helpline on 0800 954 1956.

Older people who receive Winter Fuel Payments who feel they do not need them can donate them to the Cornwall Community Foundation and they will make sure the money reaches those that do need it this winter.

It is good news that there is help now to prevent people suffering from the cold but it is not the long term solution to fuel poverty that we need. Last week I was pleased to bring into law England’s first proper fuel poverty strategy. It aims to ensure that people living in homes in fuel poverty will be insulated and energy efficiency measures installed so that by 2030 all homes are Band C. The average fuel poor home is currently Band E and pays twice the cost for their energy bills. This is a national problem and a local problem with an estimated 11% of homes in Cornwall living in fuel poverty. The strategy was developed by Professor John Hills and a team of independent experts. We know more about fuel poverty than ever before and this has enabled the strategy to target support and action to where it is most effective, to the people living in the coldest and least energy efficient homes. Many people in Cornwall live off the gas grid and in types of home that can be difficult to insulate so the targeted approach of the strategy will make a real difference. While we work towards this target, with your support, I will continue to do everything I can to make sure people get the help that is available now and will continue to reduce the number of people living in cold homes to zero.

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Lead up to the Autumn Statement

Over the next couple of weeks I will be making the final push to secure the investment in my constituency and Cornwall that I want to see the Chancellor announce in the Autumn Statement on Truro Fatstock Day. This is the culmination of months of hard work.

I have been working with my Conservative colleague Graham Stuart MP,  leader of Rural Fair Share Campaign, which is a group of MPs whose constituencies contain “super sparse” (or “R80”) local authorities. We will be meeting with the Chancellor in advance of the Autumn Statement calling for a fairer deal for rural local authorities. Currently urban authorities receive more in local government funding per head than their rural counterparts, despite the fact that rural residents on average earn less than those in cities, pay more in council tax, and face greater costs to access services.

Following our campaigning ahead of the 2014/15 Local Government Finance Settlement, the Government gave £11.5m to the sparsest rural authorities via the “Rural Services Delivery Grant”. Whilst it is welcome that the Government recognised the additional costs of providing services in sparsely populated areas, the amount is inadequate when divided up, adding just £1.10 per person in each authority.

 

I don’t agree with those Cornwall Councillors that want to increase your Council Tax and remove Business Rate reliefs. I want you to keep more of your hard earned money. I do want Cornwall Council to be fairly funded. Since 2010 my colleagues and I have made real progress in closing the historic funding gaps in other public services, most notably our local NHS funding and per pupil funding for our local schools.

I am delighted that Conservatives have pledged to increase the amount of money anyone earns before they start paying income tax to £12,500. I don’t think anyone working full time on the minimum wage should pay income tax.

I am also pushing to close the deal on funding further improvements to our transport infrastructure. I am delighted that we have enabled a public service obligation on our Newquay to Gatwick air service that has secured the service for at least the next four years. With firm plans for investment in local rail services agreed, including more and upgraded carriages, an upgraded sleeper service, free internet and upgrading of signalling that will pave the way for thirty minute train services through Cornwall, as well as historic levels of investment in the rail network up country that will greatly improve our connectivity with the rest of England. I am very much hoping that my calls for an upgrade for Truro Station’s car park will be heeded and the Chancellor will announce that work can begin next year.

The Chancellor has agreed investment in the dualling of the A30 at Temple, so now I want him to announce the dualling of the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross. With careful consultation and planning, this road improvement would make a significant difference to local people and businesses alike.

 

Remembrance Sunday

My week was centered on remembrance. From joining a service in Westminster remembering the 22 MPs, including Captain, The Hon. T.C.R. Agar-Robartes for part of this constituency, who lost their lives in military service during the First World War to participating in the wide range of special events at Truro Cathedral, including a spectacular performance of Britten’s War Requiem performed by magnificent, local musicians.

Laying wreaths of poppies during Remembrance Services in my constituency is always an honour and privilege, remembering the bravery and sacrifice of our local armed services personnel and their families past and present. Having spent time with our armed services, participating in the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme and championing Falmouth as our nation’s fifth Naval Port, I know that for the vast majority of those serving in the Armed Forces the experience is a positive one.

I also know that for some, who have been physically or mentally impacted, we are duty-bound to honour their dedication and commitment by ensuring that they continue to receive the very best possible health care when they return to civilian life. The Armed Forces Covenant places a responsibility on us all to ensure that those who serve in the Armed Forces, whether Regular or Reserve, those who have served in the past, and their families, should not face any disadvantage compared to other citizens in the provision of public and commercial services. I believe special consideration is appropriate, especially for those who have given most such as the injured and the bereaved.

We have achieved a great deal over the past four years in providing services to those who have served their country. I am pleased that at the weekend the Government announced what I had been calling for on behalf of local war widows. I am particularly concerned that the NHS is enabled to play its essential role in delivering the Covenant. Over £22m of funding has been provided that has enabled amongst other things: nine veterans’ prosthetic centres; ten veterans  mental health teams; a 24-hour veterans mental health helpline; Big White Wall online mental health counselling service for the Armed Forces Community; an e-learning package for GPs on Armed Forces, veterans and service families health; and a veterans information service, where veterans are contacted a year after discharge with information to help them with health and other issues.

In addition, up to £18m is being provided through NHS specialist commissioning arrangements to charity Combat Stress to provide acute PTSD services to veterans. The LIBOR banking funds are also being used to contribute directly to the health and wellbeing of veterans and their families.

I know that more can be done and the centenary of the First World War that prompted me to reread the poems of soldier poets, brings this into sharp focus. I can assure you that we will continue to work hard to deliver the best possible health services for our Armed Forces, reservists, veterans and their families.

 

 

A referendum on Europe

I spend a lot of my time listening to local people. Most tell me what a good job the Government is doing, recalling the fact that in May 2010 Conservatives and Liberal Democrats agreed to put aside their differences to drag Britain out of the economic mess left by Labour. Over four years later we can say that this central goal of the Coalition is being delivered. Britain’s economy is now growing faster than any other major economy, over two million more people are in work, with the nation’s current account forecast to be balanced by 2018. We can then begin the essential work of reducing the national debt rather than passing the problem onto future generations. With record levels of investment into our infrastructure, this balanced recovery is helping sustainable growth in Cornwall. The job is not complete; I especially want to help raise Cornish incomes.

As a Conservative I am now looking forward to the next vital reform this country needs – a transformation of our relationship with the EU. I believe that many of the decisions being made in Brussels and Strasbourg should be made here. This will enable a more sensible immigration policy.

David Cameron’s Government has made a dogged effort to reduce immigration, clamping down on bogus student visas, ensuring that immigrants have skills in need in the UK in order to come here, and changing benefit rules to mean that new arrivals have to work to stay. This has had an impact, with net immigration from outside the EU halving in comparison to the Labour years. Similarly whilst 9 out of 10 new jobs under Labour were taken by foreign nationals 8 out of 10 new jobs created in the UK over the past year have been taken by UK nationals.

However, without control of immigration from within the EU, this can only ever be one side of the coin. We do need a sensible approach recognising the fact that millions of British people live and work in the EU for some of their lives and we want to continue to attract people from around the EU to our world class universities, including Falmouth and Exeter universities.

At the General Election next year David Cameron will be seeking a mandate from voters to negotiate a new British relationship with the EU, including increased control of our borders. If that mandate is given, through the election of a Conservative Government, he will then negotiate a new settlement for Britain within the EU and will then allow the public to pass their verdict on whether it goes far enough through an in/out referendum.

At the 2010 General Election the LibDems promised an in/out referendum on EU membership, so last week I was very disappointed that they blocked a Conservative attempt to get an in/out referendum by 2017 into law. Now more than ever a Conservative election victory is needed to secure the democratically decided transformation of Britain’s relationship with the EU that I and others seek.