Tackling Rogue Landlords

This week Cornwall Council was awarded £127,500 to tackle rogue landlords in the private rented sector after it successfully bid for funding from the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

The vast majority of tenants in the private rented sector in Cornwall receive a satisfactory service from their landlords but, a small number of landlords act unlawfully, and place tenants in overcrowded or poorly maintained accommodation.

The DCLG funding aims to crack down on this minority of landlords by providing funding to selected local authorities who have a large proportion of private rented housing stock in their areas and significant problems with ‘rogue’ landlords.

Cornwall Council will use the funding to better understand available intelligence, improve the skills of investigating officers and increase enforcement activity.

This money along with recent legislation, means Cornwall Council will have stronger powers and incentives to tackle ‘rogue’ landlords, including a database of rogue landlords and property agents, fines of up to £30,000 and the introduction of Banning Orders for the first time.

I believe that all homes should be of a decent standard and tenants should have a safe place to live. Cornwall Council already has strong and effective powers through the Housing Act 2004 to deal with poor quality and unsafe accommodation. In serious cases, councils can prohibit the property from being rented out. Councils can even make repairs themselves and recoup the money from the landlord.

Councils are able to implement their own registers, should they so choose, using their powers to introduce selective licensing. The Cornwall Residential Landlords Association held a conference on this topic with Newham Council and others showing Cornwall Council what they could do. While I am frustrated with the slow progress Cornwall Council has made I am hopeful action will now be taken against ‘rogue landlords’.

Published by West Briton.

End of Life Support

While people seem remarkably comfortable using social media to reveal intimate details about themselves to a wide audience, fewer are prepared to share their thoughts with even those closest to them about death. It might well be that too many of us don’t like to think about losing the people we love and are fearful of the end of our own lives.

Last year’s excellent parliamentary debate on proposals to legalise assisted suicide articulated the deep emotions death stirs. I didn’t support those proposals but I do support improving end of life care.

While surveys of recently bereaved people in England indicate that the vast majority experience a good death, everyone deserves to receive high quality, compassionate care at the end of their lives. The Government has stated its commitment to ensuring that all people at the end of life in England receive the best possible care.

I am delighted that Healthwatch Cornwall conducted research in early 2015 into Cornwall’s end-of-life support and from this five recommendations were made, including the need for professionals to address any gaps in service or issues they faced on a day-to-day basis.

This has led to a conference on 29th January in St Austell that I will be participating in and will include a variety of presentations from consultants, GPs, carers, hospice staff, community services, and examples of out-of-county practice as well as workshops for professionals to discuss their views and lay the foundation for the End-of-Life Charter. The public session will include four workshops covering the topics of preparing for a funeral and how to ensure your legal and emotional wishes are honoured.

I fully support the aims of the Charter and think it will enable joined up working and support for people in Cornwall.

Published by West Briton.


The Cornwall and UK Film Industry

I love watching British films and people all over the world love British films and films made in Britain. According to Amanda Nevill, CEO of the British Film Institute (BFI) the government’s film tax relief generates almost £12.50 for every £1 spent and provides crucial support for UK films and filmmakers – it is a shrewd investment for the UK.

Britain’s film and creative industries give us much to be proud of, with British stories as diverse as Spectre and Suffragette winning the hearts and minds of audiences across the world while creating jobs and investment at home.

The creative sector tax reliefs, alongside lottery funding through the BFI, are a catalyst for creativity and innovation in storytelling in UK independent film, and are a key ingredient in the UK’s winning combination of outstanding talent and skills, world-leading studios and facilities, and iconic locations like Cornwall, which attracts film production from around the world.

The Chancellor hailed 2015 as a ground-breaking year for independent and big budget international films, as he has recently confirmed government support for the UK film industry through film tax relief had reached £251 million, generating over £1 billion worth of direct investment in the UK in the last year alone.

This is the most generous support ever provided by the government. The official statistics recently released by HMRC also confirmed that £1.5 billion was secured by the UK film industry through the government’s film tax relief and led to over £6.9 billion investment from the film industry across the UK since 2007.

This investment has led to 260,000 full-time creative sector jobs in the UK and critical acclaim for the movies made here.

Six British films were nominated for Oscars® in 2015, and almost 20% of the industry’s major film festival and industry awards for the whole 2014 to 2015 season were for British-made films, the highest since records began.

In 2014 to 2015, a record 220 films made in the UK claimed this relief.

Large scale international films such as Avengers: The Age of Ultron and home grown independent productions, such as The Imitation Game and Suffragette would have been eligible.

The boost international film makers give our domestic screen industries is crucial, since the money generated by major inward investment titles helps create further training and business opportunities which allow our own independent productions to thrive, thus maintaining the UK’s status as a cultural powerhouse that is both creative and highly profitable.

Independent UK productions of all budgets have benefited from the film tax relief, receiving a third of total government support.

The UK film industry’s cutting edge skills in the fields of visual effects, sound production and world-class studios are making the UK an even more attractive place to make films. For example, the UK is home to many of the world’s leading VFX companies including those behind award-winning films such as Gravity. Falmouth University students are learning the skills to join these expanding companies.

As well as its creative and technology companies, the film industry relies upon a variety of sectors from catering to security, who have also felt the positive effects of the tax relief. BFI figures show that film production supports around 40,000 full-time jobs in the UK, which is a 22% increase from 2009.

Introduced in 2007, the film tax relief was extended to 25% for films of all budget levels on 1 April 2015 to support UK film making. The relief is available to films which qualify as British productions through a cultural test or via an official UK co-production treaty.

Other upcoming inward investment releases will include Eddie Redmayne’s venture into JK Rowling world of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the live action version of Beauty and the Beast and Knights of the Round Table: King Arthur. Plus Star Wars: Episode VIII, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Untitled Matt Damon/Bourne Sequel, The Jungle Book, The Lost City of Z, The Huntsman: Winter’s War.

The billion dollar Star Wars franchise is committed to making the new trilogy here in the UK and in addition to filming has set up a new Visual FX facility house.

I understand that credits introduced by the government to encourage programme-makers to choose the UK has been worth more than £2 million to Mammoth Screen, the production company behind Poldark. I have been told that without the incentive, it would have been filmed in Ireland. Instead, it is coming back to Cornwall for a second series.

Poldark has attracted as many as seven million viewers, helping BBC1 to its highest ratings share for the first quarter of a year in a decade.

I am confident that 2016 will be another great year for filmmaking in Cornwall and look forward to seeing our beautiful Duchy featured on screens large and small around the world.

Published by Wave Magazine.

Delivering Better Care in Cornwall

It is very frustrating that Treliske and our community hospitals have so many patients who do not need to stay with them causing a problem that is referred to as ‘bed blocking’. Poor commissioning of social and residential care by Cornwall Council for a number of years has led to a shortage of people and organisations able to provide the range and quality of care needed.

I am delighted that Cornwall Cllr Jim Mc Kenna has grasped the nettle of increasing capacity in the Duchy and that the new Chief Executive of Cornwall Council shares my view that her number one priority is integrating and improving our health and care services.

The ‘Better Care’ funding the government is providing for care and the local plans for joining up care and NHS services will, in time, make a real difference. While it is up to Cornwall Councillors to decide, I support a 2% increase in council tax, so long as every penny is spent wisely on social care, including funding the role out of Living Well across Cornwall.

We need more people to consider a career in care too. There are new national standards and certification for people working in care. New regulations designed to drive up the quality of care is also in place. There are already some very good care providers locally but they need to be supported by good commissioning to grow their workforce and develop their services. The Local Enterprise Partnership has an important role to play too by working with schools, colleges and people already working in the sector to enable more training.

For too long, care has been a low wages sector so the living wage will make a difference as will Universal Credit that will enable carers, currently restricted by their benefits to work 16 hours, to work more if they choose.

Published in West Briton.

Debating the Housing Bill

On Tuesday, I was pleased to join Shelter at their Parliamentary launch event for its January public advice services campaign. This campaign encourages those facing bad housing or homelessness to seek advice from Shelter as early as possible, to stop these problems spiralling out of control.

I value the work of Shelter’s support and advice services that include a website, helpline and face to face services in Truro. Sadly, many people do not seek help with their housing problems until they are in desperate situations.

Some of the cases I am trying to resolve for my constituents involve private landlords. While there are many good private landlords, who provide an essential service, too many of the cases I see involve bad practise from landlords and letting agencies. Since being elected, I have been working with the excellent Ruth Clarke of the Cornwall Residential Landlords Association, campaigning locally and nationally to clamp down on ‘rogue landlords and letting agencies’ and the government has tightened up on some poor practise.

This week in Parliament we are debating the Housing Bill and the part of the Bill that provides for the following: the creation of a blacklist of rogue landlords and letting agents; the sharing of tenancy deposit data to help local authorities identify private rented properties; the strengthening of the ‘fit and proper person’ test for landlords of licensable properties. These measures will make a big difference to the lives of England’s 11 million private renters, 1 in 6 of who live in properties that the government deem to contain a health hazard.

Finally, I am pleased by the Minister’s commitment to look into how private renters can be protected from the danger of electrical hazards in their home. Following a local tragedy this is something I have been championing for years.

Published by West Briton.