The Unacceptable Face of Capitalism

Like many local people, I was sad when BHS closed in Truro and was concerned for the staff. I am pleased that MPs have investigated the demise of BHS and reported this week a catalogue of failures culminating in ‘at any cost’ disposal of company and pension deficit to wholly unsuitable “chancer”. In their report on BHS, the Work and Pensions and Business, Innovations and Skills Committees conclude that Sir Philip Green chose to rush through the offloading of a beleaguered high street institution, losing money and encumbered with a massive pension fund deficit, to a buyer who he was clearly aware was “manifestly unsuitable”, with Sir Philip forced to finance the sale himself.

MPs heard hours of oral testimony and considered thousands of pages of written evidence in the inquiry. The Committees say the evidence at times resembled a “circular firing squad”, with a series of key witnesses appearing to believe they could absolve themselves of responsibility by blaming others. Sir Philip Green himself “adopted a scattergun approach”, liberally firing blame to all angles except his own.

The report documents the systematic plunder of BHS at the cost of the 11,000 jobs and 20,000 people’s pensions now at risk. Sir Philip Green, Dominic Chappell and the respective directors and advisers who all got rich or richer are all culpable, with the only losers the ordinary employees and pensioners.

The Committees say that the story of BHS begs much wider questions about the gaps in company law and pension regulation that must be addressed. The two Committees will now turn to those question in new inquiries.

I support the Committees’ demands that Sir Philip Green must act now to find a resolution for the BHS pensioners, a “moral duty” which will undoubtedly require him to make a large financial contribution.

Published in the West Briton on 28th July 2016


How do we share prosperity more equally across all of society?

There is a pressing question that’s posing a real dilemma to politicians: how do we share prosperity more equally across all of society?

The quiet insistence that inequality be comprehensively addressed can only grow as anger about it festers.

To make my point, the typical FTSE company chief executive now makes 183 times more than their average employee, and some take home even more.

But it hasn’t always been like this. The ratio of FTSE 100 chiefs’ pay to that of average workers has jumped significantly since the millennium turned. In 1998, the multiple was only (if ‘only’ can be the right word) 47 times. And these ‘average’ employees are themselves typically paid up to four times what the office cleaners get.

These chief executives are, of course, few in number. They would argue they do a skilled job and the companies they run would add that if they didn’t pay so much, they couldn’t hire the top talent to drive companies forward to create jobs and prosperity.

So what to do to address this dilemma? Well, since 2010 there has been some progress with a small reduction in inequality in the wake of the financial crisis, driven by large income falls at the top.

More encouragingly, we have seen a recent return to wage rises and, crucially, faster earnings growth of the lowest incomes. These earnings increases, combined with swift rises in employment, have meant income gains for the bottom outpacing the top. The new National Living Wage is also something that will start to improve the situation over the long term.

We must now shape future growth so that the vast majority see their living standards rise with the nation’s economic growth, this is vital to delivering a One Nation Conservative government. Read full article piece on Executive Pay



Securing Britain’s Future Energy Supply Through Digital Infrastructure

As Britain’s weather finally warms up, news coverage of fuel poverty melts away like ice in the sun.

But, if we are to tackle the issue, we need year-round focus on the cost of heating and electricity in the most deprived areas of the UK.

The sad truth is that there are over four million people living in fuel poverty in the UK at the moment, according to the charity National Energy Action.

This means that millions of people are living in under-heated homes, which can severely affect their health and put an unnecessary strain on the NHS.

In the summer months, while heat may not be as much of an issue, simple things that we often take for granted like using a washing machine, having a warm shower, and boiling water to cook food, are still daily challenges for the fuel poor.

By the government’s own definition, this means that by simply buying the energy they need for basic necessities, they fall below the official poverty line.

In 2016 that’s unacceptable.

Both Labour and Conservative and the last Coalition governments have launched countless initiatives to combat this scourge.

But results still lag behind our ambition.

In Cornwall, we recognise this is an urgent issue – my own constituency of Truro and Falmouth is among the top 20 constituencies with the least energy efficient households, according to the Association for Conservation of Energy. Our neighbours in St Ives have the least efficient households in England.

We also know that those who use prepay energy meters are much more likely to be in fuel poverty.

There are about 10 million prepay energy customers in the UK.

According to Citizens Advice, they pay on average over £200 more a year than they would on the cheapest direct debit deal.

If households don’t have enough money to top up the meter or live in fear of the next bill, then many simply go without energy altogether.

I’m determined that we all work together to find a better, fairer deal for millions of households who can’t afford to heat their homes properly.

There’s no silver bullet that will eliminate fuel poverty.

But smart meters – which allow customers to see their energy use in pounds and pence – are important weapons in this fight.

In collaboration with other MPs, I am working with Smart Energy GB, the body responsible for communicating about the smart meter rollout, and also local council members, business leaders and landlords to better understand the opportunities that new technology presents to help address fuel poverty in Cornwall.

We see smart meters as a key part of this.

Three million of these new digital energy meters have already been installed.

They will be offered free to every home in Britain by 2020.

Smart meters replace the antiquated analogue meters and will put an end to ‘estimated billing’ that has caused so much confusion for decades. The absurdity of estimation is demonstrated in Smart Energy GB adverts such as this one:

The advantage for customers is that they will have much more control of their use of electricity and gas.

Instead of being plunged suddenly into cold and darkness, they will be able to track their costs more accurately and on prepay top up their accounts quickly and easily.

I hope this will also take away some of the stigma that constituents tell me can be attached to using prepay for home energy needs.

Research by Smart Energy GB has found that over three quarters of people currently using prepayment meters are interested in smart pay-as-you-go.

With smart meters, it will also be possible to obtain much more detailed information about where fuel poverty is biting.

When a home suddenly loses power because a resident can’t afford to top-up their account, energy companies will have that information.

If a household is found to be frequently disconnecting, this could trigger an intervention by the relevant party.

Energy suppliers could then install energy efficiency measures to help the household manage costs.

In the future, it will be easier for friends, carers and family members to top-up an account on someone else’s behalf making an energy bill one less thing to worry about.

It’ll also be possible to add on winter fuel payments remotely and there will be no need to enter the property to add credit to someone’s energy account.

We’ve got to make the most of this new smart technology. Not only can this allow us to start winning the battle against fuel poverty, but also allow us to secure Britain’s future energy supply through digital infrastructure.

You can find more information on how to get a smart meter on the Smart Energy GB website

Published in the The Wave Magazine 19th July 2016


Facing the Challenges Ahead of Us

You don’t need me to remind you of the challenges we faces. Our next Prime Minister, Theresa May will be able to face these challenges from day one.

As we reshape our relationships with our European neighbours and countries around the world, Theresa May has the capability of reaffirming our bonds of friendship, of working for our mutual prosperity and peace.

Closer to home, Theresa May, as Home Secretary has won respect from politicians from all political parties in Parliament and is the most able to ensure we leave the EU without breaking up the UK.

The EU Referendum campaign revealed significant divisions in our society. Most importantly, it brought to the surface decades of growing anger from sections of our country’s working people: insecure contracts, living standards never seeming to rise, coupled with increased pressure on local public services have all contributed towards a growing sense of the “system” not working and increasing gaps between “us” and “them”.

There are some who see this as a natural conclusion of the “austerity” measures pursued by Coalition and majority Conservative Governments, but that is too simple. These frustrations have been building for decades as the globalisation of the world’s economies and rapid advancement of technology have left too many people feeling left behind.

I believe Theresa May understands that we have to redouble our efforts to close the gaps and heal the divisions in our society.

But these divisions are not just for politicians to heal. We will need all of civil society to play its part: business, religion, social enterprises, charities, local and national government.

I have known Theresa and her husband Phillip since before we were both elected as MPs, when we were both Councillors, she is just the hard working, straight talking and experienced leader we need now.

Published by the West Briton on July 17th 2016

Standing in Unity

As I joined commemorations of the Battle of the Somme in Cornwall last week, I appreciated the pause and quiet reflection the occasions provided.

We have had a divisive few weeks. Now is the time for unity as we remember one the bloodiest battles in our history, a battle that touched every community of Great Britain and still casts a long shadow today. If a battle divides, its centenary has the power to unite.

At this historic moment in our relationship with our neighbours in Europe and friends around the world we need to value the bonds of friendship with them and remain united in our desire to work together for peace. This centenary commemoration, and all the others we will be marking in the months ahead, provide moments for us to come together as a nation and with our neighbours and friends to remember the price we all pay for disunity and breaking the bonds of friendship.

In the months and years ahead, as we work to reshape our relationships with counties in Europe and around the world, I will do my utmost to ensure the UK remains an outward looking and positively engaged nation. We all have our role to play in welcoming people who are different from ourselves while they are visiting or living in Cornwall.

Published in the West Briton on 7th July, 2016