Budget 2017: welcoming Government support for local families and businesses

Last week’s Budget backed local families and businesses, putting more money into the pockets of local people and investing in infrastructure to enable Cornish enterprise to grow high quality and well paid jobs. The Budget took a balanced approach to our economy by dealing with our debts while investing in sustainable growth.

Boosting pay for those on low and average incomes is important so the National Living Wage rises from £7.50 an hour to £7.83. This means that a full-time worker on the National Living Wage earns £2,000 a year more than they did before it was introduced. Freezing fuel duty again saves a typical driver £160 a year and helps many local businesses. We’re also introducing a new railcard to give discounted travel to 26-30 year olds.

And we’re cutting the taxes of low and middle earners, raising the tax-free personal allowance to £11,850. The gap between the highest earners and lowest has shrunk and more tax loop holes have been closed.

That’s why we’re able in invest £30 billion on upgrading our infrastructure, so companies can set up knowing they’ll have access to world-class infrastructure.

It’s why we’re spending over £2 billion extra on science and innovation – as well as setting up the world’s first Artificial Intelligence commission – putting Britain at the forefront of technological revolution. Working with the TUC and CBI we are introducing a National Retraining Scheme so people throughout their working lives have opportunities to change careers and increase their earnings.

Investing in our future means building more homes. That’s why we’re increasing the number of genuinely affordable homes to buy or rent – the biggest annual increase since 1970.

And to make sure everyone gets the support they need, we’re investing more in our NHS – an extra £2.8 billion, starting this winter.

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Supporting local residents’ concerns regarding inappropriate development in Falmouth

There is no doubt that Falmouth is a great place to work, study and live. However, the fact also remains that too many people who have grown up here can now not afford to live here. Since being elected I have worked hard to enable decisions and actions to be taken locally to tackle these serious problems. Ensuring people have a genuinely affordable and decent home remains a top priority for me.

The Coalition Government from 2010 – 2015 returned decisions about planning and homes from Westminster to Cornwall Council. I also championed neighbourhood planning, enabling local people to help shape the future of our communities.

As a champion of returning power from Westminster to local people and communities it is very disappointing to see the leadership of Cornwall Council persistently not using these powers for the benefit of local people. Cornwall Council was amongst the last planning authorities to agree a Local Plan. It only submitted Cornwall’s housing allocations to the Planning Inspector in October. The Inspector’s role is to ensure the planning process is being undertaken properly, fairly and that it meets local needs.

Sadly, despite the hard work of those involved, we still don’t have an agreed Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan.

So as a result of the delayed Cornwall Plan, the yet to be agreed Cornwall housing allocations or Falmouth Neighbourhood Plan, we are left without a proper plan for the growth of Falmouth. This is particularly worrying as Cornwall Council supports the lifting of the cap on the number of students in our universities while not actively addressing the pressure on local housing and services that inevitably follows.

The impact of this is clearly being felt. I read the letter from the Planning Inspector who approved the application to build new student accommodation on the site of the The Ocean Bowl. He acknowledged the strength of local feeling against the development and drew attention to the lack of an effective reason not to grant permission. Cornwall Council should and could have done more to prevent Falmouth being in this situation. Of course Cornwall Councillor Geoffrey Evans has worked tirelessly for his division, making the case against this application.

Since being elected, I have been clear. I support the universities and welcome the students and staff to Falmouth and Penryn, but Cornwall Council must plan for the inevitable growing pains. Since 2010, I have advocated for more purpose built accommodation on and near the campus. There is a developer ready, including a new “budget” hotel and community facilities. More student accommodation could be built in Truro too. There are good public transport links between Falmouth and Truro. Providing more student accommodation must be accompanied by investment in good quality, genuinely affordable and social housing in Falmouth and Penryn as well as tackling the minority of “rogue” landlords. There is Government funding available to invest in our NHS and local schools in areas where new homes are built, but Cornwall Council has to start with a plan that works for local people.

Supporting local people in Fuel Poverty

We expect to be chilly outside at this time of the year but I don’t expect anyone to be cold inside their home. Fuel poverty is a long standing health issue: the impact of cold housing on health and the stresses brought on by living in fuel poverty have been recognised for decades by researchers, medical professionals and policy makers alike. At the same time, it is an issue that often gets dismissed as the ‘tough nature of things’ because our housing stock is old and cold housing is so widespread that many have come to regard it as a normal state of affairs. It should not be so. Cold housing and fuel poverty can be successfully tackled through interventions if there is a will to do so.

That is why every year I join the Winter Wellness campaign. Sadly it is often the people that most need help that are the least likely to access the help that is available. The Winter Wellness Programme has made a really positive difference to thousands of local people over the last few years. There are thirty organisations working in partnership, including local and national government, public services such as the NHS and many local charities and businesses, together offering help and support.

For advice and access to services provided by the programme’s 30 partner organisations, call Community Energy Plus on Freephone 0800 954 1956.

Services include Independent energy advice, including home visits and follow-up support and access to heating and insulation grants. Providing practical advice on understanding and reducing energy bills and combatting condensation and damp. Support for families with children if they have additional needs. Debt and benefits advice and Health information.

Please visit Fuelling Connections Cornwall Facebook Page, like and share so more local people keep warm and well this winter.

First published in the West Briton

Clamping down on Child Sexual Abuse online

While there is so much more to Christmas than exchanging presents many of us will be. I suspect a new phone or tablet will feature on ‘wish lists’ of presents, especially for children and young people. Of course access to the internet can be hugely beneficial in many ways.

The unpalatable and unavoidable truth is that technology has made vile child sexual abuse and exploitation content vastly easier to find – and easier to participate in — through peer-to-peer file sharing, chatrooms and online forums.

And it has created conduits that enable abusers to search out and make contact with their victims in new ways.

The National Crime Agency tells me it is quite simply one of the most dangerous and harmful threats we face. Since 2013, there has been an exponential surge — a 700 per cent increase — in the number of indecent images of children that technology companies are alerting us to, so that we can identify the offenders and try to track down the children being abused.

Each month, there are more than 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Barnardo’s has told us that in the last six months of 2016, nearly half of the children it had supported had been groomed online — that is 297 children. Of these 182 had met their online groomer and suffered sexual abuse. So those are some of the statistics. But let me put a human face, a child’s face, to them.

Breck Bednar, from Surrey, was a 14-year-old who loved technology and gaming online, who his mother said never swore or yelled.

An excellent student and brother to three younger siblings, triplets who looked up to him and adored him.

But it was through this gaming that in 2014 he was groomed and lured to his death — suffering a sexual assault and fatal stab wound, miles from home, at the predator’s flat.

The grief of his parents is unfathomable. They do such important work now, warning of online dangers, through The Breck Foundation, set up in their son’s memory to make everyone aware how to keep safe online through education and empowerment.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach vulnerable children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.

Then there are other sites like MyLoL — which disturbingly markets itself as a “teenage dating application” and allows anyone aged 13 to 25 to sign up.

There is virtual reality too. Earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage in sexual activity with children on at least 500 occasions.

His chosen conduit was MovieStarPlanet — a popular website for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to eventually elicit indecent images of the child.

Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from one online platform to another, switching to “private” one-to-one communication methods such as Skype or live video chat services including Periscope.

All of us — parents, law enforcement, schools, peers — have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20million over three years through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming. I recently visited our Regional and Organised Crime Unit to see this essential work myself.

But it is with absolute urgency that I call on internet companies to also go further and also go faster in tackling online child sexual abuse.

We need them to bring their resources and technical expertise to help us turn the tide on this horrendous scourge. It is their moral duty.

We have worked closely with industry as they have found ways to identify and take down child abuse images through the “digital fingerprint” created of these images. This is incredibly important, and we need to turn the heat up under it.

So, we know that when industry innovates and collaborates, solutions are possible. We need them to do exactly the same in finding ways to interrupt that journey between abuser and victim.

None of us ever want another family to have to go through what Breck’s did.

First published in the Falmouth Wave

Remembering those who died defending our freedom and values

Like countless others, I spent time last week remembering the sacrifice of so many people who gave their lives or have been damaged defending our freedom and values. Values that we can too easily take for granted today.

The poignancy of participating in our communal act of remembrance is not diminished as the years pass. I am heartened each year by the increasing number of young people taking part, sometimes wearing the medals of their ancestors.

Next year we will commemorate 100 years of the ending of the First World War and plans to mark this special occasion are well underway. When a campaign for volunteers was launched in August 1914, thousands answered the call to fight. Among them were 250,000 boys and young men under the age of 19. A concert in Birmingham will remember their stories, they will be given a voice in words and music by 250,000 youngsters of today. What a memorable occasion that will be.

Some say our wearing of the poppy, participation in the collective acts of Remembrance or laying of wreaths is glorifying war. I disagree. It is essential that we remember and learn from the past. Sadly, there are always those at home and abroad who will seek to undermine or destroy the morals and values of our shared society, of freedom and justice, of compassion and fairness.

While we work for peace at home and around the world, we need to be prepared to defend ourselves and our allies. I am very grateful to members of our armed services who serve at home and abroad who are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice to keep us safe. Their families too. I am also very grateful to the many local charities who support veterans and their families to recover from their experience.

First published in the West Briton

Combating Online Child Sexual Exploitation

The National Crime Agency (NCA) tells me that child sexual exploitation is quite simply one of the most harmful threats that we face.

Each month, there are over 400 arrests and over 500 children being protected through coordinated action by the NCA and UK police against online child sexual exploitation.

Predatory paedophiles will try to approach children (the average age of a child groomed online is 13) by, for example, chatting on a forum connected with a game application, or making an approach through Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp.  Then there are other sites like MyLoL – which disturbingly markets itself as a ‘teenage dating application’ for 13-25 year olds.  There is virtual reality too; earlier this year a man pleaded guilty to attempting to engage with sexual activity with a child on at least 500 occasions.  His chosen conduit was ‘MovieStarPlanet’ – a popular site for children to pretend to be film stars in a virtual world.

With the initial approach, there might be an accompanying message, perhaps about the victim’s profile picture, seeking to establish a rapport, which the offender will then exploit to elicit indecent images of the child.  Having approached the child on one social networking site, the offender will then often intentionally and systemically move from online platform to another, switching to ‘private’ one-to-one communication methods like Skypeor live-stream video chat, like Periscope.

All of us – parents, law enforcement, schools, peers – have a role to play in keeping our children safe online.

Government has given a further £20 million through the Police Transformation Fund to law enforcement working undercover online in forums and chatrooms, to identify and disrupt the threat of online grooming.

The Internet companies, working with government have helped find some solutions but they now need to go much further and faster.

First published in the West Briton

Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

The 100 Years Commemoration of the Russian Revolution is underway. This is a period of history that captured my imagination as a child, stimulating an interest in socialism, through my higher education to the present day. I see the tactics used by socialists over the years endure. The “agitprop” approach of the Bolsheviks is evident today. The agitation and propaganda undermining trust in our democracy, stirring up division and hatred, is pumped out on social media daily, spilling over into the real world in personal abuse of me and others who have different views.

A grievance promoted by socialists through the ages is of “elites” impoverishing “working people”. Last week the Office for National Statistics gave it’s annual snapshot of working Britain. The figures appear to dispel some of the myths in our political debate. The introduction of the National Living Wage by the Conservatives means that the earnings of the poorest 10% went up by more than any other section of the population, and above the rise in the cost of living. Nor are we seeing the “hollowing out” of the middle classes that we often read about. The figures show there are more middle income jobs. Finally, while any gender pay gap is unacceptable, thanks to this government’s action, it is now at the lowest level on record.

There is clearly more to do to build an economy that works for the many not just the few. Gaps in our society are too wide. Conservatives are a progressive force in British politics and I will continue to do all I can to enable well paid employment opportunities.

I am determined to enable Cornwall to be a truly inclusive place to work and am delighted by the support of many local employers at last week’s, ‘Lighting the Beacon’ event.

First published in the West Briton