Supporting high quality local journalism

Last year, as part of the BBC charter renewal process, I campaigned for greater investment in high quality local journalism. BBC Radio Cornwall and Spotlight do a great job but I think we need additional news reporting. As more decisions, including about public expenditure is devolved across the UK, including Cornwall, it’s more important than ever that the media hold to account local politicians and public services.

I am pleased that the BBC set aside £8m a year to pay for 150 reporters, who will work for local news organisations rather than the BBC. The three Devon and Cornwall journalists cover council meetings and public services and share their stories with the BBC.

Getting to the heart of an issue should be straight forward. After all, we live in an age when it has never been easier to communicate and more data is published by independent and trustworthy sources like the Office for National Statistics than ever before. The Parliamentary website is a mine of free, impartial, expert and topical briefings.

Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future.

So I am pleased that the government has recently launched a review that will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate.

Transparency about MPs work in Parliament has helped improve public scrutiny. Given that there isn’t an equivalent to the Hansard Report of everything said and voted on in Parliament, we rely on journalists attending and reporting on local council meetings to shine a light on proceedings. Cornwall Council has large budgets and increasing influence about the future of local NHS services, house building and economic development, yet while some meetings are webcast and some papers published, it lacks transparency.

While the three additional BBC funded local journalists are a step in the right direction, I think more should be done and hope that the review will enable more high quality local journalism.

Finally, in response to a letter published in this newspaper last week, I thought you would appreciate this update on the facts. I had secured the commitment from NHS England to review the formula used to allocate funding not only to local NHS commissioning groups but also for treatments in hospital.

I have requested data from the leadership of the RCHT to make the case for how the formula needs to change for the benefit of patients in Cornwall.

Along with my Cornish MP colleagues we did secure a change in the formula that allocates funding to our local NHS Commissioners that sees Cornwall receiving more than the England average per person. I am determined to secure the further change necessary so the RCHT receives its fair share of funding.

First published in the West Briton 22/02/18

Combating Fuel Poverty in Cornwall

Out and about at this time of year I expect to be chilly. However, I don’t expect anyone to be going home to live in a cold house. Each year the Winter Wellness Partnership works hard to ensure that people living in cold homes get the help and support they need to stay warm and well during the winter.

This year, 7,500 homes in Cornwall identified as potentially having people living in fuel poverty are being sent in the post, a Thermocard. Each card enables the householder to test the warmth of their home and if it is below the acceptable level of warmth, asks them to seek help. The Thermocard provides contact details for that help, including a free post address. Households have been identified by using data recently made freely available by the government to Public Health and Cornwall Council, to combine with additional household data, so that people living in the least energy efficient homes on low incomes are made aware of the available support. Help includes energy saving measures as well as access to financial assistance.

This activity is just one part of a significant “devolution deal” being undertaken in Cornwall that sees energy company SSE working with Public Health, Cornwall Council, the NHS and award winning local charities such as Community Energy Plus and Cornwall Rural Community Charity as well as local social housing providers and the broad partnership of local voluntary groups and charities that make up the Winter Wellness Partnership.

For eligible households in private rented homes as well as socially rented homes, there is funding this year for 1,100 new central heating systems. There is funding for insulation too. I think the provision of caseworkers that will visit people’s home to provide personal advice and support to switch energy suppliers, apply for relevant benefits and signpost to health and work services is really important. From my experience, I know that it is often the people who would benefit the most that are the least likely to seek support that is available to them. Working with community groups, I very much hope the individual caseworkers will be able to change this, so no one is cold at home this winter.

Each year as a contribution to the Winter Wellness Campaign, Cornwall Community Foundation runs a winter appeal asking people to donate to their Surviving Winter Appeal. This money is then allocated to Winter Wellness partners so that local people who need financial help to stay warm get it. You can be sure that donations get to people that need it and in addition to this emergency help, people are signposted to additional support to find longer term solutions. Solutions include help to reduce heating bills and increasing their household incomes through benefits or employment. So far this winter 206 people have been helped in this way. If you feel you can make a donation, please do so now as there are more people who could benefit.

First published in the West Briton on 15/02/18

Talent for hospitality employers served by fine dining experience

Young people with learning disabilities have teamed up with four top chefs to prepare and serve a fine dining experience for hospitality leaders from across the South West. The dinner took place last Thursday evening at The Castle Hotel, Taunton, one of the most beautiful and historical 4-star hotels in the region.

The event enabled hospitality employers to experience the untapped talent their industry badly needs; a sector that is predicted to create more than 500,000 jobs in the next 5 years.

Workers with learning disabilities form a readily available employment group as one of the many hurdles they face is a far higher than typical unemployment rate – it stands at just 5.8% for paid work. By stark contrast 73% of Foxes’ leavers over the past 3 years (2015 to 2017) entered employment.

A joint partnership between Foxes Academy, (a hospitality and catering training hotel for young people with learning disabilities) and The Castle Hotel, employers were asked to pledge work opportunities and sign up to the Government’s Disability Confident programme.

The Castle’s Head Chef, Liam Finnegan has been an inspiration to the young Foxes’ students, aged between 17 and 25. He has encouraged them by offering work experience placements and taken on a Commis Chef with learning disabilities who trained in the hotel’s kitchen to NVQ Level 2 and was awarded ‘Outstanding Individual’ as part of Adult Learners’ Week.

The starter was prepared under the watchful eye of Philip Corrick, Executive Chef and Howard Bisset, Head Chef both with The RAC Club, Liam worked with the students to cook the main course and Werner Hartholt, Resort Development Chef at Butlins supported them to prepare dessert.

All Chefs kindly donated their time and ingredients to raise awareness with their peers about the economic and cultural benefits of employing a diverse team. Welcome drinks were generously provided by Exmoor’s Wicked Wolf Gin and Quantock Brewery.

Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, said: “We want to see one million more disabled people in work by 2027, and it’s crucial that the hospitality industry is not missing out on the skills, talents and personal qualities disabled people can bring to the workplace. “This event goes to show that there is a huge pool of talent out there, and I urge all employers across the industry and beyond to help ensure the opportunities are there for everyone to reach their full potential.”

Hospitality & Catering News would like to congratulate all of the ‘Foxes’ that took part, Sarah Newton and the Government’s Disability Confident programme, the chefs… Liam Finnegan, Philip Corrick, Werner Hartholt and Hoard Bisset. The Castle Hotel, Taunton, Exmoor’s Wicked Wolf Gin and Quantock Brewery and of course the whole team at The Foxes Academy.

We report all too often on the people and skills shortages in our industry, so we are delighted to report on the work done by The Foxes Academy and their partners. The training of young people with learning disabilities to prepare for and enter a career in hospitality and catering is much needed.

First published in Hospitality and Catering News 02/02/18

Helping the homeless in Cornwall

We cannot accept rough sleeping as a stubborn problem that will always be with us. That’s why we are providing over £1 billion of funding, supporting those who are homeless and rough sleeping and bringing in the most ambitious legislation in decades that will mean people get the support they need earlier.

Tackling homelessness is complex, but no one should ever have to sleep rough. I have spent most of my adult life volunteering with organisations supporting homeless people and very much support St Petroc’s campaign to end homelessness in Cornwall.

I am pleased that this newspaper has done so much to raise awareness of the challenges faced by homeless people. Local residents have kindly provided a huge amount of help.

Using the additional Government funding that I helped secure for Cornwall Council, work started last summer with multiple publicly funded agencies, charities and housing providers from across the county joining forces on the Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy, to help stop homelessness in the first place, help get rough sleepers into housing and provide support to keep rough sleepers off the streets permanently.

As a result of much improved team work there are fewer people rough sleeping in Cornwall than last year. Out of all of the local authority areas in the country, Cornwall showed the biggest reduction in rough sleepers. In November 2016 there were reported to be 99 people sleeping on the streets and by November 2017 that figure had been cut to 68.

There is still so much more that needs to be done. I am pleased that leading experts from homelessness charities, housing and local government met for the first time last week as part of the government’s new rough sleeping advisory panel and committed to work together to help eliminate rough sleeping within a decade.

The new panel chaired by Homelessness Minister, Heather Wheeler, will help develop the national rough sleeping strategy to halve rough sleeping over the course of the Parliament and eliminate it altogether by 2027.

Made up of experts, charities and local government, including from Cornwall Housing, the panel will draw on their considerable experience and individual successes to support the Ministerial Taskforce. This will bring together ministers from key departments to provide a cross-government approach to preventing rough sleeping and homelessness.

The government’s determined, more holistic and joined up approach, as well as new investment is making a positive difference that will end this stubborn problem.

First published in the West Briton 08/02/18

Ensuring planning in Falmouth supports local needs

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 Planning 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. Following this planning decision, subsequent recent decisions were based on the same considerations.

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. 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.

Building on tough new penalties for “rogue” landlords brought in last year, the government recently announced plans that will enable Cornwall Council to take further action to crack down on “rogue” landlords who rent sub-standard and overcrowded homes.

There has been a rapid expansion of student HMOs in Falmouth and Penryn due to the rapid expansion of Falmouth and Exeter universities. Of course HMOs can provide cheaper accommodation for people with limited housing options and are often occupied by the most vulnerable in our society.

While many HMOs are managed to good standards, too often we see examples of bad practice from rogue landlords who are happy to rake in profits but care less about issues like overcrowding, health and safety, waste storage and anti-social behaviour.

The government’s plans to extend compulsory licensing of HMOs will help to create a level playing field between landlords and make life better for tenants and local communities.

The information local authorities collect as they license HMOs could be very valuable and, if shared with relevant partners, could bring a number of wider benefits. For example, Cornwall Council could use this information to calculate the loss of council tax from student accommodation and seek compensation through business rate retention, which is an important source of council funding.

As Falmouth grows its essential that the needs of the community are met. 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.

First published in the Falmouth Wave February 2018

Encouraging businesses to employ disabled people

As the trend towards the lowest unemployment in over 40 years continues, it’s important that employers in every sector benefit from recruiting from a wide talent pool.

We know that the retail sector employs over 5 million people in the UK, and this represents a significant opportunity for a range of retail businesses to take meaningful action to increase disability employment, while making the most of the skills and talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.

Disability Confident is about getting employers of all sizes to think differently about disability and to take action to attract, recruit and retain disabled workers, giving businesses the confidence to ensure disabled people will have the support they need to thrive in the workplace.

Of course, each sector faces different challenges and has different needs, and that’s why we’re launching a retail specific campaign to encourage employers in this sector to join more than 5,500 other employers nationwide in sending a powerful message to potential employees.

Retailers of all sizes can gain valuable insight from their disabled employees to improve the customer experience. Employing more disabled people isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes good business sense.

Retailers by nature serve a diverse customer base, so it’s important that patrons see this diversity reflected to them in the staff who serve them.

Top supermarket Sainsbury’s is one of our Disability Confident Leaders, and they are encouraging others to sign up to the scheme to promote an inclusive culture.

Andrew works for Sainsbury’s in Ellesmere Port, Cheshire and has a mental health condition. He appreciates working in an environment where disclosing his disability has been welcomed.

What worked for Andrew was the culture of openness that the chain encourages, where at previous workplaces stress was an accepted part of the job.

As an employer, make sure you have a clear signposting process to make it easy for people like Andrew to reach out, or simply start a conversation.

Our retail Sector Champion, Helen Drury, was appointed alongside champions across a range of industries to support the rights of disabled consumers. She has been working with us over the past year to show other businesses the merit of making disabled customers a priority.

I want this retail campaign to build on this great work and mark a turning point in how the sector caters for disabled employees and those with mental health conditions, so that retailers can benefit from this huge untapped pool of talent.

Find out how your business can sign up to the scheme and join the campaign, or share your experiences of disability confidence below. I’d love to hear your stories.

For more information on Disability Confident, visit:

Welcoming record funding for Cornwall’s NHS

Like most local families, I depend on our local NHS and will continue to work hard to ensure we have high quality local NHS services.

NHS staff provide invaluable support to us all in our time of greatest need and deserve our deepest gratitude for their tireless efforts, particularly during this challenging winter period with so many people suffering from flu.

In 2010, the Conservative-led coalition government faced perilous public finances. Many public services had to make significant savings to help reduce Labour’s deficit, which stood at record levels in 2009/10. The Department of Health’s budget has been consistently protected since 2010 and continues to rise.

It is absolutely false for Labour to claim that the Health budget was cut since 2010. The 2010 Spending Review included real terms increases in overall NHS funding; an additional £1 billion per year for social care; a new cancer drugs fund, expanding access to psychological therapies, and continued increases in staffing.

From 2015, the Conservative Government continued to increase investment in the NHS: from £101 billion in 2015 to £120 billion by 2020.

Far from lagging behind similar nations, new research from the Nuffield Trust shows that the UK spends above the EU and OECD averages on healthcare, as a percentage of GDP. It found that Britain spent 9.8 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, compared to the average for the EU-15 of 9.7 per cent.

This investment will ensure that everyone has access to NHS hospitals and GP services 7 days a week. There are now over 11,000 more doctors and 11,000 more nurses working in the NHS than in May 2010. The number of patients being treated is at record levels and public satisfaction amongst hospital inpatients is at its highest levels in more than two decades.

This Government has a proud record of investing in the NHS: in 2017, £435 million was provided to the NHS to prepare A&E departments for the winter and to support the NHS throughout the most challenging months of the year. An additional £2 billion is being invested in Adult Social Care, which will relieve pressure on the NHS, and the NHS is offering free flu jabs to 21 million to protect them this winter, the highest number ever.

Since being elected in 2010, I have worked hard to ensure that our local NHS is fairly funded. The totally impartial House of Commons Library has produced a briefing providing information about NHS funding in Cornwall. It shows we receive more per head than the England average. A copy is on my website or please call my office 01872 274760 and they will send you a copy in the post.

Please be assured that during this time of unprecedented demands on our NHS, I will continue to ensure that funding for health and care in Cornwall continues to increase. But it’s not just about more funding, it’s also about joining up health and care services for patients and families in Cornwall.

First published in the West Briton 01/02/18