Celebrating record levels of employment and rising incomes in Cornwall

Record levels of people of all ages and backgrounds are in employment in Cornwall. That is good news as we know that good work is good for our health and wellbeing. Thanks to the government’s introduction of the Living Wage, increases in the minimum wage and increases in the personal allowance, people on the lowest wages are seeing their incomes rise well ahead of inflation. While the majority of jobs created since 2010 are full time, permanent jobs, there is still more to be done to enable people to make progress in work.

For people who have been working for sometime, it is all too easy for skills not to keep pace with change. People sometimes tell me that they would like to change careers but don’t know how to get the necessary qualifications or don’t know how they can fit learning and earning into their busy lives. It can be difficult to learn new skills enabling a change of career and occupation.

For people who have taken time out to care for adults or children, getting back into work can feel daunting. I remember that feeling!

Since being elected in 2010, I have been making the case to Ministers that we need to do more to help more adults back into the classroom. I was pleased that last week a new £11.7million fund investing in a range of projects to help more adults access learning new skills has been announced.

The Flexible Learning Fund will support 32 innovative projects across England to encourage more people to take part in new training or courses that will help them progress in current employment or secure a new job.

Projects are aimed at a range of skill levels – teaching beginners all the way through to those who already have a good understanding of a topic. Exciting projects include supporting IT users to gain new skills in cyber security, training older workers and people whose jobs are affected by the need for greater digital skills, and increasing the maths skills and confidence of adults already in work.

It can be difficult for people to fit training around their busy lives. This funding aims to find out how education providers and employers can work together to better meet the needs of adults of all ages, who want the opportunity to learn important new skills and change their lives. To break the barriers that prevent adults from returning to learning, on-line learning environments will be funded to deliver a wide range of qualifications, for example Health and Social Care leadership qualifications in flexible and accessible ways.

National Numeracy will work with 6 partners including the John Lewis Partnership, Civil Service Learning and KPMG to deliver basic numeracy skills via an online delivery method either with employers or through direct digital engagement with learners. The project will be aimed at those in work who are looking to upskill and gain confidence in numeracy.

Access to great learning opportunities are essential for people throughout our lives.

First published in the West Briton 29/03/18

Ensuring a good deal for Farmers post-Brexit

As part of Brexit, the Government has launched a consultation paper on the future of food, farming and the environment and I want to make sure you have your views considered as part of this consultation. I will be meeting with local NFU members and farmers and want to hear your views too.

Passing on our precious natural environment in better condition than we found it to the next generation is a core Conservative value and aim of this Government. This consultation is a really important opportunity to shape future strategy and plans to deliver this aim.

Over the Eastertide, like many local people, I will be celebrating by bringing my family together for a meal of locally produced food. Despite the dreadful weather our farmers, food and drink producers have provided us all with an abundance of quality and choice.

Food is at the heart of every farming business and it is essential that Brexit should deliver opportunities for British food and farming. Agriculture accounts for over 70% of land use in the UK and food and farming provides 3.8 million jobs contributing £112 billion to the country’s economy.

When it comes to the food you eat, how much do you really know about the standards under which it is produced?  Red Tractor is the largest food standards scheme in the UK and ensures that the way food is farmed and prepared is checked against the highest of standards, covering animal welfare, food safety, traceability and environmental protection.

Food and drink bearing the Red Tractor logo has been produced responsibly to some of the most comprehensive and respected standards in the world and is regularly checked by independent experts from farm to pack.

All users of the logo have to keep comprehensive records of their Red Tractor products and are regularly inspected to ensure that this is happening. The flag in the Red Tractor logo tells you where your food has come from and that it has been farmed and prepared in the UK.

Red Tractor makes sure that everyone using the logo applies rigorous standards of food safety and hygiene to the way your food is produced – from farm to pack.

Red Tractor standards mean that animals have enough space, and safe and comfortable housing or shelter and unlimited access to fresh, clean drinking water and are provided with well balanced meals. All Red Tractor farmers have to keep a written health plan for their animals.

Farmers under the Red Tractor scheme must use responsible farming methods to minimise the risk of pollution. This means making sure that any pesticide and fertilisers that are used are stored safely and are applied correctly.

I would welcome your views on how we ensure that these high standards are maintained and enhanced and would value your opinions. I am also determined to see that the geographical designated food scheme that many of our local food producers benefit from, especially our Cornish Pasty makers and Fal Oyster fishermen continues post Brexit.

First published in the West Briton 22/03/2018

Government support of workers’ rights

This week the government named and shamed nearly 180 employers for underpaying more than 9,000 minimum wage workers by £1.1 million.

As well as recovering backpay for 9,200 workers, the government also fined the employers a total of £1.3 million in penalties for breaking national minimum wage laws. The most prolific offending sectors in this round were retailers, hospitality businesses and hairdressers.

It comes ahead of the next rate rise on 1 April, when the National Living Wage will go up from £7.50 to £7.83 per hour. Apprentices under the age of 19 and those in the first year of their apprenticeship will benefit from a record 5.7% rise.

Later this month the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) will launch a campaign to raise awareness of the new rates and encourage workers to speak to their employer if they think they are being underpaid.

While the vast majority of employers are good employers, we know that the world of work is changing. We have set out our plans to give millions of workers enhanced rights to ensure everyone is paid and treated fairly in the workplace.

There are no excuses for short-changing workers. This is an absolute red line for this government and employers who cross it will get caught – not only are they forced to pay back every penny but they are also fined up to 200% of wages owed.

This week’s naming round serves as a sharp reminder to employers to get their house in order. Bryan Sanderson, Chairman of the Low Pay Commission (LPC), said that he is pleased to see the government maintaining the momentum of its minimum wage enforcement.

This 14th naming round comes after the government published its Good Work plan last month, which announced the right to a payslip for all workers. The new law is likely to benefit around 300,000 UK workers who do not currently get a payslip.

For those paid by the hour, payslips will also have to include how many hours the worker is paid for, making pay easier to understand and challenge if it is wrong. The move is part of the government’s Industrial Strategy, the long-term plan to build a Britain fit for the future by helping businesses create better, higher-paying jobs in every part of the UK.

Since 2013 the scheme has identified more than £9 million in back pay for around 67,000 workers, with more than 1,700 employers fined a total of £6.3 million.

Despite the fact we are been dealing with the worst recession since the Second World War, it is good news that record levels of local people of all ages are employed. After a long period of stagnation, wages are beginning to rise – with the wages of the lowest paid up almost 7% above inflation since April 2015.

With income inequality at a lower point than at any time under the last Labour Government we are making solid progress towards an economy that works for everyone.

First published in the West Briton 15/03/18

Enable the disabled, it will do wonders for your business

How accessible is the banking sector for people starting out?

That’s the question that led to my visit to Barclays last week to meet some of their budding apprentices – and I was very impressed with what I saw.

Some apprentices are on the “Able to Enable” programme, which supports people with learning difficulties and disabilities.

I asked them about their experiences so far, and heard about how their apprenticeship has opened up a door to working in the banking sector.

Their stories reaffirmed to me that apprenticeship programmes are a valuable route into work, and genuinely help people get into the jobs they want – even if they don’t have the right experience yet.

There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are reserved for young people starting out in the working world. But in reality, they are a fantastic opportunity for everyone.

It’s been really encouraging to hear about employers who are using apprenticeship programmes to retain and retrain older workers, as well as those using them as way to open up their jobs to disabled people.

But this is also about the huge benefits of having a diverse workforce – in keeping businesses innovative and strengthening their reputation.

That’s why we’ve introduced the Apprenticeship Levy, which will mean the annual budget for apprenticeships will be £2.45bn by 2019-20 – double what it was in 2010-11.

This levy will increase the quality and availability of opportunities.

We want apprenticeships to carry the weight of other qualifications, which means people need to know they are backed by good training and oversight. And we want to increase the number of disabled people who take up apprenticeships.

We have set a target for a 20 per cent increase in the proportion of people with learning difficulties and disabilities starting an apprenticeship by 2020.

Barclays has almost 3,500 apprentices, and they have already more than doubled the proportion of disabled people on their programme within the space of a year.

The bank shows that work is being done to open up apprenticeships. But across the economy – the banking sector included – there is still more we need to do.

Almost a fifth of the working-age population is disabled. This represents a substantial portion of our workforce, and is a huge pool of talent that we need to be making the most of.

That’s where the Disability Confident scheme comes in, which encourages more companies to see the benefits of employing disabled people, and to support them to improve access and inclusion.

Over 5,000 companies have signed up so far. Being part of this scheme means businesses that might be worried about “doing the wrong thing” can get support to recruit and retain disabled staff.

To get recognition as a Disability Confident employer, one of the things we look at is how you find the right people – one of them being whether you provide apprenticeships.

So, if your company already provides an apprenticeship programme, you should be asking how many disabled people are on it.

First published in City AM 14/03/18

Integration of Health and Social Care

Thank you to everyone who played their part in helping keep Cornwall warm, well and on the move during the recent very cold weather and storms.

Less noticeable but just as chilling as the recent weather is the further take over of our local Labour Party by the hard left. The resignation of the group leader on Cornwall Council follows others from across the country who describe bullying, intimidation, threats and anti-Semitism against themselves and colleagues who do not agree with the hard left Momentum, Corbyn’s support group within the Labour Party.

As Cornwall Council is led by Liberal Democrats, you may not think this matters too much to us locally. But it does. It is having a chilling effect on the decisions that the leadership of Cornwall Council need to take to improve our vitally important local public services.

Clear evidence of this is the press release snuck out by Cornwall Council last week while the Duchy was dealing with the impact of the severe weather.

The press release announced the decision of the Cabinet not to take significant action to improve our health and care system in Cornwall. They have chosen not to take the common sense step of joining up and integrating our health and care services. They will not support the development of a local Accountable Care System, despite the support of the leaders of our local NHS and care services and despite the success of this type of approach in other parts of the country such as Manchester.

Our whole health and care system in Cornwall is currently in “special measures” receiving additional help from NHS England to make the vital improvements we need to see. The past mistakes of Cornwall Council are well documented, poor social care commissioning, poor relationships with our local NHS and lack of integration of health and care services – all contributing to the current problems.

The Cabinet made one of the most important decisions that will effect every one of us – alone. Why did they not allow all our Councillors a say? Why no debate in public for us all to see? The Scrutiny Panel of the Council has been leading an Inquiry into a proposed Accountable Care System. The Councillors worked really hard with a wide range of health care professionals to inform their recommendations. Why is there work being ignored?

Why? Because the Corbyn led, Momentum controlled Labour Party is running a nation wide scare campaign against the creation of local Accountable Care Systems. They falsely claim this will lead to the privatisation and Americanisation of our NHS. The Inquiry into the Cornwall ACS investigated these claims and found that they were not true. However, our Lib Dem Council is running scared of making the changes that will improve services for local people because they are bowing to this pressure.

The leaders of Cornwall Council have put politics before people. Along with my Conservative Cornwall Councillors I urge them to rethink and enable the whole Council a say.

First published in the West Briton 08/03/18

Welcoming Government investment in the South West

The government has confirmed £866million of funding towards housing projects across the country last week, and it was great to see the South West receive a sizeable chunk of the pot.

Ten projects here in Devon and Cornwall were given over £55m towards vital infrastructure which will pave the way for thousands of much-needed new homes to be built more quickly.

The local projects to benefit, via the Housing Infrastructure Fund, are Hayle Harbour (£5.6m), West Carclaze near St Austell (£2.3m), North Prospect in Plymouth (£2.8m), Dawlish (£4.2m), Greater Exeter (£3.7m), Junction 28 of the M5 at Cullompton (£10m), the Eastern Urban Extension at Tiverton (£8.2m), Landkey near Barnstaple (£2m), the Southern Extension at Ilfracombe (£6.5m) and the North-South Relief Road at Axminster (£10m).

Elsewhere, five projects in Somerset received £28m and five in Dorset were given £16.5m. Across the whole of the South West, the government allocated over £140m towards 27 projects.

This investment in our region is most welcome as it will help to deliver the homes we desperately need and improve communities through good infrastructure. I am delighted that more social homes will be built too, delivering genuinely affordable home for local people.

Also last week, it was reassuring to read the letter by Transport Secretary Chris Grayling which confirmed that improving the rail line at Dawlish was his “number one national priority”, and that he was hoping for “a planned solution as quickly as practical”, backed by £15m of funding.

Mr Grayling made a number of other commitments regarding rail transport in the South West, including an instruction to GWR to draw up plans to introduce regular passenger services between Exeter and Okehampton.

He also confirmed track upgrades and maintenance, re-signalling between Totnes and Plymouth to enable more frequent services, £9m of funding to enhance the sleeper trains to Penzance, progress of flood resilience work at Cowley Bridge and on the Exeter to Waterloo line and an assurance to look at other ways to speed up journey times.

The improvements to Truro station continue with resurfacing and improved lighting of the carpark.

This summer we can all look forward to the introduction of new high-speed Intercity Express trains on the Great Western route, with extra capacity at peak times.

We shouldn’t forget that the government is also in the process of consulting on several major road upgrades in the South West, including a new section A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross in Cornwall, the A358 near Taunton, the A303 near Yeovil and the A303 near Stonehenge.

Once all the work is complete, motorists will have a direct dual carriageway or motorway route from Camborne to London and the South East, without the need to go via the M5 and M4 around Bristol.

Meanwhile, at the Budget in November the government committed £79m towards the planned £85m, four-mile link road between St Austell and the A30.

I am delighted that the Hall For Cornwall (HFC) has secured a £2m investment from the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), the last piece of public funding required to deliver a £20m rebuild of its venue which will bring jobs, economic growth and world class culture to Cornwall.

The exciting project will see the auditorium increase to 1,354 seats, enabling HFC to attract top West End productions, promote local talent and revitalize the night-time economy of Truro.

The LEP’s investment comes from the Government’s Local Growth Fund and will support the creation of 1156m2 of cutting edge workspace to nurture Cornwall’s booming Creative Industries sector. This sum is in addition to £2 million I secured from the Treasury. A Creative Tech Hub will include support for post-graduates, new talent and start-up businesses to create a new digital and creative cluster.  A further £2m of European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) has already been secured for this element of the project.

As Julien Boast, HFC’s CEO and Creative Director commented: “Cornwall deserves a theatre that will continue to inspire, educate and engage and bring the best productions in the country to Cornwall.”

I am delighted that this project will now be going ahead. It will be a major boost to the Cornish economy and culture and I am proud that this Government, along with Arts Council England, Cornwall Council, the Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Funding (ERDF) and, most recently, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have been able to work together to bring much needed investment to Cornwall.

The creative economy is growing, it already employs 27,000 people in our region and we want to be the destination of choice for creative businesses. The Creative Industries are now worth over £90bn to the UK and this growth is reflected in the Cornish economy, with the number of creative businesses increasing by 26% between 2011 and 2016. The redevelopment of HFC will create a cluster of start-up businesses that will nurture creative and entrepreneurial talent and, most importantly, retain it in Cornwall.

Work to rebuild HFC will begin in July 2018 with the new building being unveiled 2020. During construction, HFC will host a series of open days to welcome the community to view the build’s progression.

It’s great to see the government backing Cornwall and the South West.

First published by Peter Booth in the Western Morning News 12/02/2018

Supporting disabled people into work

As the trend towards the highest levels of employment 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 I recently launched 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. There are an estimated 13 million disabled people in our country that spend an estimated £250 billion each year, the so called ‘purple pound’.

Retailers by nature serve a diverse customer base, so it’s important that customers 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: http://www.gov.uk/disability-confident

Cornwall is the disability beacon area, led by our LEP and working in partnership to promote inclusive growth here.

First published in the West Briton 29/02/18