Supporting our great Cornish food and drink industry

I’ve enjoyed welcoming friends and family to stay over the summer, particularly sharing the gorgeous food and drink made in Cornwall. Of course, our local seafood is second to none and it’s great to see Harbour Lights nominated for another prestigious award.  

I personally appreciate everything farmers do to feed us, keep our soils rich, our rivers clean, to provide habitats for wildlife and to help in the fight against climate change and broader environmental degradation. And I want to see farmers better rewarded for these vital public services. 

I know that farmers would not be in a position to provide these public goods, indeed we would not have the countryside we all cherish, without successful, productive, profitable farm businesses. 

More than that, without successful farm businesses and high-quality food production we won’t be able in the future to maintain the balance and health of our whole society and economy.  

Our community depends on profitable agricultural businesses to thrive. While our coastline draws tourists from far and wide, so do our landscapes that depend on farmers for their maintenance and upkeep. Our hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and pubs depend on high quality local produce and a healthy local food economy to be at their best. 

That’s why I have been spending time listening to our local food producers as the Government consults on the future, outside of the EU, of the Common Agricultural Payments Scheme. I believe that if we get policy right for those who produce our food we can ensure sustainable and balanced growth across the United Kingdom, we can ensure the investment is there in the future, not just to make the countryside and the country as a whole flourish. We can enhance our environment, provide rewarding employment for future generations, improve the physical health and well-being of the population and leave the environment in a better state for our children and grandchildren.  

In the past, the concerns of farmers and food producers were given insufficient weight in the design and implementation of UK Government policy. 

This was defended by some on the basis that the major policy decisions governing farming and food production were taken at European levels through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Since UK ministers and civil servants had little room to shape, let alone, reform the CAP’s operation there was, it was argued, little justification for expending energy thinking hard about food policy. 

This failure was all the more lamentable because the food and drink industry is Britain’s biggest manufacturing sector. It’s also Britain’s fastest-growing, with our export growth over the last few months having been driven by massive increases in food and drink sales. 

So we can now have, a strategy that is designed to integrate the concerns of everyone involved in food and drink production – from farm to fork – to develop the right policies for the future. That food strategy is at the heart of the broader Industrial Strategy.  

The Food and Drink Sector Council is an industry-led board composed of businesses from every part of the food chain. From primary producers to retailers. Among the Council’s priorities are sustainability, productivity, nutrition, exports, workforce and skills, innovation, logistics and packaging. 

Drawing on the real world experience the people on the Council will be working closely with Government in shaping future policy. Along with the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment, I believe that we have a real opportunity to grow more of our own food and leave the environment in better shape for future generations. 

First published in the West Briton 30/08/18 and Falmouth Packet 05/09/18

Supporting the development of new technologies

Britain’s world-leading researchers and entrepreneurs will benefit from an additional £780 million to create the technologies of tomorrow, the Chancellor announced last week. 

This new funding will expand successful ‘catapult centres’ which are fuelling innovation across the country as part of the UK’s ambitious, modern Industrial Strategy. This new funding backs Britain’s brightest talent – supporting work in high-tech labs, cutting-edge factories and advanced training centres. 

The catapult network supports sectors and technologies that are going to be in high demand in the years ahead. It brings together the best of UK business, science and engineering to work side by side in research and development to ‘catapult’ products from ideas to market. It helps remove barriers to growth, which often can include access to finance, inadequate facilities or skills shortages. 

So far this has helped create hundreds of new products, services and inventions, including a portable pollution sensor that parents can attach to a child’s buggy, cellular therapies to fight cancer and improve recovery of stroke victims, LED treatment for blindness, and more-efficient wings for aeroplanes. 

While unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, our national debt is starting to fall, and the economy has grown every year since 2010, there is still more to do to build an economy fit for the future. This £780 million investment will support innovators across the country to create the technologies of the future, and the better, highly-paid jobs we urgently need. 

The UK has a reputation for innovation and is building on this strength with the largest investment in research and development in 40 years. This is part of our balanced approach, getting debt falling while investing to create more opportunities for the high-skilled, well-paid jobs of the future. 

In their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate in world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students, such as at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult where in the last year 900 apprentices have gained invaluable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing. 

The catapults are private entities, which work in close partnership with Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation and industry. Started in 2011, the catapult network is based on successful international models (e.g. the German Fraunhofer Institutes), which generate income from a balance of public grant, collaborative R&D awards and commercial contracting (in a 1:1:1 ratio). 

I want to see our Local Enterprise Partnership seriously consider enabling new catapults in Cornwall. Cornish Lithium, based at the Tremough University campus, is a good example of innovation in modern mineral and extraction technology, producing a vitally important material for the batteries we will need for the electric cars that will motor our way towards a carbon free future. 

Energy generation from offshore floating wind is another area of global leadership based in Cornwall that could benefit from this catapult approach.  

First published in the West Briton 23/08/18

Supporting sustainable transport in Cornwall

I recently met with the Truro Cycle Campaign group to discuss the importance of the new St Agnes to Truro cycle route. I am very supportive of the group’s desire to see a bridge for cyclists constructed over the proposed new road junction at Chiverton Cross. We also discussed the huge benefits of enhancing and developing new cycle routes around Truro, enabling more and safe commuting and family recreational activity. The health and wellbeing as well as environmental benefits of cycling are well known. The forthcoming updating of the Truro and Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan is a good opportunity for everyone interested to get involved in developing new walking and cycle routes.  

Cornwall Council and partners have a range of funding opportunities to implement improvements, including funding related to the new A30. 

In recent weeks the government has announced a wide range of measures designed to protect more vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians. These include new measures to combat close passing, training for driving instructors, better collision investigation and £100 million in new investment through the Safer Roads Fund.  

The government is also consulting on new cycling offences, further work on national guidance on cycling and walking infrastructure, and improvements to the Highway Code. 

All these measures are designed to support the continued growth of cycling and walking, with all the benefits they bring to our communities, economy, environment and society. 

In 2016, three pedestrians were killed and 108 seriously injured after being involved in collisions with pedal cyclists. The laws that are currently being used to prosecute cycling offences are ancient and that is why the government has launched a public consultation about proposed changes to the law. 

As part of the Cycling and Walking Safety Review, the government has commissioned the Cycle Proofing Working Group to develop national guidance and best practice for cycling and walking infrastructure, so that all road users can benefit from the best facilities. The government has also announced £1 million will be provided to support the pathfinder demonstration projects for repairing and upgrading sections of the National Cycle Network (NCN). 

Separately, the Department for Transport has also announced that it is gathering evidence on the effectiveness of current laws on pavement parking to address safety issues concerning cyclists, pedestrians, and disabled people using mobility scooters who have all raised their concerns with me about this practise. 

In June, the DfT announced plans for a £500,000 pilot scheme offering driving instructors bespoke training to ensure cyclists’ safety is at the forefront of their minds when they teach new drivers. 

Earlier this year, the department also awarded more than £7 million of funding as part of the first response to the Cycle and Walking Safety Review to fund improvements and new schemes promoting safe walking and cycling.   

So there is a lot going on and I urge as many local people as possible to join these important consultations so that we can all be safer as we use local roads and cycle paths.  

First published in the West Briton 16/08/18

Welcoming strengthened community planning regulations

Fundamental to building the homes our community needs is ensuring that our planning system is fit for the future.

The recently announced revised national planning policy framework was informed by many local people who contributed. As a champion of Neighbourhood Planning, genuinely affordable homes for local people and enhancing our natural environment I have been frustrated by some of the planning decisions made locally that contradict them. I am pleased that the revised planning framework strengthens Neighbourhood Planning in a number of ways.

Refocusing on the quality and design of proposals which are in line with what local communities want, the framework ensures councils have the confidence and tools to refuse permission for development that does not prioritise design quality and does not complement its surroundings.

With an emphasis on engaging with communities and allowing residents to see proposed development before it’s even built, the new framework encourages councils to make use of innovative new visual tools to promote better design and quality, which will also make sure new homes fit in with their surroundings.

Adopted neighbourhood plans will demonstrate clear local leadership in design quality, with the framework allowing groups seeking such plans to truly reflect the community’s expectations on how new development will visually contribute to their area.

Whilst the framework sets the strategic direction for driving up new build quality, it will remain up to councils to apply these polices in the most appropriate way in their area, recognising that they are well placed to know their area’s unique character and setting.

The revised framework has also been updated to provide further protection for biodiversity; ensuring wildlife thrives at the same time as addressing the need for new homes.

Changes to the framework see the planning system align more closely with the 25 Year Environment Plan. This plan, published in January, aims to leave the environment in a better state for future generations than it was when the Government took office.

It provides strengthened protection for ancient woodland and ancient and veteran trees across England, ensuring they can be retained for the benefit of future generations, whilst giving councils real flexibility to make the most of their existing brownfield land.

To help tackle unaffordable house prices in many areas, the framework sets out a new way for councils to calculate the housing need of their local community, including different forms of housing, such as older people’s retirement homes.

This new methodology aims to deliver more homes in the places where they are needed, based on factors including the affordability of existing homes for people on lower and median incomes.

In addition, to make sure that the necessary infrastructure and genuinely affordable housing is delivered to support communities, clearer guidance for both developers has been published, meaning that developers will know what is expected of them up front, even before they submit a planning application and councils have greater power to hold them to these commitments.

First published in the West Briton 09/08/18

Delivering Investment in Cornwall

You would be forgiven for thinking the only thing happening in Government is Brexit. But as the Chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership writes this month, this is far from the truth.

In his most recent blog Mark Duddridge says : “I’m delighted to report that in recent weeks the LEP has met with a veritable feast of HMG’s finest, including Secretaries of State for business, transport and local government, the Science Minister, Minister without Portfolio, and even the PM herself at the inaugural Council of LEP Chairs at No 10.” 

Local Enterprise Partnerships were introduced by the Government in 2011 to enable local businesses, rather than regional quangos, to shape and drive local, sustainable economic growth. 

As Mark Duddridge goes on to say “And I’m not namedropping for the sake of it. Government wants to know how LEPs are contributing to local delivery of the UK’s Modern Industrial Strategy, supporting business, innovation and investment, and making sure people have the skills they need to play their part in the growth of our nation.” 

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly LEP works constructively with me and my colleagues and partners in Cornwall to drive sustainable growth in employment, skills and wages and is making a really positive impact on the quality of our lives and opportunities in Cornwall. 

The LEP reports that over the last few weeks we have seen the announcement of a partnership agreement between Cornwall Council and satellite launch company Virgin Orbit to bring horizontal satellite launches to Spaceport Cornwall at Cornwall Airport Newquay by 2021. 

This was a massive achievement and marked the culmination of over a year’s hard work by a team led and funded by the LEP, in partnership with Cornwall Council. The agreement has been warmly welcomed by Science Minister, Sam Gyimah, who said the Government would work with Virgin Orbit and the Council to support our region’s spaceflight ambitions as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy. 

The space economy is one of the key growth sectors featured in the LEP’s recently updated 10 Opportunities investment prospectus, that spells out in the Space Action Plan –  an ambition to create a £1 billion space economy in Cornwall by 2030. 

There has been more good news from Goonhilly Earth Station which recently secured a £24 million private sector funding injection on the back of the LEP’s £8.4m investment to support deep space communication from Cornwall. 

The LEP has also just signed an agreement with Edinburgh-based satellite launch operator Skyrora to use Cornwall Airport Newquay’s rocket testing facilities with support from the LEP’s Enterprise Zone Infrastructure Fund. 

While we have record levels of people of all ages and backgrounds in employment, there is still more to do to increase local household incomes. I am determined to continue to do everything that I can to enable local people of all ages to acquire the skills they need to make the most of the new opportunities and new industries growing up in Cornwall.  

First published in the West Briton 02/08/18