Supporting High Streets in Truro & Falmouth

New Year sales shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops and markets selling a wide range of locally produced items, including food and drink. There is no doubt that our local high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.   

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.    

Building on previous business rate reductions and increases in the VAT threshold, Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  While out Christmas shopping I heard first hand from local independent retailers the positive difference these savings are making to their sustainability. 

From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a further business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets fit for the future.  

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.   

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures.   

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties, helping prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street.  

The government is also taking longer term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created.  

Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! 

 First published in the West Briton 27/12/18

Spearheading action to reduce climate change

Last week, policymakers and climate experts from around the world gathered in Katowice, Poland, for pivotal talks on ambitious global action. 

In October, world leading scientists delivered a stark warning of the potentially devastating impacts of climate change on our health, prosperity and energy security. 

We are in this together, which is why the UK spearheaded action in Poland to establish a ‘rulebook’ for curbing climate change. 

This rulebook creates a level playing field for every country to play their part. Greater transparency will ensure scrutiny of progress toward targets and increase sharing of best practice. We must spread collective action using our combined wealth of knowledge to find the most effective and innovative ways of tackling climate change. 

The UK has a solid track record, since 1990 we have cut emissions by more than 40%, while growing our economy by more than two-thirds. During our first-ever Green GB Week, more than 30 UK-based businesses committed significant action to tackle climate change, from investing hundreds of millions in new solar panels to converting fleets of trucks to biofuels.  

But it’s not all about economics. There is a moral imperative too, as the effects of climate change already dominate our lives. It will be the poorest and most vulnerable people who will inevitably feel the effects hardest. 

That is why three years ago, the UK and other developed countries committed to mobilising $100 billion a year by 2020 to help these countries cope with the increasing risk of droughts and floods and provide access to clean energy. We know that every pound spent reducing CO2 today pays for itself between five and 20 times over in offsetting climate impacts. 

UK climate finance has, to date, supported 47 million people across the globe cope with the effects of climate change and provided 17 million people with improved access to clean energy.  

Investing this money overseas keeps us secure too. In the UK’s 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review, climate change was recognised as leading to and exacerbating instability overseas through crop failure, droughts and climate-change related migration.  

I am often asked – does leaving the EU mean the UK will row back on its ambitious climate action? Let me say it once again: absolutely not. 

The UK has always been ahead of the curve in setting climate ambition, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of the UK’s landmark domestic Climate Change Act passing into law with near-unanimous cross-party support, setting an ambitious legally-binding target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. 

Our ambition will not be hindered by leaving the EU. In fact, when the Government asked the independent Committee on Climate Change for advice on setting a net zero target in response to the October report, we were the first major developed country to take such action. 

Last week’s global agreements were a hopeful end to the Parliamentary year. Wishing you a very happy Christmas. 

First published in the West Briton 20/12/18

Tackling Homelessness

Several local residents have contacted me about people rough sleeping on Old Railway Walk from Newham to County Hall and Coosebean/Comprigney to Newmills. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen.  

I have raised my concerns and those of residents with the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and have been assured action is being taken to help. 

Cornwall Housing Limited has contacted the St Petroc’s Assertive Street Outreach and the Anti-Social Behaviour Team and has raised my concerns with the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Operational Group (CRSOG) and Safer Cornwall Truro Operational Group. 

St Petroc’s have provided assurances that they regularly visit these areas. The individual at Comprigney Fields and the individuals currently at Newham are known to them and are generally engaging with services at either their Truro Resource Centre or the Outreach Team. Cornwall Housing’s Rough Sleeping Link worker is also working with those who wish to engage to find a solution to their rough sleeping and I can confirm that these site visits and works to engage with the rough sleepers will continue. 

The Chief Executive of Cornwall Council confirmed that through the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd. and partners are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall. Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. 

If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. 

Over the Christmas period there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate from 17 December 2018 until 18 February 2019 providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February 2019.  

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April 2019. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assertive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible.  

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. 

The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

Finally, thank you to the small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing.  

First published in the West Briton 13/12/18

International Day for Persons with Disabilities

Monday was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. It is a United Nations-led day, and the theme this year is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. 

To mark this occasion, I launched a new stakeholder engagement forum to bring the voices of disabled people closer to Government, especially those living outside London. I also launched a call for new Sector Champions to improve accessibility of services for disabled people. 

I often meet disabled people who tell me about the challenges they face in work, using services, or simply trying to buy goods in a store or online. For retailers, this is a lost opportunity as they are missing out on £249 billion annual spend of disabled people and their families. 

I believe these initiatives will contribute to delivering our vision to create a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully and be included, and to our progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The Network will create face to face and online forums for disabled people to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect disabled people and will complement existing stakeholder relationships across Government. I hope local people will join our regional network. 

To bring about change, my Ministerial Retail Forum was instrumental in supporting the UK’s first ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 13 November 2018. It was funded and organised by the disability organisation Purple. Over 500 organisations signed up to take part, of which 50 were disability organisations. Hundreds of thousands of retail staff engaged in accessibility and inclusivity initiatives, supported by a range of campaign resources to help improve retail awareness of what good customer service means for disabled people. The venture was popular with the public too: it trended on Twitter and was reported by many major news and broadcast networks. 

The new Sector Champions for the countryside and heritage, product design, website accessibility, fashion, technology, food and drink will build on the work of my current 14 Sector Champions who work across diverse sectors – from music to insurance, and from arts and culture to transport.  They use their influential status as leaders to drive improvements to the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector. 

Finally, I was pleased to work with Channel 4 and Purple Space, who have, together with a range of Disability Confident employers, produced a short film entitled “I don’t work properly”.  The film features disabled colleagues from a range of Disability Confident organisations talking about disability employment, along with Last Leg presenter and comedian Adam Hills. Channel 4 has created a destination www.Channel4.com/purple to accompany the film and act as an information hub for those interested in disability employment challenges. You can also view the film at: https://youtu.be/sIxNyE6IHhI 

There are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded

Imagine you went to the shops tomorrow and the shutters were down. Now imagine you tried to buy a concert ticket but the website was closed for business. Would you be happy?

Of course you wouldn’t. But for thousands of disabled people in this country getting access to services is a trial of endurance. Spending billions of pounds to boost our economy is a trial of endurance.

That’s why today, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I’m focused on a top priority – to stop disabled people from being excluded from the everyday activities that many people take for granted, while also helping businesses realise that it’s in their interest to include their disabled customers.

With the spending power of disabled people and their households – the Purple Pound – estimated at almost £250 billion each year, it’s a no brainer.

Our sector champions are tackling the issues facing disabled consumers across every area of their lives, from seeing themselves represented in TV adverts to ensuring stress-free train travel.

Our music champion, Suzanne Bull, has launched a new industry taskforce aimed at improving the experience for deaf and disabled customers when booking tickets for live music events.

Meanwhile, our insurance champion Johnny Timpson is bringing together representatives from the insurance industry, regulatory bodies and charities for the first time to look at how to make the sector more accessible to disabled people. This is a great step forward, and begins to tackle an issue disabled people and my constituents often raise with me, that they are denied insurance or charged a premium that they believe does not reflect the true impact of their condition.

And last month I worked with Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, and our retail champion Samantha Sen to launch Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day. It was a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of retail staff, up and down the country, taking action to demonstrate their commitment to including all of their customers.

But there are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded.

Just last week a Citizens Advice survey found that almost one in three disabled people have missed a home delivery because they were not given enough time to get to the door.

And we know that disabled people are almost ten times as likely to report being limited in taking part in leisure activities compared to non-disabled people.

So today, I have announced that I want to appoint six new champions to build on the successes we’ve seen so far.

The new champions will cover the technology, food and drink, website accessibility, fashion, countryside and heritage and product design sectors.

By showing other businesses the importance of making disabled customers a priority, our new champions will ensure disabled people aren’t missing out on the experiences and services that form an integral part of our everyday lives, whether that’s socialising with friends or keeping up with the latest trends.

Access is inextricably linked to opportunity, and it’s important that everyone plays their part in ensuring disabled consumers can spend their money wherever and whenever they want to – just like everyone else.

First published in Politics Home 03/12/18

Looking after our high-streets this Christmas

Christmas always starts for me when I join the throngs in Falmouth listening to the Harmony Choir. Everyone will have their own festive favourites from the live nativities and Santa runs to some welcome innovations such as the Science at Christmas event at the Poly, enabled by Exeter University.  

Christmas shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops in Falmouth and Penryn where we can buy our Christmas presents and locally produced festive food and drink. There is no doubt that Falmouth and Penryn high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.  

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.   

Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets and town centres fit for the future. 

This will provide hands-on support to local areas to develop innovative strategies to help high streets evolve, connect local areas to relevant experts and share best practice. 

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.  

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. This is something I have worked with Falmouth Town Council to achieve. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures. This may seem like a small thing but it will save our local councils vital taxpayers’ money.  

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties to help prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street. 

While the business rates discount will provide up front support to the high street, the government is taking long term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created. 

The government will consult on modernising planning rules to ensure that they support the transformation of the high street. There will be two consultations on supporting the conversion of commercial properties into offices or homes and the implementation of new mixed-use business models that could form the vibrant high street of the future and on how to support local areas to use other planning tools more effectively. 

It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.  

First published in the Falmouth Wave December 2018 edition