EU Withdrawal Bill

Last night a majority of MPs, from across the Conservative, Labour, and DUP parties and two Independents voted for an amended EU Withdrawal Bill. A couple of weeks ago, a majority of MPs voted against the original version of this bill.  

Over the last two weeks a huge amount of work has been done to find the common ground in Parliament. The EU and the PM quite rightly said to Parliament, “we know what you don’t agree upon, so tell us what you do”. The amendment to the EU Withdrawal Agreement is about finding a different way of guaranteeing that we honour the Belfast and Good Friday agreements – the so called “backstop”. Those agreements are about honouring our commitments in securing peace in Ireland and Northern Ireland. 

So what happens next? The PM will spend the next two weeks negotiating with the EU with the aim of bringing back to Parliament a final version of the EU Withdrawal Agreement. 

In the meantime, much good work continues on a wide range of important policies that matter to us all. Last week I held one of my regular meetings with the NFU and local farmers. We discussed the Immigration Bill and the Agriculture Bill that are currently working their way through Parliament.  

On Friday, the government launched an ambitious new strategy to clean up our air – which includes a commitment to support farmers’ efforts to tackle air pollution. 

Agriculture is responsible for 88% of UK emissions of ammonia gas which can travel long distances, be damaging to the environment, and combine with other pollutants to form fine Particulate Matter (PM) pollution, which is harmful to human health. 

The measures set out in the Clean Air Strategy will help cut the costs of air pollution to society by £1.7 billion every year by 2020, rising to £5.3 billion every year from 2030. 

Under the new strategy the government will provide farmers with support to invest in infrastructure and equipment to reduce emissions and will work with industry to encourage low emission, holistic farming techniques. 

Funding has been available through the Countryside Productivity Scheme to help farmers purchase manure management equipment including low-emission spreaders and the scheme is due to run again in 2019.  

Funding is also available through the Countryside Stewardship Scheme for slurry tank and lagoon covers for farmers in priority water catchments. 

In September 2018 the government launched a new £3 million programme through the Catchment Sensitive Farming (CSF) partnership to fund a team of specialists who work with farmers and landowners in priority areas to provide training events, tailored advice, individual farm visits and support with grant applications. 

Our Agriculture Bill already sets out how future financial support for the farming sector will be focussed on delivering improvements to the environment. We propose that a future environmental land management system should fund targeted action to protect habitats impacted by ammonia. Natural England are already examining options to improve the effectiveness of schemes for mitigating ammonia emissions in protecting these habitats. 

First published in the West Briton 31/01/18

Ensuring Devolution Works for Cornwall

Cornwall was the first county to sign a devolution deal with central government, giving Cornwall Council, NHS Kernow and the Local Enterprise Partnership greater control over how our taxes are spent and our local public services are run. The deal is a great opportunity to improve the health and well-being being of people in Cornwall, as well as grow our economy sustainably. The questions are how we can use the deal to our best advantage and, in relation to issues like climate resilience and extreme weather, whether Cornwall has the answers to its own problems. 

We already know that Cornwall’s green economy is strong: it has been a pioneer of low carbon technology and renewable energy development and is home to some of the UK’s most striking natural landscapes. So, developing our green economy will be central to our plans. As a result of the deal, locally shaped investment and support opportunities are now available for low carbon businesses and social enterprises in Cornwall. 

Exeter University, based at Tremough, has mapped the natural capital value of the land in Cornwall and at a workshop I organised with the Green Alliance we discussed how this information could be used in Cornwall Council’s planning decisions.  

The Duchy has many high-quality food and drink producers that are a key part of our sustainable growth plans, so making the right decisions about land use will be vital. We need the land to produce food, generate energy as well as space for homes, business and recreation, while protecting the ecosystems and natural environment we all value. 

From my discussions with our Local Enterprise Partnership, it is clear that they are on the right track, as a driver of low carbon growth and renewables. It has recognised Cornwall’s advantages in relation to growing its green economy and exploiting its wealth of renewable energy sources, particularly marine and geothermal energy. The LEP is performing a valuable role in bringing the links between business, the public sector and the environment closer and making the most of local expertise.  

The government has set out an ambitious modern industrial strategy, that will ensure as the economy grows, no one and no region is left behind. Green growth is at the heart of this strategy and I am pleased that our local and regional industrial strategy is focused on producing more high-quality food and drink, generating more green energy while contributing to the electric vehicle revolution with lithium extraction as well as investment in satellite technology and space exploration. 

The recent weather serves as a strong reminder that climate change is Cornwall’s problem too. The work of Cornwall Flood Forum is building community resilience and involvement in flood prevention and mitigation. Balancing responsibilities and priorities is complicated, but we have to take the whole community with us to be successful. We know we need to engage all Cornish residents on the nature of our energy future and in thinking about how we value our natural capital, recognising that the Cornish natural landscape is an asset, to be enjoyed and handed down safe to future generations.  

Infrastructure change is too often felt as something done to people, not by them. If we increase engagement and information sharing among Cornish communities on issues around energy, climate change and the natural environment, we will foster a better understanding of our personal environmental responsibilities. An existing initiative showing great results is Carbon Logic, a project tracking people’s personal commitment to tackle climate change through ten ‘pledges’. It has already delivered real carbon reductions while supporting local farmers and businesses. 

To increase local action in Cornwall on global challenges, green growth needs to be a more tangible concept for local people and increasing our sense of participation and ownership of the means to achieve it is vital. 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 30/01/18

Supporting domestic abuse victims

I am delighted that both the Chief Executive and Chairperson of the RHCT have been confirmed in their positions. I am confident that under their leadership we will continue to see improvements at Treliske. Just like you, my family and I rely on our local NHS and I will continue to work hard to ensure that we receive our fair share of the significant additional funding that the government has committed to our NHS. 

Every day staff at Treliske, as well as those working in our community health and care services, will be working with people affected by domestic abuse – fellow members of staff as well as patients and their families. Domestic abuse affects many more people than you might imagine, people from all walks of life and backgrounds.  

This week the government launched the draft Domestic Abuse Bill and a package of 120 non-legislative measures to support victims and survivors of abuse and to stop the cycle of violence. With 2 million victims of domestic abuse last year, this is much-needed. This is a huge and very positive piece of work across national and local government.  

For many years, I have been working with a wide range of victims of domestic violence and organisations that support them, not only to do what I can to support them, but to campaign for changes to ‘the system’. Together, we have made some improvements, but this Bill brings together many of the most needed changes that will have a really positive impact on many people here and across the country. 

This Bill sets out a wide range of actions and here are just a few highlights: setting out in law the first cross-government definition of domestic abuse, including non-violent behaviour such as economic abuse; new, streamlined protection orders for victims and their children, including the powers to impose positive and negative requirements to stop the perpetrator; supporting victims in court through prohibiting cross-examination by perpetrators in family courts and granting special measures automatically in criminal courts; appointing a Domestic Abuse Commissioner whose sole focus will be tackling domestic abuse and ensuring good standards of services across country; more and better training for police, health professionals, Job Centre staff, housing officers and other frontline workers to help identify and support victims; improving and rolling out Op Encompass to all schools so that teachers know before the school day starts that a child in their care has witnessed domestic abuse the night before and put in place appropriate support. 

I have the privilege of working with local people delivering some excellent services for victims of domestic abuse in Cornwall and inspirational people breaking free of their abusers. I will be arranging meetings with all those organisations and people that I have been working with to review this draft Bill. I will work hard to secure any further changes identified. If you would like to contribute to my work on this important Bill, please do not hesitate in contacting me. 

First published in the West Briton 24/01/19

Closing tax loopholes to fund our NHS

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted down the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.  The Prime Minister showed great statesmanship in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. She made a statement inviting the Opposition parties to table a vote of “no confidence” in the Government.  Jeremy Corbyn MP had previously threatened this but not delivered but on this occasion did accept the challenge. 

I hope the Prime Minister wins and on Monday she will make a statement setting out a plan that will enable MPs from all parties to work together to find a solution to the current impasse.  

I have a section on my website dedicated to the EU referendum and regularly update it. I am easily contactable and always happy to listen to or read the opinions of my constituents. 

Despite Brexit grabbing the headlines, my daily work for you continues at pace. Many and varied issues are raised with me during my weekly constituency meetings. Sometimes these require changes to a particular “system” and working with local people to do this is a rewarding part of my role, especially when I am able to help to bring about positive change.   

A good example was a local business person who told me how overseas sellers were undercutting his business by selling their products online and not paying their fair share of taxes. Having raised this with Treasury Ministers, HMRC has taken action and in 2016 introduced new powers that has enabled the collection of £200m lost VAT. HMRC recently reported issuing over 4,600 ‘red flag’ notices to online marketplaces such as Amazon, ASOS, Etsy and Ebay since 2016. 

The number of overseas businesses making applications for VAT registration has grown to 58,000, in comparison to just 1,650 applications between 2015 and 2016. 

These new rules protect thousands of local entrepreneurs as well as enabling previously uncollected taxes to fund our vital public services. This is just one tax avoidance and evasion measure amongst more than 100 introduced since 2010 that has generated more than £200 billion revenue. 

As regular readers know, I work closely with our local NHS leaders, doctors and nurses. During meetings with local GPs the impact of the increasing costs of indemnity insurance on their ability to provide local GP services was discussed. I raised these concerns with the Department of Health and after a great deal of work with the medical profession, I am pleased that a solution has been found. 

April this year will see the launch of the long-awaited government backed GP indemnity scheme. This was announced in October 2017 and will cover all practice staff performing clinical roles under a General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) or Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. 

The scheme will be free at the point of use and will cover all practice work, as well as extended and out of hours services. This will enable more GPs and healthcare professionals to work flexibly and improve the accessibility of healthcare services that we all depend upon.

First published in the West Briton 17/01/19

Backing the PM’s deal

The Parliament I returned to on Monday is almost as divided as it was before Christmas. It is still divided into several factions; those who support Mrs May’s EU deal and those who oppose it, those who want a general election and those who want a second referendum. No one has come up with a better deal – including “no deal” – that commands more support than that of the Prime Minister. These same divisions exist across our nation, in our communities and in our homes. 

I have received around one thousand letters and emails from constituents passionately expressing their views one way or another, with each appealing to me to do the ‘right thing’ by representing their position in Parliament. It is my job to listen to the arguments and then carefully draw my own conclusions.  

There is no doubt that the vast majority of people are very supportive of the Prime Minister, and rightly so in my view. I agree that her deal is not perfect, but it does offer a compromise which I can support and I would urge others to do so too. As I have said before, this deal will give us free, no tariff, unlimited quota trade with the EU, minimal or zero frictions at the borders, complete control over immigration and would avoid a “hard border” between North Ireland and Ireland. There will be no payments to the EU and we will be out of the Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies and there will be no customs union, so we will be free to strike trade agreements with nations outside the European Union. These key objectives, which are often referred to as the Prime Minister’s ‘red lines’, actually represent the promises made to British voters in the referendum campaign and at the most recent General Election. 

The much debated “backstop” in the EU Withdrawal Agreement, if used at all, would allow us continued, contribution free access to the EU whilst having total control over migration. This is why it is designed to be, and will prove to be temporary; for the first time ever, and contrary to the EU’s oft-repeated position of not splitting the ‘four freedoms’, they have done exactly that. Any suggestion that such an arrangement would, in effect, become permanent would cause an existential crisis within the EU. Their incentive not to use it, or to leave it quickly, would be at least as great as ours. 

If we do not support this deal, then anything could happen. This would have unknown and potentially untold consequences. The vast majority of local employers who have contacted me want certainty and do not want a “no deal” Brexit. 

There might also be a vote of no confidence in the present Government, which could result in a General Election, which Mr. Corbyn might win. For most, I do not need to explain the consequences of this for our economy, on investment and on jobs. 

I think it’s time to come together and support the deal. 

 First published in the West Briton 10/01/18

Improving our local health services

Dame Sally Davis is the independent Chief Medical Officer for England, and her recently published annual report on the NHS provides invaluable insights. I agree with her analysis when she says, that while the NHS is often a source of national pride, but despite this, a narrative of health being a cost to society prevails. As the late Hans Rosling said, “When things are getting better we often don’t hear about them. This gives us a systematically too-negative impression of the world around us, which is very stressful.” 

Dame Sally says her report “offers cause for optimism and I conclude that it is realistic to aspire to better and more equitable health in the next 20 years. As the NHS has developed its long-term plan for the coming ten years, this report looks at the strategic opportunities over the coming two decades for the health of the nation more broadly.” 

Like Dame Sally, I believe we need to reposition health as one of the primary assets of our nation, contributing to both the economy and happiness. We also must measure and track progress in our development of health as a nation and our fairness as a society in delivering improving health outcomes. I support her recommendation that the Government need to develop a composite Health Index that recognises this and is tracked alongside our nation’s GDP and the Measuring National Well-being programme. 

Health is generally used to mean the ‘absence of ill-health’. We often focus on the NHS as an ‘illness service’ rather than acknowledging the complex interactions in society that influence our health as individuals. Healthcare is often spoken of as a cost to the state and society rather than an investment that generates returns for the individual, communities and the nation. The NHS and public health services are not a burden on our finances – they help to build our future. Moreover, the good health of our nation is the bedrock of our happiness and prosperity. 

Health is an asset that we must protect and promote and is affected by the conditions in which we live and work. These conditions can be health-promoting or health-harming, and often governments, industry, and societies are responsible for those conditions, not the individual. We all have some responsibility for our own health, but we are not individually responsible for the house or neighbourhood we are born into, the school we attended, nor the health environment we live in. 

The health system needs to adapt for each individual and ensure both their environment and the care that they receive is helping them achieve ‘good health’. One example is our local social prescribing, which acknowledges our expanded understanding of physical, mental and social health and is an opportunity for the traditional health service to utilise, enhance and amplify existing schemes, including employment. Our local WinterWellness programme is another. One size clearly does not fit all, and this requires different types of care accessed through different places and different ways. 


Combating Homelessness

Happy New Year! A new year brings new opportunities to make a positive difference in our community. 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. 

Since my early twenties, when I lived and worked in New York, and was so shocked to see people sleeping rough in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, I have been actively involved in tackling this issue. During my time in America, I volunteered in a shelter for homeless men. My voluntary work continued in London and Truro, with the Truro Homeless Action Group. 

I believe that everyone should have a decent, warm and affordable home. Since being elected in 2010, I have been working with Government Ministers, Cornwall Council and local organisations that work with rough sleepers and homeless people to enable us to tackle this issue. 

It all started with making sure that, as far as possible, we have the correct information about the number of rough sleepers. The Government has made improvements to enable people undertaking the rough sleepers count to build up a clearer picture of the scale of the problem. I joined those undertaking the count here and we were able to find many more people than the previous system enabled. This information led to Cornwall Council realising the scale of the problem and more funding from the Government. 

While more money is important, it’s just as important to spend it wisely. Resolving the complex challenges people face requires team work from our public services and support from our community. So I am pleased that new legislation and guidance, that I helped shape, is also enabling this to happen. Sharing what works from around the country is also important. 

I am now seeing much improved collaboration and coordination of local services and that is beginning to make a significant and sustained positive difference. 

Cornwall Council has a Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and with the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd and partners like St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing 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. This year’s count has recently taken place and validation of the numbers of rough sleepers is awaited. I very much hope we continue to see a reduction.  

While we are making progress, I know that there is more to do. If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. Over the Winter there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate until 18 February 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 too. 

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. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assistive 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. 

All of this work is supported by a small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction, Coastline Housing, Truro Homeless Action Group and many churches and local organisations who provide practical and emotional support for members of our community. Thank you to everyone who makes a contribution to help the most vulnerable people in our community. Together, I am sure we can end rough sleeping and homelessness. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave January edition