Honouring the Referendum result

On Tuesday, the Prime Minister updated Parliament on the progress that she is making to enable the U.K. to leave the EU with a Withdrawal Agreement and Future Political Declaration, by the end of March. MPs will be voting on a motion to approve these documents on 12th March and I very much hope it is passed. This will enable an orderly exit and two years of transition to a new, close and special relationship with the EU.  

A new relationship that will enable tariff free, quota free, frictionless trade with the EU, close collaboration on security, defense, and academic research. At the same time enabling the U.K. to have an independent immigration policy and develop new trade deals. The U.K. Parliament and U.K. courts of law will make the decisions that affect all our lives. We will be coming out of the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy enabling decisions about how we manage the land and the seas around our shores to be made by the U.K. Parliament.  

If the PM does not succeed in securing enough votes for this ‘deal’ another motion will be tabled on 13th March asking the House of Commons if it supports leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement and a framework for a future relationship on 29th March. So the U.K. will only leave the EU without a deal on 29th March if there is explicit consent in the House for this outcome.  

If the House, having rejected leaving with a deal negotiated with the EU, then rejects leaving on 29th March without a withdrawal agreement and future framework, the Government will, on 14th March, bring forward a motion on whether Parliament wants to seek a short limited extension to Article 50 – and if the House votes for the extension, seek to agree that extension approved by the House with the EU, and bring forward the necessary legislation to change the exit date commensurate with that extension. 

Like the PM, I do not want to see Article 50 extended and am urging all my colleagues to vote for the PM’s deal on 12th March.  

At the last General Election, I was elected to deliver Brexit, with an orderly transition to a new, close and special relationship with the EU and I will continue to do everything I can to deliver this.  

To honour my commitment, if the deal that the PM has negotiated does not secure the necessary support in Parliament on 12th March, I will vote against a ‘no deal’ Brexit and if necessary a delay in when we leave the EU. The purpose of the delay would be to secure a deal that does command the necessary support in Parliament and the EU.  

It is clear from the information that I have been given from many local employers, that to leave the EU without a deal on 29th March would be damaging for our economy, employment opportunities, cost of living and future prosperity.  

First published in the West Briton 28/02/19

Supporting Cornwall’s cutting edge industries

“Not a day goes by when we don’t hear about advances of technology, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). There is no doubt that we are in the fourth industrial revolution. Each industrial revolution has seen the invention and utilisation of new technology changing our lives and the nature of many work places, rendering some jobs obsolete. However, it is worth remembering that each revolution also brought increased levels of employment and prosperity. Today we have record levels of people in employment and wages are growing faster than inflation.  

I understand that for some people change can be exciting and for others scary and difficult to manage and I also think we are more prepared now than in the past.  

Locally, more young people are achieving well in a wide range of subjects, including those that will enable them to develop their interest and skills for the new types of employment. People of all ages can earn and learn with an apprenticeship, enabling people to switch or develop their career. As with previous industrial revolutions, Cornwall is part of the vanguard of innovation with one of the fastest growing tech clusters in the U.K. with many local businesses growing well paid and highly skilled employment opportunities here. 

Our local universities have excellent opportunities to explore too. 

Falmouth University’s Launchpad Masters’ degree for entrepreneurs is growing local businesses such as Glas data. Rob and Colin are developing an app for farmers that pulls in countless different data streams, from animal weights through to soil quality, that will enable farmers to see if something’s wrong, visualise it, then see what needs to be done to correct it to improve yields and performance. 

As Colin says: “Ultimately, we want to be able to offer advice back to the farmers based upon the data they’ve inputted. However, the software isn’t just for farmers. The aim is eventually to become the data nexus for the entire food chain, from field to fork, working with food processors, large farming corporations, food vendors and ultimately through to the end consumer.”  

Rob and Colin are working with research institutions and leading players in the agricultural industry to push the boundaries of what’s possible when harnessing the power of advanced data analysis and artificial intelligence. Glas Data is attracting interest from around the globe and already has potential investors lining up.  

And, as Colin says, they’re always working with the bigger picture in sight: “Our ultimate vision is to create a highly efficient, profitable and sustainable food industry, so that everyone, from the people who produce our food to end consumers, can benefit. By reassuring consumers and bolstering their confidence, from plough to plate, we want to complete the loop in responsible and sustainable food production.”  

Data Science and AI for Sustainable Futures led by Professor Gavin Shaddick, at the University of Exeter, has recently received new government investment. 

The government has recently announced investment of about £200 million, including with industrial partners, to enable post graduate research and fellowships in AI. The U.K. has world leading AI talent and we need to grow and retain that talent. AI will help in a wide range of activities, from helping diagnose diseases faster to enabling smarter use of energy. 

I am determined to support our local ecosystem of creativity, collaboration, innovation and enterprise so that more local people can benefit from the changes to our economy and our lives brought about by the fourth industrial revolution.” 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 27/02/19

Smart employers know there’s a pool of talent to be tapped

Delve deeper into this week’s employment statistics showing there are more people in
work in the UK than ever – 32.6m – and an encouraging picture emerges about
our labour market.

More than half of working age disabled people are now in work. In just five years, their employment rate has risen from 44.2pc to 51.5pc. And what’s more, disabled women have seen an even faster increase, from 42.8pc to 51pc.

We have seen the employment rate gap between disabled and non-disabled people close significantly over this period, but we want to do more. As we continue to make progress, we need to shine a light on the ongoing work the Government and employers
do together to open up opportunities for disabled people.

We are ambitious for disabled people and in 2017 we set out our goal to see one million more disabled people in work over a 10-year period by 2027.

And we are committed to achieving that. Last week, we announced that we are upping the maximum grant disabled people can receive through Access to Work to pay for adjustments to help them do their job to almost £60,000 a year. This is an increase by £2,000 a year in the maximum amount of support that pays for things like workplace adaptations, assistive technology and personal assistants.

Lots of employers are doing the right thing and creating accessible workplaces. More than 10,500 businesses have signed up to the Government’s Disability Confident scheme, which provides support to employers to ensure disabled people are recruited, retained and supported in their careers. Last year we launched a voluntary framework to encourage large businesses to report how many disabled people they employ. The
voluntary framework, created in partnership with employers and disabled people, also obliges business to set out how they are currently supporting their disabled employees.

It’s clear that improving the disability employment rate isn’t just about doing the right thing for the UK’s 7.6m disabled people of working age – there will be long-lasting benefits for everyone.

Disabled people can bring a wealth of skills and talents to an organisation, and smart employers are making sure that they are not missing out on this untapped pool of talent.
Businesses, employers, government and employees must shout louder about this as it makes this journey together to ensure everyone can take up the opportunities being created.

First published in The Daily Telegraph 22/02/19

Protecting our natural environment

Leaving the environment for the next generation in better condition than we found it is our number one priority. Good stewardship of our natural environment is a key Conservative value and political imperative. I am proud of the world-leading work that is going on in Cornwall, nationally and internationally, from decarbonising our energy generation, to planting millions of trees and creating huge marine conservation zones around the globe. 

The government is leading global and national action by accepting the latest scientific data that requires us to do more and reach net zero emissions sooner than our current plans. I am delighted that Cornwall Council has recently decided to use its considerable power and resources to take more local action. I know many town and parish councils, schools, colleges and businesses are taking action too. 

Apart from my work as your MP, I am personally committed to reducing my impact on the environment by thinking about what I consume, and trying to buy local and reduce, reuse and recycle. 

I recently used some well-known carbon footprint calculators to help me make some choices. The calculators estimate how much carbon we are emitting based on our lifestyle and consumption. I was concerned to be told that I need to reduce or eliminate the amount of beef and lamb I cook for my family! I was surprised that there was no differentiation between, for example, eating grass-fed, local meat and that fed on corn and imported from South America. 

Chris Jones of Woodland Valley Farm in Ladock told me that “we went onto 100% grass-fed and our emissions audit went from 300 tonnes emitted to 350 tonnes sequestered in soil on the farm. The last 9 years have seen us double our soil carbon content, all down to the feeding of the animals on a grass only diet.”  

Chris sells his meat direct from the farm but has mostly switched to dairy, also entirely pasture fed. They have recently been given permission to retail raw milk in small quantities direct from the farm too – it has the same environmental benefits as pasture feeding any other cattle and is very nutrient dense. They estimate that each litre of milk would come with 2kg of carbon credit free. 

I am supporting an amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would ensure there is a proper legal definition for the term grass-fed so that it can only be used on products that have been raised on pasture all their lives. This can mean grass in the summer and conserved pasture ie hay, haylage or silage in the winter. 

Currently, grass-fed can be used on any products that come from animals that have been fed on grass for just 51% of their lives. 

This is a small change that will enable us all to have the correct information, supporting local farmers, our health and wellbeing as well as the planet. And I won’t have to give up family favourites using local dairy, beef and lamb! 

First published in the West Briton 21/02/19

Welcoming Cornwall’s new Tri-Service Safety Officers

Last week I had the honour of participating in a passing out ceremony of eight new Tri-Service Safety Officers (TSSO). This role is a collaboration between Devon & Cornwall Police, South Western Ambulance Service (NHS) Foundation Trust and Cornwall Fire, Rescue & Community Safety Service.  

The TSSO role was developed in Cornwall in 2013 with an innovation grant of £200,000 from the Government. It’s important that we are constantly investing in new ways of delivering public services, responding to changing demands and circumstances, while at the same time delivering good value to the taxpayer. Since then it continues to evolve and become stronger in its brand and role within the community. We now have ten permanent TSSO’s across Cornwall. 

The TSSO role is jointly funded by all three emergency services. The role provides an emergency response for critical incidents within Fire and Ambulance and covers the community side and engagement of Policing. 

The role is primarily focussed on engagement, early intervention, prevention and reducing demand on emergency services. The TSSO has access to all three emergency services IT systems and this provides significant advantages in terms of understanding the ‘whole’ picture when it comes to safeguarding and information sharing between services.  

An award was presented to TSSO Andrew Hichens to recognise his outstanding achievements over a 15-month period between May 2015 and August 2017. He attended 499 police logged incidents, 181 incidents for the fire service and 226 ambulance calls. Andrew has been involved in 61 anti-social behaviour cases and 56 low level crime investigations. Additional prevention work has seen him undertake 322 home safety visits; he has made 159 safeguarding referrals and conducted 90 school/youth intervention meetings. 

From 1 April the new TSSO’s will be introducing themselves to their local councillors and communities. Each TSSO will be working in partnership with people and organisations in their communities, adapting to the local needs of the people they serve. The TSSOs will also be working closely with their respective Cornwall Council Community Link Officers to support and address any specific local concerns. 

The TSSOs are located in rural and coastal communities which analytical data shows would benefit from an increased presence from all three emergency services. 

I was delighted to meet Phillip Graham who will be based in Perranporth and will serve the surrounding community, an area he knows well as the area’s former PCSO. 

Last week I voted for the largest increase in funding for the Police in some time. I am pleased that our Police and Crime Commissioner’s plans for Cornwall, developed with the public, were voted through by our Police & Crime Panel. This will see Cornwall recruiting more much needed police officers.  

Over the next few months, in Falmouth and Penryn, I am surveying residents’ opinion, including about whether the universities, as they do in other areas, should be asked to make a financial contribution for additional police resources. I am asking how residents feel additional resources could be spent for the benefit of the whole community. 

First published in the West Briton 14/02/19

Welcoming Record Funding for the St Agnes to Truro Cycle Route

The new road scheme to dual the A30 between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross could be enabling the greatest single investment in our local cycle infrastructure in my life time.

How? Because new major road schemes also have dedicated government funding to improve the environment for communities affected by them.

As part of the A30 scheme, I have been working with Nigel Blackler, the Head of Transport at Cornwall Council to secure funding, including £20m from the Highways England Cycling Safety and Integration Designated Fund.

This funding would be used to help create a number of trails which could be used for walking and cycling in our part of Cornwall.

Routes include St Agnes to Truro (including a bridge at the site of the current roundabout); Trispen to Idless; Perranporth to Newquay and St Newlyn East to Carland Cross.

The Truro & Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan developed an ambitious plan for improving opportunities for people to walk and cycle. This in turn has led to recent investment in new cycle paths within Truro. The new network has the potential to connect many more communities to Truro.

It could also help overcome severance of communities caused by the A30 and could complement the new dualling scheme.

It could also create new great cycle routes and trails across Cornwall, that will rival the Camel Trail and Mineral Tramways Coast to Coast route between Devoran and Portreath. The new trials could enable easier access to our iconic Cornish landscape and nature for many more people to enjoy and I want to make sure people with disabilities have access too.

The network will enable more people to safely cycle and walk to work, schools and college, as well as the hospital. It all also help address congestion and air quality issues.

For many years, I have been working with local cyclists, to develop an ambitious new approach to our local cycling and walking infrastructure, connecting people and communities, improving our health and wellbeing as well as the local economy.

I am delighted to see Cornwall Council get behind the dedicated local campaigners, particularly those in Truro & St Agnes who have worked so hard to build public support for new cycle routes, with street stalls and action days in Truro and St Agnes.

We will shortly find out if all our collective efforts have paid off. The hard work begins then. I very much hope that when we have successfully secured the funding, that Cornwall Council will work closely with the dedicated cycling campaigners, local cyclists of all ages and abilities as well as walkers, drawing on local knowledge and wisdom, so the final schemes are something that we can all be proud of.

Landowners will be crucial in enabling the new pathways as will collaborative effort across parishes. In developing these new pathways, I see real opportunity to enhance our natural environment and create new skilled jobs, with Cornish hedgerows restored and built and Perranporth’s award winning business Green & Blue commissioned to design and make bee block route signs.

First published in the West Briton 07/02/19

Helping people with mental health problems into employment

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many wanted to and could have remained in employment had they been given the right support. 

I recently spoke at a CBI event to welcome the launch of Front of Mind, their new good practice guidance which helps employers improve health and wellbeing in the workplace. I also helped launch the free, online CIPD People Managers Guide to Mental Health. 

People with mental health conditions can make a valuable contribution in the workplace. We need real cultural change in every local workplace to prevent valued colleagues leaving a job they love because of mental health problems. 

For employers this can feel daunting. The mental health charity, Mind, found that while employers want to make mental health a priority, a third don’t know where to go for information or guidance. 

That’s exactly why practical resources like Front of Mind are so important. Highlighting examples from UK employers that are already leading the way, the guidance shows that successful businesses are taking key three steps: prioritising health and wellbeing from the top, targeting action towards early interventions and embedding good health and wellbeing in workplace culture. 

Not only does Front of Mind offer practical tips for employers, it also demonstrates the business case for making progress on workplace mental health. 

While the human suffering of losing a job is well understood, the impact of mental health issues for UK employers is less well known, costing between £33 billion and £42 billion every year. Clearly, making mental health a priority in the workplace is not just the right thing to do – it also makes good business sense. 

We don’t expect employers to do this on their own. Government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition. We’ve made good progress, with a range of support on offer. NHS spending on mental health increased to a record £11.86 billion last year, with a further investment of £1 billion by 2020/21. 

While there is much more to do, we have seen more investment in mental health services here, including specialist perinatal mental services and those for young people. Recruitment has started for staff at the new children and adolescent residential mental health centre, Sowenna in Bodmin.  

On employment support, the DWP is investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of Employment Advisers in Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Services. Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, delivered by PLUSS in Cornwall it is helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our Access to Work scheme has a specialised mental health support service which has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90% of people who have used the service were still in their job after six months. 

The Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has secured £465,000 of Government funding to help local businesses recruit and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions. 

The Cornwall Work and Health Beacon Project is the first of its kind in the UK and aims to widen the pool of talent and experience available to employers, creating opportunities for local people and helping to tackle skills shortages. 

The project will work with businesses to co-create solutions and build their confidence to employ and retain people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, and ensure they have the right support and information available to them. 

In Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly there are almost 50,000 working age people whose day-to-day activities are limited by a long-term illness or disability. This is over 15% of the working age population, and well above the national average. 

The positive links between work and health are well proven and the Government is committed to supporting more disabled people into work. The LEP has already done some excellent work in this area and I want to encourage all local senior managers and business leaders to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture around mental health. This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top. 

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to talk about their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave Fabruary edition