MP calls for RFA vessels to be classed as warships

TRURO and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton is pressing the MOD to class Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships as warships.

Mrs Newton said: “I have consistently asked the MOD, in future procurement to reclassify RFA vessels as warships. This will enable them to be more easily built
in Britain. I was delighted that last week, during an Urgent Question on the situation on the Gulf, I was able to secure this positive answer to my question.”

Addressing the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mrs Newton said: “I welcome my right hon. Friend’s prescient remarks in recent weeks about the need to expand our naval presence. To help with that, will he ask the Defence Secretary to change the
classification of our much-valued Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to warships, as our allies classify them, so that we can bring forward the building of planned new ships in the UK?”

Mr Hunt replied: “I have just asked the Defence Secretary that very question, to which the answer is yes.”

Is an RFA ship a warship? Some pundits claim they are, with RFA personnel undergoing Royal Navy courses, the fitting of Phalanx guns, helicopters and small arms. The government until now strongly disagreeing, claiming the RFA ships are non-combatant
vessels.

Government policy is that defence procurement should be subject to open competition except when the UK judges it needs to protect its operational advantages and freedom of action for reasons of national security. This was outlined in a 2012 White Paper and,
regarding surface vessels, reaffirmed in the 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) report.

“For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be
built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition
between UK shipyards.”

The two Fleet support ships (FSSS) planned for the RFA are at the heart of the NSS report. The £1billion order for the ships that will service the UK’s £6.3billion Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will provide work for 16,000 people.

Under current legalisation the ships are exempt from EU procurement rules. The MOD has consistently said that it will run a full international competition to build the ships which are not classified as warships as such.

In another debate the National Shipbuilding Strategy was discussed along with the future procurement of the planned Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSSS) for the RFA and through life contracts with UK shipyards.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said: “It is important to highlight that the industry
also has spin-offs into other sectors. When people see a ship being built, they concentrate on the hull and superstructure—what they can see—but the real value and expertise in a complex warship today are in not only what it is made of, but the through-life support.
That creates jobs in a whole range of sectors and ensures that those jobs are maintained over the life of the ship. We must protect skills; the sector cannot be successful,
and we cannot keep our sovereign capability, without investment in skills.”

Mrs Newton replied : “I am very proud that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is based in Falmouth. As he says, we have a valuable throughlife contract. I wholeheartedly
agree that the ships should be built in the UK, and we are proud to have the opportunity to service them.

“It is vital to have such highskilled, well-paid jobs in a peripheral area such as Cornwall, which has low wages. Those jobs are vital to our local economy. When decisions are made about procurement, they should be about not just the price tag on the vessel, but the contribution that those industries make to the regional economy.”

Written by David Barnicoat. First published in the Falmouth Packet 31/07/19

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Working with the new Government to deliver for Truro & Falmouth

By the time you read this we will have a new Prime Minister and a new government will be taking shape. I will be working hard with that new team to deliver our manifesto commitments aimed at improving the lives of my constituents. We have made good progress on cleaning up the economic mess we inherited in 2010. I am pleased that we have made effective investments into our local economy, with more people in work and wages rising. But we need to do more, especially investing in vital public services. We are able to do this now that the public finances are in better shape.  

Last week, I voted for an amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill to try and prevent Parliament from being prorogued (shut down) in the Autumn. As you know, the current deadline for leaving the EU is October 31st. I have repeatedly voted to honour the manifesto commitment I was elected to deliver, to leave the EU in an orderly way with an agreement for a close and special future relationship. The PM has said that is his aim and I will support the PM to deliver this. 

During the EU Referendum campaign and subsequently, many people have asserted that they want to leave the EU so that our sovereign Parliament can take back control of the decisions that affect us all. For Parliament to take decisions it has to be meeting. That is just what I voted for last week. To spin my action as an attempt to stop Brexit, as some have done, is a lie. 

On Sunday, I had the huge pleasure of participating in Sea Sunday in Falmouth, joining the Parade and Service at King Charles the Martyr. This annual celebration reminds us of how important a range of maritime activity is to our economy and way of life. As news of British shipping being adversely affected by Iranian government action in the Gulf has recently reminded us, as a trading nation, we depend on free movement around the global seas. With our allies, the Royal Navy and Royal Fleet Auxiliary play an important role in securing the peaceful passage of shipping. 

I am very proud of Falmouth’s long-standing involvement with both services and delighted that thanks to the award of MoD contracts people in and around Falmouth will continue to benefit from the skilled employment opportunities that these long-term contracts enable. 

The MoD recently announced the building of new frigates so please support my campaign for one of them to be called HMS Cornwall. I am grateful for the support of all my Cornish colleagues in this campaign and have a petition on my website: https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/campaign-new-21st-century-hms-cornwall 

This week, I also secured the commitment of the Government that in future procurement, RFA vessels will be reclassified as warships so that they can be built in the U.K. I am a member of the APPG for British Shipbuilding and we have called for this for some time. 

First published in the West Briton 25/07/19

Building infrastructure to support electric vehicles

The government has outlined this week, in a public consultation on changing building regulations in England, that all new-build homes could soon be fitted with an electric car chargepoint.  The consultation comes alongside a package of announcements to support electric vehicle drivers and improve the experience of charging. 

The proposals aim to support and encourage the growing uptake of electric vehicles within the UK by ensuring that all new homes with a dedicated car parking space are built with an electric chargepoint, making charging easier, cheaper and more convenient for drivers. 

The legislation would be a world first and complements wider investment and measures that the government has put in place to ensure the UK has one of the best electric vehicle infrastructure networks in the world – as part of the £1.5 billion Road to Zero Strategy. 

The government has also set out this week that it wants to see all newly installed rapid and higher powered chargepoints provide debit or credit card payment by Spring 2020. 

With record levels of ultra-low emission vehicles on our roads, it is clear there is an appetite for cleaner, greener transport. I know many local people are thinking about making the switch and with the recent good news that Jaguar Land Rover and Mini will be building more electric cars in the UK, prices are anticipated to become more affordable. 

Cornwall has the potential to play a significant role in electric car manufacturing because of the lithium dissolved in the hot water in our tin mines. The UK has already made a major commitment to becoming a world leader in the battery industry through its £274 million investment in the Faraday Battery Challenge and earlier investments through the Automotive Propulsion Centre. 

Cornish Lithium and partners have recently been funded to develop a UK supply chain to support the expansion of the U.K. battery industry. 

Home charging provides the most convenient and low-cost option for consumers – you can simply plug your car in to charge overnight as you would a mobile phone. 

The government has already taken steps to ensure that existing homes are electric vehicle ready by providing up to £500 off the costs of installing a chargepoint at home. Having supported the installation of almost 100,000 domestic chargepoints through grant support schemes, the government has also announced that it is consulting on requirements that all new private chargepoints use ‘smart’ technology. 

This means an electric vehicle would charge at different times of the day in response to signals, such as electricity tariff information. This would encourage off-peak charging, keeping costs down for consumers and better managing renewable energy generation. 

These measures are part of wider action from government to support the automotive industry, and the Prime Minister confirmed this week that Jaguar Land Rover will receive a £500 million loan guarantee from government export credit agency UK Export Finance. This will support the company’s design and manufacture of the next generation of electric vehicles and its export activities. 

First published in the West Briton 18/07/19

Supporting our local NHS

Yesterday, I raised the serious situation at Treliske in Parliament. I am determined that support is provided to the leadership of the RCHT to enable them to deliver the safe and high-quality care that we all depend on. I know how hard healthcare professionals and managers are working to resolve the current situation while also delivering more substantial reforms that aim to prevent the current situation occurring. I will continue to do everything that I can to support the staff at RCHT, including securing additional support from NHS England and the Department of Health, to work with our whole health and care system to tackle the pressures they face. 

Yesterday, in Parliament I also had the pleasure of meeting Linzi Lancaster from the RCHT who received a prestigious national award – The Future NHS Award. Maggie Vale also received an award for Volunteer of the Year and was represented by Natalie Swann and Jodie Wilson from Healthwatch Cornwall. It’s important to recognise that there is so much that the RCHT and the wider health and care system is doing really well. 

I have thought for some time that Treliske simply does not have enough beds to take care of our population. I have raised my concerns, that are shared by many people, with the leadership of the NHS in Cornwall and have been repeatedly and firmly told that is not what is required. I have offered to make the case to the Government for a new hospital and have been told that is not required. The leadership of our local NHS have a plan and that is to enable more people to be treated in community health and care settings, preventing the need to travel to Treliske. I will continue to support our local NHS leaders and the decisions that they make and work hard with them to secure the investment to deliver their plans. These plans do include more improvements to the facilities at Treliske. 

Some will say it’s all about money. However, the NHS is receiving record levels of investment and, locally, each year our funding is increasing. Cornwall Council has been given a boost in funding for adult social care. I am sure more money is needed but it is also about how it is spent. I have information on my website about how much Cornwall receives. 

We do have an ageing population and too many frail, elderly people arrive at Treliske who, with the right care and support, could be cared for at home. From my personal experience with family members and from my professional experience speaking to medical professionals, as well as time spent with staff in the A and E Department at Treliske, the lack of an integrated care system in Cornwall is still a major problem.  

This is a long standing and persistent problem. NHS England has invested in staff at Cornwall Council and I know from my regular meetings with local leaders of our health and care system that work is underway to improve the situation.

First published in the West Briton 11/07/19.

Promoting better health at work

The health of the nation’s workers has never been more important. Modern society and the world of work is changing rapidly, bringing new challenges for our physical and mental health. 

We spend a third of our lives at work, so employers have an important role to play to help workers stay healthy. Fulfilling and meaningful work can be a huge source of wellbeing and having a supportive employer can make a real difference to someone grappling with a physical or mental health condition. Crucially, four in five UK workers say that support from their employer could help them recover quicker. 

Research conducted by the John Lewis Partnership reveals that by working together, government and industry can unlock £38.1bn for the UK economy by 2025 through fast access to psychological services and physiotherapy for employees with a physical or mental health condition. 

The Working Well Coalition is a new and growing group of employers, MPs, charities and think tanks. Together we are committed to do more to improve the health of the nation’s workers. 

For business – take a leadership role in promoting good physical and mental health at work. Business can be a force for good in society and we want to do more to support employers, large and small. We want to galvanise others behind the business case for action and work in partnership with our public services to promote a healthy society. 

For government – make free occupational health services for workers a non-taxable benefit in kind to promote investment from employers. Currently, these services are subject to employment taxes at an effective rate of 40%.  

Together – explore how we draw together practical advice on both physical and mental health to help employers, building on existing good work. Many employers want to invest in health and wellbeing but don’t know where to start. 

The CIoS LEP Beacon Project, backed by £500,000 investment from the DWP was launched at the Cornwall Growth Fest last September and aims to provide businesses with this support. 

The Evident Agency is developing a scalable digital product that will deliver advice and ongoing support for businesses, working with the Cornwall Growth Hub and other partners to provide a single point of contact for employers developing an inclusive workplace. 

With record levels of employment I know many businesses here are struggling to recruit and through this project we want to make it easier for businesses to find the right person as well as supporting their existing employees who may have a disability or long term health condition. 

Through the Beacon Project, Evident Agency have engaged with a number of local businesses but we need more businesses to get involved with user testing, so please consider joining this important innovation by registering at http://www.cornwallbeacon.co.uk. 

Last week the Prime Minister announced a consultation on a series of reforms that I am working on, including improving statutory sick pay by extending it to the lowest paid people, ensuring it is paid and enabling more flexible return to work. Now is the time for a revolution in healthy workplaces. 

First published in the West Briton 04/07/19.

Cornish Mineral Exploration Leading Role in hi tech, Clean Growth Fourth Industrial Revolution

I love going to the Cornwall Polytechnic Society (the Poly) for talks, exhibitions and to watch films and live performances. But when it was founded in 1833, it was quite different. The Society was formed “to promote the useful and fine arts, to encourage industry, and to elicit the ingenuity of a community distinguished for its mechanical skill”.

As the Poly’s website says, “The Society was certainly founded on philanthropic principles, but President, Sir Charles Lemon, seven prominent Cornish Vice Presidents, and the Chairman, Charles Fox, were all successful businessmen, for whom whatever ‘encouraged industry’ should also be good for business. With this in view, the founders determined that a large Hall should be erected by the Society to accommodate an annual exhibition of new inventions, especially mechanical ones, in an era when science was continually revealing new wonders to the world.”

Sir Charles remained the Society’s President for 34 years, until the age of 83.

He served as Member of Parliament for Penryn and funded the establishment of what is now the Camborne School of Mines. He was at one time President of three scientific societies in Cornwall: the Royal Geological Society, the Royal Institution, and the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society from its foundation until his death.

The Society was an important player in the first Industrial Revolution in Cornwall, with many learned papers by scientists and engineers published in the Annual Reports, which grew to considerable length. In 1843 the Exhibition featured an early demonstration of the new art of photography, and in 1865 Alfred Nobel was awarded, in absentia, a Silver Medal for the invention of nitro-glycerine, which was tested very successfully in Falmouth Docks, blowing a large iron anvil to bits. Exhibitions demonstrated the electric telegraph, electric lighting, the telephone, wireless telegraphy, gas and oil engines, rock drilling machinery, and many other scientific inventions.

With the demise of mining in Cornwall, the Poly’s fortunes changed. I like to think that my predecessor would be pleased by the recent news that has the potential to reinvigorate that legacy as Cornwall is set to play a leading role in the high-tech, Clean Growth fourth industrial revolution.

Companies across the country, including those based here, are set to benefit from £23 million government investment to help them keep the UK at the forefront of developing the latest electric vehicle technology.

Businesses, ranging from small designers to major car manufacturers, are among the winners of the government’s Faraday Battery Challenge, recently announced by Business Secretary, Greg Clark. It forms part of the government’s drive to maintain the UK as a world leader in the latest technologies and emerging markets, through its modern Industrial Strategy.

The Faraday Battery Challenge brings together world leading academia and businesses to accelerate the research needed to develop the latest electric car battery technologies – a crucial part of the UK’s move towards a net zero emissions economy. It is also a key contributor to all new cars and vans being effectively zero emission by 2040.

Mining consultancy firm, Wardell Armstrong, based at Wheal Jane, Baldu, which works with experts at the Natural History Museum and mining firm Cornish Lithium, will lead a new study looking to develop a UK supply of lithium, helping to meet the massive demand expected from the transition to electric vehicles.

The government will continue to invest in future car manufacturing, batteries and electrification infrastructure through our modern Industrial Strategy and local businesses will be key in ensuring that the UK leads the world in the global transition to a low carbon economy – one of the greatest industrial opportunities of our time.

The recent £23 million investment forms part of the total £274 million that will be awarded to consortia across the UK, through the Faraday Battery Challenge, part of the government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF).

Faraday Battery Challenge director, Tony Harper, said:

“Across the three rounds of funding competitions we have now awarded a total of £82.6 million to 63 projects. This is a massive investment in business-led battery R&D in the UK, supporting innovative technologies and helping to build a UK supply chain that can compete on the global stage.”

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said:

“The Faraday Battery Challenge brings together the UK’s world class expertise across research and industry to deliver battery technologies that will power the vehicles of the future. The projects funded emphasise how this collective expertise is being brought to bear on the biggest challenges facing the development of next generation electric car batteries, from their power source and performance to safety and manufacturing.”

Like many local families, my ancestors were local miners, in our case at Baldu and Twelveheads, so I am delighted that Cornwall’s mining expertise will continue to play a key role in tackling the greatest challenge of our time.

First published in the Falmouth Wave July edition