Campaigning for affordable local housing

While Parliament is prorogued my work continues.  I have had meetings with a number of ministers on important matters.

It is essential that we redevelop existing buildings into high quality and genuinely affordable homes for local people, as well as building new homes for them. I very much support the reuse of land already developed rather than farmland.

We should have a range of housing choices to meet local peoples’ needs, from social homes to rent, to opportunities for local people to build their own homes as well as homes with support for people with long term health conditions and disabilities.

As regular readers will recall, I was instrumental in securing the £300m Community Housing Fund (CHF) that was announced in the 2016 Spring Budget to transform the community led housing sector and lead to the delivery of nearly 10,000 additional homes across the country by 2021. Money was allocated to 148 local authorities, roughly in proportion to the number of second homes and affordability issues.

Cornwall is a pioneering area for community led housing and it is a broad movement of Community Land Trusts (CLTs), Co-ops, co-housing communities and community anchors. Unlike traditional housebuilding approaches, they offer more than just resident involvement. They give local people the tools to build and renovate, manage and control the homes their community needs.

The Community Housing Fund is due to close in March 2020.  Likewise, bidding for the Homes England Fund will close in December 2019, just 18 months after it opened. Whilst interest is high and more than 16,600 homes are in the pipeline, very few groups have been able to submit capital bids in that short period and the pending deadline is deterring interest. It is essential that the Fund is extended so that those homes can be delivered.

I met the Housing Minister to make the case for her to use the budget increase delivered to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in the recent Spending Round to extend the CHF.

For homes to be genuinely affordable they need to be affordable to heat as well as to buy or rent. I pressed the Minister to review building regulations to ensure all new homes are net zero carbon. Cornwall Council could make this a planning condition now but, as they are not doing so, changing regulations would ensure that this happens. Enabling people to live in well insulated, energy efficient homes is not only essential for good health and wellbeing but it makes a significant contribution to tackling climate change too.

In Truro, for many years now, I have asked Cornwall Council to enable ‘key worker’ housing for nurses, care assistants and other vitally important staff at Treliske who have modest wages and can’t afford Truro prices. This would help to attract and retain the staff that we need to deliver the health and care services that we all depend upon. I am pleased to report that this idea is now being pursued by Cornwall Council and already has the support of Truro and Kenwyn Neighbourhood Plan team.

First published in the West Briton 18/09/19

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Working to resolve the Brexit impasse

On Monday, the House of Commons debated providing greater clarity about the motivation and timing of the PM’s decision to prorogue Parliament.  As part of the debate, Members discussed the publication of government assessments regarding the impact of a ‘no deal’ Brexit and the preparations to cope with it. The Government has committed to publishing more information. 

On Monday, the EU Withdrawal Agreement (No 6) became law and the Government agreed to uphold the law of the land. 

The House of Commons had another vote about an early General Election, one that would have been held before the end of October. While I believe it is the responsibility of MPs from across Parliament to work together to find a solution to the Brexit gridlock, not enough MPs agree. Given this tragic impasse in Parliament, a General Election is one way to resolve the situation. It gives the public the opportunity of choosing how the country proceeds before we leave the EU. 

Despite having repeatedly called for a General Election, Jeremy Corbyn and all the leaders of Opposition Parties, did not vote for one. 

On Monday I accepted an invitation from Caroline Flint, Rory Stewart, Stephen Kinnock, and Norman Lamb to join MPs for a Deal. 

For too long, debate in Westminster has been paralysed by a lack of moderation and compromise. Even at this eleventh hour it’s not too late to agree ‘a deal’ to ensure an orderly exit from the European Union. 

That is why, last Wednesday, I supported amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) (No. 6) Bill which made any delay to the UK’s departure – if a delay is needed at all – conditional upon an effort to debate and pass ‘a deal’. One is based on the outcome of inter-party talks held earlier this year. 

We are not suggesting that the new deal should be a carbon copy of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill (WAB), rather that it provides a solid and realistic basis on which to build to reach a compromise that can pass in the Commons and avert a ‘no deal’.  Further delay without a purpose will simply add to voter anger. 

I am hopeful that the PM and his team will use the next few weeks to leave no stone unturned in an effort to reach agreement with the EU and bring back to Parliament an ‘amended deal’. 

In the meantime, I will continue to take advantage of this pre-General Election period to promote the compassionate, One Nation Conservative values and policies I believe in and secure additional public investment into our vital public services, both in my constituency and across Cornwall.  I am delighted with Government announcements last week to provide extra investment for our schools and colleges, police, defence, health and social care services as well as £25 million for the regeneration of our great little city, Truro. 

Regarding EU funding for Cornwall, please read the Hansard report of the debate in Parliament, in which I spoke, about the importance of replacing this funding, pound for pound, with the Shared Prosperity Fund. 

First published in the West Briton 12/09/19

First day back in Parliament

The first day back in Parliament was dominated by the prospect of a General Election. This week the Labour Party and other opposition political parties tried to take control of parliamentary processes away from Government and extend the deadline for leaving the EU.  Some of my colleagues joined them too.  As I write this column I don’t know the outcome but you will. I didn’t support this action for the following reasons. 

The PM and his team are in the midst of negotiations with the EU on an ‘amended deal’ so that we can leave the EU at the end of the deadline of 31st October. Parliament voted for this extended deadline agreed with the EU.  I am encouraged by comments made by European leaders and by their preparedness to make some concessions to the so-called ‘Irish Backstop’ which is the sticking point preventing some MPs from supporting the EU Withdrawal Agreement.  Having spoken with the PM and listened to his comments in the House of Commons, I believe that he is sincere in his desire to leave the EU with ‘a deal’ and is working with the EU to achieve this. 

I want to enable the PM the best chance of achieving an ‘amended deal’, even if it is a slim chance, as the best way to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit is for the EU and the UK to agree ‘a deal’ that MPs will support. That will enable an orderly exit into a new, close relationship with our neighbours, allies and friends in Europe. That is what I was elected to do in 2017 and have been trying to deliver ever since.  

Unless there is a General Election, Parliament will be sitting on 14th October onwards to consider, debate and scrutinise any ‘amended deal’.  We have the opportunity to avoid a ‘no deal’ Brexit by voting for the ‘amended deal’. 

If Parliament is unable to come to an agreement in October, the same options that are available this week will be available then to prevent a ‘no deal’ Brexit. 

This week in Parliament I welcomed the additional funding recently allocated to our public services.  I highlighted the Britain’s Leading Edge campaign that I helped to launch in July, with a simple premise: for the nation to achieve its potential every citizen needs the opportunity to realise theirs and that we need to unleash every region of England, not just those with a large city. The campaign demonstrates the systematic bias in public funding allocations that leaves regions without large cities receiving less funding than those that do. Now is the time to correct this historic bias. 

Historically, Cornwall’s schools receive less per pupil funding than some others so I am delighted that the f40 campaign, of which I am a member, has been successful. Our schools will be receiving more funding in each of the next three years. I pressed the government to communicate the actual amounts each school will receive and this should be announced in midOctober. 

First published in the West Briton 04/09/19.

Supporting local work to reduce plastic pollution

Even though our youngest child has graduated, so there are no more preparations for the beginning of a new academic year, I still see September as a month of new beginnings. September is not only the start of a new academic year for school aged children but for many adults starting an apprenticeship or a course at college. It is great to see the wide range of choices of excellent opportunities available for people of all ages here. 

It’s also the time that we welcome many new, young people into our community as they join our local universities. New academics and their technical support teams too.  

I recently organised a very useful event with Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team at the Penryn campus. 

The event brought together a group of people that included Government policy makers, local businesses, community organisations and volunteers and discussed how the south west can lead the way on transforming our approach to plastics.   

As many of us give of our time to beach cleans and litter picking in our communities we are only too aware of how much plastic ends up in our precious natural environment and the damage it does there. 

Professor Peter Hopkinson is also the lead for the Exeter Multidisciplinary Plastics Research Hub (ExeMPLaR) which received £1 million of Government funding to become one of the leading centres to reduce the devastating impact plastic pollution can have on the environment.   

The ExeMPLaR project is about creating a network of organisations to revolutionise the way we produce, recycle and utilise plastics. The global rate of plastic production and waste is accelerating at a time when we need to take radical action to reduce, reuse and recycle if we are to tackle the rising problem of plastic pollution. 

The scale of the problem was laid bare by Kevin Gaston, Professor of Biodiversity and Conservation at the University of Exeter, who talked about the eye-watering global volumes of plastic waste from areas such as plastic packaging, construction and textiles. Kevin gave the simple, single example of the plastic pen of which around 30 billion are produced each year and 1.6 billion thrown away in the United States alone. 

Joel Murray from the Defra Resources, Waste and Plastics Strategy Policy Team spoke about the UK Government’s ambitions to tackle plastic pollution and the aim that all plastic packaging placed on the UK market will be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025 and all avoidable plastic waste will be eliminated by 2042. Joel was keen to impress that the government cannot achieve these goals alone and that communities and organisations need to work together to make an impact. There was a similar message from Cornwall Council which has just produced the county’s first Plastic Free Cornwall Manifesto. 

The ExeMPLaR project is about redesigning the whole plastics system. The project aims to discover a set of actions that can be taken to drive practical changes that will make the greatest difference. 

The event came about following a meeting I organised earlier this year with Kirstie Edwards of Plastic Free Falmouth involving representatives of the many people in Cornwall who are involved with litter picking and beach cleaning. I want government policy to be shaped by evidence and action of what works and, here in Cornwall, the ExeMPLaR project is leading the way in redesigning the system to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic – for the benefit of our environment and our local economy. 

The ExeMPLaR project is still in the early stages but it is building a network of people across the south west who can transform the plastics system. To find out more visit the Centre for the Circular Economy: http://business-school.exeter.ac.uk/research/centres/circular/research/  

This project reminded me how fortunate we are to have Exeter University in our community. As a result, local people are working alongside world leading academics and shaping national policy for the benefit of our community, our country and our planet. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave September edition

Protecting the Amazon

I am sure that I am not the only reader who is horrified by the scenes of the Amazon rainforest burning.  We cannot escape the reality of the damage that humans are inflicting on the natural world.  The planet faces two immense threats: climate change and biodiversity loss. These are two sides of the same coin – it is impossible to solve one challenge without fixing the other. We cannot stop climate change without protecting the natural environment and we cannot restore global nature without tackling climate change.

On Monday the Government made £10 million immediately available to help step up efforts to protect and restore the Amazon rainforest in Brazil – including in areas affected by the current fires.

£10 million will be invested through the Partnerships for Forests programme, alongside funding already invested in projects across Brazil, Colombia and Peru to support communities and businesses now and in the longer term to help to protect the Amazon. The new funding builds on support to restore the rainforest in Brazil and neighbouring countries, and will help to safeguard the huge biodiversity of animal and plant species found in the Amazon.

The Amazon produces more than 20% of the world’s oxygen and is home to 10% of the known species in the world. The number of forest fires in Brazil since January (more than 74,000) has increased by 83% compared with the same period last year.

I am a founder member of the Conservative Environment Network and I am pleased that the Prime Minister supports our manifesto. On Monday, at a meeting of the leaders of the largest economies, the PM demanded that new, international targets to restore the natural environment are far more ambitious than the existing Aichi biodiversity targets – which expire in 2020.

Biodiversity is declining faster than at any time in human history. And scientists have warned that even a 1.5°C rise in global temperatures would further devastate nature and humanity. The world’s animal populations have declined by 60% in the last 50 years, with around 1 million species facing extinction. Every year 1 million birds and 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting tangled in plastic waste. The amount of plastic in the sea is set to treble in the next decade.

Protecting nature will help tackle climate change by supporting ecosystems – like the world’s oceans – that soak up carbon from the atmosphere, and by preserving natural barriers such as mangroves which act as flood defences.

Working globally is essential and the PM announced a doubling of the U.K. contribution to Green Climate Fund (GCF) – £1.44 billion over the next four years.

The GCF supports a number of programmes to preserve natural habitats around the world – including to tackle deforestation in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil. It’s estimated that existing GCF projects will take the equivalent of 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 out of the atmosphere – the same as taking 300 million cars off the road for a whole year or every plane out of the sky for 18 months.

First published in the West Briton 28/08/19

Welcoming investment in Cornwall’s voluntary services

This week some of Cornwall’s voluntary sector organisations, including Job Centre Plus, have been given a cash boost to roll out more of their innovative work. 

More young people across Cornwall will benefit from new mental health support including counselling, mentoring and arts programmes in their communities. This will be backed by a multi-million pound government investment this year. 

As part of the government’s commitment to transforming mental health care – backed by an extra £2.3 billion a year through the NHS Long Term Plan – £3.3 million was announced for 23 local community projects across England, with Young People Cornwall receiving £65,243. 

Young People Cornwall will expand their ‘Hear Our Voice’ project, set up in 1997, which provides children and young people (CYP) aged 11-25 experiencing difficulties with their mental health and wellbeing with access to support through a range of interventions in non-clinical, school & community settings. Their expansion will employ two additional Well-being Practitioners (WP) who will be able to work with children and young people aged 8-10 years, supporting them at an earlier stage, before emerging mental health issues escalate or reach a point where statutory services must intervene. 

Earlier this year the government pledged to overhaul society’s approach to mental illness through better access to education, training and support. This included a commitment to train all teachers to spot the signs of mental illness in children. 

The funding will come from the Health and Wellbeing Fund, part of a programme of government investment in the voluntary sector. 

Mental health services are being transformed through the NHS Long Term Plan so that 345,000 more children and young people have access to mental health support by 2024, including via mental health support teams in and around schools. This will significantly improve early intervention and prevention. 

We know children and young people face many pressures at home and in their social and academic lives. Giving them easily accessible mental health support, providing them with the tools to manage their own mental health at an early age can help them thrive later in life. 

It’s only right that children and young people are able to access mental health support, not only through the NHS, but in the heart of their communities, schools and homes where they spend the majority of their time. 

A project pioneered by work coaches in Job Centres across Cornwall will have access to £100,000 more funding to continue referring people with mental health conditions to specialist one to one support, without the need for a GP or clinical assessment. Some people – for whatever reason – don’t want to be assessed in a clinical setting. 

The results of the pilot so far prove without a doubt that this approach works, with people supported by their work coaches and specialist support before their mental health spirals downwards. 

It’s good to see more local people receiving support to enable them to manage their mental health and get their lives back on track. 

First published in the West Briton 22/08/19

Celebrating the hard work of our Parish Councils

I have had a really interesting series of meetings with some of our local parish councils, listening to the excellent work that is going on. We are fortunate to have active local councils here and many of them do so much to support our local communities. While we may notice the beautiful parks and new play equipment, much of this work goes unnoticed, so I am pleased to be able to shine a light of some of the excellent work I have seen. 

Since 2010, parish councils have had the opportunity to take on new responsibilities. Many have responded with determination and creativity to Cornwall Council proposals to cut essential services such a public toilets and libraries. Through new partnership working, not only with Cornwall Council, but with local businesses, the provision of these services is often transferred from Cornwall Council to the local councils and are often described to me by local residents as ‘better than they were before’.  

Parish councillors are volunteers and are supported by professional staff. While some local precepts (taxes that pay for the services provided by the parishes) have risen and some quite steeply, from my experience this is to pay for the new services that are excellent value for money. It’s common sense really. They are small organisations with less layers of management to pay for. Their decision making and delivery of services is closer to the community that they serve, with connections to other local people and organisations in their parish working together, they are more able to ‘get things done’.  

Perranzabuloe Parish Council is a good example of partnership working. The Parish Council provide a wide range of services, from beach patrols to Library services, with their staff working from the same Parish owned building as the two Perranporth Police Officers and the new Tri Service Officer. There is also a new Community Navigator who liaises with a wide range of community groups, the local NHS and care services. Together this dynamic team provide a wide range of support for people living, working and visiting Perranporth. They draw in considerable support from the business community and voluntary organisations of the area and help make Perranporth the great place that it is. 

Feock Council has been undertaking really important work with local GPs on social prescribing. I was pleased to learn that they plan to continue this work as it has proven so valuable. Again, this is a commonsense approach where GPs can refer patients to a dedicated member of the Parish team, who can help that person to connect with the help, support and fun that is available in the local community. That could be a local walking or craft group or help with financial advice. No two people are the same, so the social prescription is tailored to the individual with the sole purpose of improving their wellbeing. 

Thank you to our Parish Councils who work so hard.

First published in the West Briton 15/08/19