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

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