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

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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.

Reforming our Divorce Law

Marriage will always be one of our most important institutions. It is vital to our functioning as a society, as we all know instinctively from our own lives and from the lives of family and friends. Rightly then none of us is indifferent when a lifelong commitment cannot continue, but it cannot be right for the law to create or increase conflict between divorcing couples. 

People going through divorce already have to face more than enough emotional upheaval without the conflict that can be created or worsened by how the current law works. 

I have reflected at length on the arguments for reform and on what people have said in response to the Government’s proposals. From my constituency advice surgeries I see how the attribution of fault leads parents to use their children as weapons in a continuing battle with their former partner. 

On Tuesday, a bill to reform our divorce law cleared its first hurdle in Parliament.  It responds constructively to the keenly felt experience of people’s real lives. While I am advocating more marriage advisory support to prevent divorce, I support this bill as I think that the end of a relationship should be a time for reflection, and not of manufactured conflict. 

It is 50 years since the Divorce Reform Act 1969 gave rise to the law we now have. It allows divorce only on the grounds that the marriage has broken down irretrievably. The court cannot hold the marriage to have done so unless it is satisfied on one or more of what the law calls “facts”. Three of the five “facts”—adultery, behaviour and desertion—relate to conduct of the respondent. The other “facts” are two years’ separation and five years’ separation, the difference being that two years’ separation requires both parties to agree to the divorce and the same applies to civil partnerships, except that the adultery fact is not available. But the “fact” that someone chooses does not necessarily bear any resemblance to the real reasons the marriage or civil partnership broke down. Those reasons are often subtle, complex, and subjective. Who, if anyone, was responsible is a question that can be answered honestly only by the people in the marriage. 

We are probably all aware of situations where a couple have sadly grown apart over time and jointly agree to divorce.  The current law does not allow them to do so unless they are first financially able to live apart for two years. They might be forced to present events in a way that serves the system; minor incidents become stretched out into a pattern of behaviour to satisfy a legal threshold, which then bleeds over into how a couple approach negotiations over arrangements for children and finances; or there may be a coercive relationship, where one partner is desperate to divorce but is too scared of the consequences of setting out the evidence of their partner’s unreasonable behaviour to the court. It should be enough that the relationship has irretrievably broken down. 

First published in the West Briton 

A Positive Change for UK Energy Efficiency

On Tuesday in Parliament I introduced a 10 Minute Rule Bill asking the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan.

Securing such a motion is difficult, so why did I choose this subject? Over the last nine years, I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of poverty and to live in warm homes. This Public Health approach has literally saved lives.

Cornwall’s Devolution Deal has enabled greater flexibility in tackling fuel poverty too. The partnership’s work has been funded by a mixture of public funding, Energy Company Obligation, business and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes, including those using energy efficiency measures. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work.

In Cornwall, over time, we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. I want to ensure we can expand this work.

Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in greenhouse emissions from heating our homes. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy as we will need more electricity for new cars, buses and trains.

Last week the Government introduced legislation to end the UK’s contribution to global warming by 2050. This is not only the right thing to do but is both affordable and achievable.

As the Committee on Climate Change noted, a comprehensive energy efficiency programme should be the first and least costly step in getting towards this goal. Research from the Energy Efficiency Infrastructure Group shows that energy efficiency improvements to homes

could reduce the energy consumed in U.K. households each year by 25% and knock £270 off the average household bill of £1,100 – a saving of the equivalent of six nuclear power stations the size of Hinckley Point C.

There would be strong economic returns of a similar scale to other major infrastructure projects. Appraisal based on HMG methodology finds that the net benefit of this saving would be £7.5 billion – this excludes the wider health and productivity benefits. It has been estimated that for every £1 invested by the government, GDP would be increased by £3.20.

Policy exists for new homes, but we now need to turbo-charge our action on retro-fitting home energy efficiency into all homes, enabling everyone to live in a warm home. I hope my Bill will be the catalyst.

First published in the West Briton on 20/6/2019

Working Towards Net Zero

Over the last month the focus of my work in Parliament has been on Climate Change, highlighting the importance of not only the Government but every part of society playing their part in reducing emissions to net zero. During the Climate Emergency Debate, I challenged my MP colleagues to take up Truro based Luci Isaacson’s Climate Vision top ten pledges.

There is cross party support to step up our level of ambition and reach net zero carbon before 2050. I am part of the team of Backbench MP’s bringing in a bill to set this target.

The Secretary of State welcomed the support provided by Members on both sides of the House. He made it clear that the Government recognises the situation we face is an emergency. It is a crisis, and it is a threat that we must all unite to meet the challenge.

Although statistics are sometimes abstract, and the impact may seem distant, as individual citizens and as parents we all know that the next generation will face the consequences if we do not take action now to deal with climate change.

A warming world will result in the desertification of large parts of our Earth; with the transformation of previously fertile lands into lands that are incapable of generating food will result in population movement, which will create challenges—not just a security challenge for the global north, but a moral and ethical challenge for us all.

We in the United Kingdom must bear that moral and ethical challenge particularly heavily. We were the first country to industrialise, and the industrial revolution that was forged here and generated prosperity here was responsible for the carbon emissions that have driven global warming. The burden of that is borne, even now, by those in the global south, so we have a responsibility to show leadership. It is vital that we reduce our emissions, for the defence and protection of those in small island developing states who face the prospect of coastal erosion and damage to their economies. That is why the Government are committed to spending £5 billion every year on helping developing nations to deal with the prospect of climate change.

In the UK, since 2010, we have decarbonised our economy faster than any other G20 nation; between 2010 and 2018, we reduced greenhouse gas emissions in this country by 25%; UK CO2 emissions have fallen for six years in a row, which is the longest period on record; and the UK’s renewable energy capacity has quadrupled since 2010. The proportion of UK electricity that comes from low-carbon sources increased from 19% in 2010 to almost 53% in 2018, which meant that 2018 was a record year for renewable energy; over the past year, we have generated record levels of solar and offshore wind energy; and annual support from the Government for renewables will be more than £10 billion by 2021. All that has come as a direct result of a shared ambition, with a Government who set stretching targets and are prepared to intervene where necessary, but who recognise that we need the ingenuity and enterprise of the private sector working in partnership with the Government to deliver change.

The safeguarding of our environment must not come at the cost of ending economic growth, because economic growth is vital to spur the innovation and secure the investment to make sure that we have the technological breakthroughs that can safeguard our environment.

Since 1990, under Governments of different parties, we have seen a 40% overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and we have also seen a two-thirds increase in growth. If we think in particular about the significant growth in renewables, of course solar energy initially needed subsidy to kick-start it, but as solar energy costs have diminished, so the need for subsidy is, as any economist would say, lesser. This is no criticism of any previous Government, but when we came into power, only 38.3 MW of power in this country was generated by solar; now, the amount is 13,000 MW, which is 13 GW. That is a 99% increase in solar power generation under Conservative Ministers.

It is also important, that we not only take action on energy, decarbonise our economy and recognise the global challenge that climate change presents, but do everything we can in our own country to adapt and to mitigate the effects of climate change. That is why this Government are committed to the planting of 11 million new trees. That is why the Countryside Stewardship and Woodland Carbon Fund has been created—to ensure that we reforest this country.

We are lucky in this country to have a concentration of blanket bog and peatland, one of the most effective carbon stores in the world, and this Government are committed to restoring more than 6,000 hectares of peatland to a state where they can play their role in acting as a carbon sink. All of these steps are part of the 25-year environment plan, which is intended to ensure that, for the first time, we hand on to the next generation a restored environment. This means more trees planted, more habitats restored to good or better status, more investment in clean air and water and, above all, more investment in making sure that the organic content of our soil is improved—a critical measure not just in improving fertility for future food production, but for dealing with carbon.

The landmark Environment Bill will mark a step change in how this country tackles the twin challenges of climate change and our broader ecological degradation is a test for us all.

The day after this important debate, the independent UK Committee on Climate Change published its response to the Government’s request to review our carbon budgets. The programme of carbon budgets, set up as part of the 2008 Climate Change Act, that the committee has set, has enabled us to make significant progress so far in the meeting of our obligations to the earth, but we all know that we need to do more.

Last October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) made it clear that the Paris target of a 2°C temperature rise was, as the science showed, not ambitious enough and that we need to ensure that we slow the rate of greenhouse gas emissions and hopefully achieve net zero in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. After that IPCC

report, the Secretary of State for Business, immediately commissioned the Climate Change Committee to tell the Government what more we should do to meet that target. That level of ambition was endorsed by a range of different organisations, from the NFU, which says that we should try to have net zero in agriculture by 2040, to companies such as Tesco, our biggest single retailer, which have also committed to the net zero target.

The Government has welcomed the report and will carefully consider the recommendations. The Comprehensive Spending Review, that starts in the summer and ends in October, sets out government expenditure for the next three years and will be a good opportunity to commit the resources necessary to increase our investment in necessary changes. This report now sets us on a path to become the first major economy to legislate to end our contribution to global warming entirely.

Setting this goal isn’t just about ending the UK’s contribution to climate change. Net zero is also a significant economic opportunity. The low carbon economy is growing two or three times faster than the rest of the mainstream economy, with almost 400,000 people working in these industries already. I fully support the Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership’s Clean Growth Strategy that recognises this opportunity for many local businesses.

Finally, I hope that you will consider signing my petition, that I am presenting in Parliament on 19th June, for the U.K. to host the 2020 global climate change conference that will be so important to agreeing further global action. For your ease of reference, here is a link:

https://www.sarahnewton.org.uk/campaigns/climate-change-pledge-group

First published in The Falmouth Packet on 20/6/2019

My Domestic Energy Efficiency Bill

Committing ourselves to net zero carbon by 2050 means delivering a core Conservative value and a key manifesto pledge, to leave the environment in better condition than we found it for future generations. It is not only the right thing to do but has the potential to unite the nation in a common purpose. People of all ages and businesses from right across the U.K. support government action. 

As the crucible of the first industrial revolution it is right to maintain our leadership and endeavour to be the first major economy to transition to the hi-tech and carbon free fourth industrial revolution. While growing our economy, the U.K. is already amongst the leading economies in reducing our carbon emissions. 

This bold ambition requires a clear vision and carefully thought through plans to enable people, business and places to transition, and make the most of the opportunities that arise. In practical terms it means delivering the Clean Growth Strategy, a part of the Industrial Strategy, launched in 2017 and updated in 2018. 

While significant progress has been made, especially with consultations and evidence gathering, we now need to publish plans to give the clarity and certainty that businesses need to commit investment to deliver innovation and change to the goods and services that they provide. People want to know how they can make changes over time to play their part in this national endeavour. 

My 10 Minute Rule asks the government to publish a plan for meeting the domestic energy efficiency targets in the Clean Growth Strategy; to make provision for the monitoring of performance against milestones in the plan and to establish an advisory body for the implementation of the plan. Home insulation may not capture the imagination as a standard bearer for the fourth industrial revolution in the way that electric cars and autonomous vehicles do, but it will make a huge contribution to our reduction in emissions from heating our homes. 

As Antoinette Sandbach, the MP for Eddisbury, reported at a recent session of PMQs, enabling every home to be insulated to EPC band C would save the equivalent of six Hinkley Point nuclear power stations. We will, of course, need this electricity to power our electric cars. Energy saving is just as important as generating carbon free and renewable energy. 

There will be a huge impact on the quality of people’s lives too. Nearly half of my constituents live off the mains gas grid resulting in higher energy bills. Like the majority of people in the U.K., they live in homes with low levels of insulation and energy efficiency measures. It has been estimated that reaching EPC band C would save low income families between £200 and £400 a year. Average wages in Cornwall, while rising, remain significantly below the England average too and so we have high levels of fuel poverty. 

There are more benefits to living in an energy efficient home than keeping warm. Over the last nine years I have worked with Public Health Cornwall on an innovative partnership that has brought together businesses, Cornwall Council, health, care and emergency service professionals and many voluntary sector organisations to help people out of fuel poverty. It has been funded by a mixture of public funding, ECO and voluntary donations. Over 20,000 people have been helped to live in warm homes. In addition, independent evaluation shows that the Winter Wellness Partnership has prevented more than 800 hospital admissions and helped 348 households remain in work or make progress towards work. 

In Cornwall, over time we have shown that working with people on installing energy efficiency measures improves people’s health and wellbeing as well as the environment. Learning from this work and much more across the country, we need to turbo charge our action on homes energy efficiency and I hope my 10 Rule Motion will be the catalyst.

First published in the House magazine 13/06/19