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

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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

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