Lithium Mining and Stadium for Cornwall

My Cornish tin mining ancestors would have been amazed had they joined me at my recent meeting with Cornish Lithium. Cornish Lithium has partnered with the government backed Satellite Applications Catapult, which has raised £850,000 from government funded Innovate UK to see if it can develop techniques for spotting the metal.

Cornish Lithium hopes to extract lithium from salt water, which it will pump out of the ground from wells as much one kilometre deep. Most lithium is produced in South America, Australia and China, but the UK government has identified lithium as a strategically valuable resource to our country and Cornwall could have important reserves.  There are records from the 19th century of lithium being found in Cornish mines but there was no market for it at the time.

Now that lithium has become a crucial material for the development of electric car batteries, the lithium in Cornwall may represent an important resource. Lithium consumption is expected to grow rapidly over the next few decades as electric vehicles become mainstream. Additional demand is expected to come from power storage batteries that will be used to store electrical power harvested from renewable sources such as wind and solar.

The challenge posed by the study is to understand whether satellite techniques can assist in prioritising areas for exploration for the future production of lithium. The British Geological Survey, the Camborne School of Mines, which is part of Exeter University, environmental consultancy North Coast Consulting and Goonhilly are all involved. I hope that this exciting use of satellite technology will develop a new, less intrusive approach to mineral exploration, which can be exported to the mining industry around the world.

This is a good example of the Industrial Strategy in action, investing in all our futures, supporting inclusive growth in high skilled employment in Cornwall.

I also want to update you on my work with the Stadium for Cornwall partnership. As you know, I have always supported the concept of a Stadium for Cornwall as I believe it could enable the Pirates and Truro City to make progress in their respective leagues. As importantly, it could also provide a great facility for community and children’s sport in Cornwall too. I am pleased to have helped enable the current proposal of a shared, single stadium and am pleased it is supported by Truro & Penwith College who could use the proposed new facilities for a range of educational and training purposes.  Now that Cornwall Council has worked with the partners to develop an investable business plan that the majority of Cornwall Councillors have voted for, I am working with Derek Thomas MP to secure the £3 million taxpayer funding requested by the Stadium partnership from the Treasury.  We have had a number of preliminary meetings. The plans and business case will go through a rigorous process before taxpayer funding is secured and I am pleased that Sports England will be actively involved in this process.

First published in the West Briton 03/05/18

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Supporting high quality local journalism

Last year, as part of the BBC charter renewal process, I campaigned for greater investment in high quality local journalism. BBC Radio Cornwall and Spotlight do a great job but I think we need additional news reporting. As more decisions, including about public expenditure is devolved across the UK, including Cornwall, it’s more important than ever that the media hold to account local politicians and public services.

I am pleased that the BBC set aside £8m a year to pay for 150 reporters, who will work for local news organisations rather than the BBC. The three Devon and Cornwall journalists cover council meetings and public services and share their stories with the BBC.

Getting to the heart of an issue should be straight forward. After all, we live in an age when it has never been easier to communicate and more data is published by independent and trustworthy sources like the Office for National Statistics than ever before. The Parliamentary website is a mine of free, impartial, expert and topical briefings.

Robust high quality journalism is important for public scrutiny and underpins democratic debate – but as print circulations decline and more readers move online, the press faces an uncertain future.

So I am pleased that the government has recently launched a review that will look at the sustainability of the national, regional and local press, how content creators are appropriately rewarded for their online creations, and ensure that the UK has a vibrant, independent and plural free press as one of the cornerstones of our public debate.

Transparency about MPs work in Parliament has helped improve public scrutiny. Given that there isn’t an equivalent to the Hansard Report of everything said and voted on in Parliament, we rely on journalists attending and reporting on local council meetings to shine a light on proceedings. Cornwall Council has large budgets and increasing influence about the future of local NHS services, house building and economic development, yet while some meetings are webcast and some papers published, it lacks transparency.

While the three additional BBC funded local journalists are a step in the right direction, I think more should be done and hope that the review will enable more high quality local journalism.

Finally, in response to a letter published in this newspaper last week, I thought you would appreciate this update on the facts. I had secured the commitment from NHS England to review the formula used to allocate funding not only to local NHS commissioning groups but also for treatments in hospital.

I have requested data from the leadership of the RCHT to make the case for how the formula needs to change for the benefit of patients in Cornwall.

Along with my Cornish MP colleagues we did secure a change in the formula that allocates funding to our local NHS Commissioners that sees Cornwall receiving more than the England average per person. I am determined to secure the further change necessary so the RCHT receives its fair share of funding.

First published in the West Briton 22/02/18

Constituency Boundaries

I really enjoyed joining some of the great, local Christmas festivities and thank everyone involved in organising local events and activities. While out and about some people asked me about “Devonwall”. As there is some confusion about what is actually happening, I thought you might find this update useful.

Firstly, I will clarify the current situation. Constituency boundaries are kept under review to ensure that MPs represent a similar number of constituents at Westminster. The reviews are carried out by the Boundary Commissions for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. These are independent bodies that propose constituencies that must meet the Rules for Redistribution set out by Parliament.

These Rules were changed in 2013 to include the requirement that the House of Commons has 600 seats, a reduction of 50; and the requirement that all these constituencies (with the exception of four island seats) have electorates within 5% of the electoral quota. This is the total number of voters in the UK divided by the total number of constituencies (with the exception of the four island seats and their electorates).

In 2011 The Parliamentary Election and Constituencies Bill was debated and voted upon. It sought to enable the 2015 election to be fought under the Alternative Vote system, provided the change was endorsed in a referendum on 5 May 2011 and boundary changes made to reduce the size of the House of Commons to 600. New rules for the redistribution of seats were designed to give primacy to numerical equality in constituencies and regular redistributions would take place every five years.

Understanding that one of the implications of this Bill would be the possibility of an MP representing Cornwall and part of Devon, all Cornwall’s MPs made the case for Cornwall be treated as a special case. We moved an amendment to the legislation but sadly were defeated. Unfortunately, we simply didn’t have enough support in Parliament.

Subsequently, the legislation went through both Houses of Parliament and the Bill became an Act of Parliament. The Boundary Commissions are currently implementing the Act. That is a public consultation on the proposed boundaries.

Also, as you will be aware, building on the foundations laid when John Major was Prime Minister, the last Prime Minister helped enable the Council of Europe recognition of Cornish Minority Status. This special status is of course being taken into consideration by the Boundary Commission.

After the Commission report in 2018, the Secretary of State must lay their reports before Parliament. The Secretary of State must then lay before Parliament a draft Order in Council to give effect to the proposed boundary changes. This Order requires the approval of both Houses of Parliament. This order is not amendable.

We are very fortunate to live in a democracy where there are a politicians promoting a wide range of views. From what I understand, the basic assertion of the Cornish nationalists is that Cornwall is a separate nation like Wales and Scotland and should be treated as such. While I agree that the Duchy has a unique status within the United Kingdom, I accept that Cornwall is currently part of England and in turn the Union.

I think being part of the Union matters. It matters for the economic stability and jobs that our partnership brings. It matters for the defence and security of our country. It matters because of the common bonds we share right across this United Kingdom. And it matters perhaps even more so now that we are leaving the European Union. I don’t agree with the Scottish, Welsh or Cornish nationalists that want each nation to become independent and break up the Union. I think it is important to build bridges not walls between people, focusing on what unites us rather than what divides us.

There is an assertion that by having one MP represent Cornwall and part of Devon, that Cornwall is in some way diminished or weakened. I don’t accept this assertion. Cornwall remains Cornwall. It’s worth noting that Cornwall’s bishop Tim, a member of the House of Lords, represents Cornwall and some parishes in Devon. This recognises the fact that the border between Cornwall & Devon has moved over time.

It is also worth noting that one Cornish MP, Derek Thomas represents not only Cornwall but also the Isles of Scilly. As you know the Isles of Scilly are not part of Cornwall. This proves to me that it is possible for one MP to represent two distinct areas.

I am very proud of my deep Cornish roots and am proud that along with my fellow Cornish MPs we have delivered significant investment into Cornwall, including the Cornish language, heritage and culture over that last few years. I am confident that we will continue to see investment in years to come.

First published in Wave Magazine

Great British High Street of the Year

Wow! Falmouth won the Best Coastal Community High Street completion, beating entries from across the country. This is a real tribute to the leadership and teamwork of Richard Gates and Richard Wilcox who work day in, day out with a dedicated group of local people, all determined to make the most of Falmouth and develop our community.

Over the weekend, I really enjoyed joining a range of local festive activities and want to thank the many people who organise and support the wide range of activities that make Christmas so special in Cornwall.

Each year, I try and buy as much as possible of my family’s food, drink and Christmas presents from local producers and makers. Each year it is a pleasure to see more and different people bringing their talents to the marketplace. Compared to ten years ago, the range and quality of locally grown and produced food and drink has grown tremendously.

In addition to the hard work of the producers and makers, a huge effort has gone into enabling this to happen from David Rodda, Cornwall Food and Drink, and Cornwall Trading Standards, who have worked very hard to secure protected name status for local food specialities such the Cornish Pasty and the native Fal Oyster.

The purpose of this EU scheme is to protect the reputation of regional products, promote traditional agricultural activity and to eliminate non-genuine products, which may mislead consumers or be of inferior or different character; for example, producers cannot refer to their product as a Cornish Pasty unless it has been produced within Cornwall, following particular methods.

Now that the decision to leave the EU has been made, I am determined to ensure that a replacement scheme is carefully but swiftly put in place to protect our important local food producers.

First published in the West Briton 14/12/16

Regeneration Funding for Hall for Cornwall and Truro Cathedral

I was delighted this week that the government announced that Truro Cathedral has been awarded £500,000 towards a new roof. The money from the First World War Centenary Cathedral Repairs Fund will be used to repair the south aisle and baptistry roof.

Grants totalling £5,423,000 have been awarded to 24 Church of England and Catholic cathedrals for repairs including to stained glass windows, stone pinnacles, and roofs.

Along with many local people I have made the most opportunity of contributing to the cost of the new roof for the cathedral by making a donation and signing a slate that will form part of the new roof. I think the ongoing ‘sign a slate’ campaign is a great opportunity to celebrate a special person or event.

Truro Cathedral is not only a church but a focal point for our community, providing a welcoming venue for many local events and the home for one of the best cathedral choirs in the country. I am very grateful for the team of professionals and volunteers who work so hard, supporting the work of Truro Cathedral. I am very much looking forward to the Nine Lessons and Carols just before Christmas.

The Hall for Cornwall also received good news this week with the confirmation of additional £2.1 million towards the regeneration of the building and the theatre. I recently caught up with Julian Boast the Director of the Hall for Cornwall to learn more about the plans to develop the theatre into a truly magnificent space for performing arts in Cornwall.

With leading theatre companies, composers and artists, we are very fortunate to live in a part of the country that has such a vibrant and distinctive cultural scene and I will continue to do all that I can to support and promote it.

Published in the West Briton 08/12/16