Campaigning Until the End

The poster promoting this year’s Parliament Week says “It all begins with you”. Our democracy does begin and indeed depends on engaged and well-informed citizens. To help citizens make informed choices, easy access to accurate and impartial information about the work of their elected representatives in Parliament, including their voting record is needed.

Arguably we live in an age when it is easier to access information than ever before. But the owners or editors of social media platforms from which many people gather information and shape their opinions don’t have any responsibility or incentive to provide accurate and impartial information about MPs work and voting records. There are no real deterrents to misrepresentation. Citizens often base their opinions about MPs on how they vote on particular issues. Not all votes are equal and some of our most important decisions are taken without a division. But most people don’t know this. I have received many communications from constituents, misrepresenting the facts, derived from the far from perfect reporting of MPs voting records on websites such as They Work For You.

This I believe is contributing to the poisoning our politics, corroding people’s trust in MPs and threatening the very foundations of our Parliamentary democracy.

Right now there is no trusted source of impartial, accurate information about MPs voting records and actions in Parliament to help you make informed choices. I am delighted that both the Leader and Shadow Leader of the House, accepted my challenge and agreed to work with Hansard to develop a new service, in addition to their excellent verbatim reporting of Parliamentary proceedings, to provide impartial, contextualised information on MPs voting records.

In the next Parliament this will need careful consideration and cross-party support and will do a great deal to shore up the foundations of our Parliamentary democracy and overtime restore trust in our politics.

This was my last week in Parliament and it was difficult to leave. While it has been a challenging time, being the local MP for my hometown was a job I loved and was the greatest privilege.

Thank you to both those people who sent me to Westminster to be your representative and those that didn’t but did work constructively with me here. Together over the last nine years or so we have made a positive difference. Here are just a few of our achievements: modernising the Coastguard Service, with Falmouth open 24/7; more naval vessels in Falmouth for years to come; the creation of Falmouth University and the development of Exeter; more funding for our NHS; more young people receiving a better education and apprenticeship opportunities; more people employed, keeping more of the money they have earned; new buses and trains with more frequent services; new cycle routes; inspiring new businesses and investment into Cornwall’s clean growth economic strategy.

Most importantly, new legislation, including on plastic reduction and a new net zero carbon target, will enable us to leave the environment in better condition for the next generation.

First published in the West Briton 06/11/19

Supporting farming and nature

As the crops in the fields are ripened and harvested, it’s a good time to think about how important our local farmers, food and drink producers are to our local environment, economy, community and wellbeing.

It may surprise you that Cornwall Council’s Farm Estate is made up of more than 10,800 acres, or approximately 1.5% of Cornwall’s land area, and lets 91 farm units to tenant farmers, employing around 11,000 people.

Last year the Council launched a review and inquiry into the future of the estate taking evidence from 39 witnesses and made recommendations for a new Council Farms Strategy. Cllr Martyn Alvey did a great job. Residents, farmers and businesses have recently been asked their views on the plans through a public consultation.

The draft Cornwall Council Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039: Farming with Cornwall’s Nature has been developed around four key ambitions to: increase business opportunities for tenant farmers, contribute to environmental growth, provide more countryside opportunities and support people’s health and wellbeing while creating a more sustainable estate.

The strategy outlines the ways in which the Farms Estate will provide more opportunities for new entrants to farming to start their careers and support them to build their businesses.

It pledges to encourage tenant farmers using diversification methods by helping them develop their farm products to be more competitive.

To boost environmental growth the Estate plans to give greater support to tenants in expanding wildlife habitats, protecting heritage assets, managing regenerated soils, improving water quality, planting more trees and increasing sustainable energy.

It also wants to increase job and business opportunities in the countryside, encourage more people to get out into the natural world and provide supported agriculture schemes for residents and community groups to develop growing opportunities.

To help businesses’ financial and environmental sustainability, the Estate will introduce the Whole Farm Plan to set out agreements between landlord and tenant on the expected performance of farms.

We know that farming practices which benefit nature can also be highly productive for food production and support local ecosystems in our unique Cornish landscape.

I am delighted that Cornwall Council has undertaken this important work and that the strategy recognised that their Farms Estate can act as a catalyst for positive change within the farming sector to produce food for the nation and to play a part in the transition to low carbon agriculture which is critical if we are to tackle climate change.

I am pleased that the strategy recognises the importance of enabling more people and communities to get involved with growing food and enhancing and developing new ecosystems.

In addition to allotments and gardening clubs, there are many great examples of community groups such as Chyan Community Field in Penryn and the newly established Community Garden at All Saints Church in Mylor Bridge. Each provide opportunities for people to learn from each other about how to grow plants and enjoy the fruits of their labours. Each provide a beautiful haven for wildlife and humans to enjoy together. Spending time with nature is good for our health and wellbeing.

While there is funding to develop existing parks and green spaces, as well as creating new ones such as the Pocket Parks Scheme and Plastic Bag Levy, it is vital that Cornwall Council helps more groups with their expertise too.

Planting more trees is a great way to improve our natural environment, improve air quality and reduce carbon dioxide. The Woodland Trust makes free trees available to a wide range of organisations from schools and colleges, from nurseries to universities. Also, to community groups such as sports clubs, parish councils, the guides and scouts. Packs of trees are available for a range of purposes from creating a copse to planting a hedge. There is a great deal of information on their website and now is the time to think about what you might do. Trees can be ordered now for delivering and planting in November.

As a result of our historical industries of mining, wooden ship building and farming, we have fewer trees than most parts of England so a great opportunity exists for planting and restoring a canopy of trees over Cornwall.

We can all play out part in supporting our gorgeous natural environment and it is good to see this strategy and others providing opportunities for one and all.

The draft Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy 2019 – 2039 and Cornwall Council’s Farms Strategy – Consultation Summary along with the actual survey can be found by visiting: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/farmstrategy

First published in the Falmouth Wave August edition

Plastic Free Conference

I am grateful to Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team for working with me on an event at the Penryn campus last Friday. 

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. 

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/ 

First published in the West Briton 01/08/19

MP calls for RFA vessels to be classed as warships

TRURO and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton is pressing the MOD to class Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships as warships.

Mrs Newton said: “I have consistently asked the MOD, in future procurement to reclassify RFA vessels as warships. This will enable them to be more easily built
in Britain. I was delighted that last week, during an Urgent Question on the situation on the Gulf, I was able to secure this positive answer to my question.”

Addressing the then Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Mrs Newton said: “I welcome my right hon. Friend’s prescient remarks in recent weeks about the need to expand our naval presence. To help with that, will he ask the Defence Secretary to change the
classification of our much-valued Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships to warships, as our allies classify them, so that we can bring forward the building of planned new ships in the UK?”

Mr Hunt replied: “I have just asked the Defence Secretary that very question, to which the answer is yes.”

Is an RFA ship a warship? Some pundits claim they are, with RFA personnel undergoing Royal Navy courses, the fitting of Phalanx guns, helicopters and small arms. The government until now strongly disagreeing, claiming the RFA ships are non-combatant
vessels.

Government policy is that defence procurement should be subject to open competition except when the UK judges it needs to protect its operational advantages and freedom of action for reasons of national security. This was outlined in a 2012 White Paper and,
regarding surface vessels, reaffirmed in the 2017 National Shipbuilding Strategy (NSS) report.

“For reasons of national security, all Royal Navy warships (destroyers, frigates and aircraft carriers) will continue to have a UK-owned design, and, will be
built and integrated in the UK. Warship build will be via competition
between UK shipyards.”

The two Fleet support ships (FSSS) planned for the RFA are at the heart of the NSS report. The £1billion order for the ships that will service the UK’s £6.3billion Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers will provide work for 16,000 people.

Under current legalisation the ships are exempt from EU procurement rules. The MOD has consistently said that it will run a full international competition to build the ships which are not classified as warships as such.

In another debate the National Shipbuilding Strategy was discussed along with the future procurement of the planned Fleet Solid Support Ships (FSSS) for the RFA and through life contracts with UK shipyards.

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, said: “It is important to highlight that the industry
also has spin-offs into other sectors. When people see a ship being built, they concentrate on the hull and superstructure—what they can see—but the real value and expertise in a complex warship today are in not only what it is made of, but the through-life support.
That creates jobs in a whole range of sectors and ensures that those jobs are maintained over the life of the ship. We must protect skills; the sector cannot be successful,
and we cannot keep our sovereign capability, without investment in skills.”

Mrs Newton replied : “I am very proud that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is based in Falmouth. As he says, we have a valuable throughlife contract. I wholeheartedly
agree that the ships should be built in the UK, and we are proud to have the opportunity to service them.

“It is vital to have such highskilled, well-paid jobs in a peripheral area such as Cornwall, which has low wages. Those jobs are vital to our local economy. When decisions are made about procurement, they should be about not just the price tag on the vessel, but the contribution that those industries make to the regional economy.”

Written by David Barnicoat. First published in the Falmouth Packet 31/07/19

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

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