Welcoming the Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Act

There is so much happening in Parliament that doesn’t get reported that I have decided periodically to use this column to highlight some of that work. Work that will improve the lives of my constituents and people across Cornwall and the UK. 

The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Act was introduced to Parliament in July 2017 as a Private Member’s Bill by Kevin Hollinrake, Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton, with government support. It received Royal Assent on 13 September 2018 and is expected to come into force in 2020. It will give all employed parents a day-one right to 2 weeks’ leave if they lose a child under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy. Eligible parents will be able to claim statutory pay for this leave. This is the first law of its kind in the UK. 

Recognising that the law needs to cater for a variety of family circumstances, the government has confirmed that those who are eligible will be widened beyond parents to all primary carers for children, including adopters, foster parents and guardians. 

It will also cover more informal groups such as kinship carers, who may be a close relative or family friend and have assumed responsibility for the care of the child in the absence of the parents. 

Dealing with the loss of a child is an awful tragedy which people will deal with differently. It is important this new law is designed so that people are given the space and respect to grieve in their own way. 

Following feedback from parents and employers, the government last week published its response to the public consultation and announced further details about how the new right will work: leave can be taken either in 1 block (of 1 or 2 weeks) or as 2 separate blocks of 1 week: it can be taken within a 56 week window from the child’s death so as to allow time for important moments such as anniversaries; notice requirements will be flexible so that leave can be taken without prior notice very soon after the child’s death; employers will not be entitled to request a copy of death certificate to use as evidence. 

We are very fortunate to have wonderful local organisations that can support people at such a difficult time. Once such organisation that I have visited is Penhaligon’s Friends, a Cornish charity supporting bereaved children, young people, parents and carers throughout the county. They offer children and young people the chance to meet others and share their experiences, as well as practical resources for children and parents. 

Over the years the organisation has grown and there are now 5 full time and 4 part time staff members and a dedicated team of over 80 volunteers. They have increased their partnership working with other agencies, thus broadening the opportunities for Cornish children and families to receive optimum support. This essential work also helps to prevent mental ill health that can sometimes accompany bereavement. 

 First published in the West Briton 08/11/18

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Welcoming the 2018 Budget

The hard work and sacrifice of many local people making their contribution to tackle the huge hole in our public finances left by the last Labour government is beginning to pay off. Remember the note left for us in 2010, “I’m afraid there is no money”.  

On Monday, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility gave its verdict on our economy. It was a positive picture with public finances now under control. We are no longer borrowing to pay for our day to day expenditure on public services. As long as we stick with our sensible and balanced approach to managing public finances our national debt is forecast to fall each year. The economy is growing. We have record levels of employment and wages are rising.  

As our economy is growing the Chancellor has committed to sustained increased investment in our public services, most notably the NHS, and is providing Cornwall Council with additional funding for children and adult social care. New investment to support people of all ages experiencing mental ill health and funding for air ambulances will make a real difference here. 

I know that there are many local people who work very hard and have felt the pinch over the past eight years. So I am pleased that the Chancellor continues to increase the National Living Wage that we introduced by nearly 5 per cent, from £7.83 to £8.21 in April. This will deliver a £690 annual pay rise to a full-time worker, taking the total annual pay rise since its introduction to £2,750.  

We are also fulfilling our promise to cut income tax one year early, so that people keep more of what they earn. We will raise the personal allowance to £12,500, saving a typical basic rate taxpayer £130 compared to 2018-19 and £1,205 compared to 2010-11. 

We are freezing fuel duty for the ninth year, saving the average car driver a cumulative £1,000 since April 2010 and local businesses even more, as well as cutting business rates for local small businesses.  

I am pleased to see some additional investment in our local schools. This year, on average, each primary will receive £10,000 and each secondary £50,000 to purchase equipment to support opportunities for young people. Cornwall is one of five areas that will benefit from a share of £200 million to pilot innovative approaches to deploy full fibre internet to primary schools, with a voucher scheme for homes and businesses nearby.  

As a campaigner for life-long learning, I am pleased that the Budget allocates £100 million for the first phase of the National Retraining Scheme. This will include a new careers guidance service with expert advice to help people identify work opportunities in their area.  

The Clean Growth agenda of our Industrial Strategy is promoting sustainable growth and tackling climate change so I want to ensure local people already in work have the opportunity to improve their health and wellbeing by changing careers and join growing businesses that are offering well paid employment.  

First published in the West Briton 01/11/18

Removing barriers to disabled people on our high streets

Shopping is an integral part of our day-to-day lives, from heading to the local shops or supermarket to get our groceries to looking for clothes and gifts on our high streets and villages. 

Sadly, there are often barriers that prevent shopping from being an enjoyable experience for disabled people and those with health conditions. 

A poll by disability organisation Purple found that more than half of the disabled people they surveyed were concerned about overcrowding. A similar proportion said they had left a store or abandoned a purchase because of a poor customer experience. 

Many people often choose to shop online thanks to advances in technology, but poor access can extend to the internet. For example, some people miss deliveries because they haven’t been given enough time to answer the door. 

While these issues are felt even more acutely in the fast-approaching peak Christmas shopping period, inadequate access isn’t limited to the festive season. 

A lack of provision of facilities such as Changing Places toilets can mean that disabled people might just choose to stay at home, rather than getting out and socialising, while poor staff awareness can make shopping more hassle than it’s worth. 

Businesses that don’t make reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled customers not only risk breaking the law, but they are also missing out on the £249 billion spending power of disabled people and their families. 

In my experience, most businesses aren’t intentionally excluding their disabled customers – they just need more guidance to help them become more inclusive. Many people tell me that they are worried about saying or doing the wrong thing. 

That’s why I’m joining forces with Purple for the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day on Tuesday 13 November. The day will see retailers – in store and online – introducing new measures to make shopping a more inclusive experience, sending a powerful message that they care about all their customers and that their business matters. 

It’s often the small changes that can make a big difference to people’s experiences. Providing staff with disability awareness training and making simple changes such as having quiet hours or clear walkways can all help improve the shopping experience for disabled customers. 

More than 100 national retailers are already involved with Purple Tuesday, including some of the UK’s most recognised names such as Sainsbury’s, Marks and Spencer and Argos. 

Purple Tuesday is a significant step forward in showing retailers how important it is to recognise the needs of their disabled customers. Purple have produced a website of free information, tools and marketing materials so any retailer can join in and serve all their customers well.  

You can find out more about Purple Tuesday at www.purpletuesday.org.uk . I hope that more local retailers will join Purple Tuesday so that they can benefit from the spending power of disabled people and their families and show that Cornwall’s businesses are playing their part in building an inclusive community. You can share your experiences on social media using #PurpleTuesday. 

Supporting jobs at Falmouth Docks and other local businesses

I have been celebrating with A&P their success in winning a valuable ten-year MOD contract that will secure skilled employment in the docks and could enable investment for the long term in our port infrastructure.  A&P have a large supply chain of local businesses that provide goods and services to their operation so the benefit of the new £239 million contract will be felt far beyond the dock gates. 

Small and medium sized businesses are the life blood of our local economy so I listen carefully to their ideas and concerns. Two concerns often arise from our conversations; not being paid on time and the cost of utility bills, especially energy, water and telecoms. 

Following on from actions such as improvements in access to quality business advice and finance for small businesses and the appointment of the small business commissioner, the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy unveiled more policies last week. 

While over the past five years the amount owed to businesses in late payments has halved, we need to make sure all our small businesses are treated fairly.  So, a new consultation seeks ideas on how best to close this unacceptable gap.  

This will help identify the most effective way possible to tackle this issue once and for all and ensure small businesses are on a level playing field with their larger counterparts. 

According to BEIS, nearly a quarter of UK businesses report late payments as a threat to their survival, and research from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) indicates that tackling a late payment culture could add £2.5bn to the UK economy and keep 50,000 extra businesses open each year. 

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “Late payment is the biggest challenge affecting small businesses and it is good to see the government getting serious about this issue, especially when it comes to large firms paying their supply chains promptly. The voluntary prompt payment code is not working when it allows signatories like Carillion to pay on terms of over 120 days, so we want to see a new tough and transparent compliance regime being proposed.” 

While government is leading the way in paying its bills on time, it aims higher with a target of 90% of invoices paid within 5 days.  I am asking Cornwall Council to review its policy to enable faster payments. 

The government also announced an independent review of utilities regulators to ensure that they are fit for purpose.  It is essential that regulators develop resilient utilities, able to face the challenges and opportunities of our time as well as improve outcomes for customers.  While it has become easier to switch energy suppliers, I believe that smart regulation and smart new technology could make it even easier. All too often loyal customers have inferior deals to those offered to new customers, so it’s important that we take action to prevent people and businesses paying more than necessary and enable more switching to low or no carbon suppliers of our energy.  

First published in the West Briton 11/10/18

Thousands of people with poor mental health are losing their jobs

We spend much of our lives at work, but stigma can stop us from being honest with our colleagues about how we’re really feeling.

An estimated 300,000 people lose their job every year because of a mental health problem. Many might have remained in employment if they had been given the right support.

Speaking at the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) today, I am calling on all senior managers, including chief executives, to make a real, tangible commitment to improving workplace culture surrounding mental health.

This isn’t an issue for other businesses to deal with, or something we can leave HR to worry about. The leaders of any organisation are pivotal in shaping its culture and exemplary behaviour has to start at the top.

The conversation around mental health has moved on substantially over the past few years, to the point that it can sometimes feel like we’re continually being bombarded. Awareness is important, but it’s not enough.

We need real cultural change in every workplace across the country to ensure that anyone experiencing poor mental health feels supported.

We’ve made good progress on supporting people with mental health conditions to get into and stay in work, with a whole range of support on offer. For example, we’re investing £115 million in partnership with the NHS, more than doubling the number of employment advisers in improving access to psychological therapies services.

Our new Work and Health Programme is investing £500 million in tailored employment support, helping disabled people and those with health conditions into a job. And our access to work scheme, which has a specialised mental health support service, has supported over 12,000 people. More than 90 per cent of people who have used the service remain in employment.

The government has an important role to play in supporting people with a mental health condition, but we can’t do this alone.

For any leader there are many ways to make mental health a priority. I want to focus on just one of these approaches by encouraging every senior manager to hold themselves accountable and agree to have one of their performance-based objectives on improving mental health.

The public sector is leading by example. The performance objectives of every permanent secretary, the top civil servant in each government department, are now linked to the mental health standards recommended in the independent Stevenson-Farmer review of mental health and employers.

This might feel daunting for some. The mental health charity Mind found that while employers wanted to make mental health a priority, a third didn’t know where to go for information or guidance.

That’s why it’s so important that today Mind is launching its new Mental Health at Work Gateway. The gateway allows employers to search resources that could support a colleague, challenge stigma, or simply learn more about mental health in the workplace.

My vision is of a society where everyone has the opportunity to fulfil their potential and no one loses their job because of poor mental health. It’s now time for every leader in every sector to take responsibility for creating an environment in which people feel able to disclose their mental health condition and get the help they need to thrive at work.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/it-might-feel-like-we-re-continually-being-bombarded-about-mental-health-but-workplace-culture-needs-to-change-7cbcsxrh7

Supporting our great Cornish food and drink industry

I’ve enjoyed welcoming friends and family to stay over the summer, particularly sharing the gorgeous food and drink made in Cornwall. Of course, our local seafood is second to none and it’s great to see Harbour Lights nominated for another prestigious award.  

I personally appreciate everything farmers do to feed us, keep our soils rich, our rivers clean, to provide habitats for wildlife and to help in the fight against climate change and broader environmental degradation. And I want to see farmers better rewarded for these vital public services. 

I know that farmers would not be in a position to provide these public goods, indeed we would not have the countryside we all cherish, without successful, productive, profitable farm businesses. 

More than that, without successful farm businesses and high-quality food production we won’t be able in the future to maintain the balance and health of our whole society and economy.  

Our community depends on profitable agricultural businesses to thrive. While our coastline draws tourists from far and wide, so do our landscapes that depend on farmers for their maintenance and upkeep. Our hotels, bed and breakfasts, restaurants and pubs depend on high quality local produce and a healthy local food economy to be at their best. 

That’s why I have been spending time listening to our local food producers as the Government consults on the future, outside of the EU, of the Common Agricultural Payments Scheme. I believe that if we get policy right for those who produce our food we can ensure sustainable and balanced growth across the United Kingdom, we can ensure the investment is there in the future, not just to make the countryside and the country as a whole flourish. We can enhance our environment, provide rewarding employment for future generations, improve the physical health and well-being of the population and leave the environment in a better state for our children and grandchildren.  

In the past, the concerns of farmers and food producers were given insufficient weight in the design and implementation of UK Government policy. 

This was defended by some on the basis that the major policy decisions governing farming and food production were taken at European levels through the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy. Since UK ministers and civil servants had little room to shape, let alone, reform the CAP’s operation there was, it was argued, little justification for expending energy thinking hard about food policy. 

This failure was all the more lamentable because the food and drink industry is Britain’s biggest manufacturing sector. It’s also Britain’s fastest-growing, with our export growth over the last few months having been driven by massive increases in food and drink sales. 

So we can now have, a strategy that is designed to integrate the concerns of everyone involved in food and drink production – from farm to fork – to develop the right policies for the future. That food strategy is at the heart of the broader Industrial Strategy.  

The Food and Drink Sector Council is an industry-led board composed of businesses from every part of the food chain. From primary producers to retailers. Among the Council’s priorities are sustainability, productivity, nutrition, exports, workforce and skills, innovation, logistics and packaging. 

Drawing on the real world experience the people on the Council will be working closely with Government in shaping future policy. Along with the Government’s 25-year plan for the environment, I believe that we have a real opportunity to grow more of our own food and leave the environment in better shape for future generations. 

First published in the West Briton 30/08/18 and Falmouth Packet 05/09/18

Supporting the development of new technologies

Britain’s world-leading researchers and entrepreneurs will benefit from an additional £780 million to create the technologies of tomorrow, the Chancellor announced last week. 

This new funding will expand successful ‘catapult centres’ which are fuelling innovation across the country as part of the UK’s ambitious, modern Industrial Strategy. This new funding backs Britain’s brightest talent – supporting work in high-tech labs, cutting-edge factories and advanced training centres. 

The catapult network supports sectors and technologies that are going to be in high demand in the years ahead. It brings together the best of UK business, science and engineering to work side by side in research and development to ‘catapult’ products from ideas to market. It helps remove barriers to growth, which often can include access to finance, inadequate facilities or skills shortages. 

So far this has helped create hundreds of new products, services and inventions, including a portable pollution sensor that parents can attach to a child’s buggy, cellular therapies to fight cancer and improve recovery of stroke victims, LED treatment for blindness, and more-efficient wings for aeroplanes. 

While unemployment is at its lowest since the 1970s, our national debt is starting to fall, and the economy has grown every year since 2010, there is still more to do to build an economy fit for the future. This £780 million investment will support innovators across the country to create the technologies of the future, and the better, highly-paid jobs we urgently need. 

The UK has a reputation for innovation and is building on this strength with the largest investment in research and development in 40 years. This is part of our balanced approach, getting debt falling while investing to create more opportunities for the high-skilled, well-paid jobs of the future. 

In their first five years the catapults have supported around 3,000 small businesses to develop and exploit new technologies. They operate in world-class facilities and are also training hundreds of apprentices and doctoral students, such as at the High Value Manufacturing Catapult where in the last year 900 apprentices have gained invaluable practical experience with cutting-edge technologies used in modern manufacturing. 

The catapults are private entities, which work in close partnership with Innovate UK, part of UK Research and Innovation and industry. Started in 2011, the catapult network is based on successful international models (e.g. the German Fraunhofer Institutes), which generate income from a balance of public grant, collaborative R&D awards and commercial contracting (in a 1:1:1 ratio). 

I want to see our Local Enterprise Partnership seriously consider enabling new catapults in Cornwall. Cornish Lithium, based at the Tremough University campus, is a good example of innovation in modern mineral and extraction technology, producing a vitally important material for the batteries we will need for the electric cars that will motor our way towards a carbon free future. 

Energy generation from offshore floating wind is another area of global leadership based in Cornwall that could benefit from this catapult approach.  

First published in the West Briton 23/08/18