How farming can help address the climate crisis

I never expected to have a Conservative MP come and visit me to hear my views on agricultural policy, but that’s exactly what has recently happened. A few months ago I wrote to Sarah Newton, MP for Truro and Falmouth, inviting her to attend a lunch/seminar arranged by the Landworkers Alliance at Westminster. She replied to say that she would attend the seminar, but would also like to hear my views and could she come and visit Karen, my partner, and I at Trevengleth?

Well, this was too good an opportunity to miss. I’m not an expert on agricultural policy, but I know a few people who are. So the meeting was arranged, Sarah Newton was informed that “a few friends and neighbours would like to come and meet her” and on a Friday we spent nearly two hours discussing what the UK should do if we have the opportunity to rewrite agricultural policy after Brexit.

I suppose the meeting could be described as an ambush. The ‘few friends and neighbours’ were mostly organic farmers and environmental campaigners with pretty clear ideas about how farming needs to change if we are going to deal with climate change. We met before Sarah arrived and decided to focus on just three issues. Firstly, the farm subsidy system is ridiculously complex and needs to be simplified. Secondly, subsidies should reward carbon sequestration and improving water quality and flood mitigation. Thirdly, planning obstacles to people who genuinely want to work on the land must be removed.

There was a great deal of expertise on these issues in the room. Chris Jones from Woodland Valley Farm has converted to a system of regenerative farming that has already sequestered 3,500 tonnes of carbon back into their soil and his reintroduced beavers and their dams have substantially reduced flooding in the village downstream.

Oliver Baines also attended. Along with Chris Jones, Oliver, from Bodinnick Farm, is part of an agri-tech funded study by Duchy College and Plymouth University to develop methods of measuring soil health and carbon sequestration. Other ‘friends and neighbours’ included local organic beef, dairy and vegetable farmers as well as the Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

We explained to Sarah exactly why our proposals were so important for making farming sustainable and combating climate change and she nodded, wrote copious notes and said “absolutely” about a hundred times. Tea and cake were shared and the MP departed.

So what happened next? To be fair, we expected very little. Our ideas were certain to be lost among Brexit and the impending election. Not quite. Just three days later Sarah spoke in the parliamentary debate on the Environment Bill and raised precisely the points we had made. Then, a few hours later, she announced that she wouldn’t be standing in the forthcoming election. Was it something I put in the tea?

Written by Chris Bird. First published in Country Smallholding magazine

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

Welcoming the Environment Bill

This week I was to delighted to speak in the landmark Environment Bill debate. The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and the environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economies as the first to do so.  This Environment Bill is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery.

I welcome the new tools the Environment Bill provides to help manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, enabling nature recovery and enhancing well-being and quality of life.

The new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions.  CAP payments to farmers need to be replaced with more straightforward financial payments to landowners, incentivising carbon sequestration and improving water management. Focussing on these two areas will lead to healthier soils, better quality food and nature recovery.  I have seen from my visits to many farms in Cornwall that nature recovery goes hand in glove with producing more high-quality food.  Stewardship of the land undertaken by farmers can be as important as that undertaken by our much-valued Cornwall Wildlife Trust.

While Parliament has been taking world leading action on the climate and nature recovery, too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on and what they can do to help.  This needs to change as, all too often, I see misrepresentation of the facts or even lies being spread. People are missing out on vital information that would enable them to make a positive difference.  It’s not just our air, our water and soil that’s being poisoned – it’s our politics too. The Government needs to invest in easily accessible, independent and expert information on what action is being taken across all sectors of our society to deliver our net zero and nature recovery targets – a detailed road map for each year.  Information is power and I want to enable everyone and every workplace to make informed choices and take action as well as have clear visibility about what the Government and all parts of our society is doing.

After the General Election, we need a unifying national endeavour to bring us all together, and I believe this is it.  But today, this lack of easily accessible, accurate and impartial information is poisoning debate and risks destroying the radical political consensus that currently exists that we must leave our environment in better condition than we found it.

First published in the West Briton 30/10/19

Tackling Climate Change

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife. The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economy as the first to do so. 

This week the Government brought the Environment Bill to Parliament. This is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery. 

The Environment Bill provides new tools to help manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, and enhancing well-being and quality of life. It will engage and empower citizens, local government and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. 

It will transform our environmental governance by creating a new system which is built on international best practice and tailored specifically to a UK context. It embeds environmental principles in future policy making and takes the essential steps needed to strengthen environmental oversight and improve on the way things have been done in the past. The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens. Environmental principles will work together to protect the environment from damage by making environmental considerations central to the policy development process across government, local and national. The Bill legally obliges policy-makers to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when choosing policy options, for example by considering the policies which cause the least environmental harm. 

A new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions. Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs; the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) and a new framework for setting long term legally binding targets will be integral to this cycle. The government will set new legally binding targets in four priority areas of the natural environment: air quality; waste and resource efficiency; water and nature. The EIPs and legally binding targets will be reviewed on a five-yearly basis and together they will drive action to significantly improve the natural environment and provide much-needed certainty for businesses and stakeholders. 

In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law. 

I am pressing the Government to invest in easily accessible digital, independent and expert information on what action is being taking across all sectors to deliver our net zero and nature recovery targets, including a detailed road map for each year. Information is power and I want to enable everyone and every workplace to take action and to hold the Government to account. The U.K. is taking world leading action to ensure we leave our environment in better condition than we found it. Too few people know where to go to find out what is actually going on, what they can do to help and what support is available to help with transition. This needs to change as, all too often, I see misrepresentation of the facts or even lies being spread. People are missing out on vital information that would make a positive difference. 

Post Brexit, we need a unifying national endeavour to bring is all together, and I believe this is it. 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 30/10/19

Welcoming landmark Environment Bill

The UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. Yet we know we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target.

Now the Government must outline a strategy, concrete policies and a road map on how we are going to get there. Climate change and decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive, and action must be taken across our whole economy.

I am confident that we can do this. Why? Because there is comprehensive concern and support for action. We are an imaginative, creative, innovative nation and have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. What’s good for nature is good for human health and wellbeing.

Every week I have meetings with people from a wide range of organisations – all fully invested in seeing us succeed in meeting our net zero target. In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and why we need to take action and the conversation moves onto the how and when they can play their part.

If we are to harness this enthusiasm and expertise, we will first and foremost need to provide more information about the Government’s plans. Not everyone will read the 277-page Committee on Climate Change (CCC) net zero report, or even the 630-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming, or the daily announcements on action to reach net zero coming from different government departments.

It’s hard for businesses, public sector organisations or individuals to find impartial, accurate information about how they can make an impact by making changes. In going for net zero, we need to bring people with us, and that means empowering them to make different choices. The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.

This should be provided in one place, where any individual, councillor, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Information for business and public sector organisations about how to access support to innovate too.

We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up an Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.

Businesses also have an important role to play. It has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets, such as the water industry which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030. To give hope to the citizens who are so worried about climate change this information should also be captured so people can see what all sectors of our society are doing. To level up the expectation on all businesses to take action, the Government should require goods for sale to include climate impact on their labelling. The requirement could cover items of food, electronic goods, and so on. It would help consumers make smarter choices when shopping and get companies measuring the carbon footprint of individual products. This will add a cost to business and that is why we must create a level playing field by insisting it is provided. We don’t want to see businesses doing the right thing undercut by those that don’t.

Information is power and will enable every workplace and home to make smarter choices. All this activity needs central coordination and I would like the government to introduce a new ‘net zero test’ for every Budget and Spending Review, to ensure all new government spending and investment is aligned with the target or at least isn’t harming decarbonisation efforts. The Government could ask the independent Office for Budgetary Responsibility (OBR) to scrutinise whether the test was being met.

All the businesses I speak with want some clarity and certainty about what the government wants them to do, so they can start pricing in the changes they will need to make. Many see this as an opportunity not only to do the right thing but to innovate and reach new markets. Government departments and their arm’s length bodies should lead by example by making their buildings more energy efficient and switching to low emission transport. This will save money as well as carbon.

The climate change movement fails when it fails to bring people with it. As we saw in France, we have to make it clear why action to tackle climate change matters and ensure people aren’t left behind as we transition to new cleaner industries. It can’t just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society, everyone is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement them.

Post Brexit we need a unifying national purpose and I believe this is it. By enabling comprehensive action across the whole of society, with everyone involved, we can now start rebuilding a truly United Kingdom. One we can all be proud of.

First published in the Falmouth Wave November 2019 edition

Welcoming the new Environment Bill

The case for tackling biodiversity loss, climate change and environmental risks to public health is clear. The accelerating impact of climate change in this country and around the world is of profound public concern, as is the damage to nature with species loss, habitat erosion and the disappearance of cherished wildlife.

The Government has already taken action to address climate change by setting a target to reach net zero emissions, leading the way amongst major economies as the first to do so. This week the Government brought forward the Environment Bill. This is part of the government response to the clear and scientific case, and growing public demand, for a step-change in environmental protection and recovery.

The Environment Bill helps to manage the impact of human activity on the environment, creating a more sustainable and resilient economy, and enhancing well-being and quality of life.  It will engage and empower citizens, local government and businesses to deliver environmental outcomes and create a positive legacy for future generations. The Environment Bill has been prepared through consultations with the public on numerous measures in the Bill, including: environmental governance; the clean air strategy; biodiversity net gain; trees; conservation covenants; extended producer responsibility for packaging; recycling; deposit return schemes and water.

These joined up measures will help us manage the environmental challenges we are facing together. It will transform our environmental governance by creating a new system which is built on international best practice and tailored specifically to a UK context.  The new system will be clear and accessible, providing certainty to businesses and citizens.  The Bill legally obliges policy-makers to have due regard to the environmental principles policy statement when choosing policy options, for example, by considering the policies which cause the least environmental harm. A new statutory cycle of target setting, monitoring, planning and reporting will help deliver significant, long term environmental improvement and ensure government can be held to account for its actions.

Statutory Environmental Improvement Plans (EIPs; the first being the 25 Year Environment Plan) and a new framework for setting long term legally binding targets will be integral to this cycle. We will set new legally binding targets in four priority areas of the natural environment: air quality; waste and resource efficiency; water and nature. The EIPs and legally binding targets will be reviewed on a five-yearly basis and together they will drive action to improve significantly the natural environment and provide much-needed certainty for businesses and stakeholders. In order to strengthen environmental accountability, the Environment Bill will establish a new public body – the Office for Environmental Protection (OEP) – as our own independent, domestic watchdog. Through its scrutiny and advice functions, the OEP will monitor progress in improving the natural environment in accordance with the government’s domestic environmental improvement plans and targets. It will be able to provide government with written advice on any proposed changes to environmental law.

First published in the West Briton 16/10/19

Raising the issue of climate change

The UK leads the world on tackling climate change. We have decarbonised faster than any major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990. Yet we know we need to go further and faster, which is why Parliament supported the world-leading net zero target. Now the Government must outline a strategy, concrete policies and a road map on how we are going to get there.

Climate change and decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face. Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The impacts could be irreversible. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive and action must be taken across our whole economy.

I am confident that we can do this. Why? Because there is comprehensive concern and support for action. We are an imaginative, creative, innovative nation and have what it takes to rise to this challenge. It’s an opportunity to grow our economy more sustainably. Every week I have meetings with people from a wide range of organisations fully invested in seeing us succeed in meeting our net zero target.

In every meeting, there is agreement on what the challenge is and the conversation moves onto the how and when they can play their part. If we are to harness this enthusiasm, we will first and foremost need to provide more information.

Not everyone will read the 277 page Committee on Climate Change (CCC) net zero report – or even the 630 page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on the impacts of 1.5 degrees of global warming – or the daily announcements coming from different government departments. It’s hard for businesses or individuals to find accurate information about how they can make an impact by making changes. In going for net zero, we need to bring people with us, and that means empowering them to make different choices.

The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.

This should be provided in one place, where any individual, council, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Opportunities for business to access support to innovate.

We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up a Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible  apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.

Information is power and will enable every work place and home to make smarter choices.

I would like to see a new role created in the Cabinet Office that coordinates all Government policy and plans to reach net zero. Government should lead by example and each department has a role to play from making their buildings more energy efficient to switching to low emission transport.

Businesses also have an important role to play. It has been great to see businesses come forward with their own net zero targets, such as the water industry which has committed to carbon neutrality by 2030.

The climate change movement fails when it fails to bring people with it. As we saw in France, we have to make it clear why action to tackle climate change matters and ensure people aren’t left behind as we transition to new cleaner industries.

It can’t just be about distant international summits with acronyms that few people understand. When the UK hosts the international UN climate summit in Glasgow next year, it must ensure that every sector of society, everyone is involved in the conversation. With an issue as big as climate change, we need everyone’s collective brainpower to find the right solutions and we must have everyone on board if we hope to implement them.

First published in the House magazine 09/10/19.

MP calls for ‘Climate Impact Labelling’ on all goods

As the Extinction Rebellion protest continued across the road, Truro and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton led a debate in Westminster Hall this morning on the government’s 2050 net zero emissions target.

London police have made more than 300 arrests as climate-change protesters, labelled “uncooperative crusties” by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, continued two weeks of civil disobedience to push for more to be done to protect the environment.

On Monday, the Extinction Rebellion group took action in several countries including Britain, Germany, Austria, Australia, France and New Zealand as they lobby politicians to go further in cutting carbon emissions.

The protests are the latest stage in a global campaign for tougher and swifter steps against climate change coordinated by the group, which rose to prominence in April when it snarled traffic in central London for 11 days.

London police said 319 arrests had been made by the end of Monday. Speaking at an event on Monday evening Johnson said: “I am afraid that the security people didn’t want me to come along tonight because they said the road was full of uncooperative crusties,”

The Extinction Rebellion group wants Britain to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2025 rather than the government’s 2050 target.

Inside The Palace of Westminster, Newton led a busy debate on how the government plan to get to their own self imposed target.

The Truro MP suggested that to “level up the expectation on all businesses to take action the government should require goods for sale to include climate impact on their labelling – the requirement could cover items of food, electronic goods and so on. It would help consumers make smarter choices when shopping and get companies measuring their carbon footprints of individual products” She admitted it would add a  cost to business so that was why it was crucial to make a level playing field by implementing it on all goods.

“Climate change and the decline of our nature is the most serious threat we face” the Truro MP said. “Unchecked, it will lead to more extreme weather events such as floods and droughts, damage precious natural habitats, and cause sea levels to rise. The impacts could be irreversible. The response must therefore be similarly comprehensive and action must be taken across our whole economy.”

She claimed that ‘there is no doubt’ that the UK leads the world in tackling climate change.

She said “We’ve de-carbonised faster than any other major economy, reducing our emissions by 38% since 1990” she told the gathering of MPs from all sides. “But we all know we need to go further and faster”

Newton said that as the UK has committed itself to the zero net carbon target it needed to set out a road map to get there. She said that as the potential consequences of climate change will be felt across society then the reaction to it now must be made in a similar widespread fashion.

Caroline Lucas intervened at one point to promote the Green Party idea of Citizen’s Assemblies and bringing the net zero target forward but Sarah Newton said the Independent Committee on Climate Change set up by the 2008 Act had set 2050 as a realistic target and said a 2030 target is not deliverable.

Newton said there was an appetite within the general public to do their bit but they needed a one stop shop type information centre to guide them to success.

“The Government can provide that information by sharing its data and expertise on, for example, the smartest way to get to work or school, what local British food is in season and sustainably grown, and the suppliers of the cleanest forms of electricity and heating.This should be provided in one place, where any individual, council, business or student can find out all they need to know to reduce their carbon footprint. Opportunities for business to access support to innovate.We have world leading universities and tech companies and I would like the Government to set up an Eco Tech Innovation Fund so we can harness this expertise to create user friendly and accessible apps and websites that seamlessly compile impartial and accurate data and explain what people can do and how they can access support.”

Newton also said she would like to see a new role created in the Cabinet Office that coordinates all Government policy and plans to reach net zero. “Government should lead by example and each department has a role to play from making their buildings more energy efficient to switching to low emission transport” she said. She also suggest each departmental budget gets analysed for its positive or negative impact on the net zero target by the independent Office of Budget Responsibility (OBR).

In a lively debate, speakers also included St Ives MP Derek Thomas, Luke Pollard, Tim Farron and Melanie Onn.

Kwasi Kwarteng MP was there for the government as Minister for Energy and Clean Growth. He hinted focus would now be on the COP26 conference in Glasgow next year when the UK government hoped to persuade other countries to join the 2050 target.

First published on Cornish Stuff 08/10/19: https://cornishstuff.com/2019/10/08/mp-calls-for-climate-impact-labelling-on-all-goods/

Securing investment in our public services

I was delighted to sit in on a monthly ‘team talk’ of RCHT staff and had the pleasure of handing out certificates to staff nominated for the NHS Parliamentary Awards. These are prestigious annual awards, judged by senior NHS clinicians as well as the head of NHS England, Simon Stevens.  Linzi Lancaster and her team were SW regional winners and I was pleased to learn more about their important work while I was at Treliske. It is always a pleasure to recognise the brilliant staff in our local NHS.  

It was good to hear the really positive feedback from staff following this week’s news of a major investment of just under £100 million pounds into new facilities at Treliske. This, I was told, was the largest single investment in the hospital since it was built. This new funding will enable the building of a new Women and Children’s hospital as well as creating a new entrance.   

It follows the good news in December of just under £35 million investment into Haematology, MRI and Oncology services. The building work for this investment needs to be completed before the work on the Women’s and Children’s hospital can start.   

I visited the staff on the wards currently providing these services to learn more about the plans. While enormous effort is being made to deliver high quality, safe care in the current wards there is no doubt that the new facilities are much needed. As the population of Cornwall grows, and medicine and treatments evolve, more space is needed. There is also the opportunity for the specialist teams at RCHT to offer more services in the community, with new clinics in other health care settings across Cornwall as well as in people’s homes.  

I also followed the pathway which patients take when coming into A&E. It was good to see at first-hand how changes have been made to improve patients’ experience. Of course, there remain huge challenges, especially around partnership working with other parts of the health and care system in Cornwall, but I will continue to fight for the resources that are needed to provide safe, high quality health and care services in Cornwall. 

I have also met with GPs and Public Health staff at Cornwall Council. While funding for our local NHS increases each year, and recent injections of cash for adult social care are welcome, we know there is more to do, especially with our community hospitals and achieving a long term, cross party solution to the funding of adult social care. As a General Election is in the air, please be assured that the NHS has no plans to close Falmouth Hospital. Sadly, some of my political opponents do run these scare stories. 

It’s not just our local NHS that is receiving additional funding, but our local police, schools and Cornwall Council. 

I have been working with Cornwall Council, to develop the Britain’s Leading Edge campaign that I helped to launch in Parliament in July. It has a simple premise: for the nation to achieve its potential every citizen needs the opportunity to realise theirs and that we need to unleash the economic opportunities of every region of England, not just those with a large city. The campaign demonstrates the systematic bias in public funding allocations that leaves regions without large cities receiving less funding than those that do. Now is the time to correct this historic bias.  

This is particularly important now as Cornwall and many of the English regions that make up Britain’s Leading Edge are already making great contributions to tackling the greatest challenge we face in climate change and habitat and species loss. Britain’s Leading Edge provides a significant amount of renewable energy and food for the nation. We have the potential to do more. I want to see Falmouth supporting a growing offshore floating wind industry.  

We are making progress.  Historically, Cornwall’s schools receive less per pupil funding than some others, so I am delighted that the f40 campaign, of which I am a member, has been successful. Our schools will be receiving more funding in each of the next three years. I pressed the government to communicate the actual amounts each school will receive and this should be announced in mid–October and I will publish an update on my website http://www.sarahnewton.org.uk 

First published in the Falmouth Wave October edition

Supporting local work to reduce plastic pollution

Even though our youngest child has graduated, so there are no more preparations for the beginning of a new academic year, I still see September as a month of new beginnings. September is not only the start of a new academic year for school aged children but for many adults starting an apprenticeship or a course at college. It is great to see the wide range of choices of excellent opportunities available for people of all ages here. 

It’s also the time that we welcome many new, young people into our community as they join our local universities. New academics and their technical support teams too.  

I recently organised a very useful event with Professor Peter Hopkinson, Director of the Centre for Circular Economy at the University of Exeter’s Business School, and his team at the Penryn campus. 

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.   

As many of us give of our time to beach cleans and litter picking in our communities we are only too aware of how much plastic ends up in our precious natural environment and the damage it does there. 

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/  

This project reminded me how fortunate we are to have Exeter University in our community. As a result, local people are working alongside world leading academics and shaping national policy for the benefit of our community, our country and our planet. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave September edition