Speaking up for affordable housing for local people

Yesterday in Parliament, I asked the Housing Minister to secure the continuity of the much supported and needed Community Housing Fund.

I am a champion of community led housing and was delighted that the Government responded so positively to my campaign and that of others to establish The Community Housing Fund.  This was first announced in the 2016 Spring Budget, with a commitment to invest £300 million over five years, with the money coming from the proceeds of extra stamp duty on second home sales.

The money was allocated to Cornwall Council and 147 other local authorities, roughly in proportion to the number of second homes in their area and the lack of affordable homes.

I believe the Fund will transform the community led housing sector and is expected to deliver 10,000 homes by 2021.

However, the Fund ends with the end of the current spending period. With over 3,500 homes now in the pipeline it is essential that the Fund is extended for the next Spending Review period so they can be delivered.

Because of the delay to the Spending Review, there will now be a significant period of delay and uncertainty for local groups. Money must be spent by March 2020, so few will bid from this point on.

The Spending Review won’t conclude until the Autumn Statement at the earliest, and there may be further delay in decision making following that. So groups, including those in Cornwall, face an invidious choice: continue working up a project and hope funding comes through, or wait and potentially see it stall or collapse.

In the Social Housing Green Paper the Government acknowledged that housing associations could deliver more if given greater medium term certainty. I think that this is even more the case for community land trusts and other models of community led housing.

I asked the Minister to consider the potential impact of the ‘start-stop’ provision of the Community Housing Fund on Cornwall Community Land Trust’s otherwise healthy pipeline of community led projects which has been fostered over the last two years since the very welcome announcement of the Fund.

Cornwall Community Land Trust is a well-respected enabler of community led housing and it has estimated that the discontinuance of the CHF could put up to 240 community led homes overseen by CCLT at jeopardy in Cornwall, as well as a further 100 from other projects such as Co Housing.

I am sure we can all agree that we need to deliver more genuinely affordable homes for local people so that our coastal communities and villages, that are so attractive to second home owners, can survive and prosper as sustainable communities for generations to come.

It’s important to me that we build new communities not just new homes. So investing in the infrastructure that’s needed, such as roads, cycle and foot paths, schools, community places and spaces and health services is essential. I am pleased to have helped Cornwall Council and our NHS secure new funding to enable this to happen.

First published in the West Briton 11/04/19

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Ensuring Devolution Works for Cornwall

Cornwall was the first county to sign a devolution deal with central government, giving Cornwall Council, NHS Kernow and the Local Enterprise Partnership greater control over how our taxes are spent and our local public services are run. The deal is a great opportunity to improve the health and well-being being of people in Cornwall, as well as grow our economy sustainably. The questions are how we can use the deal to our best advantage and, in relation to issues like climate resilience and extreme weather, whether Cornwall has the answers to its own problems. 

We already know that Cornwall’s green economy is strong: it has been a pioneer of low carbon technology and renewable energy development and is home to some of the UK’s most striking natural landscapes. So, developing our green economy will be central to our plans. As a result of the deal, locally shaped investment and support opportunities are now available for low carbon businesses and social enterprises in Cornwall. 

Exeter University, based at Tremough, has mapped the natural capital value of the land in Cornwall and at a workshop I organised with the Green Alliance we discussed how this information could be used in Cornwall Council’s planning decisions.  

The Duchy has many high-quality food and drink producers that are a key part of our sustainable growth plans, so making the right decisions about land use will be vital. We need the land to produce food, generate energy as well as space for homes, business and recreation, while protecting the ecosystems and natural environment we all value. 

From my discussions with our Local Enterprise Partnership, it is clear that they are on the right track, as a driver of low carbon growth and renewables. It has recognised Cornwall’s advantages in relation to growing its green economy and exploiting its wealth of renewable energy sources, particularly marine and geothermal energy. The LEP is performing a valuable role in bringing the links between business, the public sector and the environment closer and making the most of local expertise.  

The government has set out an ambitious modern industrial strategy, that will ensure as the economy grows, no one and no region is left behind. Green growth is at the heart of this strategy and I am pleased that our local and regional industrial strategy is focused on producing more high-quality food and drink, generating more green energy while contributing to the electric vehicle revolution with lithium extraction as well as investment in satellite technology and space exploration. 

The recent weather serves as a strong reminder that climate change is Cornwall’s problem too. The work of Cornwall Flood Forum is building community resilience and involvement in flood prevention and mitigation. Balancing responsibilities and priorities is complicated, but we have to take the whole community with us to be successful. We know we need to engage all Cornish residents on the nature of our energy future and in thinking about how we value our natural capital, recognising that the Cornish natural landscape is an asset, to be enjoyed and handed down safe to future generations.  

Infrastructure change is too often felt as something done to people, not by them. If we increase engagement and information sharing among Cornish communities on issues around energy, climate change and the natural environment, we will foster a better understanding of our personal environmental responsibilities. An existing initiative showing great results is Carbon Logic, a project tracking people’s personal commitment to tackle climate change through ten ‘pledges’. It has already delivered real carbon reductions while supporting local farmers and businesses. 

To increase local action in Cornwall on global challenges, green growth needs to be a more tangible concept for local people and increasing our sense of participation and ownership of the means to achieve it is vital. 

First published in the Falmouth Packet 30/01/18

Combating Homelessness

Happy New Year! A new year brings new opportunities to make a positive difference in our community. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen. 

Since my early twenties, when I lived and worked in New York, and was so shocked to see people sleeping rough in one of the wealthiest cities in the world, I have been actively involved in tackling this issue. During my time in America, I volunteered in a shelter for homeless men. My voluntary work continued in London and Truro, with the Truro Homeless Action Group. 

I believe that everyone should have a decent, warm and affordable home. Since being elected in 2010, I have been working with Government Ministers, Cornwall Council and local organisations that work with rough sleepers and homeless people to enable us to tackle this issue. 

It all started with making sure that, as far as possible, we have the correct information about the number of rough sleepers. The Government has made improvements to enable people undertaking the rough sleepers count to build up a clearer picture of the scale of the problem. I joined those undertaking the count here and we were able to find many more people than the previous system enabled. This information led to Cornwall Council realising the scale of the problem and more funding from the Government. 

While more money is important, it’s just as important to spend it wisely. Resolving the complex challenges people face requires team work from our public services and support from our community. So I am pleased that new legislation and guidance, that I helped shape, is also enabling this to happen. Sharing what works from around the country is also important. 

I am now seeing much improved collaboration and coordination of local services and that is beginning to make a significant and sustained positive difference. 

Cornwall Council has a Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and with the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd and partners like St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall.  

Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. This year’s count has recently taken place and validation of the numbers of rough sleepers is awaited. I very much hope we continue to see a reduction.  

While we are making progress, I know that there is more to do. If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. Over the Winter there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate until 18 February providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February too. 

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assistive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible. 

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

All of this work is supported by a small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction, Coastline Housing, Truro Homeless Action Group and many churches and local organisations who provide practical and emotional support for members of our community. Thank you to everyone who makes a contribution to help the most vulnerable people in our community. Together, I am sure we can end rough sleeping and homelessness. 

First published in the Falmouth Wave January edition

Tackling Homelessness

Several local residents have contacted me about people rough sleeping on Old Railway Walk from Newham to County Hall and Coosebean/Comprigney to Newmills. As regular readers will know I am determined to eradicate homelessness and have worked hard to ensure that resources are available to enable this to happen.  

I have raised my concerns and those of residents with the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and have been assured action is being taken to help. 

Cornwall Housing Limited has contacted the St Petroc’s Assertive Street Outreach and the Anti-Social Behaviour Team and has raised my concerns with the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Operational Group (CRSOG) and Safer Cornwall Truro Operational Group. 

St Petroc’s have provided assurances that they regularly visit these areas. The individual at Comprigney Fields and the individuals currently at Newham are known to them and are generally engaging with services at either their Truro Resource Centre or the Outreach Team. Cornwall Housing’s Rough Sleeping Link worker is also working with those who wish to engage to find a solution to their rough sleeping and I can confirm that these site visits and works to engage with the rough sleepers will continue. 

The Chief Executive of Cornwall Council confirmed that through the Cornwall Rough Sleeping Reduction Strategy and the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative funding, Cornwall Council, Cornwall Housing Ltd. and partners are making continued efforts to reduce the incidence of rough sleeping in Cornwall. Cornwall reported a 31% reduction in its estimate of the incidence of rough sleeping over the year to November 2017. 

If you see someone rough sleeping call 01872 264153 as help is available. 

Over the Christmas period there will be a number of services operating across Cornwall to support rough sleepers. St Petroc’s Temporary Night Shelter will operate from 17 December 2018 until 18 February 2019 providing 17 spaces. A ‘pop up’ temporary night shelter at the Breadline Centre, Penzance opened on the 5 November 2018 and will provide 8-10 spaces until 18 February 2019.  

Coastline Housing has provided an additional 6 crisis bed spaces which opened on 16 October 2018. This means there are now 18 night spaces which will remain available until the opening of new Crisis Accommodation at Heartlands in April 2019. Furthermore, Coastline are providing two additional Assertive Street Outreach workers to ensure rough sleepers can be identified and assessed as quickly as possible.  

In addition, the Council is introducing further schemes to assist rough sleepers. The Private Landlord Incentive scheme encourages landlords to rent to former rough sleepers by mitigating the perceived risk of taking them as tenants through increased deposits, an additional 10% of LHA payment, limited void cover and a point of contact if problems arise. 

The Short Term Accommodation Resettlement (STAR) scheme is providing additional accommodation with support for rough sleepers before they move on to settled housing. 

Finally, thank you to the small army of volunteers who support St Petroc’s, Addaction and Coastline Housing.  

First published in the West Briton 13/12/18

Tackling Poverty

There is much debate about poverty in the UK.  To have an effective debate in our open but fragile democracy, we need to have objective information to consider. Over time a range of measures of living standards and poverty have emerged. Some are calculations of the amount of money people need for what society considers the essentials of life. There is much debate on what is considered essential. Other measures are about comparing how much money different groups of people have to live on compared with other groups. The most commonly reported measures of poverty use this relative poverty approach. So if average incomes were £1 million, people earning £400,000 could be deemed to be living in relative poverty. Relative poverty measures mean that, whoever is in government, there will always be people deemed to be living in poverty. 

It’s an important debate, but I am more focussed on the people living here who are struggling to make ends meet and putting more money in their pockets.  Long before I was elected as your local MP, I worked hard to help people out of poverty. When I was Director of Age Concern England, I campaigned to end pensioner poverty. Since being elected I have continued my work with people who are all too often overlooked. They need help from their families, friends, employers, communities, as well as local and national government agencies.  

The most fundamental need is for a decent, warm and affordable home. Housing costs are the biggest part of living costs for many local people, especially for those on the lowest incomes. 

Although it has taken much longer than I and many Cornwall Council employees had hoped, Cornwall Council leaders are now beginning to use the powers they have been given and their financial resources to build more social and genuinely affordable homes and to drive up standards in the private rented sector. It is thanks to this government’s new Homeless Prevention Act and the ramped-up regulation of landlords that Cornwall Council is now focussing on this issue. I am delighted that it has recently said that it will buy homes for homeless people rather than pay for bed and breakfast accommodation. 

Some people need financial help too. Thanks to good partnership working, including with Cornwall Council, Universal Credit is helping local people. The more tailor-made support local work coaches can offer people in and out of work is a significant improvement on the previous complex benefit system it replaces, where too many people missed out on support they were entitled to. It’s a major reform being introduced carefully. Lessons are being learned and improvements made. I work closely with local, impartial, expert welfare advisers, taking up issues identified and securing positive changes in processes as well as extra funding. We spent £264 billion on welfare in 2017, 34% of government expenditure. Some benefits for people who can work are capped (£20,000 per year for couples and lone parents). Pensioner and disability benefits are not capped. 

First published in the West Briton 29/11/18

Supporting constituents in Fuel Poverty

Last week I was delighted to welcome the Minister for Energy and the Industrial Strategy to Cornwall to see for herself the innovative work that the Winter Wellness Partnership and, more recently, Warm and Well Cornwall have been doing. This effective partnership is making real inroads into a long standing, stubborn problem by doing things differently. Helping people on modest incomes stay warm and well in their homes by improving energy efficiency remains a priority for me. New technology is playing an important role, for example, free energy efficient central heating systems are being installed in homes in fuel poverty. Most of us take living in centrally heated homes for granted but there are too many cold homes in Cornwall without it. Last week’s Government announcements were welcomed by the partnership as they will enable us to build on our work of helping over 7,200 homes and 16,000 people to stay warm and well in winter by funding more help for more people.

New technology has the ability to improve many aspects of our lives. I am encouraging local businesses to apply for a share of £40million of government funding to develop new ways of charging electric vehicles. Electric vehicles significantly improve air quality, boost the environment and reduce costs for motorists. It’s vital we ensure the charging infrastructure is in place so we keep pace with demand. The government wants nearly all cars and vans to be zero-emission by 2050. A major challenge will be to grow the UK’s charging infrastructure quickly enough to make electric vehicles an attractive choice. The government has launched two competitions, with £40million up for grabs. The first focuses on charging vehicles in public spaces, to support people who don’t have suitable off-street parking. The second focuses on wireless charging of commercial vehicles, such as taxis and delivery vans.

There are so many innovative businesses in Truro, Falmouth and Cornwall as a whole, and it would be great to see some of them secure funding and lead this revolution in UK transport.

The deadline for applications for both competitions is midday on 29 August 2018.

Projects must be led by a business, working with other companies, local authorities, research organisations or charities.

New technology is also important for improving our local NHS. So last week I was delighted to see that the new Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, has earmarked the NHS in Cornwall for a tech-funding boost of over £4 million.

The funding is part of a half a billion pound national package, available immediately to the NHS, to roll out innovative tech aimed at improving efficiency, enhancing patient safety and helping more patients access health services at home.

A good example is Scan4Safety where barcode tracking in hospitals is enabling staff to track all patients and their treatments, manage medical supplies and the effectiveness of equipment.

The funding will be formally allocated once our local NHS and care improvement plan, ‘Sustainability and Transformation Partnership’ is submitted and approved.

First published in the West Briton 26/07/18

Working to reduce plastic pollution and provide security for tenants

Thank you to everyone who responded to the recent government consultation exploring how changes to the tax system, or charges, could be used to reduce the amount of single-use plastics we waste by reducing unnecessary production, increasing re-use, and improving recycling.

Last week, I met with the Treasury Minister responsible for this important policy area to discuss ideas developed with local people. I was assured that the government will consider all options for using the tax system to address single-use plastic waste and to drive innovation, and will use the evidence gathered to inform that process. The government wants to look broadly across the whole supply chain, from production and retail to consumption and disposal, in order to gain the best possible understanding before deciding on the best course of action.

Since being elected I have worked with Surfers Against Sewage on their campaign to prevent plastic entering our precious natural environment, especially the sea. In Parliament I support their work and am pleased that we introduced the 5p single-use plastic bag tax that has seen a dramatic reduction in their use. The use of microbeads in everyday products has been banned too. Thanks to many local initiatives to reduce single use plastic, particularly the work in schools with young people, positive change is happening.

Last week I was also delighted to welcome new moves to enable people to have longer and more secure tenancies. The Secretary of State for Communities proposed the introduction of a minimum 3-year tenancy term, with a 6-month break clause, to help renters put down roots, and give landlords longer term financial security.  According to government data, people stay in their rented homes for an average of nearly 4 years. But despite this, 81% of rental contracts are assured shorthold tenancies with a minimum fixed term of just 6 or 12 months.

Local people tell me that this can leave them feeling insecure, unable to challenge poor property standards for fear of tenancies being terminated, and unable to plan for their future or contribute to their wider community. Although tenants and landlords can already agree longer terms between themselves, the majority choose not to do so. Under the proposed longer term agreement, tenants would be able to leave before the end of the minimum term, but would have greater protection if they wanted to stay in a property for an extended period of time.  Being able to call your rental property your home is vital to putting down roots and building stronger communities.  Landlords play a vital role in providing homes to many local people and the proposals ensure that longer tenancies help them avoid costly periods while they search for new tenants and offers them flexibility to regain their properties when their circumstances change.  The government understands that some landlords worry about the time it can take to gain possession of their property in the courts. The consultation runs until 26 August 2018.

First published in the West Briton 12/07/18