Looking Back at 2016

2016 will be remembered as the year Britain chose to leave the European Union and for the U.S. Presidential Election, the results of which challenged conventional expectations. I will remember saying good bye to David Cameron, who was a good friend to Cornwall and welcoming Teresa May on her first visit to Cornwall as our new Prime Minister.

2016 has seen some important successes for our constituency, too many to list in the 300 words permitted! Ensuring local people have genuinely affordable, decent homes to rent or buy remains a top priority. We have made progress including: enabling enforcement of improved housing standards; reduced costs for tenants; more affordable homes for local people.

I was delighted to secure the commitment from Government that stamp duty on the sale of second homes will be used to support more community led housing. Cornwall Community Land Trust will be receiving money to build up their capacity to help more local people into new homes and new trusts could bring old buildings into use for homes.

Improved funding of our vital public services, including education and policing depends on a strong economy and growing businesses. I am pleased that we have record numbers of men and women of all ages in employment here. While there is more to do, wages are rising and income taxes are falling.

Local businesses are making good use of the Cornwall Growth Hub that was set up this year to provide a one stop advise and support service for local businesses.

One area that is not doing as well as I would like is our local NHS and social care services. Despite the hard work of those on the front line, increased resources and more local decision making, ensuring better progress in 2017 is essential.

Happy New Year!

First published in the West Briton 28/12/16

Employment in Truro & Falmouth

Last week we learned that unemployment in Truro & Falmouth, the number of people claiming the key out of work benefits, has fallen by 565 – a 42 per cent drop – since 2010.

As well as unemployment continuing to run at a 10-year low, the number of women in work is at a record high and youth unemployment is also significantly reduced. Across the country, there are 31.8 million people in work, up by 2.7 million since 2010 – that’s well over 1,000 jobs created on average every day – and average wages excluding bonuses grew by 2.6 per cent over the last year.

This is good news but there is more to do to help people of all backgrounds and abilities into work. Also to help people already working into more secure and better paid employment opportunities.

Building an economy that works for everyone means making sure everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential, providing the security of a regular income so they can provide for themselves and their family.

That includes investing in education and skills training for people of all ages. Thanks to the dedication of teachers in our local schools we are saw continued progress in 2016. Truro & Penwith College is one of the best in the country. Local employers are embracing apprenticeships and opportunities to work with graduates from our local universities.

I will continue to do all that I can to support improved educational opportunities.

Having campaigned for many years for a revision of the funding formula used to allocate resources to our local schools, I was pleased last week that the Government launched a consultation that recognises the challenges for schools in sparsely populated and relatively deprived communities like ours. I hope all schools will participate in this consultation to help me secure fairer funding.

Published in the West Briton 21/12/16

The Government’s support for the Istanbul Convention shouldn’t come as a surprise

Earlier this month, in a Commons debate on violence against women and girls, I was profoundly moved to hear several of my fellow MPs share their own deeply personal experiences of these horrendous crimes.

I commended then, as I do now, their courage in standing up to share these harrowing stories. Only by speaking out and confronting this kind of abuse can we begin to ensure that all women and girls are protected from violence and that those who would cause them harm are brought to justice.

In 2012, the Government signed the Istanbul Convention. In doing so it sent a message that perpetrators of gender-based violence had no place in a Britain that works for everyone, and that victims and survivors could count on our care and support.

Next Steps

Today, the Government supported a Private Members Bill underlining our commitment to take further steps to ratify that Convention. This should come as no surprise as we have always been clear in our support for the Istanbul Convention and its important role in prompting action against gender-based violence around the world.

To comply fully with the Convention we must first amend our laws on extra-territorial jurisdiction, allow the prosecution of certain offences when they occur outside our national borders, and we will make these will changes as soon as Parliamentary time allows.

This Government has worked tirelessly to ensure that victims are supported, perpetrators are brought to justice and everything possible is done prevent these heinous crimes from happening in the first place. Because of these efforts I am proud to say that in nearly all areas the UK is fully compliant, and in many cases our measures go significantly further than the Convention requires.

In March we pledged increased funding of £80 million as part of the Violence Against Women and Girls strategy. New laws, including the criminalisation of forced marriage, new stalking offences and the inclusion of coercive control as a form of domestic abuse are all helping to ensure that abusers are brought to justice.

And only last week we announced the introduction of a new stalking civil protection order, which will allow police and the courts to act swiftly to protect victims in cases of ‘stranger stalking’.

The Government is also taking world-leading action against so called ‘honour-based violence’ and has greatly strengthened the laws on female genital mutilation and forced marriage. In these areas, as well as offences against children, the UK already has extra-territorial jurisdiction, ensuring we can prosecute those who seek to go abroad to commit these vile crimes.

As a world leader in tackling violence against women and girls, we are committed to ratifying the Istanbul Convention. This is a global fight that can only truly be won through global co-operation.

Until then the Government will continue to work with law enforcement agencies and communities at home and abroad to look at what more we can do to protect victims and potential victims, and bring offenders to justice.

First published in INews: https://inews.co.uk/opinion/governments-support-istanbul-convention-shouldnt-surprise/

Great British High Street of the Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

First published in the West Briton 14/12/16

Regeneration Funding for Hall for Cornwall and Truro Cathedral

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in the West Briton 08/12/16

Domestic Abuse

I was pleased to visit staff and volunteers at Twelves Company in Threemilestone on Friday to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

Twelves Company are an award winning charity that provides specialist support to victims, men, women, girls and boys of sexual violence and domestic abuse across Devon and Cornwall. They run REACH which is a gateway and single point of contact for domestic abuse in Cornwall. The helpline is open weekday working hours on 0300 7774777.

They are partners in Safer-Cornwall who ran a Domestic Abuse Awareness Week by holding a number of public events throughout the Duchy from Monday 21 to Friday 25 November.

The week was a celebration of the partnership working between the public, private and voluntary sector organisations across Cornwall, the primary aim of which is to continually improve community safety across the county.

Last year there were 8,223 reported incidents of domestic abuse to the police in Cornwall.   In addition, during the same period, the specialist domestic abuse and sexual violence services have received over 6,300 referrals from individuals wanting support and advice. Domestic abuse accounts for 13% of all crime and 37% of all violence.

Domestic abuse is a ‘hidden crime’ and National Domestic Abuse Awareness Week is important. It is an opportunity for all services to highlight the wide range of fantastic support that is on offer, encourage people to seek help and stand side-by-side to show commitment to a zero tolerance of domestic abuse and sexual violence in Cornwall.

This year Safer Cornwall focused its Domestic Abuse Awareness week on people aged 60+. Older people experiencing domestic abuse can face particular barriers to accessing appropriate support services and so it is important to raise awareness of the specific needs of such victims.

 

Published in the West Briton.

Devonwall

A few people have contacted me about the so called “Devonwall” Parliamentary constituency. There has been some party political campaigning around the proposed changes of Parliamentary constituency boundaries, so I am very pleased to have this opportunity of addressing the concerns raised with me.

Firstly, I will clarify the current situation. Constituency boundaries are kept under review to ensure that MPs represent roughly the same number of constituents at Westminster. The reviews are carried out by the Boundary Commissions for England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. These are independent bodies that propose constituencies that must meet the Rules for Redistribution set out in statute. These Rules were changed in 2013 to include the requirement that the House of Commons has 600 seats; and the requirement that all these constituencies (with the exception of four island seats) have electorates within 5% of the electoral quota. This is the total number of voters in the UK divided by the total number of constituencies (with the exception of the four island seats and their electorates).

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

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

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

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

Secondly, I will comment on some of the general points raised around this issue. We are very fortunate to live in a democracy where there are a politicians promoting a wide range of views. Cornish nationalists take every opportunity to pick fights with what they call ‘Westminster politicians’ and stir up grievances. The Scottish and Welsh nationalists adopt a similar strategy, trying to undermine politicians like myself who are not only very proud of our deep Cornish roots but also support the Union.

From what I understand, the basic assertion of the Cornish nationalists is that Cornwall is a separate nation like Wales and Scotland and should be treated as such. While I agree that the Duchy has a unique status within the United Kingdom, I accept that Cornwall is currently part of England and in turn the Union.

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

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

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

Also, I expect that when the next boundary review is undertaken, the population of Cornwall will have grown and we should have enough people eligible to vote, if all those eligible to vote actually register, to prevent the current situation.

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

Cornwall Council is the first non city council to have signed a devolution deal with the Government that is enabling many more decisions to be made in Cornwall rather than Westminster. I am a keen supporter of this devolution, although I am very disappointed with the leadership of Cornwall Council’s attitude to most parish councils and hope that following elections in May 2017, the new Cornwall Council will deliver a ‘double devolution’ to people and communities in Cornwall.

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

There have been some comments about the motivation of Cornish MPs when deciding how to vote in Westminster. I can assure you that how I decide to vote is based on three principles; firstly what I think it is in the best interests of my constituents; secondly delivering the manifesto commitments I was elected to do and finally what is morally right. Our manifesto in 2015 was clear about implementing the Act. During the General Election campaign when asked about this issue, I made my position totally clear. I said I would vote to implement the Boundary Commission changes. I believe that voters voices having equal value is a cornerstone of our democracy.

While I wish we were not in this position, and tried to prevent it from happening, I firmly believe that being your elected representative is about doing the right thing, even if it is not popular.