Closing tax loopholes to fund our NHS

On Tuesday night the House of Commons voted down the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement.  The Prime Minister showed great statesmanship in the immediate aftermath of the defeat. She made a statement inviting the Opposition parties to table a vote of “no confidence” in the Government.  Jeremy Corbyn MP had previously threatened this but not delivered but on this occasion did accept the challenge. 

I hope the Prime Minister wins and on Monday she will make a statement setting out a plan that will enable MPs from all parties to work together to find a solution to the current impasse.  

I have a section on my website dedicated to the EU referendum and regularly update it. I am easily contactable and always happy to listen to or read the opinions of my constituents. 

Despite Brexit grabbing the headlines, my daily work for you continues at pace. Many and varied issues are raised with me during my weekly constituency meetings. Sometimes these require changes to a particular “system” and working with local people to do this is a rewarding part of my role, especially when I am able to help to bring about positive change.   

A good example was a local business person who told me how overseas sellers were undercutting his business by selling their products online and not paying their fair share of taxes. Having raised this with Treasury Ministers, HMRC has taken action and in 2016 introduced new powers that has enabled the collection of £200m lost VAT. HMRC recently reported issuing over 4,600 ‘red flag’ notices to online marketplaces such as Amazon, ASOS, Etsy and Ebay since 2016. 

The number of overseas businesses making applications for VAT registration has grown to 58,000, in comparison to just 1,650 applications between 2015 and 2016. 

These new rules protect thousands of local entrepreneurs as well as enabling previously uncollected taxes to fund our vital public services. This is just one tax avoidance and evasion measure amongst more than 100 introduced since 2010 that has generated more than £200 billion revenue. 

As regular readers know, I work closely with our local NHS leaders, doctors and nurses. During meetings with local GPs the impact of the increasing costs of indemnity insurance on their ability to provide local GP services was discussed. I raised these concerns with the Department of Health and after a great deal of work with the medical profession, I am pleased that a solution has been found. 

April this year will see the launch of the long-awaited government backed GP indemnity scheme. This was announced in October 2017 and will cover all practice staff performing clinical roles under a General Medical Services (GMS), Personal Medical Services (PMS) or Alternative Provider Medical Services (APMS) contract. 

The scheme will be free at the point of use and will cover all practice work, as well as extended and out of hours services. This will enable more GPs and healthcare professionals to work flexibly and improve the accessibility of healthcare services that we all depend upon.

First published in the West Briton 17/01/19

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Supporting High Streets in Truro & Falmouth

New Year sales shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops and markets selling a wide range of locally produced items, including food and drink. There is no doubt that our local high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.   

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.    

Building on previous business rate reductions and increases in the VAT threshold, Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  While out Christmas shopping I heard first hand from local independent retailers the positive difference these savings are making to their sustainability. 

From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a further business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets fit for the future.  

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.   

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures.   

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties, helping prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street.  

The government is also taking longer term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created.  

Wishing you and your family a Happy New Year! 

 First published in the West Briton 27/12/18

International Day for Persons with Disabilities

Monday was the International Day for Persons with Disabilities. It is a United Nations-led day, and the theme this year is “Empowering persons with disabilities and ensuring inclusiveness and equality”. 

To mark this occasion, I launched a new stakeholder engagement forum to bring the voices of disabled people closer to Government, especially those living outside London. I also launched a call for new Sector Champions to improve accessibility of services for disabled people. 

I often meet disabled people who tell me about the challenges they face in work, using services, or simply trying to buy goods in a store or online. For retailers, this is a lost opportunity as they are missing out on £249 billion annual spend of disabled people and their families. 

I believe these initiatives will contribute to delivering our vision to create a society that works for everyone, where all can participate fully and be included, and to our progress on implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. 

The Network will create face to face and online forums for disabled people to share their views and experiences about policies and services that affect disabled people and will complement existing stakeholder relationships across Government. I hope local people will join our regional network. 

To bring about change, my Ministerial Retail Forum was instrumental in supporting the UK’s first ‘Purple Tuesday’ on 13 November 2018. It was funded and organised by the disability organisation Purple. Over 500 organisations signed up to take part, of which 50 were disability organisations. Hundreds of thousands of retail staff engaged in accessibility and inclusivity initiatives, supported by a range of campaign resources to help improve retail awareness of what good customer service means for disabled people. The venture was popular with the public too: it trended on Twitter and was reported by many major news and broadcast networks. 

The new Sector Champions for the countryside and heritage, product design, website accessibility, fashion, technology, food and drink will build on the work of my current 14 Sector Champions who work across diverse sectors – from music to insurance, and from arts and culture to transport.  They use their influential status as leaders to drive improvements to the accessibility and quality of services and facilities in their sector. 

Finally, I was pleased to work with Channel 4 and Purple Space, who have, together with a range of Disability Confident employers, produced a short film entitled “I don’t work properly”.  The film features disabled colleagues from a range of Disability Confident organisations talking about disability employment, along with Last Leg presenter and comedian Adam Hills. Channel 4 has created a destination www.Channel4.com/purple to accompany the film and act as an information hub for those interested in disability employment challenges. You can also view the film at: https://youtu.be/sIxNyE6IHhI 

There are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded

Imagine you went to the shops tomorrow and the shutters were down. Now imagine you tried to buy a concert ticket but the website was closed for business. Would you be happy?

Of course you wouldn’t. But for thousands of disabled people in this country getting access to services is a trial of endurance. Spending billions of pounds to boost our economy is a trial of endurance.

That’s why today, International Day for Persons with Disabilities, I’m focused on a top priority – to stop disabled people from being excluded from the everyday activities that many people take for granted, while also helping businesses realise that it’s in their interest to include their disabled customers.

With the spending power of disabled people and their households – the Purple Pound – estimated at almost £250 billion each year, it’s a no brainer.

Our sector champions are tackling the issues facing disabled consumers across every area of their lives, from seeing themselves represented in TV adverts to ensuring stress-free train travel.

Our music champion, Suzanne Bull, has launched a new industry taskforce aimed at improving the experience for deaf and disabled customers when booking tickets for live music events.

Meanwhile, our insurance champion Johnny Timpson is bringing together representatives from the insurance industry, regulatory bodies and charities for the first time to look at how to make the sector more accessible to disabled people. This is a great step forward, and begins to tackle an issue disabled people and my constituents often raise with me, that they are denied insurance or charged a premium that they believe does not reflect the true impact of their condition.

And last month I worked with Mike Adams, CEO of Purple, and our retail champion Samantha Sen to launch Purple Tuesday, the UK’s first ever accessible shopping day. It was a huge success, with hundreds of thousands of retail staff, up and down the country, taking action to demonstrate their commitment to including all of their customers.

But there are still too many areas where disabled people are regularly excluded.

Just last week a Citizens Advice survey found that almost one in three disabled people have missed a home delivery because they were not given enough time to get to the door.

And we know that disabled people are almost ten times as likely to report being limited in taking part in leisure activities compared to non-disabled people.

So today, I have announced that I want to appoint six new champions to build on the successes we’ve seen so far.

The new champions will cover the technology, food and drink, website accessibility, fashion, countryside and heritage and product design sectors.

By showing other businesses the importance of making disabled customers a priority, our new champions will ensure disabled people aren’t missing out on the experiences and services that form an integral part of our everyday lives, whether that’s socialising with friends or keeping up with the latest trends.

Access is inextricably linked to opportunity, and it’s important that everyone plays their part in ensuring disabled consumers can spend their money wherever and whenever they want to – just like everyone else.

First published in Politics Home 03/12/18

Looking after our high-streets this Christmas

Christmas always starts for me when I join the throngs in Falmouth listening to the Harmony Choir. Everyone will have their own festive favourites from the live nativities and Santa runs to some welcome innovations such as the Science at Christmas event at the Poly, enabled by Exeter University.  

Christmas shopping is such a treat with so many wonderful shops in Falmouth and Penryn where we can buy our Christmas presents and locally produced festive food and drink. There is no doubt that Falmouth and Penryn high streets are a crucial part of our communities and local economies.  

However, the rapidly changing behaviour of many customers presents a significant challenge for retailers in our town centres and I am pleased that the government announced in the recent budget more action to help our local town centres to evolve.   

Our Plan for the High Street was one of the announcements.  From April 2019 small retailers will benefit from a business rates discount, cutting their bills by a third for two years. The discount will be available to occupied retail properties with a rateable value below £51,000. Up to 90% of all retail properties will benefit, subject to state aid limits. This represents a maximum saving of around £8,000 per property per year. A retailer with an annual bill of £16,203 in 2019-20 (based on a rateable value of £33,000) will save £5,401 a year. In total, the relief is worth almost £900 million to retailers. The relief will be available to a range of retail properties including, but not limited to, shops, restaurants, pubs and hairdressers and local newspapers. 

To support the transformation of the high street, the government will create a £675 million Future High Streets Fund which will support the establishment of a new High Streets Task Force to help local areas make their high streets and town centres fit for the future. 

This will provide hands-on support to local areas to develop innovative strategies to help high streets evolve, connect local areas to relevant experts and share best practice. 

The fund will also support the regeneration of heritage high streets, helping Historic England restore the historic buildings that make our high streets special and become destinations that people want to visit.  

It will also support community groups looking for affordable space by trialling a service to register empty properties. The government is taking further action to strengthen vital community assets, including a 100% business rates relief for public lavatories, many of which are run by our town and parish councils. This is something I have worked with Falmouth Town Council to achieve. Cornwall Council will be fully compensated for loss of income as a result of business rates measures. This may seem like a small thing but it will save our local councils vital taxpayers’ money.  

The government will also trial a register of empty commercial properties to help prospective retailers to find empty properties and help local people tackle fragmented ownership on their high street. 

While the business rates discount will provide up front support to the high street, the government is taking long term action to help high streets and town centres evolve and keep up with changing consumer behaviour so that they can remain at the heart of local communities. The £675 million fund will also invest in improvements to town centre infrastructure, including increasing access to high streets, reducing congestion, supporting redevelopment around high streets and enabling housing and new workspaces to be created. 

The government will consult on modernising planning rules to ensure that they support the transformation of the high street. There will be two consultations on supporting the conversion of commercial properties into offices or homes and the implementation of new mixed-use business models that could form the vibrant high street of the future and on how to support local areas to use other planning tools more effectively. 

It just remains for me to wish you a very happy Christmas and a healthy and happy 2019.  

First published in the Falmouth Wave December 2018 edition

 

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

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