Thursday, 28 April 2011

Council Tax Frozen

The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has confirmed that councils across England will freeze their council tax this year.  All eligible councils have signed up to the Government’s council tax freeze initiative and Cornwall Council is no exception.
This means that residents living in a Band D home for example, will save £71 this year.  This contrasts starkly with the continuous rise of council tax under the previous Government which increased the tax by 125% in Cornwall since 1997.  This represents a staggering £811 rise over the 13 years of the last administration.
Times are tough and I am all too aware of the difficulties that families are facing.  I am absolutely delighted, therefore, that we have been able to help reduce the burden by keeping the level of council tax right where it is.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Welcoming new dementia unit on the Roseland

Over 7000 people call for 24 hour cover to be retained at Falmouth Coastguard

7, 459 people, equivalent to a quarter of the population of Falmouth, have added their names to the Falmouth Packet’s ‘Save our Station’ petition, calling for Falmouth Coastguard to remain open 24 hours a day.   

I will deliver this amazing response, and the strong message from the community it represents, directly to Parliament.

Ministers are listening closely to Falmouth’s clear call for 24 hour cover to be retained as the future shape of the Coastguard service continues to be discussed.    

Campaigning for a fair future for our farmers

Regular readers of this column will be aware of my passion for locally produced food.  So it will not be a surprise to learn that I spent some time last week meeting with local farmers producing a wide range of products from eggs and dairy to beef and asparagus.  The NFU organises regular meetings for me with local farmers and I find these an invaluable opportunity to listen to concerns and opportunities and agreeing action for me to follow-up in Westminster.  Top of my list will be pushing for the introduction of the Groceries Code Adjudicator.   

The Code itself will ensure that supermarkets deal fairly with suppliers such as local farmers and the Adjudicator will ensure that the Code is being adhered to.  Ensuring that all parts of the supply chain from field to plate function fairly is vitally important to increasing sustainable farming.  I want to ensure that more food is produced here in the UK.  To this end I have agreed to work with the NFU to form a group in Parliament to develop a national food strategy.

It was also a pleasure to spend time with the Falmouth Young Farmers at Treverva Village Hall.  Like all young people living in my constituency they are concerned about the lack of homes they can afford to live in.  

I was concerned to learn of their difficulties and those of others who have contacted me recently about the difficulty of obtaining a mortgage if there is a “106” agreement on the property.  That is a common restriction of properties built for local people to share in ownership.  Armed with a good deal of evidence I will be tackling this problem with Vince Cable MP who is the Minister responsible for dealing with UK Banks and lending.

Having completed a wide-range of meetings with amongst others local police officers, councillors and voluntary organisations I completed the recess with a weekend with my family.  It was with great joy that I joined the congregation of St Mylor Church to celebrate Easter Sunday.  Like churches all around Cornwall, it had been splendidly decorated and the congregation were in good heart and looking forward to a series of interesting events in mark the 1600 years of the parish of St Mylor.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Shipping Minister indicates coastguard proposal will be changed

Shipping Minister visits Falmouth

Supporting businesses in Cornwall

Supporting businesses to secure and create new jobs is an important part of my job.  Since being elected, I have been supporting the development of the Port of Falmouth Master Plan and the businesses in the port.  The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) is a new organisation, created by the last Government and is settling into its new role and responsibilities.  It is an ‘arms length organisation’ from Government.  Finding the right balance of protecting our precious natural environment while securing the economic prosperity of the port is essential.  I will continue to work very closely with both the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners (FHC) and the Minister responsible for the MMO to ensure a way forward in dredging the harbour can be achieved for Falmouth.  On Wednesday, following his visit to Falmouth Coastguard, I was pleased that the Shipping and Ports Minister had time for a tour of the harbour with a Falmouth pilot and to talk with FHC.  He was impressed by the good work of the Trust Port.  He wants to see a renaissance of coastal shipping to move freight off the roads and onto the sea to ease congestion and pollution.  He described Falmouth as an important port and will be another important ally for the future of the port.
I was pleased to meet with the team at A&P in Falmouth responsible for defence contracts.  A&P Falmouth are now part of a much bigger UK shipbuilding and repair group, in fact the group are constructing the new aircraft carriers for the Royal Navy.  I was following up a promising meeting I set-up with the Ministry of Defence supporting A&P in being able to bid for more naval contracts.
Securing existing jobs and bringing new jobs into my constituency are always a top priority and I was pleased to help an exciting new employer, setting-up an innovative new business in the UK, recruit people in Cornwall and work with the Beacon Partnership in Falmouth.
I visited a number of Truro-based organisations including Young People Cornwall who will be piloting the National Citizen Service for Cornish 16 year olds this summer.  I was delighted to hear about the enthusiastic support they have had for this important pilot that will offer a free six week programme that aims to help young people get involved in their communities by undertaking social action.  Cornwall Rural Community Council provides an impressive and vital range of services to people across Cornwall and it was good to have a chance to learn about the challenges and opportunities facing them in the months and years ahead.  I found their innovative, can-do attitude inspiring.
It was also a great pleasure to meet the new Director for the Hall for Cornwall Julien Boost and learn of his exciting plans to develop the programme at the Hall with an emphasis or working in partnership with other arts organisations in Cornwall.  I took time out to thoroughly enjoy the performance of ‘King Lear’ played by Derek Jacobi.  It is fantastic that we can see such world-class performances in the heart of Cornwall.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Catching up with constituents

The Easter recess has given me a much valued opportunity to catch up with some of the people and organisations that make a big difference to our local community.

During the first part of two very busy weeks leading up to Easter I have met with a number of Truro-base Cornish organisations, including Young People Cornwall and the Cornwall Rural Community Council.  I would like thank both for their excellent work in making a real difference to the lives of the people they work with across Cornwall.

It was great also to meet with Julian Boast, the new Director of the Hall for Cornwall, and hear of the impressive arts line-up that visitors to the Hall will be enjoying over the coming months.

Over in Falmouth it was as ever a pleasure to catch up with the Beacon Community project, and discuss exciting new plans for the Old Hill area of the town. Later today I will meet with the Falmouth Young Farmers, and I look forward to listening closely to their thoughts on the future of the farming industry.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Unemployment continues to fall in Truro and Falmouth

I was pleased to read the newly released figures from the Office of National Statistics this week which revealed that unemployment is continuing to fall in the Truro and Falmouth constituency.

The number of unemployed claimants in Truro and Falmouth in March 2011 was 1,535. This compares to the 1608 unemployed claimants recorded in the constituency in February 2010. 

Shipping Minister visits Falmouth Coastguard

Monday, 11 April 2011

Government offers greater support to homebuilding and the NHS in Cornwall

On Monday, I was pleased to obtain the New Homes Bonus details for Cornwall.  Before the end of the month Cornwall Council is due to receive nearly £2million for 1,939 new homes, including those that were empty and have been brought back into use in 2009 and 2010.  Over six years, for the same homes Cornwall Council will receive just under £12million.  From this year onwards for every new home in Cornwall, the Council will keep all the council tax and this will be matched by the Government for the next six years, giving the Council additional funds to use.  The incentive to create affordable housing will be greater with a bonus 36 percent higher for affordable homes and empty homes brought back into use.

It is hard to imagine a more important aim for Cornwall Council than developing plans to deliver genuinely affordable homes to buy or rent for local people.  The Core Strategy the Council has developed has been published and I encourage everyone to find a copy and get involved in the consultation.  Cornwall will be setting its own housing targets and making decisions about how each village and town develops.  

Along with changes to Council Housing finance that come into effect this time next year that will enable all of Cornwall’s council homes to be brought up to ‘decent homes standards’ and provide funds to build more, the New Homes Bonus will enable tens of millions of pounds for new homes to be provided for local people.  From my weekly surgeries I know this is an urgent need.  Building new homes will also be a great boost to local construction firms who have been very badly affected by the recession.

On Tuesday, I was pleased to see that the Government has listened to concerns regarding some aspects of the proposed changes to the NHS.  A panel of NHS professionals has been set-up to take on board the concerns about the Health and Social Care Bill.  Several hundred constituents have already contacted me about NHS plans and I have written back to them all but if you have questions, please just write to me at:

Mrs Sarah Newton MP
Woodbine Farm Business Centre

It is worth noting that the NHS in Cornwall this year will receive more cash than last year.  The integration of some Cornwall Council adult care services with the NHS that has worked so well in other parts of the country is now going ahead in Cornwall, with an extra £7.8million provided to Cornwall Council to help the process.  Plans for hubs around Cornwall with closer working with third sector organisations such as Age Concern Cornwall are underway.  While there is no doubt that it is a tough time for everyone working in our public services, the challenge to make efficiency savings at the RCHT is great.  I will continue to do all I can to help the senior management get the financial support they need to achieve their ambitious plans for improving the performance of the Trust.

The rest of last week was spent out and about in the glorious Cornish sunshine meeting a range of organisations and constituents including on Saturday at a street stall on Lemon Quay.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Congratulations and commiserations to Truro School Rugby Team

Cornish Rugby can be proud of an outstanding effort by the Truro School Under 15s Rugby team in the Daily Mail Under 15’s cup

After an outstanding 14 successive wins and 2,500 miles on the road at away fixtures nationwide, the Truro team just missed out on the trophy in a hard fought final:

Fingers crossed for Falmouth’s Maritime Museum, shortlisted for a national award

Monday, 4 April 2011

The Prime Minister is listening closely to concerns over changes to the Coastguard

David Cameron has promised the Government will “reconsider” plans to shut coastguard stations if the move jeopardises safety at sea.

Mike Penning, the Shipping Minister, has said he is “convinced” the plan, which involves reducing the number of coastguard stations in the UK from 19 to 10, will change.

At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, I asked: “Does the Prime Minister agree with me it’s very important to get the plans right?”

Mr Cameron replied: “Obviously, we want to make changes only if they improve the level of coastguard support that people in fishing communities and elsewhere get.

“That is what the reform is about, trying to make sure the real impetus is on the frontline, and if that isn’t the case then obviously we will have to reconsider those reforms.

“That’s why they are being reviewed, and I would say to everyone who cares about this issue – work with us and make sure we get the maximum amount in those lifeboats and other ways of helping our fishing and other communities.”

Following my request to the Transport Select Committee, a powerful group of MPs, to undertake an investigation into coastguard modernisation and other MCA proposals that will impact on sea safety, I am pleased to report that they have started work.  I have requested that as part of their inquiry they visit Falmouth and take evidence from Falmouth Harbour Commissioners as well as Falmouth Coastguards.  The Shipping Minister has said that he will not press ahead with modernisation until this work is complete.

On Monday, I met with senior staff from the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) to make sure their concerns about the modernisation of the Coastguard service are fully taken into account and have asked the Select Committee to take evidence from them.

In my regular advice surgeries, I meet with constituents who want to work, but are trapped on benefits, abandoned and without help.  I also meet people who need help but do not get it as the current assessment for welfare payments is not only extremely complex but dreadfully unfair.  The failings of this system too often stigmatise people who need help as ‘scroungers’.

I am pleased to be part of the Department for Work and Pensions team in Parliament seeking to tackle these issues.  I am currently serving on the Welfare Reform Bill Committee.  This involves considerable time taking evidence, scrutinising and amending the legislation.  We study every aspect of the Bill, literally line by line. I believe that helping those who can into work, with the opportunity to improve their lives that comes with employment, while at the same time making sure there is a strong safety net of support for those who can’t, is a vitally important role for government and society.

On Friday the DWP published details of the Work Programme and who will be providing the service in Cornwall.  It is the largest ‘welfare-to-work programme’ undertaken in this country.  I will be meeting with the providers soon and will monitoring closely this vital investment in helping people into work.

Growing support for campaign to keep 24 hour cover at Falmouth Coastguard

Crash case must be re-opened

A new pollution warning system for Cornish beach users

Welcoming the Government’s £180 investment in apprenticeships

I am delighted by the Government’s recent announcement that over the next four years an extra £180 million will be made available to fund apprenticeship schemes. This funding will create up to 50,000 more individual apprenticeships.

This is part of the largest expansion of adult apprenticeships in Britain’s recent history. The extra places mean that by 2015 funding will be available for a total of over 430,000 apprenticeships across the UK.

Cornish industry will play a leading role in providing those apprenticeships; many of our companies already enjoy an excellent reputation for realising the potential of local youngsters. 

I am delighted that the Government has committed to investing in Cornwall’s youth- the skills gained by our young people undertaking apprenticeships will bring jobs and prosperity to the Duchy over the coming years.