Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Cornwall Library Service Promotes International Reading

This innovative scheme, promoted by the Cornwall Library Service, is a great idea to encourage readers to broaden their literary horizons.

Cornwall Council changes to children’s social care take effect

I am pleased to see that Cornwall Council’s redesign of its children’s social care programme is proving to be successful.

Monday, 30 July 2012

West Briton Column 2 August 2012

Connections to the rest of the UK and beyond are vital for Cornwall. While investment in superfast broadband is delivering new and more environmentally sustainable ways of working as well as new products and services to local homes, the need to maintain and improve our transport infrastructure is still as important today as it ever was. Ports, roads and the railway all need investment.

Despite the ongoing global economic crisis, progress is being made. Partnership working between Cornwall Council and government departments is enabling the pooling of budgets to improve transport infrastructure such as at Lighterage quay in Truro. Making the sum greater than the individual parts is more important now than ever.

I  was pleased that the bidding document for the new Great Western Rail franchise was published on Friday and will enable at least as good a service as we have now to continue with the real prospect of some significant improvements. I was particularly pleased that two of the rail services I had argued should have been included in the franchise were, the Maritime Branch line and the Penzance to Paddington sleeper service both featuring in the franchise bidding document. I know how valued both these services are and it is good to see that their continued operation is now beyond doubt.

I am also delighted that Plymouth could get a three hour service to London. I hope the bidders for the franchise respond to my request, backed up by the Local Enterprise Partnership, that we have an additional through service from Penzance stopping at Truro that forms the fast service from Plymouth onwards. This would enable a three and half hour Truro to Paddington service. An early train in the morning returning later the same day would be great news for people who need to spend a day in the London area. While I applaud Cornwall Council for investing in Newquay airport, despite the very tough times they are coping with, I don't think it is prudent to rely solely on the airport for the speed of connectivity demanded by businesses investing in Cornwall today.

International connectivity is also of great importance to our world class higher education and research bodies based in Truro, Penryn and Falmouth. These are academic institutions that I want to see thrive and prosper and that need first class transport links in order to do so.

In the weeks and months ahead as I get my shirt sleeves rolled up and work along with my colleagues on the detail of the franchise I will have one purpose and that is to improve the quality of rail services for my constituents. This will also include improving linkages to bus services and those travelling by cycle to catch a train as well as ticketing and of course prices.

As ever your views would be very helpful to me as this work continues. Copies of the franchise document can be accessed online at www.dft.gov.uk/publications/great-western-franchise-2013, hard copies can be obtained by calling my office on 01872 274 760.

The Olympics

I watched the televised opening ceremony to the London 2012 Olympic Games on Friday evening, from my house at Mylor Bridge, along with 29 million other people in the UK.  This really was an amazing show and the best way to kick off what will be a real showcase for the UK to the world.  I wish every athlete from our country the best of luck, particularly those from Cornwall and my constituency.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

West Briton Column 26 July 2012

Last week, on one of Parliament’s last sitting days before recess, I joined fellow MPs and National Farmers Union Deputy President Meurig Raymond to meet with dairy industry representatives to discuss the recently announced cuts to the price of milk.

The representatives were questioned extensively on these price cuts, the latest in a long line of drops in the price of milk over recent years.

My godfather was a local dairy farmer and for many years I have been very concerned by the impact of falling milk prices on small family farms in Cornwall.

Of course, some farmers who work directly with producers of cheese, cream and ice-cream or sell directly to consumers are not as badly affected. However with the cost of fuel and fodder increasing, and bovine tb spreading, those farmers that have been badly affected by price cuts need help more urgently than ever. What is needed is a sustainable contract system that can cope with changes in the market whilst ensuring that farmers get a fair price for their milk.

Such a system is being developed, with the Government pushing through proposals for a Grocery Code Adjudicator which will require supermarkets to follow best practice when dealing with farmers. The Farming Minister, the Rt Hon Jim Paice MP, has been instrumental in drawing up plans for the Adjudicator and as a farmer himself, continues to do all he can to try and help improve the situation for local farmers.

All of us can also take action to help, by buying our milk from stores which pay the dairy farmers who supply them a dairy price premium, ensuring they will make a profit. Major supermarkets who do this include Waitrose, Marks and Spencer’s and Sainsbury’s. Milk bought from local dairies such as Roddas or Trewithen should enable farmers involved get a fair price.  Consumer power can really make a difference, recent pressure exerted by shoppers making Morrisons and the Cooperative stores rethink their milk contracts.

Another key issue I have been working on concerns the reports that the number of Penzance to Paddington through trains may be reduced in the new Great Western Rail Franchise. Back in December I secured an assurance from the Rail Minister in the House of Commons that that the current level of service on the Penzance to Paddington line would be maintained into the new franchise. I have brought concerns raised by Cornwall Council  that this may not be the case directly to the Minister and have been assured that no final decisions have been taken. I will continue to speak up for Cornwall’s rail services and will do all I can to hold the Minister to her word.

With Parliament now in recess I have the privilege of working from Cornwall this summer. I have already met locally with local Oyster Fishermen and Falmouth business people, and look forward to meeting you at events I  have planned for the coming months. 

Truro Going for Gardening Gold!

I wish Truro the very best of luck for 31 July, when Royal Horticultural Society judges will be judging it for the Britain in Bloom UK Finals.

Cornwall Together Launch

I was delighted to attend the launch of Cornwall Together on Monday July 23rd

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Monday, 23 July 2012

West Briton Column 19 July 2012

Reforming the House of Lords is one of those things that most people agree with but can’t agree how and when.

The principal behind Lords reform is simple and right : those that shape the laws of the land should be chosen by voters. Opponents say that the elected Lords will be more assertive, amending and delaying legislation. This may well be true. But this is partly the point of the reform. Britain's central government is hugely powerful and I support moves to make it more accountable to Parliament. The expertise that many peers bring to their work in the Lords is valuable and probably the most popular aspect of the Lords. Yet expertise is not sufficient qualification for political office.

Last week I voted for a bill to Reform the House of Lords that recognises the value of so called independent peers and proposes to retain a non elected and appointed group of peers, whilst ensuring that the second chamber is more democratically accountable. While the bill progresses through parliament, it will be a difficult journey as all political parties, including the sponsoring LibDems, are divided as to the best way forward. If agreement is found and that is a big if, I think the final proposals, which will have a profound impact on our political system, should be approved by the people with a vote.

While the media obsessed about party politics and Lords reform, much more important issues were considered in Parliament. The much anticipated proposals to significantly improve the quality of care that is provided by professional carers to adults as well as new recognition and support for the thousands of family members who care for their loved ones were announced. This is an area of policy in which I am very involved and will continue to be so as these urgent and vital reforms make their way through Parliament.

Finally, on Friday, I joined my colleague Richard Harrington MP in promoting a bill that seeks to prevent fraudulent subletting of social housing. New powers and penalties will be introduced to deter people from doing this. Estimates would indicate that several hundred homes in Cornwall are not going to the hard working local families that are waiting on long housing lists as a result of fraudulent subletting. The vast majority of people living in social housing would never consider doing such an unfair thing as deprive others that need a home in this way. But even one person doing this is one too many. This bill will create a specific crime with heavy penalties of fines, even imprisonment with the money fraudulently obtained in rent returned to the social housing provider to repair or help toward the cost of building more homes. This one measure won't solve all our housing problems, but when added to all the other measures the government has introduced will help towards providing the genuinely affordable homes to rent and buy that are so desperately needed by local families.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Local Cricket Club receives Olympic Grant

It is great news that the Grampound Road Cricket Club will benefit from the Sport England's Inspired Facilities Fund, I congratulate all those who have worked so hard to secure this.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Renewable Energy Creates Work

ROC Welcome Event

I was delighted to attend the Robert Owen Communities (ROC) Welcome annual summer barbeque event at Treyew Primary School on 18 July. 

ROC is a charity that works with people with learning disabilities, and their circles of support, across Devon and Cornwall. ROC has been operating for over 20 years. It offers a range of services including residential care, specialist and independent supported living, health and creative activities, social activities, and work and learning opportunities.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Meeting with the Dairy Industry

On Monday 16 July I met with industry leaders from the Dairy Industry, as well the Deputy President of the National Farmers Union (NFU) to discuss the ways in which we can help dairy farmers who are losing money on each litre of milk they sell, following announcements from major processors of further reductions of the amount they pay for the product

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Cornwall Gets the Silver Seal of Approval

It is great to see that Cornwall has been named favourite UK holiday destination for those aged 50 and over in the 50+ Awards 2012, beating off competition from the likes of York and London.

International Cricket Event held at Truro

I was delighted to be in attendance for this event, particularly given that England won, and the weather held off!

Pressing for better rail services

I welcome the Government’s announcement of a rail investment programme of a scale not seen since the Victorian age.

The programme contains more than £9 billion of growth-boosting railway upgrades across England and Wales, upgrades that will increase capacity and ensure faster journey times.

Rail passengers in Cornwall will see the benefits of these changes. The electrification of the Great Western Main Line from London to Bristol will mean that rail journeys from Cornwall to London will be faster. Addtional funding has been set aside to support journey time reducing measures between Taunton and Bristol, cutting journeys times yet further.

Other improvements in different parts of England will free up rolling stock, which then will be deployed on a range of lines, these may include lines in Cornwall.

The programme also details an aspiration to develop a new rail link from Great Western Main Line to Heathrow Airport. Such a link would make a real difference to the thousands of Cornish residents who travel by train to Heathrow every year to start their holidays.  

Taken as a whole these improvements will speed up rail journeys to and from Cornwall, open up the possibility of more carriages being deployed on Cornish lines and in due course secure closer links to Heathrow.

The Great Western Rail Franchise is still out for tender, and key decisions regarding the number of trains to run between Penzance and Paddington have not yet been taken. I continue to make representations on this matter and to press the case for sufficient capacity on the line; I am pleased to have already received assurances that the sleeper service will be retained.

With the Government taking the steps necessary to build a fast moving, passenger focused, rail network fit for the twenty first century I will continue to work with Ministers, consumer groups and local passengers to ensure that my constituents feel the benefit of these improvements and have the rail services they need.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Scientific Dredging Trial to Go Ahead

I welcome this news from the Falmouth Harbour Commissioners today.

Funding for the CAB

I will continue to work with the Government to ensure that it gets the long- term funding package for free advice services right, and that the CAB are fully equipped to meet the challenges the coming years will bring.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Calling for a new relationship with the EU

I am a Member of Fresh Start, a group of MPs that would like to see the UK have a new relationship with the European Union. The Group has launched an excellent Green Paper on how powers can be repatriated from Brussels, the paper can be accessed through the below link:

The Navy and Olympic Security

Speaking in The House of Commons today, I drew attention to the vital role of the Navy in Olympic security. See the extract from Hansard below:

I had the privilege of sailing along the Thames on HMS Ocean when she took up her position to provide security for events at venues all over London. Does my right hon. Friend share my belief that the presence of the Navy in London will be reassuring to all Londoners and volunteers, who are coming from Cornwall and all over the UK to help to make this the best ever Olympics?

My hon. Friend is right to remind us that, although we tend to use the term “troops”, the security contribution is being made by our armed forces as a whole. My right hon. Friend the Defence Secretary has laid a written ministerial statement today that refers not only to HMS Ocean and other Royal Navy assets, but to the important role that the Royal Air Force will play in ensuring our security.’

Deep Geothermal Energy

In questions to the Secretary of State for Energy today, I pushed for more support for deep geothermal energy production. See the extract from Hansard below:
The Department has been a really good friend to the emerging deep geothermal energy industry in this country, through regional growth funding and direct support. Can the Government make that last commitment to give the industry the five renewables obligation certificates it needs as part of the review, which would enable the first commercial deep geothermal power station to be opened in my constituency?

My hon. Friend will not have to wait very long before we provide the final decisions on the renewables obligation banding review. She might also be interested to learn that I recently went to Iceland to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Icelandic Government about how we can share some of their knowledge as the world’s leading economy in geothermal power and heat, and see how that can be brought to bear to assist developments such as those in her constituency.’

Forced Adoption Lessons

Lessons must be learned from the past to ensure this does not happen again:

Excellent Results for South West Water

A report published today by the Drinking Water Inspectorate (DWI) indicates that South West Water had the best tap water quality of any of Britain’s water and sewerage companies – a compliance rate of 99.99% to DWI’s tough standards, and South West Water’s best ever result.  This is excellent news.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Welcoming the draft Water Bill

The Government has today published its draft Water Bill, detailing the actions it intends to take to to keep water bills down and to ensure that the UK makes efficient use of its water supplies.
This action on water is very much welcome, and acts to consolidate the support already offered to South West Water customers in the form of the £50 rebate due to come into effect next April.
I will be closely scrutinising the Bill when it comes before the House of Commons in due course and will continue doing all I can to ensure that Truro and Falmouth residents get a fair deal on water. The full draft Bill can be accessed through: http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/quality/water/legislation/water/

Monday, 9 July 2012


This initiative, which is co-supported by University College Falmouth, is a great initiative to help vulnerable young people in Cornwall.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Western Morning News Column - 2 July 2012

Six weeks ago I fell over in the street hurrying between meetings at work. Within 32 hours I was recovering from surgery to pin my broken hip. Within 96 hours I was on my way home.

I shared my ward with five other ladies who were all over 75 years old. While I believe we all received excellent care from the NHS, they were destined to spend considerably longer in hospital recovering from similar injuries. While there are undoubtedly medical reasons for this, there were also undoubtedly others.

Anyone who has spent time in a hospital ward knows that you don't have to try to over hear conversations between clinicians, their patients and family members.

What I heard were a series of pleas to go home that were thwarted by the care system. Despite the best efforts of staff, the divide between the care the NHS provides and what people, families and in some cases the local council provides creates confusion, bureaucracy and delay.

No one should be made to stay in hospital longer than necessary. This is important to all of us, because our elderly family members are important. Delaying people from returning home from hospital costs hospitals a great deal. The Department of Health has estimated that each overnight stay costs £250. It also prevents people who need to get into the hospital from doing so as beds are blocked.

What I saw is not an isolated problem. Last year the Department of Health, found that while over 75 year olds accounted for 23% of hospital admissions they also accounted for 75% of all delayed discharges. I wanted to have a better understanding of the problem and made a Freedom of Information request to all the NHS hospital trusts. From the responses I have received so far from the year ending March 2012, forty hospital trusts recorded 14,616 patients over 75 experiencing delays in their discharge from hospital. Behind the numbers will be many different reasons reflecting the lives of the patients, but I am left in no doubt that this is a significant problem.

So, what, you ask is the Government doing about this? Well, they agree there is a problem. They agree that more needs to be done to try and get councils and the NHS working more closely together.

Despite the extraordinarily difficult financial situation the government inherited, the NHS budget has not been cut and by 2014-15 £2 billion will have been diverted into council adult social care budgets. More money has been given for other support to enable people to make the move home with, for example, home adaptations.

So what more needs to be done? Firstly we need to do all we can to enable elderly people to live healthy and fulfilling lives in their communities. To do this we need to focus on preventing elderly people ending up in hospital for reasons that could have been prevented, for example by the improved management of long term health conditions, or preventing isolation and loneliness ,or by making home adaptations to prevent falls and broken bones. 

So, more care needs to be provided in communities. Last week at their annual conference the Local Government Association highlighted their concerns about the pressure on local services that care for older people.

Love it or loathe it,  the Health and Social Care Bill makes a big step forward in tackling this, by enabling Councils to have a key role in integrating and improving local services that focus on promoting health and wellbeing in the community. Health and Wellbeing Boards bring together patients and councillors, as well as health and care professionals to shape services in their communities. They provide the opportunity of integrating NHS, social care and housing budgets to provide improved joined-up services for all older people. Integration secures a better deal not just for patients, but for the taxpayer also. Some say for every £1 spent on social care £2.65 is saved for the NHS.

For six more weeks I am due to be on crutches and during that time Parliament will consider a draft bill on reforming social care as well as an update on the cross party talks on finding a solution to the question of who should pay for social care and how much. Quality of care and fairness need to be at the heart of the reforms. I will be working hard to make this a reality before I return my crutches to the hospital.

Cornish Students to Benefit from £1m County Grant Deal

This is excellent news for students in Cornwall moving into higher education

West Briton Column - 5 July

Armed Forces Day is an annual opportunity to show our appreciation for our armed services and the vitally important work they do on our behalf. Over the past months, as a member of the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme I have spent time with the Navy and have learned first hand of the immense dedication and skill of all those that serve. I am proud of what they achieve for our country.

The esteem in which our armed services are rightly held is in stark contrast to the dreadful state of affairs with another British institution, our banking system. I know many decent and hard working constituents employed in local branches of banks will be as dismayed as I am with some of their leaders' lack of responsibility, even morality, and the damage that their lack of leadership is causing to our economy and national reputation. Parliament has supported the Government's urgent and widespread reform of regulation and no doubt in the wake of recent mis-selling and interest rate fixing revelations, will urgently explore what more can be done.

For our economy to prosper we need a good banking system. Financial services contribute a great deal of income and employment and when working well enable investment in enterprise and trade. While regulation is important, as well as the prosecution of those that commit a crime, we also need our financial institutions to look to their own codes of conduct, governance and incentive systems.

As regular readers of this column know, a feature of my work in Parliament is highlighting the high cost of living of my constituents. I take every opportunity to raise the issue of the higher costs we pay in Cornwall for day to day essentials such as fuel. For months I have been pressing Ministers to use any savings in budgets to bring down fuel bills and help families and small businesses.

I was delighted that the Chancellor listened to my representations and agreed to scrap the proposed 3p increase in fuel duty, due to come in on August 1st. This will be funded by savings made by increased government efficiency. This means that fuel prices this summer will be 10p per litre lower than they would have been under Labour.

This action on fuel bills forms only a part  of the Government’s wider support package for motorists, which has also seen fees for MOTs, driving tests and licensing frozen and support given for a further £1 billion investment in our roads.

This good news on fuel prices is good news for Cornwall’s wider economy- our many businesses that depend on road haulage to transport their goods will feel the benefit of lower fuel prices. The Government’s actions on fuel mean that between 2011 and 2013 the average haulier will have saved £4,900 on fuel costs, savings which will be passed onto customers.

My efforts to secure savings on day to day essentials continue, I will be hosting an event on the 15th August on Lemon Quay on how you can reduce your heating bills. Please come and join me.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The Royal Navy’s crucial work in the Persian Gulf

It is frustrating that much of the excellent work our armed forces undertakes around the globe goes unreported. This is very much the case in the Persian Gulf, where Royal Navy minesweepers have for years patrolled the Strait of Hormuz, a vital trade route which links Saudi Arabia to the wider world.

The importance of keeping the Straits open has recently been underlined, by the deployment of US minesweepers alongside British ones:


J Class Yacht Regatta, Falmouth

 Congratulations to all those concerned with organising the magnificent J Class Yacht Regatta in Falmouth last week. Thank you to Falmouth BID for the images.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Food Security: How Science can Prevent a Food Security Crisis

This supplement from New Statesman on food security is certainly food for thought!

West Briton Column 28th June

It won't surprise readers that each week hard working local families and young people come to talk to me about the problems they are facing in trying to find decent accommodation to buy or rent.

The statistics of demand for housing increasing and lack of affordable supply are all too familiar. This is a particularly acute problem in this the least affordable part of Cornwall, our part of Cornwall, where the growth in employment has been the greatest in the past years, all too often housing supply has not kept up with the new jobs being created.

By the time people come to talk to me they are feeling pretty hopeless, however there is more help for people to put a roof over their heads than they are often aware of. I have produced a list of Government schemes designed to help people to buy their home and am pleased that this has already helped a number of constituents. Please contact my office if you would like this information.

In such beautiful and environmentally sensitive environments as the ones in which we live, deciding where to build new homes is bound to be challenging. I believe that the new Neighbourhood Planning process which involves all those who want to be involved in the shaping of the place where they live and often work too is a big step forward.

I have also been working hard to persuade the Government to make it easier to bring existing properties back into residential use. Ministers have listened and some common sense changes have been made. In future empty buildings will be taxed differently and Cornwall Council will have more money to bring empty buildings back into use.

Cornwall Council will also be able to decide on council tax breaks for empty homes and levy a premium payment if homes are left empty for two years. There of course needs to be intelligent application of this payment to protect for example those going into care or whose home has been flooded and needs a lot of repairs. For farming families and others with space around their property, there will be new opportunities to create an annex for an older or younger family members to live in. 

Cornwall Council could also stop the second home Council tax discount of 10 percent which will generate over 2 million pounds per year. This money, along with the New Homes Bonus could be spent on creating more genuinely affordable homes to rent.

I will also be working alongside my colleague Richard Harrington MP on his Private Members Bill, which aims to tackle the dreadful problem of social housing fraud. It has been estimated that between 50,000 and 200,000 social homes are being being illegally sublet to private tenants, whilst thousands of families languish on social housing lists.  

These recent measures along with a wide range of others add up to make a concerted effort to enable more hard working families, young and older people get the homes they need.