Wednesday, 19 January 2022

Newspaper column 19 January 2022 - Closing the second home tax loophole

I wanted to start this week’s column by commenting briefly on the various allegations around Covid-19 restriction breaches at Number Ten Downing Street. Like many people I have been concerned about these allegations. I completely understand the anger that many people feel when it appears that those working at the heart of government were not keeping to the rules they helped put in place.

The Prime Minister has done the right thing in apologising. There is an independent investigation led by a senior civil servant, Susan Gray, into these incidents that will hopefully get to the bottom of what actually went on. We expect the report from this investigation to be published in the coming days. I believe it is right and sensible to await this report. As such, until I have seen the report I will not be commenting further, rather than give a running commentary from the constant drip feeding of stories, which appears an orchestrated campaign by a former No10 employee (and others) with their own agenda, designed to create maximum uncertainty and damage.

However, it is clear that there needs to be significant changes in the culture of how Number 10 Downing Street is organised. Whatever the outcome there are important lessons to be learned. I am determined to ensure this happens.

 Away from this, last week I was delighted to see an issue I have campaigned on for several years, the loophole that some second home-owners have previously exploited to avoid paying any rates for their property, be resolved as the Government announced it will be closed.

To me, this issue has always been about fairness – everyone should pay the correct rates for their property, much as people who have businesses should not unfairly take advantage of services provided for householders, such as the domestic waste collection service. Apart from the fairness issue, businesses using domestic waste collection when they should not, will increase the cost of running these services for the council and potentially result in more costs via council tax rises to residents.

With all that being said, I have campaigned to reform the system and remove this loophole for some time. As much as some people might like to pretend otherwise, achieving change in matters such as this, which involve changes in primary legislation, are never quick or easy – there is no way around the scrutiny of legislation through Parliament and consultations which need to be held to make changes. The time it has taken to get them, since I first raised the issue in 2018, not forgetting the Brexit and Covid issues which have occupied Parliament during this time, is frustrating, but we have nonetheless now got there.

The changes, based on similar rules used by the devolved Welsh administration, which I suggested back in 2018, mean that in order to qualify as businesses, second home owners now need to show proof that they have actually let their property out for a portion of each year, rather than just saying they had advertised it to let, which was the case previously. This closes the loophole and is a good step forward in addressing some of the damage that an abundance of second homes can have for our Cornish communities.

There is a lot more to be done though. Critics have argued that this step, in isolation is not enough, and my response to that would be there is always more work being done behind the scenes in this area to improve things. For example another two areas where I have been working with Cornwall Council is around additional charges for council tax for second homes, and possible change of uses in planning permission, both of which would be helpful in different ways in lessening the impact of second homes in Cornwall. But it is part of a combined approach, with other measures such as the one I have mentioned above, that we will best support our Cornish communities and I remain committed to doing this both now and in the future, however long it takes for the changes to be made.

As always, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance. Please do get in touch if I can help – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Newspaper column 12 January 2022 - Celebrating community pharmacies

For this week’s column I wanted to highlight the excellent work of community pharmacies across Cornwall and also the new NHS services they are now providing. I am delighted to see that until the end of March, all pharmacies in Cornwall will be offering face to face consultations for a wide range of minor ailments. This is the first service of its kind in England. It follows a pilot scheme over the Christmas period where more than 90% of people that used the service had their symptoms successfully treated on site.

Patients can visit the pharmacy (without an appointment or referral from their GP), consult with the pharmacist in  a consultation room and receive NHS treatment if appropriate. A record of the service will be electronically sent to the patient’s GP for completeness. I welcome this latest initiative.

Throughout the pandemic there have been many organisations that have gone above and beyond in the fight against COVID-19. Pharmacies have been one of them - particularly in the testing regime and vaccine rollout. As a former chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Pharmacies I know the impact and importance of our pharmacies both locally and country-wide. It was during my tenure as chair of this APPG that the whole issue of further utilising the qualifications, skills, and knowledge of pharmacists came up. It was well known that other countries have long since adopted this wider use. I raised this with ministers and am delighted to see the government introduce these new roles. From the early feedback already obtained, I am hopeful that the government will make this a permanent feature of our NHS.

For instance, they have distributed nearly 300 million lateral flow tests, which have been vital in our national effort of testing and tracing the virus. This is particularly the case in recent weeks, where testing has never been so important in helping key-workers stay at work, and the country running.

They have also delivered over 17million covid boosters, with community pharmacies supporting our NHS in running walk-in appointment-based vaccine clinics. I must give a special mention to Reeds Pharmacy, who have run regular walk-in clinics in St Austell, and helped thousands of local people get their booster in recent weeks. Thank you again.

Community pharmacies have also taken on additional services and responsibilities to support wider health services, including the Discharge Medicines Service, where NHS Trusts can refer patients who would benefit from extra guidance around new prescribed medicines to community pharmacies, with the aim of reducing avoidable harm from medicines and hospital readmissions. They have also been involved in initiatives during the pandemic, such as supporting victims of domestic abuse via the Ask for ANI (Action Needed Immediately) scheme.

It is brilliant to see Cornwall trail-blazing yet again with this rollout out of new NHS services available via community pharmacies. I encourage residents across Cornwall to take advantage of these new services over the winter months, and help relieve pressure on our NHS during this ongoing, exceptionally busy time.

As always, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance. Please do get in touch if I can help – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

Wednesday, 29 December 2021

Newspaper column 29 December 2021 - Looking back

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas and was able to take some time to reflect on what makes this special day so important to us all. I am writing this just before Christmas when the government had announced no further restrictions would be put in place as a result of the new Coronavirus wave. Whilst we wait and see how things develop, I do hope this has enabled everyone to enjoy Christmas as normally as possible.

For my final column of 2021, I thought I would look back at some of my work for you as MP for St Austell and Newquay over the past year.

2021, like 2020, has been hugely challenging for us all.

The year opened with another lockdown, and Cornwall was particularly badly hit by Covid-19. I am sure we all know someone who suffered or sadly passed away from the virus. My work, along with my team, was again focussed on assisting people and businesses through these difficult times. Meanwhile in Parliament (conducted virtually at the beginning of the year) I continued to support the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care in my role as his Parliamentary Private Secretary in leading the Government’s response to the pandemic.

The most important part of this response was and continues to be our vaccine programme, which continued its rollout throughout the year. I was closely involved in the vaccine programme both locally and strategically, as well as taking part in the trials. I thank everyone again who has been involved, including our NHS and volunteers, who ensured we have vaccinated more people earlier than most countries around the world.

While we are currently facing new uncertainties with the Omicron variant, I am pleased that the Government’s key response continues to be through the vaccine programme, protecting as many people as possible, while avoiding further measures and keeping disruption of our lives to a minimum.

In June, Cornwall hosted the G7 Leaders Summit, the first international event of this scale since the pandemic occurred, and I was proud to take part and see Cornwall look its best with the eyes of the world on us. It was good to welcome some of the  world leaders at Cornwall Airport Newquay, as well as three generations of the Royal Family at St Austell. I am now working with the various G7 Legacy projects to ensure a lasting positive impact from this momentous event for Cornwall.

In September I was delighted to be appointed as a Government Whip in the reshuffle. This is my first Ministerial position within Government and one where I am able to work with the ministerial team in the Department of Health and Social Care to help shape and steer the Government’s legislative programme, which has already delivered the Health and Care Bill since my appointment.

In October, we were all devastated to lose my friend and colleague James Brokenshire, who had local connections to Cornwall, following a long battle with cancer, and shockingly, my colleague Sir David Amess, who was murdered while taking part in a MP Advice Surgery in his constituency. This was an attack at the heart of our democracy, but along with many of my colleagues, I am determined to continue holding surgeries and not let those who would harm us win.

Away from Parliament I have continued to support projects that will have major positive impacts on our constituency. The dedicated A30 to St Austell link road continues to make frustratingly slow progress, largely due to issues as a result of the pandemic. But I continue to work to seek to deliver this important project. The Spaceport at Cornwall Airport Newquay has made further progress towards a potential launch in 2022. I was pleased to work with Cornwall College to secure funding from the Government to redevelop their St Austell campus, as well as working with the Department for Education on new schools at Carclaze and Newquay that are coming forward. I have also been working with the Department for Transport, Cornwall Council and Great Western Railway to come forward with plans to upgrade the Newquay-Par branch line and improvements to Newquay Station.

In sustainable energy and materials news, I have also continued to champion the potential for geothermal energy and lithium in Mid-Cornwall, and we have seen some good progress with the Eden Geothermal plant plans, as well as with the various lithium companies, moving towards lithium extraction and manufacturing in Cornwall - a return to our mining pre-eminence.

I will continue my work to attract funding to Cornwall from the Government, as well as better paid high tech jobs to grow our economy and encourage our young people to stay in Cornwall for their careers.

As ever, I want to say a huge thank you to my team who have been busier than ever supporting me to assist constituents with issues. This year my team and I have dealt with more than 7,000 enquiries from residents, on all manner of things, from Covid-19 support queries, to international travel and visa concerns, as well as housing, benefit, transport and DVLA matters, always trying our best to get a positive outcome for the people who need our support.

I hope this has given just a small flavour of some of the work I have done on your behalf over 2021. May I wish you all a Happy New Year and I look forward to continuing to serve our constituency and our Cornwall through 2022 and beyond.

Wednesday, 22 December 2021

Newspaper column 22 December 2021 - Christmas greetings

I hope you are all well as we approach Christmas.

Parliament has now risen for Recess and so I am now working in the constituency, and looking forward to taking some time off with my family later this week.

I hope you will be able to have some time to enjoy the festive season and also reflect on why we celebrate this special day. In the midst of all that is currently going on it is good to focus on the good news of the first Christmas that brought a message of peace and joy to the world.

Of course, over the past week, in response to the spread of the new Omicron variant of the Coronavirus we have continued to massively ramp up the COVID-19 booster vaccination programme. The vaccine booster is now available to all adults over 18.

The response to the vaccine roll out, both from all those involved in running the vaccine programme, and also the public take up of it, has been nothing short of extraordinary.

As of this weekend, the daily figures for people receiving their booster jab were up to over 900,000 people a day. Across the UK over 28million people, 50% of all adults, have now received their booster shot and this figure continues to rise at an incredibly swift rate. Our aim is to enable all adults of have the opportunity to receive their booster jab by the end of the year. This is a huge challenge but it is great to see everyone pulling together in our national effort.

Within Cornwall, at the start of this push we had to deliver 172,000 more booster jabs to reach all the adults in the Duchy. This represents around 9,000 jabs a day.

I am working with our NHS and community pharmacies to identify where more walk-in provision is needed and request that we get this provision in place as soon as possible. I was pleased over the weekend to see pop-up walk-in booster sites open in St Austell and in St Blazey, as well as a number of local Pharmacies in Newquay and St Austell, to go along with the mass vaccination sites that are available elsewhere in Cornwall. I will continue to share more details of local sites on my social media as I am given the most up to date information, and you can also find out more via NHS Kernow’s website by going to the below link:

https://www.kernowccg.nhs.uk/your-health/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine/

A big thank you must go, as ever to all involved in the vaccine programme rollout, whether they be NHS staff, community pharmacy staff, the many thousands of volunteers who are helping out, or the armed forces who are assisting with the expansion of the programme.

On that note I would also like to thank all of those who will be working over the festive period, not just in the continued rollout of the vaccine programme, but also all who work in our NHS and care sectors, those who work in retail and hospitality, our local Police and other emergency services and our armed forces who keep us and others safe all over the world, all year round. 

However you spend your Christmas, I hope you have a good one and I would like to take the opportunity to wish all readers a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year for 2022.

My office will be closed from 12 noon on 23rd December and reopen at 10am on 4th January. However, if anyone is in need or urgent help during this time you can still contact me by emailing steve.double.mp@parliament.uk or calling 01726 829379 and leaving a message. I will get back to anyone requiring urgent help.

Wednesday, 15 December 2021

Newspaper column 15 December 2021 - new measures

 

Many people have quite rightly been concerned about the new Omicron variant of the Coronavirus, which seems to be spreading far more quickly than any previous variant and in doing so threaten the progress of our Covid recovery.

Of particular concern is the reduced level of protection that two doses of the lifesaving vaccine offer against Omicron when compared to Delta and other earlier variants. However, early research has found that a third dose of the vaccine is able to neutralise the new variant to a similar extent as two doses against earlier strains of the virus.

It is all the more important therefore that we all play our part at this time and answer the call to get the booster jabs over the coming weeks. To enable as many people as possible to enjoy Christmas the Government is accelerating our booster rollout significantly in order to ensure all adults in England are offered a booster jab by the end of the month, with the army being drafted in to help deliver this monumental national enterprise.

The Government is also easing the requirement to self-isolate for close contacts of the new variant. From Tuesday onwards, instead of requiring every Omicron contact to quarantine for 10 days regardless of their vaccination status, fully vaccinated contacts of a COVID-19 case (whether Omicron or not) will be asked to take a daily lateral flow test for 7 days to slow the spread of the virus.

This is a significant step towards minimising disruption over the holiday period and has been welcomed by many. But in order to achieve this, the Government is following scientific advice and introducing a series of light-touch, temporary measures as part of our Plan B response to new and dangerous variants.

These include asking people to work from home where possible, extending the requirement to wear a face-covering to most public indoor venues, like cinemas and theatres, and making the Covid certification mandatory for entry into a limited number of settings with considerable numbers of people, like nightclubs and large outdoor events.

Much has been said of the use of Covid certification over the past week, with some expressing concerns on the social effects and implications on civil liberties of the so-called ‘vaccine passport’.

But it is wrong to label the Covid certification simply as such, as a negative lateral flow test will also be sufficient for people to obtain certification if they have not been able to take both doses of the lifesaving Covid vaccine for medical reasons or as a personal choice.

We already know that our NHS faces its busiest time of the year in the coming six weeks, and anything we can do to help ease the pressure should be done, while buying clinicians and scientists valuable time to establish the scale and severity of the virus. 

Sitting back and watching the virus spread among the community and cause damage to our health and care provisions without taking any action whatsoever could ultimately leave the Government with no other choice but to instigate another lockdown.

Nobody wants that – I certainly do not – and the Government has made clear that it is doing all it can to avoid us facing the worst-case scenario with this new variant and therefore having to resolve to the worst policy option of all.

I appreciate the concerns that some have expressed about our latest response to the pandemic. No one wants to bring in new restrictions ahead of Christmas – the season of great joy and much festivity – but unlike the restrictions of last winter, the vast majority of us will still be able to proceed with our Christmas plans without disruption under these new measures.

All things considered, I believe the package of measures that will be introduced under Plan B represents a sensible, balanced, and proportionate response to the current situation. There will be minimal impact on the day to day lives of people in our constituency, allowing us to enjoy the holidays as much as possible, while helping us contain the spread of the virus and easing pressures on the NHS.

Wednesday, 8 December 2021

Newspaper column 8 December 2021 - Social care and health reforms and funding

Last week saw the Government taking steps to reform and improve both the short and long-term futures of our health and social care provision, with publication of the long-awaited White Paper on Social Care Reform, as well as the Health and Social Care Approach to Winter.

Adult social care issues have never been more prominent, with an ageing population, particularly in Cornwall, and particular pressures brought on by the pandemic. That being said, these issues are also long-term ones, and ones that successive governments of all parties have made little progress on, so it is great to see this Government moving and taking action to review and reform this area that impacts so many people across our society.

The government wants people who draw on care and support to lead a fulfilling life, playing a full role in society, as well as wanting to acknowledge the important role of families and friends in caring for one another, while also enabling those who provide unpaid care to a friend or loved one to be supported to achieve their own life goals. On top of this it is critical that the adult social care workforce feels recognised and has opportunities to develop their careers.

There are three key objectives that the Government wants to achieve from this white paper as part of a ten-year vision. That people have choice, control and support to live independent lives, that people can access outstanding quality and tailored care and support, and that people find adult social care fair and accessible.

Initiatives taken to achieve these goals across the next three years include:

·         at least £300 million to integrate housing into local health and care strategies,

·         at least £150 million of additional funding to drive greater adoption of technology and achieve widespread digitisation across social care

·         at least £500 million so the social care workforce have the right training and qualifications, and feel recognised and valued for their skills and commitment.

·         a new practical support service to make minor repairs and changes in people’s homes to help people remain independent and safe in their home

·         up to £25 million to work with the sector to kick-start a change in the services provided to support unpaid carers

·         £30 million to help local areas innovate around the support and care they provide in new and different ways, providing more options that suit people’s needs and individual circumstances

These proposals are backed by the new Health and Social Care Levy which £5.4 billion is being invested into adult social care over the next 3 years, and I hope will finally see some long-term movement and reform of this crucial area that will impact us all at some time or other.

As well as these long-term proposals, the Government also announced its launch of Health and Social Care Approach to Winter last week, recognising that this winter will be more challenging than many faced by the NHS, adult social care providers and local authorities.

Among many others, these measures include,

• working to recruit 18,000 more staff, including nurses, healthcare support workers and medical support workers

• keeping the nation protected against the virus, especially against the new Omicron variant, through vaccination with over 15 million boosters delivered in England, and the biggest flu vaccination programme in UK history;

• bolstering capacity across urgent and emergency care and the wider NHS, including a £250 million investment in general practice, £55 million for the ambulance service, and £75 million for NHS111;

• investing £478 million for support services, rehabilitation and reablement care following discharge from hospital, and ensuring health and social care services are joined up.

The publication also announces the allocation of the £700 million Targeted Investment Fund which includes support to deliver a range of projects including:

• additional day surgery units to boost activity and minimise length of stay;

• additional permanent and modular theatres and surgical hubs to improve productivity;

• investment in outpatient space to increase the numbers of patients that can be seen by specialists; and

• investment in imaging, including upgrades to MRI and mobile breast screening units.

The South West region will receive £69million funding from the government in order to do this and this will be targeted investment focused on the highest priority areas to help return elective care services to pre-pandemic levels.

It is good to see the Government prioritising these areas to support our health and social care services, both during this winter and in the long-term reforms to social care that have been needed for so long. I will continue to do all I can to ensure that Cornwall benefits from these positive and progressive steps.

Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Newspaper column 1 December 2021 - Covid-19 update and Immigration

Following the discovery of a new type of Covid-19, the Omicron variant, of which a small number of cases have been found in the UK, our Prime Minister on Saturday announced temporary and precautionary measures to prevent its spread.

As the Prime Minister said on Saturday, the change with this variant of the virus is significantly different to other variants that it might - at least in part - reduce the protection of our vaccines over time.

So we need to take targeted and proportionate measures now as a precaution while we find out more.  These measures are sadly necessary to slow the spread of this new variant, continue to protect our vaccination programme, and support our NHS. They will hopefully ensure we will not need to take more severe measures down the line.

These measures, which include compulsory face coverings in shops and other retail settings, as well as on public transport, and new rules on covid testing for all international travellers arriving into the UK, came into force from Tuesday of this week. They will be reviewed in three weeks. By that point we will have had time to learn more about this variant and will then decide if further measures are required in the light of the information we have.

Away from COVID-19, last week also saw the tragic drowning of 27 people who tried to cross from France to the UK via a small boat.

As the Home Secretary said last week, there is a global illegal migration crisis. The people smugglers that arrange these journeys are criminals – they do it for money, nothing more, and I have heard terrible stories about people who thought they would be getting to the UK another way instead forced by gunpoint onto a boat and then set adrift across the channel.

There is no quick fix for this issue and what needs to happen is co-ordinated international action to address the wider issues, that lead to these criminal gangs becoming so prevalent. To keep things in perspective, the total number of people coming to the UK to seek asylum is not significantly higher than it was before the pandemic. What is different is that while other routes have not been available, more people are seeking to cross the channel via the treacherous business shipping lanes. Those arriving by this route as more visible than by other routes which is partly why it has attracted so much media attention this year.

More than 20,000 boat crossings have been stopped this year, as well as 17 organised criminal groups broken up and over 400 arrests and 65 convictions secured.

But this is a much bigger and more systemic issue. As well as continuing to offer to work with France on joint patrols and stepping up security to actually stop the people smugglers, Brexit has allowed the government to bring forward a New Plan for Immigration, which will be put into law through the Nationality and Borders Bill. This is a longer-term solution that will address many of these underlying factors to deterring illegal migration and addressing underlying pull factors into the UK’s asylum system. This new legislation will continue its passage through Parliament next week when it returns to the House of Commons for its third reading.

It will bring in a range of measures, including: the one-stop appeals process, the ability to process claims outside the country, the ability to declare inadmissibility to our asylum system and have differentiation for those who arrive in the UK having passed through safe countries, and life sentences for people-smugglers.

The United Kingdom has a clear and a generous, humane approach to asylum seekers and refugees. Channel crossings in small boats are incredibly dangerous, and as we have seen, can end in tragedy. So we need to work with our neighbour to stop these crossings while in the longer term reform the broken systems which have previously allowed uncontrolled immigration through the EU to allow people to fairly come to the UK and live here legally, when they have a genuine reason and need to do so.

As always, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance. Please do get in touch if I can help – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk