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 – firstname.lastname@example.org