Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Newspaper column 30 March 2016 - The National Living Wage

The National Living Wage will come into force in April.  The National Living Wage is a bold step announced by Chancellor George Osborne in his post-Election budget last July.

At the time he said; “Britain deserves a pay rise and this one-nation government is making sure it gets one, helping more people have the security of a higher wage to provide for themselves and their families.”

I am delighted that this Conservative Government has taken this step.  We live in an area that has many low paying jobs.  The average wage in our constituency is well below the national average.  This has been a long-standing issue and one that I am keen to address.  There are many measures that we can take, including attracting higher paying jobs to the area.  But this takes time, and the National Living Wage is an obvious first step that will bring immediate help to many people.

Alongside the introduction of the National Living Wage, the Chancellor also increased the personal allowance to £11,500 per person from 5th April 2017.  This means that we can all earn £11,500 that will be free of income tax.  It also means that much of the increase in wage packets enjoyed in April and thereafter will be tax free.

The Conservative One Nation Government wants to improve people’s aspirations, to make work pay and to tackle the causes of poverty.  I believe that the National Living Wage works towards that goal.

The Living Wage from 1st April will be set at £7.20 per hour.  Anyone currently aged over 25 and earning the National Minimum Wage of £6.70 per hour will move to the National Living Wage of £7.20 per hour, a pay rise of some 8% or 50p per hour.  For people with a full time job this could mean an increase in wages of around £900.  The Chancellor has a goal of increasing this wage floor to £9.00 per hour by 2020. 

It is worth taking a step back and considering the wider picture.  The Conservative Government inherited a system where a large number of people in work were paid low wages that were supplemented by tax credits.  The Chancellor is aiming to shift this so that employers pay people a fair wage without the need for the tax credit supplement.

The Chancellor also mitigated the impact of the rise in salary bills for small businesses by increasing the Employment Allowance from £2,000 to £3,000 and by increasing small business rate relief.   

Employees on the Minimum Wage have a healthy pay rise to look forward to, and additional money going into people’s pockets and our local economy can only be a good thing.   I am proud that the Conservative Government has been able to deliver this important measure. 

For more information on the Living Wage please go to where you will find a helpful calculator and some additional guidance.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or on  

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Newspaper column 23 March 2016 - My thoughts on the changes to PIP

The Chancellor, George Osborne delivered his latest Budget last Wednesday and I was pleased with the measures that he announced that directly impact on Cornwall.  The A391 link to the A30 was mentioned again, as were the community-led housing schemes that will be funded out of Stamp Duty receipts on second homes.  I was pleased with the increase in the personal allowance and the reforms to business rates.  The people of our constituency are going to benefit in a number of ways and so I welcomed the Budget.

The Chancellor did not highlight the changes to the Personal Independence Payments in his Budget speech and as these changes emerged I decided to speak out.  On Thursday I released a short statement; “Having looked at the proposed changes to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit in the Budget, I am concerned at the impact these could have on some of the most vulnerable people in our society. I am seeking further clarification as to the exact nature of the changes before I decide whether they are something I can support.”

I remain convinced that the welfare system needs reform, for many reasons it isn’t fit for purpose.  However, the necessary changes need to be made sympathetically in a way that does not harm those most in need.  A blanket reduction in benefits does not fulfill these criteria.

This position mirrored that of my West Country colleagues.  I was then asked to appear on both TV and radio on Friday, which I duly did, laying out my position that I could not support cuts to the income of the vulnerable members in our society, while simultaneously moving the 40% tax band threshold in favour of higher earners. I stated my position clearly – that I was prepared to rebel against this measure should it become necessary. 

As many of you will be aware, Iain Duncan Smith the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions resigned late on Friday night.  His position was similar to mine, taking the issue further and questioning the Government’s commitment to One Nation policies.  The PIP reforms and the resignation story dominated the weekend political media and I again appeared on the radio on Sunday evening to reiterate my position,

Monday afternoon saw the new Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Stephen Crabb, announce the withdrawal of the PIP reforms, a move that I support.  It gives us the chance to re-think these changes and to focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable in our society do not suffer.

I am pleased that the Government has listened to my concerns, along with several of my colleagues and decided to drop these changes. I was prepared to rebel against these changes and will speak up and do so again if needed, if I believe the Government is wrong and there is a requirement for me to do this, on behalf of the people of Mid-Cornwall who I have been elected to represent.

As I write this on Monday evening, I am reminded of the old adage that a week is a long time in politics; it certainly feels true this week.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or on  

Monday, 14 March 2016

Newspaper column 16th March 2016 - Supporting the tourist industry

We have just enjoyed a beautiful weekend in Cornwall, the daffodils are blooming and spring is in the air.  This is a taste of the summer ahead and with Easter approaching, the tourist season will begin again in earnest.

The Economist recently noted that Cornwall has enjoyed a growth in off-season visitors as our winter tourist offerings of art galleries, fine dining and long walks become more popular.  But the summer season remains the core of our tourist calendar and our chance to welcome visitors to our beautiful county.

Tourism is the major employment sector in Cornwall, especially in Newquay, and our economy would suffer without the significant revenues that visitors bring to the county.  However, the tourist industry continues to suffer from a reputation of low wages and low job security, issues that the Government is seeking to address.

When the Prime Minister visited The Lost Gardens of Heligan last summer he launched his five-point plan to support the tourist sector.  The first point in this plan was in respect of the tourist industry landscape.  It was recognised that a more co-ordinated marketing approach is required, especially in relation to overseas visitors.

So with this in mind, I was pleased to meet with Visit Britain recently.  I learnt that over half of the overseas visitors to the UK only visit London. Our challenge is to spread the word that Cornwall offers a myriad of activities and destinations, and Visit Cornwall is instrumental in aiming at that goal.

Closer to home, over 1 million people visited the Eden Project last year, the majority of these being visitors from outside of Cornwall.  I think I stand on pretty firm ground when I speculate that many, if not most, of these visitors did not linger long in the wider St Austell and Newquay area.  Again, this is a challenge that we need to address through our marketing initiatives.

The Government is working hard to secure apprenticeship positions and these are especially important to the tourist sector.  We need to attract talented young people to sustain and grow this important industry for the future.   Should Space Tourism become a reality in Cornwall we will have a whole new market to cater for.

The tourist season brings challenges as well as opportunities.  Our county welcomes visitors, but they can increase the burden on our already-stretched infrastructure.  I am also conscious that the seagull-nesting season is upon us and recently met with a number of interested parties to discuss their approach this year.   I will be following these issues closely as the season progresses.

As I look ahead to the summer I am reminded of the regattas, carnivals and feast weeks, our uniquely Cornish events that help to strengthen our community bonds.  So with the season about to start, let’s look forward to a bumper summer for Cornwall.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or on  

Thursday, 10 March 2016

My vote on the changes to ESA

I am pleased to be able to clarify why I voted for changes to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Firstly, it is important to note that these changes will be introduced from April 2017, so only new ESA claimants found to be capable of returning to work in the future (the Work-Related Activity Group) will receive the revised rate, currently set at £73 per week. This is the same rate as people who claim Jobseeker’s Allowance currently receive. It will not apply to current ESA Work-Related Activity Group claimants and therefore we are not cutting the monies received by anyone currently claiming ESA.

These changes will also not affect those claiming ESA with no immediate prospects of returning to work. These people, who currently receive ESA payments in the Support Group, receive an additional payment of £36.20 per week on top of the £73 per week to support them through their illness. Nor will they affect those claiming ESA while awaiting an assessment to see if they qualify for the benefit, who currently receive £73 per week.

This Government believes the money currently given to ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group simply treats the symptoms of poverty, but not the causes. We plan to recycle some of the money currently spent on benefit payments back onto spending practical support for life chances, funding that will be worth £60 million in 2017/18, up to £100 million in 2020/21. Taskforces including representatives from disability charities, disabled people's user-led organisations, employers, think tanks, and local authorities will influence how this money is spent. This is about helping people back into work, rather than keeping them on benefit.

In the end, I believe those people who are unwell but expect to be able to return to work should be treated the same as those who are looking for work in terms of the amount of benefit received, while ensuring they are supported to return to work in practical ways. This is while of course ensuring that those who are incapable of returning to work in the near future receive the extra support that is currently and will continue to be available.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Newspaper column 9th March 2016 - The Housing and Planning Bill

Recently the Housing and Planning Bill passed through the Commons. A number of concerns have been raised about the impacts of this Bill, particularly here in Cornwall.  While I understand these concerns, I believe that the Bill represents significant steps towards the goal of increasing home ownership.

Eighty six per cent of people who currently do not own their own home would like the opportunity to do so, and I support this, especially for young people.  The Conservative Government wants to “turn Generation Rent into Generation Buy”.

This process will not be easy.  Cornwall faces unique housing issues; there is a severe housing shortage in the county, the average wage is below the national average, while average house prices are driven higher by second homeowners and retirees.  These factors put home ownership out of the reach of many local families.

We need to work to address each of these issues.  There is a clear need for more housing in Cornwall but any new development has to be in the right location and supported by investment in jobs and infrastructure.  We will start to see average wages rise in Cornwall as the new National Living Wage takes affect and also as we work to create higher paying, higher-skilled jobs. 

The Starter Home provisions of the Housing and Planning Bill are designed to address the issue of house prices.   Starter Homes will be made available to first time buyers under the age of 40 and will be classed as affordable homes.  The Starter Homes will attract a discount of 20%.  Along with the Help to Buy scheme, where the Government provide an interest free loan of up to 20% of the purchase price as a deposit, I believe that this provision will put houses within the reach of many more families. 

New homes valued at or below £250,000 will be available under the Starter Home scheme.  But this price is the upper limit and I expect to see new homes in Cornwall significantly lower than this limit, again helping to make homes affordable.

The current system for local affordable homes for purchase is fraught with issues.  When a homeowner of an affordable home is ready to move on, they must first find a buyer who qualifies under the affordable home rules and has a local residency qualification.  This severely limits the market.  Once a suitable buyer is found, Cornwall Council processes part of the paperwork, a process that can take up to six months.  The affordable home system as it stands works to keep homeowners in the affordable house “trap”.

The Starter Home system will give first time buyers the opportunity to sell their homes onto the open market after five years of ownership.  Like the Right to Buy Scheme, the homeowner will enjoy the uplift in value after five years unencumbered by the residency rules.   I believe that these provisions will help to end the affordable home trap and put local families firmly on the property ladder.

The rental sector does not give people adequate security; many people live in poor quality homes with little security of tenure.  While there is a place for rented accommodation more people need to be given the chance to own their own home and I believe that this Bill helps us on that journey.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or on

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Newspaper column 2 March 2016 - Rural broadband connectivity

One of the things that is raised the most with me by residents from across our constituency are the difficulties that many people have in accessing good quality fast and reliable broadband service for their homes and businesses.

When I raise issues such as these on behalf of constituents, the body I have to go to is called Openreach, the division of BT that maintains the UK’s largest phone and broadband network on behalf of competing providers. Sadly, I often find that the answers and solutions I get to these enquiries are not at all helpful in terms of achieving a solution, particularly for our rural areas.

I believe that BT’s relationship with Openreach is unhealthy in terms of achieving innovative and common sense solutions. One way to achieve better solutions and service for all would be to open up the market and encourage competition by moving BT and Openreach apart.

With this in mind, earlier this year, I co-signed a report calling on Ofcom to take radical action over the ‘natural monopoly’ too long enjoyed by BT Openreach.

In 2016 people rightly expect access to high-speed internet connections. Whether at home or work, fast broadband should be a reality in all our communities. Sadly, this is not yet the case. In Mid-Cornwall people are dealing with some really poor connections and gaps in services. In fact St Austell and Newquay falls into the bottom 30% of seats for the availability of superfast connections, and Cornwall itself gets a speed below the 10mb per second Ofcom say everyone should have.
Last week, then, I was pleased to see Ofcom release recommendations that BT change its working relationship with Openreach.

In some of the highlights of their review ‘Making Communications Work for Everyone’, Ofcom concluded that BT must open up their network, so competitors can connect fibre to homes and offices, Openreach must be reformed to better serve UK consumers and businesses and that better quality of service needs to provided for all customers, including automatic compensation.

Openreach needs to take its own decisions on budget, investment and strategy - such as the deployment of new networks and therefore I particularly welcome Ofcom’s decision to overhaul Openreach’s governance and strengthen its independence from BT going forward,

I look forward to Ofcom’s detailed proposals that will be released later this year to implement these changes. This report’s outcome is a good step in the right direction and one that I hope will pave the way for a more competitive marketplace and the increase in customer service that will result. There is still more work to be done and I will continue to watch the situation closely to ensure the people of Mid-Cornwall get the level of service we need.

I will be meeting with concerned businesses in some of our worst affected areas to discuss ways forward whether that be working with Openreach, or pursuing other lines of action. If you have encountered any issues with your home or business then please do get in touch with my office via the details below and I will be more than happy to add your details to my continuing work in this area.

I also hold regular constituency advice surgeries across Mid-Cornwall in which you can bring up issues like this, or anything else where you need to know my opinion with something or believe I can be of assistance in any way. My next surgeries with free appointments across the constituency are on 12 and 19 March, and you are welcome to contact my office to book a slot. Further surgery dates can be found on my website.

My team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and seek to make a real difference to the lives of everyone who needs help and support in any way.  If there is any issue that we can help you with then please contact us on either 01726 829379 or at