Wednesday, 28 December 2016
I hope you all had a good Christmas. As we enter 2017 and look forward to all that the New Year has in store, it is a good time to also look back at 2016. There is no doubt that the past year has been a very interesting and significant time in British politics as well as a busy time in our constituency.
Dominating the national picture has been the result of the June 23rd Referendum and the ensuing negotiations to bring about Brexit. Holding a Referendum was a Manifesto commitment of the Conservative Government, one that I was proud to stand on and one that we have delivered on after just one year in government. I will be doing everything I can to ensure the best possible outcome for this country, and Cornwall in particular over the coming months.
This includes joining the European Scrutiny Committee in Parliament. While we are negotiating our exit from the EU this committee will continue to play a crucial role. Not only in keeping an eye on the EU legislation that continues to come through but also in ensuring as smooth and positive an exit as possible.
Turning to my specific work as Member of Parliament, along with my team I am pleased to have assisted over 2,000 individual constituents with their concerns in the last year and I have written to over 8,000 people who have contacted me about policy matters. In Parliament I have spoken in the main Chamber 53 times and voted in nearly 90% of all votes, both above average for MPs. Here in Mid-Cornwall I have attended over 250 local events, visited more than 30 schools and welcomed many Government Ministers, including the Prime Minister and several members of her Cabinet, to the area so they can see first-hand the issues we face here.
One area that I have been really pleased to have had success was in securing an additional £3m funding for Cornwall Council at this year’s Budget. The Secretary of State has also announced a comprehensive review of the costs of delivering services in rural areas next year.
Turning to my pledge to fight for investment in our all-important transport infrastructure, I am pleased to have worked to bring forward positive developments across Mid- Cornwall in the last year. These included getting the ball rolling on a link road between the A30 and the A391 – which will benefit St Austell and the surrounding area, getting funding to upgrade 6.8km of the dangerous A3058 road between St Austell and Newquay, and of course working closely with the team at Cornwall Airport Newquay to grow and expand the airport on a number of fronts.
Another part of keeping Cornwall connected is our vital rail link. Working with my Cornish MP colleagues I have been pleased to have successfully lobbied the Secretary of State for Transport to provide an additional £10 million funding to develop the Dawlish line.
In non-transport infrastructure, I have also had successes with South West Water, particularly in upgrading and providing better maintenance for their Menagwins Waste Water Treatment site, which serves St Austell and most of the surrounding area, and also their work to repair and bring up to scratch the Yellowsands Viewing Platform at Newquay, and ongoing work to upgrade the sewage system in Fowey.
Finally, it would be right to mention my actions on the controversial Parliamentary Boundary Changes review, which could see Cornwall sharing a cross-border Parliamentary seat with Devon. I have always said that I am a Cornishman first and a Conservative second. This is one of those occasions when I believe that speaking up for Cornwall is the best thing to do even if it means disagreeing with the Government and so that is what I did.
I look forward to continuing to serve the people of Mid-Cornwall in 2017 and beyond to make this a better place to live, work and grow up in.
Wednesday, 21 December 2016
Parliament has now risen for the Christmas Recess and I have been here in Mid-Cornwall trying to get to as many events and visits as possible around the festive period.
While I am now looking forward to a nice relaxing break for a few days with my family, it was good to see, in the last full week of Parliament, a number of positive announcements for Cornwall from the Government.
Firstly, the Government has announced its financial settlement for Local Government. This announcement and publication of the settlement marks the start of a consultation period until 13 January 2017. The final settlement for 2017/18 will be laid before the House of Commons in February 2017.
At a time where savings in public spending are still needed, the positive news here for Cornwall Council is that there is no change in the levels of Revenue Support Grant, Rural Services Delivery Grant or Better Care Fund.
Along with my fellow Cornish MPs I have been lobbying for increased funding for Cornwall, and am pleased to see a number of areas where we are getting increased funding or new avenues of funding have become available.
Firstly there is now a new Adult Social Care Support Grant available. This is a new grant that has been established, funded from savings in the New Homes Bonus. Amounts will be distributed according to relative need and Cornwall’s indicative allocation is £2.806m for 2017/18.
With Adult Social Care such an important issue, the Government has also previously allowed local authorities to add onto the Council Tax bill a 2% levy for Social Care. Now the Government is allowing local authorities to increase this percentage. I agree we need more money in Social Care, and hope that Cornwall Council will spend monies raised via this route sensibly and to provide and protect people who are at their most vulnerable.
The Government has also confirmed that Cornwall Council will pilot 100% Business Rates Retention from April 2017, although the details of that scheme are yet to be announced and are expected to form part of the final settlement in February 2017.
Last week we also saw the Government announce proposals on fair funding for schools.
Our Cornish schools have been underfunded for decades when compared to other parts of the country, and people have been calling for this inequality to be addressed for years. I am pleased to be part of the government that is at last doing something about this issue.
Shortly after my election I joined fair funding for public services in rural areas campaign group, f40, which has campaigned for over 20 years for a fairer, more equitable school funding formula. I was honoured last month to be appointed as Vice Chairman of the group and have been actively lobbying Ministers to get a better deal for our school children.
While the devil is in the detail, I believe the basic fair funding element meets what I have been demanding, which is a recognition of the challenges of running schools in rural areas and that our rural communities in Cornwall are some of the poorest in the country.
I am pleased that the Government has listened to the arguments put forward by me and many of my colleagues and is now taking the first of many steps to put this historic unfairness right.
Last week’s report shows the Secretary of State understands that the existing funding model has no rationale and is clearly unfair. I will continue to work with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to push for the best outcome for Cornish children.
I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year for 2017.
Wednesday, 14 December 2016
Last week in Parliament saw a historic moment in the House of Commons, when MPs voted for the first time ever, in the light of the referendum result, on the implementation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This is the formal process by which the UK will officially begin its withdrawal from the European Union.
The Government’s amendment to the original motion by the Labour Party called for Article 50 to be invoked no later than 31 March 2017.
This was the very first time MPs have had the opportunity to demonstrate their position with regards to the democratic decision made by the people of the UK. After much speculation and debate, MPs voted by a majority of 372 to support the triggering of Article 50 by the end of March to take the country out of the EU. I was pleased to see support for this motion from across the two main political parties and that subsequently a clear demonstration of Parliamentary support for the democratic decision of the British people from the Referendum on 23 June will be respected.
On a related note it was a shame to see the Liberal Democrats failing to live up to their name and their leader calling for their MPs to vote against this democratic decision. More than half of their MPs voted against it, and the other four, despite being present chose to abstain from voting on this hugely important issue.
As I have previously said, our democratic system is a wonderful thing, something which previous and current generations have fought to preserve. Many people I know who voted Remain in June’s Referendum have accepted the decision and now want to work together to make the best deal possible for our country going forward. It is a pity that some remain insistent on thwarting the outcome, something that I believe is fundamentally against the very basic principles of democracy that we stand on.
We now need to look forward and I will be doing everything I can to ensure the best possible outcome for this country, and Cornwall in particular, over the coming months.
As part of this I was delighted to recently be appointed to the European Scrutiny Committee in Parliament. This gives me the opportunity to look closely at the legislation and directives being passed down by the EU as well as participate in debates on EU related matters.
While we are negotiating our exit from the EU this committee will continue to play a crucial role. Not only in keeping an eye on the EU legislation that continues to come through but also in ensuring as smooth and positive an exit as possible.
I am honoured to have been appointed to this important committee and look forward to continuing to play an active part in Brexit, while speaking up for the interests of Cornwall.
As always, my team and I are here to serve the whole constituency and work hard to make a real difference to the lives of everyone needing support. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please contact me on either 01726 829379 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events
Wednesday, 7 December 2016
As I am sure we are all aware, planning is often a controversial issue that can polarise opinion. Although MPs have no role in local planning decisions and little influence over the decisions planning committees make, I believe we still have a role to play in ensuring the views of local people are heard.
There is no doubt in my mind that St Austell has been badly let down in the past as we have seen more and more housing approved without the necessary investment in our local infrastructure to support it.
I am not opposed to all development. I recognise there is a clear need for more housing in the area. Those of us with adult children know how difficult it is for them to get on the housing ladder. However, I am also clear, this housing needs to be appropriately sited, with investment in local infrastructure such as roads, schools and health services to support the increase in population. New development should also support the local economy by creating jobs and business growth.
This brings us to the recent application by Wainhomes to build 300 houses on the controversial site behind Poltair School and the College. This is the fourth application they have submitted for this site, having been refused three times previously.
I have always opposed applications for housing on this site, which I believe to be wholly unsuitable for development. When I was a Cornwall and Town Councillor in Poltair, I fought against previous similar applications on this site, including at an Appeal, and was pleased to see them rejected. I remain opposed to the current application.
I have worked closely with St Austell Town Council on the St Austell part of the Cornwall Site Allocations Development Plan Document (Allocations DPD). The DPD was written with public consultation. 95% of local people who responded did not want this land included in the DPD.
Subsequently the land in question was excluded from the town framework which identifies land for development. It is therefore disappointing that Wainhomes have chosen to ignore the views of local people and once again apply for permission to develop this site.
I recently wrote to the Head of Planning at Cornwall Council along these lines when the most recent plans surfaced and expressed my surprise and disappointment at the way this application was being progressed.
Last week I had the opportunity to raise this issue in the House of Commons when I questioned the Minister for Housing and Planning in Parliament on the application, saying that while I appreciate he cannot comment on individual planning applications, did he agree with me that if permissions are granted on sites that have been excluded for development after consultation and a democratic process it will do little to promote the public’s confidence in the planning system.
In reply the Minister reiterated how important it is to have a plan in place and congratulated Cornwall Council on finally passing its Local Plan. I too am pleased that after too many years of discussion, Cornwall Council has finally voted to adopt the Cornwall Plan.
I will continue to monitor this application closely and do all I can to ensure that the clearly expressed views of local people are respected and urge Cornwall Council to do the right thing here and reject this completely unsuitable application.
Going back to my days as Cornwall Councillor, the upkeep and maintenance of our highways has always been something that is of great importance to the people of Mid-Cornwall.
Keeping our roads in good condition is vital for the continued prosperity of Cornwall and it therefore follows that a great deal of public funding has been allocated to Cornwall Council for precisely that.
In fact, earlier this year, the Government announced £50 million of funding, estimated to repair nearly 1 million potholes across the country over the 2016-17 financial year. Over 100 councils in England received funding as part of the £250 million Pothole Action Fund included in April’s Budget, which will fix over 4 million potholes by 2020/21.
Cornwall Council pocketed £1,267,000 from this fund this year. This is money ring-fenced specifically for filling potholes. Last week it was announced that next year’s funding will be £1,847,000, and this is over and above the £144 million the Government is already committed to providing in 2017 to help repair local highways.
In addition to this it was good to see the Government recognise an issue I have raised a number of times, that being the dangerous A3058 road between Newquay and St Austell. Funding has now been made available to improve this busy road and I will be working with Cornwall Council to ensure we make the best use of the money available and improve safety as a priority.
I am pleased to have had some success in helping Cornwall Council spend some of the money that the Government has made available to it, notably on Treloggan Industrial Estate, where Cornwall Council finally got it right after a couple of goes and the surface is now looking much better.
However, I have been concerned to hear from local residents and businesses around Newquay that there are more and more problems occurring and that Cornwall Council seems ill-inclined to take action here.
Just recently we have seen headlines in the local press that the resort’s roads have been ‘left to rot’. This at a time, where Cornwall Council in other areas, including Truro, has recently found the money to make numerous improvements to the roads and public highways.
Newquay, as I am sure you will know is a huge income generator for the coffers of Cornwall Council. County Hall takes, takes and takes again from the town, which with its numerous council car parks and other facilities is the gift that keeps on giving. And I am sure I am not the only one who feels frustrated when the Council wastes hundreds of thousands of pounds on unwanted parking consultations but then tells us it cannot afford to paint a few road markings in Newquay.
I have now written to the Head of Transport at Cornwall Council and asked for some urgent action to be taken in Newquay and the surrounding area. I do not believe it is fair that should continue to prioritise its spending away from the town and believe that now is the time for action to be taken to address this. I look forward to hearing back from the Council and to be able to update you on their response shortly, but rest assured in the meantime, I will continue to do all I can to support the people of Newquay both on this matter and elsewhere.
There is much more to be done but I is good to see some progress being made and I will continue to fight our corner both with national Government and Cornwall Council to get the investment in our roads we need.