Wednesday, 22 February 2017
This week I thought I would take some time to address some of the misconceptions being passed around regarding the recent announcement by the Home Office on the Immigration Bill, particularly the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees under what is commonly known as the Dubs Amendment.
I have been concerned to see many false accusations flying around, including that I voted to stop or cancel the programme as covered by the Dubs Amendment in a recent vote in Parliament.
First there has been no vote in Parliament on child refugees recently. The whole of February so far in Parliamentary business was taken up with the Article 50 Bill. In fact when the Dubs Amendment, from the Lords, originally went before Parliament last year, the Government, including myself, supported it, and it was passed unopposed.
What happened two weeks ago was that the Home Office announced the latest stage of the programme for accepting child refugees. This announcement is a requirement under the terms of the Immigration Bill that was passed through Parliament last year. Therefore this is not a particularly surprising move or some change of policy but simply due process under the current legislation.
This programme under the Dubs amendment is a very specific part of this country’s overall work in addressing the global refugee crisis. It is worth noting that the UK continues to be the 2nd biggest contributor to humanitarian aid in the Middle East, only behind the USA. Our contribution is now in the billions of pounds so any suggestion that the UK is not playing its part is simply unfounded.
It is vital that we do all we can to ensure that the large amount of UK Taxpayers money is spent in the most appropriate way. I am sure you will be aware that there is great political pressure to cut the UK’s overall spending on International Aid, which is currently £12 billion p.a. being 0.7% of our national GDP. If we are to maintain our level of aid overall, something I fully support, it is vital that we ensure it is spent wisely and not seen to be wasted.
How this money is spent with regards to helping refugees is a judgement call. The policy of the government, which I agree with and support, is that this is better focused on helping those in the refugee camps in the region – i.e. the countries around Syria itself. There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be the best.
Firstly we have to be aware of the ‘pull effect’ taking refugees from within Europe has – especially children. If we continue to take children from within Europe in an open unending way we will be playing into the hands of the people traffickers. If it continues to be known that we will take any unaccompanied children from within Europe all that we do is encourage families to pay the traffickers to bring their children on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. It is far better to send the message that the best chance of getting help is to remain in the camps and we will take those that are most vulnerable and in need of help from there.
This leads into the second point. By definition those that make it to Europe are the fittest, wealthiest and those with the most influential contacts. The weakest, poorest and most vulnerable are those that are left in the camps. Therefore if we want to target our resources at those most in need it is better to help those that remain in the camps.
Finally, we have to be sure that we are able to properly care for those that we bring here. This means that we need to be able to provide them with housing, education, social and health care. This is all within the backdrop of our currently overstretched public services where we have a shortage of housing, limited school places and we are all aware of the current pressure our health and care services are under. This is why the Home Office have been careful to work with local authorities to ask them to confirm the number of unaccompanied children they are able to take. This is the backdrop to the announcement last week. To date we have taken 200 children under the Dubs Amendment scheme. Local authorities have informed the Home Secretary that they are able to take only a further 150 children in the coming months. This was the reason for her announcement. We are not closing the Dubs scheme as some are saying. The government has simply stated the number of children we are able to accommodate in the immediate future.
Although I am disappointed we have not been able to take more unaccompanied children to date and I am not saying the government could not have done more to help, let us not forget that this is in addition to the 20,000 refugees and 3,000 children we are taking directly from the camps in the region.
So I take great exception to anyone who misrepresents what has actually happened or somehow suggests that Britain is not playing its part. We are doing far more than every other nation bar one on earth. Our response is measured to ensure that we are able to provide and care for those that we bring but it is generous and compassionate.
Monday, 20 February 2017
As you are aware, in the coming weeks all businesses in England will start receiving rates bills based on a new valuation of their premises. This revaluation, which happens every few years and is carried out by the Valuation Office, an independent agency who are required to keep accurate and up to date valuations for businesses.
On average, business rates will fall in Cornwall by 4.9% and overall the retail industry will see a 6% reduction in rates, saving £400 million in total. In addition many rural businesses will benefit from a rate relief too. Where there is only one pub, post office or general store in a village, from April 2017 they will generally receive 100% rate relief. This was double from 50% at the last Autumn Statement.
There are also wider reforms to business rates. As I am sure you are aware, over the next few years Cornwall Council will be devolved all the revenue of business rates, allowing local people and businesses to benefit from local economic growth.
If you have received a valuation which you think is unfair, I will be willing to support you in the appeal process. If you would like my office to help appealing, please contact me on 01726 829379 or email email@example.com
Wednesday, 15 February 2017
In the past week I have spoken with or had letters from a number of parents with concerns about the funding for our Cornish schools, after they received a request for them to contact me from the head teacher of their children’s school.
Fair funding for our schools is something I take very seriously.
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. A new education funding formula was part of the Conservative Manifesto that I stood on last year and we are delivering on our promise.
Shortly after my election I joined the fair funding campaign group, f40, which has campaigned for over 20 years for a fairer, more equitable funding formula for rural areas. I was honoured last year to be appointed as a 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 announced in December 2016 meets what I have been demanding, which is a recognition that the existing funding model has no rationale and is clearly unfair, of the challenges of running schools in rural areas and that our rural communities in Cornwall are some of the poorest in the country.
Turning to figures released by the National Union of Teachers and other organisations that claim funding will be cut, this is because the figures they are using take into account their estimates of inflation during the years covered. As these are purely estimates I do not think it is accurate to compare them with the actual funding formula consultation figures that have been announced by the Government.
The Government’s consultation on the NFF gives some illustrative figures for the impact on schools if the proposals were introduced this financial year with current aggregate levels of funding, current school and pupil numbers and characteristics used to calculate total funding for each school.
In order to inform my understanding of this situation, I have taken data from the House of Commons Library which is a highly respected source of accurate and objective information.
The data from the Department for Education illustrates two scenarios, If the NFF were implemented in full this year and if the NFF were implemented with transitional arrangements. Under scenario 1 the average increase in school budgets in Mid-Cornwall is 1.8%. Under scenario 2 the average increase is 1.1%. In both cases 29 of the 37 schools in Mid Cornwall would see an increase in funding.
Whilst I respect the fact that there will inevitably be individual ‘winners and losers’ in any change in the funding formula, it is clear that overall the changes as proposed will significantly increase the level of funding for education in Cornwall. This has to be good news for Cornish children and families. I have also been keen to raise this issue with senior management at Cornwall Council during my regular meetings with them. My understanding is that Cornwall Council, as the affected local authority, believe the proposed NFF figures are good news for Cornwall, albeit the first step in a long process to address historical underfunding in Cornwall.
All in all, 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. I will continue to work with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to push for the best outcome for Cornish children.
Finally, it is also worth noting that this is the 2nd stage in the consultation process. No decisions have yet been taken and I will continue to listen to the case local schools put to me to ensure that we get the very best deal possible for education in Cornwall.
On Monday we received the very sad news that one of our local community stalwarts had died and I feel it only proper that I pay tribute to Tony Geake.
Tony and his wife Margaret have given much of their lives to supporting and raising funds for our local hospice at Mount Edgcumbe. It is not over stating it to say that it is unlikely the hospice would even be here in our town if it wasn’t for the generosity and commitment of this special couple.
From the original gift of the land the hospice is built on, their legendary annual lunch by the lake event that they hosted, to their tireless fund raising efforts in so many ways, they really have become synonymous with the work of Cornwall Hospice Care.
Like so many local families mine owes an incredible debt of gratitude to the hospice and therefore to this special couple. Not only from my time as Mayor and now MP, but from our own family experience of my mother being cared for and finally passing away at the hospice, I know how very lucky we are to have this facility in our town.
I had the privilege of getting to know Tony in recent years through my involvement with supporting the hospice as it was my Mayoral charity. He truly was the finest example of what our town, and indeed Cornwall, as a whole, stands for. His generosity of heart, pride in our community and commitment to the cause coupled with his unassuming humility, stands as an example to us all. He leaves behind an incredible legacy of community spirit.
I know he will be greatly missed by Margaret and the rest of the family and his many friends and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time. But I know he will also be hugely missed by so many others in this town.
On behalf of our town and the countless people whose lives you touched – thank you Tony. Rest in peace.
Thursday, 9 February 2017
I was very concerned to see recent reports in the media about Cornwall Council consulting on plans to compulsorily purchase houses in Holmbush as part of their Clean Air Strategy.
I have now investigated further and received further information from Cornwall Council on this issue.
The news that was reported recently stems from Cornwall’s Clean Air Strategy draft document that members of Cornwall Council’s Communities Portfolio Advisory Committee were asked to vote to approve and send back to Cornwall Council’s Cabinet for further discussion and a vote in due course.
The item regarding the compulsory purchase was only a very small part of a much wider document. It reads:
In areas where air quality is particularly poor, it can be very difficult to identify feasible and affordable measures that will provide any meaningful reduction in pollution levels. In the meantime, residents are exposed to unacceptably poor air quality, with little prospect of achieving the air quality objective before 2030 in some locations. This is a difficult situation to address and one that the Council would not want to continue. Therefore one possible option could be to move residents away from the pollution. This is likely to be very controversial and carry a reputational risk, however it is felt that the option should be further explored rather than simply discounted.
The project would involve development of land in a suitable nearby location to create a new neighbourhood where those exposed to the poorest air quality could be provided with a new property. This may be through compulsory purchase or an optional swap. Additional properties could be built to accommodate those in need of Council or affordable housing in the area and help to build a community, as well as contributing to paying for the scheme. The land that is obtained through the swap could be used for highway improvements or alternative less sensitive uses such as retail.
Initial discussions indicate that such a project would cost Cornwall Council several million pounds to implement, but would be considerably cheaper than a bypass which may be the only other option available to improve air quality. Neighbourhoods and Public Protection would work with colleagues in Housing, Planning, Public Health and seek the views of the local Member and Parish Council to further explore and cost this option.
Although such a scheme would provide a solution and could provide additional health and wellbeing benefits, it also presents a number of risks to the Council. It would be preferable to resolve the air quality problems and allow residents to stay in their homes whilst making it a more attractive and healthy environment.
Members views are therefore sought on this proposal however, it is recommended that further legal advice is sought and consultation undertaken before a decision is made.’
I hope from reading this that you will see that while this is a proposal put forward by the Council officers for discussion by councillors, it is not one of their preferred options, for the reasons given.
While I do share the concerns about the air quality of the A390 and will continue to seek sensible solutions to this issue, I would certainly not support anyone being forced to leave their homes and if this policy was adopted by Cornwall Council, would be firmly against it.
Wednesday, 8 February 2017
First and foremost I think we have to take a step back and accept that President Donald Trump is the democratically elected Head of State of the USA, our closest and most powerful ally.
I, along with many of your readers I’m sure, was unhappy with the comments President Obama made during the referendum campaign, seeing it as none of his business to be involving the US in what was an internal matter for the UK.The end result spoke for itself. While I do not agree with some of the things President Trump is now doing, I believe it would be hypocritical for the UK Government to intervene in matters that surely should be purely for the USA’s own Government to deal with.
Concerning the temporary restrictions he has put on US immigration policy, incorrectly labelled a ‘Muslim ban’ by some, I agree with the Prime Minister’s stated position from PMQ’s last week, where she said ‘this Government is clear that it is wrong. We would not do it.’ I will state clearly that I believe President Trump’s action are, in my view, likely to be counterproductive. However, I also respect his right to do what he believes is right for his country.
Although I personally disagree with these restrictions and indeed many of the things President Trump has said both before and since his election, I believe that he has every right, given his position, to make them. All the e-petitions and protests in the world won’t stop him. Although of course I applaud our democratic system that makes such free speech possible. As it is, sadly in many cases, it seems that the protests around the world appear to be a continuation of the reaction of some people who did not vote for Trump, or Brexit or whatever, and are unhappy that they did not get their preferred outcome.
Ironically, a lot of the backlash seems to be out of shock that President Trump is actually doing things that he said he was going to do during his election campaign. Again, if these things are the principles or manifesto that he stood on, surely he is now just getting on with the job that he was elected to do, and that those who voted for him expect him to do. Too often politicians are rightly criticised for saying things during elections that they never deliver on once elected – we can hardly level that criticism at Trump.
The USA is one of our closest and strongest allies and it is vital both for our national interest and the world generally that we have a positive and cooperative relationship with them – whoever their president is. By being a friend we can then challenge the positions they take that we do not believe are right. We will surely have more success in influencing them from this position rather than ranting and criticising them from across the pond. If we only build connections with people and countries we agree with 100% it would be a very lonely world!
Last week MPs voted 498-114 to grant the Prime Minister the power to formally trigger Article 50, the process by which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union.
I am honoured to have been part of this historic vote by which, once the Bill has passed through all stages, the Prime Minister will be able to implement the instruction from the British people in formally starting the UK’s exit from the EU.
It was important to me to vote not just on behalf of the majority of residents in Mid-Cornwall who voted for Brexit in last year’s referendum, but also the majority of people across the country who voted to leave.
Although it is right to acknowledge the 48% of those who voted to remain, there also needs to be an acceptance that by granting a referendum we placed this decision in the hands of the British people. It would be undemocratic to now seek to thwart the implementation of this decision as some are seeking to do.
I am therefore pleased that MPs overwhelmingly voted for this Bill, although it was again a shame to see the Liberal Democrats failing to live up to their name, voting to defy the British People and frustrate the majority.
In fact, it was bizarre to hear the former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who once said his Party was leading the calls for an EU Referendum, lead an attack on the people’s decision in the House of Commons last Tuesday. I suppose in his view Referendums are ok as long as, if you are unhappy with the result, you can keep demanding another one until you get what you want.
As a columnist in a leading daily paper said of Clegg, .… “[his] nine-minute contribution was one of the most nakedly dishonest speeches I have had the misfortune to hear in the Commons. The man is as shameless as a charity store shoplifter.”
Following the vote the Government published the long awaited White Paper on Brexit, which expanded on the Brexit Strategy points made by the Prime Minister earlier in the year. I have included a link to the White Paper on my website, which you can find below:
This week the Bill will go on to the committee stage, where various amendments are being tabled to delay or dilute us leaving the EU. I will certainly do all I can to resist any attempts to do so.
As the formal negotiations begin, along with my Cornish MP colleagues I will of course be doing my very best to ensure Cornwall gets the best deal possible from Brexit and look forward to working closely with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to achieve just that.
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
Thursday, 2 February 2017
In all things. I believe it is important to plan for the future. I am aware of challenges and pressures that face our NHS. It is right that all NHS services across Cornwall are in scope to be part of the full review process as part of the consultation for the STP, so we can ensure we get best value for money from them and they operate to the best of their abilities.
I am pleased that this Government has increased funding for the NHS in real terms and is set to continue to increase the funding going forward. In Cornwall this is also the case. For example, since the creation of NHS Kernow it has had a real terms increase in funding every year, which is projected to continue until at least 2020.
However the funding needs to be spent well and the service fit to meet the demands our population place on it. Just throwing money at a problem won’t necessarily make it go away.
Savings need to be made. While, along with my Cornish MP colleagues I will continue to press for more funding, the NHS in Cornwall does need to live within its means. The current deficit it has is in my view caused by mismanagement which led to an overspend of £57m in just this last year,
I am pleased that the STP is an open consultation where the pubic have a chance to have their say.
Although I have been unable to attend the public meetings in St Austell and Newquay that have taken place so far, due to having to be in Parliament when they took place, a member of my team did go on my behalf. I also meet regularly with NHS and Cornwall Council management and will sure local people’s views are heard and fight for the very best outcome for St Austell and Newquay.
I hope this is helpful in outlining my views on the STP.
Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Last week the group in charge of Cornwall Council, comprising ten senior Liberal Democrat and Independent councillors forming a Cabinet under leader John Pollard, voted, 9-1, to spend a minimum of £536,000 of Cornish taxpayer money on a bid for Truro to be the European Capital of Culture for 2023. If successful the bid will cost as much as £25million in total.
Regular readers of my column will know that I am not shy to hold Cornwall Council to account.
As an organisation they do many good things, and just last week I was pleased to get an update on them on the work that is taking place for the invaluable A30-A391 link road, the upgrading of the A3058 and the continued excellent progress of Cornwall’s bus service devolution.
However the current leadership at Cornwall Council has been, in my view, making increasingly baffling decisions on how to use your money for the good of Cornwall. This is the latest one.
Those in Cornwall Council’s leadership often tell me, during my regular meetings with them, that they have no money for essential work and services, running from filling potholes to keeping public toilets open. They publicly blame central government cuts on their issues. True, cuts have been made and we all have to tighten our belts. However Cornwall Council is a colossal organisation with a massive budget and as I have said in the past, it needs to take some responsibility for it. To plead poverty in this way, but once again find funding for a pet project is not, to me, the right way to run things.
Of course, this is just another in a growing list of waste of money projects by the Council’s leadership to add to the now infamous bus lane to nowhere and the recent three quarters of a million pounds on a pointless car parking consultation, the results of which I now understand they have kicked into the long grass.
Looking at the papers that the Cabinet voted on there appears to be a lot of support for the move from various organisations around Cornwall for the bid. Indeed, many of them wax lyrical about the benefits the bid, if successful will bring. However what they have all failed to do is commit any money whatsoever to the scheme, leaving Cornwall Council as currently the only funder.
Some say that you have to spend money to make money but I believe, at a time where they say they don’t have money to maintain the most basic public services, Cornwall Council should be prioritising its spending away from projects like this and focusing on what matters. It isn’t their money after all, it is yours.
Of course, apart from anything else, come 2023 we won’t even be in the European Union. Could you see President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker deciding to come along to open Truro as the centre of European Union ideals and culture, at a time that could be five years after we have left the EU?
This decision is a speculative gamble with taxpayers’ money at a time when the Council should have other priorities. My hope is that they will listen to common sense and reverse this decision before any money is wasted.