Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Newspaper column 25 October - Housing

There is no doubt that one of the biggest challenges facing our country is that of housing. We feel this here in Cornwall probably as much as anywhere else in the country with the ratio of average wages to average house prices one of the biggest in the country.

I am very encouraged that Theresa May has made tackling this crisis her top domestic priority. A recent survey showed that 86% of people aspire to own their own home. We need to do all we can to enable people to attain to this desire.

In recent weeks we have seen a number of announcements introducing policies that begin to address this issue. From more money for social housing, to a new Help to Buy scheme and measures to address service charges charged by management companies.

This weekend saw further announcements of a consultation on how the government can make buying a house cheaper, faster and less stressful. These are all good news and I welcome this renewed focus on housing. As always we need to see these announcements result in action and changes to legislation and I will continue to keep a watchful eye as things develop.

There are two issues particularly I would like to see addressed.

One is that of stamp duty. This tax on house purchases is often a barrier particularly to first time buyers and those seeking to move up the property ladder. I would like to see stamp duty abolished completely for first time buyers. One of the ways we could achieve this is by switching stamp duty to the house seller rather than the buyer.

I also believe we need to provide greater protection for those buying new homes. We clearly need to build more houses to meet the current demand. These need to be in the right locations and with the supporting infrastructure, jobs and services in place. But we also need to address the issue of the quality of construction today.

There is a disturbing trend of defects and faults during construction that is increasing at an alarming rate. Around 30% of those who purchase new build properties today report that they are dissatisfied with the level of defects they find.

I have been contacted by a number of local constituents who have not only faced an unacceptable level of problems with their new homes but have also failed to get the protection and support from the warranty company.

Most new build houses today are sold with a 10 warranty in place. The most common of these are provided by the National House Building Council (NHBC) who have around 80% of the market.
It seems unacceptable to me that consumers today have more protection when buying a new mobile phone than they do, for what is for most people the biggest purchase of their life, a new home.

As a result, last week, I was pleased to secure a debate in Parliament to specifically address this matter.

It is clear to me that the current system of warranty is failing too many people and needs to be reviewed. Too often there appears to be a too cosy relationship between the warranty company and the builders. I also believe we should consider an independent Ombudsman to act in the new build housing market to hold developers to account for the quality of their work.

With a renewed emphasis on housing it is vital that we ensure all new houses are of a quality that will mean they will be the family homes for the future.

Animal Cruelty

Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs recently announced at the Conservative Party conference that the government will legislate to increase the sentencing guidelines for animal cruelty. As a dog owner myself, I think people who abuse animals are abhorrent and welcome this move by the government.

I hope the new, harsher sentences (up to 5 years) send a message to people who abuse animals, it is not acceptable and will be punished severely including having a reasonably long prison sentence.

I look forward to this law coming to the House and I hope it is implemented as soon as possible. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Energy Bills

I do share concerns over increase in prices. Suppliers are protected from recent fluctuations in the price of wholesale energy as they buy their energy up to two years in advance, and prices remain significantly lower than in 2015. I therefore expect energy companies to treat their customers fairly.

As you are aware, the Government made a proposal to extend the price protection currently in place for some vulnerable energy consumers to more of those on the poorest value tariffs. Rest assured, the Government is committed to doing so and the Energy watchdog Ofgem has accepted the call for further action.

More specifically, the Business and Energy Secretary, Greg Clark, has written to Ofgem asking what action the regulator intends to take to safeguard customers. Ofgem has committed to taking prompt action, in consultation with consumer experts, to develop proposals including a safeguard tariff. The Government wants to see rapid progress on this commitment and has not ruled out taking further action if necessary.

There is already a prepayment price cap in place protecting households least able to benefit from competition. On 1 April 2017 a prepayment price cap came into force protecting over four million households using pre-payment meters. The temporary cap, which will remain in place until the end of 2020, is expected to reduce bills across Britain and will save the average household £80 a year.

Ultimately, Government policy costs make up a relatively small proportion of household energy bills and they cannot by themselves explain price rises announced by energy suppliers. Indeed, a recent report from the independent Committee on Climate Change shows that policies driving energy efficiency improvements have offset the cost of energy policies and have, on average, resulted in lower energy bills for households.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Breast Cancer

It is important that every effort is made to continue raising awareness of breast cancer, and tackle this disease, which has taken so many lives over the years.

In 2015, Public Health England launched Be Clear on Cancer, a national scheme which, I am pleased to say, has significantly improved awareness of breast cancer in women over 70, who account for roughly 1 in 3 cases of breast cancer. Breast cancer survival rates have improved remarkably over the last 40 years, and this is testament to the efforts made to raise awareness of, and boost funding into tackling this disease.

I know that ministers are making great efforts to improve cancer services, and ensure that the NHS provides some of the world's best cancer care. The NHS has launched the National Cancer Programme which is committed to offering uniquely tailored cancer treatment to all patients with breast cancer by 2020. It is working closely with Health Education England and Macmillan Cancer Support to understand the best ways developing and implementing cancer services by the same date.

You may be interested to know that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is updating its guidelines on the diagnosis and management of breast cancer. These guidelines will cover the use of adjuvant bisphosphonates and other cancer drugs, and will be published in July 2018.

I believe these developments will significantly improve patient experience and quality of care. The NHS is implementing the independent Cancer Taskforce's recommendation that all breast cancer patients shall receive access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist, or other key workers. This will enable greater detection of any recurrence or secondary breast cancer, and enable a quick and effective return to care.

This is part of the NHS's ambitious wider strategy to improve cancer outcomes, and save 30,000 lives per year by 2020.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Public Sector Pay

As you may know, the government are looking at increasing public sector pay by asking pay review bodies to take into account recruitment and morale among each sector. As police and prison officers pay review was coming up they have already been announced.  

As other reviews are conducted during the next few months, they will take into account the additional criteria such as the ones mentioned above. It is important to remember why both the Coalition and Conservative governments have maintained this cap because the public sector pay bill makes up over half of departmental resource spending, and continued pay restraint remains central to deficit reduction strategy to get us back on a financial even keel from the disastrous deficit we inherited in 2010. Whilst we have cut that deficit by 75% we still have a deficit of 2.6% which is running at £52bn a year or £1 billion every week.

This is not sustainable and will saddle future generations with debt that will need to be paid in high taxes or spending cuts. We have taken tough decisions in the national interest over the last few years and we are close to achieving a budget surplus and paying down our debt, we cannot allow political expediency to get in the way of that. To put the size of debt in context, we now spend more on interest servicing that debt then we do on defence.

The Chancellor will therefore have my support to come forward with properly costed and sustainable measures to increase public sector pay in the Autumn Budget.

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Newspaper column 18 October 2017 - New incentives for GPs in rural areas

Last week was a busy week in Parliament for me. A particular highlight was the Tourism and Hospitality Day on Tuesday where, in my role as Chair of the Visitor Economy All Party Parliamentary Group, I was able to meet with a number of leaders in the tourism sector from across the South West, and discuss a number of key issues and explore opportunities to ensure this vital part of our economy is well represented in Parliament.

I also ventured over to Truro on Friday for a busy day at County Hall attending our regular meetings with NHS leaders, Cornwall Council leaders on the devolution agenda, as well as other organisations including the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce.

On Thursday I was really pleased to see the announcement from Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt, that from 2018, G.P. surgeries in hard-to-recruit areas will benefit from a new government-backed scheme – the Targeted Enhanced Recruitment Scheme – which will offer a one-off payment of £20,000 to attract newly qualified G.Ps to work in areas of the country where training places have been unfilled for a number of years.
The Department of Health has also asked Health Education England (HEE) to make sure many of the 1,500 additional medical training places that will be funded from next year are located in priority areas, including rural and coastal communities. The Secretary of State specifically mentioned Cornwall in his announcement and so I am pleased that the Health Secretary has listened to the calls from myself and my Cornish MP colleagues to address the challenges we face in the NHS in Cornwall and the Government has acted accordingly.
This should relieve some of the pressures on our hard-working G.P’s and I look forward to seeing the fund put in place. On a wider scale, Cornwall’s NHS has been in the news recently because of the recent Care Quality Commission (CQC) reports on the NHS Cornwall Clinical Commissioning Group and Royal Cornwall Hospital Treliske.

The NHS staff on the ground are dedicated and do their best for the patients in their care. There are many good practises highlighted in the report such as the care and compassion shown to patients. What this report shows is that this is clearly a failure of the management and systems at the hospital.
Now that these issues have been recognised and the hospital placed in special measures the Government will provide support and additional resources will be made available to address the underlying causes.
A significant failing is the delayed discharges and subsequent impact on Treliske Hospital. There is a lack of integration between the hospital and Cornwall Council’s adult care services. The Government made additional funding available to address this back in March and it is frustrating that so little progress has been made. In my meeting with the NHS and Cornwall Council on Friday we discussed the need for them to step up and deliver positive change for these services.
I know that local people will be very concerned about this situation and I will be doing all I can to work with the local health services, NHS England and the Government to ensure things improve as soon as possible and that the people of Cornwall get the quality of health services they deserve.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Newspaper column 11 October 2017 - The Conservative Party Conference 2017

A lot of headlines recently were generated by the Conservative Party Conference, which was held in Manchester over the first part of last week.

The assumption is that all Conservative Members of Parliament go to Conference, but actually many don’t and this year I was one of them. Whilst the party conferences serve a purpose, I prefer getting on with my job as MP and working for the good of the people of Mid-Cornwall locally.

Of course, the highlight of the Conference was the Prime Minister’s speech. While most of the headlines generated by it seemed to focus on the fact that the PM had a cold, if you look further there were also some great policy announcements which have been overlooked by much of the media.

The Prime Minister announced ‘a new generation of council houses’. This will be done by increasing the government’s affordable housing budget by £2 billion to more than £9 billion, encouraging councils as well as housing associations to bid for this money and, in those parts of the country where the need is greatest, allowing homes to be built for social rent well below market levels. This should be of particular benefit to Cornwall where we have an acute need for genuine affordable housing for local people.

The Prime Minister also announced a £10 billion extension to the Help to Buy scheme. This scheme is aimed at helping first time buyers get on the property ladder with as little as a 5% deposit. The previous scheme was very successful and I have been lobbying the Government to introduce a new scheme which I am pleased we are now doing.

I was particularly pleased to see the PM launch an independent review of the 30 year old Mental Health Act. This is badly needed and should tackle many longstanding injustices of discrimination in our mental health system. This is an important step in our struggle to get better recognition and support for those who suffer with mental health conditions.

It was also good to see the Prime Minister announce a major review of university funding and student financing. This will include scrapping the increase in fees that was due next year, and freezing the maximum rate while the review takes place. The Government will also increase the amount graduates can earn before they start repaying their fees to £25,000. 

In other notable announcements from the Conference, I was pleased to see Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Gove, confirm the Government will be consulting on bringing in a plastic bottle deposit return scheme, something I have long campaigned for. I was also delighted to see the announcement of the ban of sales of all ivory in the UK – a positive and long-needed step to help to save the elephants.

Away from the media hysteria and storms in a teacup generated by those with nothing better to do, it was good to see positive progress from the Conference. As ever with policy announcements, the devil is in the detail. Over the coming months I will study the legislation as it comes forward and do all I can to make sure that Mid-Cornwall sees maximum benefit from them.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Newspaper column 4th October - Ministerial visits to Mid-Cornwall

While this week sees the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, last week was a really busy week in Mid- Cornwall, and I was really pleased to visit St Austell Town Council, get my flu jab in St Dennis Pharmacy, hold a great Meet your MP event in Newquay, attend and speak at a public meeting in Grampound about the possibility of a by-pass, as well as meet residents and local businesses about a wide variety of issues.

Also last week, I welcomed two Government Ministers to Mid-Cornwall, Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Minister for Exiting the European Union, Steve Baker MP.

As part of the Government I am always keen to get those who run the Government down to Mid-Cornwall so they can for themselves the unique challenges and issues that we face.

Sajid Javid MP visited the Eden Project. As well as being one of the top international tourist destinations in the UK, the Eden Project also has plans to produce deep-geothermal energy.

Geothermal power is cost-effective, reliable, sustainable, and environmentally friendly, and recent technological advances have dramatically expanded the range and size of viable resources, especially for applications such as home heating.

During his visit we discussed the exciting potential of the deep geothermal energy plans at the Eden Project and sought his support for this project. If the project proceeds it will be another new and exciting innovation in Mid-Cornwall that will provide renewable energy for the local area, as well as the highly skilled, well paid jobs that would go with operating the site.

Steve Baker MP, who was actually born in St Austell and is a fellow old boy of Poltair School, visited Newquay Aerohub and Cornwall Airport Newquay, both key areas of economic growth potential for Cornwall. This was part of a tour throughout Cornwall to allow him to understand the concerns and opportunities around Brexit.

Clearly leaving the EU will have a major impact on business in Cornwall and will present both challenges and opportunities. I am pleased that I was able to bring the minister to our constituency so that he could hear first-hand the views of local businesses. I will continue to do all I can to ensure the voice of Cornwall is heard in the negotiations and that we make the most of the opportunities ahead.

I felt both visits were very productive and both Sajid and Steve went away with a good idea and perspective of what we face in Cornwall. I will continue to be your strong voice in Westminster and as part of that will ensure that those at the very top of the Government come here and see why Mid-Cornwall is such a great place to live, work and grow up in. 

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. The office is open to the public Monday – Friday 10.00am – 4.00pm (no appointment necessary). If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please, either visit the office or contact me on either 01726 829379 or Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: