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.