Wednesday, 26 August 2020

Newspaper column 26 August 2020 - returning to school

The controversy around exams results of the past few weeks have brought into sharp focus the consequences of closing our schools and not being able to get pupils back to the classroom.

Firstly, while I have a number of concerns about the long term impact of the decision to award all pupils the higher of their Centre Assessed Grades or those moderated by the OFQUAL, it was clear that in the circumstances it was the only right decision to make. Too many pupils were adversely affected, and we needed to end the uncertainty for our young people.

It is well established that teacher assessed grades are often, on average, higher than the grades pupils achieve in actual exams. There are very genuine and understandable reasons for this as teachers will predict grades that pupils are capable of achieving which is not always the same as what is actually achieved.

While there is a reasonable argument that the Department for Education and OFQUAL could have handled this situation much better, the reality of the situation is that once exams were cancelled there was no easy way to deal with awarding grades and where we have ended up is probably the least worse outcome.

But all this should bring home to us just how important it will be to see all our schools open next month and all pupils return to the classroom. Too much time has already been lost and it is vital our children are able to recommence their education. It was pleasing to see at the weekend that England’s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, confirm that in his expert view it is safe for schools to reopen. In fact, he went as far as to say that not returning to school is likely to cause more long-term damage to children than the risks of Covid-19.

I know our local schools have already been working hard to ensure this can happen. I recently wrote to all our local schools asking them to confirm what their plans are for September and I am pleased to say all those who have replied to date have plans in place to ensure they are able to welcome all pupils back.  I want to say a big thank you to all our headteachers, teachers and school staff for all they are doing.

It is one of the government’s top priorities that schools fully open at the beginning of September and all pupils are able to return and I will certainly be doing all I can to support our local schools to achieve this.

If any parents of school children have any particular concerns or questions about their children returning to school, please do contact your school. My office is also available to assist and answer any questions you may have, so please do get in touch if you feel I can help.

We have also had some very good news with regards to school funding in recent weeks with the announcement that spending on schools nationally will increase by £4.8billion next year. Further good news is that our local schools will be receiving an above average increase which will continue to close the funding gap Cornish schools have been facing for many years now. It is good to see that our continual campaigning on funding for our schools is paying off and this government’s commitment to ‘level up’ education is happening.

Overall funding for schools in our constituency will increase by 5.9% next year, well above inflation, rising to more that £69million. Some of our smaller rural schools will be allocated much larger increases with some receiving over 12% more. As always these are indicative allocations and the final sums received by schools will depend on how Cornwall Council apply the new budget. I certainly hope that they will ensure all our schools receive the uplift in funding allocated to them in full.

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. If there is an issue you would like my assistance with then please contact me on either 01726 829379 or Additionally, I will be recommencing regular, appointment only, advice surgeries from next month. Do get in touch if you would like an appointment to see me.


Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Newspaper column 12 August 2020 - Investment in Cornwall


The latest figures which were released at the end of last week show the level of government support through the COVID-19 pandemic for businesses and jobs in our constituency. The economic shock has impacted just about every part of our local economy and as we begin the long road to recovery, it is good to reflect on the support so far that has protected thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses.

Treasury figures show that 17,600 employees have been furloughed with the government funding 80% of workers’ wages – estimated at a total of around £145milllion from March – August.

5,700 self-employed people have received the self-employed income support scheme which has put over £16million into the bank accounts of local people.

Almost 1,900 businesses in St Austell and Newquay have received government backed loans through the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme or Bounce Back Loans totalling almost £50million. Three thousand six hundred businesses have received grants and further 1,200 are having their businesses rates bills cancelled until April next year.

This is an unprecedented intervention by the government to support businesses and project jobs and our constituency has received one of the highest levels of support of any across the country.

This is all on top of the specific measures taken to support the tourism and hospitality sector, which our constituency relies on more heavily than any in the country through the VAT cut and Eat Out to Help Out Scheme.

Whilst I am very much aware that there will be those individuals and businesses who will have fallen through the gaps and not able to access the various support schemes, there is no doubt that we would be facing a much bigger challenge locally if these schemes had not been in place. The Chancellor has always been open and honest that we will not be able to save every job or protect every business. I continue to make representations to government ministers for further support both for those who have so far not received any support and also for our vital hospitality businesses who will face further challenges as the season ends.

Sadly, there will be those who lose their jobs and businesses who will not survive this crisis. The government is already taking steps to invest in job creation and training to ensure any recession and increase in unemployment is as short as possible.

It is important we make the most of what is left of this season. I do understand the concerns some people have of the risk of welcoming tourists to Cornwall at this time. However, all the evidence to date shows that there has been very little impact on the level of cases of Coronavirus in Cornwall since tourists were allowed to come. Last week saw a reported 9 new cases in Cornwall – among the lowest of any week so far – and this is with increased levels of testing available. There have been no new cases of people falling seriously ill and requiring hospital care. Whilst there is no room for complacency and we must all continue to keep to the restrictions and guidance, we can take some confidence from the fact that to date the increase in cases some feared is not materialising.

Whilst there have been a few notable spikes in a few parts of the country, the overall trend nationally continues to show the downward trend in the number of cases.

Our traditional sectors of tourism, hospitality and food production will always be the bedrock of our Cornish economy. These are our strengths and we should continue to make the most of them. But one things the events of recent months have highlighted again is the need to reduce our reliance on these sectors, which can level our economy vulnerable, and invest in other new sectors that will create jobs and attract inward investment.

Last week we received more good news in the confirmation that the government will be investing in a number of ‘shovel-ready’ projects in Cornwall that will go some way to achieving this. Funding was announced that includes support for projects in the space industry in Cornwall and lithium extraction as part of an overall £14million package. Possibly more than any other opportunities these two areas have the potential to change the profile of our local economy and create some exciting career opportunities for local people.    

So whilst I will always champion our amazing tourism and hospitality businesses and promote Cornwall as a great place to come on holiday, I will also continue to work to attracted the investment and government support we need to see in these other great opportunities for our county.