Wednesday, 27 July 2022

Newspaper column 27 July 2022 - a busy last week in Parliament before Summer Recess

 

Parliament has now risen for the summer which means I will be spending more time in our constituency, getting out and about trying to meet as many people and businesses as possible in the next few weeks, as well as spending time with my family.

Although Parliament has now risen, last week was a busy one. First up I met with the new Housing and Planning Minister, Marcus Jones, to make the case for further action to address the housing crisis in Cornwall.

The meeting, held at the Department for Levelling-Up, Housing and Communities, was an opportunity to ensure the new Minister understands the current challenges facing us here in Mid Cornwall and listens to the case for reforms to the planning system.

Housing, especially its availability and affordability for local people, continues to be one of the top issues that is raised with me by residents in the constituency, so I was keen to feed this back to the new Minister. It is important he is aware of the particular pressures we face, as well as proposals for what we need to do to improve the situation.

The Government’s new Planning and Regeneration Bill is currently passing through Parliament and provides an opportunity to take steps to ensure more housing is available to local people in the future.

In the meantime, the Government is running a consultation on the impact of short-term holiday lets on communities in tourism hotspots like Cornwall to help us understand the scale of this problem and take appropriate steps to alleviate it, such as introducing a register for short term holiday accommodation or further reforms to the planning system such as requiring change of use planning permission to convert to a holiday let.

However, it is important to remember that there are no quick and easy answers for the current housing issues we are facing, but we do need to take steps to ensure we are never in this situation again and I was pleased that the Minister listened to my concerns.

I will continue to do all I can to work with my Cornish MP colleagues, Cornwall Council and the Government to implement sensible and practical steps to ensure local people can access the housing they need.

Last week I also had the opportunity to visit St Austell Jobcentre and see the fantastic work that the staff are doing to support local people back into employment. This followed a very interesting and positive visit to Newquay Jobcentre a couple of weeks ago. 

This tied in with the recently released employment figures for St Austell and Newquay, which are excellent and really demonstrate how the hard work of the DWP staff in St Austell and Newquay Jobcentres is making a difference.

The figures for Universal Credit published by the Office of National Statistics show that in June 2022 there were 1,895 actual claimants in St Austell and Newquay constituency, which was 3.0% of the population aged 16-64. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 3.7%. There were 250 claimants aged 18-24, which was 3.5% of the population aged 18-24. The equivalent UK claimant rate was 4.3%.

 

Over the past year the number of claimants has fallen by 1,340 in our constituency, and the numbers of people in St Austell and Newquay claiming Universal Credit are also lower now than in March 2020 before the pandemic.

 

This is good news and thanks to all at the Department for Work and Pensions who work hard supporting people back into employment. It was also great to meet with some employers to talk about the innovative ways in which they are working with St Austell Jobcentre to get new staff.

I want to end this week’s column by talking about one of the highlights over the past year, which has been the return of local schools from Cornwall to Parliament. It’s always a pleasure to meet with pupils and last week I met with children from Penrice Academy in St Austell and spoke to them. Tours and visits haven’t been able to take place for a number of years due to covid, so it is great to be able to welcome them back.

Anyone who would like to book a tour of Parliament can do so via the website here: www.parliament.uk/visiting/ or contact my office and we will try to arrange it for you.

If I can be of any further assistance, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Column 13 July 2022 - My new Ministerial role

 

It was former Prime Minister Harold Wilson who coined the phrase “a week is a long time in politics”. Throughout my seven years as an MP there have been numerous periods when that phrase was relevant, but none more so than this past week.

As I am sure readers will be aware, I have been a supporter of Boris Johnson throughout the turbulent past few months, still believing he was the best person to lead our country through our current challenges. This was not a blind faith, but a view formed from seeing him deliver for our country time and again in recent times.

It was therefore incredibly difficult and indeed sad for me to come to the conclusion last week that he could no longer continue to govern our country and should, in the best interests of the county and the Conservative party, resign from office.

The events at the start of last week sadly showed that despite attempts to change the way his office in Downing Street operated, little change had taken place. We quickly and decisively reached a tipping point among MPs whereby many who had previously supported him withdrew their support with many resigning from the government ministerial roles.

As a member of the whip’s office, I was of course caught up at the heart of the turmoil. I know some locally, including local journalists and media outlets, questioned why I did not comment sooner in the week on the events taking place and publicly express my views. The explanation for this is simply due to the role I had. At times such as the past week the whip’s office play a vital role in ensuring Parliament continues to be able to function. Many people do not fully appreciate the amount of work that goes on to ensure Parliament is able to function smoothly. There is a great deal of management, organisation and administration that must take place to ensure not only the House of Commons chamber, but also the many committees that take place every day, happen without a hitch. A great deal of this work is carried out by the whips.

With so many ministers resigning, it was a full-time job to keep on top of what was happening and ensuring Parliament, and our democracy, continued to function. At a time like this, whatever our personal views, it is not appropriate or particularly helpful for whips to be giving a running commentary to the media or posting on social media. Another part of our role is to feed back to the Chief Whip the views and concerns of MPs. In order to be able to do this objectively, it is important that we are not clouding the conservations we have with our own views.

That is not to say I did not make my own views clear to the Chief Whip, I certainly did. Once I did put finger to keyboard, in the very early hours of Thursday morning, once it seemed likely that the Prime Minister would be stepping down, I was able to clarify my own thoughts and draft a statement. The statement I drafted reflected my feeling at that time. I was exhausted, mentally, emotionally and physically. The prospect of having to form a new interim government and the upheaval and effort it would need felt very heavy at that time. The last thing I wanted was the prospect of having to learn a new role in government, potentially a new department and working with new people. So I did include in that statement a line which said I would be happy to remain in the whips office but would not be accepting any new role in the government. It was a true reflection of my thoughts and feelings at that time – I meant it. As long as the uncertainty and lack of clarity over the Prime Minister’s leadership remained, I was not prepared to be in any other role.

However, 36 hours later when I had returned home to Cornwall, managed a reasonably good night’s sleep in my own bed and been able to get the events of the week into more perspective, I felt much better and much more positive about the clear path that has been set out towards an orderly transition of leadership in the autumn, as well as the formation of a new government to cover this interim period to provide stability and ensure essential government business would continue. Therefore, when the Prime Minister did call me on Friday afternoon and invited me to become a minister in the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), I was willing to consider it. I did not say yes immediately, but having carefully considered the offer and given the clear change in circumstances the Prime Minister’s resignation statement brought, I decided it was the right thing for me to do to support the functioning of government in these unprecedented times and accepted this new position. Another important reason that guided my thinking is that DEFRA covers many key areas that are particularly relevant to Cornwall such as agriculture, fishing, coastal and rural matters including things like sewage and of course environmental policy.

I know that there will be those who will criticise me for ‘changing my mind’. I did. However, it was Winston Churchill who once said, ‘those who never change their minds never change anything’.

The important thing for our country right now, whilst we go through this process of electing a new leader of the Conservative Party who will be our next Prime Minister, is to ensure this time is as smooth as possible. This means government ministerial roles need to be filled by those who are willing to serve in this way. I have no idea how long this new role will last but I am willing to carry it out to the best of my ability for as short or long as required to play my part to help our country through this time.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

Newspaper column 6 July 2022 - Tax cuts, holiday lets and the cost of living

Today we have seen the biggest single tax cut in a decade thanks to this Government increasing the National Insurance threshold overnight from £9,880 to £12,570.

This will not only save 30 million workers up to £330 a year, but also lift 2.2 million people out of paying any National Insurance or income tax on their earnings at all. 

I am so pleased to see this week’s tax cut – worth £6 billion – as it is likely to make so many people in the constituency better off and shows that this Government is committed to supporting people through difficult times.

Speaking of tough times, this week we will also see some of the measures promised by this Government to relieve some of the pressures that households across the constituency are facing in the midst of the cost of living crisis take effect.

In May the Government announced help for households across the country with £37 billion of financial support.

This included a council tax rebate, cut in fuel duty, a minimum of £400 for every household to help with energy bills and at least £1,200 for the eight million most vulnerable ­households.

From next Thursday (July 14), eight million of the lowest income households, including pensioners on pension credit, will see the first part of the £650 cost of living payment as part of the support measures automatically hit their bank accounts, continuing until the end of the month.

The second payment will be made in the autumn and all those who live in the UK and are in receipt of Universal Credit, Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Working Tax Credit, Child Tax Credit and Pension Credit are eligible.

I know that the cost of living crisis is a huge concern and worry to so many people and am pleased to see that the Government has listened to concerns and is wasting no time in getting this further support for households out to those who need it the most. This Government has a track record of listening to constituents’ concerns and taking decisive action to address them if it can.

This brings me to another issue that the Government is currently considering and one I been working for some time as part of my ongoing efforts to address the current housing situation in Cornwall amid the pressure the rise in short-term holiday let accommodation is placing on housing that is needed for local people.

Last week the Government launched a 12-week review to help understand the impact short-term holiday lets are having on housing in communities in tourism hotspots, like Cornwall.

This comes following the rise in use of rental booking websites and apps, with large increase in the number of properties listed on platforms such as Airbnb in recent years, especially in high tourist areas.

I am pleased that the Government is taking positive action to ensure short-term holiday accommodation and local communities can both work together.

However, it’s important to stress that short-term holiday lets play a very important part in supporting our local economy, so this is not a ban. This review will give us a clearer understanding of how we can support those local communities in holiday hotspots as well as the tourism industry.

All views on the impact of short-term holiday accommodation will help the Government determine how to protect much-loved communities and the thriving holiday industry.

I would urge anyone who has been affected by short-term holiday lets to take part in this call for evidence so that the Government can get a clear picture of the impact they are having on our communities here in mid-Cornwall.

It is reassuring to see that the Government has listened to the concerns I have raised on behalf on constituents and is taking action to address the housing crisis we are facing. This is in addition to the Government measures which have already been announced to give local communities greater ability to manage the impact that second homes can have in some locations.

These measures include closing tax loopholes, introducing higher stamp duty and permitting councils to apply higher council tax on second homes.

The call for evidence will run for 12 weeks until 11.45pm on September 21 and rest assured that I will be responding to the survey after listening to feedback from across the constituency.

More information on the call for evidence is available here: Developing a tourist accommodation registration scheme in England - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

If I can help you on this matter or another, please do get in touch with my office – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

Newspaper column 29 June 2022 - Armed Forces Day and support for our veterans

 

We recently saw Armed Forces Week, the chance to celebrate our Armed Forces, the Military personnel and the role they play protecting the UK both at home and overseas. 

Armed Forces Week always concludes with Armed Forces Day, which is a massive national event, which this year was hosted in Scarborough.

I was delighted to hear, as part of the events, that Cornwall, has been chosen to host the National Armed Forces Day for 2023.

This is great news. Cornwall has a strong military tradition and close and continuing links with our forces, and I am sure this will be a brilliant day for Cornwall.

My congratulations to my colleague Cherilyn Mackrory, who is the Member of Parliament for Truro and Falmouth, and Armed Forces Champion for Cornwall Council, Newquay Councillor Louis Gardner for the strong and successful bid

Armed Forces Day is a time to reflect and thank those who have served and those who continue to serve our country. I am sure this event will be greatly welcomed by our local communities and I look forward to working to ensure this national event for Cornwall is as good as it can be next year.

Looking at veterans specifically, I am proud to be part of this Government, which holds the welfare of veterans at is hearts.

In January, the Government launched the Veterans Strategy Action Plan of more than 60 commitments backed by an extra £70 million. Great progress is being made with over a fifth of commitments already completed after just six months.

As well as this, progress has been made improving healthcare provision for veterans. Op COURAGE, the bespoke mental health pathway for veterans in the NHS in England, has launched backed by over £17 million a year investment, plus an additional £2.7 million over the next three years. The service will bring three bespoke veterans’ mental health services into one long-term integrated service from April 2023.

Meanwhile, more than £1 million in new money is being invested into a new digital service for veterans, which will enable them to quickly and easily verify their veteran status online.

The project, which is due to be available for all veterans in 2023, will make it easier and quicker to demonstrate their military service in order to access a range of government and charity services, and reduce waiting times and the likelihood of fraud.

Alongside the Veteran’s Strategy, over the last year the Government have delivered significant legislation ensuring veterans, serving and families are protected and supported in law:

·         Overseas Operations Act 2021 – tackling vexatious claims and ending the cycle of re-investigations against our Armed Forces.

·         Armed Forces Act 2021 – giving statutory teeth to the Armed Forces Covenant, with a new duty to have due regard to its principles.

·         Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill – now introduced, to give Op BANNER veterans closure, with honour and finality.

 

The Northern Ireland Troubles (Legacy and Reconciliation) Bill is due to go before the House of Commons at the committee stage today (June 29) and means our veterans, a large number of whom served in Northern Ireland with distinction and honour, will no longer have to live in fear of being chased through the courts for vexatious claims from many decades ago.

The case of Dennis Hutchings, a fellow Cornishman and ex-soldier who died while on trial over a fatal shooting during Northern Ireland's Troubles, shows that this Bill is more important than ever. With this Bill, our veterans are given the certainty they deserve and this Government will fulfil its manifesto pledge by bringing an end to the cycle of investigations that has plagued them for too long.

Rest assured that this Government is committed to protecting our veterans.

Speaking of veterans, this year’s events to mark Armed Forces Week come with particular poignancy, as they fell a week after the 40th anniversary of the end of the Falklands War.

I was privileged during my time on the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme to visit the Falklands and talk to residents who lived through the war. I also found out that the Falklands have several close connections to Cornwall - 30,000 sailors, marines, soldiers, airmen and merchant mariners took part in the Falklands War along with many civilians who supported the war effort.

We must never forget their heroic efforts and particularly those of the 255 British personnel who sadly lost their lives in this conflict, a timely reminder as we look towards Cornwall playing its role as the host of Armed Forces Day 2023, of both the importance of our military and the tremendous sacrifices they make to ensure British citizens everywhere can live free.

As always, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance. Please do get in touch if I can help – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

ENDS

Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Newspaper column 22 June 2022 - Good and bad news for our rail services

 

I want to start my column this week by saying how deeply disappointed I am, that at the time of writing, the biggest rail strikes in three decades is set to go ahead this week. If they do, this will have a huge negative impact on people’s lives here in Cornwall. 

 

It is deeply regrettable that the unions have decided to press ahead with this action while negotiations are still ongoing, and to further disrupt the economy at a time when we are already facing so many challenges is quite simply unacceptable.

 

This detrimental industrial action will halt all rail services in Cornwall for this week and impacts on the lives of so many people. It not only severely affects services for people going to work, but for pupils going to school and college and taking exams. It also massively disrupts those who have hospital appointments and hospital staff as well as increasing the number of people on the road, causing major delays. It will also cause damage to the hundreds of local businesses who rely on tourists being able to travel into and around Cornwall by train.

 

It is important to remember that this dispute is between the private companies who run the rail services, and the unions, over pay and terms and conditions. As such it would not be appropriate for the Government to intervene and even if it did, its role would be hugely limited. The only source of funding for any significant pay rises will be increased rail fares. At a time when so many are already facing significant increases in the cost of living this can only be another blow to many household budgets and seems to be totally lost on the union barons.

 

That is why it is so disappointing and frustrating, but not surprising, to see Labour refusing to denounce this strike action. This shows that they do not support the working people in Cornwall and are happy to sit back and watch while huge disruption is inflicted on families and businesses. That is a stark contrast to this Government, which provided £16 billion in financial support to keep the railway industry going throughout the pandemic. It is shameful to see the Government’s efforts to maintain vital transport links for key workers and commuters being undermined by actions like this.

 

Meanwhile you only have to look at last month’s announcement of nearly £80million of Government funding for the vital St Austell to A30 link road - more than double the amount of funding given to any other scheme and the biggest single investment by any government in mid-Cornwall – to see this Conservative Government’s commitment to investing in transport infrastructure for residents in Cornwall.

 

Some more positive news was also announced for Cornwall on Saturday after the Government gave further backing to ambitious plans to connect Newquay, St Austell, Truro and Falmouth with a direct rail line link, something I have championed for many years. The Mid Cornwall Metro is a hugely exciting project as it will see the four biggest towns in Cornwall linked up as well as many of the smaller communities in between with a through train.

 

I am so pleased to see it make it through to the next stage the Government’s Restoring your Railway programme. This means Network Rail and Cornwall Council, who are working together on this project, will now be awarded government funding to work on a business case to deliver the scheme.

 

I believe the Mid Cornwall Metro will bring about a number of positive changes for people in Cornwall and help residents to get around the county more sustainably. While we are a little way off the project coming to fruition yet, I am positive that we will soon see the benefits of the plans as improvements made to the county’s tracks and signalling system will mean more regular trains on those branch lines.

 

I am looking forward to seeing the next phase of this project as we take another step towards making it a reality for the benefit of all residents in Cornwall. Unlike other parties, this Government clearly recognises and understands the huge importance of investing in and maintaining transport infrastructure for those living in the Duchy.

 

As always, if I can be of any further assistance, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk

Wednesday, 15 June 2022

Newspaper column 15 June 2022 - The Food Strategy

Last week I had the pleasure of attending the first Royal Cornwall Show for several years and I am sure most people will agree with me when I say it was great to be back.

It was also great to welcome our Prime Minister to the show where he had the opportunity to see all that Cornwall has to offer. It was encouraging to see Boris Johnson backing our Cornish farmers and food and drink producers, and to also see the crowds offering their support for our Prime Minister. 

He received such a positive response and was welcomed by so many people who wanted to talk to him. They clearly recognise the amazing support Boris Johnson and the Government have already provided for Cornwall and will continue to do so, which I will talk about later in my column.

I was also pleased to see Boris encouraging everyone to buy and eat Cornish produce, which I believe is some of the best in the world, and nice to see so many people enjoying themselves as they walked around the show after what has been a challenging few years with Covid.

Boris must have thoroughly enjoyed the Cornish hospitality and his time in the Duchy as he returned to the county on Monday to announce the Government’s first ever food strategy with Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and my fellow Cornish MP, George Eustice.

This strategy outlines the Government’s plans to boost food production in key sectors, drive innovation and harness new technology to support domestic production, create jobs and grow our local economy. It also sets out the importance of maintaining and boosting our food security, including plans to strengthen the resilience of our supply chains and boost domestic production to help protect against future economic shocks and crises.

The pandemic and current disruption caused by the invasion of Ukraine are reminders of why UK food producers are more important than ever to our national resilience and food security in what is now an uncertain world. It is crucial that the Government takes action to ensure we are not faced with less choice and higher prices if we are dependent on imports for our food supplies.

The strategy sets out the Government’s real investment in our food, fishing and farming with £100m in the Seafood fund, £270m across the Farming Innovation Programme, a £6.9m programme of food system trials to encourage and enable healthier and more sustainable diets and an £11m investment supporting new research to drive improvements in understanding the relationship between food and health.

Importantly to us here in mid-Cornwall, the strategy will help farmers in the constituency by committing to spend £270 million across the Farming Innovation Programme until 2029, which will unlock innovation and boost sustainable productivity in agriculture.

A new professional body for the farming and growing industry – The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture (TIAH) – will also be set up to create clear career pathways and promote the sector as a progressive, professional and attractive career choice.

Local farmers have often spoken to me about the labour challenges they face and so I am pleased that the Government has listened to these concerns and will be releasing 10,000 visas for the seasonal worker visa route, including extending 2,000 visas to the poultry sector.

This strategy also safeguards the Government’s manifesto commitment that we will not compromise on our high environmental protection, animal welfare and food standards in our trade negotiations. A consultation will also take place on how to improve on and expand animal welfare labelling to help consumers identify when products meet or exceed our high UK animal welfare standards. It will also help the public to have better information about the food we eat, and to make healthier choices.

This is great news for farmers, food producers and consumers here in mid-Cornwall. From releasing additional visas for seasonal workers to promoting consumption of British food at home and abroad, this will provide a real boost and champion Cornish food and drink.

It shows that this Government is committed to backing our Cornish famers and food producers, and, I am certain, we will see people at home and abroad line up to buy our local produce as we create a sustainable food system, from farm to fork and catch to plate.

I think it is important to remember that this wouldn’t have been possible under the European Union and I am pleased that we can now have control of our own policy, which will allow us to react to the circumstance that we find ourselves in. It also includes making sure our public services such as our schools, hospitals and armed forces buy more UK produced food. Another practical way to support our farmers and something we are now able to do outside the EU. 

I look forward to seeing further details of these plans and am excited to see the county reap the benefits of the opportunities that lie ahead.

 

 

Wednesday, 8 June 2022

Newspaper column 8 June 2022 - Levelling Up!

I think it goes without saying that the events held over the long weekend to mark our Queen’s Platinum Jubilee were a tremendous success both in Mid-Cornwall, around the country and in London. A tremendous tribute to our monarch who has done more than any other to serve her nation over the past 70 years.

I was particularly pleased to attend the beacon lighting at Castle an Dinas right in the middle of our constituency, along with the Cornwall Heritage Trust. With the great weather we enjoyed over the Bank Holidays, we could see for miles across Cornwall to Bodmin Moor and both coasts and got an extraordinary sight of the various beacons that were being lit at the same time around the Duchy.

This is the only Platinum Jubilee any of us are ever likely to see, and as ever Cornwall’s community spirit shone through – thank you to everyone who took part in making these events ones to remember.

This week in Parliament we are starting the process of bringing the Government’s landmark Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill into law. This Bill contains a variety of measures, to devolve power and give local leaders and communities the tools they need to make better places, by reducing inequality and close the gap – in productivity, health, incomes, and opportunity – between much of the south east and the rest of the country, including Cornwall.

Two areas of particular importance to Cornwall that the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill will deliver on are in the ambitious planning reforms that are proposed, and the powers for local authorities like Cornwall Council to levy more council tax on second homes. These are both changes that I have long-campaigned for and ones I am pleased to see the Government addressing in this session of Parliament.

The planning system needs significant reform, and this Bill will improve the planning process, so that it gives local communities control over what is built, where it is built, and what it looks like, giving communities more of a say in developments that are planned and built in their area.

New council tax rules for second and empty homes will also be introduced as part of the UK Government’s commitment to invest in local communities and drive levelling up across the country. The Bill also gives new discretionary powers to Local Authorities in England like Cornwall Council, who will be able to levy a premium of up to 100% on council tax bills for second homes – which are furnished but not occupied as a sole or main residence – empowering them to determine how best to raise additional revenue for their communities to support and improve services.

Of course, alongside all of this, Cornwall Council is currently negotiating a potential devolution deal with the Government to allow it even more devolved powers on top of those already covered under this Bill. I will continue to work with all concerned to ensure that the deal Cornwall gets, from both the emerging Government policy and its own devolution package, is one that works for us all and leaves us best placed to move forward into the future.

If I can be of any further assistance, my office is available for any constituents needing help, advice or guidance – tel. 01726 829379, email – office@stevedouble.org.uk