Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Newspaper column 17 November - Looking back at COP26

Over the weekend on Remembrance Sunday it was an honour, as always to join the civic events in St Austell and Newquay to pay tribute to and remember those who serve and have served in our armed forces in past and present conflicts.

After last year’s scaled back formal services because of the pandemic, it was good to stand with veterans and people from across our community and take part in these acts of remembrance. Thank you to the Royal British Legion and all involved in their organisation.

This past weekend also saw the close of the United Nations Climate Change Conference Summit COP26, which was held in Glasgow.

As the conference came to its conclusion, members signed the Glasgow Climate Pact, which commits countries to phase down unabated coal, supports a just transition for developing countries and action to tackle loss and damage, and agrees for the first time a common timeframe and method for national commitments on emissions reductions.

The pact signed seeks to phase down unabated coal power and phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, cutting emissions as we move towards low emission energy. The Pact calls on countries to accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognising the need for support towards a just transition.

As well as this, the pact also commits to raise $100 billion annually for climate finance through to 2025, helping developing countries tackle climate change. The Pact urges developed countries to fully deliver on the $100 billion goal urgently and through to 2025, and emphasises the importance of transparency in the implementation of their pledges.

The pact also commits countries to return next year with a more ambitious 2030 emissions reductions target in line with the 1.5C target, ensuring we maintain crucial momentum on climate action this decade. The UK will continue to push for greater action on reducing emissions and supporting developing countries with finance and access to new green technology over the next year of our COP Presidency, before Egypt take on the mantle.

It also signs up more countries to be Net Zero, protecting our planet for future generations. At least 90 per cent of the global economy is now covered by net zero commitments, up from 30 per cent when the UK took on the COP presidency in 2019.

This Pact builds on the progress we have made on coal, cars and trees throughout the summit. 65 countries have now committed to phasing out the use of coal power. Over 30 countries and some of the world’s largest car makers have committed to work together to make all new car sales zero emission globally by 2040, and by 2035 in leading markets, building on the UK’s commitment to end the sale of all new petrol and diesel cars by 2030. More than 130 leaders, representing over 90 per cent of the world’s forests, pledged at COP26 to end deforestation by 2030, backed by almost £14 billion of public and private funding.

There is still a huge amount more to do in the coming years and the agreements reached are not perfect, but we are now in a much better position to achieve these goals, both short and long term, to tackle climate change, than we were in before the conference.

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

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Newspaper column 10 November - Taking time to remember

It has been a turbulent week in politics, however, this week is a time of contemplation and solemn reflection as we mark Armistice Day on 11 November and have Remembrance Sunday this coming weekend.

The impact of World War 1, the vast conflict that led to these events being marked annually, cannot be under-stated. The total number of military and civilian casualties in World War I, was around 40 million. There were 20 million deaths and 21 million wounded. The total number of deaths includes 9.7 million military personnel and about 10 million civilians.

The impact on a generation was profound and the consequences far-reaching and felt to this day. In Mid-Cornwall communities suffered tremendously, with a generation of young men called away to fight, never to return, leaving small and fragile communities in a perilous state because the manual workers were no longer there to keep business and industry running.

The Duke of Cornwall’s light infantry alone lost 4,510 men during the course of the war, all fathers, brothers and sons whose loss would have been felt keenly in their communities and down through the years.

And we lost our own serving Member of Parliament Thomas ‘Tommy’ Agar-Robartes, who I always think about at this time of year, who along with 23 MP’s died in service during the war.

The Great War, as it was known at the time was also called the ‘War to end all wars’ but sadly this did not come to pass, and in subsequent Remembrance Sundays, we remember those who have given their lives serving our country in other wars since, including the Second World War and more recently right up to the recent Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts.

It is fitting that we normally mark these occasions with formal services of remembrance. Last year however we were unable to, due to the far-reaching impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, so this year a return to the organised events, with the excellent support of the Royal British Legion, churches and town and parish councils across the land, is even more poignant.

As we look towards marking and remembering these occasions this week, it is always good to bear in mind that while in the present we are able to argue and debate over matters that are important to us, those important freedoms and our democratic right to do so were hard won by those who people who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that we might live free in the future. Sometimes it seems easy to take our democratic freedoms for granted and lose sight of just how valuable they are and the huge price that was paid by previous generations to secure our freedoms.

We must also cherish the surviving veterans of past conflict, and as the numbers of those who served in the Second World War inevitably fall, it is particularly appropriate to treasure those we have left, and I particularly must mention our own Harry Billinge MBE, a D-Day Veteran who has tirelessly fundraised for the British Normandy Memorial, which he was finally able to visit recently. Thank you Harry for everything you have done.

And alongside those who have served and given their lives in the past, we must also be grateful to the men and women who serve today in our armed forces, putting themselves in danger to protect our way of life and keep others around the world safe from harm every day, as well as for their efforts in supporting the national response and recovery from the pandemic.

So this Armistice Day, and on Remembrance Sunday, let us remember the men and women who gave their lives for us in the past and honour those who continue to risk their lives today.

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

Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Newspaper column 20 October 2021 - Paying tribute to Sir David Amess

I am sure we have all been shocked by the killing of Sir David Amess, the Member of Parliament for Southend West, on Friday. Sir David was stabbed during one of his regular MP Surgeries.

I had the privilege of knowing David as a colleague in Parliament, in fact I remember my last conversation with him, on the last day Parliament sat before the recent recess, when he congratulated me on my recent appointment and had words of encouragement for me. This was typical of the gracious and generous person he was. This is a memory I will now  treasure fondly.

It has been clear from the outpouring of love and appreciation towards him since his death that Sir David was someone who was held in high esteem by people from all walks of life but especially his constituents.

Sir David was one of the kindest and most polite people I have ever met. He was hopelessly cheerful, optimistic and positive and always sought to see the good in everyone, including his political opponents. He was a determined campaigner and champion for his constituency.

On Monday the planned business of the House of Commons was cancelled and instead the house paid tribute to Sir David. There were many moving tributes from those who had known and worked with him over many years. It was especially fitting that the Prime Minister announced that Her Majesty the Queen had agreed to award Southend city status, a cause that David had campaigned for over many years. I welcome this as a very fitting tribute to David.

David was killed whilst going about his work as an MP doing what many MPs would have been doing on Friday, meeting with constituents in order to listen to and understand their concerns and seek to assist them. In fact, I learnt of the attack on David whilst I was doing the very same thing on Friday.

The fact that he was killed whilst going about an activity that is key to the role of an MP strikes right at the heart of our democracy. We often take for granted in this country just how open and accessible our politicians are. Virtually all MPs hold regular events when constituents are able to come and meet with them face to face in order to raise concerns or ask questions. This is something that does not happen in many other democracies. David is the second MP to be killed in this way in the last 5 years, following the killing of Jo Cox in 2016.

Sadly, the fact that this has happened for the second time does raise a number of questions about the safety of MPs and indeed other public servants. I am pleased that the Home Secretary has announced that there will now be a review into the security for MPs. It is right that we look at how we can ensure MPs and importantly their staff, can be kept safe whilst going about their job. But it will be a very sad day if the outcome of these tragic events is that MPs are less accessible to the people they represent and serve.

My view is that whilst we need to do all we can to keep MPs and their staff safe, this should not result in MPs becoming in any way cut off from our constituents. If we allowed this to happen then those who seek to attack our democracy will have won a victory.

But there are some wider points that do need to be addressed. Sadly, in recent years MPs and politicians in general have become the brunt of a great deal of abuse and hatred. Fuelled particularly by social media and the ability for a degree of anonymity, hiding behind their screens, there are those who abuse the accessibility of MPs through social media platforms to attack and vilify them in a way they would almost never do in person.

This, I believe, has created an atmosphere that dehumanises politicians and we are seen by some as fair game and that we deserve everything we get. But it cannot be acceptable in a democracy that this type of behaviour is seen as OK and even sadly encouraged by some.

David personified an ability to disagree, sometimes passionately, whilst respecting everyone. If there is one thing, that comes about as a result of his death it should be that we recover in our country the ability to disagree, and debate and argue, without resorting to hatred, abuse or personal attacks.

I believe all of us need to take stock and remind ourselves that we are all human and deserve to be treated with respect whatever our political views. This I believe would be a fitting tribute to David.

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Newspaper column 13 October 2021 - Reporting back on my survey

I will never forget that I am your voice in Westminster and so I always want to know what matters most to you. To this end, in September I launched a St Austell and Newquay constituency autumn survey, so you can let me know the issues you feel should be focused on in the coming months, through the rest of 2021 and beyond.

Thank you to everyone who took their time to complete the survey. Nearly 500 people completed it in just over a month, and I thought in my column this week that I would go through some of the results

I asked, generally, which issues were most important to you and your family. The responses received showed that the NHS and Housing were most important to the majority of people who replied.

I asked in terms of local priorities, what you felt I should be prioritising to work with Cornwall Council on, and the majority of those who replied said that they felt affordable housing and health and social care were most important.

In terms of the actions that I highlighted in my survey, the ones that had most support from responders were ‘More funding for Cornwall's NHS including £450million to improve services in our Duchy’ and ‘Working with the Government to better regulate second homes and holiday lets’, both of which had more than 90% of responders in favour. Creating more opportunities and jobs for young people also scored highly throughout the survey

There was clearly significant interest in health and social care and housing issues, as well as the need to create more opportunities for our young people at every level of my survey responses, so I thought I would update you on both what I have already done, and what I will be doing in these areas in the future.

In my time as MP since 2015 I have worked with the Government to increase NHS funding across Cornwall, with a real term increase every year. Since 2019 we have also seen £100million for a new women and children's hospital at RCH Treliske, and £450million to upgrade NHS services across Cornwall. As well as all of, this last year the Government wrote off £42.5million of RCH Treliske’s debt.

There are of course extraordinary current pressures on our NHS, caused by the unprecedented circumstances of the pandemic, and the backlog of operations that this has caused, as well increased demand for regular services as we look to return to normal, and delays in discharges that Cornwall Council is now working on reducing.

The recently announced NHS and Social Care NIC Levy will also see more funds to ensure the NHS has the resources it needs throughout this Parliament, including tackling the backlog of operations and funding the 3% pay-rise for nurses. It will also allow the Government to invest the largest amount of any government to upskill the social care workforce, strengthen the adult social care system and finally implement a solution to cap adult social care costs.

Turning to housing issues, there is no doubt that we are in a housing crisis in Cornwall, and I have made it a priority to address this since the current session of Parliament first sat in June.

Along with my Cornish MP colleagues I am currently working with the new administration at Cornwall Council to discuss further action that can be taken to make the housing market fairer for local people including potentially putting an additional council tax charge on second homes, piloting new planning rules to restrict the use of “primary residences” for holiday homes in areas which already have high percentages of second homes, setting up a new brokerage to encourage second home owners to make their properties available to long-term renters, and a crackdown on the illegal use of former council homes as holiday lets.

Several of the proposals will require changes to primary legislation to allow Cornwall to pilot measures which are not currently backed by national law, and as MPs for Cornwall we look forward to working with the new Ministerial team at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities to progressing these for these for the good of the people of Cornwall.

Finally, on creating more opportunities and jobs for our young people, it is so important that we create the well paid, highly skilled jobs that we need in order to help our young people stay in Cornwall, have careers here and bring up their own families. I am pleased to have worked with Cornwall College and the Government to secure funding for the refurbishment of their St Austell campus, and have also worked hard to make the Spaceport Cornwall project a reality, as well as with emerging industries such as lithium extraction and geothermal to create new and exciting opportunities for our children in the future.

I will be responding in more detail to those people who replied to my survey, but in the meantime, it is really helpful to understand your priorities for me as your Member of Parliament. The survey is still open and if you want to respond to it, you can do so via my website

https://www.stevedouble.org.uk/st-austell-and-newquay-autumn-myplan-survey

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 6 October 2021

Newspaper column 6 October 2021 - Winter support

As our country continues on the road to recovery form the COVID-19 pandemic, the past week has seen the ending of a number of the emergency support schemes that were put in place to protect jobs, businesses and livelihoods. It was always the case that the unprecedented support made available to millions of households would need to end. These schemes were always intended to be temporary, and their removal is another step on the road of leaving the pandemic behind.

I know the ending of the job retention scheme (furlough), business support such as the 5% VAT rate being phased out and reduced stamp duty rates ending will be challenging to some, but it is right we now seek to remove these tax-payer funded support schemes.

One issue that has been raised with me over the past few weeks has been the ending of the emergency temporary uplift of £20 per week for people claiming the Universal Credit benefit.

This has been framed as a ‘cut’ by people with a certain political agenda, but this is not the case. The uplift was only ever supposed to be temporary, and was introduced to help people claiming Universal Credit with anticipated additional costs of having to stay at home during the lockdowns.

Now the lockdowns are a thing of the past, the reason this additional support was put in place has now come to an end. The Government has already extended this support well past the end of all COVID-19 restrictions earlier in August.

The uplift cost £6billion a year to fund, and while this was justifiable as a one off, at the same time as the Government was supporting numerous other people and businesses through measures like the furlough and business support grants, and due to very specific circumstances, it is in my mind not justifiable as a permanent increase now the circumstances that necessitated its use have ended. It this uplift was to be made permanent then a source for the £6billion per year additional funding would have to be identified.

But we should also be clear that this is not the end of the support available for households most in need. We do recognise that the months ahead will be challenging for many. I was pleased to see last week the Government confirm that vulnerable households across the UK will be able to access a new £500million support fund to help them with essentials such as fuel and food costs over the winter months.

The new Household Support Fund will support millions of households in England and will be distributed by councils in England, who know their local areas best and can directly help those who need it most, including for example, through small grants to meet daily needs such as food, clothing, and utilities. Cash will be made available to Local Authorities like Cornwall Council from later this month.

With more people in work and the economy bouncing back, the Government is focused on investing in jobs and skills – increasing prospects and wages across the country – whilst ensuring those in greatest need can access vital support to help cover everyday costs. Alongside this, the government’s Plan for Jobs is helping people move back into employment so they can earn a regular wage, progress and increase their financial resilience.

With that being said, families will also continue to benefit from the energy price cap, recent rise in Local Housing Allowance and increases in the National Living Wage. In terms of support for the vulnerable this winter, the Household Support Fund mentioned above is additional funding that goes along with the Warm Home Discount which provides a £140 rebate on energy bills each winter to over 2.2 million low-income households and the Cold Weather Payment which provides £25 extra a week for poorer households when the temperature is consistently below zero.

The Holiday Activities and Food programme will continue over the Christmas Holidays and to further support for families with children, the Government has also doubled free childcare for eligible working parents, worth up to £5,000 per child every year as well as increasing the value of Healthy Start vouchers by over a third, helping disadvantaged women who are pregnant or have children under four.

I am pleased to see support, both broader and tailored, made available for those who need it most, while also acknowledging that we are going to have to continue to make sensible and responsible decisions on our public finances in the years ahead, to balance the books for future generations who will otherwise have to pay for this pandemic.

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

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Newspaper column 29 September 2021 - Fuel

Since the later part of last week our news has been dominated by issues with people panic-buying fuel.

This matter is of great concern to me – the fact remains however, that there were no shortages of fuel and the supply chain remains strong and resilient. However what can and has happened, as we have seen over the weekend, is that the media have reported on what they call ‘potential’ fuel shortages due to a small number of deliveries not being made due to truck driver shortages, Sadly, what was an issue effecting a very small number of deliveries for one petrol supplier has been blown out of proportion by the media and resulted in people over-reacting and buying fuel necessarily.. This in turn means that petrol stations locally sell more fuel than they would otherwise, and run the risk of running out of stocks before their regularly scheduled deliveries arrive, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, with long queues and a fuel shortage at the pumps, but due to increased demand instead of lack of fuel or a problem with the supply chain.

The Government has been straightforward with its message on this throughout, that people should just continue to buy their fuel as they would regularly, and not panic buy. I would reiterate this and urge the residents of Mid-Cornwall to act sensibly and buy your fuel when you would normally do so. By doing this there will be no shortages at the pumps and there will be enough to go around for everyone. The old saying ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ has never been more appropriate!

One of the headlines that has caused this issue is the shortage of HGV drivers, obviously some of whom drive the oil tankers. Despite some politically motivated reports, the HGV driver shortage is not unique to the UK and is not a symptom of Brexit. Instead this is a challenge faced by countries around the world. Across Europe, there is a shortage of 400,000 HGV drivers, while in the United States, there is a shortage of around 60,000 drivers.

HGV driver testing was shut down for large parts of the pandemic, meaning drivers were not coming through the system to replace those retiring or deciding it was time for a career change. The government has taken action to address the immediate situation. Driver testing resumed in April, but there are huge backlogs caused by the pandemic.  The HGV workforce has also been on average an older one. It has also become a less attractive career due to wages and conditions being suppressed due to cheaper eastern European labour.

Over recent months the Government has taken steps to address this – increasing the number of HGV driving tests, improving apprenticeships and reducing bureaucracy. Something we are only actually able to do as we have no left the EU.

In the past week we are going further by helping more people into the sector, using army examiners to increase testing capacity, encouraging drivers who have left the sector to return, and providing short-term relief with 5,000 HGV fuel tanker and food lorry driver visas in the run-up to Christmas.

The industry must also play their part by improving pay and conditions to build a resilient British workforce. The Government will continue to work with the industry to build a resilient British workforce. Visas will not be the long-term solution, and reform within the industry is vital. The Government will continue to support these efforts, which must stop British workers being undercut from abroad, with pay and conditions rising within the industry.

One way to encourage more new entrants to HGV driving is to make apprenticeships in the HGV sector more attractive to encourage people to join. The Government has accordingly revised the Large Goods Vehicle Driver apprenticeship standard, supported by an increased funding band of £7,000, as well as offering incentive payments to employers of £3,000 for every apprentice hired as a new employee from April to September 2021.

Finally, the Government has also already doubled the number of HGV driving tests, and now plan to increase testing by a further 50,000 a year, along with recently announced plans to overhaul HGV driving tests, meaning drivers will only need to take one test to drive both a rigid and articulated lorry, rather than taking two tests spaced weeks apart. We’ve also freed up examiners by removing the requirement – imposed by the EU – for drivers to take a separate test if they want to drive a car with a trailer.

There is always more work to do but I am confident the measures we are taking will help us build and keep the strong and resilient HGV workforce in both the short and long term our country needs.

Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Newspaper column 22 September 2021 - Joining the Government

The big news in Westminster last week was the reshuffle. It had long been speculated that one was due, so it was good to see it actually happening.

Among the number of big moves in the Cabinet, I was particularly pleased to see the former Vaccines Minster, Nahdim Zahawi, appointed to Education Secretary. Having worked closely with Nadhim in the Department for Health and Social Care over the past 18 months I am sure he will do a great job in this new role.

I was also pleased that Sajid Javid remained as Health Secretary. This is a crucial time for our health and care system as we recover from the pandemic, deal with the backlog in our health system and reform the social care system.

For me personally there was also good news as the Prime Minister invited me to join the Government as a Whip. An invitation I was honoured to accept. There is always a lot of misunderstanding about the role of whips in Parliament. Whilst it is true that a part of the role is seeking to ensure MP’s vote in support of the government, that really is a small part of the role.

Whips are primarily there to manage the business of the government through the House of Commons. There is a myriad of different things that go on behind the scenes before and after what is seen in the chamber. This includes negotiating with the opposition whips regarding how long is given to different items of business, ensuring MPs are kept informed of what is happening and formally moving motions and other business in the chamber.

There is also a huge amount of work that goes into committees that consider legislation, where the whips have a key role.

Having spent the past two years as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Department for Health and Social Care I welcome the opportunity of a new role and fresh challenge. Being the PPS to the Health Secretary throughout the Covid pandemic has been an incredible experience. It was truly a privilege to serve in that role during one of the most challenging times our country has faced for generations. I learnt a great deal and it was an immensely busy and intense time. I will never forget the experience and will always be grateful to the Prime Minister, Matt Hancock and Sajid Javid for the opportunity.

Each Whip is assigned to a government department to be a part of the ministerial team and I am delighted that I have been appointed the whip for the Health and Social Care Department. This will mean I will continue to work with health ministers to deliver the vital investment and reforms we need to recover from the pandemic.

I now look forward to my new role. There will be a great deal to learn in the coming weeks and months, but I am honoured to be part of this government and working to deliver the programme of legislation as we seek to move on from the pandemic.

But I want to reassure everyone that being the MP for my home patch is still by far the greatest honour I can ever imagine. Representing and serving the people of this constituency will always be the priority for me. I do understand the comments that some make that I will now be bound to support the government. Whilst it is the case that, just like the past two years as a PPS, I am bound by the collective responsibility being part of the government brings, it does not in any way dimmish my commitment to do what is right and best for our part of Cornwall.

As a part of the government, I will continue to do what I believe is right and best for our constituency and work with ministers to deliver the things we need. I will now be able to do this as a part of Boris Johnson’s government.

My office and I are here to help local people in any way we can. I am now holding regular face to face surgeries. If you feel I can help with advice or support in any way please contact my office to book an appointment – email: office@stevedouble.org.uk, tel. 01726 829379.