Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Newspaper column 7 October 2020 - Health and COVID-19 update

 

We continue to see the number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus increase, locally and nationally. The number of cases in Cornwall continues to follow the national trend of cases rising. However, much of the increase in cases across Cornwall can be identified as due to a small number of clusters centred around very specific businesses.

It is important that everything possible is done to ensure Public Health England is able to identify these outbreaks and all necessary steps taken to isolate those with the virus. I am confident this is happening.

We continue to learn more about how this virus is spread and how we can control it. It is clear that certain businesses, particularly those in the food processing industry, appear to have higher risks of outbreaks. We have seen this elsewhere in the country and this is now the case here in Cornwall.

Whilst we have seen an increase in cases, Cornwall continues to be one of the least affected parts of the country. The level of cases here is well below that of most other areas and we are still some way off facing the additional local restrictions that other areas have had put in place. 

Whilst we all need to continue to play our part in behaving responsibly to keep ourselves and others safe. We need to get back on top of this second wave so that we can avoid Cornwall having to have additional restrictions.

The government continues to work to enable us all to return to life as normal. Every effort continues to be made to produce an effective vaccine and for widely available fast testing to be in place. Either of these would enable restrictions to be eased.

We are very much aware that we are all now on the countdown to Christmas. It is hoped we will be in a position to ease restrictions by Christmas to enable families to be able to enjoy the festivities together in as normal way as possible. We understand how important this will be at the end of what has been a challenging and traumatic year for us all and one way or another we will do everything possible to achieve this.

Along side our continued fight against the virus, it was good to see last week the government confirm further investment in the NHS. It was great to see the list of the 40 new hospitals that will be built across the country – with funding secured. This was a key commitment we made at the last election and it was pleasing to see this promise being delivered just a few months later.

A new Women and Children’s unit at Treliske, that will include a new, modern maternity facility. This is something that was planned previously but the government has been able to bring this forward and enable it to be built well ahead of schedule.

This £100million investment is in addition to the £450million that has been committed to upgrade hospital facilities across Cornwall. The new Women and Children’s unit will be the first of what will be a number of very significant new and upgraded health facilities in the coming years.

Along with the other Cornish MPs I am working with NHS leaders in Cornwall to ensure this large pot of money is spent in the best way possible that will provide major improves for people across Cornwall.

Like many people I believe at least part of this funding should be used to provide hospital facilities in Mid-Cornwall that will take pressure off of Treliske. I also want to see improvements to our local community hospitals so that more health services are able to be provided locally to save patients having to travel to Truro.

All of this should be achievable, and I will continue to do all I can to shape the plans that come forward to get the very best outcome for our constituency and Cornwall generally.

Finally, with the new restrictions that have been put in place recently, I have taken the decision to suspend face to face surgeries for the immediate future. However, I am still always happy to talk to any constituents who would like my help or to raise any concerns with me. We can do this on the telephone or by video link. Please get in touch with my office if you would like to arrange a time for a call – tel. 01726 829379. Email – office@stevedouble.org.uk  

Wednesday, 30 September 2020

Newspaper column 30 September 2020- Autumn Covid-19 news

As the COVID-19 cases around the country continue to rise it was only right that last week the Prime Minister announced revised restrictions to help us all in the fight against this virus over the coming months.

As we move into autumn and winter, where viruses are transmitted more easily for a variety of reasons, it is not surprising that we are seeing these restrictions, which include a 10pm curfew for pubs, bars and restaurants, a return to focussing on home working where possible, and further limits on social gatherings, sporting events and guests at weddings, combined with tougher fines for people who break the rules.

I appreciate that these measures will be tough to follow but the alternative, given the increased number of cases we are seeing, would be more deaths and an even more restrictions, which no one wants to see.

The autumn and winter months also give rise to the traditional flu season. Research highlighted by Public Health England last week suggests the risk of death more than doubled for people who tested positive for both flu and COVID-19, compared to those with COVID-19 alone.

Adults at high risk from flu are also most at risk from COVID-19. As such the free flu vaccine is more important than ever to help protect the nation from a double threat this winter, and is something I would encourage everyone who is eligible to get.

Because of the COVID-19 pressures, this year, the flu vaccine programme is being expanded to  new groups, including Year 7 children and people aged 50-64, who will be offered the vaccine once the most at risk categories have had it, to help protect people from flu and ease pressure on the NHS and urgent care services.

In all, our health system this year is working to provide the free flu vaccine to 30 million people, the highest number on record.

Continuing the further support for those impacted by COVID-19, last Thursday the Chancellor announced the Winter Economy Plan – the next phase of the Government’s planned economic response to coronavirus.

This includes the Job Support Scheme, which directly funds businesses to protect these viable jobs and people’s wages, rather than laying employees off through a difficult winter. To ensure parity between employees and self-employed, the Government is also providing a grant extension for self-employed small businesses who used the existing self-employed income support scheme.

The announcement also included actions to minimise the strains on companies’ cashflows so they can focus their resources on supporting employment. This included an extension to the temporary VAT cut to Spring 2021 will support vulnerable hospitality and tourism businesses, something  which I have been lobbying the Government for, including the Tourist Minister in person when he visited Newquay and the Eden Project earlier in September. This will have a big positive impact for many of our businesses in Cornwall.

We continue to live through challenging times but I am certain that by all playing our part and following the rules, as well as through continued strong support from the Government, we will get through this together.

During these difficult times, my office team and myself will continue to do all we can to provide support, advice, and answer any questions you may have. So if you feel we can help please do get in touch. Email office@stevedouble.org.uk or call us on 01726 829379.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

Newspaper column 23 September 2020 - More covid measures and Ministerial visits

The last week has been another challenging week in Parliament.

Firstly, I was pleased to be able to speak a number of times in the chamber, including asking a question at Prime Minister’s Questions to ask Boris Johnson for more support for our local airport.

I was then pleased to welcome the Tourism Minister, Nigel Huddleston to our constituency. I hosted a meeting with local tourism businesses at the Headland Hotel in Newquay, where he was able to hear first hand the impact of the pandemic on tourism businesses, the help that government support has provided, and their concerns about the coming months.

Then on Friday I was able to take him to the Eden Project to see for himself how they have adapted to be Covid secure to allow visitors back in.

There is no substitute for government ministers seeing for themselves the situation we face here in Cornwall and listening directly to the businesses effected. I know he has taken back a very clear picture of the ongoing help we will need.

Obviously, the big issue of the last few days has been the concern about the rising levels of Coronavirus around the country. At the time of writing this column we are still waiting to hear from the Prime Minister in his statement to Parliament on Tuesday what further measures may be taken to fight the spread of the virus.

Whilst the number of cases in Cornwall remains low compared to the rest of the country, the numbers are increasing. Although it was widely expected that we would see an increase as autumn approached, the rate at which the virus appears to be spreading is causing the government, based on the evidence and advice of health experts, to look closely at what further measures will be needed.

There is a very clear message to all of us, that it is vital we keep to the restrictions in place. The new rule of 6, which limits the number of people who can meet in any setting to six, has been in place for just over a week and it is crucial that we all play our part and keep to this rule.

There is no escaping the fact that it is down to every one of us to be responsible and take all the steps necessary to keep ourselves and others safe.

The Chief Medical Officer, Chris Witty, made this very important point in his statement on Monday, that fighting this virus has to be a collective effort. Whilst some of us may think the risk to us personally is very low, we cannot just think about ourselves. Every person who catches the virus, never mind the symptoms we experience, will be a carrier that risks those around us from catching it.

We are seeing the number of cases double roughly every week. We know from our own previous experience and from watching what is happening in other countries that we need to get on top of this virus once again or it will run out of control.

Previously, as a country, and a local community we brought the virus down, but all the evidence shows it is seeking to come back. Whatever the government decides, and the PM announces, it will be with one aim in mind, to limit the spread and save lives.

I know for many people and businesses any further restrictions will be hard to take and I will make sure those views and concerns are heard. If we experience any further restrictions that have a negative impact on local businesses I will seek further support from the government. Additionally, I will continue to do all I can to ensure our local health and care services get the support they need.

I was pleased that the government announced a further £500,000 to support care homes in Cornwall and enable them to prevent the spread of infection in the coming months. This is very welcome and I will seek to ensure Cornwall Council spend this money in the most effective way, to keep our elderly and most vulnerable parts of our community safe.

I know we are once again entering uncertain times. My office team and myself will continue to do all we can to provide support and advice, and answer any questions you may have. So if you feel we can help please do get in touch. Email office@stevedouble.org.uk tel. 01726 829379   

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

Newspaper column 9 September 2020 - Extinction Rebellion's attempt to stifle the press

 

The ‘cancel culture’ – which seeks to shut down views and voices that don’t subscribe to a particular, narrow, political agenda, took another concerning twist this weekend when Extinction Rebellion blockaded several newspaper print factories in order to prevent them from being printed and distributed.

The fact that it was only some newspapers, and not those who generally support a more left-wing political view, shows once again what the thinly veiled agenda is behind this campaign.

This latest stunt in the undemocratic campaign to bring down capitalism should be a cause for concern for many reasons.

Firstly, it is illegal, and I was pleased to read that the Police did actually take action and there were 58 arrests of those who were protesting. To seek to prevent companies from going about their lawful business in this way should never be accepted in an open and democratic society. It is worth noting that by preventing newspapers from being printed and distributed it is not just the owners of the papers that pay the cost. It is also thousands of businesses across the country, many of which are small family businesses such as newspapers and convenience stores, who stock and sell these papers who would have felt the consequences. At a time when many of our businesses are struggling to recover from the lockdown this type of action is the last thing they and our economy needs.

But probably more serious is the blatant attempt to shut down those who do not concur with the narrow and extreme agenda of Extinction Rebellion. A free press is one of the hallmarks of freedom of speech that is the foundation of our democracy. Listening to opposing views is a healthy part of any open democratic society. As the saying goes you do not win a debate by stopping debate from taking place.

When it comes to the issue of climate change and protecting our environment, we have been having a significant and constructive debate in this country now for many years. That debate needs to be allowed to continue. The issue is too important to be shut down now. But we also have to accept it is a very complex matter with a wide variety of views and opinions. Seeking to shut it down, particularly at this point in time, is the last thing we need to do.

The irony is now, that just at a point when we are making real advances in action being taken to limit and prevent climate change, those who claim to be the most focused, committed and vocal on the matter are in danger of being the ones doing the most harm to progress.

When Extinction Rebellion began their direct-action protest last year it was clear there was a fair degree of sympathy and support for their cause. People may not have completely agreed with all of their actions but there was a general acceptance that their cause was just.

However, as they have continued their protests and escalated their actions it is clear from my post bag that they are losing much of the good will they may have initially attracted. This latest action at the weekend appears to have lost them even more support. Even some leading politicians from parties who are known to be in support of more action to fight climate change are now saying these latest stunts by Extinction Rebellion are undermining the cause and counter-productive.

There is a fine balance between allowing protest to happen whilst remaining legal and respecting the views of others. Many people, and our society as a whole, has been on a journey in recent years and it is clear the general direction of travel has been towards a greater understanding of the importance of protecting our environment, and a greater acceptance that more needs to be done to reduce emissions and prevent further harm to our environment.

This government has taken more action than any other to put in place legislation to cut our carbon emissions, reduce pollution including things such as plastic waste and promote clean energy and sustainable growth. Yes, more needs to be done and more will be done. But as in any significant change the government, and politicians in general, have to take the public with them. That is where our democratic mandate for the action required will come from.  

The vast majority of people I engage with now accept that we need to take more action to reduce pollution and the impact of climate change. My concern is that the actions of a few extremists is now damaging the cause they say they are fighting for. It is becoming more and more clear to me that their consistent criminality and disruption of the lives of law-abiding businesses and hard working people is losing them the support of much of the public. Support we are going to need if we are to make further progress.

 

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 office@stevedouble.org.uk. 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. 

Wednesday, 29 July 2020

Newspaper column 29 July 2020 - ASB issues

One issue has dominated the news and social media in St Austell this past week – the rise of anti-social behaviour, drugs and crime in the town centre.

For many years now this has been an ongoing issue that tends to see an increase in the summer months. However, it was quite clear from the number of people who contacted me that there had been a significant increase in cases since the beginning of this month.

Having spoken to businesses representatives, local Police and the Town Council, it was clear to me that urgent action was needed, particularly as local businesses were already facing big challenges to draw people into the town following the easing of the lockdown restrictions. Therefore, I used my position as the local MP to call an urgent meeting last Thursday. Initially Cornwall Council declined to send any representatives to the meeting but after I pressed the point with them, they did eventually agree to join us by video link.

This is particularly frustrating as last summer we saw a noticeable improvement as a result of the hard work of local businesses, the Police and council working together. However, it does feel that all that good work has been undone in just a few weeks as a result of the number of people currently being housed in the town by Cornwall Council.

I have always been of the view that this issue needed a dual approach. We need to address the symptom by having a visible Police and security presence in the town. But we cannot just go on throwing resources at the symptoms, we also need to understand what the cause of the problem is and address them.  Whilst this is a complex matter and I do not pretend for a moment there are any simple long term answers, there is no doubt in my mind that more could be done to understand and take action to deal with the causes.

Whilst all towns have their problems with anti-social behaviour, it has been true for too long that St Austell has more than its share of challenges. It is undeniable that there are a significant number of facilities around the town that provide housing to those with complex needs and chaotic lifestyles. Recent figures produced have highlighted that St Austell has a higher number of supported accommodation beds commissioned by Cornwall Council than other comparable place in Cornwall.
This is something I have been working on for more than 3 years and in fact had a meeting with senior Cornwall Council officers planned for March, which unfortunately had to be cancelled due to the lockdown.

In calling the meeting last week my aim for to first agree some immediate action in order to ensure the current situation was improved quickly. But I also wanted to ensure steps were put in place to work to find longer term solutions.

I am pleased to report that the meeting went very well. I was very pleased with the way everyone from St Austell made a robust presentation to Cornwall Council of the challenges our town faces – including the Police, Town Council including the Mayor and Deputy, and those from the towns’ businesses community. We all agreed following the meeting that for the first time we felt as though Cornwall Council ‘got it’.

The local Police were able to confirm at the meeting that they would be increasing their presence in the town centre immediately and it was good to receive reports of several arrests that were made in the following few days. Also, the outreach services from the anti-social behaviour team agreed to increase their patrols. From my visits to the town in the days that followed it was clear that this had an immediate impact and the businesses I spoke to, reported a noticeable improvement.

However, I am also determined that we address the underlying causes of this issue. It was disappointing that still, after more than two years of me asking Cornwall Council the questions, they were unable to provide us with any figures as to how many people with complex needs, the various departments of Cornwall Council are currently housing in St Austell. Those at the meeting did however commit to provide me and the Town Council with this information in the near future.

This will be the first step to ensuring that St Austell is treated fairly by the council and that we can all work together to ensure we do not see a repeat of the events of the past few weeks. I am determined that this will now happen and will continue to work with the Town Council, Police and businesses to make sure it does.