Thursday, 20 July 2017

Product of Cornwall Scheme


There has been growing interest in recent years in how our food is produced and where it comes from.  The growth of local farm shops and the plethora of new businesses making everything from jams to speciality drinks underlines the role that this revival of interest in food can play in helping our local economy.  The trend has been especially strong here in Cornwall where we have developed a great brand for quality food and speciality recipes.  
 
We have so many fantastic companies locally that are blazing a trail.  Companies like Lynher Dairies have created new markets with their highly acclaimed Cornish Yarg. Furniss Biscuits have started to take their famous Cornish fairings to a national market.  Rodda’s Cream are creating new export markets, and Falfish have ensured that Cornwall is the market leader for freshly caught local fish. 
 
Last week, I met Cornwall Council to discuss their new "Product of Cornwall" scheme.  It seeks to build and extend the long running "Made in Cornwall" scheme which recognises local Cornish manufacturers. The new scheme is an origin assurance scheme, focused around primary produce and minimally processed products.  It will help to develop a brand for local Cornish produce and meats in particular.  
 
In recent years, there have been arguments about supermarkets using made up farm names to try to suggest produce is British when it sometimes is not.  We have also seen similar disputes around the use of the term “Cornish”. In 2015 there were complaints made about caterers using the term “Cornish Beef” when the beef had not been reared in Cornwall.  The Product of Cornwall scheme means that beef will only be accredited as “Cornish” if the animal was born, reared and slaughtered within Cornwall.
 
Schemes like this can help to develop a local brand and strengthen consumer confidence in the food they eat. At Defra as Farming and Food Minister I have been looking at other opportunities to recognise local speciality foods that help celebrate and promote the diversity of food that we have across the country.  One of the things we are looking at is how we might be able to use certification schemes and trade mark regulations to help recognise such produce.  The Product of Cornwall scheme is a good local example of how such ideas can work.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme


One of the most frustrating things about modern life is how trying to do certain things that ought to be simple often seems to become curiously complicated.   Whether its waiting on hold in an automated call and being relentlessly told "your call is important" or being told you have filled out the wrong form and need to start again or being "signposted" to someone else who might be able to help.  We have all experienced it.

This frustration is especially familiar among parents who have children with special needs. They sometimes feel that every part of the system seems to be involved but no one seems able to take proper ownership of their case. In some instances, a school will express concerns about a child and report this to a parent. A parent takes the child to a GP, who suggests a referral. An assessment is carried out, and this results in no further action. The parent is signposted to another service. The school reports their concerns again. The cycle continues.

This week, the Minister for Children and Families announced that Cornwall has been awarded £1.9M by the Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme. It is one of 24 projects across the country which has been awarded such funding.

Cornwall Council’s bid for funding was submitted with the aim of building on its One Vision plan, which sets the foundation for shaping future integration of education, health and social care services for children, young people and their families here in Cornwall. 

Some progress has been made. The Early Help Hub provides a pathway for help across education, health and social care. Early help is about identifying problems at an early stage and intervening as soon as possible. The Early Help Hub is the single point of contact for these services. For example, if a parent or a school is worried about a child displaying signs of autism, the Early Health Hub comprises services including the Autistic Spectrum Disorder Assessment Team, targeted youth support, family support and Child and Adolescent Mental Health and Learning Disability Service. This means that a case is looked after as a whole, rather than being dealt with by different parties, in different places, with different procedures.  At a time when these services are facing increased demand, this project is needed and I hope it will make a difference. 

 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Opportunities for the Fishing Industry


The UK Government has just announced its intention to withdraw from the outdated London Fisheries Convention. The UK became a signatory to the London Convention in 1964, giving French, German, Dutch, Irish and Belgian vessels access to our 6-12 mile zone. As Fisheries Minister, I am pleased that we are taking this important step towards building our own domestic fishing policy as we leave the European Union and the Common Fisheries Policy.

Here in Cornwall, leaving the EU creates opportunities for our fishermen. We will be able to re-establish national control for fisheries management out to 200 nautical miles or the median line as provided for in international law.  We will then negotiate new access and quota sharing arrangements that are fairer to our fishermen. 

There has long been an historical injustice in quota allocations to the UK fleet. In 2015 the UK allocation of Cod was just 834 tonnes compared to 5,500 for France. For Plaice in the Channel it was 1,300 tonnes for the UK, but 2,600 for France.  Many local fishermen feel frustrated that they sometimes have to tie up their boats because they have run out of quota but they see French vessels continuing to fish in Cornish waters.  Taking back control of our fishing grounds will give us the opportunity to revisit quota allocations and make things fairer.

However, I have also always been clear that the UK will continue to be a world leader in promoting sustainable fisheries and we will continue to cooperate with all our neighbours.   We will not allow a free for all and one of the conditions of any future access we grant will be that all vessels fish sustainably and within limits to protect our marine environment.

Last week my article on parking fines sparked a debate especially about the approach taken by Veor Surgery. Since then my office has been contacted by several other individuals, all of whom have reported attending a late running doctors’ appointment before being stung with huge fines that no one would discuss with them.  I hope Veor change the way they operate in future so that their patients will no longer have to endure the stress of being hounded by these parking companies.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Parking Fines


 A few years ago there were huge problems with cowboy wheel clamping companies effectively extorting huge parking "fines" from innocent drivers for very minor parking errors.  I argued for a change at the time and the government abolished the use of wheel clamping by these awful companies.

However, it's clear that the problem has not been entirely solved.  The same companies have continued to try to rip off people for trivial parking mistakes and to threaten and intimidate them with the threat of legal action.

The most extraordinary cases I have seen recently have concerned Veor GP Surgery in Camborne.  The surgery has introduced a maximum one hour limit on parking there.  People turn up for their appointment on time but often find that the doctors are running late, which is not unusual.  Then, because the surgery is running late, they overstay in the car park by a few minutes. The next thing that happens is they have to endure the stress and strain of being hounded by a cowboy parking company.  They cannot speak to anyone on the phone.  The company refuses to discuss problems but just bully people for cash.  No one replies to letters.  Veor surgery refuses to discuss the problem with them.  

These companies don't actually have a statutory right to fine.  Instead they rely on a rather creative use of contract law to provide the basis for the way they behave. 

We need to tighten the law to limit their powers, establish genuine dispute resolution and appeals processes and to cap the size of the "fine" that such companies are able to levy. We need to end the ridiculous situation where the people who judge your parking appeal are the ones trying to rip you off in the first place.

The Conservative Manifesto outlined that steps will be taken to tackle rogue private parking operators. I will be writing to DCLG to highlight the specific case of Veor GP Surgery, as well as the parking company involved to ensure that the lessons from this local problem are reflected in a national policy change.

 

Thursday, 22 June 2017

This Week

As the Queen said in her birthday message, as a nation we have faced a series of human tragedies leaving a sombre mood.  A string of terror attacks including those in Manchester, London Bridge and then Finsbury in recent days has left us all wondering why there is so much hate in the world today. But we have also shown our strength together and have been resolute as a country in making sure such hate does not prevail and that we carry on with our lives.

On top of these events we have had the appalling Grenfell Tower fire tragedy last week.  The suffering of those caught up in this dreadful event causes distress to everyone.  There has been anger too since it seems extraordinary that, with all the building regulations and fire regulations that are in place, cladding that seems to have been flammable could have been used on the building. The government has established a Public Inquiry to investigate why the fire was able to spread in the way that it did. While anger is understandable, we should, at times like this, reserve judgement and blame until an inquiry fully establishes exactly what went wrong and then we should act to ensure such mistakes are never made again.

The disaster was also a reminder of the tremendous and often dangerous and difficult work done by our emergency services, including local firefighter Ben Holehouse who used to live in Camborne and now works for the London Fire Brigade and was one of those who fought the fire at Grenfell Tower.  Closer to home, this week fire crews across Cornwall also fought a major fire at the recycling centre at Pool.


Despite the gloomy tragedies in recent months, we have to carry on with life as normal.  On a brighter note last weekend the sun was shining for Murdoch Day in Redruth and the town turned out in force.  The streets were packed and local schools danced to celebrate the life and achievements of William Murdoch, the local inventor and engineer. Murdoch was one of the pioneers of steam power development in Cornwall and famously invented the first ever gas light using piped gas. The day was a happier and brighter end to an otherwise tragic week.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

General Election 2017

Last Thursday proved that there are no certainties in politics and that elections are always volatile and unpredictable. 

The results were disappointing for the Conservatives nationally. We went to the country and asked for an increased majority as we enter the Brexit negotiations but the country declined to give us this.  

In politics you have to work with the hand you are dealt and read the result of elections. We asked the country what they wanted and the collective answer from voters is that they are unsure or, are divided. There have been a lot of elections in the last two years and there is fatigue with polls.

Parliament must therefore accept that indecisive verdict, work through the various issues before us and prioritise the tasks that matter most. Our constitution is designed to work towards what voters want with the parliamentary maths driving out compromise and caution in the dose requested by voters.

Here in Cornwall, all six constituencies returned Conservative MPs. I want to thank all of the 23,001 people in the Camborne, Redruth and Hayle constituency who placed their confidence in me for a third term.  The total number of votes cast for me actually went up by 4,500 but a Labour surge at the expense of the Lib Dems means the majority is reduced. I want to be clear that I will represent everyone in this constituency, regardless of which way they voted and we Conservatives must also reflect on the message coming from those voters who turned out in large numbers to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

Since being elected, I have prioritised the regeneration of our towns. We have achieved a lot, but there is much more that I want to do. We also need to attract new industries and better paid jobs. Unemployment is at its lowest level in many years, but the next step is to increase wages and create more opportunities for young people.


I will also continue to fight to ensure Cornwall gets its fair share of funding for public services. Just because we are a long way from London doesn't mean we shouldn't get our fair share.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Carn Brea Leisure Centre


Like many people who grew up in this part of Cornwall, I have fond childhood memories of Carn Brea Leisure Centre. It has been an essential part of the local community for well over forty years. I have been running since I was nine, when I first joined Cornwall Athletics Club. Throughout my twenties I was running for Cornwall and at the peak of my fitness I was running around 80 miles per week. It was a big part of my life, and a lot of it revolved around training at Carn Brea.
 
At any given time, there are over 1000 children learning to swim at Carn Brea. It is therefore great news that the management team have secured funding from Sport England to refurbish the pool and deliver other maintenance and improvements.
 
The work will start this summer, and will finish at the end of the year. It will ensure that facilities are sustained for existing users, as well as the next generation of swimmers. Carn Brea is Cornwall’s first Charitable Trust Leisure Centre, and provides health and wellbeing facilities in the heart of our local area. I am pleased to hear that during the pool refurbishment, facilities including the gym, running track, cafĂ© and fitness classes will still be open.
 
We now need to focus our efforts on raising the remaining funds needed. The fundraising campaign will start in May, when full plans of the project will be unveiled. I hope that the fundraising campaign will be a real community effort, in the true spirit of Carn Brea.