Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Newspaper column 14 February 2018 - More money for Cornwall


Parliament has now risen for February Recess so I am taking the opportunity to spend as much time as possible in Mid-Cornwall, out and about meeting local residents and businesses to hear concerns and feedback on my work for you in Westminster.

Last week I was pleased, along with Cornwall MP colleagues to secure additional funding for Cornwall from the Government.

You may have noticed that the Lib Dems and their friends who run Cornwall Council have recently started campaigning for fairer funding for Cornwall. This seems to have involved putting a press release out announcing their intentions and trying to get a hashtag trending on Twitter, but sadly not a whole lot of actual work.

It is clear that there have been historic funding inequities for Cornwall. For a variety of reasons successive governments of different parties have long failed to address these issues. However since my election in 2015, I have made getting the balance restored one of my key priorities.

I was pleased therefore, last week to meet with Local Government Minister Rishi Sunak and receive his commitment for an additional £1.7m funding for Cornwall’s Adult Social Care services and an extra £1.5m for the Rural Services Delivery Grant.

This goes along with other recent examples in the last year including the £2.3m funding already announced for infrastructure delivery at the West Carclaze Garden Village in Mid-Cornwall, and the £79m the Government has given for the building of the A30 link road to St Austell and the surrounding area.

It is great to see this additional funding from the Government. As well as the direct impact it will have on Cornwall, indirectly it has led to Cornwall Council deciding to tone down its plans for a massive 5.9% council tax rise this year, which will be a real boost for hard-working people who are already squeezed.

There is still more to do though. In Parliament I chair the Rural Fair Share Campaign group, a cross-party group of MPs, who support an impartial, objective, needs-based approach to funding local public services.

The campaign aims to reduce the rural penalty, which sees funding for public services in rural areas receive up to 40% less than in urban areas, whether this is for our schools, local government or Police.

I am pleased that the Government has now agreed to look at the funding formulas used again and conduct a comprehensive review that I believe will show it is simply more expensive to deliver services in rural areas than urban areas. We have already made good progress in establishing the principle that there is an additional cost of providing services in more sparsely populated parts of the country. But we now need to see this turned into more hard extra cash. The additional money secured last week is a good stopgap but I will continue to campaign for permanent change to ensure Cornwall gets the funding we deserve in the future.

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 (no appointment necessary). If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please, either visit the office or contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Newspaper column 7 February 2018 - Plastic free Parliament

Yesterday, in my capacity of Chairman of the Protect our Waves All Party Parliamentary Group, working with Sky TV, I hosted an event calling on MPs to pledge to cut the amount of plastic used in Parliament with the aim of making the UK the first plastic free Parliament.

In our constituency we have many miles of stunning coastline, beautiful beaches and amazing seascapes. People come from all over the world to enjoy our wonderful natural environment. Interspersed with all of this is all too obvious marine menace – the plastic foe that has invaded our waters.

Since my election in 2015 I have chaired the Protect Our Waves APPG and along with the renowned campaigners at Surfers Against Sewage have worked hard to highlight the problems we are storing up for ours and future generations with our reckless use of single use plastics.

Recently, and in the last year in particular, this Government has taken steps to reduce the amount of plastics we use and waste. There is the plastic bag charge, that was just extended in the recent Budget that has caused nine billion fewer bags to be used since its introduction in 2015, as well as generating more than £66m given by supermarkets to good causes from the income generated by the charge.

The Government has recently brought in the ban on microbeads in cosmetic products that were putting hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of plastic into our drains every time we showered.

There is also the campaign to bring in a deposit scheme for single use plastic bottles, and the recent announcement by the PM as part of the 25 Year Environment Plan that the Government will be working with retailers to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles – a great move to cut down on some of the frankly ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging we get on food purchases such as fruit and vegetables.

These are all great initiatives and along with this, public awareness of the plastic waste problem has never been higher. There are plenty of grass-roots movements starting to look at how we as communities can address the problem. Several originate in Cornwall, including the Refill initiative, which sees businesses providing free water to encourage less use of single use plastic bottles, the Final Straw group, which looks at eliminating plastic straws from our hospitality sector, and the Plastic Free town movement, which recently saw Penzance pledge to become the first plastic free town in the country.

Members of Parliament, as community leaders, have our own role to play in raising awareness, taking a lead and setting an example on this important matter. That is why I am pleased to be working with Sky and Surfers Against Sewage to bring forward the Plastic Free Parliament Campaign. Specifically, this campaign is all about getting MPs to practise what many of us preach and sign up to reduce the amount of plastic we use in our offices. I hope this will be another step in the fight against plastic waste.


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Newspaper column 31 January 2018 - Making sure holiday homes pay their way

As we head into February it has been an interesting time for me both locally and in Westminster over the past week. In my new position as a member of the Space Industry Bill Committee it was great to be spend a lot of time involved in the scrutiny and development of this new legislation as it heads towards becoming law. With our strong bid for Cornwall Airport Newquay to be Britain’s first commercial spaceport this could be a game-changer for our local economy and I will continue to do all I can to achieve this.

I also questioned the Secretary of State for the Environment on our responsibilities as MPs to lead the way in the fight against plastic waste, ahead of a new campaign I will shortly be starting – more on that next week!

Meanwhile in Mid-Cornwall on Friday I attended a meeting of the Cornwall Leadership Board, along with key private and public sector figures at County Hall, to help set the agenda for Cornwall for 2018 and beyond, as well as going along and speaking at a packed breakfast event for St Austell Bay Chamber of Commerce.

One issue that was due to be discussed at the most recent Full Council meeting of Cornwall Council surrounds the loophole that enables holiday home owners to get out of paying council tax for their homes.

Essentially the issue is that second-home owners register their properties as businesses and get small business rates relief for them thereby contributing nothing to the cost of local services and Policing.
This is an issue that I have recently met with the Local Government Minister about. It is clearly an unfair gap in existing legislation and one that needs to be closed as soon as possible.

The Government has already made some progress in recognising the sometimes negative impact that second homes can have on the all-year communities they are in, pushing up houses prices and making them unaffordable for local people. In 2011 the Conservative-led Government ended the scheme where many second home owners qualified for up to 100% relief on their council tax. In 2015 the Government announced a stamp duty levy on second homes, with the proceeds of this levy going to areas that suffer from this issue, with Cornwall mentioned specifically by the then-Chancellor during his announcement.

The monies from the levy are sent to local councils for use in affordable housing developments via Community Land Trusts. The first batch of this payment was issued last year, and I am pleased to confirm Cornwall Council received £5m from the Government.

There is still more to do though, and I will be working with colleagues both locally and in Westminster to find a common sense solution that ensures all local property owners contribute to our local communities.

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 (no appointment necessary). If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please, either visit the office or contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events


Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Newspaper column 24 January 2018 - Help during the holidays

Last week I had a packed schedule in Parliament, attending many different events on behalf of the people of Mid-Cornwall, including a National Farmers Union Reception supporting local beer and cheese producers, hosting an Open Doors Reception supporting persecuted Christians around the world, and a meeting discussing our continuing support for Surfers Against Sewage in the continuing fight against plastics that end up in our seas. I also spoke on the Space Industry Bill, highlighting the potential of bringing the spaceport to Cornwall, and I am pleased to have been appointed to the committee that will consider this legislation as it moves through Parliament.

On Friday I was back in Cornwall, including meeting local businesses, the Student Council at Fowey Primary School to discuss my work as MP and a meeting with the Cornwall Rural Housing Association to discuss their plans for the old Carclaze Infant School in St Austell on Friday and a constituency advice surgery in Newquay on Saturday.

One announcement that I was pleased to hear last week was from the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Education, Nadhim Zahawi MP, who confirmed that the Government will launch research into how best to ensure that more children from disadvantaged families benefit from healthy meals and positive activities during the holidays.

Research from charities, including the Trussell Trust, has shown there can be rising demand at foodbanks during the summer holidays for example, when the families of children who are entitled to free school meals during term time struggle to afford to feed their children. There is no doubt that this is an issue that many families here in Mid-Cornwall face.

The Government is now going to investigate the best way to ensure that the most disadvantaged children have access to activities and healthy meals in the school holidays. The research programme will include funding for a targeted pilot programme. That will allow the Government to consider if and how they should intervene in the long term. As I have said before, just throwing money at an issue won’t automatically solve it, so I am pleased to see that the programme of work will focus on the best and most cost-effective ways to address what is clearly an issue for some of our more vulnerable families.

As with everything, my job is to ensure that Cornwall is properly considered in any work that takes place. I am pleased that the Minister said the Government is aiming to cover rural as well as urban areas, to work with different types of schools and across educational phases, and to ensure that provision can be accessed by children with special educational needs and disabilities.


The research programme will begin immediately and will include some initial work in the 2018 summer holidays followed by further piloting in the 2019 Easter ​and summer holidays. The Government work will investigate how to provide a balanced, enriched programme for the most disadvantaged school-age pupils and I will be watching the work closely to ensure it is targeted correctly and that its results can be applied across the whole of the country, to support those who need it most. 

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Newspaper column 17 January - The 25 Year Environment Plan

Last week was my first week back in Parliament following the festive Recess. It was a busy week with a lot going on, both in Westminster and then in Mid-Cornwall over the weekend.

I was particularly keen to make representations on behalf of the people of Mid-Cornwall on the NHS consultation that could see some radiotherapy services moved from Cornwall, raising it in the House of Commons in a debate and writing to both the Health Minister and Chief Executive of NHS England outlining my objections. In Cornwall, on Friday I also followed this up in my regular meetings with NHS management. The consultation continues until 24 January and I would encourage anyone who wants to feed back their views to write to NHS England at england.npoc-cancer@nhs.net or by letter to Radiotherapy Consultation, NHS England, Floor 3B, Skipton House, 80 London Road, London, SE1 6LH.

Meanwhile on Thursday morning I was delighted to be invited to the Prime Minister’s launch of the Government’s landmark 25 Year Environment Plan, setting out how we will improve the environment over a generation by creating richer habitats for wildlife, improving air and water quality and curbing the scourge of plastic in the world’s oceans.

Among other things, this strategy sets out how over the next quarter of a century the government will:
Help wildlife thrive by creating 500,000 hectares of new habitat for endangered species, supporting farmers to turn fields into meadows and other habitats, replenishing depleted soils and providing £5.7 million to kick-start a new Northern Forest.

Be a world leader in environmental protection by investigating the feasibility of an anti-poaching taskforce to tackle the illegal wildlife trade,

Deliver a Green Brexit by consulting on a new environmental watchdog to hold government to account for environmental standards, and setting out a new approach to agriculture and fisheries management

Connect people with nature by creating ‘nature friendly schools’ and reviewing National Parks to see how they can improve and whether the network should be extended.

Particularly important to the work I have been doing in my capacity as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group Protect Our Waves are further measures to crack down on plastic waste.
Specifically the Prime Minister announced that the Government will be working with retailers to introduce plastic-free supermarket aisles – a great move to cut down on some of the frankly ridiculous amounts of plastic packaging we get on food purchases such as fruit and vegetables, as well as extending the 5p plastic bag charge to all retailers and removing single use plastics from the government buildings.

There is much more to do, and the scope of the Government’s ambition is highlighted by the length of time it is envisaged it will take for these changes to take place. But this does not mean that we will wait 25 years before any changes will be made, but we should also accept that there is no silver bullet and it is good to see the Government laying the groundwork for changes that are not only so important to us now but for the future generations that we will be leaving the planet to.
I look forward to continuing to be involved in shaping and influencing these policies as the Government proceeds down the road to a greener Britain.

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 (no appointment necessary). If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please, either visit the office or contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events


Monday, 15 January 2018

NHS pressures

In the lead up to this winter, the government implemented its winter preparedness plan for the NHS. This involved spending an additional £100 million on A&Es across England just for this winter and an extra £2 billion on social care. The government have also increased the number of beds available across the system, reduced the number of delayed discharges of elderly people who would otherwise have been in NHS beds rather than in social care and have extended the flu vaccination program.

The current pressures are down to an unusually virulent flu virus which caused the same pressure on the Australian health system during their winter. Attempts to politicise pressures on the NHS are a serious mistake. The last time the NHS had a difficult flu winter was 2009. In 2009, the shadow Health Secretary was Andrew Lansley. He refused to attack the government, because it was an operational issue outside the control of government—in fact, the then Labour Health Secretary, Andy Burnham, thanked him for his “measured tone”, which meant that “together we can give a reassuring message to the public”. It is a shame Labour have not reciprocated and are more interested in whipping up fear and false news.  
  
However looking at the sustainability of the NHS in the future, it is clear demand is increasing faster than the additional resources being put into the NHS. It should be noted that despite what Labour say, since 2010 the NHS budget has increased when most government departments have had reductions. Due to the ever increasing pressure on the NHS, I support a Royal Commission which will look at ways to make the NHS sustainable in the future, ensure it remains free at the point of need and paid for out of taxation. A Royal Commission would work with all parties (if they wanted too) and would seek to give the NHS the long term footing it needs to cope with population increases and increasingly expensive treatments.  

On local matters, there have been malicious rumours spread stating that all the Minor Injuries Units (MIU) in Cornwall are closing. I have been reassured by NHS Kernow’s Chief Officer that this is not the case. I believe passionately that we need to retain our MIUs. I have already submitted my support for the vital work that our MIUs do, in the form of a reply to the Sustainability Transformation Plan (STP) consultation, and will vigorously fight to keep them should they ever come under a real threat of closure.


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Newspaper column 10 January - Rumours about the NHS

Parliament is now sitting again following the festive Recess and I have been up in Westminster this past week working on your behalf to represent Mid-Cornwall.

Last week I was concerned to see reports in local media that indicated that Minor Injury Units across Cornwall were earmarked for closure, including those at St Austell, Newquay and Penrice.

This was shocking as nothing of the sort had been discussed during my regular meetings with senior Cornish NHS management.

On closer inspection it turns out that these reports have wildly misrepresented the facts and are actually pure speculation, spread by the local Labour Party as a way to further its own political agenda about the NHS.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that we have a by-election coming up for a Cornwall Council seat in Falmouth, and that the Labour Party have apparently manufactured a story about an NHS ‘crisis’ in order to have a go at the Government and get votes for themselves.

I agree with the NHS staff when they tell me that the rumours are deeply unhelpful and untrue and that they are concerned it will put people who genuinely need help from seeking medical treatment.
I contacted NHS Kernow’s Chief Officer, who was equally as concerned about this ‘fake news’ and issued a clear statement:

“At a time when our urgent care system is under such pressure, we would expect to be able to rely on our local stakeholders and media partners to support us in encouraging the public to use services, like minor injury units, as an alternative to the emergency department.

It is therefore really disappointing that Mr Levin has published a report that has so many factual inaccuracies and suggests to the public that their local minor injury unit is under threat of imminent closure. This is simply not true and this scaremongering could cause unnecessary confusion amongst the public at a time when we are encouraging people to use the right service.

We strongly refute Mr Levin’s claims that we are pursuing a policy to close Cornwall’s MIUs…’

I believe passionately that we need to retain our MIUs. I have already submitted my support for the vital work that our MIUs do, in the form of a reply to the Sustainability Transformation Plan (STP) consultation, and will vigorously fight to keep them should they ever come under a real threat of closure.

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 (no appointment necessary). If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please, either visit the office or contact me on either 01726 829379 or office@stevedouble.org.uk. Additionally, I hold regular, appointment only, advice surgeries across the constituency. Dates of these can be found at: www.stevedouble.org.uk/events