Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Newspaper column 29 March 2017 - The attack on Westminster

The events of last Wednesday are likely to leave a lasting impression on us all and particularly anyone caught up in them.

The attack on Westminster that caused the death of four people, plus the terrorist, as well as injuring at least 40 others is the first direct attack on Parliament for almost 40 years and the most serious terrorist attack on the country since the 7/7 bombs of 2005.

As I reflect on the events of a week ago, I feel deep gratitude to our security and emergency services and especially to PC Keith Palmer. We often say that this country has the best security services in the world. It is times like these when they prove it. The professional way that they went about their jobs, treating the injured, protecting people and dealing with the threat was a credit to all involved. This was clearly personified in the actions of PC Keith Palmer. He ran towards the danger while others fled. He put his life on the line and paid the ultimate price to defend those of us who work in Parliament. I will be forever grateful for his actions that day.

As despicable and dreadful as it is for our security services to be attacked in this way, the indiscriminate attack on members of the public on Westminster Bridge is another thing altogether. Those of us who choose to work in Parliament accept that there is an increased level of risk in working there. The fact that we are surrounded by high levels of security every day is a constant reminder that Parliament is a likely target for those who wish to attack our democracy and values. But I cannot in any way imagine what goes on in someone’s mind who deliberately drives along a crowded pavement, full of tourists, students and innocent by-standers in order to kill and maim. It merely reminds us that we are facing a threat from people who have a totally warped view of our world and have no regard for anyone who does not agree with and embrace their beliefs.

We are grateful that the events of last Wednesday are still rare occurrences in our country. That is down to the incredible work of our intelligence and security services who have prevented many attacks in recent years.

It reminds me that there are parts of our world who face such threats regularly, in some cases almost daily. The fact that it still shocks and shakes us is a reminder of the relative peace and security we enjoy in this country.

Our nation has a proud history of standing up to terror. We have never given in. We have stood for the values of freedom, democracy and tolerance in the face of the most extreme opposition. And this is what we must continue to do.

As the Prime Minister said last week, the best thing we can do, in the light of an attack like this, is carry on with our day to day lives. We cannot allow the fear that terrorists seek to create to cause us to cower or compromise. That is why I made sure I was there when Parliament sat on Thursday morning. Our greatest act of defiance will be in continuing as before. We know that the values we stand for and live by are not only right, they are also the best way to live. Love and freedom will always win over hate and fear.


  


Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Newspaper column 22 March 2017 - Matters of Brexit

Last week the Brexit Bill was passed back through the House of Commons and the House of Lords, and received Royal Assent on Thursday 16th March. The Bill is now an Act of Parliament, and I am pleased the Prime Minister has confirmed she will now make history and trigger Article 50 on 29th March, beginning the UK’s formal exit negotiations to leave the European Union.

In the run up to the Prime Minister taking this next step, I thought it worth touching on a few of the subjects relating to Brexit that residents have recently raised with me.

Firstly regarding the status of EU citizens currently living in the UK. The Government has guaranteed to protect the rights of EU citizens currently living in the UK, as long as the EU states reciprocate and protect the rights of UK citizens currently living in EU states. This is paramount in negotiations for our Government but the EU has refused to negotiate until Article 50 is formally triggered.

Secondly, regarding fishing and farming. I see this as a great potential positive opportunity. I am determined to represent our local fishing communities and to ensure that unlike our negotiations for joining the ECC, the Government does not treat this vital industry as a bargaining chip and that we get our fishing waters and fair quotas back. Regarding farming, the Government has pledged to match Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) funding until 2020. After that we have the chance to change the way funding is applied, to make it fit for purpose by rewarding good practice and productivity instead of arbitrarily giving it to large landowners who do little to deserve it as we currently see.

Similarly, with funding for Cornwall, there is no question to this Government’s commitment here, as we have seen unprecedented investment in road and rail infrastructure both for and leading to Cornwall. As I have previously said, the current and past EU funding Cornwall has received is unwieldy and unfit for purpose. For example, despite the tourist industry being the largest economic driver in Cornwall, there is no EU funding available for it. I will do what I can to ensure the funding we do get, once the EU funding stops, is better targeted and easier to access for people and businesses who need it most.

Finally, looking at immigration, we need to be able to manage immigration in the UK’s favour to meet our social and economic needs – it isn’t a blanket stopping of all immigration and I am in favour of the Government taking steps to change our immigration policy along these lines.

All in all I see the Brexit process as about opening the UK up to the rest of the world instead of being locked into a small part of it. It is about restoring the UK as a global, outward-looking country on the international stage and I will continue to do all I can, along with my Cornish MP colleagues, to ensure Cornwall gets the best deal out of this.


As always, 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. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please 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, 15 March 2017

Newspaper column 15 March 2017 - News from the Budget

The Budget that the Chancellor delivered last week continued the Government’s plan to reduce the deficit and balance the books – as a country we are still spending around £1billion per week more than we earn and tough decisions need to be made in order to leave the country in a better state for our children and grandchildren.

However, there was still plenty of good news for Cornwall in the Budget.

First on the list is more money for our social care system. I was delighted that the Chancellor announced that an additional £2 billion will be given to councils in England over the next 3 years for adult social care.

We are all aware of the pressure our local care system in Cornwall has been under recently. I have worked with my Cornish MP colleagues to lobby the Government for more money for Cornwall and am pleased that we will be getting a sizeable share of this new pot of money.

Cornwall will be getting a total of almost £24 million over the next three years, £12,068,325 for this coming year, £7,939,590 for 2018/19 and £3,943,423 for 2019/20.

Cornwall Council can use this money to commission new care packages for the coming financial year. This will enable mainly frail, elderly people to be better supported in order to enable them to continue living safely at home and also, in particular, help reduce the number of older patients who get stuck in hospital – sometimes for many months – despite being medically fit to leave, because the current social care system in Cornwall fails to provide the support they need to return home.

This is great news and I look forward to working with Cornwall Council to ensure this money is spent sensibly for the benefit of those people who need it most.

We also saw good news on business rate for small businesses and local pubs. I am sure this will make a big positive difference to the many who have contacted me about this in recent months.

Under the new measures, any business coming out of small business rate relief will benefit from a cap which prevents the rate that it pays from going up by more than £50 per month. The Government will also provide a £1,000 discount on business rates bills for all pubs with a rateable value of less than £100,000, which includes 90 per cent of all pubs in England.

I am concerned about the proposed rise in National Insurance Contributions for those who are self-employed. I have already stated my opposition on this to the Government. I am pleased the Prime Minister has acknowledged the concerns that I and many Conservative MPs expressed and confirmed there will be a delay on a vote on this legislation while the impact is considered. I will make sure concerns of local self-employed people are heard as these discussions continue. If you are affected by these changes please get in touch and I will be more than happy to hear how you think they will impact upon you.

As always, 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. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please 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, 8 March 2017

Newspaper column 8 March 2017 - Growth Deal funding for Cornwall

The recent announcement of £18 million from the Government under the Growth Deal to support the Cornish economy has attracted much attention in the local media, including some criticism from the usual rounds of naysayers.

Some are claiming that this shows the Government is not committed to Cornwall and will not be replacing the funding Cornwall has been receiving through the EU, now that we are leaving. Therefore, I thought it would be helpful if I were to put the record straight and dispel some of the myths being reported.

The Growth Deal 3 is, as the title suggest, the third round in the Government’s programme of investment to support regional economies. Cornwall has benefited significantly from the previous two rounds and this is in addition to and separate from the EU Regional Development Fund.
Cornwall’s Local Enterprise Partnership’s (LEP) bid for Growth Deal funding was for £127m. The bidding process is a competition where bids are considered from across the country. The total bids this year were more than three times oversubscribed with over £6 billion of bids for a £1.8 billion pot of money. Therefore, it was always likely we would not be getting anywhere near what we hoped for. Although we all wished that Cornwall’s bid could have been stronger and attracted more but funding.
Of course, the usual naysayers were quick to jump to attack the Government here, crying out that this proves that the Government will not be replacing European Union funding lost we when we leave the EU.

This just simply isn’t the case though and it is disappointing to see people scaremongering in this way. We haven’t even started the formal process of leaving the EU yet. Cornwall is still getting EU funding under the current programme and the Government has committed to underwrite and support the current programme until 2020.Growth Deal 3 funding was never supposed to be a replacement for EU funding.

What this funding does give us is investment in science and innovation which will provide specific support for space, aerospace and marine renewable energy activity through the LEP’s Enterprise Zones. This is expected to lever in £20 million of additional investment, creating 400 new better paid jobs. Crucially it will support Cornwall Airport Newquay’s continued ambitions to be the UK’s first Spaceport, a bid which I have backed from the start.

It is also completely untrue to say the Government is not investing in Cornwall. I am proud if this Government’s support for Cornwall to date as evidenced by the soon to be completed dualling of the A30 at Temple. In Mid-Cornwall I have been working on the vital link road from the A30 to St Austell and the surrounding area - this £85million scheme is supported by and will be financed entirely by the Government. We are also seeing more investment in our rail infrastructure with state of the art new trains recently entering production for the Paddington to Penzance line. The fact is this Government is investing in Cornwall far more than we have seen for the previous 20 years.

Of course, once we begin to negotiate our exit from the EU we can also start to consider a replacement for the EU funding Cornwall currently receives. I can assure people that I continually remind Government Ministers of the need for a substantial programme of support going forward and always receive a positive response.


But those discussions are for another day. For now let us focus on making sure the funding we do have, whether through the UK Government or the EU is spent as wisely and effectively as possible. I am sure the people of Cornwall would much rather those at County Hall responsible for administering it spent more time focused on how it is spent rather than whinging and trying to score political points all of the time. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Newspaper column 1 March 2017 - Cornwall Council's latest folly

I am sure I was not the only one to be surprised to discover last week that Cornwall Council were advertising for a new ‘head of communication and engagement’. The Council leadership stated that this new post was necessary because they were aware they need to ‘reconnect with communities’.

Laying aside for now that this post is being advertised at a staggering £70,000 salary plus benefits and relocation package (which therefore presumes the job will be given to someone out of Cornwall), the very fact that the Council’s Cabinet are creating this job shows how out of touch they really are with the genuine concerns and wishes of the people of Cornwall.

I can happily offer the Lib Dem and Independent Councillors on the Cabinet some free advice – it isn’t better PR you need, it is better decisions.

I regularly spend time out in our constituency knocking on doors and meeting local residents. I can tell you that people are very much aware what the council are doing and they are not happy. Whether it is the recent fiasco surrounding the European City of Culture bid, (which I was disappointed to see the Cabinet have confirmed their intention to go ahead with spending £536,000 on the bid) or the pointless parking consultation that wasted £750,000 and was then ignored, the notorious Truro bus lane to nowhere or the use of Cornwall Taxpayer money to build wind turbines on Council owned farms that blight our landscape, local people are receiving the message from the Cabinet loud and clear.

That message is that their priorities are not those shared by the residents they are here to represent. Too often they seem set to pursue their own pet projects that do not reflect the things that people actually want from the Council.

What people tell me every week is that they want the council to focus on repairing our roads, looking after our elderly and vulnerable better, providing safe transport for our children to get to school and cleaning up our streets.

Clearly, I was mistaken in believing that it was the job of the 123 elected Cornwall Councillors to connect and engage with the local communities they represent. Certainly, when I was a Cornwall Councillor I saw this as the most important part of my role. The appointment of this new position tends to suggest that the Cabinet want to by-pass the elected councillors and not listen to them as they raise the concerns of the residents they represent. Instead they simply want to pump out their PR and tell us what a wonderful job they are doing.

We have a Cabinet at Cornwall Council who are constantly in broadcast mode and are not willing to listen. It is not better PR from a professional spin doctor they need, it is the ability to listen to the message I hear every week – stop wasting our money on your own vanity projects and start delivering the things we really need.


As always, 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. If there is an issue you would like my assistance on then please 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, 22 February 2017

Newspaper column 22 February 2017 - The Immigration Bill

This week I thought I would take some time to address some of the misconceptions being passed around regarding the recent announcement by the Home Office on the Immigration Bill, particularly the acceptance of unaccompanied child refugees under what is commonly known as the Dubs Amendment.

I have been concerned to see many false accusations flying around, including that I voted to stop or cancel the programme as covered by the Dubs Amendment in a recent vote in Parliament.
First there has been no vote in Parliament on child refugees recently. The whole of February so far in Parliamentary business was taken up with the Article 50 Bill. In fact when the Dubs Amendment, from the Lords, originally went before Parliament last year, the Government, including myself, supported it, and it was passed unopposed.

What happened two weeks ago was that the Home Office announced the latest stage of the programme for accepting child refugees. This announcement is a requirement under the terms of the Immigration Bill that was passed through Parliament last year. Therefore this is not a particularly surprising move or some change of policy but simply due process under the current legislation.

This programme under the Dubs amendment is a very specific part of this country’s overall work in addressing the global refugee crisis. It is worth noting that the UK continues to be the 2nd biggest contributor to humanitarian aid in the Middle East, only behind the USA. Our contribution is now in the billions of pounds so any suggestion that the UK is not playing its part is simply unfounded.
It is vital that we do all we can to ensure that the large amount of UK Taxpayers money is spent in the most appropriate way. I am sure you will be aware that there is great political pressure to cut the UK’s overall spending on International Aid, which is currently £12 billion p.a. being 0.7% of our national GDP. If we are to maintain our level of aid overall, something I fully support, it is vital that we ensure it is spent wisely and not seen to be wasted.

How this money is spent with regards to helping refugees is a judgement call. The policy of the government, which I agree with and support, is that this is better focused on helping those in the refugee camps in the region – i.e. the countries around Syria itself. There are a number of reasons why I believe this to be the best.

Firstly we have to be aware of the ‘pull effect’ taking refugees from within Europe has – especially children. If we continue to take children from within Europe in an open unending way we will be playing into the hands of the people traffickers. If it continues to be known that we will take any unaccompanied children from within Europe all that we do is encourage families to pay the traffickers to bring their children on the treacherous journey across the Mediterranean. It is far better to send the message that the best chance of getting help is to remain in the camps and we will take those that are most vulnerable and in need of help from there.

This leads into the second point. By definition those that make it to Europe are the fittest, wealthiest and those with the most influential contacts. The weakest, poorest and most vulnerable are those that are left in the camps. Therefore if we want to target our resources at those most in need it is better to help those that remain in the camps.

Finally, we have to be sure that we are able to properly care for those that we bring here. This means that we need to be able to provide them with housing, education, social and health care. This is all within the backdrop of our currently overstretched public services where we have a shortage of housing, limited school places and we are all aware of the current pressure our health and care services are under. This is why the Home Office have been careful to work with local authorities to ask them to confirm the number of unaccompanied children they are able to take. This is the backdrop to the announcement last week. To date we have taken 200 children under the Dubs Amendment scheme. Local authorities have informed the Home Secretary that they are able to take only a further 150 children in the coming months. This was the reason for her announcement. We are not closing the Dubs scheme as some are saying. The government has simply stated the number of children we are able to accommodate in the immediate future.

Although I am disappointed we have not been able to take more unaccompanied children to date and I am not saying the government could not have done more to help, let us not forget that this is in addition to the 20,000 refugees and 3,000 children we are taking directly from the camps in the region.

So I take great exception to anyone who misrepresents what has actually happened or somehow suggests that Britain is not playing its part. We are doing far more than every other nation bar one on earth. Our response is measured to ensure that we are able to provide and care for those that we bring but it is generous and compassionate.


Monday, 20 February 2017

My view on the changes to business rates

As you are aware, in the coming weeks all businesses in England will start receiving rates bills based on a new valuation of their premises. This revaluation, which happens every few years and is carried out by the Valuation Office, an independent agency who are required to keep accurate and up to date valuations for businesses.

On average, business rates will fall in Cornwall by 4.9% and overall the retail industry will see a 6% reduction in rates, saving £400 million in total. In addition many rural businesses will benefit from a rate relief too. Where there is only one pub, post office or general store in a village, from April 2017 they will generally receive 100% rate relief. This was double from 50% at the last Autumn Statement.   

There are also wider reforms to business rates. As I am sure you are aware, over the next few years Cornwall Council will be devolved all the revenue of business rates, allowing local people and businesses to benefit from local economic growth.

If you have received a valuation which you think is unfair, I will be willing to support you in the appeal process. If you would like my office to help appealing, please contact me on 01726 829379 or email office@stevedouble.org.uk