2017 has been another memorable year in politics, and like the previous two years during my time in Parliament, it has been dominated by elections and Brexit with never a dull moment.
In March the Prime Minister triggered Article 50 to start the two year withdrawal process from the EU, honoring the referendum result in Cornwall and the UK.
Shortly afterwards a General Election was called, and just like in 2015, I was knocking on doors and meeting thousands of people up and down North Cornwall.
I am back in North Cornwall every weekend, but it was great to spend six weeks in the constituency and travel to its biggest towns and smallest villages, meeting as many people as possible to get their feedback on me as their MP, the government and what issues matter to them.
Although the result nationally was not what many expected, I was absolutely honoured that the people of North Cornwall once again put their faith in me and re-elected me as their MP.
Amongst all the national political ups and downs of the past 12 months, we have seen some real progress for North Cornwall in terms of education, infrastructure and health services, and some personal achievements as well.
In April I ran the London Marathon in aid of charities which support North Cornwall's main hospitals in Bodmin, Stratton and Launceston. This was my first marathon and I was delighted to cross the finish line in under five hours and raise over £3,000 for such good causes.
In the Spring we also saw the Government commit an extra £24 million for social care in Cornwall so that we can better look after the elderly and vulnerable in our communities, an extra £1 million for the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust to improve A&E waiting times, and new mental health services including the green light for a special centre in Bodmin to help teenagers with mental health conditions.
During the summer we saw the official opening of the new dual carriageway on Bodmin Moor which will end decades of traffic jam misery. The £60 million scheme will be a huge boost for the Cornish economy, and we are already businesses move closer to the A30 and Bodmin.
Post-election I was also appointed as a Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Rail, Road and Maritime Ministers in the Department for Transport. In this role I assist the ministers with their daily work, from meeting other MPs to discuss local issues to helping them get legislation through the House of Commons. It's a fun and challenging role and I was delighted to be asked to do it.
We have a number of transport priorities in North Cornwall and I will be making these known to the Department.
In the Autumn we then heard that all schools in North Cornwall were due to get a funding increase through the new National Funding Formula which I have campaigned heavily for since 2015.
There has long been a disparity between funding in rural and urban schools, and this new formula, plus an extra £1.3 billion, will see all schools getting an increase in funding to help them employ more staff and increase resources.
It has been a privilege to serve as North Cornwall's MP for another year, and I very much look forward to taking our priorities forward in the next. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
I was very pleased to visit Camelford recently to launch my petition for a bypass to address traffic congestion and poor air quality issues. I've knocked on hundreds of doors in the town in the past three years and it's the number one local issue raised.
The petition received a lot of support from local residents and passers-by, as it's not just local people who want to see a bypass built, but also those drive through the town every day to get to work, to the shops or to see family and friends.
It could also unlock a lot of economic growth for the town, which could attract businesses to relocate as well as for local people to start or grow a business. The A39 is the spine of North Cornwall and carries a lot of traffic between Bude and Wadebridge, and the effects are certainly being felt in Camelford in terms of poor air quality and heavy traffic.
My petition calls on the Government to support the construction of a bypass, and I will be presenting it in the House of Commons in the coming months. If you live in North Cornwall and would like to sign it, then there is a number of petition sheets in local shops, or alternatively, please give my office a call on 01208 74337 and we will post you a sheet.
I was also very pleased to visit Callywith College in Bodmin on Children in Need Day which has just recently opened in the town. The College, which offers post-16 education including various A-Level and vocational courses, is an asset to Bodmin which will see hundreds of young people from around Cornwall coming into the town to use the new campus as well as local shops and facilities.
Bodmin is seeing a lot of change at the moment thanks to tens of millions of pounds of public and private investment, including the new, controversial road layout in the town centre to improve traffic flows, a new roundabout at Callywith Gate to improve access for nearby industrial estates and the A30, new housing for local people, the refurbishment of Bodmin Jail which will attract more visitors and create new jobs, a new mental health facility for young people next to Bodmin Hospital, and of course the new College which is also creating new jobs and more opportunities for young people.
Of course the process of completing big projects like this can be controversial and create disruption and uncertainty, but within the next year, I believe Bodmin will start to see the rewards in terms of better infrastructure, economic growth for businesses and more opportunities for those in education and work.
Lastly, I was also very honoured to be invited to Sharp's Brewery in Rock to open their new racking facility which will enable them to increase production and supply more ale before they are transported to pubs and the shops around the UK.
Sharp's is a great Cornish success story employing over 200 people locally, and it's fantastic to walk into a pub in London and see their ales being served.
During the conference recess I travelled to Taiwan with a group of MPs to meet with Taiwanese ministers and officials to discuss how we can strengthen trade ties with the UK and to promote ‘Cornwall Plc’.
As a guest of the Taiwanese Government who organised the trip, it was a great opportunity for me to represent North Cornwall and promote the brilliant things the Cornish people make and the county as a holiday destination.
I sit on the Taiwanese-British All Party Parliamentary Group which aims to strengthen trade and political ties between Taiwan and the UK, and this trip comes at an important juncture as Britain starts to engage in more trade talks with countries around the world to grow our export markets.
On the trip I was joined by the Minister of State for International Trade, Greg Hands, who met with his Taiwanese counterpart to discuss closer trade ties. By having backbench MPs there like myself, we were able to meet with ministers, officials and business representatives to promote the UK as well as our own constituencies.
I wanted to promote Cornwall's fantastic food and drink sector which has grown a lot in recent years. With the Duchy much more well known around the world thanks to TV programmes like Doc Martin and Poldark, Cornwall has a very good opportunity to not only attract more visitors from overseas, but also to export more of its products to other corners of the globe.
The fish and shellfish that we land in Cornwall is very popular abroad already, and by finding new buyers this will make the export market more secure and beneficial for a number of producers in North Cornwall. I also hope the trip will be a catalyst for selling more of our goods to Taiwan and other countries, particularly our most popular food and drink like pasties, fudge, chocolate, cider, wine and ale.
By exporting Cornish goods to more places around the world, people will become more familiar with Cornwall which will hopefully attract them to come and visit and contribute to our economy.
Some important announcements were subsequently made at the Conservative Party Conference which I welcome, particularly the Prime Minister's update on Brexit and the Chancellor's commitment to EU-funded projects.
Theresa May confirmed that in next year's Queen's Speech, she will introduce the Great Repeal Bill to nullify the European Communities Act 1972 which currently enshrines our membership of the EU into UK law. This will be repealed once we have left the EU after the Article 50 negotiations, which should hopefully conclude in Spring 2019.
The Chancellor Philip Hammond also gave his commitment to multi-year EU-funded projects which will likely require central government money after Brexit. He has already guaranteed funding for projects signed off by this year's Autumn Statement, but this announcement goes further by committing to other long term projects which will likely require government assistance during and after Brexit.
I'm keen to see a regional funding model implemented so that Cornwall can continue to receive investment but without the hoop jumping and bureaucracy that comes from Brussels, and I know the Cornwall LEP and Chamber of Commerce want this as well.
I'm appalled to hear that two rejected developments in North Cornwall are being appealed in the High Court.
Proposals by Good Energy to build a wind farm in Week St Mary and by Redrow Homes to build 190 houses in Wadebridge were both rejected by local councils and Cornwall Council, and again by the Planning Inspectorate on appeal.
Both developments received widespread objection from local communities, but despite this, they are now being appealed in the High Court.
Understandably, local people in Week St Mary and Wadebridge are angry at this news, and I too am very disappointed that both developers are failing to listen to the will of local people or accept the decisions taken by Cornwall Council and the Planning Inspectorate.
Both planning applications received a lot of scrutiny from local planning officers and national planning inspectors, with the wind farm even being rejected by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.
I have written in the strongest terms to both companies to tell them exactly what local communities think of their legal action and to ask them to reconsider. Local people, local representatives and planning experts have made judgements on these two proposals and they need to be respected.
In Parliament I am co-chair of the Local Democracy Group, which champions towns and villages to have a louder voice and more influence in the planning process, and that's why I am very disappointed that these two companies are failing to listen to local communities.
Meanwhile, I'm very pleased to see that North Cornwall's schools will be receiving hundreds of thousands of pounds in extra funding after the Government published its new National Funding Formula last week, which includes an extra £1.3 billion for schools.
I've spent the past two years campaigning for fairer school funding so that our small rural schools get the same amount of money per pupil as a school in an urban area. The new formula, coupled with the extra funding, will see every primary and secondary school in North Cornwall getting an increase in funding.
I'm delighted by this outcome as it is a funding increase for every child in education in North Cornwall.
I was also very pleased to hear that Cornwall's first bespoke mental health facility for young people, which will be built next door to Bodmin Hospital, is set to open in April 2019.
Mental health provision is one of the biggest challenges facing our society and I’ve heard of upsetting cases where parents have had to travel hundreds of miles to see their child who is living in a mental health unit on the other side of the country.
This new centre is the result of campaigning by the Invictus Trust which helps young people with mental health conditions as well as new government funding which will pay for the centre and more mental health staff in hospital A&E on a 24/7 basis.
I also welcomed Brexit Minister Steve Baker to Padstow recently during a two day tour of Cornwall where he was meeting with businesses and educational institutions to discuss our exit from the EU and what opportunities can be had in the county.
During his time in Padstow the Minister visited book manufacturer TJ International to discuss their industry and what they wanted to see emerge from Brexit.
I am keen to engage with businesses in North Cornwall and flag any issues they have at an early stage to ensure a smooth transition as we leave the EU.
I was very pleased to see the Government announce a new plan for mental health services so one million more people can be helped by 2020/21.
Theresa May pledged to address the issue of mental health when she became Prime Minister, and the Department for Health has now laid out its important and ambitious plan which will see 2,000 extra nurses, consultants and therapists for child and adolescent mental health services, 2,900 extra therapists for adult talking therapies and 4,800 additional nursing and therapist posts for crisis care.
We have a fantastic health service, but the gap between general health care and mental health care has widened, and it's right that we address this. Many people suffer from mental health conditions or illnesses, and everyone should get the help they need.
This new plan comes after the announcement earlier this year that a new mental health facility for young people will be built in Bodmin and that extra funding was being given to the Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust to have a 24/7 mental health support team in place to help people at a time of crisis.
£1.3 billion is now being pumped into mental health services to implement this new plan, and I look forward to seeing how it develops in Cornwall.
I also welcome the move by BT to voluntarily implement a universal service obligation (USO) for broadband customers. The Digital Economy Act was passed this year which enshrined a USO into law, which would ensure that all broadband customers received at least 10Mbps of broadband.
BT has now come forward with proposals to implement its own USO which could be implemented faster than the regulatory one passed by Parliament.
There are still one million premises unable to get 10Mbps broadband, and I hope this move by BT will help address that and connect more people in North Cornwall without a decent broadband connection.
Meanwhile the Government has also announced another funding boost for Cornwall's roads, with £5 million being granted for essential road maintenance. This come after £26 million was allocated to the county earlier this year for improvement works and pothole repairs.
Cornwall Council has identified a list of spots where it wants to spend the money, which includes West Hill and Egloshayle Road in Wadebridge, St Nicholas Street in Bodmin, St Stephens Hill in Launceston and in Whitstone near Bude, among others.
In August I was delighted to have a go at driving the Padstow Community Minibus at the Prideaux Place summer fete to help transport people to the venue from around the town.
It was a pleasure to be driving a community bus again - I spent some time in the Royal Mail driving the Postbus. Everything went smoothly and the local residents had a great time at Prideaux Place.
I was also given a tour of Tamar Lakes by South West Water which provides much of the drinking water for North Cornwall. Earlier this year it was announced that £5.5 million had been invested to upgrade the Tamar Lakes Water Treatment Works so that thousands of households in Bude and surrounding communities can have cleaner drinking water.
After many months of work and many years of campaigning, we can finally wave goodbye to the endless queues of traffic on Bodmin Moor after the new A30 dual carriageway was officially opened in July.
There is still some work left to complete the bridges and other minor details, but the fact that we now have an uninterrupted dual carriageway running across the moor and around Bodmin will be a huge boost for Cornwall's economy and the constituency.
We have already seen businesses looking at Bodmin as a place to relocate, and with this huge infrastructure investment, it will make it much easier to transport goods through the county.
The dualling at Temple is proof of the huge investment being made in Cornwall by the Government, and plans are already underway to dual the next section between Carland Cross and Chiverton Cross.
I'd like to pay particular tribute to the A30 action group who spearheaded the campaign to get the A30 dualled. The bottleneck at Temple had caused huge disruption to local people for many years, and it's fantastic to see the perseverance of local communities paying off.
I would also like to thank the people of Cornwall for their patience over the past few years. It hasn't been easy for businesses and residents, however, we can all now enjoy the benefits.
Sticking to roads, the Government has just published its Transport Investment Strategy which outlines key objectives and how we should invest in new projects. This includes proposals for a new Major Road Network (MRN) which would see huge investment in our main A-roads to tackle congestion. This could include bypasses for towns which suffer from a lot of traffic jams and poor air quality.
I will be working with the people of Camelford to get a bypass proposal worked up to attract government funding. Traffic congestion is the biggest issue that I hear about from local residents and during the election I found huge support for a bypass.
Meanwhile, one big issue that has come across my desk since the election is Post Offices and the continuation of services in rural communities.
For a number of different reasons, many Post Office branches are being transferred in their communities from one business to another or into a community building. While some moves have been successful, others are dragging on or are yet to begin because of contract negotiations which can be very concerning for local people.
I therefore took this issue straight to the top and raised it at Prime Minister's Questions to ask for Theresa May's support. The Prime Minister recognises the importance of Post Offices in rural communities and she has urged the Post Office to do all it can to make sure services can continue in North Cornwall.
I have also met with Post Office HQ to discuss specific branches and to get assurances that transfers can take place. A number of Post Offices are on my radar and my team and I are working with communities to make their concerns known to the Post Office regional team.
As this is my first column since the General Election, I'd like to say a huge thank you to all those who put a cross next to my name on the ballot paper to get me re-elected as North Cornwall's MP.
It is a huge honour to serve as one of Cornwall's MPs, and I will be a strong voice in Parliament for the whole of North Cornwall. As always, my office will be open and ready to help those who need assistance and I will be holding regular surgeries up and down the constituency.
I think it's fair to say the result nationally was not what the Conservative Party was expecting. However, personally, I believe having a higher voter turnout and engaging more people who haven't previously voted is only a good thing for our democracy.
Farming, fishing and regional funding will be the biggest issues for Cornwall as we negotiate Brexit, and I will be in Parliament speaking up for all three. Our farmers need a simpler policy and fairer system, our fisherman need their territorial waters back, and Cornwall's economy needs continued investment through a simpler and less bureaucratic model.
We also have big trading opportunities around the globe, particularly in the food and drink sectors. There are three Bills in the Queen's Speech that I will be involved in heavily. These are on agriculture, fishing and trade, which I believe will offer big opportunities for growing the Cornish economy further.
I spoke to thousands of people during the election and there was one clear and consistent theme: Get on with Brexit and make a success of it.
Official talks are now underway in Brussels, and already Theresa May has pledged to guarantee the right to remain in the UK for all EU nationals who have been living here for five years. It is now for the EU to step up to the plate and give the same commitment to British nationals living in Europe.
As soon as my re-election was official on June 9th, my work began once again with immediate effect.
During the campaign period, Trebarwith Strand public toilets were closed after they were handed back to Cornwall Council by the local parish council. Upon my re-election, one of the first things I did was write to Cornwall Council and call on them to re-open the toilets. Public toilets are a basic frontline service which are vital for local residents, businesses and tourists.
Local councillor Barry Jordan was also involved in expressing the concerns of local people, and I'm now very pleased to see the toilets open again. Before Parliament was dissolved for the election, I had been banging the drum to get public toilets exempted from business rates and I will continue to do this.
After returning from my first week back in Westminster, I attended a meeting with the Wadebridge Young Farmers where we had a frank discussion about farming, including how MPs and farmers can work together to better explain how British food is produced and the very high standards that farmers work to.
I was delighted to join my neighbouring MP Geoffrey Cox to meet with farmers from Devon and Cornwall recently for a Q&A session on agriculture and Brexit.
Understandably, this is a challenging time for farmers and it's important that local MPs including Geoffrey and I take feedback from farmers to give to the ministers and provide assurances wherever we can.
Farming is one of three Brexit priorities for me as North Cornwall's MP, the others being fishing and regional funding. The EU's one-size-fits-all Common Agricultural Policy has hindered farmers and I am lobbying for a domestic policy for both farming and fishing which puts Britain first and promotes our fantastic produce.
I am saddened to hear, however, that NHS Kernow and Ramsay Health Care have been unable to reach an agreement on continuing non-emergency treatment services at the Bodmin Treatment Centre.
In early March I chaired a public meeting to discuss the closure of the Centre with Bodmin residents, patients and staff.
The announced closure is a real blow for the people of Bodmin, North Cornwall and many others in the county, and I was disappointed that neither Ramsay nor NHS Kernow attended the meeting to explain why a contract could not be agreed.
It simply doesn’t make sense to close a purpose-built facility which has short waiting lists and a high level of satisfaction amongst patients. I hope that this is just a short term measure and that NHS treatments can be re-introduced in the near future.
I am meeting with NHS Kernow in the near future and I will be seeking assurances about the future of the Treatment Centre.
Sticking to the NHS, on 23rd April I will be running the London Marathon and am currently training hard to run the 26 miles around London.
I will be running in aid of the Friends of Bodmin Hospital, the Launceston Hospital League of Friends and the Stratton Hospital League of Friends.
All three charities and the hospitals they help do amazing work and are essential the provision of community-based care in North Cornwall. I've had a lot of support from people making donations and if you'd like to contribute, then please visit my fundraising here.
In Parliament I recently took part in debate and scrutiny of the Bus Services Bill, which will pave the way for Cornwall getting a much better bus network.
The Bill will introduce new partnerships for local authorities and bus companies, as well as an option for local authorities to have franchising powers if they need them.
The Cornwall Devolution Deal includes these same franchising powers, and by the mere fact of Cornwall being given the permission to use them, we are seeing better cooperation between Cornwall Council and bus companies.
If the bus companies can deliver on giving us more buses, more services and better integration with other public transport, then the franchising powers will not need to be used, and the Transport Secretary recognised this positive step in the debate.
It has been hard to deliver quality public transport in rural North Cornwall, and I'm looking forward to seeing the contents of this Bill coming to fruition on the ground to provide better services for us all.
I was very pleased to meet with the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Launceston recently to discuss what has been happening in Westminster and the constituency for small business owners.
We discussed changes to business rates and the relief schemes in place to help small and rural businesses, as well as employment growth and exporting opportunities. The Government has launched a fantastic initiative called 'Exporting is Great' which is helping small and medium sized businesses export for the first time.
If you run a business and are keen to export, then visit www.GREAT.gov.uk where you can create your own business profile to link up with potential buyers.
The FSB are also running a campaign to get more women starting and running their own businesses, and I look forward to working with secondary schools to encourage boys and girls to be enterprising and start their own businesses.
I was also delighted to meet with the Westcountry Rivers Trust in Camelford to discuss their new £2.2 million Water for Growth programme which will help freshwater habitats for fish, particularly salmon and trout.
Unfortunately both species are declining in numbers, and in partnership with the Environment Agency, the Trust will remove barriers in the Fowey and Camel rivers and open up 150 km of extra space so the fish can more easily migrate and spawn.
Ahead of the Chancellor delivering his Budget in March, I will be writing to Philip Hammond to ask for a boost in social care funding to address increasing demands upon the sector. Rightly, councils and health authorities are trying to integrate health and social care so people can be helped in their homes rather than in hospital.
The Government has already put the £5.3 billion Better Care Fund into place to help with the delivery of social care, as well as delivering on its pledge to increase NHS funding by £10 billion per year. Social care does, however, need more central government funding and I will be writing to the Chancellor about this.
Councils have also been given the power to increase council tax by 3 per cent to exclusively fund social care, and Cornwall Council have recently voted for a 2 per cent rise to increase funding for social care in the county. I am not critical of this decision as the pressures on social care do need to be addressed.
I have also written to the Chancellor asking him to cut beer, cider and wine duty to help our small and medium sized breweries and local pubs.
These industries are very important to North Cornwall and the county as a whole, and we should be very proud of the success of our Cornish breweries, vineyards and pubs which employ many people.
Unfortunately the number of pubs is still on the decline since the 2008 Recession, and a cut in duty would be a great boost for our small privately owned pubs which lie at the heart of rural communities.
I hope readers have had an enjoyable and relaxing Christmas and New Year period surrounded by friends and family.
2017 will be dominated by the implementation of decisions made by millions of voters in 2016 – notably leaving the EU and the election of Donald Trump.
Theresa May has said she will invoke Article 50 by the end of March, and every week I am receiving many emails from constituents who want this commitment carried out.
The election of Donald Trump will see many changes in the USA’s domestic affairs as well as how it engages with the world. The President-elect is a fan of Brexit and hopefully 2017 will see the start of a better trading relationship with our friends across the pond.
To cap off what was already a very eventful 2016, I was honoured to be invited to Alexandra Palace in London just before Christmas to play the final of the inaugural MP’s charity darts tournament.
After a number of matches in Parliament, I managed to win myself a place in the final at ‘Ally Pally’ against MP for Paisley & Renfrewshire, Gavin Newlands. In a Scotland vs Cornwall showdown, it was amazing to be up on the main stage at the PDC World Darts Championship, just moments before the best players in the world were due to grace it.
Gavin managed to pip me to the trophy, but the experience was brilliant and I was delighted to win £500 for charity which I will be donating to the Little Harbour branch of the South West Children's Hospice. Little Harbour does amazing work and I was so happy to win this money for them.
The Government also announced in December that it was reinvesting over £400 million into the rollout of superfast broadband. With urban areas pretty much completely connected to superfast, the Government is putting more money and resources into rural areas, and I was very pleased to hear that Stoke Climsland is set to benefit from a new rollout of superfast broadband in the next rollout which is being overseen by Superfast Cornwall and BT Openreach.
I’m also pleased to see that 4G mobile coverage is being increased in North Cornwall, with EE announcing coverage in St Teath, Bodmin, Bolventor and Egloskerry. Not only will this help general mobile users, but it means more homes and businesses can consider buying mobile broadband if they do not have access to a good landline connection.
I was also very pleased to see £5 million being allocated to Cornwall for self-build community-led housing. The Government recognises that areas like Cornwall have seen a high number of second homes, so it has raised second home stamp duty by 3 per cent to fund new affordable homes in Cornish communities.
After the extra duty was announced in November 2015, I lobbied the Chancellor to use this money to build more community-led housing, and I was delighted that this was subsequently announced in the 2016 Budget. Many homes have already been built by community land trusts in Cornwall, and I’m looking forward to seeing more affordable homes built with this money.