Wednesday, 6 May 2020

“It is too early to be planning holiday breaks …”


My article in this week’s edition of the Cornish Guardian is as follows:

At one of last week’s governmental briefings, the Prime Minister declared that the United Kingdom is "past the peak" of the coronavirus outbreak and we are on the “downward slope.”

He also promised further information on a “roadmap out of lockdown” in the coming days though, to be fair, there was a significant element of caution in what he said. In particular, he identified five key tests that must be satisfied before the current measures could be adjusted.

But I feel there were also mixed messages coming from Mr Johnson. Questioned about tourism in Cornwall, he said that “we can't allow a big influx of tourists” which could “create a second wave of the disease," but also added “we've got to get tourism going again."

Overall, I find myself more comfortable with the language and positioning of Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. She has rightly acknowledged that progress has been made, but has pointed out that being “past the peak” does not mean we are past the point of danger. In a tweet, she wrote “progress is fragile and if we ease up it will be reversed … we need to encourage maximum compliance with current restrictions.”

At this time of ongoing lockdown, it remains my view that the UK Government needs to carry on taking a very strong position in terms of non-essential travel, especially over long distances.

The Police and other public bodies have been doing a great job in monitoring the roads, but it is disturbing to hear so many reports about people failing to respect government regulations.

It was quite unbelievable that one family thought it was acceptable to travel 265 miles from Surrey to St Ives to visit the seaside.

Public safety is the over-riding priority and it is much too early for individuals and families to be planning holidays or visits to locations such as Cornwall.

In terms of the holiday industry, some local tourism operators have made some very thoughtful contributions to the ongoing debate about the future loosening of the present constraints, while MPs have been calling for specific support for the sector which will be very badly hit by this crisis.

And yet, it is particularly worrying that some holiday park complexes may re-open prematurely. I have heard reports that a range of sites are taking bookings for late Spring and early Summer.

Shockingly, the website of one large company, with eight holiday parks in Cornwall, is claiming that they will be reopening on 15th May. This would be foolhardy, and the UK Government needs to make it clear that such actions cannot and will not be sanctioned.

Saturday, 2 May 2020

MY LETTER TO CHLOE SMITH

The “Order” for the 2021 Census will be debated in Parliament on Wednesday 6th May. It does not include a Cornish tick-box, and the UK Government appears intent, at this difficult time, to push through the order without proper consideration of Cornwall’s needs.

On the sixth anniversary of the Cornish being recognised as a national minority and as Chairman of Cornwall Council’s National Minority Status Working Group, I sent the following letter to the Minister Chloe Smith.

In the next couple of days, please also lobby MPs and Ministers to do the right thing by the Cornish national minority.

Dear Minister

THE 2021 CENSUS AND THE CORNISH NATIONAL MINORITY


At this time of global emergency, I appreciate that it is essential that the unrelenting priority for government and public services must be to combat coronavirus and to do everything possible to save lives and safeguard our local communities.

At this difficult time, we understand that there is a willingness from parliamentarians for the House of Commons to, for a short period, operate as a hybrid (part virtual) parliament. We are also aware that the proposed details for the 2021 census will soon be considered by MPs.

Councillors from all political groups on the Cornish unitary authority have been campaigning for a Cornish tick-box for many years. Indeed, there was near unanimous support from elected members for a motion backing a tick-box in January 2019. We are therefore very disappointed that the present draft of the 2021 (England and Wales) census only includes national identity tick-boxes for English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh.

The leader of Cornwall Council, Julian German, and the authority’s group leaders - Linda Taylor (Conservative), Malcolm Brown (Liberal Democrat), Carolyn Rule (Independent), Stephen Barnes (Labour) and myself (Mebyon Kernow) – have collectively sent a letter to you requesting that you deliver a Cornish tick-box.

In this letter, I am writing you as the Chairman of Cornwall Council’s working group on national minority status, which also includes representatives of all political groups on the authority.

The UK Government needs to treat all national minorities in the same equal manner

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the recognition of the Cornish as a national minority through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, when the UK Government pledged that the Cornish would be afforded “the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

As noted previously, it is extremely disappointing that the Cornish are the only UK national minority which would be denied a tick-box if the present draft of the 2021 (England and Wales) Census was to be agreed. We consider this to be illogical and we fear that ministers have a significant blindspot when it comes to the national identity of the Cornish, who are not being treated in the same manner as “the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.”

It is our view that the 2021 Census offers the UK Government an opportunity to meet its obligations through the Framework Convention and demonstrate a positive commitment to Cornwall’s national identity and culture.

No tick-box will result in a significant under-count

The ONS and UK Government have stated that they fully recognise the “need of the Cornish community for data on the socio-economic, educational, health and housing conditions of those who identify as Cornish.” But in failing to support the inclusion of a Cornish tick-box on the 2021 Census, they undermine their stated commitment to “those who identify as Cornish.

In your most recent letter to Cllr German, dated 16th April, you gave a pledge to widely promote the opportunity for individuals to “write-in” Cornish as their national identity. It remains our view that this is not adequate and that it is necessary that all data on national minorities is collected in a consistent manner. If this is not done, it would undermine comparisons between the Cornish and other national groups.

We would point out that in the 2001 Census, when there was no Welsh tick-box, 14% of Welsh residents “wrote-in” Welsh. In 2011, when there was a tick-box, the percentage of people who recorded themselves as Welsh went up to 67% - a more than four-fold increase. It is clear that when there is not a tick-box, there is inevitably a significant under-count of a national minority.

By contrast, in 2011, 14% of Cornish residents “wrote-in” Cornish, which was clearly not a full representation of the Cornish national minority in Cornwall. A tick-box is clearly needed to ensure a sound count as will happen in Wales. This is something that can and should be addressed with the 2021 census.

Not a “local” issue

In your letter to Julian German, you said that the case for a Cornish tickbox was not strong enough because the need was “localised.” The letter stated that “the ONS did not receive any requests for this information from any national organisations outside of Cornwall … this is in contrast to the decision to include a Welsh national identity tick-box in the 2011 Census, where there was evidence of wider user need.”

We must challenge this statement. We have requested information from the ONS about which “national organisations” outside of Wales requested a Welsh tick-box, but no details have been forthcoming. In addition, we would note that the footnote in the letter links to a governmental paper “The 2011 Census: Assessment of initial user requirements on content for England and Wales – ethnicity, identity, language and religion” and point out that, in terms of the Welsh experience, it refers only to the National Assembly of Wales and other organisations / groups from within Wales.

It seems to us that requests for a Welsh tick-box in 2011 were led by the National Assembly (Wales’ principal democratic institution) just as calls for a Cornish tick-box for 2021 have been led by Cornwall Council (Cornwall’s principal democratic institution). Surely both national minorities and their democratic bodies should be treated the same. In addition, the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Leadership Board (also comprising MPs, the Police and Crime Commissioner and the business sector) fully backs the push for a Cornish tick-box.

Again, taking the Welsh tick-box as an example, we agree that it is important that Welsh people living outside of Wales are recorded appropriately within the statistics. There is a large Cornish diaspora outside of Cornwall and it is equally important that these individuals also have recourse to a tick-box.

In the 2011 Census, 16.9% of people who identified as Welsh were resident outside of Wales, while 12.3% of people who identified as Cornish were resident outside of Cornwall. However, Cornish people not living in Cornwall in 2011 would have been less likely to have seen the publicity materials promoting the “write-in” option and remain significantly under-recorded.

No precedent for additional tick-boxes

We would add that the delivery of a Cornish tick-box should not lead to any calls for additional tick-boxes. It would simply ensure that all national minorities within the United Kingdom, recognised through the Framework Convention, would be treated with parity. And there is space … In meetings with the ONS, we have even made the point that there is adequate space to include a Cornish tick-box and this would not lead to any “knock-on” impacts for the remainder of the document. Officers at the unitary authority have even compared the slightly different lay-outs in the draft England/Wales and Northern Ireland documents, and they would be willing to discuss this further with you.

Delivering for Cornwall

Conservative MPs regularly show support for Cornwall’s national identity and culture. Some of them have taken their oaths in Cornish, just as other MPs have taken their oaths in different Celtic languages. This year, in the lead-up to St Piran’s Day (Cornwall’s national saint’s day), in a response to a question from Steve Double MP, the Prime Minister spoke some Cornish in the House of Commons. I understand he said “Kernow bys vykken” – Cornwall forever. This is obviously to be welcomed, but it is our view that the UK Government really does need to do more and deliver something tangible against its obligations in the Framework Convention. Please support our request for a Cornish tick-box.

Friday, 24 April 2020

My article in this week's Cornish Guardian


My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian newspaper unsurprisingly, once again, focuses on elements of the battle against coronavirus. It was as follows:

The announcement that the lockdown is to continue for at least another three weeks was expected. It emphasises the need to carry on being vigilant and to follow government advice about staying at home and practising social distancing.

I have an example about why social distancing is so important. A very good friend has been classed as vulnerable and he has been self-isolating at home. His brother, who is an NHS worker, has dropped off food to him on a couple of occasions. But this brother subsequently discovered that he had become infected with coronavirus. It was obvious that he must have had the virus when he visited my friend, but because they were careful to keep their distance from each other, it was not passed on. I am pleased to report that my friend’s brother is recovering well.

In previous columns, I have written about the significant range of measures that have been put in place by the UK Government, though it is inevitable that some issues and shortcomings will have arisen.

As a local councillor, I have received representations on a range of matters which include the lack of PPE for frontline staff in the NHS and other public services and care homes, as well as the need to increase the extent of testing to help eradicate Covid-19. In addition, I have been contacted about the furloughing initiative and financial support for small businesses.

In coming up with the ambitious Job Retention Scheme, which allows employers to furlough staff while the state pays 80% of their wages, the UK Government made a mistake in specifying that employees had to be on the PAYE system by 28th February. This left many people who had recently changed jobs ineligible for support. I welcome the news that the UK Government has listened and changed that date to 19th March, though this will not protect everyone. I hope MPs will look again to ensure that no-one, who could have been furloughed, misses out on this support.

Thousands of local businesses have also received grants to assist them in these difficult times, and Cornwall Council has been particularly effective at distributing the money. I have also received representations from some small enterprises who may not qualify for the support, while others are angry that second home owners (registered for non-domestic business rates) could get grants. At the same time, there is a lack of clarity about whether a local social enterprise I am involved with will get support. Again, I hope that those in authority will ensure that no genuine local business will lose out.

Please keep safe, one and all.

Tuesday, 14 April 2020

KEEP SAFE ONE AND ALL


My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian newspaper is, somewhat unsurprisingly, about the Coronavirus crisis. It will be as follows:

The terrible news that more than 10,000 people in the United Kingdom have died from covid-19 shows we have some way to go before the pandemic is defeated.

It is inevitable that the present lockdown will need to continue, but I have to say that I think it is really impressive how the vast majority of people are respecting and following government guidelines, for example, to work from home, maintain social distancing or to self-isolate.

We all have a role to play at this time of global emergency. As one Professor of Medicine said: “It has never been easier to save a life. Just stay at home. If we all keep it up, the death toll will fall. Self-discipline over the next few days will be key.”

It is also phenomenal that so many local residents are looking out for their families, friend and neighbours.

But we must keep remembering that NHS workers are in the real “front-line” of this crisis, doing their utmost to save the lives of people already infected and who, in the words of the Prime Minister, are “putting themselves in harm's way.” It is awe-inspiring that so many people are going to work, day after day, in the full knowledge that they are exposing themselves to such a dangerous virus, and it is distressing that more than twenty doctors, nurses and hospital porters, have already lost their lives.

Other key workers such as employees in the care sector, shop and supermarket workers, postal / delivery workers, members of the emergency services and those keeping public transport going, are also continuing to serve the public, which puts them at greater risk than the majority of the population.

With so many individuals striving to get us through this difficult time, and lots of families and small businesses facing an uncertain future, it is shocking to hear how certain wealthy individuals and “funds” have made vast amounts of money by “playing the markets” as investors feared a global economic downturn because of coronavirus.

One American investment company “placed bets on market volatility” and bragged that it made £2.4 billion, while one “investments fund” claims to have made a return of 3,612% in the month of March. And here in the UK, a company called Somerset Capital Management (and founded by a government minister) has been trying to generate new business by telling potential clients that the crisis made “excellent entry points for investors” while promising “super normal returns” – whatever that is.

Thursday, 5 March 2020

A ST PIRAN’S DAY DEMAND FOR A CORNISH TICK-BOX ON 2021 CENSUS


As the leader of Mebyon Kernow, I have marked St Piran’s Day by challenging the UK Government to do more to support Cornwall’s distinct national identity.

I have written to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office and Home Office, demanding a Cornish tick-box on the 2021 census, which he says would be a “strong and symbolic act” to show that the “UK Government is (i) taking the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities seriously, and had (ii) started to treat the Cornish in the same manner as the UK’s other national minorities (the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish).”

I have also issued the following statement today:

“It is 18 years since the Cornish language secured protection through the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. And it is nearly six years since the Cornish were recognised as a national minority through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, when the UK Government pledged that we would be afforded ‘the same status … as the UK’s other Celtic people, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.’

“But I have to say that it is very disappointing that the UK Government continues to have a significant blindspot when it comes to Cornwall, its language and national identity; and it is clearly failing to treat the Cornish in the same manner as ‘the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish.’

“On 4th March 2020, in a response to a question from Steve Double MP, the Prime Minister spoke some Cornish in the House of Commons. He said “Kernow bys vykken” – Cornwall forever – and yet, we have just found out that the Cornish language has been specifically excluded from the new British passport. It symbolically includes text from three of the UK’s four Celtic languages – Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish – but there is no Cornish.

“The UK Government is also finalising the content of the 2021 census at the moment and the present draft of the survey includes national identity tick-boxes for English, Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh. But officials seem to consider it acceptable that the Cornish will be the only UK national minority to be denied a tick-box.

“This is both illogical, prejudicial and plain wrong. I have challenged the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office and Home Office, to intervene to ensure that the census paperwork is modified to include a Cornish tick-box.

“This would be a strong and symbolic act to show that the UK Government is (i) taking the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities seriously, and had (ii) started to treat the Cornish in the same manner as the UK’s other national minorities (the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish).”

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall is calling upon people to also write to the Prime Minister, the Cabinet Office and Home Office to demand that the UK Government meets its obligations to the Cornish as a national minority.

The addresses are:
The Prime Minister, 10 Downing Street, SW1A 2AA
Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2AS
Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF