MP’s Column

I had the privilege of meeting independent shop keepers in Helston over the weekend. Understandably, the cost of business rates and car parking remain a concern for retailers and it is clear that operating a business in the high street presents challenges that they have little control over.

In March the Government will set out its plans to reform business rates. Whilst not in a position to significantly reduce the amount it collects in this way, the Government has introduced various rebates and reliefs for independent businesses over recent years and I have no reason to think this commitment to town centres will change.

As part of the review I have petitioned the Government to maintain its support for small businesses. I have also requested that we cease to charge business rates on public toilets.

The storms of early 2014 caused extensive disruption to the rail link between Penzance and Paddington. We all remember the devastation in Dawlish, the flooding of the Somerset Levels and the fortnight that Penzance Station was closed following flooding there.

This extreme weather exposed long-standing under-investment in the South West rail network and has forced local authorities, Network Rail, train operators and the Government to work together to agree what sort of rail network we require for the South West. To achieve this, the Peninsula Rail Task Force was established and invited by government to  set out a 20-year rail investment strategy.

I am the Cornish Member of the Peninsular Rail Task Force and in October we published our interim report. We met this week to develop our ideas further and a more comprehensive strategy should be concluded this year.

Our 3 priorities are very clear:
to build a resilient rail network,
to reduce journey time,
to increase capacity.

I am personally very excited about the work we are doing. I am confident that journey times to London will reduce by 30 minutes as a result of the Government’s investment in new trains and improvements to the rail itself. However, our discussions this week could lead to even shorter journeys. I also received agreement this week that Network Rail, GWR and the Rail Minister will meet with me and the Peninsula Rail Task Force to develop our ‘Freight on the Rail’ initiative further.

An improved rail-link to London and a freight service will be good for Cornish businesses. Furthermore, reducing the amount of journeys by road helps us to play our part in reducing harmful emissions.

On February 5th I am hosting a Fuel Poverty Conference in Penzance so that the good practice that is currently undertaken to help address this problem can be shared. We will also look at what more can be done to improve people’s homes and reduce energy costs.

If you are interested in taking part please email me: derek.thomas.mp@parliament.uk.

You can keep track of these and other issues I am working on by bookmarking this website.