By LDRS (Richard Whitehouse)
Rishi Sunak has said that he wants to “press ahead” with giving local councils more powers to charge second homeowners more council tax to create a level playing field and help provide more homes for local people. The Conservative leadership candidate and former Chancellor of the Exchequer was in Launceston to address Conservative Party members and encourage them to vote for him in his bid to be the next Prime Minister against Foreign Secretary Liz Truss.
Dressed in his trademark open-necked white shirt with sleeves rolled up, Sunak was keen to meet and chat with as many Conservative supporters he could during the whistle-stop event at Tre, Pol & Pen farm shop and cafe at Lezant.
After meeting staff at the shop he was whisked into the open view kitchen where he donned an apron and was given a crash course in crimping a pasty… as he displayed his efforts he turned to Camborne and Redruth MP George Eustice and said that he supposed that he was an expert in the art.
Then it was time to meet the party faithful – after an introduction first from North Cornwall MP Scott Mann and then Mr Eustice, it was time for Sunak to set out his stall and explain why he is best suited to be the next leader of the Conservatives and next incumbent of Number 10 Downing Street.
In his speech he touched on his key aims – how he wants to reward hard work, be tough on public spending and build the economy whilst also reuniting the country. He said: “I promise you this, I will give you my all, my heart and soul” and said he wanted people to “feel enormously proud of a Conservative government”.
Taking questions from the gathered audience he explained how he agreed with one lady who suggested that people needed to take more “personal responsibility” in tackling the cost of living crisis. He explained that he wanted levelling up to mean that you have the same opportunities no matter where you live in the country. And he defended proposals to impose a £10 fine for people who miss doctors’ appointments, saying that it was an example of where the Government needed to be “bold and radical” to bring about change and improve services.
Speaking afterwards CornwallLive had the chance to put some of the key issues facing people in Cornwall to Mr Sunak and ask what he would do to address them. In his speech Mr Sunak had said that he wanted to give more young people the opportunity to aspire to buying their own home. However we highlighted the current housing crisis in Cornwall which has, in part, been driven by a lack of affordable rental properties and people being evicted from their homes and forced into temporary accommodation.
He said: “The Government, when I was Chancellor, we invested a record amount in affordable housing and making sure that we actually tell the body that is in charge of all of that that they do properly prioritise rural areas and rural communities, it’s a priority of mine. So we actually want to set up a rural unit at Homes England, the body that allocates all that money, to make sure rural areas are properly looked after because I represent one and I know the challenge.
“The other thing, as I said, there are a few things we can do differently to make sure that second homes and short-term holiday lets bit is not overly impacting on and removing housing from local residents and I see that in my own area as well up in the Yorkshire Dales and we need to give councils a bit more power over that and change some of the regulations and practice so that we ensure it is a level playing field.”
One area which was seen as a way of redressing the balance of second homes was a move to give local councils the power to charge a premium of council tax on second homes. However, last week Cornwall councillors heard that this could be delayed until 2024.
Is that the case and would Mr Sunak move it forward? “I want to press ahead with all those reforms and I know it is something that MPs here and the community really want and it’s fair. Of course visitors come and that is an important part of the economy but we must have homes for local people, close to where they grew up, close to where they want to work and that means we need to act on all of those things. It’s that short term furnished holiday lets part of the system where we need to look at because there are some things that mean it is not a level playing field and that is exactly what we need to fix.”
One other concern for people in Cornwall recently has been the issues of bed blocking at Cornwall’s main hospital with hospital bosses highlighting that this has been caused by being unable to discharge people due to a lack of capacity in social care to give them the support they need when they get home.
What would the former Chancellor do to address this? “As Chancellor I did something that’s not easy but I created a new funding stream for social care in particular as we all saw during the pandemic the strain it was under and we want to make sure that it gets the resources that it needs. I think people can have some confidence that I care about fixing the issues in social care and have done something difficult to get the money in.
“But that is not sufficient, we need to properly reform the system so that people get the care they deserve – I think it is about two things, one is we need better joined up care between the NHS and local authorities, that hasn’t always happened and we need to improve that on the ground, that is how we will get people through the system better.
“The second thing is we really need to support the social care workforce and the funding that I put aside I ringfenced for social care so it doesn’t get swallowed up all by the NHS and part of that is to support the amazing people who work in social care so that they feel they can get the support, the training, the qualifications that they need to build a really rewarding career, and I think if we can do that and they can feel more respected, more valued we won’t have so much churn in the industry and so many vacancies and that will improve the quality of care for everyone.”
We then turned our attention to Levelling Up – with Cornwall having been identified as an area which needed additional funding and support by the EU, would he do the same as Prime Minister and ensure Cornwall can truly level up?
“We have committed to that and the Government already did and I will of course honour that. Levelling up for me, in the first ever interview I gave as Chancellor I said that levelling up means whether you grew up in a rural village in the South West or indeed up in the North East in Teesside you have fantastic opportunities and pride in the place that you call home, that is what levelling up means to me and I want to spread opportunities far and wide but especially here in the South West and in Cornwall, there was a reason that you were a special case and that will continue. As Chancellor I put that money aside in the budget and George (Eustice) was knocking on my door when the allocations were done.
“What we need to do now, we have an opportunity now that we have left the EU, the money is going to be the same but we need to be sure that we are spending that money in a way that is going to most help people here to have fantastic opportunities and that is the conversation that government and local areas will have and making sure that we are supporting the right kind of projects that are going to make the biggest difference to people’s lives.”
Lastly we asked Mr Sunak about the cost of living with people across Cornwall facing rising bills and rising concern about further increases in the autumn – what will he do to help those people and should energy companies be doing more to ease the pressure?
“On energy companies as Chancellor I took the decision to have a windfall tax on energy companies that should be an exceptional thing to do but I think the circumstances demanded it and, as you have seen in the last couple of days, they are making a lot of money and it is reasonable that we use some of that to help people with bills. As Chancellor I provided support that is worth up to £1,200 for a household, a vulnerable household, as Prime Minister I will go further because the situation is worse than we thought so I will cut VAT on energy bills this autumn and that will really help to put more money into people’s pockets.
“We also need to embark on a programme of improving the insulation and energy efficiency in people’s homes because if we can do that not only can we reduce the need for energy we can save people two or three hundred pounds off their bills as well so we really need to accelerate that programme.”