THE General Election campaign trail came to Cornwall as Rishi Sunak – Prime Minister until midnight tonight – caught the sleeper from London and met apprentices at GWR’s railway depot at Long Rock, Penzance.

A “well rested” Mr Sunak announced his latest election promise – to close down under-performing degrees and use that money to launch 100,000 high skilled apprenticeships a year, which he said would improve low wages in Cornwall.

More visibly relaxed than on his visit to nearby Nancledra school in February, Mr Sunak was on a mission to sell his recent promises of National Service, the ‘triple lock plus’ on pensions and the apprenticeships announcement.

We asked:

Many people would argue the gap between the have and have nots in Cornwall has widened in recent years, exacerbated by the rise in second homes and holiday lets, so what would you do for the people of Cornwall in the next Parliament on this and other matters if you win?

“We’ve had a difficult few years for sure and that’s not just for the people Cornwall but across the country, dealing with the economic shocks of COVID and the war in Ukraine but I do believe that we’ve now turned a corner and inflation is down from 11 per cent to two per cent, easing some of those burdens. Energy bills and mortgage rates are coming down. Wages have been rising faster than prices for almost a year and the economy is now growing at a very healthy rate.

“The question at this election is do we build on that progress? The conversations I’m having with everyone is we’re the party that’s prepared to take bold action, as you can see with National Service, the triple lock plus yesterday and the apprenticeships announcement today. We’ve got a clear plan that’s working. That’s how we’ll deliver a secure future for everyone, not just in Cornwall but across the country.”

He added: “Specifically on second homes, which I know is a particularly pressing issue here. I want to make sure that young people everywhere have the opportunity to own their own home. That’s part of the secure future that I’ve talked about.

“That’s why it’s important we build houses and we’ve met our target to build a million homes over this Parliament, but crucially that those homes are in the right places and they’re affordable and prioritising local people. We’re making sure that the planning system prioritises local people or gives councils more power to manage that balance between the visitor economy – which is important – but making sure councils are best placed on the ground to get that balance right.”

We’ve seen a record number of sewage spills in the past few years and recent data shows it’s risen by 54 per cent in Cornwall but also across the UK. What are you proposing can be done to reduce this and put more pressure on water companies?

“Some of the discharges we’ve seen have been completely unacceptable and the reason we know about these things is that it was a Conservative government that ensured we are now monitoring 100 per cent of overflows. When we came into office the Labour Party had left us with a situation where less than ten per cent were being monitored.

“The plan to address this is clear – record investment which we’re seeing some benefits locally with upgrades down here, billions of pounds invested in upgrading the treatment works. The second is regulation, tackling the root cause of these things, whether it’s forever chemicals, wet wipes, these types of things, and, thirdly, enforcement – giving the regulator incredibly tough powers so they can levy unlimited fines and penalties on water companies, hold them to account, link their financial payouts, bonuses and dividends to environmental performance, and we’ve put legally binding targets on water companies and the sector. That’s the plan and it is working.”

This is an area with some of the lowest wages and highest house prices in the entire country. We’re heavily reliant here on the European funding which got replaced by the Shared Prosperity Fund (SPF). You’ve just announced that National Service will be funded out of the SPF. Can you guarantee that Cornwall will not miss out as a result?

“I’m absolutely committed to levelling up in Cornwall. Our track record, whether it’s investment in high streets and town centres – Penzance, Truro, St Ives, Camborne – or whether it’s the huge investment in the Royal Cornwall Hospital for the new women and children’s unit, the outpatients unit that’s coming here (Penzance) or new diagnostics centres right across Cornwall, or the Mid Cornwall Metro, for example.

“That investment will always continue under a Conservative government. When it comes to National Service, I think it will be transformational for the young people and society in Cornwall and indeed the country. Why? Because it will give young people skills and opportunities that will serve them well in life. It will foster a culture of service, and make us a more cohesive society and it will strengthen our country’s resilience and security. It will become a rite of passage for people and change our country for the better.

“Today’s announcement on apprenticeships which will mean we will close down under-performing degrees that are letting young people down and use that money to create 100,000 high quality apprenticeships. You talk about low wages, the best way to increase people’s wages, as I was discussing with the apprentices this morning, is to build amazing careers.”

After he left I spoke to three GWR apprentices – Ryan Clewer-Wolk, Arne Mason and James Hartwell – who all praised their apprenticeship schemes and said that the Prime Minister had taken an interest in their courses.