Sunday, 21 August 2022

PUBLIC OWNERSHIP OF ENERGY COMPANIES MUST BE CONSIDERED



In my article in the most recent edition of the Cornish Guardian newspaper, I backed public ownership of important services such as energy. It was as follows:

Only a few days ago, it was projected that average energy bills would soon reach £3,600 a year. The figure presently being quoted is £5,000. That is simply untenable and will do immeasurable harm to ordinary households across the whole of the UK.

Martin Lewis, from the Money Saving Expert website, has described the situation as a “national crisis on the scale of the pandemic,” adding that unless “Britain’s zombie government” acts it will leave “millions destitute and in danger this winter.” The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has meanwhile produced an open letter to the two contenders for the leadership of the Conservative Party, which has been signed by over 70 charities. It calls for compassion, and for them to show leadership to “tackle this issue head on.”

But I am extremely fearful that the interventions from new Prime Minister will be inadequate to combat the magnitude of the crisis. Indeed, the latest tax plans from Liz Truss have been rubbished because analysts have estimated that the lowest paid will receive an uplift which is less than 2% of the likely price hikes.

It is good to see opposition parties putting pressure on the Conservatives with calls for a freeze on price caps, possibly paid for by a windfall tax on the profits of the energy companies.

This is vital in the short-term, but shouldn’t we be going further? I am proud that Mebyon Kernow has long maintained that important services such as energy, water and rail should be publicly owned and publicly accountable, with the focus being on community, social need and environmental protection.

I agree with Delyth Jewell, one of the Plaid Cymru members of the Welsh Parliament. She has described the energy market as a “failed experiment” and is arguing that the concept of profit has no place in domestic energy supply. As she wrote in a recent article, “nothing short of fundamental and radical reform, based on public ownership, will ameliorate the crisis that’s looming over the coming winter months, and help save millions of people from abject suffering … and it is frankly appalling that reform of this kind hasn’t come before now [because] the vested interests of shareholders have been allowed to trump the needs of millions of consumers in the UK, which is not the case in other states.”

As she says, it is shameful that the “market revolves around keeping companies in profit” rather than ensuring that the people who need the energy to stay alive are able to afford it.


Saturday, 13 August 2022

REGIONAL INEQUALITY – PAY AND INVESTMENT


This was my article in the Cornish Guardian on the 10th August.

Levelling up was a key theme in the Conservative manifesto for the 2019 General Election. One section of the document stated: “Talent and genius are uniformly distributed throughout the country. Opportunity is not. Now is the time to close that gap – not just because it makes such obvious economic sense, but for the sake of simple social justice.”

But more recent statements from the two contenders for the leadership of the Tory Party show that their commitment to tackling regional inequality is pretty lacking.

Liz Truss came up with a proposal to introduce “regional pay boards” so that civil servants and public sector workers outside of London would be paid less. Unequal wage levels across the UK are a direct result of an unbalanced economy, while regional pay agreements would reinforce such inequities and make them worse.

As reported in last week’s Cornish Guardian, local MP Steve Double did describe the proposal as a “terrible idea” which “would be hugely damaging to public services in Cornwall.” He said it was “leveling down, not up.” One Welsh Conservative MP meanwhile estimated that 430,000 workers in Wales, including police officers and armed forces personnel, would facing a pay cut of around £3,000. He also described the proposal as “levelling down.” The mayor of Tees Valley – also a Conservative – said the proposal was so bad that he was “speechless.”

Liz Truss did an extremely quick u-turn, but later claimed that her comments had been wilfully misrepresented. But another prominent member of her party promptly pointed out that journalists accurately quoting a press release from Team Truss was not misrepresentation – wilful or otherwise.

Whereas these critics of Truss happened to be supporters of Rishi Sunak, they must have felt extremely let down when the video footage of a speech from their own preferred candidate soon after emerged on social media.

Speaking to a gathering of the party faithful in Tunbridge Wells, Sunak told them that the Conservatives had “inherited a bunch of formulas from Labour that shoved all the funding into deprived urban areas.” He said that he had “started the work of undoing that," so more funding would go into areas such as Tunbridge Wells.

There is significant poverty across the whole of the UK – including in towns in Kent – which needs to be properly dealt with. But the crassness of the former Chancellor’s words is worrying, and comes just three months after the announcement that Cornwall would receive less than half of promised monies through the Shared Prosperity Fund.

A MORE EQUAL SOCIETY?


This was my article in the Cornish Guardian on the 3rd August.

It is my sincere belief that politics should be about making society more equal and tackling the inequities experienced by individuals and families, as well as by communities in the different parts of the United Kingdom. But the last few days have shown that Westminster politics is failing to rise to this important challenge.

The cost of living crisis is getting worse and worse. But as so many ordinary households struggle to pay their basic bills, and millions and millions worry about how they will cope in the coming winter, some of the UK’s largest energy companies have announced bumper profits.

At this time of great crisis, shareholders are due to receive significant dividend pay-outs while the executives of these companies – some of whom already have salaries in excess of a million pounds – will receive massive bonuses. This includes the CEO of Centrica (which owns British Gas), who already earns £875,000-a-year and, according to some reports, he could receive additional bonuses totalling £2.87 million – a sum that an average Cornish worker could not earn in a hundred years.

It is little wonder that newspaper headlines shared the anger at the obsceneness of it all. One questioned how the executives slept at night, while another described the payments as “profits in misery."

And then there was the report from the Institute of Public Policy Research (North). This was very critical of the Government’s so-called “Levelling Up” agenda, which is meant to be tackling regional disparities across the UK. Obviously, the focus of the document was about flagging up concerns relating to the extent of public spending in the north of England, but the key statistic was that London – the wealthiest part of the UK – had seen the highest increase in government investment in recent years. This is the exact opposite of levelling up.

I attended a scrutiny meeting last week at which councillors were informed that the much-awaited proposal for local authorities to charge extra tax on second homes will not happen until 2024, or possibly even 2025. In addition, it was suggested that a promised review of the present funding formula for local government is likely to be delayed until 2026. We have to ask: where is the priority for housing justice and fairer funding for councils?

Also last week, there was confirmation that the new women’s and children’s unit at Treliske – misleading called a “new hospital” – has been delayed, while the plan for a much-needed extension to West Cornwall Hospital has been paused.

It is hardly surprising that so many people – myself included – are questioning the Government’s commitment to building a fairer and more equal society.

Friday, 12 August 2022

MY LATEST REPORT ON MY COUNCIL DUTIES



Time period: 25th June – 30th July 2022

1.0 Council and other meetings

In terms of physical meetings during the month, I attended a Full Council meeting of the unitary authority on 12th July, plus the Community Forum linked to the incinerator, the annual general meeting of the St Dennis & Nanpean Community Fund, and the South & East Cornwall Local Action Group.

The vast majority of my Cornwall Council meetings have been via TEAMS video-conferencing. These have included Cabinet; three briefings for upcoming meetings of the Constitution and Governance Committee about the completion of the Community Governance Review (parish boundaries) on the Constitution and Governance Committee; Cornish National Minority Working Group, two associated briefings and an engagement forum for members of the public; Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee; a meeting of Community Network Chairs and Vice-chairs; a meeting of councillors within the China Clay Area; Group Leaders’ meeting; briefings on the ecological emergency facing Cornwall and the wider world, plus an update on proposed “county deal.”

In addition, I have attended two meetings of St Enoder Parish Council and two meetings of St Dennis Parish Council.

I also had further online meetings about a range of local issues.

2.0 China Clay Area Community Network

As previously reported, the administration at Cornwall Council wishes to reduce the number of Community Network Panels from 19 to 10 (and merge Clay Country with the Bodmin Network in the process).

In my role as Chairman of the China Clay Area Community Network Panel, I attended a meeting of Chairs and vice-chairs of the Community Network Panels and I can report back that there is widespread opposition to the reduction in the number of Community Networks. I will be attending a further (face-to-face) meeting about this on Wednesday 27th July.

3.0 Shared Prosperity Fund

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet has published its approach to the spending of the monies that will be made available through the Shared Prosperity Fund (which has been set up in place of the EU structural funds that were previously available).

It states that the three priorities will be business, communities and skills, while there will be specific efforts to tackle inequalities in deprived areas. Assurances have also been given that all areas will have a “fair chance” to bid for the funding which will total £132 million over the next three years.

Some of the paperwork refers to the Community Network Areas, which is a further reason why we need to ensure that the China Clay Area has its own powerful Network that can deliver for this area.

4.0 Mid Cornwall Metro

One of Cornwall’s first applications to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund is for a new “metro link” to improve rail services between Newquay and Par, and Falmouth and Truro. Works are expected to increase the regularity of trains on the branch lines and will include a new siding / crossing place on the Goss Moor.

5.0 Royal Cornwall Museum

The decision of the ruling administration at Cornwall Council not to support the Royal Cornwall Museum with funding from its new Culture and Creative Investment Programme (which replaced the cultural revenue grants programme) led to the Museum announcing that it was under threat of closure.

Mebyon Kernow councillors on the unitary authority (including myself) have been among those making strong representations for the Council to do more to safeguard Cornwall principal museum.

6.0 Solar farms

I continue to get a number of contacts about the number of solar farm applications in Mid Cornwall. These include the proposals for Trerice in St Dennis Parish, Tresithney in St Enoder Parish – though the actual planning applications have yet to be submitted. In addition, there is a live planning application for Tregonning in Newlyn East Parish (though the cabling would go through St Enoder Parish to the Indian Queens Power Station on the road to St Dennis and there is another emerging proposal for a farm to the south of Mitchell.

I have written to a number of the planning officers involved with the applications to seek guidance how they will be assessing the applications and addressing subjects such as cumulative landscape and other impacts.

ST DENNIS PARISH ISSUES

7.0 Social / affordable rent properties in St Dennis


In my last report, I confirmed that, in the future, the Sanctuary Housing element of Hendra Heights and the Coastline estate at Wesley Place will be advertised with a “parish connection” label to ensure that the properties will go to individuals or households with a connection to St Dennis. This follow my investigation into (accurate) complaints that properties had not been going to local people and nomination agreements were not being complied with.

I am very pleased to be able to confirm that Ocean Housing have agreed to apply a “parish connection” label to their older housing stock (that have no nomination agreements or other restrictions on local connection) to boost the chances of households from St Dennis Parish securing affordable housing in their own village. I am most grateful for the assistance of Ocean Housing on this matter.

8.0 Planning matters

8.1 Housing development at Hendra Prazey (PA20/11311)


A site meeting was held by the Parish Council (with a representative of the applicant) at Hendra Prazey to discuss the application for 27 housing units (of which 23 would be affordable). The Parish Council’s Planning Committee had a follow-up meeting and have maintained a strong objection to the proposed scheme. The vote was unanimous.

I am presently seeking further information from the relevant officers at the unitary authority about how they wish to respond to the various objections and how they intend to deal with the application.

8.2 Indian Queens Power Station (PA22/05961)

An application has also been submitted for the installation and operation of a 47.5 megawatt battery energy storage system on land immediately to the west of Indian Queens Power Station.

9.0 Proposed multi-use trail from St Dennis to the Goss Moor

In a previous report, I reported how an expression of interest had been submitted to the G7 Nature Recovery Project to investigate the possibility of turning the section of defunct railway line between St Dennis and the Goss Moor National Nature Reserve into a multi-use trail. The EOI was unsuccessful, but I was very pleased to be approached by Natural England to discuss a potential application to a “seed corn” fund. I can confirm that a funding application has been submitted to support the initial phase of the project, which would scope out, design and cost the project over the next six months. This report will then, hopefully, be able to be used to underpin the main funding applications to make the project a reality.

ST ENODER PARISH ISSUES

10.0 Parish Council projects


I am continuing to work closely with the Clerk of St Enoder Parish Council, on a range of issues. These include the following:

10.1 Field between Indian Queens Primary School and Harvenna Heights

The new footway through the Parish Council was constructed in the latter part of 2021, and I am now pleased that we have moved onto the next stage of the project. The Council’s handyman is presently working in the field with some landscaping works and, when that is done, some picnic benches will be placed in the area along with rubbish bins. I am hopeful that there will also be tree planting and I personally favour the provision of a cluster of apple trees.

10.2 Youth Club building in Indian Queens Recreation Ground

The Parish Council has a project to double the size of the Youth Club Building and an EOI has been submitted to Cornwall Council’s CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) funding pot. I can report that we have been invited to proceed to the next stage (full application), which the Clerk and I have started to work on.

11.0 Planning

11.1 Carvynick, near Summercourt


Further to my update on Carvynick in my previous report, I can confirm that outline planning permission has been granted for “up to 40 tourism lodges” in the field on the eastern side of Carvynick. The consent conditions that the “the development … shall be used as holiday accommodation only and shall not be occupied as a person's sole or main place of residence.”

In the past, the owners have argued that the holiday use at Carvynick had made the site “brown-field” or “previously developed land,” which led to an inspector from the Bristol-based Planning Inspectorate allowing residential properties within the site. As a consequence of this, Cornwall Council has added the following condition:

“When the use hereby permitted ceases or the commercial operation of the land becomes redundant all lodges, buildings, structures, tracks, materials and equipment brought onto, or erected on, the land or works undertaken to it in connection with the use shall be removed, and the land restored to its condition before the development took place. The land shall thereafter revert to use as a pasture field or other agricultural use.”

12.0 Highway matters

Last year, Cornwall Council installed the two zebra crossings in Indian Queens – after many years of lobbying. Unfortunately, the installation by the Victory Hall was not done properly and Cormac will be remodelling the platform, etc, from the 15th August onwards, when the road will be closed. This is all so, so frustrating.

HELPING LOCAL FAMILIES

13.0 Advice

Over the last month, I have also assisted numerous households and individuals with guidance and advice on a range of topics including planning matters, housing need, social care, environmental issues and more.

Please note that my next report will be published towards the end of September.

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The cost of living crisis, solidarity and the Stadium



My article in today’s Cornish Guardian newspaper covers three subjects. It is as follows:

1. The latest report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation makes for very hard reading. Titled “Not heating, eating or meeting bills: managing a cost of living crisis on a low income,” the new research demonstrates the “precarious position of the worst-off 40% of households.”

The Foundation considers that the packages of support put in place by the UK Government do “not go far enough to support those who came into this crisis in a tough financial position.” It has stated that, for many families, the payments “will barely touch the sides, let alone help prepare for the winter that is coming.”

The findings show that “some seven million low-income households” have been “going without at least one essential (such as a warm home, enough food, appropriate clothing or basic toiletries)” while over two million families were “neither eating properly nor heating their homes adequately.” The seriousness of the cost of living crisis is further shown by the statistic that 4.6 million households are “in arrears with at least one bill, with the average amount owed around £1,600.” Significantly, the report adds that almost all families on means tested benefits are having “repayments for certain types of debt taken directly from benefits” and 93% of these are going without “at least one essential.”

The shocking evidence in the JRF report sends a clear message to central government that their priority should be the less-well-off in UK society.

2. Interestingly, the Economics Editor of the Guardian, Larry Elliot, recently wrote how “two years ago Rishi Sunak stood outside 11 Downing Street” flanked by the TUC and the CBI. He noted that the “photo op was meant to demonstrate a new spirit of tripartite solidarity” during the pandemic. Sadly, I share Elliot’s view that the “spirit of consensus has departed” as shown by the UK Government’s approach to the industrial dispute with rail workers, which has been revert to “union bashing” – rather than seeking to reach out at this time of crisis.

3. As a Cornwall Councillor, I would like to disassociate myself from the decision of the Conservative administration to stop seeking funding for the Stadium for Cornwall. I don’t think the excuses, about business cases or the nature of “Levelling Up” funding, stand up to scrutiny. I was a candidate in the 2015 General Election and I recall the day when the Tories announced they would fund the Stadium. There were no caveats or conditions, just a straight-forward pledge to voters. By not delivering on that promise, it will forever be remembered as a cynical ploy to harvest votes, and nothing more.