Monday, 5 October 2015

Westminster parties are failing to organise on a Cornwall-wide basis

I have just returned from a lovely week-long holiday in Wales. In between dragging my body to the summit of Snowden and watching a rugby game in Cardiff, I also took the time to catch up on political developments on the western side of Offa’s Dyke.

Welsh devolution certainly means that politics as practised in the principality is so very, very different to that experienced in Cornwall.

Political parties in Wales are almost all organised on an all-Wales basis, with most having their own elected leaders. Alongside Plaid Cymru’s outstanding Leanne Wood there are, amongst others, Carwyn Jones (Welsh Labour), Kirsty Williams (Welsh Liberal Democrats), Pippa Bartolotti (Wales Green Party) and Nathan Gill (UKIP Wales).

These may not be household names for everyone in Cornwall, but the political scene which they inhabit does ensure that every single economic, environmental or social issue is “framed” within a Welsh context, that really does engage the wider population.

What a contrast to Cornwall.

The Conservative Party does not principally operate on a Cornwall-wide basis, but across a “South West region” that extends as far as Wiltshire. It is the same with its various associated groupings such as Conservative Future (for younger people) or its Women’s Organisation.

The Labour Party is also organised on a “South West” basis with a regional office in Bristol, while the Lib Dem website states that “Devon and Cornwall is one of 11 regions of the English Liberal Democrats.”

The failure of the larger Westminster parties to even recognise Cornwall as an entity in their own organisational structures is extremely telling. It shows that we are not one of their main priorities when compared, for example, to Westminster or the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales.

This is surely unacceptable, and it is my heartfelt belief that all politicians should be unashamedly developing a more “Kernow-centric” approach to politics, that gives a much-needed boost to the visibility of Cornwall and the issues which affect our communities.

Also last week, BBC’s Question Time debate was broadcast from Cardiff and four of the five panellists were prominent politicians and public figures from Wales.

How different from the most recent Question Time debate hosted in Cornwall, when not one panellist had the slightest connection to our area. A stronger Cornish politics would surely put an end to such invisibility!

[This article will appear in this week’s Cornish Guardian].

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Central government is to blame

In June, I was one of the speakers at a Conference about the future governance of Cornwall, organised by the Cornish Constitutional Convention. Also present was Conservative MP George Eustice, and it is fair to say that we did not agree on very much.

A good friend of mine addressed the Conference from the floor of the event. With a great deal of sarcasm, he “congratulated” Mr Eustice on how his somewhat “non-stick” Government had reduced funding for local government, but had taken little of the blame for the resultant problems, or the drops in local service provision.

My friend was spot on. From 2010 onwards, the Conservative-led Coalition slashed millions from local councils and put intolerable pressure on local administrations to provide services in a “different” manner. By this, they basically meant the privatisation or out-sourcing of services.

Indeed, local authorities are being pressured to become little more than “commissioning” authorities.

I have always objected to this approach to local government, which I will do my utmost to oppose.

The consequence of such government cuts is that there is growing criticism of County Hall – whether it relates to how the Council is dealing with toilets, leisure centres, the maintenance of play areas, the failed BT contract … the list goes on.

And every week, it is Cornwall Council that gets the blame from local residents – not central government, which reduced the funding and caused the problems in the first place.

But local politicians are also proving to be their own worst enemies. Instead of working together to construct a convincing “narrative” about the funding cuts and building a strong movement to oppose the approach of central government, they seem more interested in gaining some illusory short-term political advantage.

Take the example of public conveniences. Local Conservatives are presently being very critical of the approach of the Independent / Liberal Democrat administration on the unitary authority. But when the Conservatives were in charge at County Hall, their approach was very similar – when it was condemned by the Lib Dems.

In such local “narratives,” it would seem that central government cuts do not feature at all!

This is not an isolated example and such short-termism does no-one in Cornwall any favours. Surely now is the time for all of Cornwall’s local politicians to stop playing political games and to consistently demand fair funding for Cornwall’s public services.

[This was my article in last week's Cornish Guardian].

Back in circulation

I have just got back from a wonderful week’s holiday in Wales. The weather was fantastic, Ann and I even staggered to the summit of Snowden, and then enjoyed the New Zealand versus Georgia at the Millennium Stadium.

But I am now back in circulation and starting to work my way through a mass of email, phone and other messages. Please bear with me over the next dew days, as I get on top of my backlog.

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Cornwall Council public meeting at Fraddon

Thank you to everyone who attended tonight’s public meeting at Kingsley Village with members of the Strategic Planning Committee and expressed their views about the biogas plant / pig farm planning applications at Penare Farm, which are due to be heard on October 22nd.

In advance of the actual meeting, the councillors held a site meeting at Higher Fraddon and spent over an hour looking around the biogas plant and the pig farm.

I thought everyone who spoke at the meeting did extremely well and the councillors I saw after the meeting were very complimentary about the very dignified, professional and measured manner in which one and all put their views across.

The highlight for me was when Tony Bullows criticized the so-called non-material amendment which changed the whole nature of the biogas proposal as “the worst decision since Noah invited two woodworm onto the ark!”

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Where is the democracy in the "devolution deal"?

Among MK’s key complaints about the recent “devolution deal” from central government was that it was, obviously, very limited in scope, and it was not democratic to give more influence to unelected bodies with limited democratic legitimacy such as the Local Enterprise Partnership.

At today’s meeting of the Constitution and Governance Committee, there was a report about what impact the “deal” would have on the Council’s governance arrangements. As you might expect, I challenged the lack of democracy at the centre of so many of the proposals. Here are a few snippets:

“Agreement is required to be reached as to which organisations will lead the delivery of each policy area.”

I did and will continue to argue that it is not appropriate or indeed democratic for unelected and unaccountable bodies to lead.

“At the current time there is a draft proposal to establish an oversight board comprising the Leader, Chairmen of the Local Enterprise Partnership and Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group and two MPs supported by executive officers. This will have oversight of progress in implementing the Deal and be a single reporting route to Government.”

So much for trusting Cornwall Council to "lead" on oversight of the deal.

“There is a requirement for an appropriate overview and scrutiny function for the Deal to be agreed. The Deal envisages that this will comprise elected representatives and business representatives. Whilst this does not preclude the use of the Council’s existing scrutiny arrangements but with co-optees from the business sector, it is perhaps appropriate to consider a separate scrutiny function whose focus is limited to the delivery and impact of the Deal."

Again, so much for trusting Cornwall Council to "lead" on oversight of the deal.

“A Boundary review will commence in 2017 and it is clear that the Government’s expectation is that the number of local councillors will reduce.”

I would have thought that it was time to address the democratic deficit in Cornwall – not make it worse.

The report is worth reading to understand the nature of what is happening. It can be found at: