Sunday, 18 November 2018

The Cornish paradox?

On Saurday, the annual Mebyon Kernow Conference was held at Bodmin and I was re-elected as Party Leader. 

In my address at the event, I looked back some fifty years to the 1960s when MK founder-members (and husband and wife team) Richard and Ann Jenkin published a book titled Cornwall – the Hidden Land.

In this publication, they argued that the emergence of a Cornish political party was “one of the most promising signs that Cornwall will continue to exist as a Celtic country and not decline into merely an administrative division of England.”

I reminded the MK Conference that, 15 years ago, I had co-authored a book about MK with Bernard Deacon and Garry Tregidga. And, in the conclusion, we had considered what the Jenkins had said.

We pondered how “since the 1960s, there has been an unmistakeable enrichment and intensification of the Cornish sense of ‘Celtic’ identity.”

But, at the same time, we noted how Cornwall was being submerged into SW bodies and wrote: “Cornwall has indeed ‘declined’ into a state of what should more accurately be described as being part of an administrative division of England, rather than even being an administrative division of England in its own right.”

At the Conference, I spoke about how this paradox continues to the present day. Four years ago, the Cornish were recognised as a national minority and it is clear that the “enrichment and intensification” of our wonderful Cornish identity continues apace.

I also believe there is a growing confidence in the way we are making the case for greater Cornish recognition, and the most obvious example of this is the amazing “tickbox bus,” and the campaign for inclusion on the 2021 census.

And yet central government continues to refuse to recognise Cornwall as political, economic and cultural entity.

The threat of a cross-Tamar parliamentary seat still hangs over us and the United Kingdom is still an over-centralised state. There has been no meaningful devolution to Cornwall, the UK Government views us through the prism of local government, and now central government and the unelected “Leadership Board” are promoting the so-called “Great South West” regionalisation project, which would mask Cornwall and its needs.

We have even had the proposed police merger and the attempt to centralise some cancer services out of Cornwall, but thankfully these moves have been curtailed – largely because of public opposition in Cornwall.

Surely it is time for this paradox to be consigned to history, and Cornwall’s national interest to be properly reflected in all aspects of government policy.

[This will be my article in this week's Cornish Guardian.]

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

The UK’s fiscal and economic model is broken

Mebyon Kernow’s sister party in Wales, Plaid Cymru, has an impressive economic advisor called Eurfyl ap Gwilym. He famously got the better of Jeremy Paxman during one interview, even challenging him to do better research when preparing questions.

Mr ap Gwilym has produced another article which focuses on how the “UK’s fiscal and economic model” is broken.

What he has to say is as relevant to Cornwall as it is to Wales and, in particular, he has focused on how investment in three areas (research and development, transport and the arts) is still “heavily skewed to the South East” of England.

In terms of research and development, he has shown that “business is by far the biggest source of R&D expenditure and this tends to be concentrated in certain sectors (defence and pharmaceuticals) and geographically.”

Looking at the actual figures: “Of the £6.5bn spent on R&D by the higher education sector 59 per cent, or £274 per person was spent in London and the Home Counties. This compares with £83 per person in the rest of England, £86 in Wales and £196 in Scotland. The differences are even more marked in the case of R&D spending by the UK Government and the research councils: of the £2.2bn spent in 2016: £54 per person was spent in London and the Home Counties; £5 per person in Wales and £30 per person in Scotland.”

It has been the same with transport. Mr ap Gwilym has detailed how London has been the “recipient of a disproportionate share of public investment … over decades.” He has also shown how “cumulative spend per person in real terms since 1999-00 has been £7,500 in London compared with £4,100 in Scotland, a mere £3,000 in Wales and £3,700 across the UK as a whole.”

And in his assessment of arts funding, he notes that “despite the fact that private sponsorship of the arts is overwhelmingly concentrated in London,” it is a reality that “public spending is heavily weighted in favour of London as well.”

Mr ap Gwilym’s main reason for, once again, pointing out the inequities of regional funding, was to raise concerns about the repercussions of Brexit and how this would be “likely to push regional policy even further down the list of priorities of the post-Brexit UK Government.”

He is also right to point out that without a fundamental shift, we will see “little improvement in the relative performance” of regional economies outside London and the South East. And that would be a disaster for Cornwall.

[This is my article in this week's Cornish Guardian].

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Conservative austerity needs to end and now!

At the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, the Prime Minister announced that the austerity of the last decade is to end and “support for public services will go up.”

I have to admit that I am somewhat sceptical about what has been said, and Theresa May’s announcement has been widely derided as a “soundbite” or positioning for short-term political gain. Indeed, she has couched her pledge as a future action, linked to the outcome of next year’s spending review while also being dependent “on a good Brexit for Britain.”

It was followed within a few days by a cynical appeal by the PM to likely Labour voters, asking them to consider changing their allegiance to the Tories.

Quite rightly, journalists and commentators have been quick to critique the lack of detail behind the rhetoric and how it contradicts what the Conservatives have been saying in recent months, weeks and even days.

And they have not been afraid to point out how it does not reflect the Chancellor of the Exchequer’s financial plan which, while honouring the recent commitment to increase funding for the NHS, would still lead to what one newspaper has described as yet more “eye-watering” cuts in “every other department of state.”

Political opponents have also rubbished the pronouncements from the occupant of No. 10, especially when other leading Conservatives such as the Party Chairman Brandon Lewis have refused to consider rethinking planned reductions in funding to local councils and other public services.

Make no mistake, austerity has done great damage to public services across the United Kingdom, hurting individuals and families and communities in the process.

Senior Conservatives may be making shallow statements about some future cessation of austerity, but local councils such as the unitary authority in Cornwall are still having to grapple with the implications of dealing with savage, unjust and ongoing cuts in central government funding.

And it is to be welcomed that the planned merger of the “Devon and Cornwall” and Dorset police forces looks like it is not going to happen, but such a proposal would not even have been put forward if the promised levels of funding for the police had actually been delivered.

If Theresa May is serious about ending austerity, her Government needs to reverse the cuts to local government, the police and other public services right now; and deliver a whole new approach to government finance through enhanced and fair taxation with the wealthy and big business paying their fair share.

[This was my article in the Cornish Guardian on 10 October].

Housing for local need

The Campaign for the Protection of Rural England has just published a new report about the housing market. It is critical of the extent of planned developments and the amount of countryside that is being lost, and it is also pointing out that the housing needs of local people are still not being met.

The document has been widely welcomed and there was even an editorial in the Western Morning News under the heading “All new homes should be built to meet local need.”

In preparing this week’s article, I looked back at some columns on planning and housing that I have written over the past eight years or so, and it really is saddening how central government has time and time again refused to act on legitimate criticism of its failed policies.

As a local councillor, I have been involved with numerous planning battles – both in terms of policy and actual planning applications – and, on many occasions, it has been so dispiriting.

It is particularly galling when housing developments do not have enough affordable housing or, on occasions, no affordable housing at all.

Many young people will not remember but at the turn of the millennium it was possible to buy a new two-bedroom house in mid Cornwall for under £50,000, or a three-bedroom house for under £60,000. Rents in the private sector were also much more reasonable.But since then, the housing market – both for purchase and rent – has become truly dysfunctional. House prices pretty much tripled in the decade after 2000 and the cost of renting in the private sector also exploded.

At the same time, wage increases have been very modest and the gap between household incomes and basic housing costs has become so much greater.

Housing ministers in the UK Government have acknowledged that house prices in Britain are "too unaffordable" but they have done nothing to reduce the cost of renting or purchasing a house, which is so needed in low wage areas like Cornwall.

They have even redefined what can be termed “affordable housing” and made it more expensive, while cutting funding and discouraging the provision of less expensive social rents that have traditionally been provided by councils and housing associations.

This all needs to change and there is so much that the UK Government should be doing. Here are a few suggestions for starters – (i) increased investment in a public rented sector with rents kept as low as possible, (ii) legislation to control prices in the private rented sector, (iii) action on second homes, and (iv) the devolution of all aspects of planning and planning policy to Cornwall.

[This was my article in the Cornish Guardian on 17 October].

Monday, 24 September 2018

Latest update to St Enoder Parish Council

On Tuesday, I will be presenting my latest update report to a meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covers the period from 23rd July to 23rd September 2018, and will be as follows:

Listed below are some examples of the work that I have been undertaking over the last two months and associated news updates.

1. Council meetings and related activities

During the last two months I have attended a range of formal meetings. These included: Full Council, Electoral Review Panel (2) (plus two associated pre-meeting briefings and a further meeting of group leaders about the review), Central Planning Committee, a meeting of councillors from the China Clay Area, the China Clay Area Network, monthly meetings (2) of parking group linked to the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee, members briefing on National Minority status and associated meeting with senior officers working on this.

In the same period, as well as a significant number of informal meetings with council officers and others, I attended six meetings of St Enoder Parish Council and chaired the latest meeting of the St Enoder Parish Neighbourhood Plan Working Group.

2. Other meetings and activities

I attended meetings of Indian Queens Pit Association (trustee), ClayTAWC (Chairman), Leader Local Action Group for South and East Cornwall, Community-led Local Development Local Action Group for South and East Cornwall and the St Austell Bay Economic Forum.

3. Gorsedh Kernow

Gorsedh Kernow held its 2018 ceremony on the Barrowfields in Newquay on 1st September. I was made a bard in recognition of the work I have done campaigning to protect the geographical and cultural integrity of Cornwall. My bardic name is Gwythyas an Tir, meaning Guardian of the Land. I would also like to say a big thank you to everyone who has sent me their best wishes and congratulations. They were all much appreciated.

I was also one of the speakers at the Gorsedh Kernow Conference about Cornwall’s historic environment on the day before the main ceremony.

4. First World War project

During the summer months, I have spent a significant amount working on the First World War project for St Enoder Parish.

I am pleased to be able to report that the roll of honour that had previously been on display in the Indian Queens Methodist Church has been lodged with the Cornwall Record Office for safekeeping. It is in a poor condition and a replica has been produced which will be re-dedicated in late October. The roll of honour lists the 59 members of the Wesleyan congregation who served and returned, along with the nine who did not make it back from the conflict.

The Parish Council has also secured nine silhouettes from the “There But Not There” commemoration scheme to be used at the rededication of the roll of honour, and at other planned commemorative events.

Two further drop-in sessions were held in early September and I am pleased to be able to report that we have been supplied with photographs of three teenage servicemen in recent weeks.

The book is progressing well and new boards are also being planned for the three village halls. The book will contain a chapter on the Indian Queens Victory Hall and I attended a recent meeting of the Hall Committee to update them on progress.

5. St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan

In recent weeks, one of my priorities has been the Neighbourhood Plan. A full draft of the document is nearing completion and will soon be presented to Cornwall Council for comment. As I have reported previously, I have also been liaising with a number of the planning policy officers at Cornwall Council in terms of the content of the Plan.

6. Thomas Playing Field

Over the last two weeks, I have been helping the Parish Clerk, Amanda Kendall, and Cllr Mark Kessell liaise with the installers of the new play equipment at the Thomas Playing Field. While the workers were on-site, we made sure that we visited the site on a daily basis.

Sadly, we have encountered a delay with the works. It is our understanding from the installers that, for a couple of bits of kit, they are missing some of the supports which would be fixed into the ground. They have withdrawn from the site and we are remaining in contact with the suppliers in an attempt to sort this out as soon as possible.

7. Cemetery extension at Indian Queens

I have also been liaising with the Parish Clerk about the extension of the cemetery at Indian Queens. It is great to see that the new Cornish hedge has been completed and we can now sort out the change-of-use planning application for the enclosure.

8. Full Council: vote on Devonwall

Last November, I tabled a motion to Cornwall Council opposing the imposition of a cross-Tamar “Devonwall” parliamentary constituency, which received massive support. At the Cornwall Council meeting on 11th September, I was pleased to be able to support a similar motion opposing “Devonwall.” It was passed by 86 votes to 11.

9. Full Council: vote on Police merger

In my last monthly report, I raised my opposition to the proposed merger of the “Devon and Cornwall” Police Force with that of Dorset and my concern at the biased consultation that been had been doing the rounds. I am pleased to be able to report that, at the Cornwall Council meeting on 11th September, councillors backed a motion opposing the merger. It was passed by 64 votes to 25.

10. Electoral Review Panel

The final meeting of the Electoral Review Panel took place on 13th August and agreed he basis of a detailed representation to the Local Government Boundary Commission. This was ratified at the Full Council meeting and the only changes related to the names of some of the divisions.

As previously reported, the proposal is to keep the parish of St Enoder “whole” and within a division with St Dennis. I also worked with the Parish Clerk to send a response to the consultation which went in before the deadline.

As the vice-chairman of the Electoral Review Panel, I am so relieved that the work has been completed. However, the committee is about to be rebadged to deal with the upcoming review into parish boundaries (where changes may be requested by Parish Councils).

11. Community-led Local Development

I am pleased to have been appointed to the South and East Cornwall Local Action Group LAG for CLLD (or Community-led Local Development). It covers an area that stretches from the China Clay Area to the Tamar, and has more than £2.8 million of European Social Fund (ESF) and European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) monies to grant to businesses and community groups.

The official paperwork for CLLD states that it “aims to provide pathways to better economic opportunities for people and businesses … strengthening local availability of employment, skills and training, and developing the ability of local residents to access these.”

It does however need to be pointed out that the money has to be targeted principally on those Lower Super Output Areas (LSOAs), which fall within the 30% most deprived in terms of the UK’s Index of Multiple Deprivation.

In the South and East Cornwall CLLD Area, priority areas including Bugle, Foxhole, Penwithick, Roche, St Dennis and Treviscoe (within Clay Country); though it has also been confirmed that some of the funding could be spent in the hinterland around these disadvantaged communities (which includes St Enoder Parish), though projects would need to demonstrate that it would benefit people in the core areas.

12. St Austell Bay Economic Forum (SABEF)

SABEF has just been awarded £1.1 million to fund their “Re-imagining St Austell – A Green and Ceramic Cultural Centre” project to revitalise the town and its surrounding communities.

I have been a director of SABEF for quite some time, but I am presently reviewing my position within the body. It was always my understanding that the Forum covered St Austell, the arc of the Bay to the south of the town and the China Clay Area. It is fair to say that I was invited to sit on the Forum as a representative of the Clay Country.

It is also fair to say that the key focus was always going to be the town itself, but I am very frustrated that the whole of the Clay Area is not featuring within the thinking of the Forum.

13. Economic Strategy for the China Clay Area

Cornwall Councillors from the China Clay Area have been pushing, for a significant time, for Cornwall Council to work with us to produce an economic strategy for the Clay Area.

Given my comments about the SABEF initiative, I am pleased that Cornwall Council has agreed that we can pilot an initiative to bring forward such a strategy for our Network Area which could be replicated elsewhere. It is likely that this will be a key priority for me going forward, rather than SABEF.

14. Planning

I have had a range of meetings with planning officers during the last two months to discuss a range of planning applications, large and small. This has included discussions of the recent application for residential units at Carvynick, and ongoing issues with the biogas plant and pig farm at Higher Fraddon.

The proposal to allow the dayroom on the traveller site near Highgate Hill, Indian Queens, to be turned into a dwelling was referred to the Central Planning Committee. The meeting took place on 6th August and objections were raised by the Parish Council, but it was given permission by the Committee.

The first draft of a new Supplementary Planning Document on housing has been circulated to members of the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee, and I will looking at this in detail in the coming couple of weeks.

15. Parking policy

Since my last report, I have attended two meetings with council officers and the Cabinet member for Transport following the “Positive Parking Review.” I can report back that at the most recent meeting I again made representations about the need to repaint double yellow lines in (non-urban) areas such as St Enoder Parish.

16. Traffic

I am following up a wide range of traffic and road safety issues at the present time, which includes speeding traffic at Sea View Terrace on the road between Fradon and St Stephen, as well as a host of ongoing issues. Discussions about the Community Network Highways Scheme will be at the next meeting of the China Clay Area Community Network Panel on 8th October.

It is my intention to provide a more detailed update on all the traffic-related matters that I am dealing with in my next monthly report.

17. Meeting with Ocean Housing

On 14th September, I met with Mark Gardner, the Chief Executive of Ocean Housing. It had come to my attention that one of Ocean’s properties on Barnfield Terrace was being sold off, as the “registered provider” did not consider it economic to renovate the housing unit. I challenged him on this, but the decision has been taken and it will not be reconsidered.

I took the opportunity to discuss the anti-social behaviour near the Harvenna Heights estate, which has been raised by local residents. In addition, I requested him to identify some funding that could be made available to make adjustments to the planting and raised areas in the estate.

18. Litter

I met with some local residents who are actively collecting litter around St Enoder Parish and its surrounding area, who would like to see better support for their efforts, in terms of the unitary authority making it easier for the collection of any recyclable materials that they may collect. I have given a commitment to make enquiries and see what can be done.

19. Meeting with young people

I have been approached to meet with some teenagers to discuss the provision of facilities for their age group in the Fraddon and Indian Queens area. I will be meeting with them later this week.

20. Newsletter

In August and early September, I was out and about delivering my latest “six-monthly” newsletter. I would like to thank everyone who gave me a hand and I estimate that I got around to more than 90% of the Parish. Unfortunately, my other commitments mean that I did not get everywhere and I apologise if I did not get to you.

21. Inquiries

During the last two months, I have helped numerous people with guidance on a range of issues.