Thursday, 30 September 2010

A million voices for public services

Yesterday, I was pleased to be able to give my support to UNISON’s “A million voices for public services” campaign.

The union states: “The recession has hit the government's finances hard and public debt has grown. Some are now arguing that we will have to cut the amount the government spends on public services.

“What's more, when times are tough we need good local services more than ever. They help support communities, help people back into work, help give our children the best start in life and help care for our sick and elderly. And by putting money into local services, we help kick-start economic growth. Big spending cuts are not inevitable; they are a political choice that you can speak out against.”

The union is, quote rightly, seeking to encourage politicians to consider real alternatives to cuts and the privatisation of public services.

“Taxing the banks and financial institutions that caused the credit crunch in the first place is one example. And we could make our tax system fairer - ending tax avoidance that allows the very wealthy to get out of paying their share. It's not just UNISON saying this. Many economists are warning that large scale cuts now could push the economy back into recession. Getting people back to work and getting our economy growing will allow the government to pay back the money it has borrowed.”

You can also support the campaign at

Saturday, 25 September 2010

My first week as a columnist

I have been invited to write a regular column for the Cornish Guardian newspaper - always worth a good read! My first column entitled: "An over-sized incinerator?" was published this week. For the followers of this blog, the article is reproduced below.

In less than two weeks, the Public Inquiry into the proposal for a massive waste incinerator at St Dennis will be re-convened at the Council Offices in St Austell. Over a period of three days, representatives of the applicant, the Council and the objectors will deliver their closing statements.

The arguments presented by both sides have certainly been extremely wide-ranging and complex; and speaking from a personal perspective, it has been a privilege to help the people of Mid Cornwall to fight the imposition of the incinerator.

Away from the Inquiry, I have often heard the statement: “well, the incinerator has to go somewhere” as if there are not more sustainable alternatives. But do we really need an incinerator, with an annual throughput of 240,000 tonnes, to deal with Cornwall’s domestic waste?

The reality is that in 2008-2009, Cornwall sent 194,958 tonnes of waste to landfill. The extent of residual waste is falling, and last year 187,343 tonnes were landfilled. This is much, much less than the capacity of the proposed plant. And this is at a time when only 37% of our local waste is being recycled or composted, considerably less that the government target of 50% recycling/composting by 2020.

What is more, at the Inquiry we debated the Waste Development Framework document which included “evidence” to propose a 240,000 capacity for the plant. Produced in 2006, it predicted that by 2010 the amount of residual waste in need of “land-filling or incineration” would be between 232,333 and 245,443 tonnes.

How wrong could they be? And how can people continue to argue for such a large incinerator when the “justification” for it, produced just four years ago, managed to over-estimate the amount of waste that would need to be dealt with by 45,000 - 57,000 tonnes (24% - 31%). Where is the credibility of their arguments?

An analysis of black bag waste carried out by Cornwall County Council in 2007 has also found that 60% of the contents of an average bag could be reused, recycled or composted, including materials such as paper, cardboard, plastic, wood, glass, metals, food waste and other organic matter.

I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that it is ridiculous that thousands and thousands of tonnes of such recyclable and bio-degradable material should be incinerated, when much better use could be made of these resources.

The case for a 240,000 tonne incinerator does not make environmental or economic sense, and it should not be allowed to get the go-ahead.

But we can all do our bit to work towards a more sustainable approach to waste. We can do our utmost to firstly reduce the amount of waste we create, while also maximising what we then recycle or compost.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

A meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister

A delegation from the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign met with Nick Clegg on Wednesday, to raise concerns about the consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill which, if unchanged, would lead to the creation of a Devonwall constituency.

The delegation was cross-party and made up of myself on behalf of MK, the Mayor of Saltash Adam Killeya, Liberal Democrat Malcolm Brown who was formerly Cornwall County Council’s ‘expert’ on electoral/boundary reviews, the Vice-Chair of the Cornwall Labour Party Jen Forbes and Independent Cornwall Councillor Bert Biscoe.

The meeting was chaired by Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert. Also present were Conservative MP Sheryll Murray and Liberal Democrat MPs Dan Rogerson and Andrew George.

The thirty-minute meeting started with a summary of the Bill from Nick Clegg. This included his assertion about the importance of democratic reforms, the fairness of equal-sized constituencies and the difficulty of making exceptions on constituency size.

The members of the delegation then outlined a number of points in turn. Issues covered included the importance of Cornish integrity, the strength of our identity, Cornwall’s distinct economic profile and the growing wish to take more responsibility for our own future. The cross-party aspect of the campaign was also emphasised, along with the widespread concern of parishes in East Cornwall.

We also pointed out that the Government had already identified two specific constituency exceptions, relating to Scottish Islands, and the Bill stated that the borders of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would not be transgressed. The delegation requested similar treatment for Cornwall.

Mr Clegg responded by questioning whether a cross-Tamar constituency would damage the standing of Cornwall as an entity.

I was allowed to respond on behalf of the group. I pointed out how Cornwall had, for many years, lost out to wider South West arrangements, that we welcomed how the new Government is pushing back the SW quango state and gave the example that Cornwall had recently submitted a bid for a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. The point was made that a Devonwall seat would undermine these developments.

Dan Rogerson MP used the opportunity to talk about the view of many people that Cornwall is a nation. He spoke very well and Nick Clegg acknowledged the sentiments raised. He added that, for the purposes of the Bill, Cornwall’s status is that of a county, but perhaps there needed to be a debate about Cornwall’s position within the UK. We agreed. He then added however that you “cannot piggy-back such as issue of principle” on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

Sheryll Murray mentioned the 'Duchy.' Andrew George added that Cornwall’s call for constituencies to respect Cornwall’s border was not about isolationism. “We love England so much, we want to protect its border” he said.

I think it is fair to say that we received a fair hearing. Nick Clegg listened to what we had to say, but made no promises and gave no indication that he intended to change his position. He did say that he would inform David Cameron about the meeting and suggested that Cornish representatives also seek a meeting with the PM.

It remains to be seen whether the upper reaches of the Government act on our representations. But some progress is being made. Amendments to protect Cornwall’s border have been tabled by representatives of all three main parties, namely Andrew George (Lib Dem), Sheryll Murray (Conservative) and Harriet Harman/Peter Hain/Jack Straw (Labour).

Thursday, 9 September 2010

SITA / Eco-bos / Eden Greenwash

On the 2nd August, I blogged about the most recent days at the Public Inquiry into the incinerator proposed for St Dennis. I focussed on the fact that SITA were claiming the proposed eco-town developments at Drinnick/Nanpean and Blackpool could potentially take the heat from the incinerator.

This week, the Cornish Guardian featured the links between the eco-town development and its associated company Eco-Bos (74% Orascom, 25% Imerys and 1% Eden Project) and the incinerator on its front page.

In the story, a spokesman for Eco-Bos stated that there was no agreement in place with SITA, but they would not rule out using heat from the incinerator at this time. The Eden Project – described by the Cornish Guardian as “a leading light in sustainable resources, and at the forefront of eco-friendly ideas” – meanwhile stated it “was not against incineration per se.”

The eco-town developers and the Eden Project spend a lot of time trumpeting their “Green” credentials, but this can be considered little more than “Greenwash” if they are happy to associate themselves with a 240,000 tonne incinerator.

It is certainly not sustainable or green in any way.

"State of the Region"

I have just finished watching BBC TV's "State of the Region" debate from Plymouth, which featured MPs and councillors from the three main London parties, as well as business people, union representatives and other selected guests.

It was a depressing programme to watch. The mantra was cuts, cuts, cuts ...

Not one politician spoke up for fair taxation, to reduce the extent of the cuts.

Not one politician called for progressive tax increases so that the wealthy would pay their fair share.

And not one politician spoke out against the benefit and other cuts, while no action is being taken to address the largescale tax avoidance and tax evasion that is endemic in modern society.

If MK had been invited to participate, then maybe such comments might actually have got a hearing.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The public sector?

At today’s Full Council, a number of questions were asked about the bid for a Local Enterprise Partnership for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

A 40 page bid document, entitled “Empowering Enterprise” was forwarded to central government for yesterday’s deadline. It states that the LEP would be a “vibrant partnership between businesses, councils, colleges and communities to deliver a stronger local economy with improved employment, skills and quality of life.”

I believe there is a consensus that Cornwall should decide the direction of the Cornish economy, though questions were asked about the democratic accountability of the proposed body.

My own question was about the public sector. It was as follows:

“At the last Full Council, we unanimously backed a motion to lobby for fair funding for Cornwall’s public services. I am therefore disappointed by comments in the LEP bid document about reducing the percentage of people working in the public sector, and “re-balancing the economy” (not my words) towards the private sector. Is this not sending out confused message to central government and isn’t it about time that this Council stood up for workers in the public sector – including our teachers, workers in the NHS and our Council employees delivering vital frontline services?”

I did not really get an appropriate response.

Keep Cornwall Whole

Over the last few days, I have been very active within the new ““Keep Cornwall Whole” group. This has brought together campaigners from across the political spectrum, representatives of community and cultural groups, to oppose the creation of Devonwall constituencies through the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

As has been pointed out many times, the Bill seeks to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. It wants all constituencies to be within 5% of the average constituency size. If the Bill is left unaltered, this would mean that Cornwall would have at least one cross border seat with Devon.

“Keep Cornwall Whole” has sent a submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and it has also written to all 650 MPs, in advance of the Second Reading of the Bill which took place yesterday.

The letter called on them to seek changes to the Bill, which would protect the historic integrity of Cornwall. One section stated that:

“The Bill, if unaltered, would mean that that Cornwall would inevitably have at least one cross border seat with Devon, despite its exceptionally distinct Celtic history and culture, unique geography as a peninsula bounded by the Tamar River, special constitutional position, and a specific economic profile that merits EU Convergence Funding.”

The submission and letter were sent by Adam Killeya, the Mayor of Saltash, with the support of Conservative, Green, Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Mebyon Kernow representatives (myself included).

The Second Reading took place yesterday and I have to say I was very disappointed that the impact of the Bill on Cornwall did not feature more strongly in the debate. I understand, from reading the Hansard record of the debate that 74 MPs put their names down to speak, of whom forty were able to make a contribution.

Of the six Cornish MPs, only George Eustice made a speech. He outlined his opposition to the Alternative Vote and it did not even look like he was going to talk about specific Cornish concerns, until there was a short intervention from Sheryl Murray. It went as follows:

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be extremely unfair to expect one of the Cornish constituencies—his, mine, or one of the others—to cross the historic Tamar border that we already have?

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. Cornwall is a special case. It is not just a normal county—it is a duchy. That is certainly something that should be considered in Committee.

It is disappointing that the opportunity to address Cornish concerns were not tackled, especially when other members were able to focus in some detail on “regional” concerns, such as Andrew Turner MP from the Isle of Wight, and MPs from Scotland and Wales.

What a wasted opportunity!

I assume the three Lib Dem MPs from Cornwall were among the 30-plus MPs who wanted to speak but were not called by the Speaker.

One further MP, Mr Michael McCann (Labour) East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned Cornwall and Trotsky! The contribution stated:

“The Bill includes other measures that would be detrimental to our parliamentary system, including the arbitrary reduction of the number of constituencies and the permanent revolution resulting from the boundary changes before each Parliament. Trotsky would indeed be proud of the Bill on that basis alone. However, just in case anyone develops the mistaken and untrue impression that only Members of the House are concerned, I also have a correspondence with Keep Cornwall Whole, which demonstrates that people outside the House believe that the Bill is wrong and that it should not proceed.”

This morning, Cornwall Council unanimously passed a motion that Members of Parliament should vote to enable Cornwall to be represented by MPs whose constituencies lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall.

Friday, 3 September 2010

A near-miss in Camborne West

I have just been contacted by MK’s team in Camborne with the result of yesterday’s by-election for a seat on Camborne Town Council.

MK’s candidate Paul Jenkin (right) and his agent Stuart Cullimore ran an extremely strong campaign and missed out to the Conservatives by only 27 votes. Paul outpolled Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent candidates. The full result is as follows:

Conservative – 427
Mebyon Kernow – 400
Labour – 222
Liberal Democrat – 150
Independent – 115

I am very proud of the team and the hard work they put in. It is a very positive result for MK. It was achieved in spite of the fact that the Conservatives threw everything they could at the seat – including colour leaflets as well as a certain Mr George Eustice – while Labour put out inaccurate / misleading leaflets that claimed MK was part of the Conservative / Independent administration at County Hall (before accepting that this was a nonsense and stopping the distribution of the offending leaflet).

The result certainly shows that MK is a force to be reckoned with in local government elections in Cornwall and we intend to keeping working hardand we will get more MK councillors elected.