Thursday, 21 April 2011

Disheartened of Fraddon / Indian Queens

This morning, I started my day by visiting the Fraddon Millennium Green to pick up glass. I am a trustee at the Green and received a call from a friend who kindly let me know that someone had smashed a bottle over some of the children’s play equipment.

I then went to do some casework in my Parish, before visiting Indian Queens Recreation Ground, where we have just spent over £65,000 to create a skate board area and build a Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA).

I was very disappointed to find that someone had had a barbecue the previous evening and dumped their cinders on the tarmac around the skateboard ramps. Someone had also tried to start fires next to the equipment. There was also some graffiti, turf around the MUGA had been disturbed and there was also a lot of rubbish lying around.

Being a councillor means being in a position to help deliver new facilities for your local community. And I am very proud to have been able to access grants for the new equipment in the Recreation Ground, but sometimes it is disheartening when a minority do not respect what has been provided.

I am pictured above with Anita, my local PCSO, assessing the fire damage at Indian Queens.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

News on police stations

Yesterday, it was announced that “as of Monday 16th May 2011, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary will reduce the number of police stations with enquiry offices open to the public from 57 to 21.”

It also states that “no police stations are being closed. Police officers and police community support officers will continue to work from stations where the enquiry office has been withdrawn … members of the public attending a police station where there is no enquiry office, or the enquiry office is closed, will be able to use an external free phone. They will be able to speak to a call handler who will assess what assistance is required and arrange for police attendance or provide suitable advice as appropriate.”

The new opening hours for police station enquiry offices that have been announced are as follows:

Three principal sites - open daily 0800-2200hrs (including Bank Holidays): Charles Cross in Plymouth; Exeter; Torquay.

18 non-principal sites – open Tuesday – Friday 1000-1900hrs (closed for lunch 1400-1500hrs) and Saturday 0900-1400hrs: Barnstaple, Bodmin, Bude, Camborne, Crownhill, Exmouth, Falmouth, Honiton, Launceston, Liskeard, Newquay, Newton Abbot, Okehampton, Penzance, St Austell, Tiverton.

This seems pretty inequitable to me. All the principal sites are in Devon, while in Cornwall there will be no police stations with enquiry offices open on Mondays or Sundays. How can this work?

Monday, 18 April 2011

Local vandalism

I have not blogged for a couple of weeks. But I have admonished myself and off we go again.

In recent months, I have worked to help raise monies to improve play facilities in my local Parish, including at the Fraddon Millennium Green where I am a trustee. At this location. it included new seats for parents in the play area, one of which was recently smashed up by vandals. They also attempted to do other damage.

My anger at this formed the centrepiece for my recent column in the Cornish Guardian, which also featured my concern at cuts to police budgets. The article, which appeared last week, was as follows:

The Home Secretary Theresa May and the Police Minister Nick Herbert have stated that the number of frontline police officers need not be reduced – even though the Government is chopping £2 billion from police budgets.

As a long-standing critic of the depth and severity of the cuts, I simply do not accept their claims.

The “Devon and Cornwall” Police Force faces a massive cut of £47 million over the next four years and Chief Constable Stephen Otter has announced that the cuts will lead to the loss of some 700 police officers and up to 500 other staff members.

I hold local Police Officers and Police Community Support Officers in very high esteem. The job they do in our local communities is extremely important and should be protected, but I am fearful that the service could be undermined by the cuts.

Here in Cornwall, we experience lower levels of criminal activity than in many places throughout the UK and I consider it fortunate that, in my home parish, there is little criminal activity.

But like all communities, we do experience anti-social behaviour and vandalism. And the work of the Police in combatting such activities is something that I, as a local councillor, have always been extremely grateful for.

I am one of the trustees of the Fraddon Millennium Green and last year we spent £10,000 on improvements. This included erecting new metal fencing around the play area and replacing netting that had regularly been vandalised, the refurbushment of some play equipment and two new wooden seats for parents to use when in the park.

I was therefore extremely saddened, last week, when I had a phonecall which informed that me that one of the seats had been smashed up and the waste bin damaged. Closer examination of one piece of play equipment also showed repeated attempts to set it on fire.

I am pleased to be able to report that the Police are already investigating and making regular visits to the Millennium Green to monitor activities.

It is my hope that the Government will not allow their cuts to prevent such vital work from taking place and, when necessary, will support the local Police with further funding.

We have active and engaged police officers and PCSOs at the heart of our communities. It needs to stay that way and no politician should seek to damage what is working.

Friday, 1 April 2011

My view on AV

On Thursday 5th May, there will be a referendum on a new voting system for parliamentary elections and I will be voting YES.

The proposal means that instead of placing a single cross on the ballot paper, the Alternative Vote (AV) would allow electors to rank candidates (1, 2, 3 …) in order of preference. If no candidate achieves 50% of preferences on the first count, the other preferences of losing candidates are taken into account.

Like many people, I am extremely angry at the manner in which the Government has linked the provision of this referendum to a reduction in the number of constituencies, which will lead to at least one cross-Tamar Devonwall constituency. I know of people who may vote No as a protest against the Government because of this. But I hope they do not because, whatever happens on 5th May, there will be a Devonwall seat at the 2015 General Election, unless there is a Government u-turn.

I say this because it is my strong view that the present First Past the Post system does not work as part of a 21st century democracy. I fully support a more proportional voting system (PR) and recognise that AV is not PR, but I do see this reform as a step in the right direction. At the present time across the UK, the vast majority of parliamentary constituencies are safe seats and the main political parties pour disproportionate resources into a small number of marginal seats.

Taking the St Austell and Newquay seat as an example, in the four months leading up to Polling Day last year, the Liberal Democrats spent £33,852 and the Conservatives £40,968 (figures from returns to the Electoral Commission). This was on top of the tens of thousands of pounds spent by both parties in the preceding two years.

By contrast, in the perceived “safe” Labour-held seats of Wolverhampton SE and Islwyn in South Wales, the Tories spent £3,785 and £923 respectively. In the same seats, the Liberal Democrats only spent £370 and £589. I do not think that this disparity in spending and associated campaign activity is healthy for a democracy.

Politics is also becoming increasingly pluralistic with more and more political parties entering the fray, but the electoral system has not caught up. In modern parliamentary contests, as I know from experience, great pressure is brought to bear on people to vote tactically to stop certain political parties from winning. I feel that this distorts political debate and often derails serious consideration of the issues that really matter to communities throughout the UK. AV will eliminate tactical voting, allowing voters to always support their first-choice candidate.

I think this is right – people should be encouraged to vote positively for the party or the person they believe in. I believe that this represents positive reform and progress, and I hope that you will also consider voting YES in the referendum in a month’s time.

A new national symbol for Cornwall - updated: yes it is the first of April

The St Austell Voice has this week carried a story, about a new black and white daffodil that has been created, in which I have been quoted. For those of you who haven’t seen it, the story is reprinted below:

A Swedish horticulturalist working at the Eden Project has created the world’s first black and white daffodil. The new variety was, according to the specialist in selective breeding at the Eden Project, inspired by the flag of St Piran.

The new variety has been named Narcissus Kernowvii. Scientists will register and verify the variant as a unique strain this Friday.

Doctor Inga Johansson from Stockholm said that the colour variant could only have happened at Eden: “The conditions here are absolutely perfect, many people over the years have created variants on the traditional yellow, or yellow or white, but despite numerous attempts black and white has always remained elusive.”

Doctor Johansson was keeping tight-lipped over how she succeeded in growing the monochromatic hybrid but her discovery has been met with enthusiastic support from Cornish politicians.

Cornwall Councillor and leader of Mebyon Kernow Dick Cole was delighted that a flower had been created for the county and suggested that the flower could become the new Cornish emblem. Cllr Cole said: “This is fabulous news for Cornwall and well done to Eden. If it is verified later this week as a unique variant I shall be actively canvassing my members to embrace it as the new county emblem instead of the Chough, which I believe has had its day.”