Monday, 27 February 2012

Waste campaigners are back in Court

At 10.30 today, campaigners against the incinerator planed for St Dennis are back in the High Court.

Eric Pickles, the man who gave the go-ahead to incineration without even bothering to read the biased inspector’s report, is challenging the decision of the High Court to quash the planning consent in October.

The case is being heard in Court 72, before Lady Justice Arden, Lord Justice Carnwath and Lord Justice Moore-Bick.

Let us hope that justice will be done. I will blog again when I have more news.


I am afraid that the local community now has to wait. The Court did not give a ruling on the day, but reserved its decision. It is understood that the decision will be posted online within a month of the date of the hearing.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Banks, bonuses and hypocrisy

82% of the Royal Bank of Scotland is owned by the state, following the £45.5 billion bailout in 2008. For the fourth year running, the bank has reported financial losses. For 2011, the loss totalled £2 billion, up from a loss of £1.1bn in 2010.

Part of the reason for the loss was that RBS had to set aside £850m to compensate people who were mis-sold payment protection insurance.

And the bank has also announced that its investment bankers will share a bonus pool of £390m, which they are attempting to justify by stating it is “less than half the amount awarded last year.”

It seems to me that senior and investment bankers are still living in an unsustainable bubble, and are continuing to profit while the majority of people are suffering swingeing cuts.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

More action needed on tax avoidance and tax evasion

In my column in the Cornish Guardian this week, I have addressed the failure of the Government to live up to its promise to take action to stop certain wealthy people and corporations not paying thier fair share of tax. It is as follows:

In the United Kingdom, the “tax gap” is currently estimated to stand at £120 billion. This represents the difference between the amount of revenue that would have been collected if all taxpayers paid their correct amount of tax and the total actually received by the Treasury.

It is a disgrace that a range of billionaires, millionaires and large companies can get away with not paying their fair share of tax. Surely it must be a priority for the Government to reduce the tax gap, so that our vital public services are not starved of adequate funding and ordinary people do not suffer as a consequence.

It is to be welcomed that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have both pledged to do more to tackle tax avoidance (reducing payments by legal means) and tax evasion (illegal non-payment).

The Prime Minister has promised a "tougher approach" towards large firms with "fancy corporate lawyers." His Deputy has made a similar comment, saying people were "rightly angered" by a "wealthy elite" who paid "an army of accountants" to avoid tax.

As yet, these fine words do not relate to any meaningful action. The banking giant Goldman Sachs last year brokered a deal with the Government to dodge paying over £10 million in charges, while MPs on the Public Accounts Committee identified a further £25 billion of outstanding tax that has not been paid by a range of big companies.

The PM’s response has been to simply reject the claims of "unduly cosy" relationships between the Government and large corporations.

But perhaps most shocking of all has been the revelation that the Government brokered deals with the head of the Student Loans Company and its own senior staff in the Department of Health, agreeing to pay their salaries direct to limited companies in order to reduce their individual tax bills.

Worryingly, the Government is also failing to properly resource HM Revenue and Customs. It is cutting thousands of jobs and closing offices, and allowing billions in uncollected tax revenues to be written off due to a lack of resources.

It is time that the Prime Minister and his Deputy lived up to their promises to be tough on tax evasion and tax avoidance and to do so much more.

They need to properly fund HM Revenue and Customs, to make tax avoidance illegal, to make the tax and allowance system fairer (for example, ending tax relief on pensions for the mega-rich) and to work with other countries to introduce a “transaction” tax on financial transactions in the City and to abolish tax havens.

The Cornwall Council budget

Yesterday’s debate on the budget was remarkably muted. The Council voted by 94 votes to twelve to take a one-off grant from Eric Pickles / the Coalition and freeze council rates for one year. There were six absentions.

MK members at the meeting voted against the budget and voted not to accept Pickles’ “bribe” offer.

My statement on behalf of the Mebyon Kernow group was short, as the arguments had been rehearsed at the November Council meeting when a provisional budget was set.

I reaffirmed MK’s criticism of how this Council approaches the setting of its budget, and how there had not been adequate scrutiny of the individual parts of the budget. It remains our view that, in many areas, the budgets are too tight and services under unacceptable pressure.

We did welcome the fact the Cabinet has made some changes, including finding more resources for concessionary fares and, in the short-term, public conveniences. But I expressed our anger that, when similar suggestions had been promoted by non-Cabinet members in recent months, such arguments had been squashed by the administration.

The MK members voted against the so-called “grant” to freeze council tax. This is not because we want to put council tax up for our local residents, but because the so-called “grant” is not a gift.

In fact, it is a cynical ploy. Pickles has slashed funding to local government, and is deliberately stifling our ability to fund local services by, in effect, forcing Councils not to raise council tax this year. This reduces the “base budget” for future years and will also create a massive blackhole for next year, and future years, which could lead to a massive future council tax increase or yet more cuts.

This part of yesterday’s meeting descended into farce, with both the Conservatives trying to claim credit for the freeze, while the report expressed concern at the Council’s ability to balance its finances in future.

It was our view that the “grant” for 2012-2013 represents a false economy – unless, of course, the Government pledges increased funding in future years, to bridge any funding gaps. And that is the message that should have been going to central government.

MK did however welcome the proposed four-year investment programme for housing, which would specifically deliver affordable housing, including council housing, support for the improvement of housing for the vulnerable, including park homes.

We have many questions about the detail of the proposals, and could not reconcile all the targets within the present document; there remains uncertainty about some of the implications, for example, but it is a step forward. It could also have a positive impact on other areas such as the emerging Core Strategy (more comment on this to follow in the future).

Monday, 20 February 2012

Well done to John Gillingham

MK member John Gillingham (see right) has just been co-opted onto Carn Brea Parish Council, where he joins fellow party members Chris Lawrence, John Rowe and David Tellam.

John is dedicated campaigner for a better deal for Cornwall and I know he has a great future ahead of him.

Congratulations John.

Dikas Kolas … Kola agent Dick

MK continues to generate column inches all over the World. One recent article, which I feel I must bring to the attention of everyone, was printed in Lithuania. I was renamed Dikas Kolas, while a google translation redefined my renaming as Kola agent Dick.

The original article can be found at:

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

No to Health and Social Care Bill

In this week's Cornish Guardian, my column focusses on the Government's disastrous Health Bill. It is as follows:

During the General Election, David Cameron claimed he was defending the “NHS from Labour’s cuts and reorganisations.” In his Party’s manifesto, he pledged to “increase health spending every year.”

The Conservative Party also promised there would be no top-down reorganisation of the National Health Service.

But since May 2010, the number of nurses working in the NHS has been reduced by 3,500, while the Royal College of Nursing and others fear the loss of another 2,500 to 5,000 nursing jobs. And recently thousands took to the streets in Penzance to protest at cuts to West Cornwall Hospital.

The Government has set out a commitment to cut £20 billion from health funding by 2014. It is also attempting to push through a major reorganisation of the NHS, with its increasingly unpopular Health and Social Care Bill.

Measures within the Bill include the abolition of Primary Care Trusts and Strategic Health Authorities, and their replacement with over 270 clinical / GP commissioning groups. It also includes measures to force greater competition into the provision of healthcare, further privatising the NHS, by opening up a free-for-all for private companies or “any qualified provider.”

Opposition is unprecedented. It comes from nurses, midwives, GPs, doctors and, last week, even extended to three Cabinet Ministers who briefed against the changes.

The legislation remains mired in controversy, but the Health Secretary and his team have decided to bypass the democratic process and are already implementing many of the proposed changes. It has also been revealed that some large consultancies have been awarded large contracts to teach “business skills” to GPs.

Unsurprisingly, the Health Service Journal has described the reforms as “unnecessary, poorly conceived, badly communicated … and a dangerous distraction.”

Clare Gerada of the Royal College of GPs has meanwhile stated “there is absolutely no evidence that opening up the health service to multiple private organisations is going to result in anything other than a fragmented, expensive and bureaucratic health service for all of us and one that will be very difficult to sort out.”

Tory MP Sarah Wollaston, a former GP, has condemned the Bill as a “hand grenade thrown into the NHS,” while Lib Dem MP Andrew George has stated “the fact is that we run the risk of creating a health service which is driven more by private profit than by concern for patient care.”

Like many people, I share these concerns and I oppose the Bill.

Now must be the time for David Cameron to listen to healthcare professionals, worried patients and the general public, and to scrap the Bill and live up to his election promises.

The sale of St Austell

In last week's Cornish Guardian, I had more to say on the sale of the former Restormel Council offices in St Austell. It was as follows:

It is well-documented that I opposed the creation of Cornwall’s unitary authority. And I have seen nothing, since then, to suggest that I was wrong to take that view.

I still despair at the take-over of the six district councils by the County Council and the subsequent birth of the highly politicised and ever more centralising Cornwall Council.

As a member of the new Council, I have consistently argued that it should maintain a strong presence in key towns such as Penzance, St Austell, Wadebridge and Liskeard, in order to act as a buffer against the Truro-centric nature of the authority.

I was therefore very disappointed when the Council’s ruling Cabinet voted to proceed with the sale of the former Restormel Borough Council offices in St Austell to a property developer, so that another supermarket could be built in the town.

In terms of the land in question, the proposal is to sell off three-quarters of it, to knock down perfectly good offices and use the receipt from the sale of the land to build new council offices.

Various claims are being made to justify the sale.

The Council claims that the new office would accommodate existing staff based in St Austell, while the developer (Terrace Hill Properties Limited) is spouting the nonsense that the decision would secure 450 council jobs.

The reality is that there are already less staff in the town than in 2009 while the proposed new building would be much smaller, crammed into the corner of the present site with less parking and, crucially, no space for future expansion if and when we wanted a stronger council presence in the town.

The Council, which is failing to maintain the present building, also argues that the new building would save the Council money because it would be more efficient to run.

Terrace Hill Properties Limited meanwhile claim that hundreds of new jobs will be created. Where have we heard that before?

It will come as no surprise to anyone that I fundamentally disagree with the decision to sell the land, which I consider to short-sighted and lacking in financial sense.

It is my intention to continue to oppose this sale and to argue for Cornwall Council to have a strategy for its buildings that reflects the needs of the authority and its communities – not the profits of developers and supermarkets.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Labour wants regional government for the north of England

A number of Labour MPs from the North of England have raised their concerns about “the growing economic disparities within England as a result of cuts in public services, abolition of the regional development agencies and the coalition-induced recession,” and set out calls for regional government.

This follows the establishment of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation with the core objective to “stimulate debate on the benefits of directly elected regional government for the north

Such a contribution to the growing debate about the inequality between, and the future governance of, the constituent parts of the United Kingdom is to be welcomed. However, it has to be asked why did Labour fail to deliver decent devolution settlements during their thirteen years in power to places such as Cornwall, and the regions of the England.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

MK on election trail in Bodmin

Mebyon Kernow is standing in the by-election for a seat on Bodmin Town Council (St Mary’s Ward). The election will take place on 1st March.

Our candidate is Paul Ellis, who lives in the Ward and has the experience and skills to be an effective representative for Bodmin. He worked in education for over thirty years as a teacher, the Vice-Principal of a Sixth Form College, and as business manager for a large Community School.

He is a member of both the Bodmin St Piran’s Committee and the Riding Day Committee. He also set up the North West Bodmin Neighbourhood Watch, of which he is the co-ordinator.

Paul is leading opposition to proposals being promoted in the Bodmin Masterplan for the construction of up to 5,000 new properties in Bodmin over the next twenty years, which he rightly describes as “unsustainable over-development.”

Thursday, 2 February 2012

Peter Hain and Labour – ten years late!

The former Labour Government Minister Peter Hain, in a presentation at the London School of Economics, has claimed that Labour’s failure to devolve power to English regions has left a “festering sore.”

Mr Hain is reported as saying: “The English question has never been answered. And I’ve always thought that was a flaw in our approach to devolution and it’s left a kind of festering sore. My view, which fits with my own personal philosophy, is you need to decentralise power within England. England is still a very centralised part of Britain and the abolition of the regional development agencies by the Conservative-Liberal Government [has made it] even more centralised.”

Looking beyond England, he said: “I think the Celtic part of Britain is really important to what Britain is. It’s one of the main reasons why I wouldn’t want Scotland to go independent. I think the Scots would be diminished for it but I think Britain would be diminished for it.

Whatever he says now, I would remind Peter Hain that it was a Labour Government – in which he served as a Minister – that disgracefully ignored 50,000 declarations calling for a Cornish Assembly and then destroyed local government in Cornwall by imposing a unitary authority on us.

Mr Hain, all your fine words are a decade too late and an apology to the people of Cornwall would also be in order.

At this time, there needs to be a mature, respectful and wide-ranging debate about the future of the United Kingdom, and how it is governed. Government needs to address the unequal constitutional relationships between the various nations and regions of the UK, and to tackle the centralising influence of London and the South East of England.

And Mr Hain, will you be there with me making the case for the meaningful devolution of political powers to Cornwall?

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Bonuses, benefits and fairness?

My article in today's Cornish Guardian focussed on central government's hypocritical approach to bonuses and benefits. It was as belows:

It is an absolute disgrace that Stephen Hester, the Chief Executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), has been awarded a bonus that is equivalent to the annual income of fifty Cornish workers on an average local wage.

Mr Hester receives an annual salary of £1.2 million with numerous other “benefits” for running RBS – 83% of which is owned by the state – while his bonus in share options has been estimated to be worth £963,000.

Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg have rightly been accused of a “disgraceful failure of leadership” for refusing to stop the payment of this near-million pound bonus and refusing to live up to their recent rhetoric against crony capitalism, big bonuses and executive pay.

The Chancellor George Osborne has even described the award as “unpalatable,” but he has declined to do anything about it.

I share the view of the vast majority that it is immoral for the super-rich to receive such extra payments. And this is especially so, when ordinary working people continue to face pay cuts or wage restraint, and suffer increasing job insecurity and a massive squeeze on their living standards.

But while the Government is refusing to tackle the bonus culture of the bankers, it is seeking to introduce a cap on benefits paid to poorer households.

It claims this initiative is based on "fairness" and designed to protect those low-paid workers who are paying taxes, but it has actually fostered a debate that has ended up scapegoating families on benefits.

I fully agree it is fundamentally wrong that people can be better off on benefits than in work. But I think that the Government is not addressing this issue in the right manner.

Take housing as an example. Over the last 15 years, the cost of housing has spiralled out of control, and more and more individuals / families are struggling to purchase homes or rent properties in the private sector.

The cost of housing is so high that many working families on low incomes still need housing benefit to help cover the cost of simply keeping a roof over their heads, with the benefit payments in effect going direct to the landlord.

Sadly, the Government is doing nothing to control the price of private sector rents and it is actually forcing Housing Associations to charge more for their rental properties.

The Coalition is dictating that rents of such new properties should be set at 80% of the (extremely inflated) private rents in their immediate locality and this has led to new “affordable” rents in places like St Agnes being over £600 for a three-bed house – much, much more than on nearby estates.

The consequences of such a policy will mean that local people find it even harder to afford housing, and the Government’s bill for housing benefit will inevitably go up.

It makes no sense at all. If the Government was truly committed to fairness, it would act to combat Britain’s bonus shenanigans, instead of increasing the housing costs of the less-well-off.

Following the completion of this article, Mr Hester declined to accept his bonus. But this was because of public pressure and had nothing to do with the Leaders of the Coalition.