Tuesday, 23 January 2018

My latest monthly report

My latest monthly report will be presented to tonight’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covers the time period: 27th November 2017 – 21st January 2018 and is as follows:

1. Council meetings


During the last two months, I have attended a range of meetings relating to my duties as a Cornwall Councillor.

These included: Economic Growth & Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee (2), plus an informal committee briefing and a preparatory session for an upcoming inquiry into the Council’s approach to parking which I will be involved with; a briefing to a joint meeting of the Customer & Support Services Overview & Scrutiny Committees; China Clay Area Network meeting and an associated meeting of Cornwall Councillors from Clay Country; a pre-agenda session for the next meeting of Full Council; a Group Leaders’ meeting and a one-to-one session with the Chief Executive. As one of the Group Leaders on the unitary authority, I was interviewed as part of Corporate Peer Review, and also for an ongoing review into the future direction of CORMAC.

I am the vice-chairman of the Electoral Review Panel and I have spent a significant amount of time in recent weeks involved with the work to prepare a scheme of 87 divisions for the next round of elections to the unitary authority. This has included two formal panel meetings, three informal panel meetings and four preparatory meetings, plus public meetings in Helston, Launceston, Penzance, and Truro.

In the same period, as well as a number of informal meetings with council officers and others, I attended three meetings of St Enoder Parish Council.

2. Visit to ONS consultation in London

On Wednesday 13th December, I represented Cornwall Council at a consultation event in London organised by the Office of National Statistics about the content of the 2021 census. I was there to make the case for a Cornish tickbox and, later in the same week, I did an interview with the Daily Politics to publicise the arguments I made at the consultation event.

3. Other meetings and activities

I have attended meetings of ClayTAWC (2) (where I am Chairman), the South and East Cornwall Local Action Group and the St Austell Bay Economic Forum.

4. Planning matters

The owners of the biogas plant at Higher Fraddon have appealed against the non-determination of a planning application to increase the number of LGVs visiting the site and the unitary authority’s refusal (via the discharge of a condition) to sanction the owner’s broader and less-restrictive description of HGVs able to access the plant.

The appeals will be decided through an informal hearing, which will take place at Roche Victory Hall on 7th February. I have also met with some residents to advise them about the upcoming hearing.

I can also confirm that the pig farm has submitted an application to change a condition on their consent, so that they would not have to retrofit biofilters into three of the existing pig buildings.

In addition, I am presently working on the Parish Council’s statement for the appeal into the proposal for a traveller site near Toldish. I have also met with a number of residents from the Toldish / Kelliers / Hanover Parc area to advise them about how they can make representations.

This appeal will also be decided at an informal hearing, which will take place at Fraddon Village Hall on 14th March.

5. Highway matters

In my last monthly report, I stated that, this month, I would report in more detail about a host of highway issues. Unfortunately, that has not proved possible and I am in the process of arranged a meeting with local CORMAC staff.

In addition, during the recent bad weather, I made a number of trips around the Parish to record areas of flooding and I have reported this to CORMAC and I am following up at the moment. Examples of flooding that I have reported include the road near Melbur, the roundabout at Penhale, St Austell Street into Summercourt and Trefullock, as well as some blocked drains and leaking manholes.

6. Police and Crime Commissioner

At the Clay Network meeting on 12th December 2017, representatives of the Devon and Cornwall Police were present and we raised concerns about a number of issues including the threats to local PCSOs. I can confirm that the actual Commissioner will be present at the next meeting on 12th February.

7. Electoral Review Panel

In terms of work of this Panel noted above, I can confirm that the emerging proposal for our area is a seat which would incorporate the whole of St Enoder Parish and the village of St Dennis.

8. Inquiries

During the couple of months, I have also helped numerous people with guidance on a vast array of issues.

Some thoughts on Carillion, PFI and more


My article in tomorrow’s Cornish Guardian focuses on the involvement of large private companies, such as Carillion, in public sector projects. It will be as follows:

The collapse of the large construction company Carillion has shown how involving large private companies in the delivery of public services can be disastrous.

It has also focused attention on Private Finance Initiative (PFI) deals, through which the UK Government has outsourced large projects to private firms.

Through such arrangements, investors – increasingly described by newspaper journalists as “fat cats” – have raked many millions of pounds in profits, while senior employees have reaped a small fortune in bonuses. It is indeed shocking that Carillion’s former Chief Executive received £1.5 million in salary and perks in 2016 alone, before exiting the company which he left in a downward spiral.

I have never been a supporter of PFI, which was launched by John Major’s Conservative Government but taken on with great enthusiasm by Labour under Tony Blair.

The reality is that PFI projects are very different from traditional approaches to investment, where central or local government own the assets and full take responsibility for the works – although obviously private companies are often hired as contractors.

PFIs, by contrast, “are paid for upfront by groups of private investors, who take on the risks of construction. The government pays later, in the form of annual payments called ‘unitary charges.’ These cover the costs of the services being delivered, plus the costs of interest and repayment of the debt” (source: fullfact.org).

Time and time again, PFI has been shown as a ridiculously expensive way to deliver public sector projects, while the collapse of Carillion has left many important projects – such as the construction of two hospitals in England – in doubt. In addition, thousands of ordinary workers are facing the loss of their jobs, while a large number of small companies may not get paid for their products and services.

It is also the case that are some startling examples of large private, profit-driven, companies are using their economic muscle against the public interest.

It has recently been reported that Virgin and Stagecoach are threatening to “walk away” from their franchise to run trains along the East Coast unless the UK Government “waives up to £2 billion of contract payments.”

It is also the case that, last year, Virgin Care won NHS contracts worth £1 billion, but still had the nerve to sue six clinical commissioning groups in Surrey, plus NHS England and Surrey County Council, because it failed to win a £82 million contract which instead went to a local NHS trust and two social enterprises.

It is my view that the “public” ethos of our public services must survive and the UK Government must use its legislative authority to “take back control” from powerful private sector interests.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Conservative MPs back Cornish tickbox campaign


I am pleased that Cornwall’s Conservative MPs are supporting Cornwall Council’s campaign for a Cornish tickbox on the 2021 census.

Steve Double MP and Scott Mann MP have both submitted written questions on this matter.

This follows a significant amount of work being done by the unitary authority, and my pre-Christmas visit to London for the Office of National Statistics’ Population and Public Policy Forum. I produced a detailed follow-up report from this for a meeting, which took place about ten days ago, between Cornish MPs and the leadership of Cornwall Council. I am grateful that the report was well-received and the importance of Cornwall Council’s campaign was both acknowledged and supported.

For an update on the written questions, see:

https://www.stevedouble.org.uk/news/steve-double-mp-raises-cornish-minority-census-tick-box-parliament

The full written response to Steve Double's came from the UK Statistics Authority, via the Minister. It was as follows:

“As National Statistician and Chief Executive of the UK Statistics Authority, I am replying to your Parliamentary Question asking whether an assessment has been made of the potential merits of adding a tick-box for Cornish nationality in the 2021 Census (122621). We intend to recommend the inclusion of a question on national identity in the 2021 Census, along with questions for country of birth and passports held.

“National identity is a self-determined assessment of an individual's own identity with respect to the country or countries with which they feel an affiliation. This assessment of identity is not dependent on legal nationality or ethnic group.

“The national identity question included six tick box responses - one for each of the four parts of the UK (English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish), one for British, and one for “Other”. Where a person ticked “Other” they were asked to write in the name of the country. The respondent is free to fill this in as they identify themselves.

“The Office for National Statistics has had discussions with representatives from Cornwall in 2017 (including a meeting with Cornwall Council in August 2017) and is currently considering extra evidence, supplied by Cornwall Council, to support a Cornish tick-box in the ethnicity question. This evidence will supplement the information gathered in the 2021 Census topic consultation and from the recent Population and Public Policy Forum hosted by ONS, and help us finalise our overall assessment. This will in turn inform the 2021 Census White Paper, planned for later in 2018.”

MUCH MORE CAMPAIGNING STILL TO DO.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Councillor Spencer Wilding joins MK


At tonight’s meeting of Mebyon Kernow’s St Austell and Newquay Constituency Party, I was very pleased to welcome a new member to the Party for Cornwall.

Spencer Wilding is already a town councillor in Newquay and is now MK’s first-ever councillor in the town.

He is pictured above left with Cllr Michael Bunney, Chairman of the Constituency Party.

Welcome to MK, Spencer. 

We are really looking forward to working with you.  

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

We need to reinvigorate opposition to Devonwall again


Today, I have been in an all-day meeting of the Electoral Review Panel at New County Hall, which is coming up with proposals to reduce the number of Cornwall Councillors from 123 to 87 – something the majority of councillors opposed.

Feeling battered by having to work through this assault on Cornwall's local democracy, and have got home to see media reports stating that the Democratic Unionist Party may drop its opposition to parliamentary boundary review, after massive changes to the nature of proposed seats in Northern Ireland.

It is all frankly unbelievable and we can have no trust in the whole process. It is hardly surprising that a large number of people are already condemning the process in Northern Ireland as gerrymandering.

Does this mean that the changes might now actually get through parliament? It certainly means that we need to reinvigorate our opposition to the Devonwall seat.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Next MK meeting in St Austell & Newquay Constituency


The next meeting for Mebyon Kernow members in the St Austell & Newquay Constituency has been arranged to take place this Friday (19th January).

The meeting will take place at ClayTAWC in St Dennis and start at 7.30.

It is the first branch meeting of 2018 and we will planning our approach to numerous campaigns and activities.

Anyone from the St Austell & Newquay Constituency, who would be interested in attending the meeting and / or finding out more about MK and its local campaigns, can call me on 07791 876607 or email dickcole@btinternet.com.

Claims of landmark change in our democracy are far-fetched

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at the Minister for the Constitution’s claim that he is pushing for “landmark change” for the UK’s democracy. It is as follows:

The Cornish Guardian has, on numerous occasions, reported on the parliamentary boundary review, through which the Conservative Government is seeking to reduce the number of MPs to 600 and redraw the political map of the United Kingdom.

Here in Cornwall, there has been massive opposition to the changes which would breach the territorial integrity of our Celtic land and lead to the creation of an unpopular cross-Tamar Devonwall seat.

There have been many reports that Theresa May intends to scrap the whole process but, at the end of last year, the Minister for the Constitution Chris Skidmore published an article in the Daily Telegraph.

In it, he criticised opponents of the Boundary Review, who he described as political opportunists attempting to gerrymander the UK’s parliamentary seats and “taint” future elections.

It was all a bit over-the-top, and the newspaper itself chimed in by stating that the present system was “slanted in favour of the Labour Party.” They went further and claimed that the previous “thwarted” boundary reforms, if enacted, would have given the Tories an overall majority.

The reality is that in the 2017 General Election, the Conservative Party won 42.4% of the popular vote but managed to secure 48.9% of the seats. Labour meanwhile polled 40% of the votes and returned 40.3% of the MPs in the new House of Commons.

It is simply unbelievable that certain Tory politicians and their cheerleaders consider it appropriate that a vote-share of 42.4% should give them the right to a majority of seats in Westminster and control of the UK Government.

It is also a reality that in many parts of the United Kingdom, the Conservatives dominate politics on a minority of the vote. Here in Cornwall, they won all six constituencies in 2017 but 52% of local residents – a majority – voted for other political parties.

In his article, Mr Skidmore even claimed he is pushing for “landmark change,” which I find extremely hard to believe. His party’s reforms are focussed on securing political advantage – not making the United Kingdom a more democratic society.

After all, Mr Skidmore and his allies all voted for the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but ignored it when they thought they were in the political ascendancy and cynically engineered last year’s snap General Election.

If Mr Skidmore is really committed to “landmark change,” there is much he can do. How about starting with an end to the unelected House of Lords, proportional representation in parliamentary elections, a National Assembly for Cornwall, a reduction in the number of undemocratic quangos of unelected appointees, fair funding for local councils and an end to cuts in the number of local councillors?

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

NHS needs better funding deal!

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian looks at the crisis in the National Health Service. It is as follows:

Last winter, the Royal College of Emergency Medicine publicised its concerns that “emergency care in the NHS” was at “crisis point.” At the same time, the Chief Executive of the British Red Cross claimed that the NHS was facing a “humanitarian crisis.”

Twelve months on, the situation has worsened. One headline figure being quoting in many newspapers is that a total of 55,000 “non-urgent” operations are likely to be postponed to help the NHS cope with increasing demands and winter pressures, which presently include an upsurge in sickness linked to the flu virus.

Much has been made of the fact that the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister have publicly apologised to those patients who have had their operations cancelled but, it is notable, they failed to address the depth of problems facing the National Health Service.

Interviewed on the BBC at the weekend, Theresa May continued to claim that hospitals were better prepared than ever before, and winter pressures have to be dealt with each and every year.

Sadly, there was no acknowledgement that there is a significant “mismatch between demand for services and funding.”

An independent charity, known as the “The King’s Fund,” recently detailed how the demand for health care is rising. It has reported: “The population is increasing; more people are living longer, often with multiple long-term conditions; and technological advances mean that new treatments are available. As a result, health services are treating more people than ever before.”

It is accurate to state that the health budget will increase by an average of 1.1 per cent a year between 2009/10 and 2020/21, but the cost of treatments are rising and hospital admissions have been going up, year on year, by nearly 4%.

It is therefore not surprising that “The King’s Fund” and other organisations have declared that the NHS is “enduring the most prolonged funding squeeze in its history.”

Likewise, the British Medical Association has stated that: “Each winter the pressure on the NHS worsens, and politicians are not taking the long-term view needed to ensure the NHS can keep up with rising demand.”

In this context of underfunding from central government, reforms are being promoted which local campaigners, especially here in Cornwall, are right to be worried about.

The Sustainability and Transformation Plan for the local NHS does not solve, but reinforces, historic financial problems; the possible centralisation of radiotherapy provision from Cornwall into Devon would make it harder and harder for Cornish families to access vital health services; and there have even been claims that some community hospitals could be downgraded.

A massive change in approach is needed at Westminster and, in the first instance, that means increased funding for health and social care.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

2018 – Groundhog Day?


In my article in today’s Cornish Guardian, I look ahead to 2018.

It is as follows:

When I was considering the content of my columns for the Cornish Guardian over the Christmas and New Year period, the editor suggested that I might look back over 2017 and “do a bit of a retrospective.”

It has certainly been an eventful year with council elections, a General Election and a great deal of political upheaval. But most of all, looking back and contrasting then to what is happening now, it all seems a bit “groundhog day.”

Early in 2017, we were digesting the news that Cornwall had the lowest economic performance of any nation in the United Kingdom. And now, twelve months on, the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics tell the same story.

England has a GVA per head of £27,108, which is 102.9% of the UK average, followed by Scotland on £24,800 (94.2%). Doing less well are Northern Ireland and Wales, with GVA figures of £19,997 (75.9%) and £19,140 (72.7%) respectively.

Cornwall (and the Isles of Scilly) trail way behind with a GVA of £17,069 (64.8% of the UK average) and the ONS’s new approach to the statistics only seem to show the gap between Cornwall and the other nations of the UK to be wider.

So much for our call for the Government to tackle the over-centralised nature of the United Kingdom, and to end the inequalities between the various nations and regions of the UK.

Twelve months ago, I was writing about the unfairness of funding settlements for local councils and the irony of Conservative MPs lambasting their own Government for cuts that meant that local councils had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but had “gone through the surface of the bone” and, in some instances, were “sucking out the marrow.”

And yet, it has got worse, and councillors are presently having to consider sizable increases in council tax in an attempt to offset cuts in central government funding.

Twelve months ago, there was massive concern about the National Health Service, the crisis in social care, and the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan which would institutionalise underfunding of £270 million in the Cornish health service.

And now, the stress on the NHS continues to grow and grow, many people are worried about the possible ACO reorganisation of the health service and associated social care, and the issue of underfunding has simply not been addressed.

I could go on and list many more examples where, shamefully, little meaningful progress has been made.

And as we look ahead to 2018, it all shows that political change is desperately needed for Cornwall and the well-being of its citizens. Surely we should all be uniting to make that better deal for Cornwall a reality.