Sunday, 9 December 2018

My view on Question Time in Penzance ...

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian gave my views on the recent visit of Question to Penzance. It was as follows:

Last week, the BBC’s Question Time programme – in which politicians and other public figures are quizzed on topical issues – was in Cornwall.

The programme was broadcast from Mount’s Bay School in Penzance but, disrespectfully, not one of the five panellists came from Cornwall or even had a Cornish connection.

There were three Westminster MPs involved in this most recent episode. Representing the Conservatives was Nadhim Zahawi MP (Stratford-upon-Avon) and Labour’s choice was Rebecca Long-Bailey (Salford and Eccles), while Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) was there for the Liberal Democrats.

The two other panellists were Tim Martin from the Wetherspoon chain of public houses, who I understand lives in Exeter, and the writer Benjamin Zephaniah who presently resides in Lincolnshire.

I don’t think that it would have been too difficult to have some Cornish voices on the programme. Surely, one of Cornwall’s six MPs could have represented the Conservatives and Adam Paynter, the leader of Cornwall Council, could have been the Liberal Democrat’s nominee. I can also think of a number of business people from Cornwall who would have had plenty to say.

The BBC website has a “frequently asked questions” section about Question Time. This includes: “Why doesn’t the panel reflect the region they are in by having local politicians on the panel?” It blandly answers its own question by stating it “is a national programme which must be relevant to audiences across the UK” though it is “broadcast from all round the country to make sure that a broad cross-section of audiences have the chance to take part.”

That claim is crass nonsense. Could you image an episode from Scotland or Wales, without a single representative from those countries? Of course not!

Eight weeks ago, the programme was in Edinburgh and all the panellists had meaningful Scottish connections: Ross Thomson (Conservative MP for Aberdeen South), two members of the Scottish Parliament Kezia Dugdale (Labour) and Mike Russell (Scottish National Party), crime writer Val McDermid from Kirkcaldy and the editor of the Spectator magazine Fraser Nelson, who was actually born in Truro but raised in Nairn.

Likewise, when Question Time was last in Wales, only three weeks ago, the guests included Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts and the general secretary of the Public and Commercial Service Union, Mark Serwotka, who is from Cardiff.

It is my view that the BBC should apologise for the total exclusion of local political voices from the recent Penzance show and give guarantees that, in the future, it will treat Cornwall with the same respect as the other Celtic parts of the United Kingdom.

My latest report to St Enoder Parish Council

At the end of November, I presented my most recent monthly report to a meeting of St Enoder Parish Council. It covered the time period 22nd October – 27th November 2018 and was as follows:

1. Council meetings and related activities

I attended a number of formal meetings at Cornwall Council, which included the Economic Growth and Development Overview and Scrutiny Committee (and an associated workshop on the Cornwall Local Plan), Central Planning Committee, the working group on national minority status, and an informal meeting about the work programme for the Electoral Review Panel. In addition, I attended the annual Conference of the County Councils Network at Guildford.

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

2. Other meetings and activities

I also attended meetings of the Leader Local Action Group for South and East Cornwall, the Community-led Local Development Local Action Group for South and East Cornwall (Vice-chairman) and I helped out at the 41st annual show of the Indian Queens Cage Bird Society.

3. First World War project

It would be an understatement to say that, for me, the last few weeks have been dominated by my involvement with the Parish Council project to commemorate the First World War.

I am very pleased and somewhat relieved to be able to report that the book, principally about the 73 local men who lost their lives in the conflict, has just come back from the printers.

The replica of the Roll of Honour (previously on display in the Indian Queens Methodist Church, but which has been lodged with the Cornwall Record Office for safekeeping) was rededicated in a poignant service on 28th 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. At the service, nine silhouette figures from the “There But Not There” commemoration scheme were on display to symbolically remember the fallen. 

My wife and I also helped with the service at St Enoder Church on 11th November, when the silhouette figures were also on display, interspersed with the congregation. I also had the privilege of reading out the names of the fallen at the war memorial.

On the afternoon of the same day, I worked with parish councillors David Hearl and Peter Cocks on the commemorative bonfire on Pines Tip which was also memorable. But partly, this was because the wood was delivered to the wrong location, we had a belated struggle to get the bonfire built in the correct place, and then it took an hour for the bonfire to get going – thanks to the skills of Gary Sibley.

Classes at Indian Queens Primary School studied the conflict in the period leading up to Remembrance Day. This included looking at the lives of a number of local men and they used material from the forthcoming book. On 12th November, I was pleased to host four classes (totalling 105 children) at the Methodist Chapel. They viewed the Roll of Honour and discussed the men from the congregation that they had been studying.

I also gave three talks about the fallen servicemen at Fraddon Village Hall, Indian Queens Victory Hall and Summercourt New Memorial Hall, where new boards were unveiled which list the 73 men associated with our area who lost their lives between 1914 and 1918.

In addition, a memorial plaque has been produced for the Bandroom at Indian Queens which names the four bandsmen who did not return from the First World War. Two were from Queens Band and two were from Summercourt Band. When Indian Queens Band played in the Remembrance Service at St Columb Church on 11th November, they had four of the silhouettes on display to remember the fallen bandsmen.

4. Thomas Playing Field

Since works started on the new play equipment at the Thomas Playing Field, I have been helping the Parish Clerk, Amanda Kendall, and Cllr Mark Kessell to liaise with the installers of the new equipment.

It has been extremely frustrating and, eleven weeks after works commenced, the Thomas Playing Field has still not reopened. An independent check on the equipment has been carried out and this has identified a number of things which still need to be done. We will report in more detail at Tuesday’s meeting.

Turf also needs to be laid over the muddy areas in advance of the Field being re-opened, and hopefully we can get this sorted in the next couple of weeks.

5. Traffic issues

In my last monthly report, I promised to have an update on the range of key traffic matters that I am dealing with. I had a meeting with Rachel Tatlow (Cormac) on Monday (26th November).

- Surfacing works

The following surfacing works are timetabled for the next few months:

- Trevarren – end of January 2019
- A392 (near junctions with Atlantic Reach, Tresithney and Trugo) – early February 2019
- A3076 (from Mitchell and past Gummows Shop, which is partially along the St Enoder Parish boundary) – early February 2019

Other works have also been agreed to be carried out in 2019-2020:

- Carnego Lane from Summercourt to Resurrance
- Toldish
- Watery Lane near Black Cross
- B3275 near Melbur Blockworks
- Goonabarn to St Austell St, Summercourt
- Trefullock Moor.
- Carworgie Way and Halloon Avenue, St Columb Road
- Pocohontas Crescent and Princess Park, Indian Queens

- Community Network funding

I informed Ms Tatlow that the Parish Council is keen to use the funding scheme to purchase a mobile speed camera, and she will be providing me with additional information about running costs, maintenance, etc.

In addition, I raised concerns about the need for a “feasibility study” costing £7,000 for any calming works outside Summercourt School. A meeting is being held next week to consider these issues.

- Flooding on A3058 south of Summercourt

Flooding on this section of highway is an ongoing problem and, earlier this year, improvements were made to the drainage system (taking water off the road) near Nanpean Farm.

I have raised concerns that this section of road was still badly flooded on 9th November, and there are also still problems near the bus depot which I am continuing to follow up.

- Gaverigan Farm

Cornwall Council has agreed to carry out improvements at the entrance to Gaverigan Farm which is regularly flooded. These works will be done in January 2019.

- Gritting routes

Ms Tatlow and I have been making representations about the main routes for gritting during winter periods. We have not made as much progress as we would have liked but I can report that, in the new winter service plan, the road through Fraddon and Indian Queens to the Indian Queens Industrial Estate has been added to the primary gritting routes.

- Church Lane

On 9th November, Cllr David Hearl, the Parish Clerk and Parish handyman put dye down the road drain system on Pocohontas Crescent and the top end of St Francis Road, and found that all the water is going into the ditch in Church Lane.

The ditch is being worn away and I have visited the site with Ms Tatlow and she has acknowledged that CORMAC need to take some responsibility for damage, etc. She has promised to look into this and come back to me.

- Other issues

I also raised a wide range of issues with Ms Tatlow, a number of which had been raised by local residents:

- Speeding traffic in a number of locations, including near Sea View on the B3275
- Safety issues at a number of locations including Toldish and the school drop-off point on the Drang.
- Traffic management plan for Indian Queens School agreed as part of the planning consent for additional classrooms (which I am also following up with the Education team at County Hall).
- Request for lining at western entry-point into Indian Queens to be re-painted.

- Double yellow lines

In addition, I am continuing to request that faded double yellow lines are repainted. 

6. Anti-social behaviour

In St Enoder Parish, we are very fortunate that the vast majority of young people are responsible and well-behaved. Sadly, I have received numerous complaints about a small number of children who are behaving very inconsiderately. This has included misbehaviour around the Bandroom and they also disrupted a meeting of a Local Action Group that I was chairing at the Indian Queens Victory Hall. I am making representations about what can be done.

7. Housing needs survey

Last Thursday, I was informed that Cornwall Council will be carrying out a housing needs survey across St Enoder Parish. It has been commissioned by a house-building firm. Letters will be going out this week to all households publicising an on-line survey.

I was not told until the survey was ready to go out. I have raised concerns about what has happened and senior officers have already apologised to me. I will update with further information at Tuesday’s meeting.

8. County Councils Network

I was part of the delegation to the annual Conference of the County Councils Network at Guildford. This allowed me to listen to two Government Ministers, opposition spokespeople and numerous prominent representatives from the local government sector.

At the event, I made a representation about the levels of government funding for Cornwall in a post-Brexit world.

9. Electoral Review Panel

I have been the vice-chairman of the Electoral Review Panel at Cornwall Council, and we have been working on representations to the Local Government Boundary Commission (LGBCE) about the boundaries for Cornwall Council divisions at the 2021 elections. The final decision from the LGBCE will be published on 4th December.

The Electoral Review Panel is now being refashioned to deal with an upcoming review of parish boundaries, though this will only focus on where there are requests for changes.

10. Inquiries

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

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].