Monday 23 November 2009

"Cornish voice"

MK's Party Conference was covered in today's Western Morning News. We even featured in their editorial. For those who have not seen it, what the newspapers printed is repeated below:

"Funny things are going on in the world of politics at the moment. Mainstream media may be relentlessly focussing attention on the three big parties, but disillusionment with MPs in general following the expenses scandal has persuaded many voters to look beyond Labour, Conservative and the Liberal Democrats in search of a more inspiring political creed.

"That has, inevitably, helped some parties at the extreme, but it has also given a new lease of life to some long-established but perhaps unfashionable causes. Mebyon Kernow, the Party for Cornwall, falls into this category. It has been around for ages and has enjoyed a modest but consistent level of support in its heartlands for a number of years.

"But could it be on the cusp of a more significant breakthrough? The creation of a unitary authority for Cornwall cannot have done MK any harm at all. The recent decision, by that very local authority, to replace English road signs in Cornwall with bilingual ones also featuring Cornish marks another move to a Cornwall more aware of its roots.

"At the last elections, for the unitary authority and the European Parliament, MK outpolled Labour. Quite a feat in a county that, until recently, boasted at least one Labour MP. At this weekend’s party conference the emphasis was on building on that success. Could next year’s General Election really put MK on the map?"

Sunday 22 November 2009

MK Party Conference

It has been a restful day. I am taking it easy after a busy week and yesterday's Party Conference.

The AGM went smoothly, there was an inspiring talk on modern campaign techniques from two Plaid Cymru members and the speeches in the afternoon were well received.

Overall it was a very positive day, with many members reporting evidence of growing support across Cornwall. We are certainly looking forward to the General Election .

Shown below are a few photographs of the day (top to bottom); Joanie Willett (PPC for North Cornwall), Cllr John Taylor from Plaid Cymru, Cllr Loic Rich (PPC for Truro and Falmouth) and Cllr Loveday Jenkin (PPC for Camborne and Redruth).

Friday 20 November 2009

Children in Need

Cross-party unity and cross-dressing was the order of the day at County Hall today. Four councillors, one from each of the political groups, joined with staff to raise funds for Children in Need. These 'Gentlemen' are pictured above(from left to right): Scott Mann (Con), Andrew Wallis (Independent), Jeremy Rowe (Liberal Democrat) and the deputy leader of the MK group, Andrew Long.

Don't ask me to describe what happened. All I will say is that it will live long in the memory!

Thursday 19 November 2009

The eco-town is spreading

Lat night, I attended a public meeting at the Keay Theatre in St Austell to find out more about the proposed first phases of the ORASCOM / IMERYS eco-town. There were about 160-180 people present.

The meeting was told that local people would soon be consulted on plans to build 1,800-2,500 properties at Baal/West Carclaze and 700-800 at Par Docks – an increase in housing numbers from those previously suggested.

I took the opportunity to speak and question how the plans were evolving.

The developers continue to state that they have plans for 5,000 homes in the eco-own spread over five sites. But in the original proposals (2008), only one thousand homes were planned for Baal. Earlier this year, that figure was increased to 1,500 properties and now they say they want to build 1,800-2,500 units. The development site has been also been increased in size, taking in some areas of green field.

At Par, the original proposal (2008) was for 250-500 properties, but that has now been increased to 700-800. Originally the site also had six hectares of employment land but on the most recent plans the ‘business park’ had been removed and replaced with more housing.

Local people need to know what the developers are planning for the eco-town as a whole. Do they plan to provide less houses in Blackpool, Bugle and Nanpean? Or do they plan to increase the size of the eco-town overall? What about the employment space?

There are many questions to which local people need the answers.

Monday 16 November 2009

Incinerator latest from County Hall

Cornwall Council has today released a statement concerning the incinerator application and the Integrated Waste Management Contract.

Key points include:

· The Cabinet of Cornwall Council now has the right to terminate the Contract with SITA (or to ask for a Revised Project Plan) because a ‘long-stop date’ in the Contract (specifying that works should commence by the end of March 2010) cannot be achieved.

· If Cornwall Council terminates the contract, it would need to meet the costs of all the facilities provided by SITA so far. This has been estimated to cost £30 million.

· The Integrated Waste Management Contract and associated procurement rules are restrictive. Within the scope of the Contract, a smaller incinerator could be built within the China Clay Area and an anaerobic digestion facility added. However, any alternative scheme involving a different technology or location outside of the Central Cornwall Area of Search could not be agreed as a modification to the existing Contract.

The Contract also included a ‘price guarantee’ to build the incinerator, but only to March 2010. This also means that if the 240,000 tonne incinerator is built, its costs will be vastly greater than originally budgeted.

Fred Greenslade, John Wood and I have released the following statement to reaffirm our opposition to the incinerator proposed for St Dennis.

“It remains our view that the proposal for an incinerator at St Dennis is unsustainable. We are working hard to make sure that SITA’s appeal does not succeed and to persuade the Council to find a better way to deal with Cornwall’s waste.

“It is our intention to do everything in our power to make sure that Cornwall Council’s Cabinet fully considers the option to terminate the Contract.”

The full statement from Cornwall Council was as follows:

Cornwall Council is working hard to find appropriate ways to deal with Cornwall’s waste. The Council is in a position whereby it has an Integrated Waste Management Contract in place with SITA, some of which is not in the public domain for reasons of commercial confidentiality. The application for an Energy from Waste plant, required by that contract, will soon be going to Public Inquiry.

Cornwall Council would like to make as much information about the situation as publicly available as is possible and in a spirit of openness makes the following statement.

· Cornwall Council has two roles – as the Waste Disposal Authority and also the Planning Authority for Cornwall.

· In 2006, Cornwall County Council agreed a 30-year £427 million contract with SITA to deliver an Integrated Waste Management Contract. This specifically included the construction of a 240,000 tonne Energy from Waste plant at St Dennis (within the Central Cornwall Area of Search as identified in the Council’s 2002 Waste Local Plan).

· In March 2009, Cornwall County Council’s Planning Committee voted to refuse the application. The reasons for the refusal included the impact of the facility on the St Dennis area. SITA has since gone to appeal and the Public Inquiry will commence on 16th March 2010.

· The Contract includes a ‘long-stop date’ clause, which states that if works have not commenced on the Energy from Waste plant by the end of March 2010 Cornwall Council have the right to terminate the contract through a ‘force majeure’ (‘no fault’) mechanism, or to seek a revised project plan.

· SITA recently wrote to Cornwall Council to confirm that it would be unable to achieve the ‘long-stop date’ because following the Planning Inquiry the decision of the Secretary of State will not be available by the due date. Cornwall Council’s cabinet will therefore soon need to take the decision as to whether or not to terminate the contract or to ask for a Revised Project Plan. If the council terminated the contract it would need to meet the costs of all the facilities provide by SITA thus far, that would otherwise have been paid for over the length of the contract. This has been estimated to cost £30m.

· The Public Inquiry will assess whether the 240,000 tonne Energy from Waste proposal is appropriate, but SITA are starting discussions on the potential for alternative proposals (the “Revised Project Plan”). They are investigating whether this could be done in a way to address the reasons for refusal (eg. the impact of the Energy from Waste building, height of chimney, etc). SITA are in discussion with Cornwall Council’s Waste Disposal team in regard to this. At the same time, Cornwall Council’s Natural Resources Team is preparing to robustly defend the existing appeal.

· If the Public Inquiry rules in favour of the Council as the local planning authority and if it looks unlikely that a revised application would be successful, Cornwall Council would retain the right to terminate the Contract through ‘force majeure.’ The costs would remain at an estimated £30m.

· One option that is being considered by Cornwall Council is a smaller Energy from Waste plant that could be built within the scope of the Contract and related procurement rules, though a significant reduction in capacity would not be acceptable in terms of procurement. The Contract also allows for anaerobic digestion to be added to those provided through the Contract.

· Cornwall’s Waste Advisory Panel is looking at alternative ways to deal with Cornwall’s waste and there are two important things to note.

a) The current policy document in place at the moment is the 2002 Waste Local Plan which specifies the construction of a single, central Energy from Waste plant.

b) It also remains the case that any alternative scheme (e.g. with a different technology, a different location outside of the Central Cornwall Area of Search, etc) could not be agreed as a modification to the existing Contract due to procurement rules and would have to be part of a new procurement.

Sunday 15 November 2009

All welcome at MK Conference

Mebyon Kernow Annual General Meeting and Conference takes place on Saturday November 21st 2009. The venue will be the Public Rooms in Bodmin.

The morning session covers the Annual General Meeting and a discussion about campaign strategies. In the afternoon, there will be a number of speeches from leading MK members and parliamentary candidates.

This afternoon session starts at 2.00 and is open to members of the General Public. If you are not already a member of MK, why not come along and meet the MK activists in your area.? You would be most welcome.

For more information, email:

Cornish Language Policy update

It has been “interesting” to see how the decision of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to agree a Cornish Language Policy has been reported.

The headline in the Western Morning News, for example, stated “Council divided over dual language signs” while the The Daily Mail said that “moves to make Cornwall officially bi-lingual have sparked a furious row.” Strange that – as the actual vote of the cabinet was unanimous!

The reaction of posters on the Worldwide Web was very varied, though it was good to see the results of the poll on The question was: Should signs in Cornwall be bilingual? The result was that 71% of people said that we should embrace the Cornish language.

There was sadly a lot of negative and many nasty comments on internet forums. Here are a selected sample:

“They are a funny lot down in Pointy-head Land. I lived in a Cornish village for 12 years and after about 10 years a local asked me if I was settling in alright.”

“Another example of the minority tail wagging the majority dog.”

“Yet another set of council idiots. Is this the begining of a campaign for a Cornwall parliament? I don't believe it!”

“Oooh arrr. Should keep the yokels on the right road.”

“What a sensitive lot some of you pastie eaters are!!”

“Just like Welsh … Cornish isn't a real language … it's just an ugly noise.”

Such attitudes are concerning, when all the Council is trying to do is support and positively enhance Cornwall’s cultural distinctiveness.

There were also numerous comments about the cost such as “What's the Cornish for "Complete waste of money, m'dear"???” And that was even after the newspapers had made it clear that the “changes would not cost the Council any extra as manufacturers would add the translations at no extra charge and will only apply for new signs or for signs that need replacing” (Western Morning News).

One last thing, in my previous post on this debate I neglected to record that Cllr Julian German, the Cabinet member with responsibility for the Environment, used Cornish in the actual debate to rightly illustrate that Cornish is a living language with a real future.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Cornish Language Policy

At the same Cabinet meeting, the six Conservatives and four Independents "in charge" voted to adopt a Cornish Language Policy for the new Council. A couple of councillors questioned the policy – which allowed the local press to dream up the headline “Council divided over dual language signs” even though the Cabinet vote had been unanimous.

I did speak in the debate and pointed out that it was important to protect our heritage and build on Cornish distinctiveness, which could also have huge economic benefits for Cornwall. To the doubters, I pointed out strongly that the Council’s commitment to the “Region of Culture” bid would be very hollow if we did not do all in our power to protect the Cornish Language - one of our unique selling points.

I was also interviewed by BBC Spotlight on the topic.

I can report that every time there is a “Cornish” or “Cultural” issue at County Hall, I am ritually trotted out to comment. Obviously, I am very happy to do this but have offered to comment on all manner of socio-economic and other political issues as well which is my bread and butter.

Severance packages - Round 2

Following my earlier report on the first call-in at Cornwall Council, I attended the meeting of the Cabinet on Wednesday to see it re-address its earlier decision on future redundancy packages for staff. I cannot say that I was happy at how the issue was dealt with.

The Leader allowed the Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee to speak and then announced that the discussion would be restricted to Cabinet members only. The report admitted that the process and the consultation could have been better, but that more than the bare minimum had been done. The Cabinet then voted to reaffirm its original decision with a tweak.

I was quite angry. The issue that I had raised at the Scrutiny meeting – namely that staff could end up being treated differently (see earlier post) – was not considered in the report or discussed by the Cabinet.

And as I was not allowed to speak, I could not even bring this omission to their attention.

A part-time job?

There have been a couple of letters to the papers in recent weeks criticising councillors. Some of the concerns were valid, but there were also comments about the role being part-time. The reality is that anyone who tells you being a Cornwall Councillor is not a full-time job is fibbing.

Take Monday as an example. I chaired the third meeting of the Council’s Planning Policy Advisory Panel. It was a positive meeting and only lasted five-and-a-half hours - I allowed the members a half-hour break for dinner.

It was easy going stuff. The Local Development Scheme for the Local Development Framework, a report on a scoping report for a Sustainability Appaisal, a report on the Level 1 Strategic Flood Risk Assessment for Cornwall, further guidance on flooding, as well as three reports from the Natural Resources Team on minerals/minerals safeguarding and a final document on functional areas.

I also had an invitation to attend the announcement of the first phase of the eco-town at 12.30 on the same day, which I obviously couldn't manage, and plenty of paperwork to deal with in the evening.

Not bad for a day of part-time work!

Wednesday 4 November 2009

Scrutiny demand Cabinet re-think!

There was a ‘first’ at County Hall today. It was the first meeting of an Overview and Scrutiny Committee to debate a Cabinet decision that had been ‘called in.’

The venue was the Trelawny Room. It was the Corporate Resources OSC and the subject was the Severance Policy for Cornwall Council staff. The Cabinet had decided to drastically cut the amount that would be payable in the event of future redundancies.

The call-in was arranged by Committee Chairman John Keeling, due to concerns about how the decision had been taken, the lack of consultation with the unions and other staff members, as well as a range of issues of detail. John proved to be a masterful Chair and the meeting was very much in the style of a parliamentary Select Committee, with members quizzing two senior officers of the Council, a union official and the Deputy Leader.

There was a broad consensus that the process leading up to the Cabinet’s decision had been flawed and numerous questions were also tabled about the decision itself.

I queried why certain employees who might be made redundant from 2010 onwards as a direct consequence of the move to unitary would be compensated less than those who will have left the Council’s employment before that date. I made the point that I believed all people who might lose their jobs as a result of the changes in local government should be treated the same.

The Director replied that those employees still to be affected by the ‘transition’ period would have redundancy payments calculated on the existing policies, but later job losses as part of the ‘transformation’ (whether identified in the unitary bid or not) and ‘efficiencies’ would be treated differently through the new policies.

He said this was equitable. I disagreed and described his distinction as inequitable and morally indefensible.

The Committee does not have the power to over-ride the decision but can ask the Cabinet to think again. I am glad to be able to report that the Committee voted unanimously to ask the Cabinet to revisit the decision itself and the processes it followed to come to the decision.

An update

There are two reasons why I have not blogged for the last three weeks or so. The first was my wonderful ten days holiday in Gwynedd during the middle of October (see above). And the second was the somewhat manic nature of the last couple of weeks.

It has certainly not been quiet.

Cornwall Council has gone public on its ‘bleak’ financial position and the possibility of a £15 million overspend. There has been the Ofsted inspection into Children’s Services which have been branded ‘inadequate’ on 22 out of the 33 areas assessed.

The date for the Public Inquiry into the incinerator has been set (March 16) and the STIG Strategy Group now has the task to prepare a wide range of papers (Statement of Case, Statement of Evidence, etc).

The list goes on ...