Tuesday 30 November 2010

New play equipment in St Enoder Parish

As today’s Full Council meeting was postponed, I spent much of the day in the Indian Queens Recreation Ground where works have started to erect a Multi Use Games Area (fenced area measuring 20m by 12m with goal-ends and basketball nets) and to construct skateboard equipment on an existing tarmac surface.

The Recreation Ground is owned by the Parish Council and I have helped to pull together the funding for this project, which includes £10,000 from the former Restormel Borough Council and a £47,000 grant from China Clay Area’s Local Action Group. This is part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for European Development to promote and support business and community development in the China Clay Area.

The Parish Council also owns the Thomas Playing Field at Summercourt, where we have just erected a new metal climbing frame (above) to replace a smaller and aged wooden frame that had to be removed last year. These improvement works were supported by a £5,000 donation from the former Restormel Borough Council and a £8,000 grant from the Lottery’s Awards for All funding programme.

Also positioned within St Enoder Parish is the Fraddon Millennium Green, which is run by a group of trustees with financial support from the Parish Council. I am one of the trustees and we have just refurbished the Green’s existing play area. This included the renovation of the “Leonard the Loco” play engine, repair of the see-saw, two new seats for parents and a new metal fence around the play area.

The Green has also had a further facelift with Groundwork South West cleaning footpaths in the park, trimming back hedges and making other improvements.

Friday 19 November 2010

Camborne North by-election

I have just heard that the Conservatives won the Camborne Town Council by-election in North Ward. The result was as follows:

Conservative - 478
Labour - 318
John Rowe (Mebyon Kernow) - 279

I would like to congratulate John for fighting a strong campaign. I believe that this was his third election in Camborne North and that this was his highest number of votes … so far

On another note, MK’s dispute with the Conservatives over their misrepresentation of MK’s position on local housing was featured in the West Briton today (see previous blog). When the journalist was writing the story he contacted me for information about the nature of the misleading information on the Tory leaflet. I supplied this information within a couple of hours. You can image how angry I was to see to see the article printed today, on polling day, claim that MK had “refused” to supply the information.

I have already been in contact with the paper and have sought an assurance that this further misrepresentation will be redressed in next week’s paper.

Thursday 18 November 2010

Misleading leaflet in Camborne by-election

Today, voters in Camborne will be going to the polls to elect a new representative for the Town Council (North Ward). MK’s candidate is John Rowe and he is opposed by candidates from the Conservative and Labour Parties.

Sadly, Mebyon Kernow have had to request an apology from the Conservative Party due to a misleading comment in one of their leaflets. The leaflet included an “out-of-context” quotation that was in my name. The Conservative leaflet stated:

‘No’ to further building of more homes on green-field sites in Camborne.

Dick Cole MK Leader on Cornwall Council, quoted in the West Briton, ‘protected green-field land on the boundary of settlements can be developed for subsidised homes.’ It begs the question, would MK really oppose housing developments on green-field sites?’

The quotation attributed to me was actually in the Western Morning News in early October, when the Council’s Development Plan on Affordable Housing was launched for consultation. I do not know if it was reprinted in the West Briton. The full extract was as follows:

This week Cornwall Council launches its Affordable Housing Development Plan Document (DPD). The exercise will re-assess where and how to build affordable homes "in an era of decreasing public subsidy."

Councillor Dick Cole, chairman of the panel which drafted the "innovative" document, said it sought to maximise the dwindling number of new sites and encourage communities to present their own small schemes. Mr Cole said this would include controversial "exception" sites, where protected green-field land on the boundary of settlements can be developed for subsidised homes.

As one and all can see, firstly it was not actually a direct quote. I would not have used those exact words but it does broadly reflect the position of myself and also Cornwall Council. But it clearly demonstrates that I was discussing community-supported small schemes and “exception sites” in rural areas, not large-scale developments around urban areas such as Camborne.

Indeed, as the Chairman of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel, I am extremely disappointed that my work, and that of the Panel, has been misrepresented for the purposes of gaining political advantage.

It must be pointed out that members of all political groups were involved in producing the Development Plan Document, which was then fully agreed for consultation by the Conservative-led Council. So, in misrepresenting what I said, Conservatives in Camborne were also actually criticizing the approach of their own Conservative colleagues.

Budget discussions at Cabinet

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet met today and recommended an emergency budget for the authority. This will now be presented to Full Council on 30 November.

I attempted to raise a number of issues about the extent of the cuts, how the “unavoidable budget pressures” had been calculated, and whether the cuts to certain services were appropriate or even deliverable.

No further information was forthcoming at the meeting, but the MK Group is continuing to challenge those parts of the budget papers where the detail is lacking or has yet to be prepared.

At the meeting, I also asked about the Cabinet’s proposal to revisit the pay and conditions of staff and asked that this be addressed sympathetically. One of the things that I spoke out against was any change to severance packages for people who might be made redundant. These were changed only last year and I feel that it would be morally indefensible to modify the arrangements in any way so that people losing their jobs in the future would get less than colleagues who are leaving now or have already left.

When the unitary council was created there were approaching 12,000 staff (not including schools). It is now less than 10,000 and, if the projected cuts occur, this will fall to closer to 8,000.

But, at the same time, there has been an increase in the number of staff earning over £50,000, up from 127 in 2007-2008 to 143 in 2010.

I told the meeting that while staff numbers are falling, it must be questioned why the the cost of high-earners is rising, adding that any review of pay and conditions must protect the less-well-off and rebalance the fairness of the wage bill.

And at this time, it means addressing other potential savings such as consultants, and expensive interim and agency staff.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

A consistent approach to Cornwall?

In my latest column in the Cornish Guardian, I addressed the approach of the London parties to Cornwall and its integrity as a unit. It was as follows:

The decision by central government to give the green light to the creation of a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has, according to Cornwall Council, “been greeted with delight” by amongst others “representatives of the local business community.”

But last week, the proposed LEP, which would work to promote enterprise and regeneration across the area, was lambasted by Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw, who wanted a larger “multi-county”” partnership, told the House of Commons that Cornwall “as is so often the case, wanted to go it alone - a move unfortunately endorsed by the Government for political purposes.” He claimed this was much to “the consternation of the Cornwall business community and business leaders in the rest of the peninsula.”

Strange that. The bid for the LEP was actually supported by a wide range of local business figures including the Chairmen of Cornwall’s Federation of Small Businesses, the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cornwall Business Partnership and the Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum, as well as the Managing Directors of firms such as Ginsters and St Austell Brewery.

Eden’s Tim Smit meanwhile describes the LEP as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for Cornwall to take control of its own destiny and to make a huge statement about its ability to shape its own future.”

I am in total agreement with this view. For too long, Cornwall lost out to “Devon and Cornwall” or “South-West” arrangements, where the main benefits were felt to the east of the Tamar.

Indeed, in the 1990s it was only because Cornwall and Devon were disaggregated, and Cornwall was treated as a region in its own right, that we were able to harness much-needed investment through the European structural funds of Objective One and its successor programmes.

I am genuinely heartened that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition wish to respect the territoriality of Cornwall and treat it, in their words, as a “functional economic unit.”

But, at the same, I find it unbelievable that they are also pushing through a reform of parliamentary boundaries which will undermine Cornwall’s political integrity by creating at least one cross-Tamar constituency. How contradictory is that?

I also welcome the Labour Party’s continued opposition to the creation of Devonwall seats but, at the same time, I cannot understand the desire of Labour MPs to undermine the planned Local Enterprise Partnership and damage Cornwall’s economic prospects.

Isn’t it about time that the main parties treated Cornwall and local concerns in a consistent manner and not just as a political football?

Monday 15 November 2010

MK Conference

This weekend, MK‘s Annual Conference was held at the Public Rooms in Bodmin. It was a positive meeting and members agreed an ambitious five-year plan to better promote MK and the values that we espouse.

It was agreed that MK should set itself the target of fighting at least 50 seats (40%) at the 2013 Cornwall Council Elections, put up a full slate of candidates at the European Parliamentary Election in 2014 and contest all Cornish seats at the 2015 General Election.

The consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill were debated at length, during which time Cornwall’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs were roundly condemned for not voting against the Bill. Another significant debate focussed on the cuts being imposed by the Coalition Government and the impact on Cornish communities and the wider economy.

There was passionate support for MK councillors and activists to stand up and fight to protect public services in Cornwall.

We also took time to remind members that Mebyon Kernow will soon be celebrating its important 60th anniversary and that a commemorative publication is to be produced and a celebratory event will be held in January 2011.

The commemorative publication is presently being written and it will be a comprehensive A4 booklet. It will explore Mebyon Kernow’s early days as a pressure group, its evolution into a fully fledged political party, past campaigns and more recent activities, as well as an assessment of MK’s achievements.

Photographs, press clippings and other images from the 1950s through to the present day will also be included.

It is anticipated that the cost of the booklet will be about £7.00, but members and supporters are being invited to show their support for this initiative by pre-ordering the publication at the slightly inflated cost of £10.00. Everyone who shows their support in this way will have their name listed in the booklet as a supporting subscriber.

On Saturday 22nd January 2011, Mebyon Kernow will be hosting an evening event at the Lowenac Hotel in Camborne to celebrate the anniversary. It will include music and other entertainment, reminiscences of the Party’s campaigns and activities, as well as a buffet. The doors will open at 6.00 and the entertainment will be from 7.00 until late! Tickets will cost £10 each.

For further information contact MK at Lanhainsworth, Fraddon Hill, Fraddon, St Columb, TR9 6PQ.

Tuesday 9 November 2010

My thoughts on the Cornwall Council budget

In the last week of October, the draft emergency budget of Cornwall Council was published by the ruling Conservative and Independent administration.

This budget was prepared on the basis that central government funding would fall by 30% over the next four years, though there remains great uncertainty what monies will be available in the future. The announcement from the Coalition that the main cuts would be 7.1% per year appeared less onerous, but subsequent information suggests that the cuts might be worse than 30% overall.

It is claimed that Cornwall Council’s budget will generate “savings of around £160 million over four years with £75 million achieved next year.” It also proposes to hold negotiations about employees’ terms and conditions to “save” a further £20 million, and it has identified £10 million of cuts from front-line services.

Last week, “backbench” councillors such as myself had our first opportunity to consider the proposals in detail through five meetings of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

I attended all five meetings and it was certainly a frustrating week. We heard much management-speak about efficiencies, rationalisation and streamlining, but in many areas we were presented with staggeringly little detail about how the so-called savings would be achieved.

The leadership of the Council has proposed significant cuts to a wide range of individual services, but clearly did not want their fellow councillors coming forward with anything more than minor tweaks.

They certainly did not want us to challenge the fundamental basis of the budget and its many parts.

But some of us did question how certain services such as Leisure could withstand a 44.8% cut or how Libraries could cope with a cut of 25.3%. We challenged whether such cuts were deliverable, whether they were appropriate in the first place or should be reduced in scale. We asked how council services might be affected and queried where redundancies might fall. Many of the responses were certainly less than illuminating.

There was more detail about some of the proposed cuts to front-line services and potential increases in charges. As a consequence, discussions about whether to increase the daily charge for Truro’s Park and Ride from £1.30 to £1.50, for example, took much, much longer than debates about the major restructuring of parts of the Council.

Pressure from members of the public and councillors has however brought a rethink in a small number of areas. The Cabinet backed down on their proposal to cut bus subsidies for evening and weekend travel, they agreed to look again at the loss of post-16 education transport subsidies and there was also a reprieve for Camelford Leisure Centre, at least for now.

The process continues and many of us intend to carefully scrutinise the emerging budget as carefully as possible.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Devonwall Bill - update

Last night, the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill was voted on for the Third time. It was supported by a total of 321 votes to 264.

I am extremely disappointed that all six Cornish MPs voted for the Bill. I had hoped they would have opposed the legislation, once the pro-Cornwall amendment had been defeated. Indeed, I had hoped that they would put Cornwall before their political party.

For the record, I understand that Andrew George MP rebelled by also voting against the Bill.

95% of Coalition MPs voted for Devonwall

Further to yesterday's blog about the Report Stage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, I have looked in detail at the vote.

The amendment was moved by Charles Kennedy and sought to protect parliamentary boundaries in a number of areas including parts of Scotland, Anglesey, the Isle of Wight and Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly.

As noted previously, it was voted down by 315 votes to 257 votes.

All six Cornish MPs voted to support Kennedy’s amendment, but unbelievably they only won the support of twelve other Conservative / Liberal Democrat colleagues which included Scottish MPs and the member for the Isle of Wight. The MPs were as follows:

Peter Bottomley (Worthing West)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall)
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth)
David Nuttall (Bury North)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Liberal Democrat
Andrew George (St Ives)
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay)
Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South)
Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West)
Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)
Bob Russell (Colchester)
Adrian Sanders (Torbay)
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Over 95% of Coalition MPs voted against the amendment. This included Conservative MP Mark Prisk who spent the months leading up to the General Election masquerading as a Shadow Minister for Cornwall.

I am however pleased to report that the pro-Cornwall amendment was supported by MK’s sister parties from Wales and Scotland. Three Plaid Cymru and five SNP MPs voted in favour of the amendment, along with a member of the SDLP, two members of the DUP and all the Labour MPs present.

Monday 1 November 2010

Home again ...

The reason that I have not blogged for ten days is because I have been on holiday in North Wales (that's me in the above picture).

It was good to refresh the batteries. I have now been home for 24 hours and I am already wistfully looking ahead to my next holiday … next year.

Today, I attended the first of five scrutiny committee meetings looking at aspects of the proposed Conservative / Independent budget for Cornwall Council which sets out to achieve a savage cut of 30%. More comment to follow soon.

I also found out that I have been deliberately misrepresented on a Conservative leaflet in the Camborne Town Council by-election that is presently taking place. Obviously, I now have to chase the Tories to demand an apology. More comment to follow soon.

And earlier tonight, the Coalition voted down an amendment to protect the integrity of Cornwall in terms of parliamentary seats. The vote was 315 votes to 257. To be fair to the Cornish MPs, I understand all six voted against the Government, but it seems that very few of their colleagues followed suit. A sad day for Cornwall. More comment to follow soon.