Tuesday 28 June 2011

Announcement on Cornish language funding

It is good that the uncertainty is over.

Last week, Government Minister Andrew Stunell MP announced that the Department of Communities and Local Government will continue to fund the Cornish Language Partnership. The final settlement will be a total of £360,000 over the next three years.

It represents £140,000 for 2011-12, a reduction to £120,000 in 2012-13 and a further reduction to £100,000 in 2013-14. But this is below the budget for the last two years, which was £150,000 per annum. The new settlement therefore represents a significant cut which is disappointing and places great pressure on its important work.

Further to this, a statement has been released by MAGA commenting that: “The Minister’s statement that in the longer term support for the language will need to come from Cornwall itself will need to be challenged in the future, especially in the light of the fact that the Council of Europe Charter, to which the Government is a signatory, is clear that support for indigenous languages should be a state responsibility.”

Quite right! If the central government expects Cornwall to meet such costs in the future, it needs to first back our calls for meaningful devolution and the creation of a legislative Cornish Assembly.

Saturday 25 June 2011

Fun at Indian Queens Pit

I have just got back from the annual fete at Indian Queens Pit, which was supported by a wide range of local organisations. These included the local branch of the Womens Institute, two playgroups, a pantomime group and a number of charities.

A number of people even allowed themselves to be placed in the stocks including the Chairman of the Pit Association (see right), while our marvellous local Brass Band also performed (see below).

For those of you who do not know the Pit, it is an open amphitheatre that was created out of an old mine working in the early 1850s and has been used by the community ever since. It is well worth a visit.

It is exciting times for us, as we are busy raising funds for a new community building, which will be located within the parking area alongside the Pit.

It will replace the extremely a run-down modular building, a storage building (constructed in asbestos sheeting) and a small, outdated toilet unit.

It is our hope that the new building will be a hub around which we can encourage more individuals and groups to visit and appreciate the monument, whilst also increasing the number of community, music and cultural events taking place at the venue.

Our Association also intends to:

· Produce a commemorative publication about the Pit, containing a large number of historic maps and photographs. We will be approaching local businesses to sponsor the booklet, which will be sold to raise funds for the project.

· Work with the local community to produce a series of display boards about the Pit, its history and the surrounding area, which will be on permanent show within the building.

· Commission a playwright to produce a play about the ‘History of Indian Queens.’ The first performance of the play, involving local people, will be in the Pit and will hopefully mark the opening of the new community building in 2012.

Anyone who wishes to help with the project is welcome to contact me for more information.

Friday 24 June 2011

MK to stand in Truro City Council by-election

Nominations closed today for the byelection to fill a seat on Truro City Council (Boscawen Ward). The MK candidate will be Lance Dyer.

Lance is retired, but was previously the box office manager at the Hall for Cornwall. Born at Goonhavern, he served in the Civil Service and Department of Energy in London before returning home to Cornwall to work in Job Centres in Truro and Helston.

Lance is also a parent and has two children, who attended local schools before going on to university.

There are also candidates from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties.

If you want to help MK in this election, why not get in touch.

Thursday 23 June 2011

Central government and affordable housing

My column in this week's Cornish Guardian covers the topic of affordable housing. It went as follows:

The Thatcher Government of the 1980s did great damage to the fabric of British society when it sanctioned the sell-off of thousands and thousands of council houses.

Many individual families may have benefited from the sales, but the greatly reduced public rented sector failed to mitigate against the massive increase in house prices and rents experienced over the last decade or so.

It is now a reality that many hardworking families, making do on low local wages, are finding it difficult to buy their own homes. And more and more families are struggling to meet their rent payments in the private sector, while paying a higher percentage of their income than ever before to simply keep a roof over their heads.

The possibility of a “council house,” with a secure tenancy and an affordable rent, remains the main hope of a fair future for many.

All political parties routinely express their full support for the delivery of affordable housing. But what has happened since the General Election, just one year ago?

The Coalition Government has slashed investment in new affordable homes citing the present economic problems, but it is also making changes of great significance.

Most existing properties owned by Cornwall Council or Registered Social Landlords (RSLs), such as Ocean Housing, are rented out at “social” rents considerably below those of open-market properties.

But the Government has introduced a new concept of “affordable rent” – which it considers to be 20% below the extremely high levels of open-market rents.

They have also announced that rents for newly-built properties, as well as re-lets of existing properties, should be at this higher level.

This price hike means that new tenants will end up paying more, while the increased costs will almost certainly lead to a higher cost in housing benefit payments for the Government. How counter-productive!

At the same time, the Government is planning to reduce the long-term security of tenure for residents in Council and RSL properties, undermining communities in the process.

Councils and a range of organisations are continuing to bring forward new affordable homes for local people. Many of these are homes sold at a discount or homes which are part-buy and part-rent.

And yet, this work is being undermined because many banks and building societies, including some owned by the Government, are refusing to give mortgages for affordable homes on numerous schemes.

It is my view that the Government has got it wrong. It needs to rethink its approach to affordable housing, but it must also take action with the banks to ensure mortgages for hardworking local families.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Back in circulation ...

I have not blogged for a few days, because I have been away upcountry. Spent a couple of lovely days in Wales, and Ann and I certainly enjoyed walking to the top of Cader Idris.

But what a week to miss politically. Cornwall Councillor Jan Powell leaves Tories for the Lib Dems, continuing bad press for the Tory administration at “County Hall,” a Camborne Town Council by-election and then the defection of a prominent former MK member to the Conservatives! More on that later.

Monday 13 June 2011

SNP parliamentarian to speak at MK Conference in November

This year’s MK conference will take place over the weekend of the 19th and 20th November at the Shire House Suite in Bodmin. It is intended to be our best-ever annual get-together and to mark our 60th year in style.

The Saturday will include a Rally which will showcase MK members and a range of guest speakers, and in the evening there will entertainment for one and all to enjoy.
I can confirm that the first invited speaker to confirm his participation is Kenneth Gibson, a SNP member of the Scottish Parliament, who was formerly the leader of the opposition on Glasgow City Council.

He was first elected to the Scottish Parliament in 1999 as a list member for the Glasgow electoral region. In 2007, he contested the constituency of Cunninghame North, winning the seat from Labour by the small of 48 votes. In the 2011 SNP landslide election, when the SNP won 69 seats and an overall majority, Ken managed a comfortable majority of 6,117 over Allan Wilson, the former Scottish Minister he defeated in 2007.

Arrangement for the conference are being co-ordinated by MK councillor Stephen Richardson (Illogan) and we will make further information as soon as possible.

Saturday 11 June 2011

Council Leader in St Dennis

The Working Men’s Club at St Dennis was packed out, this Friday, for the latest meeting in the incinerator saga.

Council Leader Alec Robertson came to the meeting, along with other Cabinet Members Julian German, Graeme Hicks and Mark Kaczmarek, as well as a host of officers – including the Head of Legal and part of the press team.

My good friend Fred Greenslade chaired the meeting and I made a statement on behalf of local councillors from the China Clay Area and local campaigners. I took the opportunity to argue that the Council should carefully review the Secretary of State’s decision with a view to challenging his ruling.

When he spoke, Alec Robertson had a very rocky ride and the packed hall was extremely disappointed by the content and tenor of many of his responses.

A retired Methodist Minister asked him to confirm that, after writing the infamous letter to Eric Pickles, he was indeed both a “turncoat” and a “hypocrite.”

Alec Robertson did confirm that he had no plans to sanction a review of the planning decision or to challenge it in any way.

We are awaiting a formal written response to this effect and will continue to argue our corner at that point.

Friday 10 June 2011

A letter to Tom Flanagan

I have just sent a joint letter to Tom Flanagan, Corporate Director for Environment, Planning and Economy, on behalf of myself and Cllrs Fred Greenslade, John Wood and Des Curnow. The letter relates to the recent Public Inquiry into the incinerator proposal. The letter was as follows:

We obviously appreciate the hard work undertaken by many officers in the planning and legal sections in defending the Council’s position at the Public Inquiry.

We have also carefully read the Inspector’s report, which recommended to the Secretary of State that the Incinerator appeal be allowed, and the associated comments of Mr Pickles.

As local members, we are very disappointed at the Inspector’s recommendation and his reasoning, as well as Mr Pickles decision. What is more, we consider that the Inspector ignored certain aspects of the evidence and treated other aspects of the case in a manner that could leave it open to challenge.

As the Council robustly defended the appeal, we would request that officers now carry out a rapid, but detailed, review of that decision to explore whether Cornwall Council should make further representations or challenge the decision itself.

Issues of concern to us include the following, though this list is by no means an exhaustive one:

· The Inspector gave “very substantial weight … to the financial repercussions of the CERC proposal not proceeding.” And yet the Council has a Counsel’s opinion that this is not a material planning consideration. We therefore consider this not to be appropriate.

· At the Inquiry, Cornwall Council argued persuasively that an Appropriate Assessment needed to be carried out, to assess the impact of the proposal on nearby Special Areas of Conservation. The Council presented a “Shadow Appropriate Assessment Scientific Report,” produced by Bureau Veritas. It concluded that “it cannot be ascertained that the CERC would not have an adverse effect upon the integrity” of the SACs. The Inspector did not accept these arguments, and we consider there was considerable confusion about process and who was / is the “competent authority.”

· The inspector also accepted the appellant’s arguments that the incinerator, with an annual capacity of 240,000 tonnes, was not over-sized. He wrote that: “It is accepted that the WLP proposed a plant with a smaller capacity, 200,000 tpa. However, subsequent work undertaken for the RSS and WDF point to higher waste arisings than were envisaged when the WLP was being prepared.” However, at the Inquiry it was shown that the WDF projections over-estimated the amount of waste that would need to be dealt with (in 2010) by between 45,000 and 57,000 tonnes. This ignored by the Inspector.

· Evidence about the flawed and inadequate site selection process was also ignored. The Inspector noted that “the site search exercise [was] conducted by the WPA and published in July 2006. On the basis of this document, the WDA acquired an option on the appeal site.” But it was demonstrated at the Inquiry that the Council had pre-determined the site and started design and other works in mid 2005!

· In a number of places, the inspector referenced the spurious claim that the ‘eco-town’ would take heat from plant if it was built. This uncritical approach to arguments presented by SITA runs through the entire Inspector’s report.

· The local community and a range of Rule 6 Parties presented extremely detailed arguments to the Inquiry. We consider that the Inspector did not give adequate consideration to these arguments.

I would be grateful if you could confirm whether you, as Corporate Director, will be willing to sanction a review of the Secretary of State’s decision with a view to challenging his ruling.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Including the Cornish - The Second Cornish National Minority Report

The Second Cornish National Minority Report entitled: “Including the Cornish – a unique case for recognition” has been officially launched. Written by Ian Saltern with the assistance of a broad-based steering group, it builds on the first report produced in 1999.

I was a member of the steering group and pleased to have been able to assist with the initiative, which came about thanks to the efforts of Bert Biscoe.

The report seeks to extend the case for the Cornish to be recognised as a cultural minority, through the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities.

It has the backing of the political group leaders at Cornwall Council, myself include, who co-signed the foreword to the report, proclaiming in unison that the status would “enable the Cornish to play a full and active part in British society, contributing to the diversity of the United Kingdom.”

The conclusions of the document are clear.

Within the spirit of the Framework Convention, implicit through its Articles, the Cornish constitute a national minority.

The Cornish, like the Scottish and the Welsh, possess an historic national identity and national origins.

There are barriers to the Cornish being able to maintain and celebrate their distinct identity.

In attempting to overcome these barriers the Cornish have encountered a legal conundrum whereby they can only bring a case under the Equalities Act if they are a recognised “racial group,” but case law will only identify Cornish people as a “racial group” once the Cornish successfully prosecute a case of racial discrimination.

The UK Government has relied on the “racial group” criterion to define national minorities. The “racial group” criterion is viewed by various organisations as too narrow and unreflective of the purposes of the Framework Convention.

National minority status will legitimise the Cornish in the eyes of statutory bodies and decision-makers. It will ensure that the Cornish are not impeded from maintaining and celebrating their distinct identity.

National minority status will confer upon the Cornish the dignity of visibility. It will deliver tangible social, cultural and economic benefits for the Cornish and the United Kingdom.

National minority status will enable the Cornish to play a full and active part in British society, contributing to the diversity of the United Kingdom.

National minority status for the Cornish will bring coherence to UK Government policy. It will address the current anomaly whereby Cornish national and ethnic identity is officially recognised for the purposes of the Census, but the Cornish people have yet to be recognised as a national minority.

The findings of the report have already been presented to central government. Copies of the report will soon be available from Bert Biscoe at 3 Lower Rosewin Row, Truro TR1 1EN. Please include a cheque for £1.20 to cover postage and packing.

Monday 6 June 2011

How many councillors should Cornwall have?

There was some pretty shoddy and ill-informed reporting in the Western Morning News last week. The front page and editorial argued that “cash-strapped” Cornwall Council should reduce the number of elected representatives to save money.

The Western Morning News stated that the Council has “123 members – twice the size of the Welsh Assembly, despite having far less power and covering a fraction of the geographic area.” What nonsense!

The 60-member Welsh Assembly is not a council. It is the National Assembly of Wales for heaven’s sake. And below it, there are 22 Welsh Councils with a total membership of 1,255 councillors.

The Western Morning News also made the assertion that “Devon County Council … has just 62 councillors.” This was supported by some comments on the papers website. One stated:

Devon: area 6,564 km2 / population 1,141,600, has 62 councillors
Somerset: area 4,171 km2 / population 912,900, has 58 councillors
Cornwall: area 3,563 km2 / population 534,000, has 123 councillors!!!

Again, what nonsense!

Devon has a County Council (62 members), two unitary authorities – Plymouth (57 members) and Torbay (36 members), plus eight district councils – East Devon (59 members), Exeter (40 members), Mid Devon (42 members), North Devon (43 members), South Hams (40 members), Teignbridge (46 members), Torridge (36 members) and West Devon (31 members).

I make that a total of 492 principal councillors in Devon - exactly four-times the number of councillors in Cornwall.

Somerset meanwhile has a County Council (58 members), two unitary authorities – Bath and North East Somerset (65 members) and North Somerset (61 members), plus five district councils – Mendip (47 members), Sedgemoor (50 members), South Somerset (60 members), Taunton Deane (56 members) and West Somerset (28 members).

I make that a total of 425 principal councillors in Somerset.

The undemocratic imposition of a unitary authority on Cornwall by local Liberal Democrats and the last Labour Government was a disgrace. Prior to 2009, Cornwall had 82 county councillors and 249 district councillors – a total of 331 elected members.

All we have now is a dysfunctional single unitary authority and a massive democratic deficit in Cornwall.

I am a Cornwall Councillor and I take the role seriously. It is more than a full-time job to me and I resent the petty attacks on my role by those who wish to undermine democracy in Cornwall still further.

But we do need democratic reforms. We need to achieve greater self-government through a National Assembly for Cornwall, and we need to rebuild decentralised local government across our nation.

A wonderful couple of days / Lib Dem collapse predicted – the two issues are not linked!

I have just got back from 48 hours away from real life and Cornish politics. My wife, Ann, and I have been on Exmoor, doing a bit of walking and relaxing. Yesterday was our 12th wedding anniversary, while today marks the 20th anniversary of us being an “item.”

Today, sitting and enjoying a pot of tea in Lynmouth, I pulled out a copy of The Guardian to see the headline: “Lib Dems face crisis over new electoral map … Clegg projected to lose a quarter of his MPs in boundary changes.” What a shame!

It has been predicted that the Lib Dems who pushed through the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill, which will lead to the creation of a Devonwall seat, could lose 25% of their seats as a consequence of the redrawing of the electoral map.

It seems the Liberal Democrats are now concerned about the impact of the review on their own chances of self-preservation. Former Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall, Lord Tyler was reported as saying that there could be moves to delay the reforms until 2020.

So they might be willing to oppose the boundary changes for their own self-interest. But they refused to oppose the Bill and fight for the territorial integrity of Cornwall when they had the chance.

Friday 3 June 2011

The arts in St Enoder Parish

Yesterday (Thursday), Miracle Theatre came to St Enoder Parish and performed “The Death of Sherlock Holmes” at Indian Queens Pit. It was a fantastic play in a marvellous venue and I would recommend it to one and all.

It was only the second night of the tour and there are many opportunities to see the play in the coming weeks. For more information, see www.miracletheatre.co.uk.

Today, it was the first night of the St Enoder Arts Festival. It was opened by Dalla (see above) who performed a rousing and well-received set in the Parish Church.

It is great to see such talent in my local area and a number of other acts will be performing as part of the festival throughout June. Why not go along and support the festival. For more information, go to www.saintenoderfestival.org.uk.

Public meeting planned for St Dennis

A public meeting has been arranged for Friday 10th June in St Dennis to discuss what happens now that the Secretary of State has granted consent for the incinerator. It will be held in the Working Mens Club and will commence at 7.00. The leader of the Council has accepted an invitation to speak at the meeting.

In the meantime, my latest column for the Cornish Guardian is as set out below:

Last week the Conservative Leader of Cornwall Council and the Lib Dem MP for St Austell and Newquay debated the outcome of the incinerator public inquiry on the BBC's Politics Show.

It was not a particularly enlightening discussion. Councillor Alec Robertson described the incinerator as a "Liberal Democrat legacy". Stephen Gilbert MP claimed it would be the "folly and legacy" of Cornwall Council's present Conservative-led administration.

So what's the truth? Let's ignore the spin and look at the bare facts.

In 2006, the Lib Dem-dominated county council agreed a contract with SITA, which specified the construction of an incinerator near St Dennis. Thirty-three Lib Dems and two independents voted for the contract. It was opposed by 28 other councillors – only one a Lib Dem.

Over the next two to three years, leading Lib Dems such as David Whalley and Adam Paynter spent a great deal of time criss-crossing Cornwall, preaching the merits of incineration. Then in March 2009, the incinerator was turned down by the planning committee 20-1, with one abstention. In September 2009, when SITA announced it had lodged an appeal, the Conservative leader of the new council attended a public meeting at St Dennis and reassured local people that the council would robustly defend the refusal.

In early 2010, it became apparent that a clause in the contract gave the Cabinet the option to terminate it. At a meeting of the council's waste panel, I called for this option to be properly investigated. This was opposed by the majority of Conservative, Independent and Lib Dem councillors on the panel, and the Conservative/Independent Cabinet voted not to end the contract. At the same time, the leadership refused to work up an alternative (Plan B) to a single incinerator.

Planning staff and local people did robustly defend the appeal but, in April, Alec Robertson turned his back on the people of St Dennis and wrote to the Secretary of State calling on him to uphold the appeal in favour of SITA. He argued that, if the incinerator was not allowed to proceed, the financial consequences to the council would be dire – but Mr Robertson was a county councillor when the contract was agreed in 2006. He was therefore equally aware of the financial consequences of the incinerator not going ahead in 2009, when he cast his vote against the planning application and promised to robustly defend the appeal.

In the ruling, the inspector and Mr Pickles gave significant weight to the contract signed by the Lib Dems, as well as the perceived and exaggerated costs of ripping it up.

The failure of Conservative-led Cornwall Council to work up alternative proposals or identify alternative sites was also cited as a justification to allow the appeal.

St Dennis has been failed by the planning system, the political process and both the Liberal Democrat and Conservative parties.