Friday, 23 December 2011

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

I would like to wish all readers of this blog a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you all enjoy the festive break.

Nadelik lowen ha blydhen nowydh da.

Blogging will recommence early in January.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Economic output in Cornwall falls

The Office of National Statistics has just released the 2009 figures for GVA (Gross Value Added). It shows that GVA stood at £7 billion for Cornwall, down 2.6% from the 2008 figure of £7.2 billion.

Cornwall’s per capita GVA equalled £13,129 in 2009, down 2.9% from the 2008 figure. This is equal to 65.6% of the UK average (£20,000). We still lie 36th out of 37 Nuts 2 regions, above West Wales and the Valleys. Cornwall has fared worse than the UK average where total GVA fell by 1.6% and per capita by 2.2%.

Obviously, these figures do not reflect the present situation, and the full impact of the economic downturn and central government cuts which have happened since.

Information from Economic Intelligence, Environment, Planning and Economy, Cornwall Council.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Two MPs respond to Devonwall challenge

As reported previously on this blog, Mebyon Kernow Deputy Leader Cllr Andrew Long has written to Cornwall’s MPs and challenged them to pledge to use their vote against any proposals for a Devonwall parliamentary constituency.

MPs will have a vote in 2013 as to whether proposed changes are accepted.

He has received two responses so far. South East Cornwall MP Sheryll Murray (Conservative) wrote:

“Thank you very much for your letter. I tabled an amendment to the Bill which sadly was not selected.

“I also voted to change the threshold which could resulted in a different constituency picture.

“I supported the majority of the Bill and am sure you appreciate that in this time of austerity also to ensure fairness, it is only right that we reduce the number of seats in Westminster and equalise the number of electors per Constituency, thus making essential saving to Government expenditure ensuring fairness throughout.”

Truro and Falmouth MP Sarah Newton (Conservative) meanwhile wrote:

“Thank you for your recent letter which I have read with interest. I have noted your comments regarding the possible creation of a Devonwall constituency and I understand the strength of your concern.

“I can assure you that I remain frustrated by the proposal of a cross-border seat and I certainly appreciate the historical and cultural sensitivities involved with the decision.

“As you may know, this matter has already been debated in the House of Commons and I am sorry that I, together with my fellow Cornish MPs, were not successful in blocking proposals for a cross-border Parliamentary constituency.

“It is very disappointing that not all those people living in Cornwall who are eligible to register to vote did not do so. If they had, it is my understanding that we would have had enough registered electors to keep Cornwall whole. Let’s hope we can persuade enough residents to register in future and the boundaries can be revised. The boundaries will be reconsidered for each General Election.”

Sarah Newton’s comments in her last paragraph are incorrect and it is very disappointing that neither MP is willing to oppose the creation of a Devonwall seat.

Further update on Early Day Motion

Three more MPs have signed the Plaid Cymru EDM marking the 10th anniversary of 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly.

They are Lib Dems Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay) and Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South) as well as Labour member Paul Flynn (Newport West).

Cornish MPs George Eustice, Sheryll Murray and Sarah Newton have yet to sign the EDM.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

It is time to stop the “irresponsible lending” of “legal loan sharks”

In my column for this week's Cornish Guardian, I have condemned the impact of short-term and "payday" loans on the less-well-off. The article was as follows:

I would like to start my column by wishing all readers of the Cornish Guardian a very Happy Christmas, as well as a healthy and prosperous New Year.

I would also like to thank everyone who has taken the time to read my column over the last twelve months, especially those who have contacted me to discuss issues and/or encouraged me with positive comments.

The Christmas and New Year period is a truly wonderful time that brings friends, families and communities together. Many will also celebrate their faith, while others will simply take a break and recharge their batteries for the coming year.

Whatever you have planned, I sincerely hope that you have a great time and enjoy the festivities.

But Christmas can also be a costly and difficult time for individuals and families on low incomes.

This is particularly the case this year. The ongoing economic problems mean that the cost of living continues to rise, while incomes remain static or decline in real terms.

Many families are already struggling to make ends meet, some are seeking help from food banks, whilst facing the additional pressures of the Christmas period such as buying presents for children and grandchildren.

It is little wonder that so many people are predicted to fall into debt or descend into even more debt.

I am disgusted that there is an ever-growing group of companies preying on people with offers of short-term small loans, but at extortionate levels of interest.

These include so-called “payday loans” (to cover bills in advance of the next pay cheque) with interest rates as high as 4,000 per cent.

I consider it a scandal that such loans, targeting low earners and the vulnerable, are continuously being advertised on television.

It is also the case that, if the “payday loans” are not paid back in full very quickly, the debt escalates rapidly. Thousands are already termed “zombie debtors,” struggling to pay back the interest while never reducing the capital element of the debt.

The situation is so dire that research has suggested that 3.5 million adults are considering taking out such a payday loan over the next six months.

Surely now is the time for central government to take action to protect the best interests of the less-well-off, to increase regulation of the financial sector, and tackle the exploitation of what one MP has described as “legal loan sharks” with their “irresponsible lending.”

Friday, 16 December 2011

Update on Early Day Motion

As of this morning, a total of seven MPs had signed the EDM marking the 10th anniversary of 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly.

As well as the three Plaid Cymru MPs who were the original signatories, it has now been supported by Cornish Lib Dem MPs Andrew George and Dan Rogerson, and Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) and John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington).

Other Cornish MPs George Eustice, Steve Gilbert, Sheryl Murray and Sarah Newton have yet to sign the EDM.

The issue was also covered in today’s Morning Star newspaper. Apparently, “three Welsh MPs joined forces with prominent Cornish campaigner Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives, in tabling a Commons motion in favour of a Cornish Assembly.”

For information, Cllr Loveday Jenkin and I were interviewed by a reporter from The Guardian newspaper yesterday concerning issues of Cornish identity, the campaign for a Cornish Assembly, the 50,000, and a wide range of other issues. Hopefully, there will be a feature sometime before or over the Christmas period.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Good news in St Enoder Parish

Earlier today, I had the pleasure to help show Julian German (Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for the Environment) around Indian Queens Victory Hall to mark the completion of the replacement of the original 1920s roof with a new insulated modern roof.

It was about twelve months ago that the Hall entered into the “U Choose 2 Retrofit” competition within the China Clay Area, when a public vote selected the hall as one of three community spaces to receive a package of carbon reduction measures.

The cost was over £100,000 and came from Cornwall Council. The monies were provided by the Eco-Communities Programme of Development funding awarded to the authority by the Department of Communities and Local Government.

During the works, it also became clear that the original roof structure has come under extreme pressure over the years and this had actually led to some of the roof trusses needing repair and strengthening.

The project has been a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Indian Queens Victory Hall to make really important and much needed improvements. I feel privileged to have been involved with the project and the Hall Committee are to be congratulated in driving the project forward.

Elsewhere in the Parish, three community halls have benefited from free photo-voltaic panels from Kronos Solar, the firm which recently installed a solar farm at Trefullock near Summercourt.

Arrays have been installed at Summercourt School, the New Memorial Hall at Summercourt and Fraddon Village Hall. The School and the halls will benefit from both the generation of electricity and an income through the feed-in tafiffs. It was also good that the arrays were up and running before the feed-in tariffs were changed on 12th December.

Kronos Solar has further panels which are likely to be made available for three further community buildings in the New Year. Watch this space for an update.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Another day at Cornwall Council

Today, I attended the latest meeting of Cornwall Council’s ruling Cabinet. I made a contribution in two debates.

In the first of these, the Cabinet voted to agree a development brief for land to the west of Truro. Without getting too technical, I expressed considerable concern at the proposal, raised a number of what I considered to be important issues with regard to planning policy and was not happy when these concerns were not even considered by the Panel.

In the second debate, the Cabinet declined to develop an alternative to their stalled incinerator proposal. A number of us made impassioned pleas for consideration to be given to a Plan B, but it was all to no avail.

In the end they agreed to “consider what further mitigation may be required to offset the impact of the further delay in delivering the Cornwall Energy Recovery Centre in order to continue to deal with Cornwall’s residual domestic waste.”

To be frank, I am not even sure what they have agreed …

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Plaid Cymru table Early Day Motion calling for a Cornish Assembly

I am pleased to report that yesterday in the House of Commons, our good friends in Plaid Cymru tabled an Early Day Motion (no. 2532) marking the tenth anniversary of the 50,000 declarations, further calling for a Cornish Assembly.

It was presented by Jonathan Edwards (above) who recently spoke at MK's Conference in November. The EDM was also sponsored by Elfyn Llwyd and Hywel Williams.

The EDM was as follows:

That this House notes that 10 years have passed since the presentation of a petition with 50,000 signatures in favour of a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street on 12 December 2001 which equated to 10 per cent. of the adult population of Cornwall; recalls that this declaration of support for a Cornish Assembly was launched by Mebyon Kernow and received support from those of all parties and none; expresses disappointment that the then Government did not act upon the subject of the petition; believes that the failure to establish a Cornish Assembly has created a democratic deficit; further notes Government proposals for the devolution of power in the UK; and calls for the formation of a democratically elected Cornish Assembly to take decisions for the benefit of the people of Cornwall.

Further information

Early Day Motions (EDMs) are tabled by MPs to publicise a particular event or cause, and to gather support among MPs for that event or cause. MPs demonstrate their support for an EDM by signing the motion. Each EDM is given a unique number, starting at 1 at the beginning of each parliamentary session.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Today is the 10th anniversary of the 50,000 Declarations at Downing Street

Today marks the tenth anniversary of the presentation of 50,000 Declarations for a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street.

Getting over 50,000 people to show their support for a Cornish Assembly in less than twenty months was a truly amazing achievement, and the Declarations continue to represent a great statement of intent from the ordinary people of Cornwall.

At this point, it is right that we look at what has happened since 2001 and how the aspirations of the 50,000 signatories have been devalued by the actions of the London-centred parties and their leaders.

It remains a disgrace that Tony Blair’s Labour Government (which supported devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) dismissed the declarations and refused to consider demands for greater powers for Cornwall.

The Liberal Democrats walked away from the campaign for an Assembly and, with the backing of the Labour Government, they pushed through the creation of a single unitary authority in the face of massive opposition. They even had the brass neck to attempt to promote this centralisation of local government by using the language of devolution.

And now, we even have the Conservative-led Coalition Government further undermining democracy and the territoriality of Cornwall by pushing through plans for a cross-Tamar parliamentary constituency.

The previous Labour Government spoke a lot about devolution, local control and democratic change. The present Coalition Government also speaks a lot about devolution, as well as localism.

But these were, and are, “hollow words” as far as Cornwall is concerned. Blair and Brown ignored calls for a Cornish Assembly, a situation that is being replicated by the present Coalition Government.

The reality is that, because of the failings and neglect of the London-centred political parties, the fight has got harder – and the responsibility that Mebyon Kernow members have is even greater.

The quest to win an Assembly for Cornwall remains our big battle and we will never retreat from it! As the leader of MK, I pledge our continued commitment to greater self-government for Cornwall and we will never shirk from this fight.

Ten years on from taking the Declarations to Downing Street, I have also written to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband. I have challenged them to respect the views of the 50,000 and to work with local communities to deliver devolution to the historic Celtic nation of Cornwall.

I will report back on the replies when I receive them.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

50,000 for a Cornish Assembly - ten years on!

Ten years ago this coming Monday (12th December 2001), I was part of a delegation to 10 Downing Street.

We presented a CD to the Government which contained the names and addresses of 50,000 individuals who had signed Declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly.

The Declaration had been launched by Mebyon Kernow on St Piran’s Day in the previous year. It set out a strong message:

“Cornwall is a nation with its own identity, culture, traditions and history – it also suffers severe and unique economic problems.

“Important decisions about our future are increasingly taken outside of Cornwall and such decisions are often inappropriate or even contrary to the needs of our local communities.

“Scotland now has its own Parliament and Wales its own Assembly – but Cornwall has been ignored. We have had the artificial ‘south west’ region foisted upon us.

“Cornwall has had to accept second best for too long.

“We, the People of Cornwall, must have a greater say in how we are governed. We need a Cornish Assembly that can set the right democratic priorities for Cornwall and provide a stronger voice for our communities in Britain, in Europe and throughout the wider World.

“I support the campaign for a Cornish Assembly.”

In a period of less than twenty months during 2000 and 2001, teams of volunteers under the inspirational leadership of Paddy McDonough visited town after town, setting up street stalls and getting the individual declarations signed.

The Cornish Constitutional Convention was also founded in 2000 to campaign for more powers for Cornwall. This helped to build cross-party support for the Declaration and it was subsequently backed by leading figures from all political parties including district and county councillors, and 80% of Cornish MPs.

It was a truly amazing achievement for 50,000 people (over 10% of the adult population of Cornwall) to sign the Declaration in such a short period.

Sadly, since 2001 the aspirations of these 50,000 signatories have been undermined and persistently devalued by the actions of the London-centred political parties and their leaders.

I have written to David Cameron and Nick Clegg, as well as the leader of the Labour Party Ed Miliband, demanding greater self-government for Cornwall. I will blog about the 50,000 in more detail on Monday.

Monday, 5 December 2011

MK challenges Cornish MPs on Devonwall seat

Mebyon Kernow Deputy Leader Cllr Andrew Long has challenged Cornwall’s MPs to take a lead and pledge to vote against any proposals for a Devonwall parliamentary constituency.

Cllr Long makes clear our view that the recommendation of a Devonwall seat has only happened because of the refusal of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs / Lords to protect the territorial integrity of Cornwall when the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill was debated.

In his letter, he addresses the fact that MPs will have a vote in 2013 as to whether proposed changes are accepted.

“It has been well reported that there is a growing anxiety amongst MPs about the final outcome of the boundary review. It has also been suggested that many, who face losing their seats and livelihoods, might oppose the legislation. Tory Minister Ian Duncan Smith has even appealed to the Prime Minister to ditch the change.

“There is still hope that we can prevent a Devonwall seat becoming a reality. Will you take a lead in publicly opposing the boundary changes and pledge now that you will use your vote in the House of Commons to oppose any recommendation for a Devonwall seat?”

We will let one and all know the responses when we receive them.

Findings of High Pay Commission are "obscene"

My column in last week's Cornish Guardian addressed the finding of a report from the the High Pay Commission. It was as follows:

At this time of cuts, tax increases, wage restraint, and with the living standards of people under threat, a report from the High Pay Commission makes truly shocking reading.

The Commission undertook a year-long inquiry into the pay of top executives. It found that, over the last thirty years, the disparity between what top executives and average workers earn has been growing and growing.

It records that, in this period, the income of top earners had risen by more than 4,000%

Examples within the report included that of John Varley, the former Chief Executive of Barclays Bank.

It notes that in 1980, the top wage earner at Barclays received £87,323 – 13 times the UK average wage. But last year, Mr Varley pocketed a total of £4,365,636 in salary, benefits and bonuses – 169 times the wage of the average worker in Britain.

The report also records that the salary for the Chief Executive at Lloyds Bank has increased to more than £2.5m.

Launching the report, Chairperson of the High Pay Commission Deborah Hargreaves described the excessive salaries of executives as "corrosive" and damaging to the economy.

She rightly added: “The British people believe in fairness and, at a time of unparalleled austerity, one tiny section of society - the top 0.1% - continues to enjoy huge annual increases in pay awards.”

Another report has just recorded that pay for the directors of the UK's top businesses rose by a massive 50% over the past year.

I agree with those commentators who have branded the increases in executive pay as "obscene" and have condemned the City and big business, who appear to have learnt nothing following the financial troubles of the last four years.

They are still putting the best interests of the wealthy few ahead of the majority, and the increases are a disgrace and cannot be justified.

Millions of public sector workers recently went on strike, because of proposed changes to their pension schemes and working conditions.

Is it any wonder that these workers, as well as those in the private sector, are so angry when they are see such inequality growing across British Society, with many people on low incomes knowing they will have to live off a paltry pension in their retirement.

In my view, it is time that Cameron put fairness at the heart of his programme of government, took on the vested interests of ultra-wealthy and stood up for ordinary men and women in these difficult times.