Friday 30 November 2012

Waste - the latest developments

My column in today’s Cornish Guardian revisits the topic of waste. It is as follows:

It is extremely good news that central government has awarded Cornwall Council the sum of £1.56 million to “encourage recycling and significantly increase the number and volume of materials to be recycled in an effort to divert waste from landfill.”

The funding will come from the Department for Communities and Local Government and it means that the Council will be able to introduce an enhanced kerbside service that will collect all forms of plastics (including yoghurt pots, tubs and trays).

I am sure this will be welcomed by everyone who is presently frustrated at the Council’s failure to collect certain plastics and the resultant confusion.

It has been estimated that this move will increase the amount of recycling collected each year by 9,000 tonnes. And there is evidence that such an improvement to the service would be likely to boost recycling in general.

The funding will also be used to support a new scheme to help residents recycle their food waste at home and there will be enhanced recycling at Household Waste and Recycling Centres. This will include the retrieval of materials such as metal and textiles from mattresses.

But while I positively welcome these new initiatives, I do feel they run somewhat counter to the decision of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, earlier this month, to agree to push ahead with the construction of an over-sized incinerator at St Dennis.

The proposed plant would have an annual throughput of 240,000 tonnes but, at the present time, the extent of Cornwall’s residual domestic waste is 180,000 tonnes.

Enhancements to the recycling service will reduce that still further, leaving a massive void which SITA, the Council’s contractor, would need to fill with commercial or business waste.

Some people have even questioned whether SITA would be able to access such commercial waste from within Cornwall, because of the number of private waste firms that are operating locally and competing with each other to secure access to the waste materials.

The Cornwall Waste Forum has meanwhile published a report from consultants Eunomia on waste management in Cornwall.

The document is critical of Cornwall Council’s approach and claims that an alternative approach could generate “potential savings” of over £300m.

On behalf of a number of councillors from Mid Cornwall, Cllr Fred Greenslade has written to the leadership of the Council asking them to show “due diligence” and looks closely at the Eunomia report. The letter asks Cornwall Council to investigate the veracity of the “potential savings,” to substantiate or refute the findings of the report, and to consider if there is a more sustainable way forward.

Monday 26 November 2012

Tax avoidance ...

My most recent article for the Cornish Guardian focused on the tax avoidance presently being practiced by large companies. It was as follows:

There is an understandable and widespread anger because a range of large global companies are paying little or no corporation tax on profits made in the United Kingdom.

According to an investigation by the news agency Reuters, US coffee giant Starbucks generated sales of £398 million in the UK last year but paid no corporation tax on their profits at all.

The study found that the company had reported losses in each of the last five years and therefore could justify paying no corporation tax. But their executives have also described their UK business as both "successful" and “profitable.”

The reality is that they have ensured they made “no profits" through payments to offshore companies also owned by Starbucks.

Reuters meanwhile found that Google managed sales of $4 billion in the UK but, despite having a profit margin of 33%, paid tax of just £3.4 million. Google avoids UK tax by steering sales through an Irish accounting unit.

Likewise, Amazon managed sales of over $5 billion but paid less than £1 million in tax. It avoids tax through an arrangement with an office based in Luxembourg.

I am pleased that company executives from Starbucks, Google and Amazon were recently dragged in front of the Public Accounts Committee to give evidence to MPs.

But at this session, and throughout the media, there has been one continuing refrain. Company after company has justified its actions by stating that what they were doing was "unquestionably legal.”

Maybe so, but I prefer to agree with the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee. She said she was “not accusing” the companies of acting illegally, but did accuse them of being “immoral.”

I welcome the fact that MPs are finally waking up to the fact that they need to "beef up action against tax avoidance” and to tackle the "systematic abuse" of the system by certain large firms.

But I also feel extremely angry that the Coalition has, in the recent past, found time to agree a tax cut for millionaires and to push the ridiculous notion of a “Pasty Tax,” but has so far done very little to tackle widespread tax avoidance by some large multinationals.

This Government does need to take action and to work with other European partners to change laws relating to taxation.

It is wrong that the “tax avoidance industry” can continue to limit revenues to the Treasury, reducing what can be spent on vital public services, while giving multinational companies an unfair advantage over smaller firms and businesses.

All companies should make a fair and proportionate contribution in terms of tax.

Sunday 25 November 2012

New MK officers and spokespersons

At the MK Conference held in Truro on Saturday, the following appointments were agreed:

Leader (and spokesperson on housing and planning) - Cllr Dick Cole, Fraddon
Deputy Leader (with responsibility for finance and spokesperson on economic matters) - Cllr Andrew Long, Callington
Deputy Leader (and spokesperson on constitutional affairs) - Cllr Phil Rendle, Penzance
Deputy Leader (and spokesperson on health) - Cllr Loveday Jenkin, Praze

Children, education and families spokesperson - Cllr Tamsin Williams, Penzance
Environmental protection spokesperson - Cllr Rod Toms, Summercourt
Global issues spokesperson - Cllr John Rowe, Camborne
Public services spokesperson - Cllr Stephen Richardson, Illogan
Social justice spokesperson - Cllr Stuart Cullimore, Camborne

Admin officer - Peter Dudley, Callestick
Social media officer - Rob Simmons, Penzance
Website officer - Niall Curry, Feock

The National Executive also includes representatives from each of the six constituency parties.

"Make 2013 the year that MK comes of age"

In my keynote speech to the MK Conference, I covered a range of areas including the failures of the Coalition Government, the values that underpin the policies of Mebyon Kernow, and how MK members could make the difference.

In one section, I condemned the policies of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition, as follows:

“Their crude austerity measures and deep cuts to the public purse pushed the UK back into recession – the first ‘double dip’ recession in decades.

“They have instituted regressive policies, which are impacting most on the less-well-off and the vulnerable.

“They have reinforced what is wrong in the UK – inequality, poverty, a lack of opportunity.

“They have cut benefits for the disabled and forced thousands into a position where they have to rely on foodbanks to survive from week to week.

“The Coalition has sacked police officers, teachers and health workers; and yet, at the same time, they have given tax cuts to millionaires, they have done little to tackle the tax avoidance of their corporate chums, and are continuing to waste millions on nuclear weapons.

“They are even promoting regional pay – so that a worker here in Cornwall, perhaps in the NHS, will get much less than a worker somewhere else for doing exactly the same job – disgracefully reinforcing Cornwall as the ‘low pay’ capital of the UK.”

I also appealed to the Conference to “make 2013 the year that MK comes of age.”  The relevant section of my speech was as follows:

“The political landscape is changing, people are increasingly seeing through the failed promises of the London parties.

“Ours is a party with a great history. Over the last sixty years, hundreds and hundreds of individuals have played an important part in building our movement.

“We owe all these people a great deal and we now have a wonderful opportunity.

“If all the years that went before and all the struggles of our members are to have real meaning, 2013 must be the year when we achieve a real step-change in our profile, make that key breakthrough and get more MK councillors elected than ever before.”

Cllr Stephen Richardson at the MK Conference

Cllr Stephen Richardson from Illogan meanwhile appealed to delegates to work hard to “win unitary seats across the whole length of Cornwall next May” and to offer “hope where London hawks fear.”

He said “It is our duty to inspire all the people of Cornwall. To say that none of us is as good as all of us.

“We have to create a vision where people like you and me, the passenger on the Bodmin bus, the schoolgirl in the Camborne classroom, the boy playing football in Callington, the woman working in the Truro office and the man walking his dog in Penwith – where all of us can make a difference by working together.

“Working together for a Cornwall that is run for the benefit of the people who live here.

“Run by people who live, study and work here and who know what the real challenges are and how best to meet them.”

Cllr Andrew Long at the MK Conference

Speaking at yesterday’s MK Conference, Cllr Andrew Long (Callington) hit out at the failed economic policies of the London-based political parties. He said:

“Time and time again, the London parties have betrayed the people of Cornwall.  They don’t know what makes Cornwall tick, and don’t understand the needs of its people.  Let me give you an example.  For the last twenty years, Cornwall has received funding from the European Union because of its poor economic growth and poverty. 

“Despite the promises of the Labour and now Con/Dem regimes, 20 years later and we are now one of the poorest members in the whole of the European Union.  And this includes Greece!

“The truth be told, the London parties don’t care about Cornwall.  They pay lip service to us, but in the cold light of day it is the political masters in Westminster who call the tune.  They see us as a sleepy backwater that has nice coasts and is an ideal place for their second ‘homes’!”

Saturday 24 November 2012

Today's MK Conference

It was good to see so many friends at MK's 2012 National Conference in Truro today. Thanks to everyone who braved the weather to attend, who contributed to the debates and made some great speeches - especially Zofia (above) who attended on behalf of the UDB.

I will post extracts from some of the speeches over the next day or two.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

No to incinerator could save £320,000,000

Well done to the Cornwall Waste Forum.

Today I attended the launch of an independent review of alternatives to Cornwall Council’s plan for a massive incinerator near St Dennis.

The report was produced by consultants Eunomia who have in the past advised Cornwall Council. Their report is dynamite; it claims that an alternative approach to waste management in Cornwall could save local tax payers £320 million over the length of the contract.

Printed below are some extracts from the report:

The Cornwall PFI contract has been found to have two significant problems: 

It is outdated and not fit for purpose. Due to its origins in analysis conducted in the late 1990s, it no longer reflects the policy, legislative and technology context of waste management. For example, it does not identify food waste as a separate waste stream, and does not apply current guidance on how food waste should be collected and treated. This presents a level of legal risk to the council, which is obliged by law to apply the waste hierarchy in its approach to waste management.

It is expensive. Based on credible estimates of SITA’s charges, the contract appears to offer very poor value for money. We estimate that the contract currently costs the council around £28m per year, and that this will rise in future. The total cost is estimated at £647m (in real terms) from 2012/13 through to the contract’s end. Our modelling shows that by exiting the contract, more than half of this cost might be avoided.

The review did not set out to identify an optimum approach to waste management in Cornwall. A review on the modest scale of this project could not hope to succeed in so complex a task. Instead we have compared the estimated costs of the current approach with the costs the council might expect to incur if it made various changes to its arrangements. The scale of the potential saving is dramatic, in large part because of the charge of over £50 per tonne it appears that the contract specifies for receiving and processing recyclable materials. This charge is set to rise in the future and is already very high by the standards of the current market. We found that overall costs could be reduced by an average of £10m per year by simply diverting recyclable materials out of the PFI contract and onto the open market. 

Approaches that involve exiting the contract entirely and not building SITA’s plannedincinerator save even more – over £20m per year on waste management, although offset somewhat by additional collection costs. The detailed results of our modelling are set out in A.2.0. In the context of such significant savings, the risks and costs that the council has identified as likely to be incurred in leaving the contract, though unpalatable, are relatively small compared with the potential savings of over £320m in net present value terms over the period through to 2036/37. The costs include likely penalty payments to SITA stated by the council to be up to £80m, combined with the loss of some £45m of PFI credits.

To read the full report, visit

The Police Commissioner elections - how Cornwall voted

Cornwall Council has just published individual “results” for the various local authority areas for the Police Commissioner elections. The result for Cornwall, on a 15.2% turnout, was as follows:

Anthony Hogg
Brian Blake
Liberal Democrat
Nichola Williams
Robert Smith
UK Independence Party (UKIP)
Brian Greenslade
William Morris
Graham Calderwood
Ivan Jordan
John Smith
Thomas Macpherson
Rejected papers



Overall, it is the Liberal Democrats who must be most worried by the result.

The 8,496 votes achieved by the Lib Dems was only 7.3% of the 117,307 votes they managed in the 2010 General Election.

By comparison, the Conservatives managed 16% of the 115,016 votes they garnered in 2010, while Labour managed 28.6% of their 24,257 votes they won in 2010.

Sunday 11 November 2012

Police and Crime Commissioner elections

In my column in the latest edition of the Cornish Guardian, I have had my say on the Police and Crime Commissioner elections. It is as follows:

It is less than one week to the election of a Police and Crime Commissioner for Cornwall, Devon and the Isles of Scilly.

It is an electoral contest that few appear to want and many people, including representatives of police officers, have spoken out against the politicisation of policing.

Put simply, it is surely wrong for the Government to spend £100-£125 million on unwanted elections when it is cutting police budgets and reducing the number of police officers on the beat.

And yet, having decided that elected Commissioners are necessary, central government has arranged the election in a manner that has undermined the whole process, making it little more than a political sideshow.

Along with many others, I was extremely worried that policing would become an “electoral football” every four years, but this election has been so mismanaged that voters are not engaged and the whole thing has become a damp squib.

There will be a total of 1,375 polling stations open across Cornwall, Devon and the Isles of Scilly on 15th November, and over 1,300,000 residents will have the option to cast a vote. 

We have all received a booklet publicising the election and explaining the new voting system. But amazingly, the booklet also tells us that if we want to find out who is standing, we have to visit a website or phone through “to order printed material” about the candidates.

In elections to Westminster and the European Parliament, candidates are allowed to have a leaflet delivered to all residences within a constituency, but central government has decreed that this is not necessary for the Commissioner elections. This makes no sense at all.

There are ten candidates, but information is scant and it has been largely restricted to a few reports in the local press.

I understand that there have been opportunities to meet the Tory candidate at a Padstow Hotel or at the Conservative Club in St Austell, but the events were ticketed and cost £5 and £10 respectively. I understand there was even a “light buffet” at Austell, though I am not sure that paying to meet the candidate is something that will catch on in future  campaigns.

I have even been contacted by a number of residents asking who is standing and whether it is even worth bothering to vote. And is it any wonder? At the time of writing this column, I have had one email from a candidate but I have not received a single leaflet.

Friday 9 November 2012

John Gillingham for Gwinear-Gwithian and St Erth

Nominations today closed for the Cornwall Council by-election for Gwinear-Gwithian and St Erth. There are a total of seven candidates including Mebyon Kernow’s John Gillingham (above).

The election will be on Thursday 6th December and anyone who wishes to help out should call Cllr Stuart Cullimore on 01209 719525.

Wednesday 7 November 2012

Success of the day; no 1

Today at County Hall, having been ignored by the Cabinet on (i) the incinerator (ii) the St Austell, St Blazey and China Clay Area Regeneration Plan and (iii) the Cornwall Local Plan, I have had a success. In the item on the Local Development Scheme, I was able to persuade the Cabinet to correct some typographical errors ...

Defeat of the day: no 3 ... housing numbers

This afternoon, the Cabinet debated a draft of the Cornwall Local Plan, which will set out planning policies for the next twenty years.

As the Chairman of the Planning Policy Panel (PPAP), I addressed the content of the document which I believe still needs considerable work. I covered a range of topics including the weakness of the affordable housing policies, the lack of policies on the cumulative impact of renewable energy schemes, contradictions in the section on the historic environment, inconsistencies on the approach to eco-communities initiative, and the fact that the policies needed to be rigorously tested.

The key debate was housing numbers. The portfolio holder recommended a figure of 48,500 new properties for the period 2010-2030. I argued in favour of a figure of 38,000. This had been backed by members of PPAP at their recent meeting on 28th September and Cllr David Biggs also spoke in favour of the lower figure.

The Cabinet voted by four votes to three to support a housing target of 48,500. There was one abstention and two members were not present.

Defeat of the day: no 2

At today’s Cabinet meeting, I spoke out against the content of the St Austell, St Blazey and China Clay Area Regeneration Plan. My comments were as follows:

“I do not believe that you can support the Regeneration Plan as presently drafted and I would wish to make the following points.

“This Council has a corporate commitment to the eco-communities project – everyone knows this is not something with which I agree – and we all know that the regeneration plan was principally drafted to underpin and protect the validity of that scheme.

“It is now clear that the eco-communities project will total 2,300 housing units at the Bal / West Carclaze site and at Par. In the Cornwall Local Plan – these are identified as allocations. These are referenced in Policy 2 which also supports ‘small-scale exemplar’ projects to positively promote St Austell as the green capital of Cornwall.

“But this regeneration document continues to promote large-scale ‘transformational’ eco-developments – and it is already being misused.

“We even have the Coyte Farm development – a supermarket, a retail park and a golf club, gobbling up a hundred acres of farmland – arguing that it is somehow a transformational green development. And that is frankly ludicrous.

“If you wish to adopt this document, surely it should be modified to be more consistent with the content of the Local Plan.

“I was also disappointed that the reference to proposals needing broad community support” has been removed and replaced with ‘must have been the subject of robust community consultation’ – which suggests the Council will ask local people what they think but not act on the comments if it doesn’t want to. 

“What message is this sending out to the communities of Mid Cornwall?”

For the record, my representations fell on deaf ears again!

Defeat of the day: no 1

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet today voted to agree a Revised Project Plan, to amend the Integrated Waste Management Contract, and to push ahead with the construction at incinerator at St Dennis.

The local divisional member, my good friend Fred Greenslade, spoke with real heart against the imposition on his community and I supported him as best I could in the meeting.

I appealed to the Cabinet to think again and pointed out that the Cornwall Waste Forum has commissioned an independent report into their ‘high recycling’ alternative proposal, which is due to be published on 17th November.

Printed below is an extract from what I said:

“Over the last few years, campaigners have shown – time and time again – that there are better, greener and more sustainable ways to deal with our domestic waste.

“Their arguments – economic, environmental, financial and social – are comprehensive, compelling and should be listened to. You heard some of these arguments today in the public questions and I have to say that many of the official responses were poor – not least on those issues relating to the extent of ash, and the capacity of the plant.

“It remains a terrible travesty that this Council has refused to work up a ‘Plan B’ over the last three years. I would appeal to you to right that wrong today and I call on the Cabinet to not endorse the RPP.

“Spending a ridiculous nine-figure sum on the construction of an over-sized incinerator does not make financial sense – just compare this to the AD plant recently constructed upcountry for £3 million but which will deal with 20,000 tonnes of waste per annum.”

Tuesday 6 November 2012

MK back "living wage"

Mebyon Kernow has backed the campaign by the Living Wage Foundation and Citizens UK for a “living wage” of, at least, £7.45 an hour.

This comes in Living Wage week and a member of MK has also challenged Cornwall Council to take a lead on the matter and ensure all staff receive at least the “living wage.”

In his statement, MK spokesman Robert Simmons said:

“Mebyon Kernow believes that work should pay for everyone and that the lowest earners in society deserve fair wage levels.

“At this time of rising living costs and stagnating wages, we welcome the Living Wage initiative which should help the low paid achieve a better quality of life.

“Cornwall Council employs over 1,500 staff that earn the civil service minimum of £6.30 per hour. This is well below the Living Wage of £7.45 per hour – the level needed for a basic standard of living. We believe this does not adequately reflect the hard work and dedication of those on the frontline of public services in Cornwall.”

Monday 5 November 2012

2012 MK Conference

It is less than three weeks to Mebyon Kernow’s 2012 Conference, which will take place on Saturday 24th November at Lys Kernow / New County Hall in Truro.

The morning session is for party members and will include MK’s formal Annual General Meeting, as well as a debate about the content of the Mebyon Kernow manifesto for the 2013 elections to Cornwall Council and town and parish councils.

The afternoon session will start at 2.00 and it will showcase speeches from a series of leading members of Mebyon Kernow.

It is open to non-members and I would invite one and all to attend.

If you would like more information on the Conference, feel free to contact me via

Sunday 4 November 2012

Second homes turning Cornwall into a "playground for the rich"

My column in the last edition of the Cornish Guardian focused on the impact of second homes on Cornwall and its communities. It was as follows:

According to figures released by the Office of National Statistics, Cornwall is the “second home capital” of the United Kingdom.

Statistics from the 2011 census show that 23,000 people list a “second home” in Cornwall. There are also more holiday homes in Cornwall than anywhere elsewhere.

This week, the National Housing Federation even warned that “second homes” are increasingly pricing local people out of their communities, and the countryside will “become a place for the well-off to enjoy at weekends."

The mere existence of “second homes” and their preponderance in Cornwall and elsewhere is, in my view, part and parcel of a housing market that is totally out of control.

Sadly, David Cameron and his ministers, most of whom own multiple houses, continue to reject all calls for controls on such properties.

But I am not surprised at the Prime Minister’s attitude, which has much in common with many other occasional visitors to the Duchy, such as the novelist A. N. Wilson.

Mr Wilson recently wrote a piece about how he had "agonised" about buying a “second home,” stating he initially feared he would seen as an absentee "invader." But somehow, he came to the conclusion that: "However unfair it is that some people can afford holiday homes while young locals find it impossible to get started on the property ladder, Cornwall would die without second homes."

What twaddle. I agree more with local journalist Simon Parker who publicly challenged A. N. Wilson on the matter and wrote the following:

“The last thing any struggling community needs is to be patronised and treated like a basket case by those who have, by their greed, been the architects of many of its ills. By purchasing a property in a village, holidaying there a couple of times a year, and thereby transforming that village into a playground of the rich, these leeches suck the heart out of communities.”

One thing we could do is find another way to describe “second homes.”

As the other “Guardian” put it recently: “One of the key policies of Mebyon Kernow … is to introduce planning restrictions to stop and then reverse the spread of second 'homes' – the inverted commas around homes are significant. The argument is that most of these bolt-holes are not ‘homes’ at all.”

Or as Simon Parker puts it: “While we're at it, let's lay to rest the myth that these are second ‘homes.’ The expression is a misnomer. A home is where you live, not a place you visit a couple of times a year.”