Monday, 22 July 2013

Cornwall is not a "playground for the super-rich"

I have just finished my article for this week’s Cornish Guardian, which is as follows:

Last week, the Sunday Times published an article which claimed that Cornwall was a “playground for the super-rich.”

The article argued that, “with the drive down from London taking just three hours in a Porsche, Cornwall is becoming something of a millionaire’s paradise.” It also had a lot to say is about celebrities, helipads, polo on the beach, and hotel rooms with “the scent of fig electronically pumped into the air.”

Individuals featured within the piece included a businessman who owned “loads of boats … including a 43ft motorboat with every gadget going,” his wife who has “racked up three speeding fines roaring around the county in her Range Rover,” and the owner of a St Mawes second home – complete with a “cinema room and a heated pool” – who felt that “walking down the beach can sometimes feel like Chelsea-on-Sea.”

In the inevitable list of “dos and don’ts” for visitors to Cornwall – renamed by the Sunday Times as the Champagne Coast – the newspaper advised “do chat to strangers, minus your worst West Country accent,” and “do spritz seawater into your hair – a blow-dry looks wrong, wrong, wrong,” but “don’t ask for air-con – use those funny things called windows.”

Such distorted and patronising views distress me, and I do not recognise this almost mythical “lifestyle Cornwall,” that is written about in so many glossy magazines.

I see much more of what the academic Bernard Deacon has described as “life-struggle Cornwall,” in which local people struggle to make ends meet in a low-wage area.

By contrast, the patronising Sunday Times article did not even mention the “locals” until the very last paragraph of their article, where there was an inadequate passing reference to Cornwall being one of “Britain’s poorest counties … qualifying for emergency funding from the EU.”

If the Sunday Times want to feature Cornwall in its newspapers and magazines, I would suggest that they properly address those massive issues impacting on the full-time residents of the Duchy.

They could, for example, examine the growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, explore why Cornwall’s economic performance is only two-thirds of the UK average, delve into its dysfunctional housing market, investigate why over 50% of children on certain estates in West Cornwall are living in poverty, or scrutinise the impact of the government’s austerity measures on local people.

Indian Queens Band Week

Indian Queens’ Band Week kicked off last night with a concert at the local Working Mens Club, which featured the main band and also the training band. I had the privilege to launch Band Week and I also crowned the “Band Queen” and the younger “Fairy Queen.”

It was a wonderful evening and Indian Queens is very fortunate to have such a wonderful institution as the Band. Founded in 1856, it is still at the very heart of my local community and we owe a great deal to the bandsmen and their helpers and supporters for what they do, week in and week out.

There is much planned for Band Week, which includes:

Tuesday 23 July – Bingo at Indian Queens Victory Hall (eyes down at 7.30) and a euchre night at the Queen and Railway, St Columb Road (8.00)
Wednesday 24 July – Quiz Evening at the Bandroom (7.30)
Thursday 25 July – Fete and barbeque at the Blue Anchor, Fraddon (6.00)
Saturday 27 July – Grand Carnival (7.00)
Sunday 28 July – Old-time tea dance at the Bandroom (2.00)

Hope to see you there!

Friday, 19 July 2013

Great news - Indian Queens Primary School secures government investment

Yesterday’s announcement from the Schools Minister David Laws is fantastic news for Cornwall and, in particular, Indian Queens Primary School in my home Parish.

Cornwall Council made eight applications to the Government’s Targeted Basic Need Programme to provide funding to increase the number of places in schools facing the greatest level of pressure due to rising school numbers.

The Government has confirmed that it will support all eight proposed improvements, though I understand that the financial details have yet to be finalised

The additional funding will allow capital works to proceed to provide a total of 840 new school places in the following schools:

Indian Queens Community Primary School and Nursery
Mount Hawke Academy                                                  
Nanpean Community Primary School                               
Pondhu Primary School                                                   
St Columb Minor Academy                                              
St Petroc’s C of E VA School                                           
The Bishops C of E Primary School                                  
Treleigh Community Primary School

Indian Queens Primary School has been under considerable pressure because of the number of children within St Enoder Parish and surrounding areas who need school places.

I am delighted that these pressures have been recognised and Cornwall Council has been able to persuade central government to invest improvements at the site.

Cornwall Council is about to submit a planning application for two new classrooms at the School which is funded separately and this investment will fund further improvements that will ensure the School has capacity to offer places to all local children for the long-term.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Operation Trelawny - 15 years on - the photographs

In a recent blog entry, I mentioned Operation Trelawny from about 15 years ago – Sunday 26th July 1998 to be precise – and I thought it would be good to post a few images of the procession across the Tamar Bridge.

I had been leader of MK for less than a year and it was one of the first gatherings I had addressed in that role.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Teaching Cornish history ...

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian focuses on the importance of teaching Cornish history in local schools. It is as follows:

The attempt by the Education Secretary to introduce a new national curriculum for the teaching of history in schools has led to a number of unedifying rows in recent months.

Michael Gove had claimed he wanted teaching to “celebrate the distinguished role” of the UK in the “history of the world.”

Some historians backed his proposals, but others complained that his preferred history syllabus was not “balanced.” One academic condemned it as “1066 and all that – but without the jokes,” while a magazine thought it resembled a pub quiz.

Mr Gove had also spoken about focussing on “British heroes and heroines.” Margaret Thatcher was named among the initial list of key historic figures to be studied and, unsurprisingly, the Conservative Minister was accused of “political bias,” while he branded his critics as “Marxists” and “lefties.”

The Government has announced that, following the controversy, the proposed syllabus has been heavily revised, with an enhanced emphasis on world history, though “there will still be a strong narrative of British history” at the core of curriculum.

In reality, there can never be a definitive answer as to which aspects of history should be taught in schools, though I have noticed that Cornwall doesn’t get a mention in Gove’s documents.

The national curriculum does however state that “pupils should be taught about … significant historical events, people and places in their own locality,” but the history of Cornwall is much more that “local” history.

There are many educational professionals and teachers, who are already working hard to ensure that local children are taught about Cornwall. It is right that we applaud their work, and do all we can to ensure that their efforts are built upon.

I believe that local children – and adults for that matter – do benefit from understanding more about the land in which they live, and what made it the place it is today.

There is so much to learn about and understand and treasure. This could include Cornwall’s Celtic origins, the Cornish language, mining, the mass emigration of Cornish men and women; the achievements of its people – engineers and inventors such as Richard Trevithick and Henry Trengrouse, scientists like Humphry Davy and John Couch Adams, social reformers and radicals such as Emily Hobhouse and William Lovett; and the struggles of the ordinary people of Cornwall who lived though the social and economic upheavals of times past.

The above image is of workers from Trewhela Clay Works in St Enoder Parish, dating to the early 1930s - it contains quite a few Coles!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Political groups - working together at County Hall?

And on a positive note – this was my article published in last week’s Cornish Guardian.

After the local elections in May, there were discussions between the three main groups (Conservative, Independent and Liberal Democrat) on Cornwall Council about the possibility of a “rainbow” or “one and all” administration.

I was disappointed that they were unable to come to an agreement.

From my perspective, it could have meant, for example, the whole Council coming together to challenge the disproportionate level of central government cuts to Cornwall Council.

But I have to complement the administration formed by the Independents and Liberal Democrats. They are attempting – unlike previous administrations – to engage with all political groups across the authority and to encourage a more inclusive atmosphere.

The new leader, Independent Councillor John Pollard from Hayle, has pledged to work with all councillors “to create a positive and responsive Council.” Labour and Mebyon Kernow have stated they intend to “work constructively with the administration” while UKIP has stated it “will co-operate where it can.”

The new administration has certainly made a concerted effort to ensure that members of all political groups are appointed to positions of responsibility – an initiative which was welcomed by all groups except the Conservatives who, for reasons that I do not comprehend, declined to be part of the arrangement.

I have been appointed as Chairman of the Environment, Heritage and Planning Portfolio Advisory Committee, while other committees will be chaired by members of the Labour Party and UKIP. The sole Green Party councillor will be the vice-chairman of the Transport and Waste Portfolio Advisory Committee.

I believe that such inclusiveness is to be applauded and I hope that it will lead to a period of more positive politics at County Hall, which will allow the Council to be more united in demanding a better deal from central government.

It is also to be welcomed that, at this week’s meeting of Cornwall Council, councillors from a range of groups have come together to put forward a motion to oppose moves by the Home Secretary to transfer of control over fire and rescue services away from local authorities and, in the case of Cornwall, out of the Duchy.

Operation Trelawny - 15 years on

I have neglected to upload my most recent articles in the Cornish Guardian.  The article in the edition dated 3rd July, addressed the announcement that Cornwall will qualify for the next round of European funding. It was as follows:

It is fifteen years ago, this month, that one thousand people marched across the Tamar Bridge, symbolically blocking one of the main entranceways into Cornwall. Known as “Operation Trelawny,” it was the last significant event organised by the pressure group Cornish Solidarity.

The main campaigning plank of the Solidarity movement was the demand for Cornwall to receive European funding to help boost Cornwall’s ailing economy. It was clear to most people that Cornwall should qualify for the funding because Cornwall’s gross domestic product (GDP) was less than 75% of the EU average.

But Cornwall missed out on funding in 1992/1993, when a previous application for has been made on a “Cornwall and Devon” basis.

At this time, Cornwall’s GDP was around 76% of the EU average, which could have triggered many hundreds of millions of pounds of structural funding. But because Cornwall was linked to Devon, the joint figure for GDP came out at 83%.

Cornwall therefore lost out, but Merseyside and the Highlands and Islands of Scotland – with a GDP of 79% of the EU average – won the higher levels of financial support.

Fortunately for the Cornwall, in the late 1990s, the campaign to disaggregate from Devon for statistical purposes was successful. Significant investment was secured and, from 1999 onwards, our local communities, institutions and businesses have benefited from a range of funding programmes including Objective One and Convergence.

The investment certainly helped to boost the local economy and underpinned a number of key projects such as the Combined Universities. And for a number of years, Cornwall’s economy was growing at a faster rate than other regions – albeit from a much lower base.

But that has changed. The most recent figures show that the Cornish economy has struggled during the recent economic downturn. Cornwall’s GDP is now slipping back at a faster rate than other parts of the UK and we also have a lower economic output than Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as some regions in Romania and Bulgaria.

It is therefore very good news that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly will receive further European investment of over €500 million between 2014 and 2020, and we need to maximise the benefit of this money.

That should mean central government also prioritising investment in Cornwall – as one of its two poorest regions – but it is frightening to know that the cuts are taking millions and millions out of the local area, and weakening its economy.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Leanne Wood backs progressive alliance to combat Westminster's austerity-driven consensus

In a speech to the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) think-tank on Monday, the leader of Plaid Cymru leader called for the establishment of a new “progressive alliance” in Britain to combat the austerity-driven consensus of the three main London-based parties.

Leanne Wood was rightly critical of the Coalition, as well as the Labour Party which has stated that it would stick to spending plans of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

She argued that a “rainbow alliance for a rebalanced, reindustrialised future” was needed to challenge the political establishment that had failed Wales and large parts of England.

Leanne also mentioned Mebyon Kernow and Cornwall on a number of occasions.

Some quotes of interest are as follows:

“Where you are born has as big an influence on your future life prospects as who you are born to. In this inaptly named United Kingdom, the spatial and the social are inter-twined. Geography has as much influence as class. For those who argue that the north-south divide is an over-simplification I would agree to this extent.
“The compass points of poverty in Britain are marked not just by north but by west too.  The line of disadvantage lies between the South-East of England and the rest, although there are, of course, pockets of acute hidden poverty in almost all communities in all parts of Britain.”

”We would like to see a proper regional policy within the union that would provide clear benefits for the regions and nations. We are less vocal on how England’s governance should be arranged – with the exception of supporting Cornwall's right to self-determination – we believe that what happens in England is a matter for people in England.”

”In Plaid Cymru, we often refer to the London Parties. This piece of political short-hand is of course, by no means a political attack on Londoners. Many of them are victims of the same centripetal politics as we are in Wales.

”Reference to the London parties is an attack on a political system that has enshrined the City of London and spiralling, make-believe property prices at the core of economic policy. For over a century the City of London has given priority to international trade over local lending and investment. This has been reflected in the mindset of our politicians, and in their policies – in investment flows and the allocation of resources. Even where the City of London has supported infrastructure investment it has focused on the needs of London and the South East of England.”

“But, if, like us, you are interested in the balancing of Britain now, this would be a good way to go and would be and a step towards what a previous Leader of Plaid Cymru used to call a Brittanic confederation. It’s what we might call today a new Commonwealth of Britain.

“My party – The Party of Wales – would love to work with an Alliance of progressive forces from all parts of England, as well as those in Cornwall with whom we already have a loose alliance.”

 “In 2010 it was Plaid Cymru (and the SNP) who led the calls for a rainbow alliance of progressives which would have stopped the coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems. A broad network in England, united behind a core set of progressive values could well include the Greens and other environmentalists. It could include the trade union movement, many in the churches and other faith organisations, the new People’s Assembly movement, our sister party Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall, refugees from Labour and the Lib Dems and, yes, refugees from Respect and the SWP, too.
“The potential for an English left-leaning alliance is enormous – and absolutely critical, for without it, the political void in England will be filled only by the knee-jerk reactionaries of UKIP and their ilk.” 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Cornish Language policy for Truro City Council

Well done to MK councillors Conan Jenkin and Lance Dyer for persuading Truro City Council to adopt a progressive Cornish Language policy. The policy is as below:

St Austell and Newquay Constituency AGM

The Annual General Meeting of the St Austell and Newquay Constituency Party of Mebyon Kernow will be held in St Austell on Thursday 4th July.

Anyone who would like to find out more about becoming a member of Mebyon Kernow is welcome to attend the meeting.  

Please call me on 07791 876607, if you would like to find out more.

Environment, Heritage and Planning PAC

I am delighted to be able to report that I have been elected as Chairman of the Environment, Heritage and Planning Portfolio Advisory Committee on Cornwall Council, and I would like to thank my colleagues for their support.

The committee will have a very busy schedule. Topics include budget pressures caused by government cuts, the Cornwall Local Plan, renewable energy, affordable housing and so much more. There will be much work to do and I will try to keep one and all informed.