Wednesday, 18 September 2013

More powers for Cornwall

With the referendum for Scottish independence now only 12 months away, Mebyon Kernow has re-iterated its call for the devolution of greater political and economic powers.

There is certainly a significant debate about the future governance of Scotland, and even the Westminster political parties – who oppose independence for Scotland – are promising greater powers for the Scottish Parliament.

But this debate cannot just be about Scotland. There needs to be a mature, respectful and wide-ranging debate about the future of the whole of the United Kingdom.

There is a desperate need to address the unequal constitutional relationships between the various nations and regions of the UK, and to tackle the centralising influence of London and the South East of England.

It is certainly my intention to ensure that, over the next 12 months, Mebyon Kernow will continue to prioritise making the case for the meaningful devolution of political powers to Cornwall.

Yet more cuts at Cornwall Council

My article in today’s Cornish Guardian focuses on the impact of cuts on local government. It is as follows:

Cornwall Councillors are in the midst of a series of grim meetings, in which they are considering the unitary authority’s budget for next year.

Having already seen millions slashed off its budgets in previous years, Cornwall Council was expecting to have to make so-called “savings” of £19 million in 2014-2015.

But further cuts from central government mean that the Council now has to cut £44 million from its budget.

The Coalition has also announced that it intends to continue the austerity measures for a further four years. This is a disastrous decision and means that there will even more devastating cuts to local councils.

I believe that these cuts will destroy the very basis of local government and undermine its ability to provide those services which local people depend upon.

Cuts to local government are so much greater than the cuts to other parts of the public sector and spokesmen from the Local Government Association are rightly pointing out that the funding reductions will “stretch essential services to breaking point.”

Some leading Conservatives are even admitting that the Government is getting it wrong.

Lord Heseltine, for example, has described the spending cuts as “over the top.” He told the BBC: "It is not right that local government should take what will be for many people a 40% cut … it jeopardises the whole point of what we do in relation to our services and our communities.”

He also added: “People will wake up in two or three years' time and in many cases their local council will not be there as they know it."

He is so correct.

Last week, two small district councils in Devon – West Devon and South Hams – announced that they had a joint £4.7 million hole in their budgets and were planning to make over one hundred staff redundant.

And in Cornwall, officers raised the possibility that – as suggested by central government – the unitary authority should examine the option of merging the Cornwall Fire Service with the fire service covering Devon and Somerset.

Such a proposal was rightly and swiftly dismissed by councillors, but it shows the frightful nature of the decisions being forced on local councils by the Coalition.  

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Political unity at Cornwall Council (for the cricket)

On Friday, the Chairman of Cornwall Council John Wood resurrected the old (County Council) tradition of an annual charity cricket match between councillors and officers at Boscawen Park in Truro.

The officers took the honours, though the councillors' cross-party team (under the stewardship of Cllr Jim McKenna) were not disgraced - something we were pleased about following the hilarious chaos of our warm-up.

Thanks to Sarah Goodall for the team photograph.

Looking back to 1913 ... and forward

My column in last week’s Cornish Guardian focussed on the 1913 Clay Strike and the events organised to mark the centenary. It was as follows:

I would like to congratulate everyone who has been involved with the commemoration of the china clay strike of 1913, when local workers demanded better pay and the right to union representation.

And I would certainly recommend the booklet on the strike published by the South West TUC in partnership with Wheal Martyn, the China Clay History Society, the Unite union and Imerys.

It is right that, 100 years on, we remember the fortitude and bravery of the communities of the China Clay Area, and men and women such as Charles Vincent, Samuel Behenna and Matt Giles of the strike committee, the out-spoken Methodist Minister Rev. Harry Booth-Coventry and the union organiser Julia Varley.

Without such men and women from communities across the whole of Britain, pressure would never have been exerted on those in power to improve the working and social conditions of the ordinary people of this country.

And it is due to such men and women that, over the last ten decades, significant progress was made with improvements in working conditions, suffrage and public services, especially with the creation of the National Health Service.

I was especially pleased that the events of this year did not just focus on the historic significance of 1913, but also addressed some of the social and economic issues facing people today, and included a debate at Bugle about low pay entitled: “Does Cornwall need a pay rise now?”

It is certainly my view that recent political developments are reversing so much of the good work of the past.

The Coalition is privatising our public services at an alarming rate; there is a frightening rise in the cost of living for ordinary people, many of whom are struggling to get by on less than a living wage; and many large companies are changing working conditions, forcing many workers into part-time work and zero-hour contracts, undermining employment rights and job security for thousands.

It is time that we fought back. And in 2013, we need to see so much more of the spirit that was about in 1913.