Friday 28 February 2014

Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall

As part of its ongoing campaign for greater powers for Cornwall, Mebyon Kernow has produced a new document entitled: Towards a National Assembly of Cornwall.

The document sets out how a National Assembly, with powers broadly equivalent to the Scottish Parliament, would bring the majority of the public sector within Cornwall – including local government, educational institutions, health bodies and other public bodies – under proper democratic control.

It is essentially a consultation document for MK members and the wider population of Cornwall about the nature of the democratic settlement that we should be seeking for the future.

The document will be formally launched at 11.00 on St Piran’s Day in the function room of the County Arms in Truro.

The event is open to the general public, as well as members of MK and the press, and MK will be represented by prospective parliamentary candidates and the MK leadership team.

Free copies of the booklet will available on the day and a pdf copy will also be posted on the MK website on St Piran’s Day.

Thursday 27 February 2014

My report to St Enoder Parish Council

At Tuesday’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council, I tabled my latest monthly report. It covered the period from 25th January to 20th February. It was as follows:

1.         Council meetings

I have attended a range of meetings over the last month. These included: Devolution and Localism Portfolio Advisory Committee (PAC); Environment, Heritage and Planning PAC (plus an associated informal meeting and two associated pre-agenda briefings/meetings); Finance and Resources PAC; Homes and Communities PAC (plus an associated informal meeting); and planning training on design.

Topics covered in these meetings included planning policy, town frameworks for Bodmin and St Austell, affordable housing policy, and gypsy and traveller policy.

2.         Other meetings

I also attended a meeting of the Rural Sub-group of the Local Enterprise Partnership, the Executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Rural Partnership, and the CERC Liaison Group.

Local meetings included the Board of ClayTAWC (which I continue to chair), Indian Queens Band, the Annual General Meeting of the Indian Queens Pit Association, and the Governors of Summercourt Academy.

3.         Impact of the bad weather

Over the last month, Cornwall has continued to suffer significant coastal damage and flooding; with the most recent estimate placing the cost of the damage at around £22 million.

In St Enoder Parish, there have been continuing problems with the run-off of rainwater from local fields and rising spring water from saturated fieldscapes, and I have kept in regular contact with a number of local residents. I have also reported a number of concerns about road ditches and highway drains to Cornwall Council, which I am continuing to follow up.

A road bridge near Perrose has been undermined by the amount of water in the river beneath it. This road is presently closed and council officers have promised to keep me informed about their plans to repair the damage and reopen the road. 

The wind has also caused some local damage. A number of trees came down and a woman at Pedna Carne was hospitalised when a tree fell on her.

4.         Flooding problems; Property Level Protection (PLP)

As noted in my last monthly report – following my production of the report on the flooding incidents in St Enoder Parish in November/December 2012 and March 2013 – the unitary authority has commenced a new Property Level Protection (PLP) scheme across Cornwall.

Through this scheme, a number of domestic properties will be assessed to see what can be done to help safeguard homes against future flooding incidents. I am pleased to be able to confirm that nine properties in St Enoder Parish – seven in Fraddon and two in Chapel Town, Summercourt – were visited by surveyors on 4th February. I accompanied the surveyors for much of the day and I will report back further when I have been presented with their recommendations.

5.         Clay Country mobile library / one-stop-shop

Cornwall Council launched its 12-week consultation on the cessation of all mobile library and mobile one stop shop services on 4th February. I remain extremely disappointed that the Clay Country mobile library / one-stop-shop is under threat, and that the paperwork relating to the consultation on the mobile services does not even mention the Clay Bus. I am continuing to make representations about the inadequacies of the consultation within the Council.

6.         Youth Club

I have continued to liaise with the Cornwall Youth Service about the Youth Club. The Club reopened its doors at the Wesley Church Hall on 22nd January and met again on the 29th. The sessions on 5th and 12th February were cancelled because of the adverse weather conditions, and I erected signs at the venue in case anyone turned up. There was also no session on 19th February, because the staff traditionally take their leave during half-term.

I have further feedback from the youth workers about their experience of running the Youth Club from the Wesley Church Hall, which is presented elsewhere on the agenda for this meeting.

7.         Adoption of road at St James View, Fraddon

I am pleased to be able to report that Cornwall Council formally adopted the road and associated pavements in St James View, Fraddon, on 27th February.

8.         Patching at Highgate Roundabout, Indian Queens

Following complaints about the extremely poor condition of the road surface at Highgate Roundabout near Indian Queens, Cormac have carried out some temporary patching of the worst pot-holes. I can also report that resurfacing of the roundabout is timetabled for May.

9.         Appeal statement on proposed turbine at Nancolleth Farm   

As previously requested, I have completed a statement that was submitted to the Planning Inquiry (written representations) for the above application in the neighbouring parish of St Newlyn East.

10.       My Community Fund

I have allocated the £3,000 in my personal Community Fund for 2013-2014 (allocated to all Cornwall Councillors) as follows:

Fraddon Village Hall – £400 towards redecoration of the Hall.
Indian Queens Band – £450 towards new instruments.
Indian Queens Pantomine Society – £400 towards a projector.
St Enoder Parish Council – £1,000 towards the new Youth Club for local teenagers.
1st St Enoder Scouts – £450 towards new dining tents and cooking stoves.
Summercourt Memorial Hall – £300 towards new tables.         

11.       Newsletter

I am presently distributing my six-monthly newsletter (dated January / February), but it is taking a significant amount of time because of the bad weather.

12.       Inquiries

Throughout the last month, I have also helped numerous people with advice and guidance. Issues included planning matters, housing concerns, various enforcement matters and parking problems.

Sunday 23 February 2014

Inequality, Inequality, Inequality ...

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian addresses the inequality in British Society. It will be as follows:

I have a strong belief we should do all that we can to build a more equal and just society.

But the newspapers and the news on radio or television are full of evidence of the inequality throughout British society.

A number of Anglican bishops, Chairs of Methodist Districts and prominent Quakers have come together to launch what has been described as an “unprecedented attack” on the Conservative-led Coalition.

Standing up for the less-well-off, they have condemned the Coalition’s welfare cuts which they said had left many “facing hunger and hardship,” adding that the Prime Minister had a “moral duty” to tackle the growing number of families struggling to put food on the table.

In a joint letter, these religious leaders said: “Britain is the world’s seventh largest economy and yet people are going hungry. We must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cutbacks to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”

They also noted that: “Half a million people had visited foodbanks since last Easter, while 5,500 people were admitted to hospital in the UK for malnutrition last year.”

Contrast that to what else has been in the news in the last few days.

A number of British banks are considering awarding bonuses of share options worth many millions of pounds to their Chief Executives in future years, in order to circumvent an EU cap on bankers’ bonuses. One report stated that certain bankers even had the ability to earn 700% of the value of their already high salaries in additional bonuses.

There has also been outrage at the news that a former BBC presenter was caught claiming to be a second-hand car dealer so that he could avoid paying £400,000 in tax! Apparently, it was part of a “highly complicated Working Wheels tax avoidance scheme” that has also attracted the attention of another 450 extremely rich individuals.

And then there was the announcement that Manchester United had agreed a new five-and-a-half year contract with Wayne Rooney, for which he will be paid £300,000-a-week.

I simply do not believe that it can be right that so many people in communities across the United Kingdom are struggling while doing worthwhile jobs at the minimum wage of £6.31 (£252.40 for a 40 hour week) – when a footballer, however skilled, gets 1,188-times as much. And that is not even including his sponsorship deals! 

Thursday 20 February 2014

Cameron says "money is no object" - really?

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian focused on the Government response to the devastating storms and floods that have hit Cornwall and elsewhere. It was as follows:

Last week, David Cameron insisted that, when it comes to dealing with the recent storms and the flooding, "money is no object."

His exact words were: "Nothing is more important than dealing with these floods. Money is no object in this relief effort. Whatever money is needed for it, it will be spent. We will take whatever steps are necessary.”

It is to be welcomed that central government has allocated an additional £130 million to deal with the damage caused by the bad weather.

And the speed with which repairs are being carried out on the damaged railway line at Dawlish must also be welcomed, with the Prime Minister promising investigations into further rail improvements.

The announcement of changes to the Bellwin scheme (which partially recompenses councils after they have carried out emergency repairs following exceptional weather) will also mean extra resources to local authorities, though much of the detail is still quite sketchy.

There certainly appears to be a willingness to cover “costs incurred during the current emergency response and recovery,” but there is less certainty about the level of Government support for capital works to repair structural damage in the long-term.

Indeed, less than 24 hours after the Prime Minister pledged "money is no object," sources from Number 10 stated that his comments “did not mean extra money would be found.” They stated that, instead, “Whitehall departments would be expected to find money … from their existing budgets.” His Transport Secretary said that there would be no "blank cheque.”

It is my view that central government needs to clear up this uncertainty as a matter of urgency, and to put its money where its mouth is.

Further to this, in my column last week, I was extremely critical of the Government’s failure prior to the floods to invest in rail improvements for Cornwall and the wider South West.

Following on from my comments, my attention was drawn to a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (North). The thinktank has calculated the regional impact of central government’s planned expenditure spending on large-scale transport projects. It showed that Londoners are receiving public investment in transport of £2,596 per head while, by comparison, in the North East of England it is only £5 per person. In the South West, the investment is just £17.58 per head.

Such inequity in investment simply cannot be allowed to continue.

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Rob Simmons for St Ives

Congratulations to Rob Simmons, who has been selected by Mebyon Kernow to contest the St Ives seat at the next General Election.

I loved the report on the Western Morning News website that I presume will be in tomorrow’s paper:

“A search and rescue volunteer with a mission to “rock the political boat” has been selected by Mebyon Kernow to contest the St Ives constituency at the next general election.”

Brilliant, I am sure that Rob will do MK proud. Rock away, Rob.

Saturday 8 February 2014

Another case of Deja Vu – Lib Dems to back devolution to Cornwall?

It has been announced that the Liberal Democrats will be debating devolution at their spring conference in York next month.

One local Liberal Democrat was reported as saying that the proposal for their conference was for “asymmetric devolution,” where “different regions could assume different powers from government.”

He is also reported as saying that the “culture, identity and history” of Cornwall made it a special case and that the “foundations for a devolved assembly, based on the Welsh model, had already been laid through the creation of the unitary authority.”

The Lib Dems have been here many times before, and they are, once again, confusing national/regional government for Cornwall and local government.

Readers of my blog might like to remember the following:

1. In November 2001, Liberal Democrats held a Conference in Cornwall, at which they agreed to campaign for a Regional Assembly for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

2. The Lib Dems contested the 2005 General Election and Cornwall County Council elections with a Cornish Manifesto, which included a commitment to a Cornish Assembly.

3. Upon winning control of Cornwall County Council that year, they published a list of priorities that included a pledge to “establish detailed plans for a Cornish Assembly” within their first year of office. The Lib Dems did not take this pledge forward.

4. At another conference of Cornish Liberal Democrats in November 2005, they re-affirmed their commitment to the campaign for a Cornish Assembly. The motion specifically stated that “devolution to a Cornish tier of strategic regional government” was needed in advance of any reform to local government structures. In their press material to publicise the event, Andrew George MP said: “… the Government will not get away with their belief that they can fob us off with a rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic of local government.”

5. However in October 2006, when Labour launched a Local Government White Paper, which included measures to allow “a small number of councils to seek unitary status,” the Liberal Democrat County Council immediately jettisoned their commitment to a Cornish Assembly and began to prepare a bid for a single council.

6. In spite of the Liberal Democrat resolution from November 2005 and earlier commitments to a Cornish Assembly, Lib Dem MPs suddenly starting making claims that this was a “golden opportunity” to “get some powers back to Cornwall.”

7. They even carried on making the claim that local government reorganisation would lead to devolution after a senior director at the Department for Communities and Local Government visited Cornwall and confirmed that a unitary authority would not be able to draw down greater powers from regional and central government.

Economic statistics ... what to believe?

My latest article in the Cornish Guardian addressed recent data published on economic performance. It was as follows:

Statistics have been at the core of recent arguments about the economy, with political and other groups focussing on different aspects of the data.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the United Kingdom economy grew by 1.9% in 2013 – the strongest rate of growth since 2007.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer predictably welcomed the figures and used them to claim that the Government’s economic policies were working.  He was reported as telling the BBC that: "There is plenty more to do, but we're heading in the right direction."

Equally predictably, others disagreed with George Osborne. Many preferred to comment on the “cost-of-living crisis” suffered by many working people, who are struggling to pay their bills and can see no recovery at all.

So who is right?

Well, the ONS may be recording growth for the United Kingdom as a whole, but the regional picture is very varied. Much of the recent growth has, once again, been centred on London and the South of England – while other areas have fared much less well.

The latest “county” figures – dating to the previous year of 2012 – show the Cornish economy had slipped back during the last two years. It is now the region with the lowest economic performance, at only 61.2% of the UK average.

George Osborne claims he is “rebalancing the British economy." I feel it is about time he attempted to tackle the unbalanced nature of Britain’s economy and the massive difference between the various regions.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has meanwhile published a report which shows that living standards have fallen dramatically since the recession began. And economists believe they will not reach pre-crisis levels for a number of years.

The report found that between 2008 and 2013, inflation rose by 20%, while energy prices shot up by 60%, with food prices increasing by 30% over the same period. As a consequence, the income of a “mid-range” household is estimated to be about 6% below what it was pre-recession.

The report also found that the impact on poorer families is even more severe, because a much greater proportion of the spending of the less-well-off goes on the inflated cost of food and energy.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, it is many of these poorer families that will be squeezed even harder with the Government’s incoming cuts to benefits and tax credits.