Saturday, 24 December 2016

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

As we edge ever closer to the festive break, I would like to wish everyone a very Happy Christmas and a prosperous and healthy New Year.

I would also like to thank all those people who have been supportive of my work throughout 2016, as both the councillor for St Enoder and as the leader of Mebyon Kernow.

I can assure you all that I am most grateful for the help and encouragement I have received. It is much appreciated.

Nadelik lowen ha blydhen nowydh da.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Out and about in St Enoder Parish

This week, I have been delivering my latest (six-monthly) newsletter in Fraddon, Indian Queens, St Columb Road and Summercourt.

We have covered more than half of local residences and we will be doing our best to get around as much of the remainder of the Parish as we can before Christmas.

It has certainly been great to bump into so many people and I look forward seeing many more of you next week.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

My latest monthly report to St Enoder Parish Council

At tonight’s meeting of St Enoder Parish Council, I tabled my latest monthly report which covered the period from 24th October to 11th December 2016. It was as follows:

1. Council meetings

I have attended a range of formal meetings at Cornwall Council over the last six weeks. These included: Full Council (2), Planning Policy Advisory Panel (3), associated preparatory and follow-up meetings (4) and a workshop, Central Sub-Area Planning Committee, Constitution and Governance Committee and associated informal meeting, Electoral Review Panel (2) and associated workshop, member briefings (3), Group Leaders meeting, China Clay Network meeting, a meeting of members from the Clay Area, Incinerator Liaison Group, and meetings relating to Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities (3).

As well as the meetings listed above, I have had a large number of informal meetings with council officers at the unitary authority, and I have attended four meetings of St Enoder Parish Council and two meetings of the working group for the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan (2).

2. Other meetings

I have also attended meetings of the ClayTAWC centre where I am Chairman (3), St Austell Bay Economic Forum (2), and the South and East Cornwall Local Action Group.

3. Full Council: 1st November

A special meeting of the Council was held to consider its position on the review into parliamentary constituencies. I am pleased to report that there was an overwhelming majority (78 votes to 12) against a cross-Tamar constituency.

In addition, I attended three days of hearings into the review at Exeter (7th November) and Truro (10th and 11th November). During the second day in Truro, I gave a twenty minute presentation in support of keeping Cornwall whole.

4. Full Council: 22nd November

At the second meeting of Cornwall Council in November, the budget for 2017/2018 was agreed and the Local Plan was also adopted by the authority.

The Liberal Democrat and Independent administration budget for 2017/2018 included a council tax increase of 3.97%, which included a precept levy of 2% to be specifically used for social care. A majority of councillors supported the budget, myself included.

None of the other political groups moved any amendments in the debate. And the telling thing for me was that the unitary authority will raise an additional £14 million from council tax next year but, because of ongoing cuts from central government, the Council will, overall, end up with £2.5 million less to spend on services.

In terms of the Cornwall Local Plan, councillors accepted the recommendations from the Examination in Public (EiP) run by an independent inspector – even though individual councillors raised concerns about a number of the changes. However, the strategic policies in the Local Plan now give greater surety to those groups working on Neighbourhood Plans for their local parishes.

5. Neighbourhood Plan

My priority in recent weeks has been the drafting of the second consultation for the St Enoder Neighbourhood Plan. The draft is on tonight’s agenda and I would like to thank my colleagues for their support in this work.

It is my hope that the document will be finalised this month and circulated in January.

6. New play area in Indian Queens Recreation Ground

Since my last monthly report, it is great to see that the tarmac path from the car park at the Recreation Ground to the new play area has been completed, and I would like to publicly thank local contactors T Julian and Son for the fantastic job that they did.

7. Lindsay Fields, Fraddon

I am pleased to be able to report that the “open space” in Lindsay Fields, Fraddon, has been transferred from the developer to Cornwall Council. I am presently seeking clarification from the environment section at the unitary authority about their likely maintenance regime.

It is ironic that, at the same time, the Parish Council has had to take on maintenance for the entrance area into Heather Meadow because Cornwall Council (Highways) were unwilling to look after it.

8. The Kelliers

The transfer of the freehold of the Kelliers to the Parish Council is taking longer that I had hoped. I am presently seeking an update from Cornwall Council about what is causing the delay.

9. Bus shelters

Since Cornwall Council’s recent comical communications with local parish councils about who is responsible for local bus shelters, I have formally requested that the unitary authority clean all shelters for which it has responsibility. I have asked that this include the removal of Graffiti.

I have, in addition, requested street cleaning throughout St Enoder Parish.

10. Highway matters

I have been in regular contact with the local CORMAC representative on a range of issues.

I understand that Cornwall Council is devising a scheme to combat the ongoing flooding problems at the entrance to Gaverigan Manor Farm.

CORMAC has also removed two of the three grit bins on the approach to Pedna Carne because they had “reached the end of their lives.” I have complained and one of the bins is likely to be replaced so that there will continue to be two bins on the steep approach road.

11. Planning matters: Pines Tip

In my last report, I confirmed that the timetable for the appeal into the refusal of the application for three wind turbines on Pines Tip (Strategic Planning Committee; 10th March 2016) has not yet been published. That is still the case and I am awaiting a meeting with planning officers to consider how the authority will approach the appeal.

12. Remembrance Day

I was also pleased to lay a wreath at the St Enoder War Memorial at the annual Remembrance Day event and I am pleased that the monument is now protected as a Listed Building, thanks to the hard work of the Clerk.

13. Inquiries

During the last month, I have also helped numerous people with advice and guidance, the nature of which has been very varied.

14. Newsletter

I have produced my (six-monthly) newsletter which I am aiming to distribute around the Parish in the next ten days or so. Any help with deliveries would be much appreciated.

15. Nadelik Lowen

And at this time of year, I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Today is the 15th anniversary of the 50,000 Declarations at Downing Street

Fifteen years ago today(12th December 2001) I was part of a delegation which presented 50,000 declarations demanding a Cornish Assembly to 10 Downing Street.

I am extremely proud to have authored the actual declaration, which had been launched by Mebyon Kernow on St Piran’s Day in 2000.

The declaration was clear and forthright.

It stated that: “Cornwall is a nation with its own identity, culture, traditions and history” while noting that it suffers “severe and unique economic problems.”

In addition, the declaration stated that “important decisions about our future are increasingly taken outside of Cornwall” and concluded that “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.”

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

It remains a truly amazing achievement that over 50,000 people – more than 10% of the adult population of Cornwall – signed the declaration in such a short period of time, and it is my view that these declarations continue to represent a great statement of intent from the ordinary people of Cornwall.

But as we look at what has happened since 2001, it is clear that the aspirations of the 50,000 signatories have been badly undermined by the Westminster parties.

It is nothing short of disgraceful that Tony Blair’s Labour Government (which supported devolution to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) dismissed the declarations in an off-hand manner and refused to even consider representations for greater powers for Cornwall.

Instead the Government, in tandem with the Liberal Democrats on the old County Council, pushed through the centralisation of local government in the face of massive opposition. They even had the brass neck to promote the creation of the unitary authority by using the language of devolution.

And now, we even have a Conservative Government further undermining democracy and the very territoriality of Cornwall with their plans for a cross-Tamar parliamentary constituency and regionalisation based on an anomalous “south west” region.

Over the last 15 years, I have certainly heard much talk about devolution, local control and democratic change from the political establishment in Westminster, but it has all been “hollow words” as far as Cornwall has been concerned.

To the politicians who serve in this present Government and those who served in previous administrations, I would say it is obvious that Westminster does not know what is best for Cornwall. And it is time that they gave due regard to the 50,000 declarations and backed meaningful democratic devolution to the historic nation of Cornwall. 

[This will be my article in this week’s Cornish Guardian].

Friday, 9 December 2016

“The Casey Review” fails own test by denigrating Cornish identity

It is appalling that “The Casey Review” by Dame Louise Casey has criticised the expenditure of money on the Cornish language in a report on the need for greater social cohesion.

How can a review into “integration and opportunity in isolated and deprived communities,” sanctioned by the former Prime Minister and Home Secretary, feel it is necessary to be so dismissive of such an important part of the UK’s cultural tapestry.

The offending section was as follows:

1.67. Too many public institutions, national and local, state and non-state, have gone so far to accommodate diversity and freedom of expression that they have ignored or even condoned regressive, divisive and harmful cultural and religious practices, for fear of being branded racist or Islamophobic.

1.68. This accommodation can range from relatively trivial issues such as altering traditional cultural terms to avoid giving offence, to the department responsible for integration policy spending more in 2011-12 and 2012-13 promoting the Cornish language than the English language, or some trade unions challenging a strategy for all public sector workers to speak English. At its most serious, it might mean public sector leaders ignoring harm or denying abuse.

1.69. This has not helped the communities which many well-intentioned people in those institutions have wanted to protect; more often it has played straight into the hands of extremists. As a nation we have lost sight of our expectations on integration and lacked confidence in promoting it or challenging behaviours that undermine it.

Whatever positive justification there might have been for the study, the disrespectful attitude to Cornish identity is totally unacceptable.

It has even lead to spurious reports in the Sun and Daily Express.

The Sun headline read “Corn Identity” while a sub-heading Daily Express stated “EXTREMISM is on the rise and integration is stalling because the Government is spending more money on Cornish lessons than English lessons, a damning report has claimed.”

What a shameful nonsense.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Anything but a United Kingdom …

My article in this week’s Cornish Guardian – under the above heading – is as follows:

A number of political parties based far away from Westminster, including Mebyon Kernow and Plaid Cymru, have long campaigned for an Economic Fairness Act.

It may not sound exciting, but such an Act would ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom would get their fair share of government investment, and it would commence the rebalancing of the UK economy away from its present fixation on London and the South East of England.

The importance of this campaign is shown by the recent statement from the Bank of England’s chief economist, Andrew Haldane, warning that inequality in the UK is becoming more pronounced.

And is it any wonder? I have certainly raised such concerns in this newspaper column on numerous occasions.

A few years ago, I wrote about how an independent report had detailed a shocking bias in how arts funding was distributed around the UK. The most telling figure was that the Department of Culture, Media and Sport had distributed £450 million of public funding to what it deemed “major national cultural institutions” – with London receiving £49 per head of population compared to just £1 per person outside the capital.

And some 18 months back, I commented on the research from the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, which documented another massive bias towards London in terms of infrastructure investment. It concluded that most other areas will be getting a raw deal with planned public investment per head in London being recorded at £5,304.73 compared to £805.29 in the South West.

I have often commented on the unfairness of funding settlements for councils in rural areas and, earlier this year, even highlighted the irony of Conservative MPs lambasting their own London-centric Government for “shifting funding from rural to metropolitan areas” and describing the funding as “extraordinarily unfair,” with one even stating that his local council had not only “trimmed off” the fat, but had “gone through the surface of the bone” and, in some instances, was “sucking out the marrow.”

And in the most recent Autumn Statement, the monies allocated to the Local Growth Fund were much less than had been anticipated.

It is therefore to be welcomed that the Bank of England’s chief economist has issued a challenge that regional inequality is among the most important issues facing the UK.

In an interview with the BBC, he said that these long-standing gaps “have nudged a little wider over the course of the UK's recovery” and “if you look at the level of income within region, per head, it is only really London and the South East where that is back above the levels it was before the crisis.”

Thank you for your efforts, Mr Haldane. I just hope the Government will start listening.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

The Autumn Statement ... all a bit gloomy!

My article in last week’s Cornish Guardian addressed the recent Autumn Statement and the setting of Cornwall Council’s budget for 2017/2018. It was as follows:

The first autumn statement from the new Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has rightly generated a host of very gloomy headlines.

His statement included projections of lower growth from the Office of Budget Responsibility, while resultant discussions have focussed on the likelihood of higher inflation, lower tax revenues, continuing austerity and a squeeze on household incomes.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has meanwhile reported that “workers would earn less in real wages in 2021 than they did in 2008,” with additional analysis showing that the biggest losers in the next few years will be people on low incomes.

Paul Johnson, the director of the IFS, commented that “this has been the worst decade for living standards certainly since the last war and probably since the 1920s."

It is such a massive contrast to the personal circumstances of Mr Hammond’s predecessor at the Treasury. Instead of focussing on his role as an MP, George Osborne recently raked in a total of £320,000 for giving five lectures to financial institutions and a university.

And it was especially disappointing that Philip Hammond did not act to address the crisis in adult social care.

This even led to a cross-party appeal from the Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent leaders of the Local Government Association for “urgent action” without which the “quality and safety of care of our elderly is at risk.”

One newspaper summed up the situation as “elderly care close to collapse as council funding runs out.”

Last week also saw the Liberal Democrat and Independent administration at Cornwall Council set its budget for 2017/2018 when a majority of councillors, myself included, voted for a council tax increase of 3.97%. This included a precept levy of 2% to be specifically used for social care.

Projections show that the unitary authority will raise an additional £14 million from council tax next year but, because of ongoing cuts from central government, the Council will, overall, end up with £2.5 million less to spend on services.

At the council meeting, Conservative councillors voted against the budget but failed to put forward any alternative proposals for consideration, and did not even acknowledge how cuts in central government funding were, to a large degree, responsible for many of the financial problems being faced by Cornwall Council.

In these very difficult times for local government, it is well-documented that there are many dangers associated with the Council’s budget and, for the sake of our public services, we need to do everything that we can to put pressure on the new Chancellor to end the under-funding of local councils.