Monday, 6 July 2015

Coronation Park bench fire

 Despite a big publicity drive by the police and lots of anger in the community, no one has come forward with information about those responsible for setting the Coronation Park bench on fire.

 If you have any information or saw anyone walking towards the park shortly before the fire then please contact the police by calling 101 or emailing 101@devonandcornwall.pnn.police.uk quoting crime reference CR/43481/15.

Time to change the law on car littering?

The Local Government Association has called on the government to change the law on littering from cars. At the moment it is hugely difficult to prosecute when someone throws litter from a car. Not only do you have to see it happen, but you have to identify who in the car is responsible and prosecute them as an individual.

Councils now want to change the law to match what happens in London where it is the owner of the vehicle who is responsible.

Cornwall relies on visitors for a huge section of its economy. And if our roads and verges are covered in litter then we run the risk of losing tourist business. So any change that makes it easier to fine (and thereby discourage) littering is good news.

But we cannot simply ask for a change in the law and expect everything to be better. The council also needs to sensibly use the powers it already has to investigate littering and fly-tipping and to prosecute where it can.

Ultimately, we need to explain to residents, businesses and visitors alike that littering costs the council (and therefore taxpayers) a lot of money which could be saved if people either used the bins provided or took their rubbish home with them.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Tory police commissioner (up for re-election next year) wakes up to fair funding campaign

Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg is up for re-election next May and he has coincidentally decided that now is the right time to launch a campaign for 'fair funding' for rural police forces.

Mr Hogg claims that the Devon and Cornwall force is under-funded by £12 million per year and he says the current funding formula doesn't take account of the huge number of visitors to the region each year. He's right in both cases, of course. So why has it taken until the start of his re-election campaign for him to do anything about it? And surely the benefit of having a Conservative commissioner at the time of a Conservative government is that he can knock on Theresa May's door and get a better deal.

Before anyone should take Mr Hogg's campaign seriously, he should clean up his own act:

  • He should stop claiming public money for rent on his second home when he could stay in purpose built police accommodation for free.
  • He should cut the ridiculously high spending on consultants and agency staff. When the Lib Dems joined the administration at Cornwall Council, we cut such spending by 59% in the first year.
  • He should cut the amount spent on his office. It now costs more to run than the old police authority, despite promises that it would make savings.
  • He should stop giving golden good-byes to staff such as the £165,000 given to the former chief executive he didn't get on with.
  • He should stop wasting money on branded pens and post-it notes.

And while Mr Hogg complains about the government's decision to prioritise spending on policing cities rather than rural areas, perhaps he should look at his own patch where front counter and custody centres in Launceston are to close but those in Plymouth and Exeter are being saved.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tory push polling in Cornwall

There has been some discussion in the national media about the concept of push polling following an unfortunate incident in the Lib Dem leadership election when supporters of one candidate appear to have engaged in somewhat dodgy activities.

But you can find examples of push polling much closer to home. Cornwall Conservatives are engaging in a form of push polling right now - and they seem quite proud of the fact.

Push polling is where a resident is contacted under the pretence of taking part in a survey or poll but instead of fair and balanced questions is given biased statements which might or might not be true but only present one side of an argument. The aim of push polling is either to produce a survey response which is wholly in favour of one side or to make residents believe a distorted message about a political opponent.

The Conservatives in Cornwall have attacked the campaign by the Liberal Democrats and others for more powers, rights and responsibilities to be devolved from London to Cornwall. They have every right to oppose the 'Case for Cornwall', of course. However, their survey tactics look decidedly underhand.

Deposed group leader Fiona Ferguson has blogged and included a photo of some of the survey questions:

Except when you look at those questions, you find that every one of them is preceded by a statement which is either untrue or horrendously biased. Those statements make this a push poll and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

So when a Conservative tells you that the people of Cornwall oppose more devolution, remember that this is how they got their 'evidence'.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Seeking answers over town centre broadband - UPDATED

Together with my colleague Jade Farrington, I'm seeking answers over the failure to provide superfast broadband to shops, businesses and residents in Launceston town centre.

The programme to bring superfast to Cornwall is a good one. It is partially funded by the EU and has so far provided access to 95% of Cornwall. But, despite pressure from Jade and myself and frequent requests from businesses, the town centre in Launceston has missed out. In part, this was because of the ancient nature of the existing phone system which mean new culverts and wires had to be put in. But that work was done more than a year ago.

So when the announcement came that the government was providing funds to increase connection access to 99% of Cornwall, Jade asked if this meant our town centre would finally be connected. The incredible answer was that the superfast team think it already is and therefore have no plans for work in the town.

Jade and I will keep up the pressure on Superfast Cornwall and BT to properly extend superfast to all of our town. But if you live in the town and cannot get access (and want it) please contact Julian.cowans@cornwalldevelopmentcompany.co.uk and richard@superfastcornwall.org and copy your email into jade.farrington@gmail.com and alexfolkes@gmail.com

UPDATE - Many thanks to all the residents and businesses who have been in touch. The message from both BT and Superfast Cornwall is that the entire town will be connected soon - they anticipate by the end of September. They also say that much of the town centre will be a FTTP (fibre to the premises) only area. This is normally the gold-plated service which delivers exceptional broadband speeds but at a cost. However, they assure me that those who want regular superfast will be able to get a similar package and similar price to those in other areas of the town. If you have any questions or comments please do get in touch.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Government Minister urges Cornwall Council to grant planning permission to supermarket which will fund stadium

A senior government minister has taken the extraordinary step of writing to the leader of Cornwall Council urging the authority to pass the planning application for a supermarket at Langarth that will fund the Stadium for Cornwall.

John Whittingdale is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and his letter is reproduced below:

During the general election campaign, PM David Cameron gave his support to the stadium and said that there would be government money to help pay for it. No details of any funding have been forthcoming despite a follow up request by Truro MP Sarah Newton. Her colleague, St Austell MP Steve Double, has suggested that the stadium should instead be sited in his constituency.

Whatever you may think of the stadium itself, it is surely an extraordinary action for a government minister to urge the passing of a planning application - not for the stadium itself - but for a supermarket that could help to fund the stadium. Given that there have been four planning applications for supermarkets in that area, is the minister not laying the council open the an appeal from another supermarket applicant if they are unsuccessful on the grounds that the council may have been biased by the letter? I have confidence that Cornwall councillors will decide the stadium related application on its merits, just as they will do every other application that comes before them. I can't help thinking that the Whittingdale letter is distinctly unwise.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Concerned about school places in Launceston? - Public meeting this Wednesday

A lot of people are concerned about school places in and around Launceston. The three primary schools in town are close to (or at) capacity and some children are having to be be bussed out to village schools. This may be great for some, but very problematic for other families.

A new school is promised as part of the Hay Common development, but this only has to be built when the 70th house is ready for occupation - and that may be some time in the future.

My colleague Jade Farrington has arranged a public meeting of the community network panel with Cornwall Council officers and others concerned with school places and the new development. It will take place this Wednesday - 17th June - at 7pm in the Guildhall at the Town Hall.

The town council will also be explaining their plans to take over the running of Launceston library.

If you are interested in either of these issues, please come along, ask questions and have your say.