Friday, 11 September 2015

Graham Facks-Martin

Graham Facks-Martin, one of the stalwart servants of Launceston and North Cornwall, died this morning after a long illness.

Graham was a town councillor for many years. Previously he had been the chairman of North Cornwall District Council. He was a Conservative, but of a sort not frequently encountered these days. Passionately pro-European, he was also a keen advocate of more social housing and served on the board of Cornwall Rural Housing Association, latterly as chairman.

Graham was awarded the MBE for public service in 2006.

Graham and I didn't always agree on everything, but his passion for the town was quite apparent and he argued his case with conviction whether he ultimately won or lost the vote. He will be missed.

Scott Mann's dodgy toilet complaint

North Cornwall's Conservative MP Scott Mann has asked the Prime Minister to intervene to force Cornwall Council to abandon a policy of seeking to devolve public toilet provision. The trouble is that he forgets that his own party, when in power, did exactly the same thing.

According to the BBC:
Mr Mann said their closure would "bring disastrous consequences upon the county" and this was a "fundamental public health issue".
Cornwall Council, in the face of a government requirement to make £196m of savings over four years, is seeking to find commercial, community or local town and parish council partners to take on public toilets. The rights and wrongs of the policy are a matter for legitimate debate.

But what seems to have been ignored by Mr Mann is that when the Conservatives ran the council from 2009-2013, they did exactly the same thing. They listed a large number of public toilets and told local councils that if they did not take them on then they would be closed. Some town councils - like Launceston - took on the service. Others did not and the toilets were closed.

If Mr Mann is successful and the remaining toilets are kept open at Cornwall Council expense then it will be unfair on the people of towns like Launceston who are currently paying through their council tax both for the town's toilets and for those elsewhere in Cornwall. Ending this double taxation is one of the aims of the current policy which Mr Mann objects to.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Whitbread threaten higher prices to pay new minimum wage.

Whitbread are saying that they will have to raise prices at their outlets including Costa and Premier Inn so as to be able to pay the new minimum wage which will rise to £7.20 per hour from next April.

The rise in the minimum wage (still not a living wage) should be good news - with the caveat that it only applies to over 25s and so many people under this age will continue to struggle. Of course it may not mean that people have a lot more money in their pockets as the government is cutting tax credits and other benefits at the same time, but it will mean fewer forms and less bureaucracy.

The third side of the triangle is that the government has also been reducing business taxes - both corporation tax and by offering grants to local councils to cut business rates.

Overall, every part of the economy will gain and will lose. Whitbread are benefiting from lower taxes. In return they have to pay their employees a bit more. The workers are getting more in their pay packet but many are getting less from benefits. The government are getting less in tax but paying out less in tax credits. It's not exactly revolutionary stuff but fits with the Tory ethos.

What also fits with the ethos of the free market is that if customers don't want to pay the higher prices that Whitbread are threatening then they can take their trade elsewhere. I would thoroughly recommend using your local independent coffee shop instead of Costa.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Government to propose expanding powers of Police Commissioners

Far from regognising that elected police and crime commissioners are a failed experiment, it appears that the government is proposing to give these people control over fire authorities. A consultation is expected to be slipped out next week in advance of elections next May.

Police and Crime Commissioners were created three and a half years ago to replace police authorities. The government's vision was a single person to over see the work of each police force. But the first elections showed that the public didn't understand or were not enthused by the posts and only 15% bothered to vote.

Since then, police commissioners have largely failed to connect with the public - and certainly don't seem to have done anything to reduce crime levels. Instead, they end up costing more than the police authorities they were meant to replace and are being forced to implement government funding cuts.

Now the idea appears to be that they might take on the oversight of fire and rescue services.

One potential problem is where the fire service's boundaries are not co-terminus with the police force - like in Cornwall. Here we have a Cornwall only fire service (part of the council) but Devon and Cornwall Police.

But even if they can get over the boundary issue, this is the wrong step from the government. Better would be to admit that police and crime commissioners are an embarrassing mistake and return to an updated version of police authorities.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Eagle House application withdrawn

The planning application seeking permission to turn the Eagle House Hotel into a private residence has been withdrawn.

The controversial proposal was first put forward - and refused - last year. This re-application was recommended for approval by planning officers but was due to be decided by the planning committee next Monday.

It has been suggested that the hotel has been sold to a buyer intent on retaining it in its current form. I'm afraid I have not had confirmation of this and so cannot confirm - but it would be good news if true.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Scott Mann on the MPs pay rise

Just to be clear, new Tory MP for North Cornwall Scott Mann absolutely and completely disagrees with the idea that MPs should get a 10% pay rise.

But he's trousering the cash nonetheless.

Tony Hogg will not re-stand as Police Commissioner

The elected Police and crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Tony Hogg, has announced this morning that he will not be standing when the position comes up for re-election next May.

Mr Hogg has set out a number of reasons for his decision but a key point is that he no longer feels able to keep his promise to maintain a minimum of 3000 police officers for the force. This has been a key pledge and he says he is now allowing the chief constable to structure the force in a different way.

Mr Hogg, a Conservative, has also said that if he is not successful in his campaign to get an extra £12m from the government then he will proposed a large increase in the police element of council tax next year. Any increase above 2% would require public approval in a costly referendum. Mr Hogg's budget is subject to approval by the Tory dominated panel which scrutinises him but the rules are such that they can only reject his budget once. In effect, a commissioner can force through pretty much any budget they wish.