Monday, 18 May 2015

BT Cornwall failing to deliver - UPDATED

A highly critical review by Cornwall Council has found that BT Cornwall are failing to deliver on their promises for more jobs and better services. Indeed, the only area where they are living up to their promise is in making savings - because the amount the council has to hand over is fixed in the contract.

The deal with BT was agreed by the authority three years ago and formally started a year later. The company agreed to make savings in delivering a range of back office functions including document management and IT. They promised to create 111 new jobs but have delivered just 35. Their aim was to attract new business and create a further 240 jobs, but this aspiration has failed completely leading to BT Cornwall pulling out of an agreement to rent part of the council's new office building in Bodmin. (The new building still makes financial sense for the council even without BT Cornwall's involvement)

The company has also delivered a poor service in some key respects. The recent upgrade of council computer systems to Windows 7 ran way behind time and the authority had to dedicate some of its own staff to checking that the work had been done correctly.

As a result, BT Cornwall has been fined more than £100,000.

When the deal was first agreed, there had been a proposal from the former cabinet member in charge (and now MP for St Austell and Newquay) Steve Double for a much bigger package to be handed over to BT. The majority of councillors were somewhat fearful of entrusting so much to the company and voted for a smaller deal. It seems the view of those of us who went for the smaller deal has been borne out - although Mr Double still seems to think the council should have gone 'all in'.

During my time on the cabinet, I received a number of entreaties from BT Cornwall to hand over more services to them. They wanted to take over the call centre in particular and said they would consider any service. Whilst a number of Conservatives pressed for more to be handed over, I and my cabinet colleagues resisted and insisted that BT Cornwall should deliver on the initial contract before being given more. I think we were right to do so.

Rightly or wrongly, Cornwall Council is in a contract with BT and it is important that BT Cornwall turns things round and delivers fully on the promises it made. It is in all our interests for the venture to succeed - to make savings, to deliver high quality services and to provide new jobs.

UPDATE - Cllr Fiona Ferguson, Leader of the Conservative Group, has written:
"Since the general election he and his (now former) Cabinet colleagues have said the jobs are not there and they were dubious for a considerable time as to whether this deal would succeed."
I cannot speak for others, but my concern about the BT Cornwall deal has been there from the start. I wished the new venture well but was not happy to see it extended until it had shown its success at the limited range of tasks with which it was first entrusted.

As for the promise of new jobs - BT Cornwall made repeated assurances to me and to others that they would be living up to their end of the contract and I trusted them when they agreed to take on space in the new office building to house them. Nobody expected the company to create all the new jobs overnight but it is now apparent that they are not forthcoming.

Departure of Andrew Kerr - UPDATED

Cornwall Council's chief executive Andrew Kerr is to leave his post and take up the position as chief executive of Edinburgh City Council.

Mr Kerr has been with the authority since January 2014 and is therefore likely only to serve around 18 months in Cornwall, depending on how much notice he works.

Regardless of his performance capabilities, it is very disappointing that Mr Kerr should be moving on after such a short period of time. It takes around six months to recruit a chief executive at least. An interim might be appointed (as happened last time) and they may be very good (as Paul Masters was last time), but there is still a reticence to take significant decisions until the new permanent post-holder is appointed.

There are three key areas where Mr Kerr was meant to be taking the lead and where his presence will be most missed:
  • The authority has set in place a four year budget plan but that needs to be seen through. 
  • The council is making the 'Case for Cornwall' calling for much greater devolution from Whitehall to Cornwall and one of the key reasons for employing Mr Kerr was his network of civil service contacts.
  • Mr Kerr was previously employed in Wiltshire where there was a significant devolution of services and an emphasis on localism - with local communities making their own decisions. We were promised that there would be a significant project in this area in Cornwall too, but we have yet to see that come to fruition.
Oops - Thanks to those who pointed out the typo. Mr Kerr has been with the council since 2014, not 2004.

UPDATE  - Apparently Mr Kerr is yet to actually resign. He has in fact informed the Leader of his intention to do so. I'm sure there is some technical reason for this but it came out in the most embarrassing fashion as the council was today asked to agree an urgent motion to set up the necessary committee to appoint his successor. Incidentally, Mr Kerr's contract states that he has a three month notice period.

Town Council by-election

A by-election will be held for the vacancy on Central Ward of Launceston Town Council after ten local electors called for an election to be held. (Declaration of interest: I was one of the ten).

The election will be held on 25th June and the deadline for nominations is 4pm on the 29th May. Election papers can be obtained from Cornwall Council by calling 01209 614298

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Polling Day Parking in Launceston

For polling day on Thursday, Cornwall Council are giving limited free parking in some car parks - but only where they are the closest to a polling station. I'm not aware that this is the case in Launceston but it is a very good initiative. 

For those who vote at St Thomas Church Hall, you can park on the road at Riverside for free - just be mindful that there will be a lot of traffic. 

More than half the town will vote at the Town Hall. I asked the town council if they will allow a small amount of free parking in the multi-storey. I got a somewhat negative response, but they have agreed to consider it at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

If there is free parking, please do not abuse the facility by staying for any longer than it takes to vote. Free parking is not being provided to enable you to nip into the town and do some shopping - however quick you are.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cameron pledges public money for Stadium. What does Scott Mann say?

David Cameron has today promised public money to fund a Stadium for Cornwall. Speaking to Tamsin Melville on BBC Radio Cornwall, he said:

"If it takes some extra money, I'd make that money available"

On the one hand this is a pretty blatant election bribe. Neither Mr Cameron nor anyone else in the Conservative Party has said anything like this before. Yet he happens to be able to come up with this very specific commitment during a visit to West Cornwall. Hmm.

On the other hand, where does this leave North Cornwall Conservative candidate Scott Mann? Scott famously resigned 'on a point of principle' as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group when it was proposed to put public money behind the stadium. Is he happy that Mr Cameron should now be backing such spending?

To be clear, the principle of a stadium for Cornwall is one which the vast majority of people in Cornwall (myself included) support. It has been given planning permission and those behind the scheme have continually said that they will find the money privately. I wish them the very best of luck. But, for all of its benefits, any public money which goes into a stadium is money which is not available for spending on nurses, caring for vulnerable people, libraries, roads or whatever.

The current backlog of maintenance for Cornwall's leisure centres is up to £15 million. The total cost of a stadium - up to £15 million. If that amount of money is available from the public purse, then I would argue that it should be spent on the leisure facilities that truly benefit the whole of Cornwall.

General Election Hustings in Launceston

If you want a chance to quiz the candidates standing in North Cornwall in the general election, there will be a hustings event at Central Methodist Church in Launceston next Tuesday- 28th April at 7pm

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Tory plan to close Launceston police station?

Launceston Police Station is under threat. And the Conservatives - whose cuts have put it at risk but could still save it - are refusing to come to the rescue.

The front counter service has already gone. So local people have to rely on the very inconsistent 101 telephone service where they could be hanging on for 30 minutes or more. Before the front counter was closed, the Conservative Police Commissioner - Tony Hogg - was warned about the failings of his proposed alternative, but he went ahead anyway.

The next step has been to propose to remove the custody suite from the station. This is a very modern facility which has had a lot of money spent on it. It serves a wide area of Cornwall and Devon. But the force is now formally proposing to close it.

Why is this happening? The savings are being forced through by Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May. She has been clear that her party’s agenda is for massive savings across the public sector, and rural police are not exempt. So Devon and Cornwall police have to take their hit.

But it is also down to another Conservative politician - Tony Hogg the police and crime commissioner. It is he who sets the strategic direction of the force and decides where the money is spent. He could save rural policing and facilities such as Launceston’s. But he is refusing to do so.

The gradual run down of Launceston Police Station leads me to one question - is the complete closure of our police station next on the Conservative agenda?

When she was on a recent electioneering trip to North Cornwall, Theresa May was asked about the run down of Launceston police station. She said that “we have to rationalise our resources”. Alongside her at the time was local tory candidate Scott Mann who said nothing to oppose the cuts.

So - Theresa May, Tony Hogg and Scott Mann appear to have a plan to close down rural police stations. Can we trust them with our vote on May 7th?