Monday, 30 November 2009

What St Austell Bay means for Cornwall (clue: lots more Lib Dems)

Back in the days when the BBC covered by-elections properly, a standing feature of any coverage would include Peter Snow producing a map of the UK showing what the result would mean for UK politics nationwide. One particular highlight was the result of the Ribble Valley by-election when the entire country went Lib Dem gold except for a tiny portion of East Anglia. John Major would have been the only Tory MP to survive the onslaught.

Following the Lib Dem win in St Austell Bay last Thursday, I've done the same thing for Cornwall Council.

Based on a uniform swing of 13.46% from Conservatives to Lib Dems (and with Independents and others holding their own), the result in Cornwall would be:

Conservatives 9 seats (down 41)
Liberal Democrats 80 seats (up 42)
Independents 31 seats (down 1)
Mebyon Kernow 2 seats (down 1)
Others 1 seat (up 1)

The only Conservatives to hold their seats would be Joan Symons, Scott Mann, John Dyer, John Fitter, Neil Hatton, Liz Penhaligon, Armand Toms, Roger Harding and Pat Lamshead.

More immediately, the Lib Dems would also take all six of the Parliamentary seats in next year's General Election.

Friday, 27 November 2009

TRAC gets the go ahead

Although work commitments meant I wasn't able to stay for the debate, I'm delighted to hear that the TRAC plan for a multi-use trail alongside the Launceston Steam Railway track at New Mills got the go ahead at Planning last night.

This trail will be great as a stand alone project, but will have massive value for the people of Launceston if it can be extended as part of the strategic network of trails across Devon and Cornwall.

The Camel Trail is already in place and runs between Wadebridge, Bodmin and Padstow. It brings many thousands of visitors to the area each year and provides a lot of income for local businesses ranging from hotels and restaurants to bike hire firms.

In Devon, the Tarka Trail does the same and the construction of the Granite Way in West Devon is going to do the same.

The new project aims to link up the current trail network to create a great resource for walkers, bike riders and, hopefully, horse riders as well.

The plan is to link the (now approved) New Mills section with Launceston, coming in at Newport. The trail will go on to link the Newport Industrial Estate with Ridgegrove Lane and createt a safe crossing that is currently lacking at Newport.

That would be a boost for businesses in town and hopefully bring in many additional visitors. It will also be of benefit to local residents who simply want to be able to get safely from one part of the town to another.

This has been a cross party effort with my colleagues Adam Paynter and Sasha Gillard-Loft backing the scheme as well as local Tory Phil Parsons. Congratulations to Peter Sainsbury and the team who are making TRAC a reality and good luck with the rest of the scheme.

Compare and Contrast

If you hack the i-phone planting a worm that causes lots of trouble for millions of users, you get offered a job.

If you hack into the US looking for evidence of extra-terrestrials, you get deported.

St Austell Bay - Cornwall turns its back on the Tories

I made it to St Austell Bay yesterday after all. I had to work in Launceston until 6.45 and made it down there for quarter to eight for the last bit of knocking up and the count.

And boy am I glad I did.

John Oxenham's victory - on a huge 13% swing - was a great triumph for him and for the St Austell and Newquay team. But it will also have wider implications for the Conservatives in Cornwall.

Seeing the ballot papers come out of the boxes and the tally sheets, I thought we were close but no cigar. The Conservatives went into the election with a majority of over 350 (one of their safest seats in the County) and when the boxes were opened I thought we were looking at a Tory hold with a majority of around 50. That would have been a great swing, but still a Tory hold.

Hamish McCallum, the Lib Dem agent, said that he thought at this stage it was still 'do-able'. I thought he was simply putting on a brave face. I'm sorry Hamish, I was wrong.

In the end, after a recount, John Oxenham won by 15 votes and becomes the 39th Lib Dem councillor in Cornwall.

The Conservative candidate was Bob Davidson, their County organiser and a man who promised in a letter to voters that he would go to sort out County Hall. Maybe Tory Leader and Deputy Alec Robertson and Jim Currie (both of whom came to the Count) will be secretly glad that Bob won't be there to tell them where they have been going wrong?

Bob Davidson was beaten by the Lib Dem Graham Walker back in June (majority 19) and was beaten again last night. He was so ungracious this time that he refused to stay for the formal declaration. Instead he was pacing around outside with his phone glued to his ear.

The Lib Dem campaign was an incredibly strong one. Virtually all the Cornwall Councillors came to help John and there was also a great showing from the constituency parties and campaign teams.

The Tories also threw everything they could at it - matching the Lib Dems leaflet for leaflet. That is almost unheard of in Cornwall. Yet still they lost.

I think that the message from St Austell Bay is that Cornwall has seen what the Conservatives have to offer in the County and they are turning their backs on them. Back in June commentators might have looked at Cornwall and thought that the Lib Dems would have a tough time defending their seats. After last night's results I think we all know that the Lib Dems can hold off the Tory challenge. It's still going to be a tough fight, but it is one that the Lib Dems and the people of Cornwall know they can win.

A footnote: Labour stood in this election and managed just 66 votes - less than 5%. They are finished in Cornwall.

Another footnote: Where were Mebyon Kernow. The so called Party of Cornwall couldn't even put up a candidate for an import and by-election in the County. At their conference last week, Leader Dick Cole promised big things.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Polling Day in St Austell Bay

I can't get to St Austell Bay today for polling day in the first Cornwall Council by-election. But I have been there the past few days and it certainly looks like it will be close.

The by-election is being held because Conservative Richard Stewart has had to stand down for health reasons. Richard had a majority of about 450 over the Lib Dems - one of the safest in the county.

However, it is clear from the number of activists on the ground that this time will be a lot closer. As well as Lib Dems and Conservatives, Labour are standing but nobody has heard anything from them all campaign.

The Lib Dem candidate is John Oxenham, who is the only candidate to live in the ward and has put forward a vigorous campaign on key local issues. The Conservative candidate is Bob Davison, who is a career politician and already a town councillor ensewhere in St Austell. Incidentally, Bob is close friends with Tory MP Grant Schapps, the bloke to announced plans to concrete over Cornwall* at the Tory Party conference. Bob is the Conservative's campaigner in chief for the whole of Cornwall and was very embarrassed to lose out (to a Lib Dem) when he stood in a different ward back in June.

I'll be looking out for the result which should come through at around 11.30pm tonight.

*Ok - not literally, but he wants to remove almost all restrictions on where developers can build.

Launceston Road Safety Partnership

I went along to the Launceston Road Safety Partnership meeting on Tuesday night where the main order of business was to find out the results of the vote on new road crossings for the town.

I won't steal the thunder of the LRSP which will be announcing the results shortly, but I was amazed at the high turnout in the vote (conducted through the Cornish and Devon Post). It goes to show just how much people in our town are concerned about the lack of safe crossing facilities.

Other issues that came up include the new Traffic Order for Launceston - it sounds boring, but will make significant improvements to parking and the flow of cars through the town.

Also discussed was the imminent arrival of Cornwall Council's signs'n'lines department which will sort out the parking mess that I have blogged about before. Most of the on-street parking rules in town are not elgally enforceable and that has led to lots of congestion and annoyance - as well as loss of income for shops.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Lib Dems only a point behind Labour in latest poll

The excellent website Political Betting has started commissioning its own polls. They are carried out by Angus Reid Strategies who use the same sort of methodologies as most of the other UK pollsters (only MORI - the company behind yesterday's poll which had the Tories just six points ahead - differs in major ways).

The new poll - completed earlier today - has the Tories still well ahead on 39% (still shy of the magic 40% barrier) but Labour slumping still further to 22% and the Lib Dems on 21%, a single point behind.

'Others' are still very high at 18% - which I think is probably fairly accurate at the moment, although a lot of people currently thinking 'other' will drift back towards the main three during the election.

If true, it clearly shows Labour heading for massive trouble. Because of the ways the votes are split around the country, Labour could be level with the Lib Dems and still have more than twice as many seats, but it would mean a sea change in UK politics.

Children in Need

Last Friday was Children in Need day and Cornwall Council held a 'Cornwall's Got Talent' event with staffand members performing in front of a packed Council chamber.

I was invited to be one of the judges alongside Council Leader Alec Robertson and Chairman Pat Harvey. Entering into the spirit of things, we were asked to play the role of three of the Britain's Got Talent judges. So Alec became Simon Cowell, Pat was Sharon Osbourne and I, for my sins, was Louis Walsh.

To play the role properly took moments of serious research (I googled 'Louis Walsh catchphrases'). And so every comment started with 'Hey...' and I used up my stock of 'you owned the stage', 'emotional rollercoaster', 'best singer of the night' and ' I didn't like it, I loved it' by the end of the third act. So, just as Louis does, I repeated them all.

The acts themselves were an eclectic mixture. We started off with staff from Democratic Services doing a sort of Riverdance and Stavros Flatly thing with the 'help' of four councillors. You can find the results on Jeremy Rowe's facebook account.

After that we had a band, a couple of soloists, a saxophone duo and the MC - County Solicitor Richard Williams - miming to Duran Duran (I guess you had to be there).

It was a great way to spend a lunch hour and I hope we raised a decent amount of money for a great cause.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Launceston Town Council meeting

Last night was the monthly meeting of Launceston Town Council. The biggest topic of the night was the renovations at the Town Hall. The architect and the designer were both there to give presentations on their work and the Town Council gave its approval to go ahead.

The scheme will cost around £1m overall and the proposed works will be on display at the Town Hall before work starts. It will mean a much more accessible building with a more welcoming feel and the ability to host small conferences as well as dinners, dances, shows and theatre.

The second big issue was the very disappointing reply that had been received from Cornwall Council in response to the Town's offer to take over on-street parking enforcement in the town. As residents will know, the parking in town is a mess at the moment - in the main because the signs and lines are not right and so are unenforceable. But, although the Council claims that Launceston gets 1900 hours of enforcement time per year (that's 36.5 hours per week), we hardly ever see a traffic warden in town and so people know they can park with impugnity. Bad parking causes obstructions and means that locals and visitors cannot get to local shops easily.

But Cornwall Council has failed to understand the offer the is being made and seems determined to put all sorts of obstacles in the way of any real action.

I have promised to take this up with the Council at the next council meeting.

Also on the agenda was the proposed closure of the magistrates court (see below) and the usual reports back from councillors, the Mayor and myself on behalf of my fellow Cornwall councillors.

Equality in Social Care Conference

Yesterday I was delighted to be asked to chair a conference in County Hall on equality in Social Care.

An audience of 80+ heard from Pam Vickery of the Care Quality Commission and Tracy Sweet of NHS Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and discussed topics such as religion and belief, literacy, mental health, data usage and human rights - and how all of these can affect the type of care a person receives and whether they have equal access to it in the first place.

There were also the inaugural care equality awards with the winning team being the CHAMPS - a project for people with learning disabilities who become healthcare champions, testing access to services and spreading information. A number of the CHAMPS also helped to run the day. Othr projects to be honoured were a longstanding horticultural project at Eden for people with mental health problems, an information project for young people which accredits health services as being young people friendly and the Community Health Services Healthy Lifestyles project for people who have lost a limb.

It was a great event and I hope that other attendees learned as much from it as I did.

Launceston Magistrates Court set for the chop

The Government has put out a consultation paper on the proposed closure of Launceston Magistrates Court in Dunheved Road. It looks like they have been learning from the Conservatives on Cornwall Council as the 'consultation' is so biased that there is only one possible answer.

There have been court sittings in Launceston stretching back to the middle ages. But the claim is that the court building is now not fit for purpose.

I agree that the current set up is not particularly tenable. The building is too small, there is no accommodation for prisoners, it is not accessible for people with disabilities and does not have the right rooms for witnesses.

But the Government has completely failed to consider the option of bringing it up to scratch. The only considerations given in the paper are to leaving it as it is or closing it. With the loss of the tax office, this is another example of the Government leaving Launceston high and dry.

Ironically, we have a new extension to Launceston Police Station to allow prisoners to be kept there but these prisoners will have to be driven to Bodmin to attend court. The new Bodmin police station, meanwhile, has no cells - so prisoners from the town will have to be transported to Launceston overnight before being sent back to Bodmin for court appearances.

In a sign of just how little the Government cares about our area, they have even managed to put out a consultation paper spelling Cornwall as 'Cornwell' five times - a paper signed off personally by the Minister as being accurate.

The paper goes on to say that there is adequate public transport between Launceston and Bodmin for anyone who needs access to the court and does not have a car. Local people know that this is a fallacy. So much for Jack Straw's promise that justice must be accessible for all.

It looks inevitable that the court will close. Make no mistake that this is a Labour Government that has given up on Cornwall.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Liz Truss - right to stand, wrong to win

A story that is exciting the interest of the Westminster-centric surrounds the right of Elizabeth Truss to stand as the Tory candidate for South West Norfolk. She was selected but then immediately the process began to de-select her after a number of local members claimed that they were deceived by her about a previous affair with a married Tory MP.

Last night she (very) successfully fought off the de-selection challenge

Iain Dale has led the charge in favour of her staying on in the position and I think he is right. Here's why:

I knew Liz Truss (as she styled herself then) back when she was a member of the Lib Dems and involved in the Lib Dem Youth and Students - as was I. I didn't find her the easiest person to get on with. Alex Wilcock has his own take on this and he writes far better than me, so go there to find out more.

Liz's affair with Mark Field was well publicised at the time. She claims that she mentioned it in her initial application and believed that this information would be passed along during the selection process. I see no reason to disbelieve her but it really doesn't matter.

What goes on in a person's private life is just that - private. A right to a private life is guaranteed in the Human Rights Act - even in the Tory version. Unless, it appears, you are a politician.

Should there be a different standard for politicians? Possibly yes. In cases where a person is blatantly hypocritical then there is a public interest defence to exposing this. But there is nothing of the kind here. Assuming Liz does not try to put 'family values' at the forefront of her selection or election campaign then there is no hypocrisy and so no case to answer.

Clearly the likes of Sir Jeremy Bagge and others in the SW Norfolk Conservative Association believe something different. The question arises - should we now judge him by his own standards. I would assume that he is not a hypocrite and certainly do not level that charge against him. So presumably he would view questions about his own family life as being legitimate.

All that said, I very much hope that Liz Truss fails to be elected to Parliament. Not because she is wrong to stand, but because her policies are wrong for the country. That is the basis on which this issue should be judged.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Labour's Jedward poster - is it really such a good idea?

Labour have launched a new campaign poster comparing Tory bosses David Cameron and George Osborne to X-Factor stars John and Edward Grimes. The tag-line is "You won't be laughing if they win".


Does this mean that Labour are accepting that the Conservatives are set to win the next General Election?

Are they accepting that people vote for Jedward because they fill the John Sargeant quotient - so bad that it's funny to see them win?

Is there are real danger that electors might take the same point of view when it comes to the General Election?

I just can't see it. I think there are two real possibilities. Either that people will continue to be so hacked off with politics that they just won't bother to vote (or, if they do, they will cast a lot of votes for 'none of the above' style parties such as the Greens, UKIP and the BNP). Or they will be so desperate to get rid of Labour that they will vote for anyone they feel can get rid of Labour - nationally the Tories are best placed, but locally the Lib Dems will be the main challengers in many seats.

So what should the Lib Dems feel about this poster? Is anything that damages Labour good for us?

I think the effect will be pretty negligible. While the poster is amusing, it's a bit ambiguous and it won't be appearing on too many billboards near you (too much danger of Jedward being voted off the X factor and being forgotten).

The only lasting effect is likely to be that politics in general (and the Tories in particular) will be cheapened. This is hardly an issues poster. It simply trivialises things in the way that morphing William Hague's head on to Margaret Thatcher's body did in the 2001 election. And you also have to remember where the message is coming from. Nothing that Labour says at the moment has much credibility and descending to photoshopped images is hardly adult.

If Labour are determined to take the campaign this far down market then I really don't think they have much left.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Cornish Language signs - what do you think?

There was a bit of a row at the Cabinet meeting yesterday about introducing Cornish language street signs as part of a wider Cornish language strategy.

The proposal is that, when new or replacement street signs are needed, these either be in Cornish or bi-lingual. There would be encouragement to use Cornish names wherever possible.

Thus, Plas-an-Gwarry would stand on its own (it is Cornish), but Richmond Hill would have (in smaller letters) Bre Richmond underneath.

Whilst many councillors were in favour and the Cabinet voted it through, others, such as Morwenna Williams and Fiona Ferguson, were very much opposed.

The additional wording on the signs would cost no extra and no signs would be changed unless broken and so there would be no additional burden on the council tax.

So it's over to you. What do you think of this proposal? Please leave a comment or contact me using the details on the right hand side of the page.

Post Office closure consultation was a sham says report

Perhaps Cornwall's Conservatives have been learning from the Government on how not to conduct a consultation.

A report out today from the House of Commons Public Acounts Committee says that ministers showed a "real lack of concern" for communities across the Westcountry when ordering the closure of dozens of post offices across the region - including Newport Post Office in Launceston.

The report says that the consultation was 'little more than window dressing'. By stating the number of closures in advance, the Government had, to all intents and purposes, already taken the decision they were consulting on.

The report goes on to say that few people were aware that there was a consultation and that the savings achieved by closing the post offices were comparatively small.

Outrageously, the Government has already brushed the report aside. The minister responsible has said that, despite the failure to consult and take the decision properly, the decision stands.

Sounds a lot like Cllr Robertson.

Snappers in the news

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice from bringing us these two:

David Cameron is under fire for having his private snapper take pictures of him in the Whitehall Garden of Remembrance before the Armistice Day Service yesterday.

I have to say that I don't think Mr Cameron has necessarily done that much wrong - although it has clearly hit a few nerves. Whilst Andrew Parsons (the photographer) might have breached rules about who is allowed to enter the garden to take photos, I think it is right that our politicians demonstrate their support for our troops, active and retired, living and dead. If photos help them to do so then take the photos (but stand outside the garden boundary to do so). There is a line that shouldn't be crossed, but I would suggest that is more to do with how the photos are used, rather than having them taken.

Also in the news, the Austrian politician who had himself photoshopped into a picture not once but twice.

Farewell RyanAir link to London

The not-at-all-hypocritical RyanAir are at it again.

They have announced that the route from Newquay to London will not be returning in their summer timetables having been pulled at the last minute from the winter run.

The only RyanAir flight now due to operate from Cornwall will be the flight to Alicante in the summer timetables.

They couldn't possibly cancel that too could they?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I report to myself and manage myself

Cornwall Council's Cabinet has decided to create a new committee to help oversee the running of the airport. The Airport Development Group will sit between the Cabinet and the two business organisations that run the airport and the land around it.

All of this was recommended by the report by Sir John Mills into the running of the airport and is to be welcomed.

The trouble is that the proposal appears to be that the same bunch of people will be on the committees at all levels:

At the top will be the Cabinet (cabinet members and chief officers)
In the middle will be the Airport Development Group (cabinet members, chief officers and heads of service)
Also in the middle will be the Economic Development and Transportation Services (cabinet members, chief officers and heads of service)
At the bottom will be the Cornwall Development Company and Cornwall Airport Limited (cabinet members and external business people)

So the cabinet members and chief officers will manage themselves and will also report to themselves. It doesn't really matter that there may be a few differences in which cabinet member sits on which committee - they all come from the same pool and there is no difference in outlook.

This was not what Sir John Mills wanted to see and he specifically recommended against it. It's a shame that the Cabinet can't see what problems could come as a result.

Is this also available in English?

The Cabinet was really proud of its first Green Paper - on Cornwall's economy - which they debated today.

Proud of it until every backbencher slammed it as being total gibberish.

The language used is totally beyond the reach of anyone but a management consultant and is self-contradictory in many places. There's an absolute work of genius on page 23 with a diagram that deserves an award for bad communication.

And yet this document was meant to be going out to the Council's business partners and to local communities for consultation.

Apparently it had already been delayed for a month because it was 'not yet ready' (translation - even worse than it is now) and still the members of the scrutiny committee were complaining that the administration were ignoring many of their concerns.

At Cabinet today, member queued up to complain about it and wrung an admission from the Leader that it needed to be 'in plain English and fit for purpose'. Cabinet Member Carolyn Rule agreed to go away and proof-read it. I hope that she goes further and gets it re-written in English.

Yet more confirmation that Cornwall Council's Tory Leadership just doesn't get it when it comes to consultation.

Cabinet sticks two fingers up to consultation

Cornwall Council's Cabinet today discussed the report from the Scrutiny call in of their decision over a new severance policy.

Essentially, Scrutiny told them that:

- their consultation with the unions wasn't good enough
- their consultation with council members wasn't good enough
- their consultation with the public wasn't good enough
- they didn't consider other valid schemes.

Yet today's meeting said that the original decision was fine and could be confirmed. The Leader refused to allow anyone other than the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee to speak and even the cabinet members themselves said nothing.

The Cabinet has clearly just stuck two fingers up to the entire scrutiny process.

Everyone talks about building a good working relationship with the unions. But how can that happen if they are not consulted properly.

How can scrutiny committees do their job properly if their detailed reports are just rejected outright?

Can the Cabinet really be happy with having a severance policy based on age discrimination. Two employees who have the same length of service will receive different payouts if they were born at different times. Although the new policy is just about legal thanks to a special exemption clause, that doesn't make it right. And Cabinet did not even consider other options which officers confirmed were legal.

Launceston Community Network Meeting

Last night we had the second informal meeting for the Launceston Community Network Panel. As it was still informal (in other words, the Cabinet had not yet signed off on the formal functions and powers of the Networks), we decided to invite two organisations who are not controlled by the Council to come and make presentations about their work.

And so we heard from Sgt Aaron Ward and his colleagues from the Police about their work and priorities. Although the levels of crime in Launceston and the surrounding area are low (averaging 12-18 recorded crimes per week) there are still many concerns. The biggest one in town is to do with parking and parking enforcement. The ability of the Police to enforce anything but obstruction offences has been taken from them. Their replacements - civil enforcement officers - are few in number and their time is limited. I was horrified to hear there are just 5 for the whole of Cornwall and they spend almost no time in the town. In addition, the current signs and lines make most regulations unenforceable. In December this issue will be addressed but we will still need someone to enforce the rules. Launceston Town Council has asked Cornwall Council to allow it to enforce, but has yet to hear back.

In rural areas the biggest problem is speeding and the Police are working with local residents to look at this.

We then heard from Kate Milton from the Primary Care Trust about health concerns. Kate explained what action the PCT could take to address local health concerns and how they are trying to consult local residents.

At the end of the meeting, Paul O'Brien, the Mayor of the town, asked us to look at how we can work with all the different businesses, community groups and Council departments to promote Launceston as a venue - for businesses and for the houses for workers to live in. This was a great suggestion and we'll try to include that as early as possible in our work programme.

Friday, 6 November 2009

2005 - Tony Blair pledges that if Labour is re-elected he will serve a full term.

2007 - Blair quits as PM - less than halfway through his term of office.

2009 - Gordon Brown pledges that, if Labour is re-elected, he will serve a full term.

It's time to re-start the Paddy for Afghanistan campaign

Gordon Brown has made a big speech this morning telling Afghanistan's President Karzai to take the issue of corruption seriously. It is widely accepted that the Afghan Government is a by-word for corruption and little progress can be made in the country until the issue is taken seriously by those who have the power to change it.

According to the BBC:
Gordon Brown has told Afghan President Hamid Karzai he will not put UK
troops "in harm's way for a government that does not stand up against

There was considerable disquiet in the UK and elsewhere at the time of the Afghan elections that British and other troops are being sent to fight in the country - with significant casualties - to enable an election the result of which is doubted by just about everyone in the country and around the world. Put simply they say, why should British troops be dying to support a corrupt regime which rigs elections?

A year or so ago, it was seriously mooted that Paddy Ashdown would be asked to take over as the UN's chief representative in Afghanistan. He had performed a similar role in Bosnia and had made it his first task to root out corruption and establish the rule of law. Paddy's take on this is that the rule of law is a precursor to democracy. As he said at the time - what's the point in having elections if the system is corrupt. There's no point voting if you know that the election will be rigged and whoever gets in will be out to line their pockets in any case. Never was this thought more ably proved than in the case of the Afghan elections.

Paddy had the support of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, of the US Government and of our own Government. And he was willing, albeit reluctantly, to serve. So why wasn't he appointed to the role? Because President Karzai objected. The feeling was that Karzai knew that Paddy's first mission would be to stem the corrupt practices - just as he had in Bosnia. Perhaps Karzai feared that his own interests - and certainly those of his cronies - would be harmed by Ashdown.

If Brown and the International Community are really serious about tackling corruption in Afghanistan, isn't it time they re-started the movement to get Paddy Ashdown in charge in Afghanistan?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Still no idea of what Tory/Indie coalition stands for

A way back in June, Tory Council Leader Alec Robertson promised to produce a manifesto setting out what the new coalition administration at County Hall stood for. This is needed because it is unclear to local residents whether we should believe the Tory manifesto or the 31 different Independent ones. We need to know what vision the administration has for Cornwall - what they hope to achieve and on what basis we can judge their success or failure.

With a new administration, the process was always going to need some time - Alex Robertson said it would be ready by October.

October came and I asked for an update on progress. Cllr Robertson said that what would actually be coming was a Business Plan for the Council - not exactly a political manifesto but it should at least have given us a clue what they were on about. But, they were failing to meet their promise to produce this by October and so we would have to wait until November to see the draft document.

Now we have the agenda for November's cabinet meeting and, guess what...

Yep, no sign of the Business Plan on the agenda.

Another broken promise and no idea what the Tory led administration stands for.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cabinet set to agree to localism - at last!

After the shock of putting localism on hold, it looks like the cabinet will finally be allowing devolved decision making in the county.

Localism - allowing local members to work with town and parish councils and others to take local decisions - was a key plank of the move to unitary status. Without localism we would have all decisions being taken in Truro. There would also be a huge gulf between decision makers and people.

It was a massive mistake, in my view, for the new Tory led administration to stop localism in its tracks. It sent the message that Cornwall Council was not interested in what local people have to say.

After a lengthy consultation process and endless meetings - led by the Communities Scrutiny Committee - the Cabinet will next week consider a proposal that would see localism start again. It appears that Cabinet Member Lance Kennedy will accept the recommendations of the scrutiny committee word for word.

That's great, but it is incredibly frustrating that we should have had to wait so long. Liberal Democrats said that we should have let the local committees develop at their own pace and in the direction they wish - exactly what the new report says. So why we had to wait for a decision that could have been made four months ago is anybody's guess. There is no doubt that relations with town and parish councils have been hurt as a result.

Cabinet told to think again on severance scheme

Cornwall Council had its first call-in meeting today and this resulted in the first reference back to Cabinet.

Under council rules, most decisions are taken by the Cabinet rather than the full council. Ordinary members have no say in the decision itself but can object if they feel that the process for taking a decision was faulty in some way. It's a bit like a judicial review.

In this instance, members of the Corporate Resources Scrutiny Committee objected to the decision on introducing a new severance policy for staff at the council. The Cabinet chose to harmonise the seven old council policies (sensible and needed) and agreed a new policy.

However, there was significant concern from the unions that they were not consulted on the change and from members that they were not involved and that the Cabinet had not considered significant alternatives. And so the decision was called-in. It emerged during the meeting that the reason that the new HR panel was not consulted was that its terms of reference were so badly drafted that they could not be asked for their thoughts and that the 'consultation' with the public was in fact a 'finger in the air' exercise with absolutely no consultation.

Despite all these failings, Cabinet Member Jim Currie said that he believed that the procedure followed was sensible and robust and that the resulting policy was a good one. Scrutiny Committee members weren't allowed to judge the policy itself, but they clearly rejected Jim's assurance that the procedure was good by voting unanimously to demand that the Cabinet re-consider.

I'm very glad to have been a part of that decision and hope that we will now have a chastened Cabinet which will take future decisions in a more open way and following proper consultation.

An email from 10 Downing St

This really doesn't need any comment from me. It's the response to my signing a 10 Downing St petition:

"You signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to "resign".

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view
it here:

Prime Minister's Office"
Click on the link and you get this:

"The Prime Minister is completely focussed on restoring the economy, getting people back to work and improving standards in public services. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain for all."
So that's alright then.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ridgegrove gets the all clear

I'm delighted to be able to report that, following the safety audit of the play facilities on the Ridgegrove Estate, the remaining equipment has been given the all clear and will remain in place.

I'm delighted for this, but wary that it is only a small success in an on-going battle.

Whilst the swings etc are safe for the timebeing, I'm still going to be pressing the Council to replace the equipment that has been removed recently and to guarantee to replace equipment when it goes beyond its safe life in the future.

The safety audit was carried out by an extremely efficient officer from the former Caradon Council. Whilst I had been warned that even the smallest deficiency could see the equipment ripped out (a flake of paint was mentioned), I was glad to see that his attitude was to point out how easy it was to repair anything that was wrong. Hence he told us how cheap and easy it is to replace the shackles which are close to the end of their life. The other officers present were therefore able to recommend that the maintenance work is done without losing the play equipment.

It's great to meet a 'can-do' officer and team.

Inevitably, one piece of good news has led to another problem. In the report of the safety audit, the Council points out that the nearest suitable ball playing area is 1224 metres (very precise!) away at Priory Park. They note this as being walking distance.

I would question whether more than ten minutes brisk walk is fair for an 8-10 year old to kick a football around, but there is something even more troubling in this.

That is that the 'safe walking route' shown on the map takes would-be footballers down Dutson Road to Newport Square. This stretch of road has no pavement and forces pedestrians to walk on the outside of parked cars - in the middle of a main road. I have therefore urgently written to the Cabinet Member for Housing, Mark Kaczmarek, who sent me the report to ask him to clarify whether this can really be classed as 'safe'.

TV review - Defying Gravity

I'm a sucker for American drama series but tend to have a low threshhold for trash TV. Because I'm a UK political hack I have to love the West Wing (and do). I also love the Sopranos and am waiting to start seriously watching the Wire. I'm also a big fan of Studio 60 - even if it got humiliated and then dumped by the US networks.

And so I started watching Defying Gravity - the story of a five year mission to explore new galaxies, search out new life, boldly go... etc.

You see there's absolutely nothing original in this show. Simply tweaking five years into six and making the mission into an exploration of our solar system rather than the galaxy as a whole does not differentiate the basic premis from Star Trek. The crew might not be exactly Kirk, Spock and so on, but they are the generic cardboard cutouts that US central casting produces nowadays and these are the direct descendents of those that were around when Trek was made. They may all hold US passports, but you can be damn sure that they come from the far reaches of the globe as recently as their grandparents.

I fully realise that this is intended as tea time drama (I'm watching it on I-Player and so really don't know what time it is put out) and so we can expect little in the way of ground-breaking here. But they could have done a little better with the basic plot lines.

Do we really have to hear the baby crying everytime 'the one who had an abortion' is on screen? Please give us credit for memories a little longer than goldfish. I'm assuming that nerdy geek's non-swimming will be brought back as a plot line at some point (when they discover lakes on Venus?) but you can bet that we will not be forced to exercise our little grey cells when that moment comes. We'll get the full five minute soft focus flashback.

And then there is the big mystery... the strange force which is dictating events on the space ship. So far I've seen two episodes and the writers have been determined to shove the force into our minds at every chance. It's as if they don't understand the basic theory of suspense. You have to trail little nuggets for us to piece together rather than blare out

"There's a mysterious being. But we're not going to tell you what it is yet."

It's just like Lost. In Space.

Could the six year nature of the mission be screaming any louder - 'Please re-commission us for another series'. But, like Lost, the slippery slopes will be reached as soon as series two gets the thumbs up. That's the point that I stopped with Lost. A tight drama with an obvious end point suddenly became this flabby pap which would be milked for all it was worth. And then cancellation would come without enough time for a decent ending and with none of the quality writers left on staff to give it a decent burial.