Thursday, 29 October 2009
It appears that she sent out an email reproducing a tweet made by Steve but someone had added the fateful word to the end of Steve's message. I cannot believe it was her - more likely some silly junior member of her campaign team. But her silence on the issue and refusal to apologise means that the focus is shifting onto her and her credibility as a candidate.
Local readers will remember back in May when a leaflet was distributed in Camborne referring to a Mebyon Kernow candidate as a 'greasy haired tw*t'. In that case it was a joke leaflet which mistakenly got printed and delivered to a few homes. That is no excuse however and the candidate, agent and others immediately apologised.
Nevertheless, voters decided the matter for themselves and the MK candidate beat the Lib Dem in the council seat concerned.
Caroline Righton may well find that the voters cast the same opinion on her when it comes to the polls next May.
As I see it, the Council's approach is just too disjointed at the moment. Perhaps this is not surprising. After all, we are seeing seven councils join together and there will be work needed on integrating services. There is also the problem that the Housing Department is responsible for some play areas when they should be more generally managed.
And then you have the hundreds of town and parish councils which themselves own or manage play facilities.
I think that we need to look at facilities for play across Cornwall. I'm betting that there will be a great disparity. We need to have a better strategy so that the provision is more equally based on local needs. I hope that the planning policy group will be involved so that they can create a new standard for developments in the future. Certainly, large scale estates like Kensey Valley Meadow being built without access to proper facilities should never have happened and must never happen again. I'm glad that things are looking hopeful there, but retrospective action is a poor substitute for proper planning.
One of the measures suggested by Housing Cabinet Member Mark Kaczmarek was that groups of people should band together to bid for grants for play. I'm all in favour of this where it is possible, but I think he (and the Council) need to accept that it is not always the way forward. In many cases, the residents have been let down so often that they are disheartened. Community action is also much easier where you have a more stable population of better educated residents. In areas with more mobile populations with greater needs and less education it can be impossible to get such groups together. Do such areas not get facilities because they are less able to make their case?
I'm very grateful that the committee agreed to look at this and very hopeful that we will get a better play policy and provision as a result.
Housing PFI would have the potential to bring about 900 new council homes - about a third of our annual need - at a huge cost. Maybe not to the Council itself, but somebody has to pay at the end of the day.
Previously, we expressed concern at three levels:
- is the concept of Housing PFI right for Cornwall in principle?
- if so, do the figures in this case add up?
- if so, are the proposed sites the right ones?
At the previous inquiry day, Mark Kaczmarek promised that all councillors would be consulted and be able to have their say on the issue. Whilst the final decision is reserved by law for the Cabinet, councillors from all sides believe that they should be able to have their say in a vote on the issue. Independent Councillor Pam Lyne was particularly forceful in demanding this at a previous full council meeting - to no avail.
Now Cllr Kaczmarek has shied away from his promise - he claims he never made it. He is saying that all members will only be able to ask questions - not the same thing as voting.
For something potentially as big as this - around £150 million - surely it is right that all councillors are able to have a proper, voting, say on what happens?
Friday, 23 October 2009
The Arts Council is to give half a million pounds to a Devon artist to chop off part of an arctic island and tow it round the South West coast on a barge as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012.
The Cultural Olympiad is a great way to boost tourism and interest in the arts for those parts of the country which are not otherwise directly benefitting from the Olympics. But this seems like an incredible waste of money that won't bring any of the benefits we need.
At the same time, Cornwall is bidding to host the massive - Europe wide - Manifesta event to bring millions of pounds and hundreds of thousands of tourists to the county. I can imagine the Arts Council refusing to back Cornwall's bid because of lack of cash - cash that has been spent on this silly project.
Back in June, Chief Exec Kevin Lavery described the One Stop Shops as the vital link between the public and the Council and he pledged to extend the opening hours so that local residents can access services at weekends and in the evenings. At present Launceston One Stop Shop is only open from 8.45am until 5pm Monday to Thursday and 8.45am until 4.30pm on a Friday. The staff there do a fantastic job and always have lots of visitors. It is quite clear that the service is well-used and liked.
I couldn't have agreed more with Mr Lavery and have therefore been pressing the Council since June to tell me when the longer opening hours would be introduced.
Finally, yesterday, I got a reply from Lance Kennedy, the Conservative Councillor in charge of the One Stop Shop service.
Cllr Kennedy told me that he has backed down from the longer hours commitment. Instead there will be a survey of the use of each One Stop Shop and this will determine whether longer opening hours are needed.
The trouble is that I don't know what a survey will show. If it finds that the service is well used, does that mean that it will be even better used if it is open longer? Or does it mean that everybody who needs it already has access? On the other hand, if it is poorly used, does that indicate that longer hours are needed or that the service is a waste of time?
I think that the Council should have the courage of its convictions and open the service into the evenings and (particularly) at weekends as soon as possible. And then it needs to make sure that local people know that they can access the full range of council services there.
Thursday, 22 October 2009
In the House of Commons yesterday there was an opposition day debate on the subject of climate change. The motion called on all public sector bodies (which would include Cornwall Council) to make it their policy to achieve a 10% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by the end of 2010 - exactly the idea of the 10:10 campaign.
(Opposition day debates are when the subject is chosen by either the Conservatives or Lib Dems and, in this case, it was Simon Hughes and the Lib Dems who called the debate.)
All the Tories present voted for the motion as did all the Lib Dems including all five Cornish MPs. The Tories who voted included the Conservative Local Government boss Caroline Spelman. It was the Labour Party who used the type of excuses spouted by Cornwall Tories. Will Cllr Robertson listen to what he is being told by his own MPs or is he happy sounding like a third rate Gordon Brown?
You can read the full text of the debate here.
Note: North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson was a 'teller' in the vote and therefore appears at the bottom of the lists of those voting.
Wednesday, 21 October 2009
"we will do everything possible to protect front line services"
a little later he added:
"we have no cuts planned to services at the moment."
If the Council decides to remove the current play equipment on the Ridgegrove Estate and not replace it then I shall be reminding him of this promise.
To date the Council has ripped out a see-saw and some goal posts. There will be a safety audit of the rest of the equipment next Monday - carried out by a fully trained safety official.
Of course it is right that the Council makes sure that all the equipment is safe to use and so I welcome the audit.
My concern is over what will happen if the audit decides that any more equipment is unsafe. And what is happening about general maintenance to stop the remaining equipment degrading further?
I've been told that the Housing Department (who are responsible for these areas) are saying that they have no money and so if anything is ripped out then it will not be replaced. I think that it is a moral responsibility that large estates such as Ridgegrove should have well-maintained play areas. The Housing Department (first of NCDC and now of Cornwall Council) have let the areas get into this state and they must replace any equipment that is defective.
I have therefore asked someone from Housing to come along on the audit so that they can see the state of the equipment and the level of need for themselves.
FURTHER UPDATE - At least one officer from the Housing Department will be attending the audit on Monday. Many thanks to them for doing so.
Among other things:
- we heard from Sgt Aaron Ward and PC Matt Kingdon about what the police are doing locally. One of the key concerns is the misuse by motorists of limited use roads such as Church Street. In recent weeks the Police held an education day and an enforcement day to make drivers aware of the rules. But taxi drivers and those cars carrying disabled drivers have complained that they need access to these streets. Quite sensibly, the Police have said that they will be sensible in their enforcement of the rules until such time as the Council can make the legal changes needed.
- The Town Council had received a request from the Lanstephan Play Committee asking for help with setting up an new equipped play area on the estate. Given the troubles we have had with play areas in Launceston, I very much hope that this one goes ahead and that the Town Council is able to provide all the help they can.
- I updated that Town Council on a number of issues including the news that it looks likely that the entire Kensey Valley Meadow Estate will be adopted by the end of the financial year. I'm very grateful to officers for finally getting all the information together. I'm concerned that this has taken as long as it has, but at least it is finally happening.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
About three months ago, my colleagues Nathan Bale and Dan Rogerson MP presented a petition to the Council about a local issue in Bude. They received a bare acknowledgement but not proper reply and so, last month, I asked a question at full council about the administration's policy on replying to letters and petitions. I specifically mentioned Nathan and Dan's petition as a case in point. To their credit, the Council acknowledged that they had not been as smart as they would like to be at replying to letters and they promised to get better.
Whatever else they might have done, the Council has still not responded to Nathan and Dan's petition.
The report was published today and says:
"The Council currently has a healthy balance of reserves... The new Council has made significant savings upon the transition to the new council with £15m or so expected in year one... These ongoing savings and savings strategies for year 2 and 3 will, if delivered, put the Authority in a relatively good position to deal with the severe funding pressures that will affect local government in the future... Despite these problems caused by delays in transition, overall
financial control has been maintained... The level of debt arising from external borrowing, although a large amount, is generally in line with the Authority’s capital financing requirement."
It should also be noted that Cornwall was given the highest possible AAA rating for financial management under Lib Dem control.
Yet at today's Full Council meeting, the Cabinet Member for Finance, Jim Currie, appeared to say that he had little confidence in this report and gave greater credence to a reading of the council's finances which say that all is doom and gloom.
Cllr Currie seems to forget that the unitary council is on course to make savings of more than £15 million per year. He voted against making these savings.
It seems that Jim Currie has commissioned a report and doesn't like a lot of what it has to say because it proves that the Lib Dem County Council was financially sound.
The administration voted this down saying that they needed to look further at the issues before they could sign up.
So today I asked Julian German, the Cabinet Member for the Environment, to tell me what action he had taken since the last meeting to find out more about the 10-10 campaign.
He couldn't provide me with any details at all and invited me to look at his online diary to find out what he has done. I've done so and there doesn't appear to be anything that fits the bill. To be fair to him, it may have been tucked away in another meeting and so I've written to him to ask for details of the meetings he has held on the subject and reports he has commissioned.
My concern is that, despite his promise, he has done nothing. I very much hope that he is able to prove me wrong.
The good news was that the rumoured singing of Trelawney will not be taking place until the December meeting (if ever).
The major problem was the non-attendance of three of the Cabinet members. Full Council is the main opportunity for ordinary councillors to hold the Cabinet to account. If Cabinet members are not present then question after question is responded to with the Leader saying that someone will get back to us.
I know that at least one, if not two, of the absentees were on other council business, but I would argue that Full Council should be top of their agenda. The only real excuse for absence should be illness. It appears that at least one of the Cabinet members simply couldn't be bothered to turn up.
I raised the urgent question of the Ridgegrove Estate play areas. These are the responsibility of the Housing Department and so transferred from NCDC to Cornwall Council. Back in May they were very run down and covered in broken glass and dog mess. I wrote to the Council asking that something be done. After I was elected in June I wrote again to repeat my call. To date I have had a letter of acknowledgement but no substantive reply.
Yet the Council appears to have been very busy on the estate. They have decided that the area is so run down that the play equipment is unsafe and has to be removed. Neither I not any local resident appears to have been consulted or told about this. It was just decided.
So today I asked why and what action would be taken to replace the play equipment. I was told 'that someone would get back to me'...
Thursday, 15 October 2009
I'm not sure that the public are ready to hear my singing voice, but I'll gladly take part if it happens.
Wednesday, 14 October 2009
From what I have seen as Vice Chair of the Electoral Review Panel, there is certainly some blame to be borne by the printers in Sussex. But I am concerned both that the Council seems unwilling to acknowledge its own failings and that they are coming to this conclusion before an external report has finished.
A few weeks ago, we agreed to ask John Turner, and outside expert, to review the failings. He hasn't finished his work and, until he has, I don't think we can be sure where the fault entirely lies.
Whilst I do not condone illegal working, I do support the indian restaurant industry in their campaign over the lack of suitably qualified and trained chefs for indian restaurants. If we are to keep excellent restaurants like the Spice Room, the Government needs to make the system work properly so that they have the people to work in them.
It is also interesting to note that the Spice Room might be fined £30,000 if guilty of this breach but the Attorney General (the Government's chief law officer) was fined just £5000 for employing an illegal worker herself.
The Liberal Democrats pledged in our manifesto in June that we would not close any school in Cornwall for at least four years. It appears that the new Conservative led administration has no such policy.
If you support the campaign to save these schools, please join the Facebook group.
(I applaud Conservative Councillor Scott Mann for being willing to oppose his administration's stance on this though)
The court building might not be ideal at present, but it seems strange that, under the new arrangements we will have a police station with cells in the town but no court and in Bodmin and court but no cells. Just how much will be saved and how much extra spent on ferrying prisoners around?
Once again it appears that Government facilities are being removed from Launceston. We have lost post offices, including the one at Newport, the tax office and now the court.
Unions are quite rightly concerned that the early redundancies (mainly the bosses) were being done on the old, higher, payouts whilst future cuts (mainly lower paid employees) would be based on new (lower) figures.
Some councillors asked why there couldn't be a scheme to limit the maximum payouts at the top end - after all, the public accept the concept of fair payouts but not schemes which allow the top bosses to walk away with hundreds of thousands of pounds each. We were told that such schemes might break age discrimination laws.
Surely it is not beyond the wit of man (or lawyer) to devise a scheme which does what we asked but does not break the rules?
In response to the debate, the Leader of the Council said that any agreement today would not have to be for the long term but could be reviewed. He implied that such a review could take place very soon.
At the vote, the Leader's proposal only went through by 5 votes to 4 with at least one cabinet member very unhappy.
It was also apparent that the consultation with the unions has not been as comprehensive as we might have wished and that the Council's HR committee had not even been consulted. All together this looked like a quick fix solution railroaded through without proper thought.
Not surprisingly, it will be called in for further scrutiny.
Knotweed, as many non-indiginous species, is a real problem. It takes over gardens and open spaces and can be impossible to get rid of. I therefore welcome a safe way of dealing with it.
People will naturally be concerned that bringing in another foreign import to tackle it might simply create a whole new catastrophe. We were assured it won't.
My concern comes because we must rely on these assurances. Despite being promised that the scientists behind the scheme would come and give evidence, it was decided that such a presentation and questioning would be only for cabinet members and behind closed doors. Opposition councillors, as well as the press and public, never got the chance to see the evidence or to have their say.
I fervently hope that the assurances are true. I have no reason to doubt the experts on this. But it would have been far more reassuring to be able to see all the evidence and have the chance to ask questions.
It was a really packed meeting with lots of locals present who objected to the schemes. There were also a few people in favour but the majority of the audience were resolutely opposed.
The Otterham scheme is another relatively small scale project which has a maximum capacity of just 2-3 megawatts of power. The Davidstow proposal, on the other hand, was for 20 turbines generating up to 50 megawatts of power - enough for about 5% of Cornwall's energy needs.
Objections were not just to the siting of the turbines but also based on the possible threat to bird habitats and to air traffic control. In the end the scheme was approved subject to resolution of these two problems. Basically, if a solution cannot be found then planning permission will be withdrawn.
Personally, I am in favour of more wind power. It cannot be the only solution, but must fit with wave and solar power. But there are no proposals for such schemes at the moment and our dependence on coal, gas and nuclear is becoming ever more acute. With the depletion of north sea oil and gas and the end of coal, we are approaching a tipping point in terms of supply and the climate change argument means also that we need to take action to move to more environment friendly means of generating power. And removable wind turbines are a whole lot better than having to have a nuclear power station in Cornwall.
I went into last night's meeting (I was an observer rather than a voting member of the committee) thinking that we need such schemes but that this might not be the best place to locate it. But looking at the detailed site map changed my mind. The site is not unspoilt countryside and it is not an area of outstanding natural beauty (although there are some nearby). In the vicinity you have a reservoir, the massive Davidstow Creamery and the abandoned airfield.
At the end of the day, such a decision will always be a toss up between the benefit of clean, green power and the detrimental effect on the landscape. There is no doubt that some views will be harmed byt these turbines, but, on balance, I think that the right decision was made.