Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Two bits of great news for the Lib Dems

Not only does the new Angus Reid poll has us up a point to 22%, but Howard Dean has backed the Lib Dems, and Nick Clegg in particular, to win at the election.

Governor Dean rails against the unfair voting system and recognises that it will limit what we can achieve, but his endorsement is still very welcome. He is someone, after all, who has see a lot of high quality politicians close at hand and met with all the parties when he was over in the UK last year. It's great that he has chosen to back Nick.

(Oh, and I like him cos I got to have a chat with him last year)

Nick Clegg's Cornwall visit

Nick Clegg was in Cornwall today for three visits on the theme of industry.

First up, he went to Hayle with Julia Goldsworthy to visit a precision engineering firm called Rigibore. This is a family business which specialises in extremely precise engineering - to tolerances of 3 microns (three one thousandths of a millimetre).

The firm also employs people through the Unlocking Cornish Potential scheme which helps unemployed or under-employed graduates to find the right job and provides support to the firms that employ them.

Nick and Julia were shown some of the work done by the firm and some of the very hi-tech machinery that creates their products. (The machine in this photo is one of their slightly less hi-tech machines!)

Then it was off to the CUC campus at Tremough with Terrye Teverson. The staff and students they met are involved in a green energy project which will harness tidal power. But as well as that they develop software for buoys which measure wave height.

The staff at CUC were keen to point out that the buoy was not painted in our honour!

After a brief stop at Radio Cornwall it was off to meet with Stephen Gilbert and to visit Imerys at Par and then one of their quarries in Clay Country.

I sometimes take the clay industry for granted having grown up in Cornwall, but it is still one of our biggest industries and employers and we have the largest clay mine in the world. Imerys told us they are confident that they have enough reserves for decades of work to come.

Finally, Nick met with Western Morning News correspondent Matt Chorley who is touring marginal constituencies in Devon and Cornwall in a VW camper bus. Matt and Nick enjoyed a cuppa and biscuit as the interview took place sitting in the door of the van.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Council says homeless 90 year old is not top priority

I make not apology for posting a second story about housing.

At today's meeting I asked Housing Cabinet Member Mark Kaczmarek about the banding system used to classify people on the housing waiting list. Applicants are graded either gold, silver or bronze, depending on their assessed level of need with gold being the highest. Higher level applicants automatically beat lower level applicants when bids for houses are assessed.

I wanted to know whether the council would consider reviewing the system following the recent experiences of one Launceston resident. This 90 year old lady has recently been made homeless. She was graded as silver by the Council and, as a result, has lost out when she has applied for homes.

I cannot believe that the Council does not consider a 90 year old lady who is homeless to be an absolutely top priority and am amazed that the Cabinet Member is refusing to review the system.

I'm fighting for this particular lady, but I'm also fighting the system that says she is not top priority.

Council considered restricting homechoice adverts to mid Cornwall

One of the biggest debates at today's meeting was over the introduction by the Council of a centralised Homechoice system to replace the old Homefinder for council and social housing. My colleague John Turner had a copy of the first advert - from Saturday's Western Morning News - in which just 17 properties were advertised. There are more than 8000 people on the waiting list.

Many members questioned whether the Saturday WMN was the best place for these adverts.

I blogged about this earlier and the improvements that I had helped to secure, but it is still far from ideal.

Housing Cabinet Member Mark Kaczmarek said that the alternative was to advertise in the West Briton alone. I find it incredible that this was even contemplated. To consider only using a paper that is published in mid-Cornwall - ignoring the needs of those on the housing waiting list in East and West Cornwall - seems like a massive denial of service to the majority of Cornwall Council.

Cllr Kaczmarek said that the WMN was chosen because it had a bigger readership the West Briton.

Of course that is true in East and West Cornwall where the WB is not sold. But it is not the case to say that the WMN has a large circulation. ABC figures show that the average daily readership (and remember that the paper is more expensive and far less read on a Saturday) for the WMN is less than 10% across Cornwall. In Camborne is is fewer than 5% and in Launceston just 8.95%. Compared to that, the Cornish and Devon Post and the Cornish Guardian have massive numbers of readers.

It may be cheaper to stick to the WMN, but in order to make sure that as many people as possible have the chance to bid for properties, surely it is right to consider a switch to the Cornish Guardian (and sister papers) or the Post.

Parking permits - Council in a dither

At today's full Council meeting, I raised the issue of parking permits, specifically the centralisation which means that parking permits are not available direct from local One Stop Shops as they were in most of Cornwall and also the abolition of the North Cornwall Parking Permit that 372 people currently use.

I asked who took the decision on the loss of service at One Stop Shops and was told by Cabinet Member Graeme Hicks that this was an officer decision. Cllr Hicks did, to his credit, appear to admit that this might have been a mistake and he promised that they would be looking at it again.

Later in the meeting, my colleague Sasha Gillard-Loft tried to raise the issue of the North Cornwall permit only for Cllr Hicks to avoid answering citing a constitutional technicality.

So I tried again under yet another agenda item. I got a fairly dismissive answer from the Council Leader saying that the North Cornwall permit no longer exists because NCDC no longer exists. He is totally missing the point. Whether NCDC exists or not, there are 372 drivers in the North Cornwall area who want to be able to use a permit that covers that area - for which they used to pay £170 a year. They don't want to be forced to buy a £1200 Cornwall wide permit which allows them to park for free in St Ives or Penzance.

Graeme Hicks was on his feet to answer me properly but was not allowed to speak by the Chairman.

This is an issue which we will not let go of. Lots of people locally rely on the North Cornwall permit and there seems no reason that it has been abolished - certainly not without proper member accountability.

Great new Lib Dem website

Welcome the Labservatives:

Post Office crisis postponed - we hope

Last week I reported that there was a very real danger that Launceston Post Office would have to close for a period over the summer as the landlord had not been in touch with the current operators about an extension to the lease. The deadline given then was close of play last night.

I am now told that there have been discussions between the different parties and a lease extension has been agreed.


Monday, 29 March 2010

Ask the Chancellors - the verdict

First thoughts - the Leaders have a lot to live up to. The debate was orderly (and well chaired) and all got their chance to have their say.

There was no knock out blow, but I still think that Vince Cable came out best. I would say that, wouldn't I. But the online vote at both the Guardian and C4 agrees with me and the tweetminster sentiment scores say the same thing. So does Gary Gibbons of Channel 4 News. And Andrew Sparrow of the Guardian (80 for Cable, 69 for Darling and 60 for Osborne) And the Mumsnet readers. And FT Leader writer Chris Cook. And Peter Hoskin at the Spectator's Coffee House blog. And the New Statesman.

In fact, I can't find a single blog or website that isn't a paid up supporter of one party or another that hasn't called it for Vince.#govince !

This post is coming an hour after the debate ended as I am following the Mathew Parris idea of going away and thinking of something very different before I make it (in my case, by watching Glee first)

What do I remember of the debate?

- Thinking that Vince was authoritative and applauded (six times, I am told)
- That Darling was very, very boring but adequate
- That Osborne looked shifty (has he had his hair dyed?) and creepy at one point (leering at the young woman who asked about jobs)

What lines or message stood out?

Vince talking about the bankers as pinstriped Scargills was the soundbite of the event.

Closely followed by Vince saying that he had predicted the banking crisis.

Osborne saying, in answer to the question on experience, that he had watched a lot of people doing difficult jobs.

So what was wrong with Vince's performance? (trying to look at things objectively-ish)?

He never really had the chance to use many of his debating skills because the other two wouldn't debate with him. The number of times Darling and Osborne agreed with what he said is testament to his sagacity of course. But it was also effective in cutting him out of part of the debate. It's very difficult to push against an open door.

As a final treat - here's Vince's closing statement.

New Conservative NI policy - Sheryll Murray doesn't agree

Today the Conservatives announced their new policy pledging to reverse the planned 1p rise in National Insurance contributions from both employers and workers. See here for my previous post on this subject.

This time we got his ideas about how this would be paid for.

The big idea is that the Tories in government would seek to renogotiate contracts with companies to try to get a better deal for the taxpayer. The argument is that many contracts were signed when interest rates were much higher and there was a booming economy which allowed companies to charge more (and the government to pay more) than is possible now.

The trouble is that Cornwall Conservatives, particularly SE Cornwall candidate Sheryll Murray, have been shrilly opposed to such a move in Cornwall.

A month ago, there was an Any Questions style debate at County Hall featuring representatives from the different groups on the Council. Sheryll Murray was in the front row and was very vocal in her opposition to (almost) anything that Lib Dem Robin Teverson said. She was particularly opposed to the idea put forward by Robin that Cornwall Council ought to seek to negotiate with SITA over the waste contract given the change in circumstances noted above and the refusal of planning permission fot he St Dennis incinerator.

'Oh no', shouted Ms Murray. 'You can't possibly consider negotiating over a deal that has already been signed. That's a ridculous idea that will never work.' (I paraphrase slightly, but that was the intent of her shrieks.)

Well the chickens have now come home to roost as her Shadow Chancellor is proposing exactly the same course of action to pay the NI bill. I presume that she will be mentioning her opposition to this 'ridiculous' policy in her election leaflets... but I won't hold my breath.

Web-casting of Council meetings - UPDATED

At tomorrow's Full Council meeting we will be debating the web-casting of council meetings. The motion is a cross-party effort inititated by Andrew Wallis and sponsored by my colleagues Rob Nolan and Jeremy Rowe.

I'm fully in favour of the move as it would increase the openness and transparency of the council. I don't however, pretend that it is a silver bullet to increase understanding of the council's workings, nor do I think that there will be huge numbers of people eagerly tuning in to watch us debating.

However, it is a useful extra tool which should not cost a huge amount. The hardware (and sofetware) required is pretty standard and could be installed without much fuss.

But simply web-casting meetings is just a first step. The second step is to make sure that Cornish residents have the chance to react to what they see and hear and use the extra information to make their views known to the council and councillors.

I have said in the past that I think Cornwall Council is being pretty forward thinking in its social media policy. The use of web-casting could be a big advance, but it needs to be a two way process, not simply a broadcast system that doesn't listen to what people think.

UPDATE - The motion to full council passed overwhelmingly although there was an attempt to the whole project subject to a scrutiny investigation. Fortunatley, that move failed.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Launceston Post Office - just when things looked to be going well

The saga of Launceston Post Office has taken a worrying turn.

Tim Nickolls of the Post Office has been in touch to say:

"We have this week had discussions with all of the various people who had expressed interest in applying for the subpostmastership of Launceston and there appear to be at least 2 parties at the current time who seem committed to move forward with a formal application.

On the negative side, as you will know Interim Enterprises the company that currently operates the Post Office branch, have been given notice by the landlord to vacate by the end of May. Although I had been given an assurance by Kivells that the landlord was very happy to extend Interim's temporary occupancy by a further 3 months to allow (hopefully) for a town centre solution to be established, Interim have advised me that they have still not heard anything from the landlord or Kivells in relation to this - despite several prompts for me. The head of Interim has today informed me that if this has not been satisfactorily resolved by close of play on Monday, they will be issuing redundancy notices to their staff and planning for vacating in May as originally instructed by the landlord. Naturally I do not want this to happen, as it will almost certainly lead to a period of closure with no replacement service in place. However, I can understand their position and their obligations to their staff. In the eventuality that this issue is not resolved I will let you know."

Whilst the news that at least two serious bidders are ready to submit applications is very welcome, the other part of the message is very concerning. If a deal to ensure that the current company can carry on until a new postmaster is ready to take over cannot be agreed by the end of Monday then the Post Office will close at the end of May.

Like Tim Nickolls, I understand why Interim have had to take the action they have. Having heard how reasonable the landlord has been over other matters, I believe that this is not a crisis yet. But clearly things need to move very swiftly over the weekend or the town will be without a Post Office for some months in the summer.

If this were to happen then businesses and local residents would suffer immensely. Those hardest hit would be people without cars who rely on being able to get their pensions or other benefits from the Post Office.

Should the worst come to the worst, I have asked the Post Office to site a mobile post office van in the town centre to cover the period until a new sub-postmaster can start work. But that should be thought of only as a worst case scenario.

Dan Rogerson calls for Cornwall action to prevent second home owners skewing election

North Cornwall Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson has written to Cornwall Council calling for action to prevent second home owners skewing the general election result in Cornwall.

The Electoral Commission has published guidance on the right of second home owners to register and vote. They say that where a person genuinely lives in two places for roughly equal parts of the year (such as students) then they should be able to choose which area to vote in - but can only vote once.

But where a person has a second home which is only used for part of the year - as is the case for most people who own second homes in Cornwall - they should only be allowed to register and vote where they live for most of the year.

Cornwall Council has a register of those homes which are classed as second homes - owners get an unfair discount on their council tax for these properties. Dan is asking that this register be used to ensure that these second home owners cannot vote in Cornwall in the general election.

At the council elections last year, many hundreds of second home owners vote in Cornwall despite living up country. It is thought that they tipped the balance in a number of seats. The Electoral Commission guidance should ensure that this cannot happen this time.

Official - Cornwall Conservatives raise taxes more

Council tax payers in Cornwall will face the second biggest percentage rise of all who live in the 56 unitary councils according to new figures provided by the Government.

Average bills in Conservative run Cornwall will rise by 3.3% in the coming year. Only the Isles of Scilly will see a larger rise (at 4.6%).

Whilst 48 Conservative run councils and many Lib Dem councils across the UK are freezing council tax (or cutting it) in the coming year, Cornish Conservatives are raising local bills by more than the rate of inflation (currently 3%).

Cornwall is one of the poorest parts of the UK and council tax is a very blunt stick type of taxation because it is not based on ability to pay (see my post here for more).

Back in June last year, the Conservatives delivered lots of leaflet promising to freeze council tax for two years. Despite officers confirming that the unitary savings are well on course, they haven't delivered.

Lib Dems will help 1 million people with disabilities with fuel payments

The Liberal Democrats have set out plans to extend the Winter Fuel Payment (WFP) to up to 1 million people with severe disabilities and terminal illness.

Severely disabled adults, children and those who are terminally ill are more likely to live in poverty and many struggle to pay higher fuel bills. The Liberal Democrats will give them £200 to help with their heating bills every year.

The plans would be paid for by increasing the age of eligibility for the WFP to 65 immediately.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Steve Webb said:

“The Government has failed to break the link between disability and poverty. Our plans mean that up to 1m disabled people and those who are terminally ill will get £200 to help pay their heating bills. Only the Liberal Democrats will extend fuel payments to support those who are most in need.”

The £5bn Tory black hole

The Conservatives have found a way of digging themselves into even deeper trouble on their economic plans. Like other parties, they recognise that public spending needs to be heavily cut in order to balance the books.

But the Conservatives have refused to say how all except a tiny proportion of those cuts will be funded. They have said that NHS spending, overseas aid and some spending on assistance for older people will not be cut - but they haven't said what will go. We are told by experts that, having 'saved' some services, everything else will have to be cut by an average of 25%.

Now they have decided that this hole is not deep enough and they have come up with another unfunded promise. They will not implement the 1% hike in National Insurance due next year. That pledge will cost another £5 billion (or £7bn or £10 bn according to some newspapers). How will they pay for this? They won't say.

Contrast this with the Liberal Democrats who also recognise that public spending needs to be cut - but not until the economy is strong enough to take it.

We have identified programmes like the like for like replacement for Trident, ID cards, biometric passports and child trust funds as things that could and should be cut. Unlike the tories, we are being honest about what we will cut. Why can't they?

Next Monday, Channel 4 are hosting a debate among the chancellors - Alistair Darling, George Osbourne and Vince Cable will be debating their respective plans. Let's hope George has done his sums by then.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Government investment in coastal towns

Communities Minister John Denham has announced that £5 million is being given by the Government to help re-generate coastal towns.

Mr Denham correctly identifies that many traditional coastal towns are suffering and need regeneration:

"Our coastal areas are rich with history and a high quality of life that makes them attractive places to live in and many seafronts have been transformed in recent years with government investment and support.

"Places like St Ives, Hastings and Scarborough are showing they can thrive once again through strong local leadership and dynamic businesses, no longer dependent on British weather, attracting visitors all year round.

"There is no reason why our other seaside towns can't flourish in the same way."

So far, so good.

But the downside is that the money available is just £5 million and it's spread across 25 areas. Don't get me wrong, investment is welcome. But what can £200,000 to regenerate perhaps as many as 30 coastal towns in Cornwall possibly achieve?

If Labour were really serious about boosting regeneration in towns like Looe, Bude, Portreath, Porthleven and countless others, then they would be putting in far more money.

Is this the end of Cameron's NI ambitions?

The news that the Ulster Unionists' only MP is quitting the party to stand as an independent in the general election is surely going to hurt the Conservative's ambitions to win seats for the first time in Nortern Ireland.

Having already ostracised the other NI parties by entering an electoral agreement with the only party to oppose the devolution of police and justice powers to the province, this looks like it might well be the death knell for this particular experiment.

Whether it was for profoundly decent philosophical reasons, or as a cynical attempt to secure an extra vote or two in the event of a very close election outcome, David Cameron's bid to get MPs elected in NI under the Conservative banner now looks in tatters. With no sitting MPs, and with disastrous results at the last elections, the UUP now looks like a millstone around Cameron's neck. Whlst Sylvia Hermon was still on board, the plan still had hope. But without even her, it is surely finished.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Millionaires in Mayfair pay less council tax than average homeowners in Launceston

Local Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson has told me of a statistic (originally unearthed by Richard Whitehouse of the Cornish Guardian) that is genuinely shocking.

Millionaires in Mayfair mansions pay less in council tax than average homeowners in Launceston.

Thats goes to show just how unfair the council tax system introduced by the Conservatives is. It urgently needs replacing with a system based on ability to pay.

The figures behind the statistic are these:

  • In Mayfair, which is part of Westminster Council, where some mansions sell for tens of millions of pounds, the top rate of council tax (Band H) is £1375.24 a year.
  • In Launceston, the Band D council tax rate is £1509.24 a year. Band D properties are the 'average homes' and are used by the Government when comparing council tax rates.

Of course, there aren't too many million pound plus homes in Launceston and the average house price here is a lot lower than Mayfair. But wages here are a tiny fraction of those in Mayfair. North Cornwall has been identified as an area with one of the highest proportion of low earning households in the UK.

The Lib Dems have long campaigned against the Council Tax which was introduced by the Conservatives to replace the even more unfair poll tax. We need a local taxation system which is based on the ability to pay and government funding for councils which really reflects the needs of the local community. With the Conservatives you will get none of these changes.

Note: I originally posted that Dan had unearthed the stat. I'm told by others that this was in the public domain before thanks to Richard Whitehouse of the Cornish Guardian and so I have corrected the post accordingly. Nevertheless, the shocking nature of the statistic remains.

Cameron fails to spot budget tax hike

As spotted by the Lib Dems, but completely missed by David Cameron, Alistair Darling today announced that income tax thresholds will be frozen for the coming year. Because of the rate of inflation, that means that we will actually be worse off in coming months.

In contrast, the Lib Dems will raise the income tax threshold to £10,000 a year - meaning that you pay no income tax at all on the first £10k of earnings. That leaves more money in the pockets of pensioners and very low earners and makes everyone who earns more than £10k better off by £700 a year.

Everyone accepts that there will have to be cuts in central government spending - although the Lib Dems will avoid huge cuts until the economy is strong enough to take them. But if central services have to be cut, then at least people should have more money in their pockets as compensation.

The tax cuts measure - funded by a mansion tax on those whose houses are worth more than £2 million - is sure to be front and centre in the Lib Dem manifesto and I think will be a great vote winner - particularly in North Cornwall which has been identified as being in the top 10% of areas with the most low earning households.

Incidentally, the Conservatives still won't say where their immediate and huge public spending cuts will come. In contrast, the Lib Dems have been honest and open and said that we will not replace Trident like with like, we won't go for phase two of the biometric passports, will scrap ID cards and will abolish tax payer funded child trust funds.

Launceston Day Care Centre needs to move into town

This morning I attended a meeting with the staff and users of the Launceston Day Care Centre. The centre provides activities and support for adults with learning disabilities in the town and the surrounding area. The problem is that the centre is located on the Newport Industrial Estate and really needs to move into the town.

The industrial estate is a busy place. There are businesses all around the centre with cars and lorries loading and unloading at all times of the day. It's also pretty noisy. None of that is unusual for a thriving industrial estate and I wouldn't want to put a stop to any of it. But it's not exactly the place for a day centre for people with learning disabilities. They told me themselves how unsafe they feel walking around and how cut off from the town they are. The policy of the government and of the Council is that people with learning disabilities should be part of the community - able to meet with and interact with their neighbours and able to do all the normal things like shopping and going to the library. That's simply not possible stuck in Newport.

The users have identified another building in town which they feel would be ideal for their new site. It's council owned and it is both big enough and with a garden. The site is the rectory next to St Mary's church. What's more, it is empty at the moment. Of course, the new building would need works doing to it in order to make it ready to be used as a day centre. But it would also be able to be used by other organisations who could help to contribute to the costs.

The Council officer at today's meeting was told that Launceston Day Care Centre had been asking for a move for 11 years but kept on being held up. Now we are told that the different parts of the council are looking at what can be done. I'm glad to hear that and hope that they can move swiftly and agree that Launceston should be treated as a high priority.

At the end of the day there should be no 'one size fits all' solution for day centres across Cornwall. The fact that Launceston identified what it needed and got all its ducks in a row before others should not mean that meeting their needs is delayed unnecessarily.

Even though it would mean losing this excellent facility from my ward (it would move into Launceston South where Sasha Gillard-Loft is the councillor), I am delighted to support their campaign as being the best for Launceston and the best for the centre users now and in years to come.

Lib Dems will fare well in the Con Home test

If Tim Montgomerie is right then the Lib Dems are well placed to do very well in the General Election.

On Conservative Home, Mr Montgomerie notes that the Westminster village stories of the last few weeks - bullygate, Ashcroft, union links, lobbying and SamCamMam - have not had a significant effect on the polls. He suggests that there are really only four factors that move opinion polls in the long run:

The underlying state of the economy and voters' sense of which parties will best protect their household income.

The voters' sense of the party leaders.

The unity of the parties.

A winning, believable policy.

Mr Montgomerie, of course, looks at these factors from a Tory perspective. But what should Lib Dems think if he is right?

Whatever Mr Darling announces today, we can be sure that Vince Cable's sainthood with the public will continue. He is the most favoured Chancellor according to a recent poll and can be relied upon to tell it as it is, good or bad. He is clearly one of the Lib Dems biggest assets.

As for the Party Leader, I honestly believe that Nick will find increasing favour with the public as the election progresses. He has managed to stay out of the the slanging match during PMQs and the ITV interview on Sunday had him coming across as a genuine and likeable bloke.

The unity of the Lib Dems is very solid at this time. Of course we need to keep it together. But we don't have the rabid right wing that dogs the Tories or the huge splits that mean Brown is attacked from every side.

As for the policy, it is not for me to say. Of course I believe that it is right for the country. I hope that we have the space to articulate it clearly. But, inevitably, it will be down to the spokespeople we put forward to sell the policy and the party to campaign on the right issues in the right way. But this is the great imponderable for all the parties. And it is on this that we will ultimately stand or fall.

I would suggest that we should be looking forward to significant poll gains on that basis. As I posted previously, the Party secured a decent poll rise on the back of a strong and united Spring Conference. With the media attention dropping away a bit, this boost has slightly dissipated, but the better coverage that comes with the election announcement should restore things.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Council confirms 'no traffic calming possible in Dutson Road'

I have had confirmation from the Council that they are not able to introduce any traffic calming measures in Dutson Road. It had been suggested recently that some works to slow the traffic might be possible, but this is, sadly, not the case.

As residents will know, Dutson Road is a very busy highway with a large number of heavy lorries. For part of its length there is no pavement and, with cars parked there, pedestrians often have to walk in the middle of the road.

I asked back in June if anything could be done but was told that, because the road is a major highway (it is also the A388), then nothing can be done. In particular, humps, chichanes and so on have all been ruled out. I haven't given up on action in the future but accept that it will take a large scale scheme to bring any change. I don't want to falsely raise the hopes of residents by campaigning for actions that I know cannot be achieved.

In the meantime, I have been finding ways to alleviate the problem, particularly for pedestrians. I have succeeded in getting the Council to stop classifying the road as a safe walking route for young people from the Ridgegrove Estate to the play area at Priory Park. As a consequence, the Council is now more actively looking at both a walking route between Ridgegrove Lane and Newport and a new play facility in a field to the south of Ridgegrove. These would both be great news. The new route would not be just for young people, of course.

The council has also refreshed the signs on the outskirts of town warning drivers approaching Dutson Road to slow down.

I continue to feel that residents of Ridgegrove and the surrounding area are short changed by the council and I think we are seeing the start of some moves in the right direction.

New parking restrictions for Moorland Road?

Cornwall Council are considering introducing new parking restrictions in Moorland Road outside the Police Station and St Catherine's Primary School.

The problem is that it is a narrow road and cars parking (quite legally) on the road mean that it can be difficult for other vehicles to get past. This is particularly a problem for the town bus service. I am told that the bus, and cars, have been damaged.

So the Council will shortly be trying to work out the best solution - probably in the form of yellow lines.

I have talked to both the Headteacher at the school and the Police to find out what they think of the proposal. Neither have an objection in principle but the school would like any restrictions not to apply at dropping off and picking up time. As the bus does not run at these times (it is used for school transport elsewhere), I would hope that this can be accommodated.

Before any restrictions come into force, I have asked for a formal consultation with the school, Police and residents of Moorland Road, St Johns Road, Cowlard Close and George Fox Close as they will all be affected.

I recognise that there is a problem with parking in this area, but would like to hear the views of residents before giving my support to this particular proposal.

Potholes - Council pledges swift repairs

Great news on the potholes story and video posted yesterday.

Although the Oscar committee have not been in touch, the Council has.

I have been contacted by residents in Moorland Road and Priory Park Road who told me about pothole problems there and I passed these on to the council along with the Cross Lanes ones. The Council has promised to fill the worst of the potholes with temporary fillings as soon as possible and the entire list is now being added to the works order for permanent filling. This will hopefully be done in the next three to four weeks.

Many thanks to Oliver Jones and the other officers for responding quickly on this.

Cameron rails against lobbyists - someone tell George

At his news conference this morning, Conservative Leader David Cameron railed against the influence of lobbyists saying that the political system is 'looking more broken than ever'. So where does that leave George Eustice, the man who wants to be the Tory MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle, is a former senior Tory advisor and now lobbies for Coca Cola and Vodaphone among others.

Setting aside the claim by Mr Eustice that lobbying is a 'real job in the real world', the question that strikes me is how will he accommodate his business interests if he were to be elected. Mr Cameron says that backbench MPs should be allowed to keep in touch with the real world by having outside jobs. But he made it quite clear that these could not include lobbying. So presumably Mr Eustice would have to give up his lobbying job if he were elected.

Mr Cameron also wants to double the time between MPs leaving Parliament and being able to take up lobbying jobs to two years. That's fine and dandy. But shouldn't the reverse also be true to some extent. Lobbyists who come into Parliament (even if they formally give up the job) will still have a set of clients whose accounts they have worked on assiduously and whose interests they have been paid to further.

So let's have a new rule that says that, if elected, former lobbyists need to declare all the companies and organisations they have worked for and they should be banned from raising or voting on any issues that affect those former clients for the same two year period.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Double attack on Tory spin

There's a double attack on Tory spin in Cornwall tonight.

First up, there's the Conservative plans for the high speed rail line linking London to the North. South West rail user groups have attacked the plans as meaning that 'ordinary lines' in the South West will be neglected.

Then there's the trumpeting of investment of up to £2bn in Cornwall. My colleague Edwina Hannaford is worried that the new affordable homes will end up being for people from outside Cornwall rather than the local families who so desperately need them. And another colleague, Graham Walker, has looked at the money for the Building Schools for the Future programme and has found that none of the schools in the first tranche are actually eligible for the money as they are neither academies not foundation schools.

So the question arises - how much of the promised money will actually be invested for the benefit of the people of Cornwall.

Byers, Hoon and Hewitt suspended... or How Gordon Brown got rid of three Blairites in a single blow

So Stephen Byers, Patsy Hewitt and Geoff Hoon have all been suspended from the Labour Party having been caught up in the latest 'MPs for sale' scandal.

Whilst he will have to endure a lot of digs from Cameron, I'm betting that Gordon Brown is not exactly unhappy at this. After all, all three are arch Blairites and would have been the leading candidates when anonymous and damaging briefings came out during the election campaign complaining that Brown wasn't up to Blair's level and how he was losing the election campaign. As strictly tarnished goods (there's no way the standards commissioner will report before the election), they won't be able to get away with any such attacks.

So he has to endure a few barbs this week. But Brown has got three major monkeys off his back for many months to come. Now, if only he could do something about Charles Clarke...

Potholes in Cross Lanes

I've made a video about the problem of potholes in Launceston, particularly in Cross Lanes.

Whilst most potholes may have been made worse by the cold weather in the winter, these holes have been made far wider and deeper by the road lay out. With cars parked on one side of the road, all the traffic flow has to follow on the other side of the carriageway and there are deep ruts appearing. When lorries pass, and there are quite a few of them, the road crumbles even more.

I'm in contact with the Council about these holes and will press them to re-surface the road as soon as possible. But if you know about any more potholes in Launceston, please get in touch with me.

Welcome new blogger Graham Smith

BBC Radio Cornwall's Graham Smith has started a blog.

Great to see you Graham.

Cornwall Anime - next event

After their first event at M-Mad, Cornwall Anime have annoucned their next date. It's on April 14th at 7.30pm and the cost is £3 for members (membership is free) for which you get the film Final Fantasy VII - Advent Children as well as an episode of Pumpkin Scissors.

All that and Keep It Secret, the Launceston based Japanese snacks company will be on hand to sell you some of their very tasty sweets and snacks.

Well done Talan

An update on the exploits of Cornishman Talan Skeel-Piggins who was competing in the alpine ski-ing events at the Paralympic games in Vancouver.

Talan competed in the giant slalom and slalom. He finished a wonderful 15th in the giant slalom and 31st in the slalom. Given that Talan's world rankings are 63 and 74 respectively, they're great results.

(I'm slightly disappointed that Talan didn't make it into the round-up on BBC 2 today which was lamentably short given the attention paid to the main event and to the summer paralympics)

Cameron's union overtures annoys his own right wing - UPDATED

I can't imagine that David Cameron is making many friends among the union movement at the moment - and I don't suppose that this is worrying him overly. But he appears to be falling out with his own right wing over the same issue.

Tim Montgomerie, on Conservative Home, is annoyed that Cameron appears set to continue the union modernisation fund.

With the unions pumping £25 million into Labour's election efforts, Montgomerie argues that there is enough cash to spare in the union coffers that they don't need Government funds.

UPDATE 23-3-2010 - Cameron has confirmed in his press conference today that he will continue with the Union Learning Fund and not the modernisation fund

Former Labour leader seeks job with the Tories

I read on Andrew Reeves blog that former (Labour) Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell is touting himself to the Tories for a big foreign job after the general election.

As Andrew points out, this shows a distinct lack of confidence in a Labour victory and also a disrespect for his constituents.

But what struck me is that, had this been a Lib Dem, then the Labour Party would have been shouting about how this obviously showed that the Lib Dems were jumping into bed with the Conservatives.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Free activities for young coming soon

Cornwall Council will be funding free activities for a range of young people from the beginning of April. The activities will include events at Council leisure centres as well a range of private providers.

The Activity Pass will be provided free of charge to families with school aged children who are in receipt of free school meals or the higher rate of working families tax credit and to children in care.

The value of each pass will be £195 and they will last for a year. Each time a child uses the pass, the cost of the activity will be deducted from their 'account'. Activity providers will receive the full value of the activity from the Council.

What I want to see is more and more activity providers being able to take part in the scheme. If you want to know more about the Activity Pass, contact me.

Will UKIP be standing aside for Eustice?

In a speech today, new UKIP leader Lord Pearson announced that UKIP will not be fielding a candidate against hardline Conservatives who favour the UK's withdrawal from the EU.

I wonder whether this will include George Eustice, the former UKIPper now standing for the Tories in Camborne, Redruth and Hayle?

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Launceston Magistrates court to remain closed

The BBC are reporting that the Ministry of Justice have confirmed that Launceston Magistrates court is to remain closed.

This is a big blow to the town, but not entirely unexpected. All cases will now be heard at Liskeard, Bodmin or Exeter and all those expected to attend the court will have to make their own way there.

Council agrees to wider advertising of housing vacancies

Cornwall Council has recently entered a new advertising contract for council and housing association vacancies. That contract is with the Western Morning News who will run the notices in their Saturday property section.

To my mind, this is far from ideal. Although the WMN is sold across Cornwall, it's not the best read paper and Saturday papers have less circulation than much of the rest of the week. I am told that the basis for this decision was cost. (There was another suggestion which would have seen the list published only in the West Briton and copies of this sold across Cornwall. Thankfully that suggestion didn't make it past first base.)

So I made two suggestions to the council which I am delighted they have will be doing both:

- First, they are planning to advertise all local properties in the One Stop Shop network. Initially, this will simply be in the form of leaflets. But the council are developing a type of estate agent advertising scheme for their shop windows and I think this is an excellent move.

- Second I asked them to make sure that the WMN property section is available in all libraries throughout the week. The only trouble is that some of Cornwall's libraries are closed on Saturdays and so they would not normally have a copy of the Saturday WMN. But the council has agreed to make sure that all libraries receive a copy of the Saturday paper and make the property listings available for the full week.

Thanks to officers for listening and agreeing on this.

Cameron - 'no decision' on Minister for Cornwall.

I've had an admirably quick response from David Cameron's office in response to my inquiry about their plans to create a 'Minister for Cornwall' (see earlier post). In it, they confirm that

'no decision has been made on this'.

So that seems to confirm that it really is just an election gimmick.

Cornwall to have five Thursday night counts

Good news from Kevin Lavery. In his role as Returning Officer for Cornwall, Mr Lavery has decided that five of the six General Election counts will take place on the Thursday night. The exception will be St Ives where the logistics of getting ballot boxes from the off islands of the Scillies mean that the count will take place on Friday.

There has been a lot of discussion on blogs about when counts will take place with a big movement in favour of overnight counts. The Electoral Commission stepped in and warned returning officers that they faced prosecution for breach of official duty if they did not count overnight without good reason.

I'm very glad that, at least in Cornwall, we will have Thursday counting.

How Unite can spend secret millions promoting the Labour Party

Mark Pack has an interesting post on the Election Law Channel on Lib Dem Voice. In it he discusses the law surrounding what must and what need not be declared in election expenses.

But one thing jumped out at me:

Unions such as Unite can spend potentially millions of pounds promoting the Labour Party and Labour candidates to their members without having to declare a penny.

The official Electoral Commission guidance states:

There are rules on how much can be spent by people who are not candidates, but who spend money at an election. These people are called ‘third parties’.

In our view, you will not be affected by these rules if:

  • you have invited all the candidates in the constituency to attend – even if not all of them actually turn up, or
  • your hustings is only open to members of your organisation

So Unite can organise an event to which they only invite Labour candidates to meet Unite members. They can, presumably, ply them with free food and drink (the rules on treating presumably do not apply). All the while the Labour candidate can be selling themselves without the inconvenience of having any other candidates around.

And none of this need be declared on the election expenses of the Labour candidate or on the official 'third party' returns filed by Unite.

Surely this is a matter that needs correcting urgently.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Post Conference Lib Dem poll boost - what will be the electoral impact?

I don't really do polls, but it seems that all the polling companies have been reporting a significant boost for the Liberal Democrats following the very successful and widely reported Spring Conference last weekend.

These poll boosts have been around 3-4%. But the evidence from the YouGov daily poll tracker is that this has started to fall away as memory fades.

So what might be the impact during a general election?

Well the simple answer for me is that, because the Lib Dems get an roughly equal share of the TV coverage in a general election (unlike for the rest of the year), I suspect that this boost will not only be replicated on a more permanent basis, but will actually be built upon.

Day after day of Lib Dems on the TV explaining what they will do to create a fairer Britain will have a very positive impact in my opinion and will see Lib Dem poll ratings rise from around 18% to at least 22% and possibly as high as 25% - and from there you never know.

There is a 'but' of course.

That is the reliance on the party not screwing up. The spring conference was so successful because the Party articulated its message really well and consistently. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable were to the fore, ably backed up by David Laws, Sarah Teather, Simon Hughes, Chris Huhne and the rest of the team - especially Paddy. What will significantly dent the Lib Dems chances are, of course, if any of these key players fall off message. But also if there are significant problems from the lesser lights. I'm not talking about the odd silly statement by the LD candidate for 'no-hope south'. But MPs or target seat candidates who fall off message in a big way will really do the party harm.

I know calling for party discipline is an anathema to many Lib Dems, but our message is clear and is one that the whole party supports. So there should be no risk. Right?

Tories pledge 'minister for Cornwall' - probably because they know they won't win seats here

I read today that the Conservatives are planning to have a Minister for Cornwall should they win the General Election.

Two thoughts arise...

First, that there is nothing in the article which definitely confirms whether the Conservatives will do this - or whether they are just blowing smoke at the voters of Cornwall in the hope that they will fall for a fairly blatant bit of patronising campaigning. I've written to Mr Cameron asking him to confirm this one way or another.

Second, does this indicate that the Conservatives are actually a lot less sure about winning Cornish seats than they would have us believe? After all, at the moment Cornwall has five Lib Dem MPs who do a fine job in representing local people. Having a tokenistic minister for Cornwall - who will either be unpaid and powerless or will be a minister with about five different job titles - will do little to add to what good quality MPs can do.

My real concern is that a 'Minister for Cornwall' will be cover for Conservative MPs who are just not up to the job of standing up for local people themselves.

Sport Relief - just £15,645 a year for Cornwall

Here's a statistic from this evening's event which shocked me.

Just £15,645 of funding from Sport Relief comes to Cornwall each year. That's a tiny amount and I'm horrified that it's so little.

Apparently the amount is calculated on the basis of population numbers and is, not surprisingly, massively over-subscribed. As well as their work in the UK, there are also lots of good projects around the world.

I do not want to decry the work that Sport Relief does. What money they do spend here goes to very worthwhile projects that can make a huge difference to the lives of disadvantaged people. If you are taking part in any of the events this weekend then I congratulate you and wish you all the best. I certainly wouldn't want to put you off taking part and the low level of funding coming to Cornwall is not a reason to think twice.

But the fact remains that this is a massive event and yet only a comparatively small amount is spent on local projects. I hope that this year's event raises lots more than previously so that more can come to Cornish projects. After all, we are one of the poorest parts of the UK and there are a wide range of projects here that really need this sort of help.

Cornwall Sports Partnership Funding Fair

This evening I've been at Truro College for the Funding Fair organised by the Cornwall Sports Partnership. It was a great event attended by over 200 people and with a range of potential funders and advisers on hand to give information to sports clubs and those associated.

I went with my councillor hat on but also looking at what funding might be available to hardworking local clubs such as Launceston Boxing Club and Launceston Rugby Club. But I've picked up a huge range of ideas which I'll be passing on to clubs the length of Cornwall.

Among the organisations giving presentations were Sported, a charity founded by the Sir Keith Mills, the Vice Chair of the Olympic Bid Team. Their remit is to help small clubs - those with a turnover of less than £30k a year to access grants. They fund some things themselves, but their main advantage seems to me that they will help with the lengthy form filling and will find other sources of funding.

Also present were Sport England and the Big Lottery Fund.

Although there as a participant, I was able to give advice to several clubs on the Conrwall Councillors Community Chest funds - the £2195 that we each have to distribute each year, as well as to chat with a couple of local clubs on the funding issues they face.

It was a great event and I hope that it will be repeated in the future.

A non-answer on providing affordable housing for Launceston

I remain deeply concerned about the Council's proposed Affordable Housing PFI scheme. I think that the houses that it will produce will be very expensive and I am concerned that there is too much focus on this scheme as the answer to our housing needs when it will only meet 7% of our affordable housing need per year for four years.

However, at today's Cabinet meeting there was no debate allowed on the principle of the PFI scheme. So instead I was able to ask some more specific questions.

In response, I receive a commitment from Mark Kaczmarek, the Cabinet Member for Housing, that no playing fields would be built on.

I asked what would happen if planning permission for sites were refused and was told that they were confident that they had enough sites on their reserve list to cope so that they would not fail to meet their target number of homes or have to give any cash back to the Treasury.

Finally, I asked what proposals the Council had to provide more affordable homes in the Launceston area, given that there is nothing in the current scheme for this despite the huge need. Here is where I got the non-answer. There is nothing specific planned, but the Council would like to do something. They just don't really know what. But would welcome ideas.

Er... thanks.

Neil Burden to take over as Cabinet Member for Children and Schools

Neil Burden, Leader of the Independent Group (sic) on Cornwall Council is to take over as the Children and Schools Cabinet member at the end of the month following Sally Bain's departure.

At today's Cabinet meeting there was much discussion about the Lib Dem request for the portfolio to be split. The job is a huge one and the field of children and safeguarding is actually very different from that of schools. However we were told that it is a legal requirement for the job to be held by a single cabinet member. Doris Ansari suggested that Cornwall apply for dispensation to split the role - as Somerset has done. We were told that this would be looked into. I suspect that the more likely outcome is that there will be a Cabinet junior to deal with the bulk of one half of the portfolio with Neil taking the official lead.

Given all the discussion about how big the job is, it was therefore somewhat surprising that we were told nothing about Neil's current role - Health and Wellbeing, which covers libraries and leisure - a portfolio that I shadow. We were left with the impression that he would continue in that role too.

It was only after the meeting that we found out that he would be leaving that job but that a replacement would not be named until later. We expect that name by the end of the month.

Next Generation Broadband coming to Cornwall

The Council's Cabinet has just voted to approve the bid for Next Generation Broadband for Cornwall. This could bring internet speeds of up to 100mb for domestic use and up to 1gb for businesses.

That's fantastic news and builds on the first generation broadband project led by the Lib Dems on Cornwall Council. And, what's more, the work will start in East Cornwall.

The entire project will cost well over £100m and will rely in the main on convergence funding - ie support from the EU - but there will be £1 million of Cornwall Council money. I believe that this will be money well spent as it will be a significant investment in the businesses, home workers, residents and tourists in Cornwall.

Most of the broadband will be provided by fibre-optic cable, but for the most remote areas it will be by satellite. We are assured that no oart of Cornwall or the Isle of Scilly - however remote - will miss out. I'm not sure that Cabinet Member Carolyn Rule was right to suggest that Cornwall will be leading the world (I seem to remember reading that South Korea already has 100mb broadband as standard), but a bit of hyperbole is fair enough in these circumstances.

Just to avoid confusion, customers will still have to pay for broadband as they do now. It's just that the infrastructure will be there to enable very high speed services. However, worries that customers will be tied to just one provider - the company which does all the installation - have been allayed, but we will keep tabs to make sure that there is fair and competitive pricing.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Abolishing weekly rubbish collections still on the cards

Cornwall Council has acknowledged that abolishing weekly rubbish collections is still on the cards. On page 40 of the agenda for today's Environment Scrutiny Committee is the Council's latest position on abolishing weekly bin collections. It states:

Frequency of collection of different materials
The move to alternate weekly collections of recyclable and residual waste in some parts of the country has attracted significant media attention and a mixed reaction from residents. However it would be wrong to rule out all options at this stage as in a number of areas a well introduced change has led to significant performance improvements and service efficiencies. Any such proposal would need extremely careful consideration and consultation.

At Cabinet, Council Leader Alec Robertson assured me that no work on abolishing weekly collections would be done for at least a year. He then told Radio Cornwall that officers were actually looking at this issue now. Oops.

It seems clear that the majority of Conservative councillors in Cornwall are vehemently opposed to the move, although one put her head above the parapet and emailed all councillors that our ratings might suffer if we didn't move to fortnightly collections. She was quickly shot down by many colleagues who suggested that services ought to come before ratings.

But despite all the opposition, it seems that the Council is still pressing ahead with preparations for the scheme. For all that some councillors suggest that the Council should consider all the options, all this preparatory work costs officer time and taxpayer money. If the Conservatives were upfront about this, they should have a full political debate and allow the council as a whole to decide whether to press ahead or abandon the idea as a non-starter.

(With thanks to Andrew Wallis for pointing this out to me)

An Open Letter to Jenny Watson

Jenny Watson is Chair of the Electoral Commission, the organisation which oversees the conduct of elections, including the general election, in the UK. Today I have sent her the following letter:

Jenny Watson
Chair, The Electoral Commission

Dear Jenny

Electoral Law allows for organisations which are not political parties to campaign during general elections in order to influence voters into supporting or opposing various policies. In effect, these so-called 'third parties' are often barely concealed campaigns for a particular party and the original intention of allowing such campaigns, though admirable, has been lost as they become merely an attack dog for one party or another.

I am particularly concerned about the influence that the trade union Unite will have at the forthcoming election. Whether one supports or opposes their political viewpoint, they clearly have the right to campaign on behalf of their members. However, as an organisation which is so inextricably intertwined with the Labour Party, having donated more than £11 million to the party in the past 3 years, organising phone banks for the party and with a large number of 'sponsored' Labour MPs, I believe that it would be misleading for voters at the forthcoming general election for Unite's 'third party' spending to be treated separately from that of the Labour Party itself.

I would therefore call on the Electoral Commission to require that any spending by Unite at this general election to be treated as spending by the Labour Party for the purposes of election law and accounting purposes. Where another 'third party' campaign organisation is also shown to be a front for a registered party I believe that the same should apply.

Transparency in election law is important for electors and I believe that treating Unite's spending in the way that I have suggested would be a significant step in the right direction.



Alex Folkes
Liberal Democrat Councillor for Launceston Central

Monday, 15 March 2010

Double Summer Time?

Once again there are reports that the Government is considering moving to double summer time - in other words, not moving the clocks back in the winter and moving them an extra hour forward in the summer.

The idea is that this will create extra daylight hours at times when people are up and about to make the best of them.

Certainly it would help the tourist industry with summer evenings staying light until as late as 11pm. The downside is that it would get light later in the morning (particularly in the winter) and this might be a drawback for some people. But the National Farmers Union has dismissed the idea that farmers would oppose the move.

As well as a boost to tourism, there may also be a benefit for fitness among young people with more time to play outside after school.

So what do you think?

Tamar Bridge crossings will rise to £1.50

Following the public enquiry, it has been decided by the Government that the cost of crossing the Tamar Bridge (or using the Torpoint Ferries) will rise from £1 to £1.50.

It is, of course, unfortunate that costs have to rise, but this is the first rise since 1994.

Cornish cancer patients missing out on £1.3m in payments

Cancer patients in Cornwall are failing to claim around £1.3 million in payments to which they are entitled according to Macmillan Cancer Support. The money is due in disability benefits.

Part of the problem is that a lot of the forms that people are required to fill in to claim the money are ludicrously long and complicated. To some they are incomprehensible. To others, they are something they put aside to fill in on a 'good day'.

One of the very valuable services that Macmillan provide are benefits advisors - experts who work with potential claimants to help them fill in the forms. The wonderful Denise, who works at the Mustard Tree Centre at Derriford Hospital, helped claim around £1.25 million last year alone and there is similar advice avialable via the Citizens Advice Bureau in North Cornwall.

(Declaration of interest: I used to work as a Fundraising Manager for Macmilan Cancer Support)

Observer accuses Eustice of hiding lobbyist links

Yesterday's Observer carried a story about Conservative candidates who have links to lobbying firms which they don't fully disclose to their would be electorates.

Among the candidates to be named is Camborne, Redruth and Hayle Tory George Eustice. Here's what they said about him:

"George Eustice, Cameron's former press secretary, fighting the three-way marginal in Camborne and Redruth, Cornwall, has failed to disclose on his campaign site that he works for powerful Westminster lobby firm Portland, which acts for Google, Tesco and McDonald's."

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Good Luck Talan

Just back from the Liberal Democrat Spring Conference in Birmingham. I'll blog about that later. But a quick post to say good luck to an old school friend, Talan Skeels Piggins, who has been selected for the British Ski Team in the Paralympic Winter Games.

You can see Talan in one of the official podcasts here.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

What does David Cameron think about Northern Ireland devolution?

Let's turn to Sky News to find out...

Does my hair look alright?

Car Park Permits and One Stop Shops - an update

I've now had an answer from the Council about the sale of parking permits in One Stop Shops. As previously blogged, Cornwall Council is centralising the sale of parking permits in St Austell so they will no longer be available directly from One Stop Shops.

My concern was that people would go to the OSS expecting to be able to renew their permit and find that they need to send off a form. I was worried that they would have to pay for more expensive daily tickets until their permits arrived.

I asked whether the Council was going to write to current permit holders to tell them about the change. The answer I have now received is that they will not be doing so, but they have another solution as Local Transport Manager Peter Moore explains:

"A person can still go to the OSS and complete the transaction there, pay, fill in the electronic form with help if necessary. The change is then that the permit will be dispatched by post from our central team.
If a person leaves it to the last minute to buy the ticket, we will grant a period of 7 days grace to using the old pass, this will cover the period of the posting of the new pass. No-one will therefore be paying daily tickets whilst waiting for a replacement.
People can also now buy the pass over the internet, which we suspect will become the normal method for most people."

I am still concerned that this is a withdrawal of a service that I think should be offered directly from One Stop Shops, but I am gratified to hear that no one should lose out financially from the change.

Council gives commitment to local consultation on gypsy and travellers sites

At today's Communities Scrutiny Committee I secured a commitment to local consultation on sites for gypsy and travellers sites. This will be a change from the proposed policy which would have seen local councillors told about planned sites late in the day and no consultation at all with residents.

Council officers presented their proposed consultation protocol. I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues were concerned that local ward members and parish councils would be told what was proposed only when it was a done deal and that local residents would not be consulted at all.

And so I asked for proper consultation with communities and involvement of ward members from the start and drew support from councillors from all parties and my proposal was accepted by the Committee.

The Council is quite right to be trying to identify further suitable sites for gypsy and traveller pitches. Having more acceptable sites will lessen the likelihood of unauthorised encampments and mean that illegal occupants can be moved on more quickly.

But identifying suitable sites must involve local councillors as well as town and parish councils and the local community at an early stage. The draft protocol we were being asked to approve didn't use the word consultation at all. Councillors and parish councils would merely be briefed about what would happen and there would be no effort to find out the views of local people.

Councillors from all parties agreed that ignoring the views of local councillors and the local community would bring resentment rather than acceptance.

This shows that, once again, Cornwall Council seems to be centralising and only informing local councillors as an afterthought. On this issue we have managed to secure a high degree of localism and we will continue to seek the full involvement of residents and local councillors in all issues.

Cornwall Tories raise nothing from public and rely on Ashcroft

Matt Chorley of the Western Morning News is running the story that Cornwall's Conservative candidates have spectacularly failed in their bid to raise money from the public using the 'MyConservatives' site. The site was meant to be a mirror of the way that Barack Obama raised money for his successful US Presidential campaign but has instead proved to be an embarrassing flop.

Across Devon and Cornwall, the Tories set themselves a target of raising £13,000 but have in fact raised just £134 - and all of that in Devon.

Conservative candidates taking part in the fundraising drive were Sian Flynn in North Cornwall, Sheryll Murray in SE Cornwall, Sarah Newton in Truro and Falmouth and Caroline Righton in St Austell and Newquay. All set themselves a target of £1,000 and none have so far raised a penny.

So whilst they are so unpopular with the public, local Conservatives are increasingly reliant on tax free cash from Lord Ashcroft which they receive via Conservative Central Office. I wrote to all the Conservative candidates last week and have still only heard back from Sian Flynn. She has admitted that she gets money from Conservative Central Office and that includes Ashcroft cash. I understand from others that the same is true for most, if not all, the Conservative candidates in Cornwall.

Police admit struggle to communicate over Cornwall's crime level

I've blogged before about the level of crime in SE London when I lived there. Compared to that, crime in Launceston is miniscule. That's not to dismiss those crimes which do happen. They can be extremely alarming and harmful to those people who are directly affected, but the key message to everyone else is that they are few and far between.

Today the Council's Communities Scrutiny Committee heard from Chief Superintendent Elaine Marshall, the officer who heads up the Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership for Cornwall. I asked her about the level of crime in Cornwall and what local residents thought about it.

She confirmed that Cornwall has one of the lowest crime rates in the UK. Cornwall is linked with 14 other police areas with similar characteristics. Even among these areas (which tend to have lower than average crime rates), Cornwall has the lowest crime rate and is third out of fifteen in detection rates.

That's a fantastic record, but Chief Superintendent Marshall admitted that the the Police find it very difficult to get the message that Cornwall has a low crime rate through to people. She wants to work more closely with the Council and other organisations to get the message across. I think that's absolutely right and will be working in my capacity as the Chair of the Launceston Community Network to ensure the message gets out.

George Bush rubbing salt into Cameron's NI wound

David Cameron's grand plan to stand candidates in Northern Ireland has come a cropper. As the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Tories have come under pressure to live up to their name and stand in Northern Ireland.

They did this under their own banner in the past only to be humiliated at the polls. So Cameron launched a grand plan to merge with the Ulster Unionist Party. Except that it wasn't a full merger, just an agreement to stand candidates under a joint banner.

Well the plan has now come back to slap Cameron.

The UUP is holding out against the devolution of policing and justice powers to Stormont and will vote no today when the matter is put before the NI Assembly. They are the only party who will vote this way and the measure will still pass but their opposition takes on a much greater magnitude as they are the electoral ally of the man presumed to be the next UK Prime Minister.

So step forward George W Bush to rub salt into the wounds. In what I think is his first act I have ever laughed at, he has publicised his telephone call to Cameron to ask him to reverse the position of the UUP. Cameron has failed to do so and is therefore coming across as weak on Northern Ireland - exactly the sort of image that a wannabe Prime Mioniter cannot afford to have.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Option A gets the go ahead

Today I attended the Strategic Planning Committee's debate on the application for listed building consent for alterations to the South Pier in Penzance. Sounds technical - well it's the basis of the application of Option A, the new route partnership scheme for the Isles of Scilly link.

This has been a hugely controversial debate as the Council's Cabinet announced that Option A was the only game in town - quite literally. If the Planning Committee failed to give it the go ahead then the only alternative would be to move the link to Falmouth.

It was clear from the debate that everyone in Penzance wanted to keep the link there. There was significant disagreement however on whether Option A was really the best, or only, scheme. Concerns about the alterations to the harbour, and to the town itself were discussed. The biggest bone of contention was that, having debated and voted against the application previously, it was felt that this new application was not considered by some to be suitably different to warrant a new application.

Overall, the atmosphere at the meeting was respectful and I think all sides got a fair crack of the whip. In the end the Committee voted by 14-7 in favour of the application.

I am not a member of the committee and so I had the time and space to live tweet the entire discussion. My twitterings were carried by ThisisCornwall. All I can say about that is that it was interesting but hard work. I got a few new followers out of the exercise and hope I didn't lose too many. I hope I got everything accurate.

If you want to follow me in future, use @alexfolkes

Anime night in Launceston

Launceston will host its first Anime Night on Wednesday at M-Mad studios just off St Thomas Road opposite the Railway Inn.

Anime is the name given to the style of animation originating in Japan. The films are many and varied, ranging from traditional kids type cartoons to much deeper and more adult-oriented stuff. Most films manage to hit both adult and child audiences equally.

As an intro, Cornwall Anime are showing a couple of films at M-Mad on Wednesday evening from 7.30pm. As well as the films, there will be the food company Keep It Secret on hand to sell you Japanes style snacks and sweets.

Entry costs just £3.

Healthy Launceston activities at Launceston Rugby Club

I wanted to blog in appreciation of Launceston Rugby Club and all that it is doing to promote a healthier Launceston.

Obviously the main purpose of the club is to play and win rugby matches, not just at first team level, but also with colts, minis and juniors, castles and ladies teams.

But the club also does its bit for healthier lifestyles. The ladies squad hold weekly 'rugby-cise' fitness classes every Monday. In the same way that boxer-cise uses the fitness regime followed by boxers (but without the awkward 'being punched' bit), so rugby-cise uses the skills and training techniques of rugby without the tackling and contact.

And in the school holidays, the club also holds rugby camps for kids aged 6-16. During the February half-term, there were 143 sessions over three days. Many of the children who attended will be those who play rugby each weekend for one of the mini or junior teams at Launceston or one of the other local clubs. But a large number of attendees were new to the game and there were kids who came from as far afield as Truro and Redruth. Whether they are just looking for exercise or are serious about playing doesn't matter in the long run - the camps helped to promote a healthy lifestyle and it is to LRFC's huge credit that they organised and ran the camps, charging just £12.50 per child per day.

As well as the camps, Launceston Rugby Club has a community coaching scheme with two coaches who work with schools across East Cornwall promoting the sport.

Well done to LRFC and to the RFU, Cornwall Sports Partnership and Animus Consulting, a local company who helped sponsor the events to make them as cheap as possible for the kids to come. Hopefully there will be more companies who will come forward and help support future camps to make them even cheaper.

The club are busy arranging more rugby camps for the Easter holidays which will run from Tuesday 13th April until Friday 16th from 9am-3pm each day. For more info and to book, call 01566 773406.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

All Blacks storm to magnificent victory

Eight tries, including a hat-trick for full back Jon Fabian, saw the Cornish All Blacks storm to a fantastic St Piran's win over Otley today.

Other tries came from Ryan Westren, Kieron Lewitt, Steve Perry, Sam Hocking and a 20 yard romp by replacement Tim Mathias.

The All Blacks have now solidified their third place in the league.

Economic recovery threatened by lack of affordable homes

A new report claims that Cornwall's economy is seriously threatened by the lack of affordable housing.

Richard Kitson, the Chairman of the South West Housing Initiative said:

"We need to make sure business and industry can find people who have got homes and can live and work in the area. Fundamentally, people want a roof over their heads and a home of their own. Clearly if we're not building enough homes, then the problem of affordability grows and young people may leave the region."
In Cornwall the Council has now set what they call a strategy for affordable housing. But they have not indicated how they hope to meet the targets they are setting for themselves.

The two initiatives that the Conservatives are trumpeting the most - new council houses and a PFI scheme - are just nibbling at the edges. New council housing, whilst welcome, is very expensive and we will see fewer than 100 new houses built in Cornwall using this method. As for PFI, this is more contentious as the houses seem to me to be fabulously expensive. And the scheme will only produce about 7% of the houses we need each year and that only for four years.

So whilst a strategy is useful, it is not complete until we know how the remaining houses will be achieved. Whilst the Conservatives claim that this is a big issue for them, there was almost no money in their recent budget to help them achieve the target. As today's report makes clear, any economic recovery will be threatened if young people cannot afford to live in Cornwall.

This is not about the ridicukous Regional Spatial Stategy which seems to envisage concreting over Cornwall. It is about houses for local people so that they can continue to live and work here.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Happy St Piran's Day!

Today is St Piran's Day, patron saint of tin miners and, to many, of Cornwall.

There are events all around Cornwall. I'll be at Lanson Castle for the flag lowering and then joining in some singing in the Bell.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

On Radio Cornwall discussing Bangors Lane

I was interviewed by Radio Cornwall this afternoon about the outcome of the Bangors Lane Waste Plant application. You can hear the interview here (scroll to 2 hrs 19.55 mins in).

Celebrity Supporters

There's a new book out called Why Vote Lib Dem. Among the essays is one written by Oscar nominated actor Colin Firth and another by former Roxy Music star Brian Eno.

Other celebs said to be Lib Dem supporters are Daniel Radcliffe, Kate Winslet and Andrew Motion.

But hey, we can't compete with the Tories who have just revealed Robert Mugabe as a supporter!

More doppelgangers

Following my post about Rob and Stephen below, I've been told by a couple more councillors that they often get mistaken for colleagues.

This one I can sort of see:

This one I can't:

Separated at birth?

A bit of confusion at Strategic Planning it would seem. Someone misidentified Tory Stephen Rushworth for my Lib Dem colleague Rob Nolan. Surely not!

Tory Council to stop honouring it's war heroes

It seems that one Tory Council has decided to stop honouring local soldiers who die in combat.

Barnet in North London has decided that if families want the names of their deceased soldier relatives added to local war memorials then they will have to pay for the privilege, including the process of validating.

My personal view is that local authorities should be immensely proud of local soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines. They honour us with their service and we should honour them if the worst happens. I have previously called on the Council to formally pay our respects in Council meetings only to have this request turned down.

Bangors Lane waste plans approved

Cornwall Council's Strategic Planning Committee has given the go ahead to the proposal from Sita to build a new refuse transfer station and household waste recycling centre at Bangors Lane on the Pennygillam Industrial Estate in Launceston.

As I have blogged before, this meeting was held in County Hall despite the Bangors Lane application being the only one on the agenda. As a result, there were only a handful of local residents present despite the application being of great interest locally. I have asked why such meetings do not automatically happen in the areas they affect.

At the meeting, I asked questions about possible contamination and the dangers of harmful substances being blown into town or affecting other businesses (including Kensey Foods) on the Penygillam Estate. I was told that the Council does not believe that building works will bring any contaminants to light but, if it does happen, then building would have to stop immediately. I was also assured that the waste recycling part of the development would be staffed at all times during opening hours to make sure that any asbestos or other harmful substances are disposed of safely.

We were also told that Sita would make sure that litter is dealt with although I was not allowed to get an answer from the Sita representative about how this would be managed.

Together with my fellow councillors from the Launceston area, I expressed strong concerns about the highways on the Pennygillam Estate. Officers claim that the carriageway on Pennygillam Way is wide enough for two HGVs to pass. Locals know that this isn't the case and there are frequently hold ups as one lorry passes another. This could only get worse as more lorries use the road. I also worry about the turning from Pennygillam Way into Bangors Lane. Originally a new roundabout was considered to ease congestion, but this has disappeared.

We also queried the absence of a re-use and re-sale facility in the application. Neil Burden told the Committee that a promise was made five years ago that this application would include plans for a re-use and re-sale centre. The Committee voted to require the Council and Sita to talk to local councillors, the Town Council and local parish councils about this and bring forard plans within two years. It's not ideal, but it's a step in the right direction.

It is quite clear in my mind that the new transfer station and recycling centre are badly needed as the old site is too small and not easy to use. I remain concerned about traffic but will be taking this matter up with the Council alongside my colleagues. It should be pointed out that throughout this process, Sita have been hugely helpful.