Friday, 29 January 2010

5 Live gets stung with product placement

Out of the Radio 5 Live reshuffle, we now get Richard Bacon in the afternoon slot for four days per week. One of the slots he has started is called Help, where people can ring in with DIY, pet and money queries and get them answered by experts.

In what could be an ironic nod to Alan Partridge (but I suspect isn't), callers are required to start their request with the word 'Help!'

One of the callers on yesterday's show was a woman called 'Carina' who was calling because she claimed dog urine was discolouring her lawn. She asked whether a product called Dog Rocks was a safe and effective solution.

The expert gave her answer in the affirmative. But the caller kept on coming back to the name of the particular product and ended with the push-statement 'So you agree that Dog Rocks are an effective way of combatting this problem'.

I think that Richard Bacon may have got suspicious about the caller's motives at the end of the conversation, but it was still an effective plug by 'Carina' and her PR company.

The iplayer version of the programme is available here.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Fun and games and front pages - EDITED

(Dear Reader, I have edited this post in the light of further information put to me by the Western Morning News. Originally, I made an accusation about the working methods of a reporter which was based on information told to me by the Taxpayers Alliance. The Taxpayers Alliance had also made these claims publicly on at least one blog. However, the WMN has assured me that the claims are false and I am happy to accept these assurances, to alter the post that follows and to apologise to the WMN and to the journalist concerned.)

Apart from being able to get serious with the debate on parking charges, most of my day today has been taken up with the silly story about the use of twitter in the council chamber.

My view is that Twitter and other tools are a useful way of communicating with those who are interested in the goings on at the Council. Like other tools, Twitter can be mis-used and can take up your whole time if you let it. My duty, as a councillor, is to represent my constituents in the best way possible. I believe that Twitter can help me do that, but I make sure that I only use it at appropriate times and in appropriate ways.

As I have blogged before, Cornwall Council is adopting a very forward thinking social media policy and I would hate to think that this silliness could damage progress in that area. Cornwall Council (as all local authorities) needs to try to shed the image of being stuffy and out of touch and it is going about this in the right way.

I very much regret that the Western Morning News have chosen to write up the story in the way that they have. They make a number of claims which I believe are inaccurate - some small, some much more serious. I am taking this matter up with the paper.

I am also very concerned that the Taxpayers Alliance should have commented in the way that they have. I think it is more than a little hypocritical if they are criticising councillors for tweeting during meetings when they themselves were using Twitter to communicate with a Cornwall Councillor to get updates on what was happening during the debate.

On the positive side, I have commented on Radio Cornwall and recorded an interview for BBC Spotlight explaining how councillors can use modern technology to keep in touch with residents.

UPDATE - You can hear my contribution to the Laurence Reed programme here - scroll forward to about 1hr 47 mins.

NEXT DAY UPDATE - The issue made it onto Spotlight last night as predicted and today was on the Chris Evans Show on Radio 2. Balance of debate that I have seen seems supportive (including great blog from Editor of the Cornishman).

Car Parking Panel agrees to freeze first hour charges

Cornwall Council's Car Parking Panel has just voted to recommend that the first hour parking charges are frozen across the County. That's great news and will be a benefit to Launceston shopkeepers and shoppers alike.

The Council's proposal was to increase charges by 5% but with a minimum increase of 10p. In effect, this would see Launceston first hour charges rise from 70p to 80p (an increase of 14% and a second increase in a year).

Launceston town centre shops are already suffering greatly and another increase could be the end of the line for more traders.

So I argued at the meeting today for a freeze across the board in those areas which saw an increase last year. Parking should not be simply about raising money but about doing the right thing for the town as a whole.

In event, I couldn't get enough support for a complete freeze, but there was support for a freeze on the first hour charges - which is a massive step in the right direction. Over the course of the next year, the Parking Panel will consider all charging issues - including the Lib Dem proposal for 10p first hour parking - and will hopefully come to a result that will see lower charges overall in town.

The final decision rests with the Cabinet, but I'm very hopeful that they will confirm this decision.

Today's Western Morning News

Today's WMN carries a story about the use of twitter in County Hall by councillors including myself. The main implication of the story is totally untrue and there are a large number of major and minor inaccuracies in it.

I have complained to the paper and will provide a fuller update in due course.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

When the terrorists come they will be carrying spangly blue hairdryers

This story from the PA (hat-tip LDV) made me laugh.

Kids TV hosts Anna Williamson and Jamie Rickers said they were questioned by police under anti-terrorism powers - for carrying glittery hairdryers.

The pair, who front ITV1's Toonattik, were filming a skit for the programme on London's South Bank wearing combat gear and armed with children's walkie-talkies and hairdryers.

Their fake fatigues aroused the suspicions of patrolling police, who stopped them and took down their particulars.

Anna, 28, said: "We were filming a strand called Dork Hunters, which is to do with one of the animations we have on the show. We were out and about doing 'dork hunting' ourselves on the streets of London.

"Jamie and I were kitted out in fake utility belts, we had the whole bulletproof flakjacket thing, we've got hairdryers in our belt, a kids' £1.99 walkie-talkie, hairbrushes and all that kind of stuff, and we were being followed by a camera crew and a boom mike and we get literally pulled over by four policemen and we were issued with a warning 'under the act of terrorism'."

Jamie, 32, added: "We were stopped, not arrested, but they had to say 'we are holding you under the Anti-Terrorism Act because you're running around in flak jackets and a utility belt', and I said 'and please put spangly blue hairdryer' and he was, like, 'all right'."


Anti-terrorism powers are being used beyond any degree of common sense. From councils which are using them to spy on people who do not clear up after their dog, to police who regularly stop photographers in public places.

Cornish Guardian Expose on Twitter Gang

Today's Cornish Guardian has a light-hearted article about a number of Cornwall Councillors from all parties (myself included) who use Twitter. (The printed version is a bit less pejorative than the online version).

For anyone who doesn't do Twitter, don't worry, it's hardly the end of the world if you're not using it. But I feel it is a useful way of communicating everything happening around you. This can descend to the incredibly banal - what you're eating for breakfast and so on. But it can also be much more interesting and useful. During the recent Iranian democracy protests much of the reporting that made it onto western news came from Twitter accounts.

In the case of the allowances debate, the combined tweeting gave a good flavour of the entire debate, setting out what each party and major speaker was saying. It was a debate that had interested a large number of the commentators across the county and this sort of instant reportage could be said to help them follow the debate and the arguments.

I try to use it to keep followers up to date about my council work, rugby and other things I think might be of interest. It's not council funded (it's free) and so I feel no compulsion to keep things too serious.

As I've blogged before, Twitter has helped me during a meeting to get an answer on a serious question that a colleague had but could not be present to ask himself. But the article makes it appear as though all the conversations are utterly infantile. I can't pretend that every tweet I've ever made was completely serious, but I try to keep things a bit more factual and I make sure I'm not distracted from following the debate properly. I note that the Guardian has chosen not to re-print any of my tweets from a council meeting. I suspect because they tended to be more serious than some.

One impact of the article has been that I have picked up a number of new Twitter followers, including the local Conservative Agent. If you would like to join them the follow @alexfolkes.

To read the view of two other councillors who twitter, read Andrew Wallis (Ind) and Steve Double (Con).

UPDATE: I've just talked to the Western Morning News who are following up the Guardian story.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

LGA acts on second homes - Cornwall doesn't

The Local Government Association, the organisation representing almost all councils, is campaigning to get the Government to allow a surcharge on second homes - in effect a penalty charge because the home is not being used as a primary residence.

For many areas, Cornwall included, second homes are a blight. Houses are taken out of circulation and communities threatened. Houses prices often rise to beyond the reach of locals and village shops and schools close as the second home owners either never, or very rarely, use them.

Because of this impact on local communities, I agree that councils should be free to take action. It's one thing to say, as the Conservatives do, that there should simply be more houses built. I support the idea of local community building and restrictions that mean that some houses can never be bought as second homes. But it will never be enough to solve the problem.

So it's good to see the LGA asking the Government to allow councils to take stronger action. It's a shame, however, that Cornwall Council is not part of this action and that the Conservatives nationally are against it. At the Full Council meeting in December, my colleague from Bude, Nathan Bale, asked the Council to take action and they refused. It seems clear to me that Cornwall Conservatives are quite happy to have more and more second homes in the county.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Launceston council house rents set to rise 48p on average

Council house tenants in Launceston are set to see a 48p per week average rent rise in the next financial year.

Average rents in what is known as the North East Cornwall Landlord Services area were £58.02 in 2009-10, but this figure masks a bit of a mess as rents started off at a much higher level and were cut part way through the year.

In the coming year, the average rent in NECLS area will be £58.50 although individual property rents may go up or down by more than the average and actual rents will depend on the size of the property.

The only down side is that, of the three council house areas in Cornwall, ours will see the highest rent increases.

Launceston could get highways money

Launceston could finally get some essential highways works. For the past year, the town has missed out on virtually all road improvement work, but this could finally be about to change.

The draft council budget for next year is going to include an extra £6 million for highways works and about £1 million of this will be allocated to individual councillors to use on key projects in their wards.

In the past, the old county councillors had a budget of £10,000 per year for this purpose. The new figures appear to be smaller than this, but at least we might have something after a year in which there were no devolved budgets and precious little spending in the old North Cornwall area.

The highest priority for me at the moment is for new crossings on busy roads in the town. The Launceston Road Safety Partnership has done excellent work in identifying where these are most needed. The problem is that less than £10,000 is unlikely even to be able to pay for a single crossing and so we will still need to rely on officers deciding that the town needs urgent extra funds.

Secret Council offices plan will stay secret

I have just arrived at County Hall to attend a special cabinet meeting which will be debating the route partnership link between Cornwall and Scilly and the budget for next year. It's going to be a huge meeting - and would have been bigger still had the proposal to sell off the old NCDC offices in Wadebridge not been taken off at the last minute.

The Cabinet Member for Finance - Jim Currie - decided to withdraw the paper after the rough ride that the proposals got at last week's scrutiny meeting. It had become clear that the claimed consultation had not happened and that the paper was a mess.

We felt the same about the previous paper misleadingly titled 'Office Accommodation Vision'. That proposed the sale of 48 council offices but officers and cabinet members refused to say which ones.

A secret plan such as this will massively harm the council's services and so the Lib Dems decided to call the decision in - that is, to demand answers to the questions which cabinet members refused to answer and possibly to ask Cabinet to reconsider its decision.

In what I think is a very regrettable decision, the officer in charge has refused to allow the call in to happen claiming that a secret plan is perfectly allowable.

And so the people of Cornwall will remain in the dark about the Conservative's secret plan to sell off council buildings and further centralise in Truro.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Twitter in live action

Twitter today proved just how useful it can be as a part of our democratic process.

Cornwall Council has recently introduced a wi-fi system in New County Hall which visitors and humble councillors like myself can access. As a member of the councillor twitter gang (we really need a better name), I have taken to occasionally tweeting live from meetings.

This afternoon I sent out a tweet about the meeting of the Sea Fisheries Committee that was just about to start and which would consider a new bye-law to prevent any scort of scallop fishing in a part of Falmouth Bay.

Almost immediately, my colleague Rob Nolan came back to me concerned that any such restriction would also hamper green energy schemes that may be planned for the same area. I was able to ask officers about this - despite knowing little myself on the energy issue. As it happened, the officers were able to allay Rob's worries - and we voted against the bye-law in any case.

But without Twitter (and without the new wi-fi) we would not even have been able to ask the question.

Good news on Ridgegrove Play areas?

I know this may sound a bit like tempting fate, but it looks like there could be good news on the horizon for the Ridgegrove play areas.

A brief bit of background:

The Ridgegrove Estate has two small play areas. Neither are very to date and both sit on slopes. At the end of last year, some equipment was removed from one of the areas for safety reasons although other equipment passed a safety audit and remains in place (but some crucial safety work still needs doing).

There is no facility for kicking a ball about safely on the estate. The nearest safe areas are at Priory Park and on the Lanstephan Estate.

After much frustration caused by the fact that the play areas are funded by the Housing Department (which has no funds to update them or replace lost equipment), I met yesterday with Mike Owen, a senior officer of the Council. Mike and I walked around the estate in a downpour and he agreed with me on the following:

- that the play areas need updating and transferring from Housing to general fund.
- that the walking routes to Lanstephan and Priory are not safe and an alternative kickabout area needs to be found.

That's really good news (although early days yet) and I'm very hopeful that we can get this sorted out.

Launceston Community Network Meeting

We had the first formal meeting for the new Launceston Community Network last night and agreed the formal set up of the new panel which I will chair for the next year.

The Network is the local face of Cornwall Council. It includes representatives from the 16 parishes and the town council as well as the Launceston Forum. The Police and the Health Service are also standing members and we will be inviting lots of other groups to come along to chat about issues that matter to them. But the panel is not a closed shop. The aim is to reach out to as many people as possible and have large attendances and good debate at meetings.

The panel will meet every quarter and will theme its meetings to issues of local concern. The next meeting will be on 15th April in Boyton and will be discussing two key issues:

- the TRAC project which aims to create a trail linking the Devon border (and the Granite Trail) with the existing Camel Trail, and

- play areas across the whole of the Launceston network area.

We'll be issuing invitations to lots of local groups in due course. But if you area interested in either of these subjects, please put the date in your diary and come along.

As well as these themed meetings, a lot of work will continue behind the scenes. The Network has a local manager - Mark O'Brien - and support assistant - Rosemary Stone - who will do a lot of the hard work. And we are supporting the Launceston Forum to refresh their excellent Launceston 20/20 plan as the outline for how our area can develop. Part of this work will include public consultation and themed meetings - more on this when the details are decided.

Charles Causley's House

On Ridgegrove Hill stands a line of small cottages. One of these is the former home of the poet Charles Causley, perhaps Launceston's most famous son.

The house is now owned by the Charles Causley Trust which is seeking support to save the property and turn it into a museum and poetry centre.

Yesterday I met with two of the Trustees who are seeking support with their aims - support that I was very glad to give. Although the house is in a bad way at the moment, it has the potential to be a fascinating attraction in the same way as Dylan Thomas' boathouse or Wordsworth's cottage is.

To achieve the ambitions of the Trust will require a lot of money - as much as a quarter of a million pounds - and this won't come easily. But I'll be working with my colleagues at the Council and with the Trust to see what might be available.

If readers have any thoughts about the property, the Trust and its aims, please get in touch.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I'm backing Launceston Carnival

Launceston Town Councillor Dave Gordon deserves our support for the efforts he is putting in to reviving Launceston Carnival.

The Carnival used to be run by the Lions but stopped 6 years ago because of difficulties over insurance and health adn safety fears. Since then, people say, the town has lacked a bit of social spirit - or community glue as Dave has called it.

Last week about 30 people got together to discuss geeting the carnival back on track and, although I wasn't there, I'm backing these efforts to the hilt. If any readers want to back a revived carnival, then come along to a meeting on January 29th. Call Dave on 774706 for more information.

Council's office accommodation 'Vision' called in

I have just handed in the call-in papers so that Cornwall Council's mis-named office accommodation 'vision' will be subjected to further scrutiny.

The policy was discussed at last week's Cabinet meeting and passed despite the strong objections of many councillors. I blogged about it here.

In essence, the Council has decided to move from 78 office buildings to 30 - but they refuse to say which are the 40 buildings they will be getting rid of. They claim that this has yet to be decided. However, they seem sure enough that the Higher Trenant offices in Wadebridge are surplus to requirements that they put the sale on the agenda for the next Cabinet meeting on Monday.

In today's Cornish Guardian, Council Leader Alec Robertson claims that no building will be closed or sold until consultation with staff has taken place. That just doesn't fit with the moves on Higher Trenant.

Following the discussions at a meeting today, it appears that the Cabinet are backing down and have withdrawn the Higher Trenant proposal from the agenda for Monday.

The administration also seems sure that they will want offices in Truro, Camborne and Bodmin without showing how these will fit in with the greater vision.

I also believe that they have failed to properly consult staff and the local communities where the offices are currently located. Despite the council papers claiming that local members had been consulted, all the Wadebridge members present confirmed that they had not been consulted.

If the Council is truly looking to make sure their offices are in the best locations, I think they should be considering whether to move beyond the current portfolio. Why not consider taking the lease on the tax office in Launceston since HM Revenue and Customs are moving out? None of this seems to have been approved.

For all these reasons, the Lib Dems have decided to call in the decision and will be subjecting it to much more intense debate and scrutiny.

Cornwall Council's new social networking policy

Cornwall Council is at the forefront of the move by local authorities towards using social networking and other new media to communicate with residents. That's great news, but comes with a caveat - the front of a glacier still doesn't move that fast.

Quite correctly, the Council identifies the need to have two way communication with residents as being the key factor - not simply 'being on Facebook' or 'using Twitter'. It's not the particular platform that is vital - it's the motivation behind it.

That said, the Council does have a Twitter feed.

Today's Corporate Resources scrutiny committee discussed the policy and welcomed the way the Council is working in this area. There were two councillors sitting at the back of the room with laptops open, able to view the meeting papers via the internet, rather than in paper form. Three councillors were tweeting the meeting, two via laptop and one via mobile phone, and I was able to search for key documents to back up my arguments as the debate continued on the issue of office accommodation. The key problem is the lack of powerpoints in meeting rooms and the fact that Twitter went down for about ten minutes during the meeting (but that's not Cornwall Council's fault).

The danger is that there will be a heavy hand trying to limit what councillors can do with this technology, but I hope that this excellent paper can inform that debate and show that using modern communication tools can really help the council.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Economics 1.01

The UK Government decided a while ago that one of the measures they would use in order to help get the UK out of recession would be Quantitative Easing (a.k.a. printing money). At the time, some people pointed out that one of the problems with printing money was that it would spark inflation (an extreme example of what can happen is Zimbabwe).

Lo and behold, a few months later, inflation jumps by the biggest amount for ages.

Ok, so there is a little more to it than that, but the fact remains that the UK is one of the last countries to come out of recession (whether we are out of recession yet or not is still debated).

QE seems to have been the worst economic quick fix since the decision to cut VAT.

Council promises action on exchange trip protection

At the start of today's council meeting I asked a question about the protection of children and young people who come to Cornwall for exchange trips and to visit language schools, surf academies and outdoor activity centres.

I worry that there is a disaster waiting to happen with an unchecked organisation placing a young person in circumstances where they may come to harm. My fear is that there is no one who will take responsibility.

I got the best answer I could reasonably hope for - a promise to look into the problem. Cabinet Member Sally Bain confirmed that the Council only checks schools. Residential surf schools and other activity centres, foreign language schools and private hosts of exchange students are not checked although they have legal obligations to be properly checked.

I will be pressing her and the Council to make sure that we start working with other authorities as soon as possible to get proper checks in place so that young people coming to Cornwall (and their parents) can have confidence that they will be safe.

Allowances - the results

Cornwall Council has voted to freeze allowances, but - in what I think looks like a cynical ploy by the Conservatives - the freeze will only apply for a year.

The debate went along party lines and, in the end, just nine councillors voted in favour of higher allowances. Those nine were independents and included cabinet members Julian German, Neil Burden, Mark Kaczmarek and Graeme Hicks.

But the Lib Dem amendment to freeze allowances for the full term of the council (in line with our manifesto pledge) was defeated by a combination of Conservatives and Independents. To me, that seems like a cynical ploy to put off a hugely unpopular rise until after the general election.

Another Lib Dem amendment, to restrict the number of special payments a councillor can receive was also rejected. At present, councillors can take each allowance to which they are entitled. So Alec Robertson receives an allowance as Leader of the Council and also an allowance as Conservative Group Leader.

I can promise that, when this subject is raised again next year, I will continue to vote to freeze allowances.

UPDATE: My colleague Jeremy Rowe has added his own thoughts

Allowances - decision time

The full council meeting today is dominated by a discussion about allowances. The debate has gone on for so long that we have broken for lunch and will reconvene at 1.15. Personally, I think it is wrong that we should be spending hours debating our own money when we have not even spent a minute in silent tribute to Captain Read whose body has been flown back to the UK today.

I'll blog more fully later about the allowances debate but put simply, the Lib Dems have stuck to our manifesto pledge to freeze allowances for the four years of this council. The Conservatives are in support of freezing allowances - but only until after the general election when any embarrassment of them voting for more pay is over. Most of the Independents who have spoken so far are in favour of higher allowances.

It seems fairly likely that we will therefore see no change. More later

Friday, 15 January 2010

Fatty Pickles decides personal abuse is legitimate political debate

Tory Party Chairman Eric Pickles has resorted to personal attacks on his Lib Dem opponents - surely a desperate measure from someone who is meant to be leading the 'love-bombing' efforts.

A week or so ago, former Lib Dem Leader Paddy Ashdown gave an interview to the Western Morning News in which he warned that a return of the Conservatives to Government would be bad news for Cornwall. He talked about what the Conservatives had done when they were last in power and, in particular the high water charges that all Cornish taxpayers face.

Mr Pickles has now hit back. Rather than engaging in political debate, he attacked Paddy for having a frail memory. That's a pretty bald reference to age and the implication is that Paddy has alzheimers or another form of dementia.

Paddy is no longer in the first flush of youth, but he is far fitter than any other 68 year old I have ever come across and could run rings around most MPs (from all parties).

Presumably, if Mr Pickles thinks that age is a legitimate subject to attack opponents on, then so is Mr Pickles' weight. The morbidly obese Mr Pickles would do well to answer the questions posed by Paddy rather than trying to deflect attention from the Conservatives' abysmal record when they were last in power.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Launceston set for flood works

Low lying properties in Newport are set to get vital flood protection works starting in two years time. The scheme is one of those that has been approved by the South West Regional Flood Defence Committee whose meeting I attended yesterday.

The scheme will cost around £400,000 in total and will protect a number of properties near to the River Kensey.

Although flooding from the Kensey has not been a major problem in recent years, it is always a threat and levels have been worryingly close to bursting point as recently as November. The works will provide a high degree of reassurance for local people.

The money for the scheme will come from the Government in the form of a 'grant in aid'. The meeting yesterday was to approve the range of schemes that would be funded and other schemes in Cornwall that will benefit from Government funding include:

Bodmin Town Leat Band Hall Screen
Bude Flood Defence Refurbishment Project
Bude Weir Refurbishment
Crackington Haven

as well as various other schemes across the county.

But the committee deferred a decision on locally funded schemes for the time being. These are flood projects that are paid for directly out of our council tax, rather than by the Government. The South West Flood Defence Committee covers all of Devon as well as Cornwall and councillors from both counties felt that they needed more information before they could agree the amount to be charged to taxpayers.

Council tax payers in Devon and Cornwall currently pay about 80p per household per year for flood works. This is below the average nationwide (which is about £1.74 per household) and massively below the highest which is more than £3.20. Of course you get what you pay for and the low level of the local levy means that few schemes can be afforded. The options in front of the committee yesterday were for levy rises of 2.5% (about the rate of inflation), 50% and 100%. The latter two would mean that we would build towards having a local levy close to the national average.

Because we did not have all the information in front of us about what benefits such a large increase in levy would bring, I agreed with the request to postpone a decision.

It should be noted, however, that the local charge is absorbed in the council budget, rather than added on to your council tax bill as the precept from a parish or town council is. So a big increase in the local levy would not automatically mean higher council tax bills, but other services would have to be cut to pay for an increase.

Jim Currie's vision thing

I wasn't able to get to the Cabinet meeting yesterday as I was at the regional flood defence committee meeting (blog later). But I understand that there was a real set-to about the proposed office accommodation plan.

I did receive a briefing from officers on this plan earlier in the week and I agree with Jeremy Rowe and others that it hardly reaches the level that the people of Cornwall deserve for an important report.

The gist is this:

The previous seven councils operated a lot of buildings and the new council doesn't need nearly so many. Which makes perfect sense.

It would be sensible to have a major hub in the centre of the county and a significant office in the east and the west. There will also be a few other offices around the county. Still sensible enough.

But where this report makes no sense at all is that it proposes spending £12 million on upgrading County Hall and Dulcoath Avenue in Camborne without having fully considered the rest of the plan. The report was described as a 'vision' but it's pretty clear that there is no real vision involved. It claims that the number of offices will be reduced from 80 to 30 or so without saying which will be kept and which got rid of. It's a haphazard plan which is barely half thought through. I trust that, in the fullness of time, there will be significant savings from selling off a load of under-used offices. There might need to be a bit of extra spending on the transition. All we have so far is the spending side of things and this at a time when millions of pounds are being cut from front line services.

Jim Currie is the Cabinet Member responsible for this area, yet was reportedly upstaged by Council Leader Alex Robertson at yesterday's meeting. Surely Jim and Alec should be able to explain the full vision to members before it goes ahead.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Dan Read

I am truly humbled to read of the bravery of Dan Read, the bomb disposal expert from Newquay who has been killed in Afghanistan.

Captain Read was injured in October last year, yet went back to Afghanistan as soon as his injuries healed in order to get back to his work defusing improvised explosive devices. He is, of course, the second Cornish bomb disposal expert to have been killed after the death of Olaf Schmid last year.

We all owe Dan Read, Olaf Schmid and all those who serve on our behalf a great debt of honour. I am sure that the whole Council will honour their sacrifice at our meeting on Wednesday.

Chuffed!

I'm feeling very chuffed at the moment as I've been shortlisted for an award!

Each year, the LGIU - one of the organisations that represents councils and councillors - organises awards in a number of categories and I've been shortlisted in the category of New Councillor of the Year.

The criteria for this award says:

The first term can be one of the most challenging for new councillors; getting to know their role, the council and communities. Elected for the first time in June 2009, this councillor will have got to grips with these things and made an immediate impact – both to the political group and the community.

Councillors that apply/are put forward for this award will need to demonstrate:

  • election for the first time in June 2009
  • visible positive impact on the political group and/or community
  • they will have pioneered new projects, made an impact on the political groups’ vision, and/or developed initiatives that have made an immediate impact on the community.

I'm obviously very honoured by this. The others nominated are Debra Gratton from Stoke, Ivan Jennings from Staffs, Dennis Meredith (a fellow Lib Dem) from Northamptonshire and Laura Mayes from Wiltshire.

The golden envelope will be opened at a conference on February 4th.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Cold Weather Payments - check the weather for Cardinham!

BBC Spotlight news yesterday carried a story about cold weather payments - special help for fuel bills for people receiving various income related benefits.

The decision as to whether you receive a cold weather payment depends on the weather reading at one of 85 weather stations around the UK. If you are a benefit recipient then you will automatically receive the payment (£25 a time) for each period of 7 consecutive days when the average temperature drops to freezing or below. For full details, click here.

The catch is the location of the weather stations. The Department for Work and Pensions helpfully tells me that benefits recipients in Launceston are reliant on the temperature reading in Cardinham, some 20 miles away.


View Larger Map

I don't want to speculate about whether the average temperature in Cardinham is warmer or colder than Launceston itself, but, according to the Government's website, there has only been one cold weather payment triggered so far this year. That means that there has been at least 7 days of freezing or below, but not more than 13 consecutive days.

Whilst the Government has increased the number of weather stations by 9 this year, it still seems that 85 is a comparatively small number for the whole of the UK - particularly given the varying geography of Cornwall. If you live in an exposed house on top of a hill - as most residents of Ridgegrove, Lanstephan and St Johns do - then the temperature is likely to be a couple of degrees colder than if you live at the bottom of a hill surrounded by trees. But no account for this is taken by the Government.

Allowances

A councillor remuneration report commissioned by Cornwall's Conservative led administration has been published and recommends an increase in the basic allowance to £14,600 from the current level of £12,000. Council Leader Alec Roberston is set to get a £7k rise taking into account all the different allowances he is entitled to - he will get a total of £44,605 a year.

Back in June, the Liberal Democrats made a manifesto commitment not to raise allowances for the four years of this council. We proposed a motion to put this into effect soon after the new council started work only to be voted down by a combination of Conservatives and Independents.

Now the report has been published, I cannot say that I have changed my view. For all that I believe that my colleagues (of all parties) do a great job representing their constituents and working long hours, I don't think that we can justify putting more taxpayers money into our own pockets. Particularly not when local families and businesses are struggling in the recession.

The report has divided opinion among the other groups on the Council. Independent Councillor Andrew Wallis has already blogged saying that he thinks the increase should be accepted. I don't agree, but recognise that he has been consistent in his position on the issue. I suspect that there will be many independents who will take the same view.

Steve Double, a Conservative Councillor has produced a blog saying that he doesn't think that the rise can be taken. I'm glad that at least one Conservative has come over to our way of thinking on this issue, but am a bit disappointed that it took six months to get there.

The Lib Dems have consistently opposed a rise and we voted against holding what we thought was a pointless review.

Steve voted in favour of the independent review but now wishes to reject its findings. My question to him and any of his colleagues who think the same is this - why set up a review only to reject what it says? Surely this isn't because there is a general election around the corner?

UPDATE - Contrary to the headline here, this issue is still very much to be decided!

The rubbish hokey-cokey

The severe weather recently has played havoc with Cornwall Council's ability to collect rubbish. Not surprisingly, the bin lorries cannot safely negotiate icy roads - particularly not hills - and so local residents have seen their rubbish bags sitting outside their doors for a week now.

The Council asking residents to be patient and they will collect as soon as possible.

The problem comes with the advice being issued to take uncollected rubbish back into your property. If your black bags have been sitting in the street for up to a week then they are not exactly pleasant and bringing them back into your garden (especially if that means back through your house) is not nice. It's even more of a problem if you live in a flat and have no outside space.

I think we all appreciate that the Council is doing its best in difficult circumstances, but what will happen if Cllr German gets his way and we only have rubbish collections once a fortnight? If there is a severe weather then we might have to keep our rubbish for up to a month.

Monday, 11 January 2010

A nifty little tool to find out about roadworks in Cornwall

Cornwall Council has subscribed to a great website which helps people to plan their journeys.

Every time that anyone wants to dig up to streets in Cornwall they need to let the Council know. The Council passes this information on to the company behind this website and they plot the information onto a map. For all the street works that are planned (ie not emergencies) you get to know about them at least a week in advance.

The mapping system is updated daily and is free to use. Unfortunately, not all councils subscribe to the system and those that don't include all of the Devon councils.

Just how little confidence does Tory candidates boss have in his own system

John Maples, the Conservative MP in charge of the system for picking candidates for the next general election has just announced his retirement and, in doing so, stuck two fingers up to the system he was meant to oversee.

The Conservatives traditionally give their local associations a large amount of say in choosing candidates. But, when an election is looming, local parties lose a lot of that power. The cut off date the Party chose was December 31st. If an MP announced retirement before that time then their local party would have a large say in picking their successor. If the retirement announcement came later then the local party would not be involved in shortlisting. In effect, Central Office would tell the local party to pick from a list that it chose. Local candidates would be far less likely to be chosen.

As Deputy Conservative Chairman in charge of candidates, you would expect John Maples to have confidence in the system he oversaw. But his decision to announce his retirement after the New Year cut off date would tend to imply that he doesn't.

Mr Maples decision has provoked fury on Conservative Home.

Salt bins

As I've posted before, Cornwall Council helpfully lists the roads that it salts in bad weather. For those areas which do not get salted, there may or may not be salt bins provided where residents can collect salt and spread it themselves.

A number of people have been in touch with me to ask if they can get an additional salt bin in their area. The Council has pledged to consider new salt bins, but not until the summer.

Here's an idea from Sutton Council in London which I am asking Cornwall Council to consider following - it's a map showing where salt bins are (it should be easy to add these to the existing mapping service) and an interactive service to help residents to report when salt stocks are low.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

For David Abrahams, read Zac Goldsmith

Peter Watt used to be General Secretary of the Labour Party. His book is making the front pages today. He left that job when it was discovered that he knew that businessman David Abrahams was making donations to Labour via third parties - something that is against the law.

The Tories have admitted today that they received donations from Zac Goldsmith and his brother Ben via a third party called Unicorn Administration. Their breach of the law is said to be an 'administrative error'.

Irony alert - the day the Tories choose to bury this bad news.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Iain Dale predictions

Congratulations to Iain Dale for daring to come up with a General Election prediction. It's a brave commentator who puts his neck on the line (and he'll get even more kudos if he is prepared to publish his spreadsheet).

Of course, everyone has the right to dispute his predictions, but the key point he makes as far as I am concerned is that you cannot predict anything for the Lib Dems based on a national or regional swing. You have to take it seat by seat.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Budget scrutiny (part 4)

The fourth budget scrutiny meeting has just finished and now there is just one to go (the meeting of the childrens committee scheduled for yesterday was postponed when only two members could make it through the snow).

The biggest concern at today's event was about what we do not know. There is a budget heading of about £20 million for items said to include One Cornwall, Icelandic Banks, Pensions and so on. But to date we have little idea of what money is allocated for each of these and why. Whilst we don't have full details for, say, leisure centres either, at least we know what leisure centres do whereas the justification for some of these items remains unclear and members from all parties were very unhappy about being asked to agree this heading without having all the details.

For the record, it appears that Cornwall still has preferential creditor status with the Icelandic Banks and we are hopeful of getting about 82% of the money back - but that would still mean a loss of £1 million plus.

The Cabinet will now consider their final budget proposal. I very much hope that they will take into account the significant concerns expressed over the last few days about some of their initial proposals.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Airbrushed and parted - typical Dave, typical Dave

When Jo Swinson launched her campaign against the airbrushing of models in adverts I never thought that it could possibly be so relevant to a political campaign poster as has proved to be the case.

Does it matter? Yes.

It matters because politicians should present the truth about themselves. I don't care what a politician looks like but if they cannot tell the truth about that, then what can we trust them to tell the truth about?

Cameron himself is trying to (air)brush the story under the carpet by claiming that he doesn't know if it was airbrushed but 'hopes it wasn't'. Perhaps, as Nich Starling says, he should ask. Or even just look in the mirror. Or even The Mirror, as Stephen Glenn points out. (Image courtesy of The Mirror)

(apologies to Messers Marr and Morrissey for the title)

One Stop Shop Opening Hours

On their website, the Cornish and Devon Post are running a poll on whether the Council is right to look at reducing the opening hours of One Stop Shops such as Bude and Launceston.

The poll follows my report to last month's Town Council meeting where I said that the Council was conducting a review of One Stop Shop opening hours and was looking to cut some OSS from 5 day opening to 3.

Since that time we have now learned that the most likely OSS to see cutbacks are those which are least used - Fowey, Camelford and one further west (the location of which escapes me for the time being). Councillors have been told that the Council will be seeking to combine the workings of the OSS with other agencies such as housing associations or the Police and only cutting back on hours as a last resort.

That's fine as far as it goes, but I would have hoped that the Council would not be considering any such cutbacks at this time. It's less than a year since the new Council started work and people are only just getting used to it and its range of services. I think all One Stop Shops should be open at least five days per week (and ideally six days and into the evenings as was originally promised).

So it looks like Launceston OSS is safe for the time being, but please do vote in the poll and do use the One Stop Shop service. It may be that our OSS is safe for now, but you never know when the Conservatives will decide to have another round of cost cutting.

Elan Homes respond - at last

A mere two weeks after I got in touch with Elan Homes to complain about their lack of salting and gritting for the Kensey Valley Meadow estate they have replied.

Unfortunately, they are denying any responsibility for treating the roads and pavements and even claim that if they did then they might lay themselves open to legal action.

In their response, Elan claim that they are in the same position as local councils - not responsible for treating anythingother than major routes. I have pointed out that in areas where the council does not salt or grit, they do provide grit bins so that residents can treat footpaths and roads themselves. If Elan is in the same position as the council then surely they should be providing grit bins.

This issue arose because many local residents complained that they were effectively housebound because of the dangerous state of the roads and pavements in Kensey Valley Meadow. Some people had cancelled family Christmas visits and others were fearful of losing their job if they could not get their cars out of the estate.

The full response from Elan:

Dear Councillor Folkes

We refer to your e-mail of 24th December 2009 and having discussed your concerns with our management team, we respond as follows.

We understand the frustration of the residents, however unfortunately, clearing highways following the exceptional inclement weather is not deemed the responsibility of Local Authorities or Developers such as ourselves.

In the current economic climate, many Local Authorities do not have sufficient resources to grit minor roads and footpaths, and have made an assessment to only treat major roads. These limitations are equally reflected in the construction industry and as a result, treatment costs would be indeterminable in advance.

In addition, having assessed the wider circumstances, if attempts were made by this company to clear the roads with limited resources, we could potentially face civil claims for damage and injury through alleged incomplete treatment of slippery surfaces.

We have therefore made the decision not to treat surfaces on our developments for consistency of approach.

It therefore remains the Residents’ responsibility to clear unadopted highways as with adopted ones.

We have sympathy for the problems described in your e-mail, but in this instance we apologise that we are unable to provide the solution you imply.

Kind regards

(name)

Customer Care Advisor

Conservatives Cuts for Cornwall 4: Cornish Studies library

The latest revelation from the Cornwall Council budget papers is that the Conservatives are planning to cut staff from the Records Office and the Cornish Studies library in Redruth.

The specialist library is an incredibly valuable resource and an expert source of information for anyone interested in the history and culture of Cornwall.

Not surprisingly, with old papers and manuscripts, non-expert users of the library tend to need the help of the staff there to find what they want and, in my experience, the staff are fantastically knowledgeable and always keen to help. So cutting back on staff will mean the library itself will become less and less of a resource.

Cornwall's unique heritage and culture should be protected and I believe that cutting back on the records office and Cornish Studies library is a cut to our heritage. It is also exactly the wrong thing to be doing when we are planning on spending many hundreds of thousands of pounds - perhaps even millions - seeking to host the Manifesta Cultural Event and to become European and UK capitals of culture.

At Monday's meeting of the Communities Scrutiny Committee, Cabinet Member Neil Burden said that he would do what he could to reverse this planned cut. I very much hope that he is successful in battling with his Conservative counterparts.

Cameron decides that Brown has weathered the storm

After all the shenanigans of yesterday, David Cameron has clearly decided that Gordon Brown has survived the botched coup attempt by Hoon and Hewitt.

If the Conservatives felt that the Labour chaos had legs then he would be leaving the airwaves to the various factions. There is nothing better for the Tories than Labour tearing itself apart. But instead, Cameron is wading into the mess and declaring the PM to be 'in deep trouble'. Labour MPs may hate each other, but they will unite in hating Conservatives more.

I can only assume that Cameron is saying this in the hope of prolonging the story for another news cycle. In reality, he knows that the coup has failed.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Off to Iceland?

I'm wondering whether Cornwall councillors should be making a trip to Iceland to campaign in their forthcoming referendum?

As I understand it, the Council still has not had all of the money back that was invested by the former County Council and by Restormel in the failed Iceland banks. Yesterday, the Icelandic President vetoed a law that would have seen the money repaid. The Icelandic constitution is such that if a President uses his veto then the latter goes to a referendum.

File under... tongue in cheek

The phoney election campaign (and other over-used phrases)

So what are we to make of the first week of the year and the rush to political action?

David Cameron and the Conservatives have been quick off the blocks with their NHS mini-manifesto and poster campaign. (I now have to live with Dave's airbrushed image on a wall about two minutes from my flat). Unfortunately for them, it appears that they didn't wait until they had all their facts and figures sorted out and so they have been having to issue corrections and clarifications ever since.

The moral seems to be that if you are first out of the blocks then the media will concentrate all their attentions on you - which is not always a good thing.

Was this massive Tory bombardment a thought through strategy for the voters or was it aimed at showing off towards Labour (We're considerably richer than yow). If the latter then David Blunkett has certainly bitten.

Nick Clegg got plaudits for his well thought out piece saying that the Lib Dems are not for sale. His argument is that both the others are moving to the centre and that voters should choose the real centre party rather than a fake version. It's definitely reassuring to see that he has resisted the temptation to move away from the centre. An aspect of his article in the Times that I particularly liked is that he has made it clear what will form the basis of a Lib Dem shopping list should the voters force parties to (god forbid) talk to each other after the election. It's not yet a negotiating list of three or four key policies, but we are still as much as six months away from polling day and so I think it would be unreasonable to expect that as yet.

But both Clegg and Cameron have been wiped from the bulletins by today's latest ferrets-in-a-sack episode with the Labour Party. The decision by Hoon and Hewitt to publish their demand for a leadership contest seems quite incredible to me, but will force Brown's hand one way or another. He could, as Iain Dale suggests, walk straight to the Palace and ask for an election now. With the Tories proving that they do not walk on water, an election now might wrong foot them and would mean that Brown would avoid any question of a leadership contest. It is also the only hope Labour has of matching the Tories in campaign spending.

Alternatively, Brown could try to bolster his resolute image by hanging in there and seeing off the rebels in his party. Any such strategy would surely mean an election is some way off.

Of course, if Hoon and Hewitt do get their way and Labour gets a new leader then expect an instant election as the new PM desparately tries to capitalise on the shortest political honeymoon in history.

Fortnightly rubbish collections still on council agenda

Julian German, Cabinet Member for the Environment and Waste, is still plugging away at his one man crusade to force those of us in the East of the County into fortnightly rubbish collections (as well as those in the West, but not those who live in the centre).

Despite being opposed by the Lib Dems and Conservatives, Cllr German has succeeded in putting the scheme in the budget for two years time. No work will happen on the plan until next year at the earliest we are told, and the Cabinet will debate the matter in about 18 months time.

I believe that abandoning weekly rubbish collections will be very detrimental to our tourist trade, will lead to an increase in vermin and could even be hazardous to those living in flats and other properties where they will be forced to keep refuse indoors for up to 13 days at a time.

That said, I understand why Cllr German wants to have a debate on this as he claims that it could lead to an increase in recycling rates. I would welcome such a debate and believe that this should include all councillors and the people of Cornwall - not just 10 members of the cabinet.

Whilst I disagree completely with Julian German's position on this issue, at least he is being consistent and honest. My question is for the Conservatives who say they oppose fortnightly rubbish collections - if this pledge makes it into the final budget proposal (as it seems it will), will they vote for the budget?

Council considering abandoning local roads?

At today's environment and economy scrutiny meeting, an officer raised the possibility of a managed abandonment of some of Cornwall's road network. The argument is that road maintenance is very expensive and the budget is being squeezed tightly. So it would be better to give up on maintenance on some minor roads and concentrate all the Council's efforts on the most important routes.

Graeme Hicks, Cabinet Member for Roads and Transportation, was very quick to stamp on this idea - and a good thing too.

I have visited a number of countries around the world where the entire roads budget is spent on a few 'prestige' projects and every other road is left to decay. Most often, the roads that are maintained are those from the capital to the airport and to the Presidential Palace. God forbid that Cornwall should be forced down this route. The impact on our tourist trade of making many of our country lanes impassable would be catastrophic.

Two cheers for Graeme Hicks

Graeme Hicks is the Cabinet Member for Highways and Planning and as such is also responsible for parking. Given my thoughts on most of the things that Cornwall Council's administration comes up with, you might expect me to criticise anything the Graeme says or does. But today Graeme's comments on car parking hit the nail right on the head.

When pressed on the need for car parking charges to be set at the right level to help town centre shops, Cllr Hicks agreed that charges for town centre short term parking should be low enough to encourage people to use town centre shops rather than out of town supermarkets. He said that car parking should not be seen automatically as a revenue raising opportunity.

It is very refreshing to hear this from the cabinet and I hope that the review of all parking charges will come to the same conclusion. In contrast, Andrew Wallis, Chair of the Parking Panel, has a post on his blog which links parking charges directly to revenue raising and demanding that anyone who wants to cut parking charges should be forced to come up with an alternative source of cash.

So two cheers for Graeme Hicks. He can have the third cheer if he manages to steer a sensible review of parking charges through the Cabinet.

Salting and gritting - latest position

The Council has issued an update on its salting policy, particularly as it relates to grit bins and pavements.

The position is that they are concentrating their efforts on keeping the network of A and B roads open. This includes a fairly substantial network in Launceston town itself, although not the estate roads.

The Council is NOT salting or gritting pavements or roads they deem non-essential except in response to a request from the emergency services.

The Council provides grit bins in various locations around the town and residents can take grit from these in order to make pavements and drives safer to use. However, the grit in these has been running out very quickly. They will be re-filling the grit bins when they can, but they are concentrating on keeping the main roads open.

The Council has received many requests for more grit bins. They will seek to provide new bins, but not until after a full review has taken place this summer.

Rubbish collections cancelled

Not suprisingly, the Council has cancelled domestic bin collections in Launceston and the whole of the North Cornwall area this week due to the weather. There were no recycling collections scheduled for this week.

Hopefully things will be back to normal next week.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Why were social workers in charge of negotiating contracts?

The Cornwall Council budget for next year proposes to save more than £4 million pounds in the Adult Care budget through 'procurement activity savings'. I attended the Adult Care scrutiny committee meeting today and asked what exactly this meant.

It turns out that the former practice was for individual social workers to negotiate details of individual care contracts with care providers.

This seems bonkers.

Social workers are experts in assessing the needs of people who need care and judging how to provide that care. But they are not recruited because of their acumen in contract negoitiations. Not surprisingly, therefore, some of the contracts they negotiate are better value for money than others.

And so it makes perfect sense for the Council to use skilled negotiators to fix care contract prices and make sure that people who need care get the right package at the right price.

I'm sometimes attacked by my colleagues on Cornwall Council for not criticising the former County Council because it was Lib Dem controlled. I don't think I've ever held back on being critical where I think it is justified (and where I know the facts), but this is clearly one instance where they got it horribly wrong.

Cornwall salt levels reaching critical level

With all the bad weather the Council's road salting crews have been working round the clock to make sure that as many of the county's major routes are open. But this is leading to a rapidly diminishing stock of road salt.

According to one of the senior council officers in charge, we are now reaching critical levels and urgently need a re-supply. Cornwall Council buys its road salt from a company in Northern Ireland. An order for more salt was placed before Christmas but it seems that there is difficulty in finding a boat to bring it to Cornwall.

According to the officer, Cornwall currently has enough salt for a further 6 days of operations at the current level of working. If a boat can be found to transport the salt then it will take 72 hours to arrive here. That means that if no transport can be found by Friday then salting operations will have to be scaled back.

Although we have a reciprocal arrangement with Plymouth City Council and have 500 tons of salt on the way from them, that is likely to be the full extent of what they can give us as they have their own roads to worry about.

So should we be blaming the Council for inadequate preparations? In this case I don't think so. The depot at Scorrier holds enough salt for one and a half winters of 'normal' operations, but has got through its salt at an unprecedented rate this year. Maybe we should be looking to have a supplier that is not reliant on boat transport, but would anyone closer have enough stocks?

I'm full of admiration for the work that the salting crews have been able to do, but it does seem that we are reaching a critical time. After the current problems have been dealt with I think Cornwall Council needs to have a proper review of its salting operations and salt stores.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Do the Conservatives not care about housing or homelessness?

I only ask because there was not a single Conservative committee member present when the scrutiny committee discussed the Council's Housing and Homelessness Strategies this afternoon.

The only Conservative member in the room was David Biggs, who is not a member of the committee.

The Housing cabinet member, Mark Kaczmarek, was also absent.

Let's have a heated debate

The most notable aspect of today's scrutiny committee meeting was just how freezing it was in the meeting room. Councillors and officers gradually added layers as the meeting went on so that by the end there were bobble hats, scarves, woolly coats and even blankets wrapped around legs.

Whether or not this was a cunning plan to try to put us off scrutiny remains to be seen.

Tories plan to increase Cornwall Council debt by £150 million.

Remember a few weeks ago when the Conservatives made a big hoo-hah about the level of debt held by Cornwall Council? Now it appears that they are proposing to increase that debt level by £150 million over the next four years (around 30%).

Council debt is like a mortgage - the authority borrows in order to buy buildings or finance services over the long term. They know that they have the income to service the debt but want the benefits now rather than having to save up the full cost of what they want.

But those debt levels have to be reasonable. It was therefore right and proper that there was some concern raised about whether the Council's debt level of £500 million was too high. Leading the charge that this was scandalous were the Conservatives.

Now it appears that those same Conservatives are planning on borrowing an additional £150 million over the next four years. By the end of that period, council debt will be £1238 for every man, woman and child in the county.

And bears sh*t in the woods... Ryanair attacked for being puerile and childish

The OFT has attacked budget airline Ryanair for being childish over their charging policy. It appears that Ryanair - well known in Cornwall for their hypocritical attitude to customer service - has chosen an obscure pre-paid credit card as the only way for customers to avoid having to pay extortionate card service fees.

The full report is here.

There is a much simpler way to avoid having to pay the fees - don't travel by Ryanair.

Budget Scrutiny Week

A quick post to note that today is the start of a monumental week of meetings at County Hall. Each day there is a meeting of a scrutiny committee looking at a different aspect of the budget for next year. First up is the Communities Scrutiny, which covers things such as housing, leisure centres, libraries and community services. It is the Committee on which I lead for the Liberal Democrats.

I'll post again with some notes from the meeting later today.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

All Blacks win Battle of Cornwall (part 2)

I haven't been posting much about rugby this season but thought it would be apt to report on today's fantastic win for the All Blacks at Redruth (in part because it will annoy my brother, a Reds fan).

Back in September, Launceston beat the Reds in their first home match of the season despite a last gasp rally by the visitors. It was a shame that such a big match was so early in the season, but it was great to win.

This time, Nigel Hambly and his team seemed to think that they could get the better of the All Blacks. And for most of the game it looked likely that they would. They scored the only try of a very scrappy match - ironically when they were down to 14 men. That came about because of a mistake - Ed Lewsey chose the wrong option in kicking ahead. The kick was charged down and Mark Richards scored. That was the Reds' only score of the match though and whilst they threatened several times they failed to capitalise.

For the All Blacks, the normally rock solid boot of Tony Yapp fluttered - perhaps Yapp had the yips? He missed two penalties, one with a horrible shank. He also missed an attempted drop goal with ten minutes to play and the All Blacks a point behind. But, crucially, he also kicked two penalties and an injury time drop goal to give the All Blacks a 9-7 victory.

Launceston are now third in the table.

Snow again

It's been snowing again in town. The Council has been gritting fairly heavily but I expect that the same problems will occur as last time - the roads which get no grit will be impassable. That means most of the roads on which people live.

If you have any concerns, please contact me on 07984 644138 or alexfolkes@gmail.com