Tuesday, 31 May 2011

LEP Board members named

This morning, just a month late, the details of who will sit on the new Local Enterprise Partnership Board were announced.

As expected, the private sector has a majority but what was unexpected is that this majority does not simply rest on the Chairman's casting vote. The decision to have six private sector members and five from the public sector is a strange one given what was said before the announcement.

From the public sector, the names are:

Cllr Alec Robertson, Leader of Cornwall Council
Cllr Chris Ridgers, Cabinet Member for the Economy
Cllr Robin Teverson, former MEP
Philip Hygate, Chief Executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly
Anne Carlisle, Rector of University College Falmouth

I'm delighted that my colleague Robin Teverson is the name chosen to make the representation cross party. Robin was instrumental in the bid to bring Objective One funding to Cornwall and will bring an expert knowledge of funding streams to the board.

As for the private sector, the names are:

Chris Pomfret, Chairman
Gaynor Coley, Eden Project
Chris Loughlin, South West Water
Joe Keohane, Browne’s chocolates (but formerly of Sharp's Brewery)
Richard Reed, formerly Fugro Seacore
Simon Tregoning, Classic Cottages

There's quite a range of skills there, bringing marketing, finance, engineering, small business, more engineering and tourism expertise to the table (I paraphrase a lot). The only key sector that I think is missing - and I've argued this all along - is that of the voluntary sector. Whilst Eden is a charity and clearly has a communitarian approach to a lot of its work, there is no one on the board with voluntary sector background or a knowledge of community interest companies - an absolutely vital sector of the Cornish economy.

That gripe aside, it's fantastic to see the names finally in place and I hope that the LEP will be able to make up for lost time.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cornwall Council Credit Cards - the questions that need to be answered

Following the Telegraph revelations and Cornwall Council's response, there are a large number of questions that still need to be answered.

Yesterday I got in touch with Cllr John Keeling, the Indie who chairs the Corporate Resources scrutiny committee which has a meeting scheduled for Thursday. I asked him, given the serious nature of the allegations raised by the Telegraph, whether he would be prepared to add the issue as an urgent item on the agenda. I'm very grateful to him for agreeing to do so.

Earlier today I sent the list of questions below to him and to Kevin Lavery, Cornwall's Chief Executive so that officers have the chance to get the answers for Thursday.

1. How many corporate credit cards are there and who has them?
2. Who authorises spending and what limit does each card have?
3. Who checks statements when they come in?
4. Has any fraud on a Cornwall Council credit card ever been suspected and what was the outcome of any investigation?
5. Why was the Daily Telegraph handed incorrect data?
6. Why were amounts in foreign currency logged onto the Cornwall Council system as sterling?
7. Has any officer involved in processing statements or checking payments been made redundant or any such posts been left vacant?
8. What rules are in place governing the type of spending which may be put on Cornwall Council credit cards?
9. How many times were Cornwall Council credit cards used to purchase alcohol, by whom and for what reason?
10. Why does Cornwall Council choose to pay utility bills on credit cards rather than by another means, for instance direct debit, which might be cheaper?
11. In comparison with other authorities for which data was released to the Telegraph, Cornwall Council uses credit cards a lot more. Why is this?
12. Are credit card balances paid off in full every month. If not, what interest has accrued since Cornwall Council came into being?
13. Who ordered 'pure silk ties' and for what reason?
14. What policies are in place governing the amount that may be spent on restaurant meals and hotel room rates?
15. What is the total credit card spending on amounts below £500 for each month covered by the Telegraph data?
16. Which entries in the Telegraph database are incorrect and what is the correct figure in each case?
17. For each of the international flights and overseas hotel bills listed, please provide information as to who made the trip, for what purpose and on what basis the particular flight and hotel were chosen?
18. Do any of the payments listed for hotels in Cornwall refer to the provision of accommodation for consultants or Cornwall Council staff and, if so, in what circumstances?
19. Will the Council refer the issue of Cornwall Council credit card spending and use to a competent outside body such as the Audit Commission for investigation and recommendations as to future best practice?

Apparently the Council Leader has told tomorrow's Western Morning News that he can't be expected to know every detail. Of course not, but, as my colleague Jeremy Rowe has pointed out, it does look at the moment as though everyone is in charge of lecturing us about saving money and no one is actually doing it.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Phew!

So the Daily Telegraph figures are not completely accurate. Phew. I'm so glad that Cornwall Council probably didn't spend £650,000 on two nights in a Bangkok hotel.

According to a statement put out by the Council Leader, some of the overseas figures are in local currency and not sterling.

But key questions remain. How many of the figures are inaccurate? Presumably the explanation only applies to overseas transactions. Are the rest kosher?

And why did the Telegraph publish incorrect figures in the first place? They only used what they were given by Cornwall Council in response to an FoI request so were the Cornwall figures wrong or did the Telegraph assume everything was in sterling when it was actually given in other currency?

For all that this appears to be a perfectly reasonable explanation for some of the most outrageous examples of apparent spending, it still seems to be the case that Cornwall Council bosses spent more than £1,000 on pure silk ties as well as money on fish tanks, expensive hotels and meals in the UK. For those, there is still no answer and it is these that may prove to be Alec Robertson's duck house moment.

Get a Grip Alec

The revelations in today's Telegraph about Cornwall Council's credit card spending are quite incredible. It's clear that Alec Robertson and the Tories simply haven't got a grip on how Cornish taxpayers' money is spent at a time when our budgets are being slashed.

The Daily Telegraph has exposed almost £9 million of credit card spending by the Council on an extraordinary range of items from hotels and flights to fish tanks and disco equipment.

Cornwall clearly uses the corporate credit card to pay for a lot more than most councils and many of the payments will be for run of the mill authority expenditure. But when you read about hotel bills of over £30,000 or Cabinet Members taking £3,000 flights or spending £6,000 on Swedish hotels, you start to see how remote the Council’s leadership has become from the world outside. They have some serious explaining to do.

However legitimate some of the trips were, there is no excuse for paying more than £600 for a flight to Brussels when Eurostar can get you there for less than a quarter of the cost, or for paying more than £500 per night for a hotel. (They probably used the minibar.)

Most workers in Cornwall are seeing their pay frozen or cut at the moment and Cornwall Council is laying off hundreds of workers. Yet the chiefs on the top floor at County Hall are splurging taxpayers' cash on travel, hotels, home cinema systems and even £1,000 on ‘pure silk ties’.

It really is time the Tories, instead of merely posturing about keeping Council spending under control, decided to get a grip on this astounding level of expenses on the taxpayer’s credit card.


Lib Dems on the Council are seeking an urgent meeting with the Council Leader and Chief Exec to find out what on earth is going on. I've also written to the chair of the finance scrutiny committee asking him to ensure that this is considered as an urgent item at the meeting this coming week.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Sainsburys ads won't undermine planning independence claims Council Leader

My colleague Jeremy Rowe has blogged about the decision by the Council to allow companies to advertise on the Council's website. Unfortunately, this includes allowing Sainsburys - a company seeking planning permission on various sites in Cornwall - to advertise on the planning pages. Jeremy has suggested that this is a clear conflict of interest.

Today all councillors received an email from the Leader seeking to justify this advertising:

"Concern over sale of advertising on council website – The decision to allow advertising on the website was agreed as part of the budget savings strategy approved by the full Council in December to help generate additional income for the authority. There is strict policy in place to control advertising which ensures that all adverts comply with relevant regulations and sets out services and products which are not permitted on the website. These include adverts from political organisations and manufacturers and distributors of tobacco or alcohol. Adverts are currently allowed on five pages – relating to health and social care, education and learning, planning, marriage and registration services and housing. We recognise the need to be open and transparent and assess all potential adverts to ensure they comply with the policy and consider the appropriateness of potential advertisers. With reference to the Sainsbury’s adverts, we have a very robust planning system in place to ensure that decisions are made on planning grounds, with all Members who sit on planning committees receiving extensive training. We do, therefore, not feel that displaying adverts from companies such as Sainsbury’s brings the objectivity of the Council’s planning processes into question."

Whilst all of this might be true and I have great faith in the robust independence of our planning committees, sadly the same is not the case with the Leader, who destroyed the Council's carefully argued objection to the incinerator at St Dennis (all done at a cost of well over £1 million) by writing to Eric Pickles to urge him to do the opposite of council policy and allow it to be built.

Superfast Broadband for Cornwall - Launceston to be at full speed by March 2012

Launceston will have superfast broadband by March next year according to an announcement by Cornwall Council and BT. Our town will be among a number in East Cornwall which will be in the first tranche of the roll out which is the latest stage in a project started by the Lib Dem led County Council a number of years ago.

The announcement lists Liskeard, Callington, Gunnislake, Launceston, Bude, Kilkhampton, Widemouth Bay, Bodmin, Camborne, Falmouth, Lanivet, Marazion, Penryn, Porthtowan, Redruth and Truro as the exchanges which will be upgraded first and St Austell as the first location for the even faster FTTP project.

The first stage will make 30-40% of Cornwall superfast and a second tranche will bring that proportion up to 70-80% by autumn next year. No date has been given for connecting the remaining areas (including major towns like Helston and Wadebridge).

It's great news for Launceston to be in the first tranche and will hopefully be an added incentive to businesses to locate here and to existing firms to work more profitably.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cornwall Council discusses the NHS Bill

Cornwall Councillors this afternoon had the chance to discuss the authority's response to the Government's 'listening exercise' over the reforms to the NHS. It was a pretty packed meeting which, unfortunately (and inexplicably) only lasted for an hour.

During that time, member after member criticised aspects of the changes proposed and there was very loud agreement for the oft-stated proposal that the entire Bill should be ripped up and the process of reform started again from scratch.

In my opinion, the major problems with the proposals are:

- that the proposal to put spending power in the hands of GP consortia means that nurses and other key people within the NHS will not be involved and nor will there be any democratic accountability. I agree that doctors should be more involved and can better reflect the needs of their patients, but there should be a mix of GPs, other professionals and councillors.
- the ambition of putting competition above all else is deeply damaging and will, in certain cases, lead to the effective privatisation of key parts of the NHS. I have no problem with the small scale involvement of private providers in certain circumstances - such as we have now to reduce waiting times for operations that the NHS is failing to do quickly enough. But the principle must be that the NHS is the first choice provider. The first priority has to be keeping the range of services available across the country. The second priority is the price.
- the proposal that an NHS hospital could close if it is not doing enough business is hugely concerning for anyone who doesn't live in a city with more than one hospital. No one in Cornwall lives close enough to two hospitals to make choice a realistic option.
- the focus for the NHS should either be on making savings or on restructuring. It is nigh on impossible to do both at the same time and do so effectively.
- we are told that patients will have more choice over who their GP will be. In Cornwall, most people live in areas with only one option. Apart from a few people who drive to another town to work and may find a GP in their work town more convenient, who benefits? And if the NHS is restructured to assume that choice exists, then it becomes very possible that those of us in single GP areas will end up with a worse service.

For all these reasons (and, no doubt, more) I believe that the best option is for the Government to tear up the current NHS Bill and to start again with far more modest reforms based around the consortia proposals. I hope that, by the time the consultation closes next Tuesday, Cornwall Council will have sent a response along these lines to the Government.

Council promises only limited training for helping children with autism

At this morning's meeting of Cornwall's education scrutiny committee I raised the issue of the care of children with autism and other conditions within our schools. I asked the Head of Service for a commitment to provide training for teachers and other school staff.

The answer I got was a mixed blessing.

Over the course of the next academic year, the Council will ensure that all staff in Area Resource Bases will get full training. ARBs are the special education units based within some mainstream schools and which allow children with special educational needs to be educated in a specially designed environment but within a mainstream setting.

But most children with special educational needs are not schooled in ARBs. They attend mainstream schools and have statements which are meant to ensure that they get appropriate extra support. And the training that will be provided within mainstream schools is to be on a 'commissioned' basis. In other words, schools will have to pay for it and that means they will have to identify it as important enough and then find the money to pay for it out of scarce resources.

I have received good help from council officers when I have raised individual cases with them, but it is still the case that many school staff - both teachers and support staff - do not have the right training even for the more common conditions such as autism and behavioural difficulties. It may be that a school ensures that individual staff members who work most often with particular pupils have training, but that doesn't cover other staff who can react to some situations in an inappropriate way because of a lack of training.

And so the Council's commitment to more training, although welcome, does not go nearly far enough.

No one in Cornwall should miss out on Olympic Torch route

Today I have written to Cornwall Council Leader Alec Robertson about his plans to lobby for the Olympic Torch to travel through his home town of Helston:

Dear Alec

I see from this week's paper that you are lobbying for the Olympic torch to travel through Helston during its progress from Land's End to Plymouth.

Of course, like you, I would like the torch to travel through my own town. I think that the sight of the torch at the top of Launceston Castle would be an iconic image for Cornwall.

The promotional material from the Olympic organisers is that 95% of the UK population will be within 1 hour's travel time of the torch on its route. I would ask you to lobby the appropriate people to make sure that every person in Cornwall is within an hour's travel time of the torch relay.

I agree with you that it is fantastic news that the torch is beginning its progress in Cornwall, but it would be extremely disappointing if it turned out that many residents will, in fact, miss out.

Yours

Alex


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

A day of planning issues - UPDATED

Today has been mainly about planning issues in and around our town. I met this morning with officers to get fully briefed on the application submitted for around 300 homes and a new school at Hay Common to the south west of Launceston.

At the moment this is an outline plan in that the actual design of the scheme has to come back in another application. What is being asked for at this time is approval for the principle of this size of development.

A key issue will be the decision to build a new school in place of any affordable housing. Only a scheme of this sort of size can provide enough developer contributions to enable a school to be built, but the loss of the affordable housing is clearly a big price to be paid. As a community, we have known for some time that we will struggle with the three primary schools in town and the current growth is simply adding more pressure. Hence the decision to consider the school in this case.

There are undoubtedly arguments in favour and against the application but on balance, I believe it is the right sort of development in the right place and, as well as the school, it brings the right mix of community benefits. I do not have a vote on the strategic planning committee (if I did, I would have to stay silent until the decision) and the application will be decided on 30th June in Truro.

If you have views, please contact me and I would be happy to discuss them.

A group of town and parish representatives and the local Cornwall Councillors went later in the day to look at some other sites around our town which might be considered suitable for development in the future - both for employment land and for housing. I can't discuss the precise areas yet, but there will be a major public consultation on the possibilities over the summer. Launceston has always been considered one of the towns in Cornwall suitable for growth, but we have to make sure that any development is balanced (we need jobs as well as houses) and in the right place.

UPDATE

The two comments below have reminded me that I had meant to write a post about the Core Strategy process last week but couldn't because Blogger went down.

The Core Strategy seeks to set the sustainable and achievable growth target for Cornwall for the coming years. In the past we have had the Regional Spatial Strategy, in which the Government imposed numbers on us, but now we have the ability to decide for ourselves.

The major problem, as far as I am concerned, is that the plan wants to have a uniform solution for Cornwall. I simply do not think that will work. I know that there are many parts of Cornwall which do not want significant further growth and do not have the infrastructure to cope. On the other hand, there are areas which would welcome more housing.

There are other problems too. The core strategy is fixated with housing, but there are other types of growth. Somewhere like Launceston could cope with many more houses (providing the infrastructure came along with them too) but also needs the employers to provide skilled jobs. Our debates on the development framework have sought to ensure that key areas of land are reserved for employment use and we have insisted that large scale infratructure requirements are also written into the plan.

And the Core Strategy proposes not simply a uniform growth, but also a uniform dispersal strategy for new housing - with options of town, economy or village led growth.

In short, I cannot possibly say what is right for a town like Helston or Falmouth in terms of housing growth. Having talked with many local residents and with the town and parish councils in this area, I think I've got a pretty good handle on what we want here though. The core strategy, for all the advantage of being locally determined, has the failing of being one size fits all.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Today is the 54th of April

Today is the 54th of April - at least according to the calendar that Cornwall Council Leader Alec Robertson is working to.

Cllr Robertson agreed to ensure that the board members of the new Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership would be announced by the end of April but we still know no names other than the chair - Chris Pomfret.

I accept that the private sector board members (a further four or five names) are a matter for the private sector, but we were told by Cllr Robertson back in mid April that the interview process was all but complete and the names would be announced before the end of that month. If there have been delays, we should be told why and given a new date for the announcement.

But the delay in naming of the public sector board members is baffling. This, after all, is a matter for the two councils - Cornwall and the Council of the Isles of Scilly. We know that Cllr Robertson himself will be one nominee and that the Cornwall Council cabinet member for Economy and Regeneration is another. This was to have been Carolyn Rule, but she was shunted sideways in last week's reshuffle and so her place will be taken by Chris Ridgers. As for the nominee from the Isles of Scilly, the nominee from the university and the third Cornwall Council nominee (the 'cross party' one) we have no clue and no explanation as to why there has been a delay.

As my colleague Edwina Hannaford - who has been monitoring the situation closely - points out, most of the other LEPs(26 out of 34) have announced both their chairs and their board members.

Other questions abound. Will there be anyone on the board to represent the third sector? The most we have been promised so far is that someone from the private sector side will have charity experience. That's not the same thing and (in my opinion) would be a missed opportunity for Cornwall's LEP to fully reflect the economy here in the Duchy.

And will the LEP board be yet another case of jobs for the boys?

Charles Causley Festival of Literature and Arts

Launceston is getting ready for the second ever Charles Causley Festival. The festival runs from June 1st-5th and includes music, dance, art and, of course, lots of poetry.

The festival is named in honour of Charles Causley, the poet who was born and lived for most of his life in our town. Last year's event was deliberately small scale, but hugely successful and so we have tried to make this year's event a stage bigger whilst still retaining the focus on mainly local talent.

The programme for the event includes:


Wednesday 1st June

James Lovelock in Conversation
James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia theory will be talking and taking questions on his scientific theories. Lovelock, whose work has provoked great debate, will explain further aspects of Gaia theory as well as his controversial views on carbon offsetting , ethical living and the future of nuclear power.
Town Hall 7pm All Tickets £6

The Gumbo Flyers
A fantastic mix of the cajun and zydeco music of Lousiana, the Gumbo Flyers’ are a 5 piece band whose high energy stomps from the swamps have thrilled audiences at festivals and music venues across the continent.
The Bell Inn 8pm Donations Welcome

Poetry and Pints
Join Clive Blake and Chris Robbins for an evening of poetry and pints at the Westgate Inn. Robbins and Blake, whose recent work includes the ‘phoetry’ book View Points and Points of View are a photographer and poet whose work captures the world in a thought provoking, poignant and amusing way. See Clive perform some of his exquisite poetry from their book and see some of Chris’ astounding photography of the world around us, whilst enjoying a well poured pint.
Westgate Inn 8.30pm Donations Welcome


Thursday 2nd June

Book signing with children's author Georgie Adams
Bring your little one down to meet Georgie Adams the local author of the book series The Railway Rabbits. The books, inspired by the Launceston Steam Railway, are perfect for young readers aged 6+. Get your hands on the latest book in the series and have it signed whilst looking carefully amongst the book shelves where you may even see a couple of the railway rabbits hiding there!
The Bookshop 12-2pm Donations Welcome

Michael Williams Talk and Lunch
Come and enjoy a talk by local writer, columnist and publisher Michael Williams. Michael, who has worked within the literary industry for many years, has met and interviewed many prestigious writers including Charles Causley, Daphne Du Maurier, Jack Clemo, Rosamunde Pilcher and Arthur Caddick to name but a few. Follow the talk with a sumptuous lazy lunch with the writer and enjoy a glass of wine – all included in the ticket price.
No 8 Cafe 12.30pm Tickets £12

Book signing with John Neale and Virginia Spiers
A booksigning by two authors inspired by the Tamar Valley. Virginia Spiers writer of the Country Diaries in The Guardian will be signing her latest book Silver River, which gives evocative and inspirational accounts of the changing Tamar Valley landscape alongside images of Mary Martin’s exquisite art work. John Neale, author of Discovering the River Tamar, will also be available to sign copies of his book which tells the fascinating tale of the River Tamar through pictures of the river now and then.
The Bookshop 2.30- 4.30pm Donations Welcome

Wine, Wisdom and Words Literary Quiz
Created by the Twinning Association this month’s wine and wisdom takes on a literary feel. Cram in your classics and swot up on your short stories for the quiz which will feature questions on literature, music, the arts and Cornish culture. Interested teams should contact the Tourist Information Centre to book their teams place.
The Town Hall Doors open 7pm Quiz starts 7.30pm Tickets £18 for a team


Friday 3rd June

St Thomas Church and Priory Opening
Explore the historic St Thomas Church and Priory. Originally dedicated to St. Thomas a Becket, the church’s name was later changed to commemorate St. Thomas the Apostle. The priory, which lay behind the church, was dissolved in 1539 and lay largely forgotten until 1886 when the North Cornwall railway cut through the site. The priory remained abandoned until a recent project to restore and preserve this small corner of Launceston’s heritage began work. The church has a connection to Charles Causley who was born just a few houses away and is buried within the churchyard, and visitors may even hear some of Causley’s best loved poetry
being spoken.
St. Thomas Church and Priory 11am- 2pm Donations Welcome

Book signing with Anne Watts
Anne Watts memoir Always the Children, tells of her time working as a nurse in countries ravaged by the effect of war. Her poignant story brings together her many years of experience working as a nurse with a tragedy that happened early on in her childhood that was to shape her entire destiny.
The Bookshop 12-2pm Donations Welcome

The Secret Garden book group
To commemorate the work of John Passmore Edwards, the journalist and philanthropist who built many of the libraries within Cornwall, Cornwall Library Services have issued a new edition of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. There are a small number of designated free copies of the new edition for you to have from the library. The book makes perfect reading for those aged 8+ Having read the book we would love for you to come to this one-off book group in the library to share your thoughts and ideas on the book with other people of all ages in a friendly atmosphere.
Launceston Library 5pm Donations Welcome

Jim Causley
Back by popular demand, Jim Causley is returning to the festival following his sell out per- formance last year. Jim, who is a dis- tant relative of Charles Causley, is renowned for his beautiful, rich, ma- ture singing voice and his natural gift for interpreting song. A fantastic singer songwriter who is not to be missed!
Jericho’s Brasserie 7pm Tickets £10

FLIC present: The Black Swan
FLIC (Film Launceston in the Commu- nity) present The Black Swan at the Town Hall. Only recently available on general release, The Black Swan is a dark psychological thriller not to be missed.
Certificate 15
The Town Hall. Doors open at 7.30pm for 8pm showing. Tickets £5 Adults £4 Concessions


Saturday 4th June

Holy Wells Cornwall: Presentation and Exhibition by Phil Cope
Join Phil Cope writer, researcher, book de- signer and photographer as he discusses the holy wells of Cornwall through storytelling, myth, poetry and imagery. Cope’s work which has been described as “a visual treat” and who has been described as a “genius with a camera” will also hold a question and answer session where there will also be an opportunity to view more of his stunning photography.
Methodist Hall 10.30am All Tickets £6

Charles Causley Guided Tour
Join Jane Nancarrow on a guided tour around Launceston rediscovering places you knew and those you didn’t. Charles Causley wrote about many well known landmarks in and around the town so come and explore the town in a new light and learn a little bit more about what inspired our most prized writer.
Start at Eagle House 11am Donations Welcome

Talk by renowned local writer EV Thompson
Cornish Bard E.V. Thompson, will be talking about his long career as an au- thor from his award winning novel 'Chase the Windto his latest title
Beyond the Storm which is set in North Cornwall. A question& answer session will follow along with refreshment.
Launceston Library 4pm All Tickets £5

Rap Workshop
A workshop suitable for young people aged 15+ with any level of experience who are interested in performing the spoken word in a contemporary and accessible way. The workshop which will be led by Dizraeli, BBC UK Slam Poetry Champion and frontman of Dizraeli and the Small Gods, will explore with you how to create, develop and perform your own rap. By taking part in the workshop you will then have the opportunity to perform at the poetry slam later that evening & gain free entry to the gig.
The Town Hall 4-5.30pm Tickets £5

An evening of music, poetry and story-telling
Join some of the south west’s best performers for a top-class evening of music, poetry and story-telling in Jericho’s. Featured in the evening will be Dew Vardh (Bert Biscoe and Pol Hodge), whose poetry and songs deal with the serious themes of our Cornish identity in a funny, wry and entertaining way. Also featured in the evening will be Mike O’Connor and Barbara Griggs, two local musicians well known for their relaxed entertaining style which blends fact, fiction and music. David Johnson, the Bristol-based performance poet will also be showcasing his latest work, taking us on a delightful journey across the strange world we live in. Come and enjoy an evening with some of the South West’s best loved acts all in one room. An evening not to be missed!
Jericho’s Brasserie 8pm All Tickets £10

Dizraeli and the Small Gods
One of the hottest hip hop acts in the UK today, Dizraeli and the Small Gods have been described as “far beyond a normal hiphop show... something quite remarkable”. Dizraeli and the Small Gods have gained a national reputation for their melodic and unashamedly heartfelt reinvention of hip hop and have played stages from Glastonbury to Bestival and every space between. The evening will kick off with a poetry slam space which is an
opportunity for anyone with an interest in performance poetry, mc’ing or rap to showcase their style in front of an audience. Following this Dizraeli and the Small Gods will play a full live set, mixing their unique sound of elastic rap vocals and hiphop invention in a performance which is at once rural and urban, gritty and political.
The Town Hall 8.30pm All Tickets £5


Sunday 5th June

West Country Publishers Book Fair
Visit a range of publishers from across the West Country as they promote their latest publications. Publishers will be on hand to answer queries and questions about the world of publishing as well as give informa- tion about their latest releases.
The Town Hall 10am-3pm Donations Welcome

Guided Holy Wells Tour
Launceston is situated near some of the most evocative holy well sites in Britain. Join Phil Cope author of Holy Wells: Cornwall for a guided mini bus tour of some of the best holy wells local to the Launceston area. Bring stout walking boots, weather-proof clothes, cam- eras and sketch pads and enjoy a morning exploring the mysticism of these ancient sites.
Meet at the Coach Park 10am-1pm Tickets £15

Charles Causley Trust Garden Party
Join members of the Charles Causley Trust at the launch of their appeal to meet the cost of repairs and improvements to Cyprus Well, Charles Causley’s former home.
Victoria House (The Old St. Thomas Vicarage) 3pm Donations Welcome

Red Letter Days with Bagas Degol and Annamarie Murphy of Kneehigh Theatre
“A remarkable or memorable day-orgin 18th century: from the practise of highlighting a festival or feast day in red on a calendar.”Red letter day has been commissioned by FEAST to tour Cornish Village halls, Towns and anything between and has been brought to the festival by Carn to Cove the rural touring scheme. After the success of sell out performances at TipofYourTongue Literary Festival, Trovya and the Acorn theatre, an exciting collaboration has grown. Musicians Bagas Degol and writer Annamaria Murphy come together for Red Letter Days a new show especially made for Cornish venues, Taking the theme of “Feast”, they will perform evenings of music, song and stories with a bite. From Saints to sinners, broken hearts and Friday nights, it’s a perfect mix of story and music, a feast for the ears, soul and imagination.
The Town Hall 8pm Tickets Adults £7 Concessions/Child £5 Family Ticket £17


Exhibitions running through the week

Charles Causley Poetry Exhibition at the Lawrence House Museum 30th May - 4th June
Take a moment to explore Lawrence House Museum, a much loved museum central to the Launceston community. In the museum take a look at the Charles Causley exhibition which, during the festival, will be illustrated with an array of Charles Causley’s poetry.
10.30am-4.30pm Donations Welcome

Gwynngala Group of Artists and Makers and LAFF present 'Causley Creatively' 30th May - 4th June
Come and take a look at the exhibition of Gwynngala and LAFF (Launceston Arts for Fun) in the beautiful historic church. Both Gwynngala and LAFF are made up of artists from the local community, some of whose work will be available to buy during the exhibition. Also exhibiting work will be children from St Catherines & Tregadillet Primary School
St. Mary’s Church 10am-4pm Donations Welcome

Tom Adams Exhibition at the Alley Gallery 31st May - 4th June
Come and take a look at the work of Tom Adams the renowned local artist. Tom Adam’s work has appeared as cover images for many well known novels including work by John Fowles and Agatha Christie.
Alley Gallery 10am-5pm Donations Welcome

Phil Cope Exhibition 1st - 3rd June
Available to view in the bar area of the newly refurbished town hall will be Phil Cope’s beautiful photographic exhibition of Holy Wells.
The Town Hall 10am-5pm Donations Welcome

Tickets for all events are available from the new Tourist Information Centre in the Market House Arcade or online from Hall for Cornwall (booking fees apply)

Why John Hemming was wrong to name Ryan Giggs and Giles Coren

Lib Dem MP John Hemming is all over the front pages of today's newspapers because of his decision to name Ryan Giggs and Giles Coren in the House of Commons yesterday. I think he was wrong to name either.

John has a very admirable history of campaigning against various types of injunctions. The basis for his campaigns have been to highlight what he perceives to be injustices in the child care system where, he alleges, injunctions can be used to prevent parents defending themselves against claims of abuse and, in at least one case, to prevent someone who claims they have been discriminated against from even talking to John as their MP.

But his action in Parliament yesterday were nothing to do with that campaign.

It will come as a shock to virtually no one to find out that Ryan Giggs is the footballer known in court as 'CTB'. Giggs' decision to ask his solicitors to take action against Twitter users was probably the worst legal action since Jonathan Aitken decided to use the 'simple sword of truth' defence to his perjury prosecution.

However there is a second side to the story - the one that you won't read in most of the papers today. Rather than risk legal action myself, I'll refer you to this court judgment where the issue is amply referred to by Mr Justice Eady.

As for the decision to name Giles Coren, it has allowed the newspapers to 'fill in the gaps' on another case. I follow Coren on Twitter and had seen the tweets (now deleted) that appear to have got him into trouble. I wasn't really aware of the case and just regarded it as gossip. But today's Telegraph helpfully fills in all the missing details. All that's missing from their story is the name.

John Hemming's campaign on behalf of children in care and their parents is admirable but his decision in this case is not. I respect him greatly, but would hope he would think more carefully in future.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Solar Panel Schemes - Don't Get Conned

Don't get conned by anyone calling about installing solar panels on your roof and saying they are from Cornwall Council. At the moment, Cornwall Council is not running running or supporting any current solar PV schemes on private housing.

Residents in Penzance have been called by someone pretending to be from the Council and advising about grants that may be available to install panels. A company called Sunseeker UK then made a follow-up call.

Solar panels may be a good idea for many householders in Cornwall because of the amount of sun we get, but at the moment the Council is not organising grants or surveys for private households.

This has been reported to Trading Standards for investigation.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Barefoot Games volunteers to bring street art to neglected spots

Launceston Town Council has agreed to allow young people who are part of the Barefoot Games project to produce some street art on a couple of neglected spots in the town.

The Barefoot Games volunteers have been brought together by Ben Robbins who works for the Eden Project and have already held a number of events in the town including the hugely successful Pisky Piran event at the Town Hall on St Piran's Day, a garden tidy up at the Orchard Youth Centre and the art auction which raised more than £4000 for ShelterBox.

The group came to tonight's Town Council meeting with the proposal to decorate the bus shelter in Westgate Street and part of the coach park on the other side of the road.

I know that the group have their eye on a couple of other sites which are not in the Town Council's ownership and they will be approaching those owners to ask them for permission to decorate those areas too.

Launceston Town Council to join Twitter and Facebook

Launceston Town Council is to join the Twitter and Facebook crowd following a debate at tonight's meeting.

Councillors discussed the uses that public bodies could make of social networking to promote their events, decisions and consultation and, in particular, noted the increasing use being made of the systems by people of all ages.

So look out for both the Town Council and the Tourist Information Centre accounts which will be set up in the near future.

Sprinkler Campaign

Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service today launched a campaign to get sprinkler systems installed in all new build properties. Their call was backed by John Hughes whose mother and brother tragically died in the Penhallow fire in Newquay.

At the moment, only Wales has legislation requiring sprinklers to be fitted and I think that our Council's Planning Policy committee should consider introducing a similar rule here.

Sprinkler systems cost about £400 to install in a typical family home during construction. Contrary to some myths, the risk of malfunction is tiny and they are set to go off only in a room where there is a fire - so they don't bump up insurance premiums. What they do is to save lives alongside smoke and carbon monoxide alarms.

In the past I've been rather ambivalent about sprinkler systems because of the costs involved. But having talked to Cornwall's fire fighters about how good they are at saving lives and learned that the myths mentioned above aren't true, I now think that the small extra cost is a price well worth paying in order to save lives and so I'm an enthusiastic supporter of the campaign.

Go ahead given for incinerator

Today Eric Pickles has formally given the go ahead for the incinerator at St Dennis. This is a huge kick in the teeth for residents there as well as the campaigners who fought to stop it happening.

The incinerator plans were turned down by the former County Council by a margin of twenty votes to one. Among those who voted no were Alec Robertson who is now the Tory Leader of Cornwall Council.

The applicant then appealed and a public inquiry was held with Cornwall Council spending a lot of money on making its case to uphold the original decision. This effort (and spending) was then undermined by a letter sent by the same Cllr Robertson to Mr Pickles urging him to allow the appeal and therefore allow the incinerator.

People in Cornwall will rightly want to ask Cllr Robertson when he changed his mind. At the time he voted against the application at the planning committee, we have to assume that he really did oppose it and wasn't just casting a vote for political convenience. Since then he appears to have had a conversion to the benefits of the incinerator. When was that and what factors that were not known at the time of the planning committee have changed his mind?

Despite this very disappointing result, credit for their efforts to stop the incinerator should go to many people including Stephen Gilbert MP, Lib Dem Cllr Roy Taylor and MK Cllr Dick Cole as well, of course as local Cllr Fred Greenslade and the people of St Dennis and the surrounding area.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Pressing the Police to keep Crime Investigators

This afternoon I was one of a number of councillors to meet with Assistant Chief Constable Sharon Taylor for a briefing on the cuts to our Police Force. During the meeting I asked ACC Taylor to reconsider the decision to make redundant the civilian crime investigators.

As I blogged before, the crime investigators are a highly efficient group of back office staff who take statements and investigate crimes. They have a success rate roughly double that of uniformed officers, they cost less and they free up uniformed officers to do the front line jobs that most members of the public want them to do.

But they are an easy target for cuts because, unlike police officers, they can be made redundant. And so all crime investigators in Devon and Cornwall are threatened with redundancy.

Although the reply I got from ACC Taylor was not hugely encouraging, it was refreshing to hear a top public service manager give a straight answer and I thank her for giving the time to talk to councillors.. She made it clear that the force would rather not have to make the cut, but that they have entered a formal consultation with a view to making the entire squad redundant.

I still have hopes that either the chief officers or the Police Authority will have a change of heart and recognise that civilian crime investigators fulfill a hugely valuable role and allow uniformed officers to spend more time on the beat.

A successful business?

If an organisation claimed to be able to help you expand your business and attract new firms to the area, what would you think if its turnover had shrunk in the past year and it was actually making a loss?

Meet Cornwall Development Company, the wholly owned business arm of Cornwall Council.

The business plan of CDC was in front of the Council's Cabinet for approval today, along with a range of the (very highly paid) chief officers of CDC. Strangely, for a business organisation, the plan only covers a single year. The Cabinet said that CDC is free to plan as it wishes, yet CDC staff said that they had not been asked for a longer term plan.

The CDC plan makes only minimal reference to the voluntary and social enterprise section of the economy (one of Cornwall's strengths) and one Cabinet member - Armand Toms - was scathing about its lack of work in the East of Cornwall.

At the end of the discussion, both Cabinet members who represent the East - Armand and Neil Burden - refused to back the report and abstained in the vote.

Cabinet votes to retain weekly bin collections

Cornwall Council's cabinet voted today by seven votes to three to retain weekly black bag ('residual waste') collections. That's a victory for residents who were concerned that moving to fortnightly collections would cause a build up of litter in the streets, harm our tourism industry and cause huge problems for those residents with little outside space.

In my contribution to the debate I praised the work of Cabinet Member Julian German for making sure that there has been a decent debate on the issue. Julian has been a passionate campaigner for moving to fortnightly collections because of the benefits to the recycling rates. I recognise that benefit but think it is outweighed by the disadvantages and so I supported 'Option A' - the retention of weekly black bag collections. But without Cllr German's contribution, the debate might well have been of far lower quality.

The public has voted by two to one in favour of keeping weekly bins collections (over 10,000 people voted) and the Council has to pay heed to that. But we also have to make sure we boost our recycling rates. Cllr German wanted Cornwall to become an exemplar authority by moving to fortnightly collections. I think that we have to set ourselves an even tougher task - keeping weekly collections but also boosting recycling rates. A number of ways of doing this have been piloted by other authorities and Cornwall Council has the chance to learn from others as well as lead the way with new schemes.

It's a challenge for the Council to deliver that agenda, but the decision today answers the very strong concerns of those who passionately oppose any move to fortnightly collections because of the likely impact on tourism.

Broken Street Sign - Kensey Hill

I've reported the broken 'Kensey Hill' street sign in the picture and the Council has promised to get it re-set (in concrete) in the next couple of days.

If you know of any other signs which are damaged or defaced, please get in touch using the details on the right.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Public will be involved in 'state of Cornwall' debate

Cornwall Councillors today rejected a proposal to abolish the provision for a 'State of Cornwall debate' the has languished unused in our constitution since the inception of the new authority.

I say unused, but when I made this suggestion at today's meeting, the Leader claimed that there had been such debate last year in the form of a presentation by the Chief Executive to councillors and there would have been one this year but, er, there won't be....

I suggested that this was a missed opportunity for the Council. For all that the Leader claims that he wants openness and transparency, they miss every chance to practice this. A genuine State of Cornwall debate would allow the public, groups and businesses to come and take part in an open ended debate about what is right and what is wrong with the governance and services of Cornwall. There wouldn't need to be a formal motion to debate or any vote at the end of the process but the Council could take a back seat and simply listen to what was said and try to make things better as a result.

I was grateful that councillors agreed with what I said to the extent that Cllr Bert Biscoe and I proposed that a revamped State of Cornwall debate be kept in the constitution and be held each year.

Jeremy Rowe 1 - Alec Robertson 0

I don't think Cornwall Council's Conservative Leader Alec Robertson really enjoyed today's full council meeting. His reshuffle fell apart around him as, first of all, his Independent coalition partners rejected the concept of 'Cabinet Support Members' and refused to nominate a lead member for education, and then the council as a whole voted against his move to pay allowances to the new tier.

Alec started off brightly enough. He had a couple of pre-scripted jokes (presumably the work of his new adviser George Eustice MP) but these hardly rallied the troops when they knew what was coming.

As I blogged yesterday, the one missing piece of the reshuffle puzzle was the one additional position being offered to the Indies. We were told they would meet at 9am to choose the name. Group Leader John Wood was absent with a family bereavement but numerous indies told me he had wanted the job. The Council Leader wanted him too. Unfortunately, Indie councillors wanted their group leader to stay outside the administration hierarchy and, in a strong statement, made clear their unhappiness with the whole support member concept. And so they point blank refused to make a nomination.

The most contentious debate of the day was about the proposal to pay the new cabinet support members an additional allowance. Technically, we were being asked to appoint an independent remuneration panel which would decide on the amount each of the four would receive. But, as MK leader Dick Cole said, we knew the amount that would be paid in total and we knew the number of support members so the rest was just maths.

My colleague Jeremy Rowe and I proposed that there should be no independent remuneration panel and, consequently, no pay for support members. We didn't think that it was right, at a time when the council is cutting services and cutting jobs, that the only expansion should be in councillors' pay. The Leader claimed that the money would be found by not replacing an officer who was leaving. But he failed to address the central point that the overall budget for members' pay would be going up.

In the end, the council voted by 55 votes to 35 to back our amendment and refuse to pay cabinet support members. Where that leaves the proposal is anyone's guess. With no pay on offer, I can't see anyone else jumping at the chance to work as a full time (the Leader's words) support member. And whether the ones already appointed will stay in the job for long with no pay is anyone's guess.

So the odds on another reshuffle being needed within a few months are quite high.

It could all have been so different if Alec had listened to backbench councillors who complained that they were excluded from the decision making process. Instead of appointing an extra four councillors and seeking to pay them, he could have listened to and consulted with all 113 councillors who are not cabinet members and got them involved in the decision making process. He would have lessened the complaints, got the work done an saved taxpayers a few quid into the bargain.

Another sleep out

Back in February, I was one of 80 people who slept out overnight at County Hall in protest at Cornwall Council's plans to cut the supporting people budget by 40%.

The concern about these cuts is still huge and the Council does not yet appear to have been able to resolve the issue of how to get the same high level of service for only three fifths of the cost. Vital services such as Launceston Foyer still hang in the balance.

And so another sleep out is being planned. This one is being organised by the Churches Homeless Unit and will take place outside Truro Cathedral. After the last one I said 'never again'. But this issue is still huge and vital services are still under threat and so I'm planning to go to this one too and will be joined by my colleague Derris Watson (front left of the photo above).

If you would like to join in, the sleep out is taking place at High Cross, Truro on the night of Sunday 29th May and people can arrive at anytime after 8pm. Even though the weather is a lot warmer than the -1 we had in February, please bring warm clothes and sleeping bags.

Monday, 16 May 2011

Cabinet Reshuffle

Cornwall Council's Tory Leader Alec Robertson has announced his reshuffled Cabinet. (He did so after 9pm on a Friday night, so I bet the press officers who had to stay at work were thrilled).



The major change is the introduction of Cabinet Support Members. Alec has promised that introducing them won't result in higher allowances overall, but the price of around £32,000 will have to be found from somewhere. Tory backbencher Olive Eggleston speaks for many when she writes that if Cabinet members can't do the job themselves and need assistance, perhaps they should be paying out of their own extra allowances. But the Western Morning News reports that the money will be found from the ‘scheduled departure of an officer’. So whilst pay for staff is frozen and front line posts such as those providing specialist support for deaf children are not being filled, it’s considered okay to put more money into the pockets of the Conservative group.



The Independent councillors in the Cabinet are a matter for that group and there are no changes, although Neil Burden will see his responsibilities cut as Education is given to an (as yet un-named) Support Member. Rumour has it that the Leader wanted to appoint John Wood, Leader of the Indies, to the post but his group refused to back this, preferring their leader to sit outside Cabinet.



Is education really of such little importance now that it doesn't deserve a voting place around the Cabinet table and the new Cabinet is announced without the postholder's name even being known? I would suggest this is a curious decision given the huge shake up going on at the moment, with many schools considering becoming community trusts or even academies. 


Among the Tories, much has changed. Two cabinet members have been demoted to support members. Another, Carolyn Rule, has been moved sideways to take over the curious mish-mash of Health & Wellbeing and Human Resources. Her former position in charge of the Economy and Regeneration has gone to Chris Ridgers. Is this Carolyn taking the fall for the slow start of the new Local Enterprise Partnership? Most observers would suggest that the Leader has been involved at least as much as Carolyn and there are stories of Carolyn falling out with Chief Executive Kevin Lavery over the performance of the Cornwall Development Company.



The other cabinet newcomer is Ray Tovey who will be responsible for Localism and Devolution. I presume that this signals a new impetus for this subject as Lance Kennedy never seemed to have a grip on the issues involved and was often ridiculed at Council meetings for never mentioning the subject.



Both Ray and Chris were good performers on the backbenches so we will see whether they are able to show any dynamism in their new jobs or whether they will be strangled by the corporate structure.



So whilst two cabinet members have been demoted, none have actually been sacked. Is it the case that Alec can't actually afford to alienate anyone at the moment?

The fourth cabinet support member is Steve Double, who recently lost the election to be the Conservative Group's Deputy Leader. The victor of that contest, Scott Mann must feel a bit sore that he won the election but missed out on the job. And what about Fiona Ferguson, who challenged Alec Robertson himself for the top job?

Many more questions remain. Who will these support members report to - the Leader or the Cabinet member who used to do their job? Who will take the position vacated by Chris Ridgers as Chair of the Children, Schools and Families scrutiny committee. Vice Chair John Pollard is the obvious candidate but may fall victim to the desire to replace a Tory with a Tory.

According to the Western Morning News, the Conservatives have also set up a new ‘communications group’, part of a charm offensive by the beleaguered Cllr Robertson to shore up his position. This group will be advised by Camborne MP George Eustice and has been dubbed ‘the committee to re-elect the President’ by my colleague Jeremy Rowe. I wonder whether this intervention by Mr Eustice will be more successful than his last foray into Council business which saw Sir John Banham imposed as chair of the new LEP - apparently without any input from the Council. Sir John ended up costing local taxpayers £46,000 and producing a report which was disowned by the Council.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

First should provide more in return for longer franchise

First has announced that it is to surrender the Great Western rail franchise, but only so that it can bid for a longer contract - perhaps one as long as 20 years. As the major rail provider for Cornwall, local residents and businesses will be paying close attention to what happens.

If First are to get their long term franchise then they need to promise a better service for customers. In particular, they need to get the punctuality record up to at least the UK average; they need to bring down some of the stupendously high fares and they need to provide a regular service to smaller Cornish stations.

But most of all, they need to guarantee the number of trains per day that will run as far as Penzance and abandon any moves to end the mainline service at Plymouth or Exeter.

UPDATE - St Ives MP Andrew George has insisted that the existing timetable of through trains to Penzance should be considered the absolute minimum for the new franchise.

Free after 4

After my post on Wednesday about the lack of publicity for the new car park charging hours, Cornwall Council put a small extra notice on the parking boards in town. So small that drivers are still paying when they don't have to.

So I've now produced this short video and, from Monday, we'll be taking the 'Free after 4' campaign across the town.

Weekly Bins Campaign Success!

Cornwall is set to keep weekly black bag waste collections despite proposals by the Council to move to a fortnightly service for black bag waste. On Wednesday the Cabinet will agree a new waste contract that keeps weekly collections after residents voted by 65% to 35% in favour of the weekly service.

I trust that the Conservative led Cabinet to respect that view and drop any plans to move to a fortnightly service.

My Liberal Democrat colleagues and I campaigned to keep the weekly bin collections and fortnightly recycling service because we believed that the consequences of a change for our tourist industry and for those homes without outside space would have been severe.

But there is a concern that the Tory Cabinet may be about to break their promise of a weekly food collection. The ballot paper given to residents made it clear that this new service would be offered whichever option was chosen. However it is only listed as an option in the Cabinet papers. This was explained as allowing legally watertight bids to be made by operators, but we need to make sure that the Council is not allowed to sneak out of that pledge now.

There is no doubt that fortnightly collections would have helped boost the recycling rate. But I think there are many other ways of also doing so and the Council should concentrate on these in future rather than the hugely unpopular threat to abandon weekly rubbish collections.

Woburn Road application withdrawn

Yesterday I got the great news that the application to build houses on the village green at Woburn Road has been withdrawn by the Council.

That's great news for local residents for now, but we expect a new application to be made at some point in the future.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Rip-off Cornwall - Drivers being fleeced thanks to poor signage

Cornwall Council has found yet another way to rip off motorists. New parking charges have come into force and many drivers are paying when they don't have to thanks to poor signage.

As I have blogged ad nauseum in the past, parking charges for all except the first hour have risen and season tickets have more than doubled in price. The only two little bits of good news are that the first hour charge in Launceston and many other smaller towns has fallen from 70p to 50p and the hours of charging have been cut by one so that parking is free after 4pm.

The trouble is that most motorists don't know that they can park for free after 4pm. The signs have been altered, but in such tiny print that nobody notices. Have a look at the picture on the left. It hardly stands out.

Today I pulled into the Tower Street car park at just after four and saw a queue of people putting money into the machine to pay. Each of them got their ticket before I could get out of the car to tell them that they did not need to.

And so I have asked the Council to take urgent action and put new signs on each of the car parks to tell people that they do not need to pay after 4pm. I don't want to see yet more tiny print. Let's make a virtue of the free parking. How's about something like my mock-up on the right?

Will Cornwall's LEP fail first openness and transparency test?

The new Cornwall Local Enterprise Partnership seems set to fail its first big test of openness, transparency and involvement. It appears that a decision to bid for an Enterprise Zone based on Newquay Airport is likely to go ahead without other potential bidders getting a hearing.

The Cornwall LEP was something that all parties across Cornwall agreed to in concept, but the implementation of the new body has been fraught with difficulties. First of all the initial Chair, Sir John Banham, "chose not to apply for the permanent job" (some might say he was sacked) after producing a manifesto for the LEP which had no support from the Council.

In addition, the process for appointing the Board members still has not been finalised despite a pledge from Tory Council Leader Alec Robertson that everything would be sorted by the end of April.

And finally the involvement of a broad section of Cornish business seems to be in doubt with many firms questioning why they were excluded and their views not taken into account.

The first big task for the LEP is to bid for an Enterprise Zone for Cornwall. These Government-backed initiatives are meant to encourage new firms to start up with rate relief, reduced planning burdens and other incentives. With the LEP not yet in operation, Cornwall Council had to take the first step of submitting an 'expression of interest' in having an Enterprise Zone for Cornwall.

As I have blogged before, I think that the EZ should be sited in East Cornwall - an area which always seems to miss out on investment and has benefited far less from structural funding like Objective One and Convergence than other areas. Given our location on the A30 and with the best connections to markets in England and the continent, I put forward the idea that Launceston would be the ideal site. All five Launceston councillors, plus the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce and of the Town Council have backed the bid and I wrote to Carolyn Rule, Cabinet Member for the Economy and Regeneration, asking for a meeting with herself and the new Chair of the LEP, Chris Pomfret, to make our case.

Whilst I have had no reply at all from Carolyn, Council Leader Alec Robertson has now sent an email to all councillors saying that the bid is likely to be based around Newquay Airport - incidentally on land which is owned by Cornwall Council.

Alec wrote:

"early indications are that an EZ which includes the development site around Newquay Airport could be Cornwall’s best chance of demonstrating how an EZ would create jobs, drive growth and support the wider economy in Cornwall on a scale necessary to win a national competition"

I'm not saying that a Newquay Airport bid would be a bad thing. But it seems entirely wrong to be going ahead with this without giving other potential bids the chance to make their case. Newquay may be good, but other sites could be better. If Cornwall is to be successful we should have the best bid and the best chance to get this is through an open and transparent selection procedure. Other possible areas including Saltash, Liskeard and Penryn will, no doubt, be equally disappointed. It's not just bad manners, but it reinforces the centralised approach to economic development in Cornwall.

So it looks as though the new LEP has flunked the chance to be open, transparent and consultative in its first major task. It seems that the culture of County Hall will prevail with this new body and that's definitely a step in the wrong direction.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Hare brained Tory plan for rich to buy their way into university

There has been lots of concern today about the apparent plan by Universities Minister David Willetts to allow universities to create extra places and allow companies, charities and the rich to buy their way in.

Such a scheme would inevitably come at a cost to places for poorer, but no less bright students.

I'm very glad that it appears that the Prime Minister has quashed the plan.

I was going to write a long post on the subject, but will simply point you instead to my friend Mark Valladares who sums up my views perfectly. You can read his post here.

Fair funding campaign launched by Cornwall Lib Dems

Cornwall Council will be asked to address the unfair treatment of parts of Cornwall in a motion submitted to the Annual Council Meeting next week.

My colleague Ann Kerridge, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Bodmin West will be proposing the motion. She has said: “The Council already has to collect data to measure whether or not women, the disabled and other minority groups are receiving fair treatment in terms of employment and services. I think it is just as important that we have the data so we can assess whether all parts of Cornwall are getting a fair deal."

“Kevin Lavery and the Tory led cabinet have to realise that most people think that Truro always comes first and the rush to build a stadium at the taxpayers’ expense near Truro does nothing to dispel that perception.”

Jeremy Rowe (Councillor for St Issey and newly elected leader of the Liberal Democrat group) said: “The composition of the Cabinet with just 3 members from East Cornwall and seven from the Western half imposes a responsibility to demonstrate that all of Cornwall is getting a fair deal. The fact that most of the Council’s senior officers live near County Hall only increases the feeling that East Cornwall is the poor relation. Let’s get the facts on the table so councillors and the public have the evidence to judge where most of the council’s money is being spent.”

Edwina Hannaford (Liberal Democrat Councillor for Looe West and Lansallos) said: “I am especially interested in economic development. It’s quite wrong that all the effort is directed at the ‘Golden Triangle’ bounded by Truro, Falmouth and Camborne with the rest of the county getting very little attention. Earlier in the year when East Cornwall was getting the lion’s share of library cuts we had to fight to get a fairer balance. If fairness across Cornwall was addressed in the first place then a lot of time and heartache would be saved.”

Tamsin Williams (Liberal Democrat Councillor for Penzance West) added: "It is essential that all parts of Cornwall are recognised and given the help they deserve. Cornwall has some of the poorest areas in the UK. Penzance is an example of this. It is the Council's duty to prioritise the whole of Cornwall from a strategic point of view, so we can survive and compete in such a challenging economic climate. Cornwall Council was formed as a Single Strategic authority for the whole of Cornwall. It is about time the current Tory-led administration delivered on that promise."

Monday, 9 May 2011

New Lib Dem Shadow Cabinet chosen

Cornwall Council’s Liberal Democrats have unveiled our new Shadow Cabinet and Leadership team at our AGM in St Austell earlier today.

Following the recent retirement of Doris Ansari as Group Leader at Cornwall Council, Jeremy Rowe has been elected to replace her and I have been chosen as the new Deputy Leader. We have also unveiled our new Shadow Cabinet team who will be calling the struggling Conservative/Independent coalition at County Hall to account after a series of recent blunders.

Welcoming two new members to the Shadow Cabinet Jeremy Rowe said: “In Nathan Bale and Geoff Brown we have two Councillors who are well known for their hard work in their communities. They will bring valuable expertise to the areas of Health and Housing - two of the most serious issues facing Cornwall today. The Tory-led administration in Truro are clearly failing and it falls to us to make sure that they are properly scrutinised and called to account.”

I believe there is a leadership vacuum at County Hall as the people who are meant to be running the Council are too busy fighting amongst themselves instead of doing the job the Cornish people expect them to do. Our Shadow team is made up of a talented group of committed individuals who have already started working hard to make sure the voices of the people outside the concrete walls of County Hall are heard.

The selection of the new Lib Dem leadership team is in stark contrast to the recent bungled attempt by the Conservative Council group to dislodge their own leader. Alec Robertson only narrowly won a confidence vote and now faces the prospect of limping on for the next two years without the support of around half of his own backbenchers.

Jeremy Rowe said: “It is more important than ever that we challenge the Council’s Cabinet. They have become more and more remote as the months have rolled on and it falls to us to provide the constructive critical input that they have lacked from their own benches.”

The new Shadow Cabinet is:

Jeremy Rowe - Leader
Alex Folkes - Deputy Leader and Libraries, Leisure and Culture portfolio
Ann Kerridge - Finance and Corporate Support portfolio
Graham Walker - Schools portfolio
Tamsin Williams - Children portfolio
Bob Austin - Highways and Transportation portfolio
Edwina Hannaford - Economy and Regeneration portfolio
Geoff Brown - Housing and Planning portfolio
Nathan Bale - Health and Adult Care portfolio
Roy Taylor - Waste and Environment portfolio
Adam Paynter - Community Safety portfolio

Friday, 6 May 2011

New parking restrictions come into force

The new parking restrictions and charges have come into force in Launceston and I have received a number of complaints.

People are, as predicted, angry about the decision of Cornwall Council to raise charges and there are concerns that shoppers will choose either to go to out of town supermarkets in preference to town centre shops or that they will take a chance on not getting a ticket by parking on the street.

There is also anger about the decision to restrict parking in all but one car park to just three hours at a time. Until now, many people used the town centre car parks for longer stays even though they had to pay slightly more for the privilege. Forcing long stay parking into the Cattle Market car park - up a steep hill and without a safe crossing - is very short-sighted in my view.

The effect of what I think is the stupidest change - raising season ticket prices from £195 last year to £400 this year and plans for £600 next - will not be felt for a while. Many season ticket holders took the chance to renew their permit just before the price rise (even if they still had some months to run on their old tickets).

When these decisions were being made, I argued against the proposal in each case mentioned above, as did hundreds of local residents. Regrettably, the Conservative led Cabinet has decided to press on regardless.

I know that our Town Council is talking to Cornwall Council about taking over responsibility for one or more of these car parks. Given the Conservative's shockingly bad record of managing them - for instance, they didn't even know they were making a shortfall until 10 months into the last year - I hope that these talks hurry up!

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The value of a BT 'promise'

In years to come, I shall tell my (as yet non-existent) kids that the moment my broadband speed became truly terrible was the moment that I received a letter from BT telling me that they were 'up-grading' my service and promising much faster speeds.

To those living in areas that can only dream of anything above 2 minute page loads, I apologise. But before the 'up-grade' I was getting between 5 and 8 meg download. Now I'm lucky to get 1meg and suddenly watching BBC IPlayer is an exercise in staccato speech.

Am now totally unconvinced by anything BT say and serious disputing whether 'superfast' next generation broadband isn't actually going to take us back to dial-up speeds.

A bit late in the day, but sorry to lose Ken Taylor

I'm afraid that I've only just picked up on the sad news of the death of Ken Taylor, father of former Truro MP Matthew.

Ken was a screenwriter of some renown and will be best remembered for adapting The Jewel in the Crown for TV, although I recall he was also rather proud of The Camomile Lawn which dealt with rather racy themes (for 1982) and got dubbed Camomile Porn by some wag.

Tim Pigott-Smith has written a good obituary in the Guardian, concentrating on Ken's professional career.

I knew Ken and his wife Jill through Matthew and because they very kindly gave me a bed for a couple of weeks when I started working in the House of Commons during a gap year after leaving school. Matthew, as my MP, had got me work with Paddy Ashdown and also kindly volunteered his old room in his parents' house. I was never quite sure whether he checked with them first. But Ken and Jill were magnificently welcoming and hospitable and it was rather weird to be staying in a room decorated with pictures from Matthew's student activism days - long hair, long coat, moody looks and all.

My thoughts are with Jill, Pam, Matthew, Vikki and Simon.

New Lib Dem Leadership team for Cornwall announced

Following the decision by Doris Ansari to step down as the Liberal Democrat Leader on Cornwall Council, my colleague Jeremy Rowe has been unanimously backed to be the new group leader. Jeremy was formerly the Deputy Leader and I also received unanimous support to take over that role.

Jeremy said:

"At a time when the Conservatives are fracturing at every turn and seeking to depose their leader, it is in marked contrast that the Liberal Democrats are united in our desire to campaign for a more open and fairer deal for the residents of Cornwall."

"Doris Ansari did a great job in establishing the Lib Dems at County Hall and exposing the failures and flaws in the current administration. Under my leadership, the Lib Dems will be building an inclusive Cornwall, bringing together the best of business, the voluntary sector and community groups. Local people have seen what a Tory administration means with service cuts and a refusal to listen and they want different. The Liberal Democrats will be presenting this in the run up to the council elections in two years' time."

For myself, I believe Cornwall's Liberal Democrats have stood up for local communities who have seen their services cut by the Conservatives. We have built campaigns with local groups to save local libraries and bus routes and against unfair parking charges. In contrast, the Conservatives seem happy to spend all their time fighting amongst themselves and employing consultants on fantasy schemes.

Cornwall's Tory leader is so unpopular that he only held onto his job by a few votes. The Conservative Group is split down the middle and seems set to concentrate on internal rifts rather than doing the best for the people of Cornwall.

The remainder of the new Liberal Democrat Shadow Cabinet will be announced following the group AGM on Monday afternoon.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Cameron seeks to ban gay kissing before 9pm

David Cameron's decision to tell The Sun that he wants to see a change to broadcasting rules to ban the screening of same sex kisses before the 9pm watershed is yet another test of Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems.

It's a dog whistle issue for Conservatives and harks back to the Section 28 agenda of the 1980s. And it is no coincidence that he should choose to have made these remarks to The Sun - a paper not exactly known for its tolerance.

It's a test for Clegg because Cameron has designed it as such. The Lib Dems exist on a platform of tolerance - the preamble of our constitution is written on every membership card and says that nobody should be enslaved by conformity. The most natural reaction of most Lib Dem members would be outrage and I have no reason to think that Nick Clegg's thoughts would be any different.

But his second reaction will be that he shouldn't rise to the bait. Does he really want to pick a fight on this issue just before local election polling day? He knows, after all, that most of the 'modern' Conservative leadership are almost as socially liberal as they are economically so. That is why they have been able to do business with the likes of Clegg, Huhne and Laws. In this respect, Cameron is isolated and a bit of a throwback to Conservatives past.

But on balance this is an issue where Clegg should make known his displeasure with Cameron. It is important in itself, but it is also a debate that is representative of a whole series of other key issues to do with the diversity of the UK. So I hope that Nick decides publicly, as well as in private, that a coalition government can have no truck with the bigotry of the past.

Monday, 2 May 2011

Fighting plans for new development on Woburn Road

This morning I met with David Shadrick and Phil Wagstaff who are residents of Woburn Road and who are concerned about the application to build five homes on the green there.

The green has been used as open amenity space by people from the whole of the southern part of our town for decades and any development there would be quite out of character. The space is used by lots of dog walkers as well as children to play games and even horse riders. Despite all this use, it is a very clean and tidy area (I didn't see any dog mess at all) and is teeming with wildlife including birds and squirrels.

The application would mean five new houses and the loss of a number of good trees and a threat to others including an oak which clearly pre-dates all development in the area. The new houses would also be very close to the noisy A30 and the slip-road out of town and would back on to a high hedge meaning they would have very little light.

One particular concern is that, although only five houses are shown on the current outline application, a developer might seek to alter this to put up to a dozen much smaller units on the site. Whilst there might be off street parking for one car each if just five houses are built, any more would lead inevitably to parking on a narrow road.

So far, David and Phil have collected more than 200 signatures on a petition against the plans and they are also seeking to have the area designated as a village green to try to protect it into the future.