Tuesday, 31 July 2012

New season ticket prices start tomorrow

From tomorrow (1st August) the new season ticket prices for the Cattle Market car park in Launceston come into effect.

Instead of being charged £470 for a season ticket, the new price will be £200 for the year.

Town centre workers and residents will have just three months to buy the tickets at this price as this is a trial only. 

The season ticket can be obtained by using the online request form on the Cornwall Council website www.cornwall.gov.uk/parking or by telephoning 0300 1234 222 and providing details.  In both cases the permit team will contact the individual to take a payment and issue the permit.  Payment can be made by credit or debit card, by cheque or in instalments by direct debit (2 months payment in advance will be required).

Existing annual season ticket holders can exchange their current tickets for the new Cattle Market ticket and receive a pro rata refund.  

In normal circumstances the customer seeking a replacement permit would send in a permit for replacement and would be expected to pay for their parking while awaiting the replacement.

To reduce the time that the existing customers are without a permit the Council is facilitating exchanges of old and new permits to take place for one week beginning 20 August at Launceston One Stop Shop.  Please note that permits must be paid for in advance via the permit team and cannot be purchased at the One Stop Shop.  Replacement permits will not be handed over without receipt of the old permit. 

Existing season ticket holders that cannot exchange during this week will have to send in the old season ticket and pay for parking until they receive the replacement permit.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Cornwall Cabinet sticks 'For Sale' sign on key council services

Cornwall Council's cabinet today took irrevocable steps towards the privatisation of key frontline services including libraries and one stop shops. The decision was taken despite the Cabinet member in charge of large parts of the programme complaining that he had not been properly kept in the loop.

The debate was on the idea of issuing an invitation to tender (ITT) to form a new joint venture with a private company to both deliver existing services and to find new business and create new jobs in Cornwall. Once the ITT has been issued, the process can't be stopped unless neither bidder comes back with a compliant bid.

And so this decision has been taken by the ten members of the Cabinet with no reference to the wider council membership and despite the fact that it will commit the council to large-scale privatisation of our services. And there will be no elected person sitting on the board of the new company. Cornwall Council's interests will be represented by the (unelected) Chief Executive.

At today's meeting, the councillor who chaired the scrutiny single issue panel - David Biggs - outlined a large number of areas which he said had not been properly considered. In a hugely eloquent speech, Cllr Biggs essentially said that there are too many unknowns and the cabinet was being asked to buy a pig in a poke. But the concerns of the scrutiny panel were largely ignored as the cabinet members took a "something must be done and this is something" attitude.

What has not been considered is either the original proposal of retaining council staff within the council and simply joining with the private sector to look for new business or forming a mutual with the health service to make savings across the public sector but without private sector involvement. With both these possibilities ignored, I would argue that the cabinet cannot be said to have considered all the options.

One concern that was raised within the cabinet was over library and one stop shop services. The worry is that these are not areas where profits can be made and so they will face slow decline under private management. Cllr Burden proposed taking these areas out of the proposed contract but he got no support.

The overall theme of the meeting was over the ideals of a private sector company. Where these are shared with the council - for instance winning new business and bringing new jobs to Cornwall - then the venture could be successful. But we have to remember that the number one aim of the private sector company will be to make money for its shareholders, not to deliver high quality public services and sometimes the two will conflict. More than a thousand jobs will disappear from Cornwall Council's books in this move and we were warned that things could get worse before they get better.

At the end of the debate, there were eight votes in favour of the scheme and one against. A big hand to Cllr Mark Kaczmarek for sticking to his guns on this. There was also one cabinet member who abstained and, as Jeremy Rowe said, you have to ask why Jim Currie, who investigated the deal more than any other cabinet member, was one of the most skeptical of what was on offer.

In short, can we trust a council that couldn't even collect bins to have planned for every eventuality in this new venture? Because if they haven't then within a couple of weeks it will be too late.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Cornwall Council's Olympic celebrations start with P45s

With timing about as bad as it is possible to be, Cornwall Council has today sent redundancy notices to the staff employed at Camelford Leisure Centre and warned of the possible closure of the centre. So whilst the rest of the UK is looking forward to tonight's Olympic Opening Ceremony, these hard working sports staff are looking for new jobs.

Cornwall Council announced a year ago that it was closing Camelford Leisure Centre. It is only thanks to some very hard and fast work by the local community that it hasn't been shut already. The hope is still that the community group can keep the centre open, but today's redundancy notices aren't exactly a sign of good progress. Even if the facility is kept open beyond the current cut off point at the end of October, it seems likely to be without the well trained and experienced staff who have run it up to now.

Why the council picked on the community of Camelford and their leisure centre has still never been properly explained. Whilst other centres have lost money left right and centre, Camelford has seen user numbers and membership numbers increased and subsidy levels cut. It's now one of the most efficient centres in Cornwall. Yet still the Conservative led council refuses to agree to keep it open.

Half an inkling of backdown as government asks rail bidders to price up current service

It looks like the Government has given a modicum of hope that rail services to London won't be cut by a third. This follows intervention by three of Cornwall's MPs and a visit to London by the head of Cornwall's LEP and the council leader.

In tender documents sent out to potential bidders, the government had suggested that the current nine services each way each day between Penzance and London could be cut to just six. This at a time when huge investment is taking place to electrify large sections of track elsewhere in the UK.

But three Cornish MPs - Andrew George, Dan Rogerson and  George Eustice - went to lobby the minister along with Chris Pomfret, Chair of the LEP, and Council Leader Alec Robertson. Now the bidders have been asked to price two alternatives - retaining the current level of service alongside the cut to six trains a day.

The final decision won't be made for a while and we need to keep the lobbying up. Cornwall Council produced a very good original submission on the future of our local rail network. It now looks certain that we won't get the improvement we wanted but there is a small hope that we can avoid significant losses.

Office moves - who's telling the truth - UPDATED

A week ago, Cornwall Council's cabinet agreed the latest in a line of decisions to rationalise the number of office buildings used by the authority (and yes, that does mean cut). This is a largely sensible programme to save money. If the council can move staff into a smaller number of buildings and sell or give up the lease on others, we can be more efficient and save money.

The two caveats to this welcome are:
  • that we should not use this as an excuse to 'gold-plate' the remaining offices
  • that we want to keep a presence in towns across Cornwall
The latter is the subject of some debate now. At the Cabinet meeting I asked about keeping our presence in all the towns we are currently in. So whilst it might be okay to move staff in Bodmin from one building to another to save money, we would be opposed to moving staff from one town to another. I got the assurance that the Council had no plans to move staff between towns or to move out of towns altogether.

And so the story on the front page of today's Cornish Guardian is puzzling to say the least. It is based on an email from the head of one of the council's services to his staff. He makes it quite clear that staff will be moved from Liskeard to Wadebridge and then to Bodmin when new offices are built there in a couple of years time. And when they move they will be entitled to claim 45p per mile for travelling because of the change of base.

But this email is clearly at odds with the assurances councillors were given when the decision to build the new Bodmin offices was taken. We were told categorically that staff based in Liskeard would stay in Liskeard and staff based in Wadebridge would stay in Wadebridge.

In response, the council has said that
'at times a limited number of staff were moved between offices for efficiency reasons'
which once again contradicts the assurances we were given last week.

I should point out that the proposed moves only affect one service - but it is a service with staff across Cornwall. How many other heads of service have written similar emails to their staff which have yet to come to light?

UPDATE - The move as planned currently only involves two members of staff. As such, it still contradicts the assurances that councillors were given but cannot be said to be leading towards the closure of either Luxstowe House or Higher Trenant.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Devon & Cornwall Police and Crime Panel - first meeting

The shadow police and crime panel for Devon and Cornwall met this afternoon for the first (and only) time. The next time it convenes will be to begin the process of holding the new elected Police and Crime Commissioner to account.

The Police and Crime Commissioner is an elected post which replaces the current Police Authority. It is the brainwave of the Conservatives and is being created to provide an accountable and human face to law enforcement. The new person will have the power to hire and fire the Chief Constable and to set the strategic aims of the police service.

The Panel is meant to provide checks and balances on the Commissioner. It is made up of all the local councils in Devon and Cornwall with membership in rough proportion to population. So each of the Devon districts, plus Devon County Council and Torbay Unitary have one representative. The Council of the Isles of Scilly has one rep, Plymouth City Council has two and Cornwall Council has five. Overall there are ten Conservatives, three Labour members, three Lib Dems and two Independents. A further two co-opted, non-councillor members will be appointed before October.

Today's meeting, which I attended as one of the Cornwall reps, was largely procedural, electing a Chair and Vice Chair for the term of the shadow panel (ie just today) and, mnore importantly, setting up a work programme for how we will scrutinise the work of the Commissioner. Two of his first tasks will be to appoint a new Chief Constable (the Panel will hold a confirmation hearing and has the power to veto an appointment) and to set a crime reduction strategy for Devon and Cornwall. The Panel will have extensive input into the latter.

Dutson Road plans approved

The planning application to convert the former Abbeyfield Home in Dutson Road into 11 flats has been approved by Cornwall Council at tonight's planning committee.

Following representations from local residents and the town council, I had opposed this application on a number of grounds and achieved some success in changing the original proposal:

  • I argued that the intention of having just 9 parking spaces for the 11 flats was not sufficient for a development where it could be assumed that there would be at least one car per property. There are now 11 spaces being provided, but I remain concerned that some are too small and difficult to get into and so people will park on the road instead - causing congestion and danger;
  • I argued that there should be a contribution from the developer to education provision in town adn this was accepted by the committee which imposed a condition of a contribution in respect of the three 2 bedroom flats;
  • I argued that the exit for cars onto the highway from both front and rear car parking spaces was dangerous and would lead to accidents. Unfortunately this argument was not accepted by the committee.

The proposal that has been agreed is a step forward from the original application and I am glad to see these improvements. Although I remain concerned about road safety in the area, the bringing back into use of this building is a good thing and I wish the developer well.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Lib Dems win battle with Treasury over green energy subsidies

It looks as though Lib Dem Energy Secretary Ed Davey has come out on top in his battle with Chancellor George Osborne over the level of subsidies that renewable energy producers will get in the future.

This has been a hugely volatile issue ever since the coalition took power. They inherited a regime which promised massive payments to domestic and commercial producers of green energy in the form of a high 'feed-in tariff' - the amount paid for every unit of energy fed into the system. Whilst this high level helped to kick start the building of green power systems, it probably wasn't sustainable in the long term.

And so, under Treasury orders, the feed-in tariff was cut overnight. Those people with schemes being built complained that they were being discriminated against and the court allowed a period of grace before the cut came into force. One of the developers to miss out was Cornwall Council which had planned a major solar farm at Newquay Airport. Plans for that went into the bin.

Since then, the Treasury has again demanded a cut in subsidies and the debate has raged between the Chancellor's preferred 25% and Ed Davey's favoured 10%. The producers claim that anything more than a 10% cut will make green energy unprofitable. Of course they would say that, wouldn't they. But that doesn't make it untrue.

What is clear is that, like most businesses, green energy producers need a period of stability. Continued revisions to the feed-in tariff, other subsidies or regulatory backgrounds (and that includes planning) really won't help. Let's have some stability and hope that developers will build good quality schemes in the right places. If they don't then that is the time to consider tweaking subsidy levels.

I've always been pre-disposed to favour wind and solar power schemes. They have to be in the right place, of course and we shouldn't be nodding through everything that is put before us. But the alternative, as the government has made clear, are more nuclear power stations. I know which I would prefer in Cornwall.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Localism Latest - £50 charge to towns and parishes to get hold of phone numbers

Cornwall Council is trying to charge town and parish councils £50 to use a 'crypto-card' to access direct dial phone numbers for officers. Not surprisingly, a large number of towns and parishes see this as a rip-off. 

At present town and parish councils are sent a telephone booklet which contains a small number of key telephone numbers.  This booklet, which is sent out once a year, takes around two weeks to put together.  As well as quickly going out of date following changes in staffing, there is also a cost for printing and distributing the booklet.  In contrast the CRYPTOCard gives access to the council’s entire phone directory which is kept up-to-date in real-time. The information given includes officer’s land and mobile phone numbers , their line managers, and who they themselves manage. It also includes a keyword search facility to make it easier to find the appropriate officer for their enquiry.

So the crypto-card is undoubtedly better and more accurate. But, whilst £50 to a large town council such as Launceston is not a lot, it is a huge amount for some of the small parishes which don't have a local budget to speak of.

In response to criticism, Cornwall Council says this:
"The cost is not being used to subsidise the Intranet.  The £50 charge covers the cost of the CRYPTOCard, distribution and the IT support necessary to provide this access. No rental or annual fee is involved. It is the same amount paid by internal Council services. The charge includes providing parish and town councils with support and advice in the use of the CRYPTOCard to access the council's network via their own computers.  Providing the card free of charge to town and parish councils would, in fact, cost council tax payers in Cornwall around £10,600.

As a one off payment that gives access to such a huge amount of up-to-date information, £50 must be a good offer!"
But the Council is failing to understand is that money for town and parish councils doesn't grow on trees. If they need to spend an extra £50 then it has to come from taxpayers in the form of an extra levy on council tax - so the result is the same. In order to avoid the negative publicity and bad feeling, perhaps Cornwall Council should have demonstrated a slightly more friendly attitude to localism and not tried to make this charge.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Elan's grass-cutting failure means play area is a no-go - UPDATED

Even though Elan Homes have mostly finished their work at Kensey Valley Meadow in Launceston, residents are still being left in the lurch with grass cutting not being done.

As part of the handover to Cornwall Council, Elan are still maintaining the open spaces on the estate until the end of the summer. Or at least they are meant to be. Grass cutting on the top square of the estate - a very popular play area - hasn't been done for many months and the grass is now at least 2 feet tall. Other open spaces on the estate have seen some cuts.

With the school holidays now started, local kids want a safe place to play and the top square should be one such area.

I've asked council officers to get Elan Homes to do what they promised or to undertake the work ourselves and bill the developer.

UPDATE - Elan have promised to cut the grass 'as soon as possible'. 

UPDATE 2 - The grass was cut today. Thanks to Council officers and Elan for responding - we'll now be keeping eyes out to make sure it is done on a regular basis.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

We will NOT be seeing a Mayor for Cornwall

Despite the rather over the top articles in the media, Cornwall is not about to go down the route of having an elected mayor. And I'm disappointed that the Councils Comms Unit is pushing the idea.

What Cornwall is doing is conducting a governance review. A panel of councillors (including me) is looking at the various different options for making decisions and engaging with residents. The Localism Act allows councils to consider a range of options including a change back to the committee system. We have always been able to consider the mayoral system and that is, technically, one of the options now.

But, in order to follow that path, someone has to be pushing for it. This either has to be a councillor or a petition organised by the public. There is certainly no appetite that I know of among the public and the only councillor I have heard say anything nice about the mayoral system is Labour Cllr Jude Robinson - and she isn't pushing for the change.

The real debate is over whether we stay with a version of the Leader and Cabinet model or a form of committee system. Both have their merits and it is true to say that both can work well and both can work badly. Councillors on the panel are discussing the experiences of other authorities and a specialist group led by the Bishop of Truro is taking evidence from as many people as possible including those that the Council does business with on a regular basis.

So how come the media is concentrating on the possibility of an elected mayor?

At first I though it was them getting the wrong end of the stick. But it turns out to be fuelled by Cornwall Council's own Comms Department. A recent op-ed piece written by that team is titled:
Will we see a Mayor for Cornwall?
The simple answer is - No, we definitely won't. And I suggest that the Comms team turns up to the future meetings of the Governance Review Panel and follows the debate to find out just how out of touch they are with the views of their own members.

The other side of Parking Charges - pay and display

After the great news about season ticket prices coming down, last night the Launceston Community Network Panel had a discussion about the hourly rates for pay and display tickets.

We start off at a disadvantage in that Cornwall Council is still insisting on raising a certain amount from each car park and uses a spreadsheet to judge whether income from a proposed change would be acceptable or not. In essence, they do not agree that lower prices might attract substantially more drivers to park in our car parks - enough to actually see an increase in income despite the lower costs.

However, on the basis of this restriction, they have modelled a number of options and one which is gaining a lot of support is to abolish the first hour charge and move straight to a £1 for up to 2 hours charge.

On the plus side, this would encourage people to do more than dash in and dash out of town. On the negative side, people who genuinely only want a short stay might feel that their costs have been doubled.

However, with 42 free limited waiting bays available around the town centre, there is still a high possibility that drivers can park for half an hour or an hour for nothing anyway.

One twist that was proposed - but which has not yet been put to parking managers - is to allow a 10 or 15 minute free period in the car parks. Drivers would still need to get a ticket for that period, but it might assist those who are on a 'dash in/dash out' mission to a single shop.

With or without this twist, what do people think about the proposal to reduce the two hour charge to £1 but abolish the option of a single hour? All comments welcome.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Cornwall's Higher Education Bursary agreed by Cabinet

This morning, Cornwall Council's cabinet agreed to press ahead with the plan for a higher education bursary. As I've written before, it's a good scheme which will provide a lot of help to local young people. But I raised some concerns about the details and got some answers:

- The current plan is to target students studying 'competitive' degrees at the top 30 universities. Cllr Bert Biscoe suggested that this was discriminatory and that we should not be cutting off at the top 30 universities and, in particular, that we should be including universities in Cornwall within the scheme. Others have also suggested that there are degrees which are currently excluded from the plan which are still of huge value to Cornwall.

- I raised the issue of the proposal to give £30 to every student from Cornwall, regardless of their family wealth or income. I suggested that this money could be better targeted at the poorest students. In response, the cabinet member suggested that he wanted to see a universal system of support, regardless of income. He also said that, by including all students in the scheme, the council was more likely to attract advertisers to the website that lists the things the money can be spent on. The director of education made the suggestion (but gave no guarantee) that the amount got in from advertisers could even be enough to cover the costs of giving the £30 to richer students.

I'm still not sold on this. I think that this is money which could be better targeted at the students from poorer backgrounds. Giving them up to £3000 over 3 years is very welcome, but is only a drop in the ocean compared with the estimated £50,000 of debt they will leave college with. Could we provide a little more help in targeted cases?

- Some, like my colleague Geoff Brown, have queried the decision to delay the start of the scheme until 2014. With two cohorts of young people going through university with the new fee regime, could we not have started sooner. In reply, the Director made it clear that we are relying on EU structural funding for this project and we cannot even apply for the money until next year - hence the need to delay until 2014.

- Finally, I asked about the apprenticeships pledge. Cornwall Council is promising to create 200 new apprenticeships and I asked why this is so small compared with Sheffield's 4000. It turns out that Sheffield is looking to create this number across their entire region, not just within the authority and Cornwall's comparable number is 7000. I'm happy to be corrected on this.

So whilst this continues to be a great project, it does now seem to be slightly less certain to go ahead as we are reliant on a successful EU funding bid. And I believe that we are missing the chance to make an even bigger difference for some of our poorest young people.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Season ticket success!

I'm absolutely delighted to announce that Cornwall Council have agreed to a trial lowering of season ticket prices in Launceston. For a three month period, the annual charge will be cut from £470 to £200. This is a campaign that Sasha, Adam and I have worked with the Chamber of Commerce on for many months and it's great that it has proved successful.

Until May last year, season tickets were £195 per year and take up in Launceston was high with around 200 drivers buying the tickets. Price rises to £400 in May 2011 and then £470 in April 2012 saw sales drop dramatically to the extent that there were as few as 30 season tickets being used in Launceston. One consequence of the drop in sales was an increase in parking in residential streets causing annoyance and inconvenience to local residents.
We're delighted that Cornwall Council has seen sense and re-introduced season tickets at reasonable prices. It's a win for local residents, it's a win for town centre workers and it should be a win for the council which will see income rise.

We believed that the Council was more concerned with spreadsheets than local needs. They seemed to think that drivers would pay any amount to park in our car parks. But with many local workers and residents on low incomes, the doubling of prices simply forced them to park on the streets. As a result, Cornwall Council's income fell and there were fewer than 25 cars in the long stay car park meant for 270 according to the Chamber of Commerce study.

This is very good news for our local economy. The new scheme is an experiment which we all hope will be attractive to drivers. For three months from August 1st, they can buy a season ticket for Launceston only for £200. Anyone who bought one of the £400 or £470 tickets can choose to exchange it for a £200 one and receive a refund on the unused portion or pay the difference as needed.

We will be encouraging everyone to take up this new season ticket. If this trial is not successful then the prices will go back up again. But for the sake of town centre workers and residents and for those living in residential areas around the town, we need people to come back to the car parks. If the Launceston trial proves to be successful then we hope that the lower prices can be rolled out across Cornwall.


I'm not always the most complimentary about Cornwall Council's parking service, or Cllr Graeme Hicks, the cabinet member in charge of parking. But I want to pay credit to them for the way they have worked on this scheme. They listened to the evidence presented by Sasha, Adam and myself and from the Chamber of Commerce. They looked at their own balance sheet and saw that their scheme wasn't working. And so we started discussing this option a couple of weeks ago and it has moved very quickly. Full marks to them.

Dear Government - The South West exists (and we need a better rail network) - UPDATED

The news is full this morning of the welcome announcement by the Government of £9 billion investment in the rail network. But how much of that money is being used to improve rail services in the South West? Precisely nothing.

I understand that there is a need for investment elsewhere, but consider our plight. The antiquated trainline beyond Exeter means that services slow to a crawl beyond that point. The lack of a high speed (or even a decent speed) network means that firms are often unwilling to invest in our area and tourists find it quicker to navigate Heathrow in peak holiday season than the single track through Dawlish.

The map that accompanied today's announcement is also pretty galling - missing out much of Devon and all of Cornwall - as if the Department for Transport have forgotten we even exist.

I know that, sadly, any hope of a rail line through most of North Cornwall is pie in the sky - our only hope of any service at all seems to be a spur from Bodmin Parkway to Bodmin Town. But could the Government not see the case for investing in upgrading the current provision?

At least for the time being, it seems those of us in East Cornwall will continue to drive to Exeter and pay extortionate parking charges to get to London, whilst those in the West will have to carry on reading War and Peace while they chug along.

UPDATE - I've just caught up with the fact that, rather than standing still, rail services in Devon and Cornwall will actually be going backwards. At present there are nine through journeys to Penzance per day. Transport Secretary Theresa Villiers intends to cut this to six as part of the new Great Western Franchise. This might have been ok if the services between Penzance and Exeter could have been improved as Cornwall Council asked for. The authority made the case for a half hourly service using the surplus diesel rail stock created by the move to more electrification. We even offered to pay for the signal upgrades. But the Government has said no. Quite rightly, the Council is very angry about this.

My colleague Robin Teverson has said this:

"Lord Robin Teverson, Cornwall Council and Cornwall & Scilly LEP member has described today's announcement of £9 billion rail investment across the nation as an insult to Cornwall.

'We have this announcement just as the Transport Minister Teresa Villiers finalises the new franchise agreement for the Great Western area which reduces the number of daily direct rail services from London to Penzance from nine to six.  Not only that, she has rejected the idea of a regular half hourly service along Cornwall's main line.

'So at a time of good news for the rest of the nation when it comes to their rail services, Cornwall looks forward to service cuts, more overcrowding, and out of date rolling stock.

'Cornwall has invested more in its own rail network than any other local authority.  That investment has been successful.  The increase in passengers are travelling by rail has been the highest in the country.  Our reward?  A reduction in the quality of services under the next franchise.

'Even in the long term the picture is grim.  South Wales now has its electrification plans all the way to Swansea.  We only get as far as Reading - some 200 miles short of the Tamar.

'Cornwall has taken a lead in putting in investment to its rail services, and has seen the growth it produces, we deserves better.  I call on Teresa Villiers to change the franchise specification now."

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Library privatisation on the cards for Cornwall?

There's a hugely technical report that has been produced by a group of Cornwall councillors one a process which could have significant impact on the way in which services are delivered in future. At one end of the spectrum, we could be seeing a move towards the privatisation of many front line services like libraries and one stop shops.

The process is known as the support services joint venture and the report has been prepared by a single issue panel of councillors which has been allowed to see the confidential documents relating to the formation of the joint venture.

About a year ago, Cornwall Council's cabinet agreed to consider a possible tie-up with a private sector firm to save money on services that the council already runs, to run some services jointly with other public sector bodies in Cornwall (like the NHS) and to bid for contracts to run services for other councils.

Over time, this has moved to a position where more emphasis is being put on saving money than on creating new jobs and the two companies in the running for the contract are arguing for a wholesale transfer of Cornwall Council staff to the new company. Previously it has been though that staff would stay with the council to run current services and new jobs would be created in the new company to run new services.

Not having been part of the detailed investigating team, I can't comment on the relative merits of the two bidding companies (and the procurement stage has yet to start). I have no problem with the idea of the council working with public sector partners or bidding to run services for other councils. After all, that is done very successfully by authorities across the UK. But I don't want to see Cornwall Council staff transferred to a new organisation if it means they risk losing pay and employment conditions or the public risks a lower level of service.

The key aim for Cornwall Council should be to provide high quality local services at value for money.

My other major concern is that some of the services being considered for transfer to the private company (privatisation is an accurate description) include libraries and one stop shops. I believe these are core council functions and should continue to be run by the council with its elected and accountable members.

Finally, I think that the memory of the catastrophic transfer of the waste and recycling service will be fresh in the minds of residents. How can we be sure that this venture will not be another such fiasco?

The full single issue panel report goes into a lot more detail and poses many questions to the administration. I hope that the cabinet will provide full answers before agreeing to any further steps along the joint venture path. But I also hope that they will agree to withdraw front line services such as libraries and one stop shops from the proposal.

Launceston Show Cancelled

Sadly, the Launceston Show 2012, scheduled for Thursday 26th, has been cancelled due to the weather conditions. Show Secretary Jill Stevenson writes on the show website that other dates were considered but none were suitable.

That's sad news for local farmers and businesses and for all who enjoy the day out. But it's understandable that if the organisers know the ground conditions will be foul then better they cancel now than nearer the time.

Looking forward to 2013.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Cornwall's 200 apprenticeships - about bloody time!

Hidden away in the detail of the new higher education bursary scheme is an announcement from Cornwall Council that they plan to create 200 new apprenticeships and encourage others to create more. About bloody time!

Quite frankly, the council's record on apprenticeships is pretty embarrassing. When I asked about the number a few months ago I was told it was just 12. For one of the largest employers in Cornwall, that's just pathetic.

The 200 is very good news, but pales compared with the announcement made by Sheffield City Council today that it will be creating 4000 apprenticeships. If Sheffield (with an almost identical population) can, why can't Cornwall?

Cornwall announces higher education bursary scheme

Cornwall Council has this morning announced a proposal to give bursaries to students from Cornwall who get a place at university. We'll wait to see the details, but it looks like a good news day for young people in Cornwall.

In brief, every student who has lived in Cornwall for three years before going to university will get support to help them study. At the minimum, this will be £30. For those from families earning less than £42,600 a year, there will be £1800 over the three years of study for some courses and for those from the same households who gain a place at one of the top 30 universities that amount will rise to £3000 over the length of the course.

The downside of the scheme appears to be in two parts:

  • first, that it won't start for two years and that means two cohorts of young people who will have to pay the new higher fees without the additional help that their brothers and sisters will get from 2014;
  • second, that the money for the scheme appears to be coming from other parts of the education budget at County Hall. I wasn't aware that there were pots of spare cash rolling around and we'll be looking closely to make sure that other disadvantaged groups won't be losing out to pay for this good news.

As I say, we'll wait for the details before giving two thumbs up, but it is certainly a positive announcement.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Council backs Lib Dem motion opposing regional pay

This afternoon, Cornwall Council backed a Lib Dem motion opposing any move towards regional pay or regional benefit levels - both of which would hit Cornwall very hard. As far as I could see there were no councillors who voted against and only three who abstained. Sadly, one of these was the Cabinet Member for Finance.

My colleague Edwina Hannaford and I put forward the motion because of the noises that Chancellor George Osborne has made about local or regional pay deals.

As Cllr Andrew Wallis said, "Regional pay is not about fair pay, it is about cutting pay." If we had regional pay based on relative housing prices, on water charges, on public transport or leisure prices then the levels of pay would surely rise not fall. But we know that this isn't the case and that the only effect would be to drive down pay levels.

At present, Cornwall has many excellent public sector staff. But how many would still be here if they could be paid more in Hampshire or Essex for doing the same job? A regional pay system would take tens of millions of pounds out of Cornwall's economy and lead a downward spiral of pay as the public sector levels help to keep private sector pay up too.

Since the motion was submitted three weeks ago, Nick Clegg has made it clear that the Lib Dems won't back regional pay and David Cameron's proposed announcement of regional benefit levels never occurred after Lib Dems in Government said they would not back it.

Cornwall doesn't want second class services and local residents deserve to keep the first class public sector workers we have.

The debate also allowed council leader Alec Robertson to clarify a comment he made in a public meeting in Launceston a few months ago. Asked about local pay deals, Cllr Robertson said that he was "generally in favour of anything with the word local in it". Today Cllr Robertson made it clear that he would not support a move towards lower pay levels and he backed our motion.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Site meeting - Dutson Road

This morning I went to a site meeting on Dutson Road to look at the plans for the old Abbeyfield Home. Despite the rain, there was a good turnout from local residents and the town council. In addition, there were three members of the planning committee, the applicants and council officers.

During the meeting I explained my worries over the lack of parking (there are 9 spaces proposed for 11 properties), a concern about over-development and the lack of affordable housing being provided. However I welcomed the principle of the development and the proposal to replace the front wall with a length of pavement. Many of these concerns were also expressed by local residents and the town councillors.

The decision on the application will be made at the formal planning meeting on Wednesday evening in Camelford.