Thursday, 20 December 2012

Kevin Lavery off to New Zealand?

Radio Cornwall is tonight reporting that Kevin Lavery, Cornwall Council's Chief Executive, is off to New Zealand to take up a new job as CEO of Wellington City Council. The news is also being reported by one of New Zealand's leading papers, the Dominion Post as their lead front page story - see image left.

My colleague, Jeremy Rowe has made it clear that, if this is true, we would expect Mr Lavery to work out his full notice and should not receive any form of 'golden goodbye'. We also believe that his replacement can expect a lower salary package than Mr Lavery received.

Jeremy's full statement is as follows:
"Kevin Lavery has done an immense amount to make the new unitary authority work. He has overseen the transition from seven councils into one and ensured that the savings were made to protect front line services. It is therefore disappointing that he should be leaving before the job is finished and at a time when the council is facing its biggest challenges yet."
"Liberal Democrats will be seeking to ensure that there is a smooth transition to his replacement and we will be expecting Mr Lavery to work out his full notice period with no golden goodbye."

"We will also be looking to continue to cut the overall Cornwall Council wage bill and will be asking for Kevin Lavery's successor to be appointed on a lower salary than is the case at the moment."
Image of Dominion Post courtesy of The Newseum, of course.

Pickles the hypocrite?

Eric Pickles has published his own list of 50 ways he believes that councils can save money.

Number 20 is:

Cancel away days in posh hotels and glitzy award ceremonies

But what's this? A tweet lands in my inbox making a curious announcement:
C'llr Awards @CllrAwards
Confirmed: Rt Hon Secretary of State Eric Pickles keynote speaker @LGiU Cllr Awards Ceremony in Feb 2013!
And Mr Pickles also made an appearance at the (very posh and swanky) Hilton St George's Park for the recent County Councils Network conference.

Surely there can't be two Eric Pickles? Or is he being a tad hypocritical?

TRAC Update - The Cornwall Council spin

Cornwall Council has issued a press statement this morning about the decision to abandon the TRAC project to deliver a multi-use trail from the town to Egloskerry. Originally, this promised to be almost entirely off-road and to deliver an extension of the steam railway from New Mills to Egloskerry.

But reading the Cornwall Council spin, you would never know that. Instead, the new plan to have a half on-road, half off-road trail as far as the scrapyard is portrayed as some sort of victory.

The council spin claims that they had a 'positive meeting' with Defra and that the government department was 'willing to consider modifications to the project'. It seems that Defra's pointing out that Cornwall Council had flagrantly breached the terms of the original deal wasn't considered newsworthy. Neither was the demand from the Government that the council hand back around half a million pounds.

The people of Launceston who have backed this project from the start deserve better from the Council than this deceit.

Launceston Schools getting a £366,300 funding boost

Schools in Launceston are getting a funding boost of more than a third of a million pounds next year thanks to an increase in the Pupil Premium. This targets extra money to schools depending on the number of children from disadvantaged backgrounds they have.

The pupil premium was a key commitment of the Liberal Democrat manifesto at the last election and started of at £600 per pupil per year. But from next April that will rise to £900 per pupil.

In Launceston, the amount each school will receive from April next year will be:

St Catherine's  £45,900
St Stephens  £77,400
Launceston CP School  £43,200
Launceston College  £199,800

The Pupil Premium covers any primary or secondary school pupil who has been registered for Free School Meals in the past six years. For 2013/14, the Premium will be worth £1.65bn, or £900 per pupil, in total.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

TRAC project cancelled by Cornwall Council

This afternoon I got the very disappointing news that the TRAC project - for a multi-use trail between Launceston and Egloskerry - is not going ahead. Together with my colleagues and local MP Dan Rogerson, I have put out the following press release:

Councillors and MP slam Cornwall Council over TRAC failure

Launceston councillors and North Cornwall's MP have slammed as incompetent Cornwall Council for dropping the promised multi--use TRAC trail from the town to Egloskerry.

"Cornwall Council was given more than a million pounds to provide the trail," said Cllr Adam Paynter, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston North. "All local councillors supported the idea as it would attract visitors and enable local people to enjoy our wonderful countryside. We are bitterly disappointed this project has now been dropped."

"More than half a million pounds will have to be handed back to the government and there will be little or nothing to show for all the money already spent. The only possible trail will be as far as the scrapyard - and much of that will be on-road."

Cllr Alex Folkes, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston Central, added:

"While we have supported this project from the off, we warned the council they were not making the expected progress. At every stage successive cabinet members assured us everything would be fine. Now it is clear the council have let the people of Launceston down through their incompetence. Both Julian German and Steve Double - the cabinet members responsible - should be ashamed."

"The original project plan was a partnership between the council and Launceston Steam Railway. But the council lost the support of the railway and of many local residents when they failed to guarantee to keep the way clear for a possible future railway extension. Cornwall Council didn't listen to local people and failed to understand what was important to them."

Cllr Sasha Gillard-Loft, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston South, said:

"This is such sad news. Despite being surrounded by open country, the people of Launceston have little access to walking, riding or cycling routes which TRAC would have made available. This is a huge blow to local business people who could see the project's possibilities. It was expected to bring more than 10,000 extra visitors to Launceston each year."

Dan Rogerson, Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall, added:

"I have backed the TRAC project from the start and am as disappointed as anyone else that the council has failed to make it happen. They are now talking about starting a new project using European funding. Just like all the other local Liberal Democrats, I would support such a bid. But we have had these promises before and I think there will need to be change at the top before the council is capable of delivering what Launceston should have had."
There is still a possibility that a short section to the East of the town might go ahead. This would only be as far as the roundabout at the end of the industrial estate but would have the added benefit of providing a new pedestrian link to the Ridgegrove Estate. The deadline for a decision on this section is the end of January and I am very much hoping that it can be salvaged.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Pickles brands Cornwall Tory policy 'obscene'

Eric Pickles, the Conservative Secretary of State for Local Government, has branded the Cornwall Tory policy on council tax benefit 'disgusting' and 'obscene' and he said that the councillors promoting it are 'unambitious'.

I don't always agree with Mr Pickles, but in this case he is right.

According to today's Western Morning News, Mr Pickles was asked about plans by some councils to end the granting of full council tax relief to some of the poorest families. He said:
"That struck me as being obscene,"

"I thought it was a singularly unambitious scheme, just taxing people who are in receipt of council tax benefit rather than helping them get into work, dealing with mistakes and fraud."

He added: "Their job is not to tax the poor. It's to help the poor. That's why I'm so angry with these plutocratic leaders who are not prepared to get alongside the poor. Who are happy for people to stay on benefit."
This isn't just a case of bashing Conservatives. Both South Hams and West Devon councils are Conservative controlled, but neither is planning on cutting the rate of council tax benefit next year.

Correction: The original version of this post referred to the council policy rather than the Conservative policy. Although agreed by the Tory-led cabinet, in this case the final decision rests with the full council.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Official - Cory broke contract terms and failed to keep proper records

After six weeks of being given half-answers or no answer at all, I've now received confirmation from Cornwall Council of the failure by waste, recycling and street cleaning contractor Cory to abide by their contract. What is even worse is that Cornwall Council seems totally unable to monitor the work they do.

This will be particularly embarrassing for Council Chief Executive Kevin Lavery who wrote a book on out-sourcing services and, as recently as Tuesday, was asking councillors to agree a massive new out-sourcing agreement with another private sector company.

The story is this - Cory took over the contract on April 2nd. We all know that the initial stages of the rubbish and recycling collection service were a complete disaster, but they were also contracted to clean the streets.

There are four categories of street cleaning:
  • town centres which should be cleaned on a daily basis;
  • residential areas of towns which should be visited at least every six weeks and cleaned if needed;
  • rural areas which should be visited twice a year;
  • special areas - mainly the two trunk roads, the A30 and A38.
First the good news. The new way of cleaning town centres is working very well. I don't know anyone who has a bad word to say about this work.

But Launceston residents have been concerned that the rest of the town (which falls into the second category) wasn't being swept or cleaned at all. Many people were convinced that their road hadn't been swept between April 2nd and the end of October. So I asked the council to investigate.

As I said above, this information has taken six weeks to get to me - which is worrying in itself. If Cornwall Council's procedures are so inefficient, how can we properly monitor such a contract? And when it did arrive, it proved that Cory have been failing to do the job we are paying them for. According to the information sent to me:
“Based on information the local manager has to hand, zone 2 areas have been swept 3 times.
On each of these occasions a full sweep of the zone 2’s was not completed as it would have been undertaken on an as required basis. (Those roads below the acceptable standard)
They cannot provide the exact date of each road cleansed as the schedule is not signed and dated (as it should be! this will be immediately rectified through operative training by Cory Management)."
There is then a list of eleven reports of problem areas and the action taken to clean them.

So when Cory were contracted (and paid) to make either four or five visits over the period, they actually only claim to have made three. And even then, there are no records and no evidence that they actually did any cleaning as they are only required to clean if they think the street is below an acceptable standard. And contrary to the contract, the Cory staff haven't kept a list of the streets they say they did clean or the dates of the visits.

So if a resident claims that their street has never been swept, Cornwall Council cannot say they are wrong. In fact, I think they are probably right.

This is a massive failure both by Cory and by the Council. On Tuesday, councillors were asked to agree a massive handover of services to another private sector company. I made it clear that I didn't think we should hand anything over until we could prove that Cornwall Council was capable of being an effective commissioning organisation. At the moment, I don't think the council could commission its way out of a paper bag. With the decision having been taken to handover some services to BT, I'm determined to make the contract work, even if I disagree with it. But it will have to be done a lot better than the Cory contract.

I have written to Kevin Lavery asking him to conduct an urgent review of the Cory contract. I want to know what penalties the contractor will face and what Cornwall Council will do to make sure that local people in Launceston (and elsewhere) get the service they deserve. I also think it would be appropriate if both Mr Lavery and the head of Cory make an apology to the people of Launceston.

And the winner is...

The winner of this month's Love Launceston loyalty card prize draw is Chris Oaten. Chris wins a year of free haircuts courtesy of our friends at Diamond Cutz in Exeter Street.

Chris is pictured with Julie Downing from Diamond Cutz and Jeremy Loft from the Loyalty Card team.

Don't forget, there isn't much time to enter the December draw. The prize is six month's free golf membership at Trethorne Golf Club. And, in case you are doubtful about golf in January, Trethorne have told us that you can start your membership period at any point. The draw closes on December 22nd and all you have to do is complete your loyalty card details, name and contact number on one of the leaflets available in any Love Launceston business.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Good news for bailiffs! Cornwall Tories and Indies back moves to impose new council tax burdens on poorest families

This morning Cornwall Council's Cabinet - made up of six Conservatives and four members of the Independent Party - unanimously backed a scheme which will force some of Cornwall's poorest families to pay up to £938 per year in extra council tax.

During the debate the Leader declared that council tax benefit - the payments they are proposing to cut - was simply
"an easy way for other people to help themselves to our resources".
As I have blogged before, the decision of the government to cut the amount of money available for council tax benefit for working age families is wrong. And the Leader is wrong to characterise recipients as scroungers as more than a third of them are working and many more are carers.

The council has to devise a scheme to pass this cut on. It has two options. One means forcing working age recipients to pay 25% of their council tax bill and to limit the benefit to Band D.

This will, in my view, force many more families into the arms of our foodbanks. It is also likely to force larger families out of areas with higher property prices - a form of social cleansing. And Cornwall Council will have to find a way of squeezing money out of people who simply cannot pay. It is estimated that there will be under-collection of between 15 and 50%. That implies that the bailiffs will be knocking on the doors of at least 4000 additional homes next year. Good business for them, but terrible news for local people.

According to Cornwall Council's own figures, this will increase council tax bills for a single parent on a low income by as much as £938.08 a year.

But Cornwall Council has the money to ensure that poorest families are not hit in this way and that is the alternative option. Just yesterday, councillors agreed to end second home council tax discounts and tighten up on council tax holidays enjoyed by those who can afford to leave homes empty. These changes will not only raise the £4 or £5 million needed to fund council tax benefit as it is at the moment but also means that the council will qualify for an extra £1 million transitional grant for one year - that's a million we wouldn't have under the council's scheme.

The cabinet decision is not the end of the story however as this matter will go to full council in the New Year. Liberal Democrats will be pressing for the alternative scheme which will use additional money paid by those wealthy enough to have more than one home to ensure that poorest families in Cornwall are not facing unreasonable rises in their council tax bills.

Cornish Guardian/West Briton coverage is here.

But there is some good news for Cornwall's leadership

Last year, Cornwall Council's parking budget under-achieved by some £3 million and had to be bailed out twice. The money to make up the shortfall came largely from cutting the amount being spent on road repairs and safety works.

But there is good news for the new administration!

This year they have turned things around so that the car parking budget is projected to be only £2.149 million short of their income target.

At their last meeting, the cabinet made the welcome change of agreeing not to ratchet up parking fees yet further. Hopefully they will soon understand that they can't treat car parks as a cash cow and will lower fees and encourage shoppers back into our town centres. The evidence shows that they will actually bring in more money as a result.

Cllr Kennedy's christmas card from the leader might go missing...

At Cabinet this morning, a public questioner asked if the authority thinks Eunomia is a well qualified organisation to advise the council on alternatives to the incinerator. Eunomia is the expert group commissioned by the anti-incinerator campaigners to present alternatives to the current plan.

In the absence of portfolio holder Lance Kennedy, the Leader read out an answer on his behalf saying that the Council felt it inappropriate to comment on Eunomia's qualifications having never commissioned them.

Except that according to the public questioner, Cornwall Council has indeed commissioned Eunomia in 2010 and Cornwall County Council did so before that in 2002.

This left Cllr Currie looking slightly foolish as he had clearly relied on information from Cllr Kennedy and officers who, if the questioner is right, had got their facts spectacularly wrong.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Just one more thing...

Cornwall Council also formally agreed to scrap the second home council tax discount too...

The end of the elected dictatorship?

Under legislation passed by the Labour Government in 2000, councils had been required to use what is known as the Leader and Cabinet system of governance. Today - using new powers given to it by the coalition - Cornwall Council chose a system which will give more power to ordinary councillors. The new system will take effect from the elections next May.

The downside of the current system is that the Leader is elected for the full term of the council. Once chosen therefore, there are only limited chances to defeat his or her proposals. The Leader can appoint and dismiss who they want on the cabinet and the full council only gets a formal say on the budget once a year. Of course the budget is a huge issue but it can be written in such a way as to allow councillors only to decide the top line figures - not the detail about what it will be spent on.

Today the council agreed a new system which will retain the formal structure of the leader and cabinet but will give enhanced powers to councillors over policy, could lead to the full council having a formal veto over any cabinet decision and will mean that the leader needs to re-elected every year. I think this will be a great improvement but will also require a change in the culture of Cornwall councillors and, dare I say it, officers too.

When voters elect their councillor they expect him or her to be involved in the key decisions. The strong leader model currently in place effectively denied them that - unless their councillor was a cabinet member.

I believe that the new system will involve more councillors in policy formulation in a way that cabinet members cannot ignore.

Council picks slimmest joint venture

After many months of wrangling, Cornwall Council today voted in favour of the slimmest form of joint venture partnership which will see some services and staff handed over to a private company. But it is not yet certain that the move will go ahead as it will rely on more negotiations with BT and health organisations.

Councillors comprehensively voted against the 'full fat' version of the deal which would have seen vast swathes of services - including libraries, one stop shops and other front line services - handed over to BT.

For me, this was the crucial point. Ever since the expanded privatisation project was unveiled earlier this year I have been campaigning to exempt libraries and once stop shops from its scope. There is no money to be made for a private company in running these services and I feared that privatisation would only see a reduction in services. In addition, the chance to put some of Cornwall Council's services into post offices may still be on offer - but without the downside of having to hand over our libraries and library staff to a private company.

Unfortunately for my point of view, councillors also narrowly rejected the option of keeping services in house. The majority of Lib Dems voted for the in-house option and most Conservatives voted against.

That left us with one of a range of intermediate options. The one eventually picked was that involving the least handover of services possible. BT (assuming they are happy to continue with the project) will take over a narrow range of back office functions including IT and payroll. Crucially, this version will also allow the council to be involved in 'tele-care' and 'tele-health' projects which could bring new jobs to Cornwall.

I'm disappointed that the in-house option was defeated but am determined now to do what I can to make any new partnership work as well as possible.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Cory-fail update

I posted on Saturday my frustration about the failure of Cornwall Council's waste contractor - Cory - to send the big street cleaning machine to clear up after Late Night Shopping.

First thing on Saturday morning I called the council only to be told that the call centre couldn't get hold of anyone who could help. As a result, the lone street sweeper had to be joined by local shopkeepers and business-owners who abandoned their businesses to try to get the town looking as good as normal. But even then their abilities were limited as the high pressure washer capabilities of the street machine were needed.

Today I received an email from the council to tell me that someone at Cory decided that they knew better than the people who have organised Late Night Shopping for six plus years. Cory decided that we didn't need a street cleaning machine and so they didn't send one.

I could have understood it if they had got in touch with Sasha - the event organiser - to check whether extra resources were really needed. But they didn't bother to do that. Instead they just decided to ignore the request and not show up.

Stop the Bus Cuts in North Cornwall

I'm joining with North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson and other local Lib Dems to campaign to stop the latest rounds of cuts to bus services in our area.

Last week, Western Greyhound announced a package of changes which include the loss of the 577 service linking Launceston to Tavistock and changes to the 584 service along the North Coast which will hit people living in that area.

Sadly, the company gave people very little notice of the changes and they will have serious consequences. Some people who live in villages along the route rely on these services to get out and about, to see friends and to go shopping. They will find themselves more and more isolated. Others rely on buses to get to and from work. The cut in services and re-timing can make it difficult to use the bus to get to work.

The loss of the Launceston to Tavistock service is an example of Cornwall Council's short-sightedness during the last service review. They insisted that they would only subsidise lifeline services in Cornwall. They failed to recognise that routes that cross the border are often just as vital as those wholly within Cornwall.

The council has history with cutting buses. Lib Dem action stopped them when they tried to end weekend and evening buses. We also forced them to think again when their subsidy cuts would have meant most routes being axed. This time the decision appears to have been taken by Western Greyhound themselves. But we think that Cornwall Council has the position to ask the company to think again and to restore these lifeline routes.

If you back our campaign to save the bus routes - please sign our petition here.

Lib Dems criticise council for over-aggressive council tax review

Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council have criticised the authority for the way that the current review of council tax single person discounts is being carried out. We believe that the firm doing the work - Capita - are being far too aggressive.

A person living on their own - or with no other adults liable to pay council tax - receives a 25% discount on their bills. It is entirely right that the council should be making sure that no one is receiving the discount who is not entitled to do so. But the way they carry out that work needs to be done in a sensible, and sensitive, manner.

Instead, Cornwall Council has employed Capita who are undertaking the work from Bromley in South East London. It's a shame that the council could not either do the work in house or find a Cornish firm to do so. It's thought that the total value of the contract could be around £100,000.

But Capita aren't being paid a flat fee. Their money comes in the form of a bounty for every person they find who is receiving the discount but not entitled to it - a sort of 'no win, no fee' arrangement. The trouble is that this could lead to Capita being over aggressive in their work and potentially reporting people as not being entitled to the discount when they are.

We're also concerned that recipients need to send back a letter confirming their eligibility - including paying for the stamp - and there appears to be no email or telephone option. We believe that, in order to maximise the return, the council should have ensured that replying was made as easy as possible. We want to know what will happen in the case of people who do not reply. Will they automatically lose their discount?

On Friday, Lib Dem group leader Jeremy Rowe and myself made the point to Cornwall's chief executive Kevin Lavery, asking him to make sure that the discount review was handled sensitively. We also asked for him to ensure that Capita would be penalised if they took people off the discount list when they were entitled to receive it.

Credit should also go to my colleague Rob Nolan who has done a lot of work investigating the issue.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Cornwall Council lets down the people of Launceston (again)

I'm sad to say that this morning Cornwall Council let down the people of Launceston, and Launceston shops and businesses, again. After a hugely successful late night shopping event, they failed to turn up as agreed to sweep the streets first thing this morning.

It is inevitable that late night shopping creates a mess. There is litter, discarded food and camel poo. That is why the organisers of the event make sure to contact the Council in advance and arrange for an early morning visit from the street sweeping machine. The same is arranged for the morning after Carnival.

But whilst the machine was there the morning after Carnival, it failed to arrive this morning. The individual street sweeper was there, as always, with his cart and brush - but there is no way that he could cope with the amount of work that is needed after such a busy event.

I was on to the council to try to get them to send the machine but, despite some heroic efforts from the call centre, there was no machine.

Launceston deserves better than this from the council and I will be pushing for an apology.

Late Night Shopping in Launceston

As ever, Late Night Shopping saw Launceston packed with people as well as musicians, dancers, traders... and camels.

Huge thanks to everyone for coming along, but especially to my colleague Sasha Gillard-Loft who has organised the event for six or seven years. She persuaded me to get on a camel this year (I thought they knelt down to let you get on - but apparently not).

Thanks also to all the other volunteers and helpers who make this such a special event.

The Late Night Shopping event is produced entirely by those associated with the town centre shops. One of them - Paul Loft of Gillards Sweet Shop - has posted this on Facebook:

“So there you have it, a great night funded entirely by the Chamber of Commerce members and their supporting sponsors.

Argos, the 99p shop, Pets at Home ... NONE of these businesses contribute to the cost of this event, which exceeds £3,000 to put on. Many of the town's small businesses do not benefit in terms of cash through their till on the night, as most of the spend goes to the additional attractions we bring into the square. But they still contribute.

All we ask in return for putting on the event every Christmas is that you think of us when doing your shopping throughout the year, and remember what a fantastic little town you have in Launceston, with some lovely generous and caring people running some excellent family businesses.

Tweet Bus got it right in one of their Tweets - we need 'Balanced Shopping'

Yes the big boys have their place, but so does your local town centre. And we'd love to see more of you visiting and supporting your town more often. We know we can't expect to see you all every Friday night (I don't think we could cope), but seeing the hundreds of people who filled the town tonight reminded us of just how exciting and vibrant a town centre can be.”

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Picking up where Cornwall Council fails

According to Cornwall Council, there are some streets that don't exist - at least as far as street cleaning and litter picking are concerned.

One such is Blind Hole in Launceston which runs down to the Orchard Centre, home of the youth partnership and other community organisations.

This street isn't classed as town centre and so doesn't get swept every day. But then, it isn't classed as a residential zone two street either (in which case it should get swept every six weeks). According to Cornwall Council's contract with Cory, it doesn't exist at all. Any sweeping or litter picking is done by local residents.

So today, local Lib Dem campaigner Jade Farrington and myself went and swept the street - picking up two bags of broken glass, cigarette ends and general litter.

We have asked the council to make sure that Blind Hole - and any other missed out areas - are added to Cory's list of streets to sweep. Street sweeping is a core service for the council, but it seems far too many areas are being missed.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Litter, waste and street cleaning in Launceston

This evening saw a special meeting of the Launceston Community Network panel on the subject of litter, waste and street cleaning.

There was a good turnout from members of the public and two of the contract management officers from the Council came along to explain the new system and answer questions.

As readers will know, the new waste and recycling contract had a lot of problems at the start. Many people didn't get their bins emptied for more than two months and thousands more were left without recycling containers.

Thankfully, most of those problems have now been sorted - but there is a lot of concern about dog mess, fly-tipping and street cleaning.

The good news is that the town centre is now very clean indeed. There are two people whose job it is to clean it on a daily basis - seven days a week. Everyone at tonight's meeting was complimentary about the job they are doing.

The trouble is that this contrasts markedly with the lack of cleaning elsewhere. Although Cory have been doing a lot of street cleaning in the past two weeks or so, many people at the meeting complained that they hadn't seen their streets cleaned before that since April.

Apart from the very town centre, all the residential streets in Launceston are classed as being in Zone two. These streets should be visited at least every six weeks and cleaned if they need it (and after six weeks, they certainly will do). The trouble is that I do not believe that Cory have been doing that until very recently. I have therefore asked the officers to provide proof that Cory have been cleaning when they should be. If they have not been doing so then I will be asking for Cory to be heavily fined.

But the point was also made that there are many very busy streets - such as Western Road, Tavistock Road, Race Hill and so on - where a six weekly clean is nothing like enough. They might not justify the daily attention of a zone one street, but should certainly be visited on a weekly basis. We have asked the council to look at improving the cleaning regime there.

A further complaint was about Cory staff not cleaning up after themselves as they are meant to. Bottles dropped on the pavement during recycling collections leave shards of glass dangerous to children and pets and damaging to mobility scooters. Communal bins need cleaning every time they are emptied. We asked for better action to make sure that the contractor is doing the job they are being paid for.

The officers have agreed to take these and other points raised tonight away to be fixed. They will be coming back to the annual network meeting in the Town Hall in early February to report back and - hopefully - to be told that things have got better.

In the meantime, if you believe that your street needs cleaning, contact me and I will make sure it happens.

Key Lib Dem wins at the heart of the autumn statement

It's easy to see the Lib Dem influence on today's Autumn Statement from the Chancellor.

The income tax threshold is going up by even more than was previously planned. That means that, from April the first £9440 that you earn will be tax free. It's tantalisingly close to the Lib Dem manifesto pledge of £10,000 by the end of 2015.

The other key wins are:

  • an end to the policy of regional pay - something which the Chancellor proposed last year and Lib Dems battled against. It would hurt areas like Cornwall hardest of all as we have low pay levels already but very high living costs;
  • the scrapping of the planned 3p fuel tax rise which would hit poorer people in areas without good public transport (like North Cornwall) harder than most;
  • the basic state pension will rise by 2.5% whilst tax relief for top earning pensioners will be cut. This means that the well off will be contributing more to help the least well off
  • the A30 will be dualled at Temple. This is a big bottleneck in the summer and puts off many businesses from relocating to Cornwall. The Local Enterprise Partnership thinks it could be worth £100 million to the Cornish economy.

Have your say on new parking charges

Cornwall Council is consulting the public on the new parking charges which will apply in Cornwall Council owned car parks from next spring.

The major change in Launceston will see the abolition of the first hour parking rate. Instead of paying 50p for up to one hour and £1.60 for up to two hours, the two rates will be merged into a single £1 for up to two hour rate.

This was the preferred option of those who came along to our open meeting a few months ago. Of course, the options available all had to be pre-approved by the council and we weren't allowed to suggest lower overall rates.

Officially, the season ticket rate in Launceston will rise from £470 to £500. However, as has been noted before, the £200 trial will continue until the end of July and now includes the Tower Street season ticket bays as well as the Cattle Market. Our aim will be to ensure that this fairer rate is made permanent.

To see all the details and to have your say, go to the Cornwall Council site here.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Planning proposal for Upper Chapel - public exhibition - UPDATED

A developer is looking at the possibility of building 100 or so houses on land to the West of Upper Chapel in Launceston. They are holding an exhibition in the Town Hall tomorrow and the public is invited to come along to have their say.

The consultation runs from 1pm until 7.30pm.

Development on this and neighbouring sites were considered by the framework steering group recently and discounted. The Framework is a planning outline for our town which will ultimately form part of Cornwall's core strategy. The process saw every green field site surrounding the town evaluated to see whether or not it would be possible to build new houses and employment sites there. The area to the West of Upper Chapel was discounted early on because of the problem of highways. Forcing more and more cars down Moorland Road and St Johns Road, or alternatively down St Catherine's Hill or Chapel Hill, was seen as hugely problematic.

Of course, any person or company can apply for planning permission and it would be interesting to see how they think they can solve the highways problems.

UPDATE - This afternoon I have been to see the exhibition. I can't see any attempt to solve the highways problems in the area - indeed, the impression given is that they don't consider that these are real problems. I was also disappointed that one panel of the exhibition makes the claim that the Framework group did not consider a scheme like this as part of our work. The truth is that we did consider just such a scheme and felt it would not work.

Councillors have thirteen options - staff get just two

Full marks to Cllr Andrew Wallis who has spotted that Cornwall Council's staff survey on the potential privatisation of key services contains just two real options.

Staff are asked to rank four choices in order of preference. One is an in-house option. Two more are essentially the same thing (the BT bid and 'out-sourcing') and the final one is 'Undecided'.

So what happened to the thirteen different options that councillors were told were being considered when we had a briefing last week? The full council had demanded that a wide range of possibilities - which should all have been in the mix from the start - should be investigated. Why are staff being offered a choice of just two?

Last week a number of councillors felt that the advocates of the BT bid were trying to railroad the choice into one between BT and no change. The staff survey gives added credence to that fear.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Collecting for Launceston Foodbank

This weekend, Launceston Foodbank are holding a collection at Tesco. They are after dried, canned and non-perishable goods to make up into food parcels to give to people who are facing a crisis.

This afternoon I joined the volunteers for a couple of hours to hand out shopping lists and to collect donations.

Many thanks to the hundreds of people who gave us items from our shopping lists. Every single can or packet will help an individual or family who are facing a really tough time.

Tesco are donating a lot of staff time to help the effort and they are also adding 30% to the total amount of donations received over the weekend. So far, we have collected more than 40 of the green pallets full of food - that's about half a tonne.

Some of the donations were quite incredible. One young boy handed over a packet of sweets from his pocket money whilst another gent gave us a whole trolley-load of stuff.

The volunteers will be there again tomorrow and don't forget that there is a collection basket permanently behind the check-outs in the store.