Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Party for Cornwall?

There's a Cornwall Council by-election taking place in St Keverne following the sad death of Independent councillor Pam Lyne. But, once again, the so called 'Party for Cornwall', MK, are not putting up a candidate.

This will be the fifth by-election of the council and, to date, MK have only put up candidates in two of them. Confusingly, the last by-election was in nearby Wendron which MK won (and all credit to them). So how come they have given this one a pass?

Are they really the Party for Cornwall?

UPDATE - Andrew Long, MK's Deputy Leader, tells me that they had a candidate who had to withdraw at the last minute for family reasons.

Mains gas coming to Ridgegrove and Lanstephan estates

Work begins next week on bringing mains gas to the Ridgegrove and Lanstephan estates in Launceston. This is great news and will mean lower heating bills (and better quality heating) for people living on these estates.

The work will take up to six months as a gas main has to be laid down each street. In Ridgegrove it's not that easy as many of the homes can only be accessed from footpaths and the steep slopes will mean lots of digging.

Inevitably there will be a fair amount of disruption with a rolling programme of street works. Some of the footpaths may have to be closed for a short while. Please be patient with the contractors who have promised to keep residents informed about progress and to keep disruption to a minimum.

All Cornwall Housing and other housing association homes will be connected to the new mains automatically.  But as the contractors are going to be on site, a special deal has been arranged for private homeowners to get connected too. This service - the connection from the mains to your house and the fitting of a meter - will cost £200 plus VAT for the period of the site works. If you want to know more, pop along to the exhibition in the town hall today or talk to the contractors when they come on site.

Councillor Allowances

The Taxpayers Alliance* has today published details of the basic allowance paid to all local councillors in the UK. It's probably not news to anyone who is concerned about this sort of thing - all the information is publicly available. What is disappointing is the lack of context being given by the organisation.

What is interesting about the figures is the range of pay. From £1500 per year for South Ribble to £16,932 for councillors in the Scottish Borders, it would appear that there is a huge disparity. But context is, as ever, key. Although £1500 is a very low amount in comparison with others, it is being paid by a relatively small district council, an authority with a limited range of responsibilities. At the other end of the scale, the Scottish Borders is a unitary council providing a huge range of services to a very large area. As such, councillors there are likely to be undertaking a lot more in return for their allowances.

In Cornwall, the basic allowance is £12,128.40 per year.

How was this calculated? As with all councils, Cornwall established an independent remuneration panel to make a recommendation. They considered the number of hours that councillors are asked to work and the type of duties undertaken. But the final say lies with the councillors themselves and members in fact voted for an amount lower than that which was being recommended.

Some people (including the TPA) seem to believe that being a local councillor should be a form of voluntary service and that any remuneration should be for expenses only. Which is fine if you are happy for all councillors to be either independently wealthy or retired, or not do the work. With almost exclusively daytime meetings in Truro, it's very difficult for a councillor to hold down an outside job - unless you are self-employed. Even then it is more difficult for councillors from the East or West who have to add an extra two hours or more travel time to that actually spent in County Hall at meetings. As a result, many councillors who started off with full time 'proper' jobs have quit to become full-time councillors. In that context, just over £12,000 is a very small amount to be paid. I estimate that I get slightly less than the minimum wage for the hours I do.

The Liberal Democrats at County Hall have taken the view that, once set at the start of the council, the allowance should stay the same for the four years we are elected. The process of setting the allowance for the next council has started and people will know what they will be getting if elected and can plan accordingly. The Conservatives and Independents, however, have sought to raise the level of allowances every year since the election in 2009. Interestingly, of the top five councils which have raised the basic allowance the most over the past year, four are Conservative controlled and one is Labour.

*The Taxpayers Alliance is an organisation partly funded by UK citizens who live overseas to avoid paying tax.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Railway pub to become flats?

Cornwall Council has received a planning application to turn the old Railway pub in St Thomas Road into two flats and to turn the majority of the car park into a second hand car dealership.

If you have a view on this or want to see the plans, you can do so on the Cornwall Council planning site - here. The reference number for this application is PA12/06988.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Western Road roadworks - UPDATED

A few people have asked me what the road works on Western Road at the junction with St Johns Road are all about. They are causing considerable delays, especially at peak periods.

I am told that they are emergency works to repair a gas main. Normally, Cornwall Council requires more than a month's notice for major roadworks, but emergency works can take place without this.

I have asked how long the council expects these works to take. I would have expected that 'emergency works' would have seen contractors working into the evening to get the problem fixed as soon as possible. It's very frustrating to see these there are no contractors at work outside 'regular' work hours.

I'll post again when I get an answer.

UPDATE - As Paul (see comments) has said, these works appear to be to replace the old metal gas main with a plastic main. The works in the main road should be ending today (Friday) but the works in St Johns Rd will carry on until mid September. The hours of work are meant to be 0730 until 1700 but the manual control of the traffic lights continues until 1800.

Launceston Athletic Club relaunches to support the Olympic legacy


I've just received the following information which I'm delighted to re-post. It's great news and good luck to them!

Launceston sportspeople determined to create an Olympic legacy are reviving the town’s old athletics club. Launceston Athletic Club and Cornwall Athletics are hosting Star Track Day on Thursday, August 30 to give young people the chance to benefit from coaching in running, jumping and throwing as well as taking part in fun games and activities.

Those who catch the bug will be able to join Launceston Athletic Club which will run Wednesday and Friday evening sessions for all adults and children from September 26.

Coach and administrator David Brown said: “Launceston Athletic Club has been in existence for 50 years if not more. It was started by Owen Slater who was very well known in the town. It was a very strong club and very competitive. A lot of the children were Cornwall schools champions and there was a great history of success. When Owen died it just folded up.”

Mr Brown is working with treasurer Conrad Dubey and Crunch Gym owners and coaches Mark Quick and Merwyn Davis to capitalise on the Olympics and the interest generated in order to re-establish the club.

“The Olympics have been about the next generation and leaving a legacy,” said Mr Brown. “We want to follow that through and get Launceston back to where it was 20 years ago when the town had over 20 sports clubs.”

The club is looking for experienced coaches and other volunteers who would be willing to help at sessions at least one evening per month.

“If someone thinks they want to get involved and try a sport then come along,” said Mr Brown.

Mr Quick said: “The Olympics have been a great inspiration to us and we feel as a fitness and martial arts academy we would like to inspire and be involved with the future of athletics in Launceston and the next generation of athletes and get the community active, especially the children.”

Star Track Day runs from 10am to 3pm on Thursday, August 30 at Launceston College’s sports hall. It is open to 8 to 14-year-olds of all ages and abilities and costs £10 per person which includes a goody bag. For more details or to book, call 07842 942159 or email crunchgym@yahoo.co.uk.


Monday, 20 August 2012

Plans for social cleansing of richer areas will be resisted say Lib Dems

A think tank closely aligned to the Conservative Party has today produced a report which could see some of the most expensive parts of Cornwall 'cleansed' of social housing.

The Policy Exchange report, which has been enthusiastically endorsed by Housing Minister Grant Shapps, recommends that, when social housing in an expensive area becomes vacant then it should be sold off and the money used to buy or build social housing in cheaper places. Note that 'becoming vacant' often means the tenant dying even if they still have family who live in the home.

The biggest problem with this plan is that it will lead to many towns and villages - particularly coastal communities - becoming completely free of social housing. Low income families from the area will lose any chance they had of getting a home in the village, even if they have lived there all their lives, and will be forced to move elsewhere. In many cases, the property will simply become yet another second home.

Instead, we should be looking at genuinely mixed communities in all parts of Cornwall. Nowhere should become a social housing ghetto and nowhere should be cleansed of all social housing.

Andrew George, Lib Dem MP for St Ives and West Cornwall said this on the plans:

“If they really want to ‘socially cleanse’ our villages of local families who are most in need of affordable housing then they’ll have a fight on their hands."

Cabinet told to think again on incinerator plan

This morning I was part of a call-in meeting which voted to ask Cornwall Council's cabinet to think again about the incinerator plan. We considered that the cabinet had been given misleading information about the likely timescale of developing a Plan B and that they had failed to consider a reasonable request for an independent assessment of the alternatives.

So what's the story about the incinerator?

The problem is that incineration is old technology and the council is refusing to consider alternatives. Indeed, one officer today made the suggestion that any other option would be risky and was not yet proven. Local campaigners in St Dennis are asking for consideration to be given to alternatives which might be better technology and which reduce the impact on their village.

More than that, the planned incinerator would have a capacity of 240,000 tonnes per year. Even with our poor level of recycling, Cornwall Council only has to deal with 180,000 tonnes per year and that number will only go down as recycling rates improve and changes in the law mean that we could not incinerate putrescent (ie food) waste and recyclables. So we are building an incinerator much bigger than we need. And if we recycle more paper and plastics (the stuff that burns easily) the incinerator will have to use even more fuel to get rid of what is left.

Now it has been revealed that the contractor is considering building the bottom ash facility (ie the plant that deals with the bulk of what is left after incineration) in a different location. But whilst the whole process of a Plan B is said by officers to be likely to take 7-9 years to sort out and that this would mean massively increased land fill costs which will impact on other services, they are confident that a planning application for a new ash handling plant could be done in 6 months and the building constructed in another 6 months. I think that is pretty unrealistic.

Through lots of questioning today, it became clear that the Cabinet had not properly considered the details of the Plan B and had been given the wrong information about how long it would take. The committee therefore voted by 11 votes to 5 to send the issue back to the Cabinet to think again.

The eleven who voted for referral were:

Roy Taylor (Lib Dem)
Jeremy Rowe (Lib Dem)
Alex Folkes (Lib Dem)
Les Donnithorne (Lib Dem)
Edwina Hannaford (Lib Dem)
Andrew Long (MK)
Fred Greenslade (Independent)
Judith Haycock (Independent)
Mike Eddowes (Conservative)
Pat Lambshead (Conservative)
Jenny Stewart (Conservative)

The four who voted against referring back were:

Collin Brewer (Independent)
Bob Egerton (Independent)
Tony Martin (Conservative)
Jon Stoneman (Conservative)


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Launceston meets to discuss parking - but Cornwall Council officers refuse to attend

Cornwall Council's parking officers refused to attend a meeting tonight to discuss parking in Launceston. This despite the meeting being officially organised by the community network panel and an invite being issued six weeks in advance. Such high-handedness by officers was, I believe, very disrespectful to the large numbers of local businesses and residents who had turned out to discuss parking charges. In addition, it goes against the whole concept of localism. How can Cornwall Council claim to be engaging with local communities when their officers bolt themselves into their bunker in Truro?

Tonight's meeting was to discuss the options for pay and display charges for the year beginning next April. Various ideas have been put forward which the Council has studied and deemed some to be acceptable and others not so. The decision was made on whether or not they felt the proposed charges would bring in enough income. However, they failed to consider that lower charges might actually encourage far more drivers to use our car parks and they refused to consider the idea that the wellbeing of the town would be best served by lower charges (and a lower income) with a higher footfall in shops.

The Council position is a fair one from a particular point of view - although I fundamentally disagree with it. But also fair points of view are the other options which are genuinely held by people in Launceston. The refusal by Cornwall Council to engage in debate or seek to justify their position is incredibly disappointing. They seemed to think that it was the job of local councillors to defend their thinking as if we are part of some corporate whole. I made it quite clear that I am not prepared to defend a position I disagree with. It is my job to speak up for the people of Launceston, not to defend unreasonable positions taken by Cornwall Council.

At tonight's meeting we heard interesting ideas about moving to a pay on exit system (ending the culture of people rushing to avoid overstaying); ending the definition of some car parks as long stay and others as short stay; allowing a period of free parking at the start of a visit; and transferring the car parks to town council control. We also asked people for their views on the various payment schemes that have been suggested and whether they had any other ideas.

All of the comments made tonight have been noted and, together with the responses on the feedback forms, will be forwarded to the council with a request for proper consideration and a detailed response.

In the meantime we will continue to ask parking officers to meet with people from Launceston to constructively discuss ideas for fairer (and more profitable) parking schemes. I just hope that the attitude of officers changes and they agree to engage.

Cornwall Council Killing our Carnivals - UPDATED

UPDATE - Lib Dem councillors have now submitted a motion for debate on this issue for the full council meeting on 4th September.

Cornwall Council has just issued a consultation paper about imposing charges on people who organise street events which require traffic management. The problem is that, for the sake of about £50,000, they run the risk of killing off local carnivals.

The background to this is the decision by Devon and Cornwall Police to hand responsibility for event traffic management to the council as from April last year. The council claims that providing advice, signage and temporary traffic management orders costs money and they want to get this back from event organisers.

That's fair enough when it comes to big commercial events like the Royal Cornwall Show, but it could land local carnival committees with a bill for £1000 or more at a time when their income is fast disappearing. Not surprisingly, many carnival committees say they cannot afford this and are thinking of cancelling their events. The same applies to some of the local road races. In the aftermath of the Olympics, Cornwall Council seems to have found a way to put paid to many athletics events making it less likely that the next Mo Farah will come from Cornwall.

Carnivals might seem a bit old-fashioned to some, but they are great community events for many others and bring together people of all ages to celebrate their town or village. From Truro's huge traditional event to St Austell's torchlight procession to Launceston's autumn evening parade, each has its own character.

So what charges does a carnival or other street event face? Whilst they are likely to continue to get general pre-event advice for free, they may face a charge for an event application or temporary traffic regulation order of up to £380.  Then there is the signage itself which the event organiser will have to borrow, hire or buy. It may be that this is a one-off cost for an annual event, but it could be hundreds of pounds. Then there is a charge of up to £200 for no-waiting cones and, finally, a charge of £60 per person for training. If you have a long carnival route then this might be half a dozen people. The total first year charge for a town carnival - anything up to £1000 or even more.

There are some events which are commercial in their nature and which can either afford these costs or adjust their budgets to take account of them. These include the big agricultural shows and some of the commercial road races. But the majority of local carnivals and road races are a different thing entirely. They rely on a series of local fundraising events and the goodwill of volunteers. In good years they might also have an event sponsor. But with the current economic climate, most don't have one this year and are unlikely to get one next.

So all this will turn a tidy profit for Cornwall Council won't it? Actually no. The officers estimate that the income generated will be somewhere around £50,000 per year. To put it into context, this is the amount that our Conservative Council Leader gave to Plymouth City Council to support their bid to bring the football World Cup to Plymouth.

I would urge everyone who has any interest in local carnivals or other events to have their say in response to the formal consultation. Regrettably, the consultation is not available on the Council's online consultation portal. For some reason they have chosen to make it paper and email only. Below you will find the draft proposals and the consultation questionnaire itself.

Charging Framework for Traffic

 Consultation Questionnaire

Local paper coverage is here.

One Stop Shop move

Launceston's One Stop Shop will be moving from the Market House Arcade to the library next week. The move will take place on Wednesday 22nd and Thursday 23rd and services will be up and running again on Friday 24th August.

Remember that the move means that the OSS will be adopting library opening hours (including Saturday mornings) but closing on a Thursday. There will also be later opening (until 6.30pm) on a Tuesday.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Heart FM seeking to drop Cornish content

A few months after taking over the former Atlantic FM radio station, Heart have announced that they are seeking permission to drop the separate weekday Cornwall drive-time show and to cut the amount of speech-based content.

One of the reasons being given by Heart is that they think people in North Cornwall and South East Cornwall owe more allegiance to Devon than they do to Cornwall. And they go on to say:
“We consider that the new, regional drive-time programme will enhance the range of programmes available in the area by offering a broader regional perspective"
I think Heart are making a big mistake. With Pirate, Radio Cornwall and Atlantic, Cornwall enjoyed a pretty vibrant and distinctive local radio output. Many listeners in Cornwall enjoyed the special character of Atlantic FM and hoped that Heart would be retaining a Cornish voice. Sadly it seems that we will be getting a Devonwall mush.

And as for the idea that people in North Cornwall owe their allegiance to Devon, the idea is ridiculous. We might be in the East of Cornwall and on the border with Devon, but the vast majority of local people are proud to live in Cornwall.

UPDATE - Local paper coverage of the story here.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Presumably we'll have a rail fares cut in Cornwall...

Just a thought, but with average rail fares across England set to rise by 6.2% following the revelation of today's inflation figure, presumably we will be seeing a freeze (or even a fall) in Cornwall.

Rail fare rises are set by a formula. At present, companies are allowed to raise them by 3% more than the August RPI inflation rate. The justification for the level of rise is the investment that is being put into the rail network.

And, as I've mentioned before, there is a lot of investment going into the network to the North and the South Wales. Electrification will bring faster journey times and help those areas attract new businesses.

But in Cornwall we are seeing no such investment. We're even likely to see the number of through trains to London cut from nine to six each day (although the campaign against the cut is in full swing). Surely it would be a double whammy to cut services but still increase fares? Logically, the only fair thing for the Government to do is to announce that Cornwall will see a price freeze or even a cut.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Olympic Moments

I know every paper has them, but I though I would compile my top ten Olympic moments

And so, in no particular order:

1. BBC coverage
From their decision to stream up to 24 live channels on their website and on the red button to dedicating the whole of BBC1 and BBC Three to coverage, the BBC has done the Olympics proud. On the radio and TV, their presenters, commentators and summarisers have been (almost) universally excellent, but I'll pick out Claire Balding. Michael Johnson and Leon Taylor as the best. You almost forget that Balding was confined to horse racing as recently as a couple of years go. She's now the number one choice for the big event. I know Johnson has fallen out with many in the US, but their loss is our gain. As someone tweeted - give him a couple of weeks and he could put Lawrenson and Hansen in their place on the Match of the Day sofa. And Taylor was brilliantly clear as he explained the twists and turns of the diving competition and accurately predicted the judges' verdicts every time. When someone is able to explain why a particular dive is worth an 8 rather than a 9.5 a novice feels much more comfortable watching.

But whilst there were highs, there were a couple of lows too. The football sofa surfers were shown just how inadequate they were. And John Inverdale clearly went into the games with an unreasonable level of expectation for the GB team. His downbeat interviews with silver and bronze medallists really did the athletes little credit. In 1969 he would have opened up with "So Neil Armstrong, you only landed on one moon?" Clearly someone had a word and he lightened up for the second week, but the damage was done.

2. Tom Daley
After the (relative) flop in the synchronised competition, the knives were out. 'He spent too much time on the TV rather than practising'. You could see that there were pundits willing him to fail. Well he didn't. He won a fantastic bronze medal and will be back in four years time.

3. BMX riders
They're nuts. Broken collar bones and ankles littered the 440 metre track but still the riders picked themselves up and tried to cross the finishing line. Addictive viewing.

4. Nicola Adams
The first ever woman to win a boxing gold medal. Forget Usain Bolt and his 'I am the greatest' claims, she just wanted a Nandos. Down to earth star.

5. Sarah Attar
Not every superstar at the Games broke a record or won a medal. Sarah Attar was the first Saudi Arabian woman to take part in a track and field event when she ran in the 800m. She may have finished almost half a minute behind the pack, but there wasn't a single person who wasn't clapping her when she did so and, I suspect, few dry eyes either.
This was the equality games as women could, for the first time, compete in every sport that men could (and one more - men don't do synchronised swimming). British women won more medals than our men and the overall number of athletes was as close to 50-50 as you could wish. And, along with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain finally included women in their teams.

6. Horse dancing
One of the two surprise sporting hits was the dressage competition or, as almost everyone I know took to calling it, horse dancing. Even on the radio it was addictive listening. It was great enough when they were doing it seriously early on, but the freestyle section to music was fantastic. It's just a shame that so many horses apparently like Phil Collins.

7. Ben Ainslie
Cornish boy makes good for the fourth Olympics in a row. And even better, the man who denied him gold in his first games - Robert Scheidt of Brazil, got beaten by the Brits in another class.

8. Leftie Crap
Managing to totally misjudge the mood of the entire nation, Aidan Burley MP became the hate figure of virtually everyone with his tweets about the opening ceremony. Danny Boyle was never going to match the regimented precision of Beijing but he turned in a quirky and brilliant effort which set the mood of the games as quintessentially British.
And things turned even worse for Burley with Super Saturday when a Somali refugee, mixed race woman and ginger bloke all won gold medals in the athletics stadium.
Some Olympics are political in their nature. Beijing was all about China's place in the world, Athens was reasserting theirs and the games of the 80's were all about geo-politics and boycotts. But, like Sydney, London was primarily a celebration of sport.

9. Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Bradley Wiggins
For all his 'I am Legend' hyperbole, Bolt is a genuinely likeable chap. His jokes and fist bumps with volunteers before the race are engaging and he seems to believe that you don't need to be a wannabe gangsta to be a sprint champion.
Only one man can get Britain off their seats with excitement on two Saturday nights in a row - and it isn't Simon Cowell. Mo Farah was the man. Everyone knows his story and everyone knows his family - the 9 month pregnant wife and the lovely bubbly daughter who insisted on going onto the track after the 10,000 metres. I fear they won't get a moment's peace for many months.
A week before, Bradley Wiggins had been the man. Coming into the Olympics fresh from winning the Tour de France, Wiggins gave his all to try to win gold for Mark Cavendish. That didn't happen but he was still able to blitz the field in the time trial for a stunning gold. He too is a fantastic role model. He wears his heart on his Fred Perry sleeve and has inspired a nation to get cycling again.
Together with Jess Ennis, never give up Kath Grainger and so many others, these are people to be proud of.

10. Britain
If you watched Twenty Twelve, the BBC's sitcom about the organisation of the games, you probably imagined that we were heading for a very expensive disaster. Before the event began, the papers were full of stories of queues, missiles and security blunders. Whilst nothing will excuse G4S and there will have been other problems along the way, the UK has proved that we can organise a major sporting event and do so with humour and pride. Full marks to Seb Coe, Keith Mills and the people who put it together. And well done too to Blair, Livingstone, Boris and all the politicians who believed in it.

Bubbling under: The GB men's gymnastic team. Track cycling. Handball.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Romney picks Ryan

According to all the US media reports, Mitt Romney will announce his pick as his Vice Presidential candidate today and it is set to be Congressman Paul Ryan.

Ryan is pretty well known in the US as chair of the House of Representatives Budget Committee and author of an alternative budget that aims to slim down the size of the US government. It's a well worked out plan (if you like that sort of thing) and he's a good communicator. He's also a favourite of the tea party and will reassure those on the right that Romney meant what he said during the primaries.

According to reports, Romney will name his pick during a visit to decommissioned battleship USS Wisconsin - Ryan being from that state. That's pretty clunky, even for a US politician. But, as Ezra Klein notes in his Washington Post blog, it also highlights a fundamental problem for Romney with his VP choice. Ryan argues for cutting the US budget to 3.75% of GDP if you take out medicare, medicaid and social security. The trouble is that Romney has pledged to raise defence spending alone to 4%.

The rest of Mr Klein's blog is well worth reading for the other problems it may raise for the Romney campaign.

At it's heart, this is a 'hail mary' play by Romney. Perhaps the biggest risk is that, with Ryan being a details man, it leaves Romney's VP open to being seen as smarter than he is.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

The Police and Crime Commissioner farce continues - UPDATED

November's police and crime commissioner elections are rapidly turning into a farce with anybody who has any interest in the post seemingly being barred from standing.

First of all it was those with a criminal conviction for which the punishment might have been a jail term (even if no jail was given). That might seem fair enough if it were an offence committed within the last few years. But at least two high profile candidates appear to have been ruled out on the basis of events from their childhood.

One of these was Falklands hero Simon Weston, who expressed an interest in standing as an independent in South Wales. It was fairly well known that Mr Weston had been in a bit of trouble as a youth and was convicted of offences surrounding a stolen car. He did no jail time, but that even more than thirty years ago appears to bar him from standing now. And Labour's candidate in Avon and Somerset - who received a £5 fine in pre-decimal days as a teenager - has also had to withdraw.

Now, according to the Guardian, a judge has declared that people who are serving magistrates cannot stand. As this is not covered by the law, it will be interesting to see if anyone tries to test it. But the magistracy will lose several experienced people as they have been told to resign as soon as they express any interest in standing.

And it gets worse.

Magistrates will also, it appears be barred from serving on the policing and crime panels which oversee the work of the police and crime commissioners. This despite the fact that they replace the current system of police authorities on which magistrates play a prominent role.

And finally, just in case magistrates didn't feel that their rights were not being curtailed enough, they are to be banned from meeting with police commissioner candidates.

UPDATE - It seems that the judiciary are quite good at listening to common sense arguments and admitting when they get things wrong. Today LJ Goldring has reversed his ruling that sitting magistrates may not stand for election as police and crime commissioners. Instead, he suggests that they should not hear cases between now and the election and should resign if elected. However, he still says that magistrates should not go out campaigning (presumably this edict does not apply to the candidates themselves) and should not sit on the police and crime panels overseeing the work of the commissioners.


Andrew George's petition to save rail services

A quick post to publicise the petition started by Andrew George, the Lib Dem MP for St Ives, to save our direct rail services to London.

As you may have read, the Government has issued a new tender for the Great Western rail franchise and included two options - staying with the current nine direct services from Penzance to Paddington per day or cutting to six.

If you support the retention of the current service level, please sing Andrew's petition here.

Monday, 6 August 2012

An open letter to Sheryll Murray MP

Dear Sheryll

Are you a secret supporter of Devonwall?

I always assumed you weren't on the basis that the idea is an anathema to Cornish history and culture and about as popular around here as a cream tea with the jam on top.

But then, this afternoon, you used your twitter account to post the following:
"I thought Lib Dems believed in fairness for all yet they don't now appear to agree with equal representation for all voters. Disappointing!"
Obviously you were referring to Nick Clegg's decision to order Lib Dem MPs to vote against the new parliamentary constituencies after Tory backbenchers scuppered Lords reform.

But you see Sheryll, you can't have the new boundaries and the 'equal representation for all voters' without having a cross border seat that takes in parts of Devon and parts of Cornwall.

The Boundary Commission were given very strict limits for their work. No seat could be more than 5% bigger or smaller than the average and that meant that Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly couldn't have an exact number of constituencies. There would have to be one that crossed the border.

Most of us understood that. We argued that the rules needed to be looser. The Boundary Commission could still sort out some of the most glaring inconsistencies and even things up a lot, but they could also respect natural communities. You obviously felt that the Commission needed to be micro-managed and the result was Devonwall.

I've tried getting the answer out of you via a conversation on twitter, but you have three times refused to answer my question. So, do you support Devonwall?

Yours

Alex


Devonwall - glad the threat is gone, but little to celebrate

I could be gloating about today's announcement by Nick Clegg that Lib Dem MPs will be voting against the new boundaries (including Devonwall) thereby all but ensuring that they won't be in place for the next election. I predicted that the next general election would be fought on the same boundaries as the last way back in September last year.

The fact that I'm not is for two reasons. First, because the relief may only be temporary. Clegg has said that the changes to constituencies should be stopped only until after the next election. It may well be that any pause will mean their abandonment, but it could equally be that we will have to fight this battle again in a few years time.

Second, this victory comes at a heavy price. We haven't seen off Devonwall because it is and always was a ridiculous notion that ignores centuries of history and culture and divides communities. It has been lost in a revenge attack by Nick Clegg on the Conservatives for their failure to back the coalition agreement on Lords reform. Cameron couldn't deliver his troops and so Clegg has made explicit that the Lib Dems will scupper a move which would make it easier for the Tories to secure an overall majority in the future.

I hope that the coalition survives. For all that I hate some of things that it has done, I still think it's the best chance of securing the economic recovery that is the number one priority of the country. I also think that we have to be a mature enough democracy to expect two parties to be able to work together for the common good in cases where no one wins an overall majority at an election. If the leaders starts chucking their toys now, then it makes a future coalition of any combination more difficult to achieve.

Cornwall missing a trick on Olympic legacy?

For all that politicians seem to have had an uncanny knack of getting tickets in the Olympics ballot, there is a role for those of us who have been elected - making sure that everything is in place to take the best advantage of the Olympics legacy.

I think our role should be to make sure that young people have access to facilities and coaching and encouragement to learn and improve. Most will get nothing out of it other than becoming fitter and having fun. But a few will turn out to be good and need to be helped to realise their potential. It's about both sport for all and talent spotting.

First, the good news. Under the Tory Government from 1979 to 1997, more than 10,000 school playing fields were sold off. Under Labour from 1997 to 2010, that number fell to just 226. And it has fallen even further under the coalition with just 8 applications allowed since the new government came into being.

Another piece of good news, here in Cornwall, is that the trust that runs all the council leisure services is preparing to launch a couple of initiatives for young people after the events finish on Sunday. I've asked them (and they have agreed) to also work with other providers in Cornwall. So if you want to take part in open water swimming, they won't simply promote the Jubilee Pool in Penzance (which they run) but also Bude Sea Pool (which they don't).

The trust has also got a few longer term programmes in place to assist high achieving sportspeople through free access to facilities; with school holiday activities; with the torch roadshow and with coaching.

But sport and leisure are wider than just leisure centres and swimming pools. But with the Council getting rid of most of its services - either though transfer to a management organisation or trust or straight privatisation - there is much less we can do. This is one of the unfortunate consequences of the out-sourcing agenda. No longer can the authority be fleet of foot to capitalise on the public mood. We now have to persuade other organisations to do things that they aren't necessarily contracted to do.

One group that is heavily funded by Cornwall Council is Cornwall Sports Partnership. But their '2012 Cornwall' page focuses on the torch procession back on the 19th March. And even the front page of their (pretty good) Get Active Cornwall site doesn't have any mention of the Olympics when it should surely be telling people how to get involved with any of the Olympic sports.

And finally, Cornwall Council's own home page makes no mention of the games. A promising looking picture of a child swimming turns out to be focused on school holiday activity with no mention of London 2012.

It does rather seem that Cornwall (currently having won more gold medals than Australia) is missing a trick.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Wiggins turns his podium into a platform

Huge congratulations to Bradley Wiggins on his gold medal of course, but also good on him for using his place on top of the podium as a platform to talk about cycling safety. Whatever your views on compulsory cycle helmets and the like, there is nothing wrong with the Olympic and Tour de France champion using his moment in the spotlight to say what he believes.

Some will suggest that it is not for him (or Lizzie Armistead, who has said similar) to talk about politics. But if they know what they are talking about - and as road racers they clearly do - then they have every right to say it, even from the podium steps.

There have been plenty of politicians of all parties, including Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and William Hague, who have used their twitter accounts to hitch themselves to the gold medal bandwagon, tweeting within seconds of the result. If politicians want to get involved in spot, then it is surely fair for sportsmen and women to dip into politics.

Council Leader re-writing history over library closure threat

Cornwall's Council Leader Alec Robertson is trying to re-write history by claiming to members that his administration never considered closing any libraries. He makes the claims in an email to all members in which he also tries to justify the privatisation of a range of front line services.

The key excerpt from Alec's email reads:
Despite the misleading comments made in one local newspaper this week, the Council has never considered closing any libraries in Cornwall.  
But this isn't actually true. In 2010 when the cabinet was considering their first emergency budget, an options paper was put before them with a whole range of potential savings. Some were given the provisional go ahead and others were rejected.

One of the options that was given the go ahead in a section titled
Cabinet recommendations on potential service cuts
was this:
Further to star chamber and in addition to the savings above. This more radical proposal would combine the OSS and Libraries and reduce the service to nine key locations of OSS/Libraries across Cornwall closing 20 libraries. Saving additional £75k of OSS budget and and additional saving of between £300k and £500k of libraries budget. Would expect some legal challenge around the 1964 Act, loss of face to face role for Cornwall Council and possible claw back of funds from lottery. Potential 60 posts made redundant.
I’m very glad that the Cabinet changed their mind and did not eventually recommend these cuts to full council. This may or may not have been something to do with the massive campaign run by Liberal Democrats across Cornwall which generated thousands of petition signatures in a few days. Who knows, it may even have been because the Conservatives saw sense.

But whatever the reason, Council Leader Alec Robertson cannot truthfully claim that the Council has never considered closing any libraries in Cornwall.

There is a proper debate to be had on the Conservative plan to hand a range of services over to a new private company with no democratic representation on the board. But lying isn’t the way to go about it.