Thursday, 28 February 2013

Collin Brewer resigns

That Collin Brewer should have felt the need to resign following his horrible comments about disabled children is no surprise. That it has taken this long to happen is.

Collin made the comments 18 months ago. I have no reason to doubt the explanation he has given - that he was 'het up' after a council meeting. But that cannot be any excuse for hate speech such as this. To be honest, I think his place on the council was finished at that point.

I know that some have been criticising the delay in the Standards Committee report and what appears to be the wishy-washy punishment - telling him to apologise. Sadly, the procedure is now different from what it was in the past and the range of punishments far less. In the past a suspension could have been recommended. Now the demand for an apology is the highest sanction. There is no doubt, therefore, that Cornwall's standards committee and the staff involved in the process followed the rules to the letter. But Collin could have chosen to resign at any point during this process and it appears that only during an interview with Laurence Reed yesterday did he truly realise how untenable his position had become.

I regret that any councillor should have to resign their position and Collin has undoubtedly done a lot for his community over the years. But it was right that he should resign and voters will have the chance to elect someone to replace him in two months time.

Full credit also to Disability Cornwall who have shown great leadership over this sorry matter.

Cornwall Budget will boost job numbers

There has been a lot written about the decision by full council on Tuesday to endorse the Liberal Democrat budget amendment. One of the uglier consequences is that some councillors who supported the cabinet's proposed tax rise are scare-mongering about where the axe will fall. Yet this budget will actually boost jobs numbers, not cut them.

Shamefully, some are suggesting that whole swathes of adult care, children's services and other front-line services will go.

In our budget amendment, the Liberal Democrats made it quite clear that we wanted to see the amount being spent on agency staff and consultants cut. Two years ago, that amount was £750,000 per month. Now it is more than £1.1 million per month. We have set a target of bringing the level of spending back down to that of two years ago.

This is partly due to a small number of consultants on rates of more than £1000 per day. But it is mainly down to a culture of 'flexible working' whereby agency staff are being used because it is easy to hire and fire them as they are needed. But agency staff are expensive - sometimes costing the council as much as double the rate of workers on contracts. And so it seems pretty pointless to use agency staff except for emergencies.

Yet Cornwall Council, under the Conservatives, has been using more and more agency staff to cover routine work. This is work that has to be done week in, week out and the staff who are doing it are good at it. We don't want to lose them. So we have said that the bulk of the savings should be made by transferring agency workers onto contract. Same staff, same work, savings for the council.

Yet some councillors seem to be implying that they would rather cut services instead. I think, and hope, that they are bluffing. But if they insist on doing so then this is their decision. It is not necessary because of the budget vote and Lib Dems will be campaigning against it.

What seems also to have been forgotten is the investment that the budget will be making in extra services:
  • The decision to put £2.5m into road repairs over the next two years will keep more people in work and mean that our roads get repaired properly rather than the 'dry-fill' repairs that are the only option for our staff and which barely last a day or two in places;
  • The decision to clean up our beaches and verges will help sustain our tourist industry which supports tens of thousands of jobs and the biggest sector of our economy;
  • The decision to put money into tackling anti-social behaviour will mean more jobs in our youth service in the short-term but will also help young people avoid criminal records and mean that they are more employable in the future;
  • The decision to cut parking charges will help to safeguard tens of thousands of jobs in town centre shops and businesses that were threatened by the high charges levelled by the Tory-led administration.
In short, this was a budget that will mean more jobs, nor fewer.

In other news, it appears that cabinet member Carolyn Rule has quit the Conservative group in protest at the decision by the party leadership to back the tax freeze.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cornwall Council backs Lib Dem council tax freeze and investment in services

Today, Cornwall Council accepted the Liberal Democrat budget alternative. As a result, in the coming financial year we will see:
  • council tax frozen
  • cuts to parking charges
  • our roads repaired
  • investment to tackle anti-social behaviour
  • a spring clean for Cornwall
None of this would have happened if the Liberal Democrats had not been pushing for it. The Council's Conservative-led administration was arguing for a 1.97% rise.

We put together our alternative because that is what residents told us they wanted. We listened to local people who said they could not afford to pay even more on their council tax bill. We listened to town centre businesses who said their future was being put at risk by high parking charges. And we listened to residents who said they wanted something more done to tackle anti-social behaviour.

Today the Independents and the Conservatives on the ruling cabinet tried to force through a council tax rise and no investment in services. But the Lib Dem amendment was backed by enough of the backbench Conservatives to do the right thing for Cornwall. I'm grateful for their support but it shows once again how out of touch the Conservative leadership are with the wishes of the people of Cornwall.

We acknowledge that these are still touch times for Cornwall Council. The programme we have put forward still requires lots of hard work by the council's excellent officers. But we are confident that this will produce a better Cornwall and focuses more on what local people want.

As ever, the Liberal Democrats have done our best for the people of Cornwall.

Friday, 22 February 2013

West Briton raises concern over Cornwall's use of agency social workers

A story in the West Briton this week makes disturbing reading about the way in which agency staff are employed by Cornwall Council as social workers.

The article, which is based on a freedom of information request, claims that there are large scale vacancies for social workers in Cornwall and that many agency staff are used to cover the gaps. The cost of agency staff can be double that of a full-time Cornwall employee.

Quite rightly, Cornwall Council is taking action to make sure that there are always enough social workers to undertake the responsibilities of the authority. They also say that there is an on-going recruitment exercise in place to fill vacancies.

But the cost of agency staff has ballooned so much in recent years. In March 2011 we were told by the then Conservative leadership that the cost for all agency staff and consultants was £750,000 per month and that this was too high. Now the total cost is around £1.1 million per month.

When I have pressed on the cost of consultants and agency staff I was told that it was often a more cost effective way of employing staff.

But whilst I can see how having flexibility of staff numbers in some areas can be beneficial and cost effective, I don’t see how paying double for staff we will always need can be described in this way.

This is not a matter of cutting jobs. There is a need for a full complement of adult and children’s services social work staff. But it would be much more cost effective for the council to make these staff permanent than to carry on using such huge numbers of agency workers.

In our budget amendment, Liberal Democrats are seeking a cut of around 25% in the amount spent on consultants and agency staff. We know that we cannot afford to have vital front line services left uncovered and so there will need to be some agency workers employed in social work for some time to come, as well as the call centre. But the directors of these services should be asked to come up with a plan to reduce the reliance on agency staff and thereby reduce the overall cost to the authority.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Chief Constable sends out 'no compromise' message re force values

Congratulations to Devon and Cornwall's new Chief Constable on the message he has sent out about the force's values. His no compromise message highlights the dangers that face our force at a time when public confidence in the police has been shaken.

I don't believe that there is any systemic or individual problem in Devon and Cornwall Police that will cause the public to lose trust. But we cannot avoid the fact that the phone hacking saga, arrests and allegations of improper police behaviour and relationships with journalists have done much to shake the national confidence.

It would be all too easy for a force like Devon and Cornwall to sit back and believe that this is a problem that does not affect them. But Shaun Sawyer has not done that. He has issued a message to all members of his force which set out the values that the public expects them to uphold and which he will not compromise on.

Mr Sawyer says:
"I am serious about making sure everyone understands, signs up to, delivers and demonstrates the Forces values.

Some people seem to take the view that we must choose between meeting targets and abiding by our values. This is false. We will not reward people for hitting targets in an unethical way that is inconsistent with our mission, vision and values.

Our communities will only trust in us if we provide them with the best possible service. I will not accept performance that compromises either demonstrating our values or our focus on driving down crime and protecting those most vulnerable; to do so would be to do the public and ourselves a disservice."
Hear, hear

Cornwall's Liberal Democrat alternative budget - the details

Today Cornwall's Liberal Democrats announced an alternative budget to freeze council tax and invest in front line services. Here are the detailed figures for the coming financial year. The full amendment that will be voted on by the council includes everything for the next four years.

The Liberal Democrat budget proposal seeks to implement spending commitments as follows for 2013/14:

Council Tax Freeze: £4.272 million
Partially restore Leader’s Contingency Fund: £0.2 million
Investment in Youth Services: £0.2 million

In order to pay for this spending, the Liberal Democrats propose to raise income as follows (all figures are in comparison with Council Leader’s proposals):

Cuts to consultants and agency staff: £3.672 million
Cuts to Council Communications budget: £400,000
Raising Council Tax collection rate target from 97.5% to 97.7%: £0.6 million

In addition, there are three proposals for limited time spending:

The Liberal Democrats will cut parking charges across Cornwall in 2013. The details of the exact price changes will be worked out in consultation with local councillors and communities. The overall cost will be underwritten up to £1.2 million per year for two years.

We also recognise that the road repair and safety budget has been raided constantly over the last few years to plug the hole in the parking budget. We will therefore put £1.245m extra into the road repair budget for each of the next two years.

This money will come from the guaranteed Government Freeze Grant provided for two years of £2.445m per year.

The new waste contractor, Cory, failed to deliver the service they were paid for in April 2012. As a result, contractual penalties are being negotiated between Cory and Cornwall Council. The exact figures are confidential at this stage. Liberal Democrats will use this one off payment to invest in additional beach cleaning and litter picking across Cornwall during the 2013.

Cornish Liberal Democrats announce zero rise budget alternative

  • Another year of council tax freeze
  • Cuts to car park charges
  • Investment in road repairs and youth services
  • More money for beach cleaning and litter picking

Cornish Liberal Democrats are today announcing a budget alternative which would see council tax frozen for a third straight year. 

“Our budget alternative stands in stark contrast to the official budget proposal of the Conservative-led council,” said Cllr Jeremy Rowe, Leader of the Liberal Democrats on Cornwall Council.  

“Where they promise a council tax rise, we will freeze it. Where they propose service cuts, we have found the money to reverse many of the harshest. Where they have slashed money for road repairs, we will invest millions and we will cut car parking charges across Cornwall. 

“The Conservatives on Cornwall Council have a history of wasting money. They spent millions on the failed bid to privatise a huge range of services without public or Council support. Their own budget documents show how their group leader lost £300,000 of income in the coming year by failing to implement a fairer scheme for discretionary rate relief. And let’s not forget the £50,000 given to Plymouth in their attempt to host the World Cup and the money wasted by ferrying tea and coffee between offices by taxi. 

“Last year, council tax was only frozen because the Liberal Democrats campaigned for it. Independents, MK and Labour voted for a rise and the Conservatives dithered. This year, the Conservative cabinet members have again said openly they are looking to the Liberal Democrats to take the lead and propose a freeze. We are happy to do so. 

“This year’s council tax freeze will save between £25 and £70 for every household in Cornwall. At a time of continuing economic hardship, Cornwall Council should be doing our bit to help as many people as possible.” 

As well as a council tax freeze, Liberal Democrats are proposing to cut car park charges across Cornwall. Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Cllr Alex Folkes, said: 

“We believe that high car park charges deter motorists and damage our town centre shops and businesses. The proof is in the £3m bail out that had to be given to the car park budget last year and the £1.8m this year. 

“In Launceston we have proved that cutting car park charges can actually result in higher income for the council. Happier motorists, happier businesses and a happier council. We will do this for towns and villages across Cornwall by cutting parking charges. We are confident that this will succeed and we are dedicating £1.2m per year for the next two years to underwrite the project.” 

Liberal Democrats have also recognised the damage that has been done to our road network through cuts to the repairs budget. The budget will invest more than £1.2m per year for the next two years in filling potholes and repairing carriageways. 

Lib Dem Finance spokesman Ann Kerridge said: “The Conservatives stripped the road repair and safety budget by millions in order to plug the holes in their parking budget. Last week they announced that their own budget proposal would put around £65,000 more into the pot. Whilst we believe this is welcome, it is dwarfed by the £2.490m we will be investing. 

“When we talk to residents across Cornwall, one of the areas they tell us worries them most is yobbishness and anti-social behaviour. Whilst the Conservative Police Commissioner is increasing his demands on council tax whilst slashing officer numbers, we want to do more to tackle these problems. We will invest an extra £200,000 into the work being done by Cornwall’s excellent youth service to tackle anti-social behaviour.” 

Liberal Democrats are also proposing to reverse some of the damage done by one of the worst failings of the Conservative administration. 

Deputy Leader Alex Folkes said: “In April 2012, a new waste collection and street cleaning service started. The introduction was so mis-handled by both the Conservative-led council and the contractor that tens of thousands of bins were not emptied and many streets were not cleaned. The impact on our tourism industry could have been catastrophic. We will invest in a ‘spring clean for Cornwall’ ahead of the coming tourist season by using the contractual penalties the council will receive from the contractor to invest in additional beach cleaning and litter picking. 

“Sadly, the one Tory decision that we cannot reverse is their imposition of a poor tax on 26,000 of the least well off working age families in Cornwall. Their vote in January to impose an average £265 council tax rise on these families is shameful. Regrettably, the Government has decreed that the scheme decided then cannot be altered. 

“In order to pay for the council tax freeze and other proposals, we will press ahead with our plans to cut spending on consultants and agency staff. In addition, we will cut the amount that Cornwall Council is spending on spin doctors and communications. The Conservatives actually wanted to increase this budget in the coming year. We will reverse that rise and ask that department to work with 6.25% less than the current year. 

“We will also be challenging Cornwall Council to do better collecting council tax. The target set by the Conservatives is 97.5%. Already our officers are beating that rate and we challenged them to become one of the best authorities in the country. We have set a challenge for the coming year of 97.7%” 

Lib Dem Group Leader Jeremy Rowe added: “At this difficult time, no party is able to promise to protect every aspect of council spending. Sadly, there are some tough choices to be made. We will not shy away from those and there are some areas where we are proposing cuts which we would prefer not to have to make. But when the choice is between council propaganda or repairing our roads and helping hard pressed families across Cornwall, the Liberal Democrats know which side we are on. 

“At their budget meeting last week, Conservative cabinet members queued up to ask the Liberal Democrats to take the lead to do what is right for the people of Cornwall. This budget does so and we would welcome the support of Conservatives and the people of Cornwall.”

Friday, 15 February 2013

Council tax - up or freeze? Make your views known

I've recently written to residents in the area I represent asking for their views on the level of council tax in Cornwall next year.

As I have written before, I would like to see council tax kept as low as possible without making additional cuts to valuable front line services.

I'd like to know the views of the wider readership of this blog too. Should council tax rise by the 1.97% desired by the Conservative Leadership of the council? Or should we strive for a freeze?

Make your views known here.

Launceston College Masterchef

There are some days when being a Cornwall Councillor is lots of fun. Today is one of them. I was a judge at the second Launceston College Masterchef competition.

We ate the work of six very talented year nine pupils (aged 13-14 in old money) who had been whittled down from 49 original entrants. All the food was of an incredible standard which is testament to the pupils, their parents and the staff at the college.

Each contestant had two and a half hours to produce a two course meal of main course and dessert. We got two fish pies of the highest order, a vegetarian moussaka with home made flatbread, Thai fishcakes with an incredible dipping sauce, chicken wrapped in parma ham and a traditional Polish meal with breaded Turkey escalope.

For dessert, there were a couple of cheesecakes, a meringue with limoncello cream, a chocolate cake, a tiramisu and a shortbread with cream.

There were truly exceptional elements within each of the meals we were given and it was really hard to make a decision. As you might expect, I had to take a second, or even third, pass just to make up my mind.

Many thanks to the college for inviting me and to the town's youth council and Hockridge and Stacey for sponsoring the event. Congratulations to all the entrants for the passion they showed and their immense skills. (Yep, I'd quite like to be a judge next year too!)

If you want to know the results and the name of the winner, check out next week's local papers.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Cornwall's top Tories seek Liberal Democrat leadership

At yesterday's cabinet meeting, Conservative cabinet members were queuing up to ask for Liberal Democrat leadership on council tax and the budget.

Apparently, it is all because I was quoted on Radio Cornwall yesterday morning setting out the Liberal Democrat position:
"We want to see the lowest possible level of council tax whilst protecting services. If we can find a way of freezing council tax for a third straight year whilst protecting the services that people value, then we will do so. If we can't freeze council tax then we will seek the minimum increase necessary."
The Conservative Leadership's budget is asking for a 1.97% rise in council tax - described as 'referendum dodging' by one of the own local government ministers in London. All four Independent councillors on the cabinet spoke in support of that rise yesterday, as did all but one of the Conservative Cabinet members.

The narrative from Conservative councillors Armand Toms, Carolyn Rule and Lance Kennedy was that they were happy to back a 1.97% rise, but would look to see if the Liberal Democrats could come up with an alternative budget proposal that would allow for a freeze. They are also hoping that their fellow Conservative Fiona Ferguson might be able to provide a freeze option.

It seems that even the Conservatives are looking for Lib Dem leadership in Cornwall.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Alec Robertson - the councillor with no shame

Today at full council I voted against a rise in allowances. By my calculation that is the seventh or eighth time I have done so during my (almost) four years as a Cornwall councillor.

And, yet again, the reason for this vote was a motion in the name of former Council Leader Alec Robertson. But this time (for the first time), Cllr Robertson was advocating a freeze in allowances rather than a rise.

Back in October, the council debated a report of the independent remuneration panel which recommended a rise to more than £16,000 a year. I voted against that and against the eventual recommendation of £14,600 per year. I lost the latter vote despite thinking that it is wrong to ask taxpayers to fork out more at this difficult economic time. I respect, but disagree, with people who hold different views.

A number of councillors were absent from that debate. One of those was Cllr Robertson. He disagreed with the result - as did I. But as he had not bothered to show up, I would have assumed that he would accept democracy and live with it.

But apparently Cllr Robertson was outraged at the result.

Obviously not outraged enough to have bothered to turn up to the meeting in the first place.

Nor so outraged as to have tried to do something about it at the next meeting in December.

Or either of the two meetings in January.


Cllr Robertson waited until the meeting today to express his outrage and try to overturn the result of that vote. It is certainly not entirely coincidental that the election is now 78 days away.

We should remember that Cllr Robertson, when he was leader, tried three times to increase allowances.

And that he is the highest paid councillor in Cornwall ever having taken at least £147,000 from taxpayers over the last three years and nine months.

And that he chose to give £50,000 of Cornish taxpayers' money to try to bring the World Cup to Plymouth.

And that, under his regime, tea and coffee was ferried between offices by taxi.

And that his colleague, Cllr Ferguson, sat on a recommendation that would have brought £300,000  extra income to the council after 14 months of work by officers and councillors because she was the only person who didn't agree with it. (£300k being the same amount as the increase in allowances would cost).

And that millions was spent on the failed support services / privatisation venture that he championed.

No. With the election just 78 days away, Cllr Robertson emerges from hibernation and decides that he wants to overturn a decision of the council taken with full knowledge of the facts because the election is imminent and he clearly hopes that this move will make Cornish resident forget the disastrous regime he led until he was deposed last autumn.

Truly, the man has no shame.

Friday, 8 February 2013

Conservatives cost you more - Police Special

Policing costs in Devon and Cornwall will be going up in the coming year thanks to Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg and the rubber stamp of the Tory dominated Police and Crime Panel.

At today's meeting, the panel discussed Commissioner Hogg's desire for a referendum-cheating 2% rise in his council tax precept. Cornish Lib Dem councillor Adam Paynter led the charge against the rise.

Of course, all budgets are under pressure and the police force has seen officer numbers cut as the pressures tighten. But the bit of Commissioner Hogg's budget that seems more bloated than it need be are his own office costs. The abolition of the old police authority promised that these costs would come down. Sure the commissioner is paid a big salary, but the panel members operate for travel costs only rather than the special allowance received by the old authority members.

But not in Commissioner Hogg's world. He is budgeting for his office and staff costs to match those of the old authority - and perhaps rise even higher. Already he has a spin doctor on £60,000 and has hired the wife of an old navy chum as his 'senior adviser'. As a former chief finance officer for Devon, she is well qualified in many respects, but it seems strange that there was no open recruitment process.

Tory and Labour members all voted for the 2% rise, but Adam Paynter did not.

Incidentally, Cornwall's voice was much muted at the meeting. Although I was absent as part of the interview panel for Cornwall's interim Chief Executive, I had arranged for Adam to attend in my place as rules allow. The other Lib Dem from Cornwall, Paula Dolphin, was also there. So too was Bill Maddern - one of the two Conservatives. Lance Kennedy was nowhere to be seen and had not sent a sub. Neither had Indie John Wood who was also tied up in the interviews in Truro all day but hadn't nominated a replacement.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Launceston CAN meeting report

Each year, the Launceston Community Network of Cornwall Council holds a big meeting in the town hall to hear any and all opinions on anything that matters to local residents. This meeting sits alongside the themed meetings we hold around the parishes through the year.

Tonight saw discussion on two big topics.

The first was street cleaning and litter picking. Having been to a previous meeting and heard criticisms of the new regime, the staff came to explain the changes they had made and received some pretty positive feedback.

The key points they made were:

- the town centre zone which is cleaned daily has been extended to include parts of Western Road;
- the streets such as Blind Hole which had been missed off the map have now been added;
- consultation will start soon on introducing kerbside collection on Ridgegrove. This would get rid of the communal bins and be likely to mean a change in June.

I'm delighted that the team have listened to local concerns. There will still be the occasional problem, but they have become very good about responding to reports and I thank them wholeheartedly for that.

The second big topic was the proposal to sell Race Hill car parks to a supermarket. As I have posted before, I am very dubious that such a scheme could work. I am especially concerned about the highways issues. But I am prepared to look at any proposal that comes forward with an open mind. There was some support at tonight's meeting for the idea (as well as lots of opposition) and this will be a genuine debate in the town.

What I think (virtually) everyone is concerned at, however, is the speed with which Cornwall Council are marketing the site. Surely it would have been better to discuss any idea about selling with the town council, chamber and residents BEFORE the marketing campaign started. My fear is that the town is being bounced into this proposal without having the time to properly think it through.

The best time to have had this discussion would have been when we were looking at development throughout the town as part of the town framework process. But even if that were not possible, I don't think we should be beholden to a developer's timetable if it risks a decision which may not be right for the town.

There will be a further chance to have your say on this issue at a meeting organised by the town council on 19th February at 6pm in the town hall.

Cash without question - the Tory PPC and his non-job at taxpayers' expense

The new Conservative PPC for North Cornwall has some explaining to do. Scott Mann is currently taking thousands of pounds from taxpayers for a non-job that takes up just a few minutes of his time each year.

Cllr Mann is Chairman of the Regulatory Committee of Cornwall Council and receives £2385.82 per year as a 'special responsibility allowance'. He was elected chairman at a meeting which lasted just 8 minutes on July 5th 2011.

Since then, the committee has met just once more on July 2nd 2012 (when Mann was re-elected). That meeting lasted barely any longer than the first. Yet Cllr Mann continues to receive his extra allowance.

Last week, Cllr Mann voted, with most of his Conservative colleagues, to impose a council tax rise averaging £265 a year on the poorest 26,000 working age families in Cornwall.

So the question is, does the new Conservative candidate think it is right to be taking taxpayer cash when there is virtually no work to do and will he hand back the £3500 or so he has taken in that time?

Cornwall accountancy package up to £800k over budget

It's not quite as bad as buying an aircraft carrier, but Cornwall Council's new accounting computer programme is experiencing some costly teething troubles. At present the system is around £800,000 over budget and taking lots of staff time to put right.

The ERP system was bought in order to rationalise the payroll, invoice and accountancy systems and to make it possible for line managers to do a lot more of the financial work rather than having to employ more finance officers.

But the council has asked for additional capabilities compared to the original order and the system does not do everything that it is meant to. This has meant that staff are having to be employed to put things right and this comes at a cost. Today we were told that the additional costs are likely to be around £800,000 and the staff time is, as yet, unquantified.

The council rightly has to bear the cost when it asks for greater capability - but we have to ask why didn't they get it right first time? And worse, officers don't think we will get the money back for the extra costs associated with the bits that simply don't work.

That just seems wrong. If you buy something new for a pre-determined cost then you expect it to work. If it doesn't then you would expect the supplier to put things right for free. Further than that, you would expect that supplier to compensate you for any additional costs incurred whilst things are being put right.

But it appears that this is not the way that Conservative-led Cornwall Council manages taxpayer money.

Taking care of the pennies...

Every time there is a council meeting, agendas and other papers are printed and sent out to councillors. These often come to hundreds of pages. So the combination of print and postage costs are pretty heavy.

Today a scrutiny committee was discussing the 'Corporate Asset Management Plan'. The plan was included as a printed appendix in the papers.

At the meeting, an officer handed round new colour copies of the plan - apparently on the basis that there had been a slight change compared to the original.

When I questioned the use of resources, the officer in charge said that the £50 or £60 wasted was small change compared to the overall amount spent on Cornwall Council's buildings.

Of course he is right. But if the council can't take steps to avoid small amounts of waste like this, how can we hope that it can take care of the bigger amounts too?

With so many councillors now using tablets and laptops to work, there has got to be a change of attitude in the council to stop printing so many papers (and also to write shorter reports in the first place!)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Tory and Independent councillors flip flop on allowances

First they were for it, now they claim to be against it. The flip-flopping position of some Tory and Independent councillors on the allowances rise is quite incredible.

There will be a debate at full council next week to rescind the decision taken back in October to increase the basic councillor allowance from May. In October the vote was taken to raise allowances from £12,128 to £14,600 per year. That was, to say the least, controversial and passed by 42 votes to 29. I was one of the 29 who voted against the rise.

Because the vote next Tuesday involves overturning a decision, the signatures of 20 councillors were needed to get it onto the agenda. What is surprising are the names of some of those who signed up.

Just six of the signatories voted against the rise back in October. These - Cllrs Double, Eddowes, Fitter, Ridgers, Sanger and Tucker - are being consistent to their actions back then. Another signatory, Cllr Lionel Pascoe, wasn't on the council in October.

But, of the rest, an incredible ten signatories were absent from the meeting when the vote was taken.

These were councillors Alec Robertson, Sally Bain, John Dyer, Mike Eathorne-Gibbons, Neil Hatton, Lance Kennedy, Phil Parsons, Liz Penhaligon, Carolyn Rule and Armand Toms. Some had been absent for the whole meeting and at least one was ill at the time. Others had been present for earlier debates but had decided to go home before the vote on allowances was taken. Clearly they felt that they had something better to do than vote on the issue of allowances.

But it doesn't end there. One councillor who is now demanding that the decision be rescinded - Cllr Jenny Stewart - was in the meeting but abstained on the vote.

And four more - Cllrs Des Curnow, John Keeling, Tony Martin and Terry Wilkins - actually voted for the allowance rise that they are now seeking to rescind. Their names are listed clearly as being in favour of higher allowances then, but they claim now that this would be a steep in the wrong direction.

If all the councillors who have signed this motion had been present and voted against the rise in allowances back in October, then this debate would not be necessary. But then, this is just one more example of the shambles that the Conservatives and Independents have got Cornwall into.

Friday, 1 February 2013

One rule for councils, another for Police Commissioners it seems

When a number of councils proposed raising council tax by just under the Government's threshold of 2%, local government minister Brandon Lewis accused them of 'democracy dodging'.

Now that Police Commissioner Tony Hogg has proposed a precept rise for Devon and Cornwall of 2%, the silence from Mr Lewis is stunning.

Updated post office coming to Launceston soon

Congratulations to Julie and her team at Launceston Post Office. I've just heard that they are going to be one of the branches upgraded to 'main post office' status shortly.

This means a refurbishment and longer opening hours but no loss in services or products. The new opening hours will include full day opening (9.00am to 5.30pm) six days a week, including Saturdays.

And, alongside that refurbishment, a side entrance will be created that will, at last, provide proper access for those who cannot manage the steps at the front of the building. I know this is something that Julie has been trying to change for some time and it's good to see that happening.

All this is thanks to a three year investment and support programme which is the largest in the history of the Post Office. It's just one of the things that the coalition government is doing to support and guarantee the future of the post office network. In the past, governments of both colours have closed thousands of branches. But the Liberal Democrats in the coalition have made a guarantee of no more branch closures and this investment effort.

As part of the transformation of Launceston Post Office, the branch will be closed for a week from Thursday 21st February through to re-opening on Wednesday 27th February. During that time, customers can get post office services from South Petherwin and Lifton.