Sunday, 30 June 2013

Tory Police Commissioner's £650 per month rent paid for by taxpayers (even though he could stay at the office for free)

It seems that the Conservative Police Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall has decided to help himself to £650 per month of taxpayer money as a housing allowance. Tony Hogg says he needs the cash to be able to stay near Police HQ in Exeter (he comes from Helston). The full story is in the Mail on Sunday.

The trouble is that not only is this yet another drain on police resources, but it is totally unnecessary. The police HQ has ensuite visitor accommodation designed for overnight stays and which was used by members of the old police authority. However Mr Hogg has said that he does not think it is 'appropriate' for him. Instead, he wanted money to be able to stay with chums at a local naval base.

It seems that Tony Hogg's first instinct is to put his hand in the taxpayer's pocket and expect them to pay for his whims. He seems to forget he is already getting £85,000 a year of our money.

Modern technology means that he doesn't need to be sitting next to the Chief Constable or to his own personal staff to be able to do the job properly. He had the option to base his office anywhere in Devon or Cornwall but he chose Exeter. If he doesn't like the idea of commuting then he could use the free accommodation on offer. Or he could well afford to buy or rent his own flat in the city rather than charging accommodation to the taxpayer.

Taxpayers were promised that the new police commissioners would save money compared to the old police authorities. But Tony Hogg has already taken on more staff than under the old system and has spent a further quarter of a million on consultants and agency staff. This latest revelation adds insult to injury. In the past week, Mr Hogg wrote to the government asking for more money for frontline police officers in our area. How can he be taken seriously when he is diverting money which could be used for bobbies on the beat and using it to pad out his £85,000 salary with unnecessary expenses.

I have written to Mr Hogg today asking him to justify the expenses. If, as the newspaper article claims, he has chosen to ignore free accommodation then I believe that he should be paying for any alternative out of his own pocket.

UPDATE - Tony Hogg has responded via his own website here.

UPDATE 2 - The chair of the Police Federation in Devon and Cornwall has had called Mr Hogg's assertions 'nonsense'.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why handing control of the Fire and Rescue Service to the Police Commissioner would be bad for Cornwall

It seems that free-spending Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg is keen to expand his empire. He has welcomed a proposal by the Home Secretary to explore the idea of police commissioners taking over the running of fire and ambulance services. Chancellor George Osborne also gave a hint of such a move in his spending review announcement yesterday.

I don’t know that much about the ambulance services, but Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is a hugely specialised team which has developed brilliantly under Cornwall Council. It has new leadership and was taken off a list of those services seen to be failing after a lot of hard work by the authority and staff. The idea of centralising it to an Exeter HQ (and merging with Devon) would mean the loss of local accountability and, I fear, a less responsive service.

Whilst most of local government has made significant savings in administration in recent years, Mr Hogg has overseen further bloating of his own administration team. He has, rightly, made the point that local police services will be affected by the latest round of cuts. But his arguments are holed below the waterline given his own profligacy. I can't help but wonder whether taking over fire or ambulance services would be simply an excuse for another round of consultants and more 'chums on seats'.

At the moment, Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service is run by the council and accountable to the public through local elected members. The debate about local fire stations and service levels is one which the public can see and take part in. My fear is that, if the Police Commissioner’s empire is allowed to expand, we will lose that accountability and decisions will be taken in a private office in Exeter.

Led by my colleague Sue James, a cross party group of Cornwall councillors has proposed a motion for the next council meeting opposing the centralisation of fire services.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Launceston Mayoral Induction

Today saw the ceremony to induct Dave Gordon into office as Launceston's new mayor. Normally, this would have been a mayor making ceremony in May, but it was delayed this year because of the elections. Dave has actually been in office for a month now.

All the bling and formality was still observed with visiting mayors from around East Cornwall and West Devon and the great and good of the town on parade.

Dave made a passionate speech about his pride in our town and the need for many organisations (and Cornwall Council in particular) to start to treat Launceston and its residents more fairly. He talked about making sure that developments happened with the consent of the local community and weren't done to us. He asked, in particular, for action on the lack of public transport in our area - particularly services to link us with the rest of Cornwall.

Also formally starting his term of office is Brian Hogan who takes up the reins as the Deputy Mayor. I wish both he and Dave the best of luck for their term of office.

There were three awards of appreciation handed out. These are to recognise significant contributions over a long period of time to the community. They went to:
  • Ann Brown who has been the bedrock of the Launceston Town Band for many years and, in particular, for her work to support younger band members;
  • Keith Roberts who was the person behind both the Foodbank and Money Advice Centre - seeing the need, raising the funds, starting the organisation and recruiting volunteers;
  • The Rotary Club for all the work they do but, especially, the Rotary Shop which has raised more than £70,000 for local projects and clubs since it started.
Congratulations to all of them for their hard work and well deserved awards.

Link Road development to be debated next week

The proposed supermarket, hotel, housing and fast food development on Launceston's Link Road will be debated next Thursday by the council's Strategic Planning Committee. The meeting will take place in Truro but be webcast from 10am for those who cannot make it in person.

This has been a proposal a long time in the making. The principle of employment use south of the Link Road is one which has been accepted for some time. But some of the details of this scheme have proved particularly controversial. These include the proposal to cut through the Millennium Avenue of oak trees in two places and the proportion of the site given over to housing.

The council cannot dictate the application that is made - it can only pass a yes or no judgement on what comes before it. In this case the application is a detailed one for the supermarket and major highways works. But the rest - hotel, housing etc - is all in 'outline'. In other words, only the principle is being debated and the details will be the subject of a further planning application in the future.

I will be attending the meeting next week as will Jade Farrington, the councillor for Launceston South - including the proposed development area.

Incidentally, the papers for this debate include details of some of the things that the developer is proposing to give to the town is the proposal is approved - so called section 106 contributions. As I understand it, the details given are an early draft rather than the final proposal.

What the Spending Review means for Cornwall

Today's spending review is a significant milestone in the work of the government and includes some important news (both positive and negative) for Cornwall.

The headline for Cornwall Council is a 10% cut in government grant for 2015/16. This is the amount that we had expected and been planning for, but that does not make it any easier to deal with. This will equate to around £20 million of further cuts on top of the £19 million we are making in the 2014/15 budget.

Personally, I am disappointed that Eric Pickles did not stand up stronger for local government. We provide many key services to the most vulnerable in society yet we are being expected to shoulder the harshest cuts. I can understand why the government wanted to ringfence the NHS, overseas aid and the schools budget in this process. But why not treat social care for the elderly and support for the homeless in the same way? Why is local government facing a 10% cut whilst Culture, Media and Sport only being asked to find 7%?

The Chancellor announced that he had extended the council tax freeze for another two years. That is all very well, but we do not yet know what money there will be to finance such a freeze. Two years ago we got a grant equivalent to 2.5% in return for a freeze. Last year, it was a grant equivalent to just 1%. This year we do not know what grant (if any) is on offer. Only when we do can members consider whether a freeze is a valid option for Cornwall Council.

Over the last four years, Cornwall Council has saved around £160 million in organisational costs - much achieved because of the move to unitary status. These have allowed us to avoid having to make sweeping front line service cuts. But be under no illusion. We cannot make these savings over again. Whilst we will always seek to make savings through efficiencies, we cannot manage all of the necessary cuts in this way. We will have to be cutting frontline services.

The new administration is determined to consult with all 123 councillor and with the people of Cornwall in deciding where those cuts should be made. We want to safeguard services which are most valued and relied upon by our residents and which protect the most vulnerable. But that still means some tough choices have to be made.

In other areas, there was better news.
  • Extra money in the form of the Pupil Premium will mean more cash for schools.
  • The cut in water bills in Cornwall which was introduced last year has been extended. This is £50 per year off the water bill of everyone served by South West Water and is recognition of the disproportionate amount we have to pay for cleaning up our coastline. Congratulations to Dan Rogerson for his work on this.
  • There will be an extra £3 billion for new housing and more capital programme money will be announced tomorrow. We hope this will be available to invest in much needed projects in Cornwall.
  • More than £9.5 billion for roads and rail projects. Again, we hope that this money reaches the far South West, and we think that works on the A303 will be part of this spending.
As ever, there will be much more detail to come out in the coming days and weeks.

Matthew Taylor speaks out on problems of second homes in Cornwall

Full marks to (Lord) Matthew Taylor for his interview on Radio 4 this morning on the problems of second homes in Cornwall.

Among other things, Matthew advocated a cap on the proportion of second homes in some areas and called for change of use planning permission to be required when a primary residence was converted to become a second home.

Cornwall has a very high number of second homes and areas have suffered as a result. Many coastal communities have become so over-run with second homes that their viability as functioning villages has gone. The village post office, pub and school have gone and the village shop cannot really continue to exist when many homes are only occupied for two months a year.

The council has already ended the discount that second home owners get on their council tax and has ended the right to vote for occupiers of purely recreational second homes. We have also supported the idea that change of use permission should be needed when a primary residence becomes a second home.

Unfortunately, the government has so far failed to back our argument but we will continue to make the case and stand up for the viability of all our communities.

Friday, 21 June 2013

Eric Pickles valiant fight (to give the Chancellor exactly what he wanted all along)

Local Government Minister Eric Pickles has been explaining how he fought long and hard to restrict cuts to local government grants to 10%. Which is, of course, the number that the Chancellor had in mind all along. I'm guess that when Mr Pickles bought his house he probably came back really proud that he paid exactly the amount it was advertised for.

A 10% cut in government grant for the year 2015/16 was what Cornwall Council had been expecting and planning for. That's not to say it is anything other than bad news. We wish Mr Pickles had fought harder to limit the cuts to local services. The 10% cut means about £20 million more in savings. And that is in addition to the £19 million or so that we had already planned for based on the last round of cuts he handed down.

Cornwall Council's budget is made up of a number of elements. Chief among these are the government grant, council tax, fees and charges, business rates and the New Homes Bonus (linked to the number of new houses built the previous year.) So if the level of grant falls then we have to balance cuts to overall spending with increases in council tax and higher fees and charges.

Wherever possible, we will continue to try to make savings in back office functions - ie not the frontline services that people rely on most. But, to be honest, while there are still some savings that could be made, these are pretty small beer compared with those that have been made over the last 4 years. The whole unitary process - the joining up of seven councils into one - saved more than £160 million and we cannot rely on administrative savings to cope with the newest demands.

Local councils have to produce a balanced budget each year. And we have to plan for the medium and long term, rather than just the coming year. So using up all our reserves hoping that 'something comes along' is just not possible or wise.

So there will need to be cuts to services. But we are determined that we should protect the services for the most vulnerable and those that people most rely on.

How we do this needs to be a conversation with the public of Cornwall and all 123 Cornwall Councillors. The new cabinet are going to be producing a first draft, but this will then be open for suggestions to come from all quarters. I have asked officers to arrange a series of public meetings across Cornwall to discuss the proposals and listen to ideas. I have also arranged for meetings with all the political groups on the council. I don't want any idea to go unheard.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Police Commissioner's quarter million pound consultants and agency staff bill

Devon and Cornwall's new Police and Crime Commissioner has run up a bill for consultants and agency staff of almost a quarter of a million pounds since he took office in November.

The spending includes payments to a 'senior advisor' who is the wife of a former navy colleague.

Police Commissioners across the country have been attacked over their spending on increasing full-time staff numbers for their private offices, but this is the first time I have seen any details of the amounts spent on consultants.

As soon as he was appointed, Devon and Cornwall's commissioner recruited a spin doctor on between £40,777 and £50,418. In addition, he took on all of the staff previously employed to run the Police Authority.

But whilst other commissioners have appointed Deputies on £60k salaries, our local commissioner has instead spent even more on consultants. These have included 'advisors on organisational change' and 'strategic human resources services' despite the very limited amount of change in staff compared to the old Police Authority.

In total, the amount spent in the six months since November is £235,925.62.

Of course, Cornwall Council is not a paragon of virtue when it comes to spending on consultants and agency staff. But the new administration has already set in motion a programme to cut these amounts and, where possible, transfer agency staff who are working for the authority on roles that will always be needed onto cheaper full-time contracts. Our spending in this area is going down.

Like the council, I can understand that the Police Commissioner might well need agency staff or expert outside advice from consultants from time to time. But these amounts - in just six months - are quite incredible.

You can find the details of all the Police Commissioner's agency and consultant payments here.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

'At least' two years until Launceston medical centre is upgraded

It seems that Launceston will have to wait at least a couple of years until our medical centre is upgraded and able to cope with the demands being placed on it.

The story so far...

Launceston relies on one medical centre which is struggling to cope with the demands of the town and the surrounding area. Although they are trying, the centre is often unable to offer the appointments that patients want and has been one doctor down for some time due to long term sickness.

The medical centre wants to expand and has plans to buy land from Launceston Hospital. But that deal has been held up by the NHS reforms which saw the previous owners of the site (the Primary Care Trust) abolished and replaced with an NHS property company based in Bristol.

At tonight's town council meeting, the business manager of the practice, Peter Harper, assured us that the practice was doing all they can to make progress in the buying of land and the building of their extension. But, even so, the time until the practice is expanded and open is likely to be at least two years.

Laurence Reed to broadcast from Cornwall Council call centre

Laurence Reed has accepted an offer to broadcast his show from the Cornwall Council call centre. The offer was made by Deputy Council Leader Jeremy Rowe when he appeared on today's show.

The council (in all its guises) often gets a bad press. One of the areas regularly in the news is the call centre. Whether it is the length of time it takes to get through or the outcome of the call, it is often the target of criticism. Like other areas of the council's work, sometimes this is justified, but usually it isn't. And it is often on Laurence Reed's show that such criticism is aired - in the main by callers who have had a bad experience.

Jeremy wanted to give Laurence the chance to see for himself what happens in the call centre - the scale of the operation and the sort of calls that the team there deal with. And, hopefully, he can talk to some of the callers himself, live on air.*

When a date and time have been arranged I'll post here.

*Of course callers to the council's call centre aren't expecting to talk to a journalist and so they would have to give permission before they would be broadcast.

Could your local project use up to £1000?

As in previous years, Cornwall Councillors will have a community chest to give grants to local groups and projects. And this year the total amount for each councillor has been increased to £3000.

The awards are decided on by each of Cornwall's 123 councillors. They can be for any amount between £100 and £1000. There are other rules, but they are not particularly restrictive so long as the money is going to help a group (new or existing) and the money will be used for a project rather than for core funding.

The great thing about these grants is that they often bring in far more money through match funding. So if I give a grant for £100, it can bring money from other sources, on average, of another £800. In some cases over the last four years, the 'leverage ratio' has been as much as 32-1 (ie £1 brings in £32).

In the past, the community chest funding has been £2195 per councillor per year. But this year we decided to use some of the small underspend in the council's budget to top up the community chest. We considered a range of different possible uses for the money and felt that the ability to help local groups and projects which are often finding fundraising tough was a good use of resources - particularly if it can bring in so much more in matched funding.

In Launceston, I have used my community chest in previous years to help establish the Launceston Loyalty Card, help set up the foodbank and money advice centre, and to help groups like the boxing club and a local art group to buy new equipment.

So if you are involved with a group or project in the Launceston area and you want to apply for funding from my community chest, get in touch. I won't make most decisions until the end of July (to give everyone the chance to apply) and I will be giving priority to projects where matched funding is being sought and which have not received any community chest money in the past. You can email me or call 07984 644138. I look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, 17 June 2013

The impact of the 'Bedroom Tax'

I've done an interview for Spotlight and Radio Cornwall about the impact of the 'bedroom tax' here in Cornwall. About 40% of those hit by the change in the rules have gone into rent arrears since the change in the law.

The bedroom tax, or spare room subsidy - pick your own euphemism - is aimed at penalising those who claim housing benefit but live in a property which has more bedrooms than they need. So if you are a single person but live in a two bed flat and claim housing benefit then you are deemed to be under-occupying and you will be penalised 14% of your housing benefit.

This is all aimed at encouraging people to move to smaller properties and freeing up the larger homes for those families who need them - and there are many of these.

That's all very well in theory. But it relies on there being a good supply of smaller homes in the right areas. Here in Cornwall we don't have an endless supply of one and two bedroom homes and I don't think it is reasonable to expect someone to move from Launceston to Penzance in order to down-size.

There are also problems with disabled adaptations. People who have disabilities and have had their homes adapted to help them live independently would have to see their smaller properties adapted likewise. This often means ripping out one set of expensive adaptations and spending a lot of money and time re-fitting them elsewhere. The cost of doing so would usually massively exceed the money saved in downsizing. And there are some technical difficulties such as what constitutes a bedroom and who counts as a member of the household when it comes to evaluating the property size needed. 

There are 962 households who are Cornwall Council and Cornwall Housing tenants who are currently affected by the bedroom tax. At the end of May 2013, 370 additional households were in arrears (603 households in total but 233 were already in some arrears as at 01/04/13) the other 359 households were either up to date or had a credit balance. And these figures do not include any other Housing Association tenants across Cornwall who may also have been affected by this benefit change.

There is also the impact of other changes - such as cutting the top rate of council tax benefit - which are affecting many people in Cornwall.

What the council and others is committed to doing is to help anyone in rent arrears or other financial difficulty. We cannot afford to write-off money owed. But we can help to make sure that people are claiming all the benefits to which they are entitled and we can help residents organise their finances and budget properly. We can also try to help people move to smaller homes if they are available. The last thing we want to see is people losing their homes because of rent arrears. but the council can only help if we know someone is facing difficulties. If this affects you, please get in touch with your local One Stop Shop who can point you in the right direction.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Foreign Driver Debt

The BBC is this morning running a story about motoring fines unpaid by foreign drivers. In Cornwall, these average around £25,000 each year owed to the council which we cannot recover.

If the council issues a parking ticket - for failing to display a ticket in a car park or for a yellow line violation for example - then we have the right to get the driver's details from the DVLA if it remains unpaid after 28 days. The council can then pursue the debt through the courts and, ultimately, employ bailiffs to recover the money owed.

For drivers of foreign registered cars, this is not possible. Neither we, nor the DVLA, has access to the databases to allow us to find out the name and address of the driver. And even if we did, the cost of chasing the debt would be way beyond the amount we could expect to recover as neither our courts nor bailiffs have jurisdiction in other countries.

So, sadly, we are forced to write off the debt where a driver of a foreign registered car chooses not to pay a penalty charge notice. Although it should be noted that some visitors are conscientious and do pay fines issued.

In total, unpaid fines issued to foreign motorists average just over 1% of the 36,500 fines issued on average each year by Cornwall Council. Last year there were 439 valued, in total, at £25,277.

So what could be done to make these fines recoverable?

As stated above, we could seek to start sharing driver details with other countries. But we have little chance of collecting debts and the costs would far outweigh the likely income.

We could start clamping foreign vehicles immediately rather than issue a ticket. But the law doesn't allow us to charge different rates for different vehicles and, once again, the cost would outweigh the benefit. This might also seem unduly harsh on those visitors who do pay for tickets as they would have to wait to be unclamped and may view coming to Cornwall as 'more trouble than it's worth' in future, risking far more money to our visitor economy.

Finally, the government could change the law and start impounding vehicles with unpaid charges when they attempt to leave the country. But this would place a big administrative burden on both the council and Border Agency which might again prove uneconomic.

Cornwall Council doesn't view the writing-off of any debt lightly. This may be a comparatively small amount of money - but it is still money owed which could be used to fund vital services. However, unless the law changes, there is no economic way that we can hope to recover it.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

'Death Row' development gets unanimous thumbs down from town council

Launceston Town Council tonight voted unanimously against the planned development at Upper Chapel dubbed 'death row' because of the new cemetery extension which would be at its heart.

This was the best attended town council planning meeting I have yet seen and local residents spoke passionately about the problems they perceive with the plans. The chief concern was the highways issue with claims by the applicant that there would be just one more car per minute at peak times openly laughed at.

I'm not a member of the planning committee but I also attended and spoke on the issue to point out that the town framework group had extensively considered this area, as well as all others around the town. We had rejected only those areas we felt unsuitable for good planning reasons and this area was one such.

The applicants claim that Launceston is in desperate need of new housing. They are right to say this. But that is why the local community has identified the space for more than 2500 new homes over the next 20 years - far more than the 1500 that Cornwall Council says we need.

The developers admitted that they had received very negative feedback when they had a public consultation on their plans and that they had not altered them a jot as a result.

The next stage for this application is that it will go to Cornwall Council's planning committee. As soon as I have a date and venue I will post that here.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Upper Chapel homes plan to be discussed by town council tomorrow

Tomorrow evening, Launceston Town Council's planning committee will consider the application by Hallam Land Management to apply for permission to build up to 100 new houses on land north of Upper Chapel.

This is a very controversial application which has the potential to create a lot of highways problems. The applicants have asked to be able to speak at tomorrow's meeting.

The meeting takes place at 7pm at the town hall and is open to the public. I don't sit on the town's planning committee but will be going along to hear what the applicant, residents and councillors have to say.

First Cabinet Meeting

As with any new job, there are a series of firsts. Today's biggie was the first cabinet meeting.

There were only three substantive items on the agenda for us to discuss. One was the regular performance and budget monitoring report. This details how the council is doing against a range of measures. These range from pretty technical to absolutely fundamental service and they do vary. But the end of year performance was pretty encouraging and that is credit to the officers and, yes, the previous administration.

The second part was the financial out-turn. This showed a £119,000 net underspend. In the scale of the overall council budget this is pretty much breaking even. But the net figure masks the detail of a £4.5 million over-spend last year in adult care and a similar figure predicted for the coming year. With a few other (smaller) over-spends, a few underspends and a pretty good result from treasury management (ie our investments), we get to the final total.

The second item was about whether or not to appoint a new chief executive (or to do away with the post and have simply the legally required 'head of paid service') and, if so, when. This is the start of a long process and all 123 councillors get the final say. Cabinet agreed to recommend that Cornwall Council should have a chief executive. Whilst we have already cut the pay for the top job, in a council with no party in overall control (and that situation won't change in the near future), we felt we needed a steadying hand at the tiller. But this could change if full council decides differently.

Finally there was a confidential item relating to a court case. I would love to be able to give more details - and details will be made public eventually. But, for the moment, any public discussion has the potential to harm the council's financial position and we have, reluctantly, chosen to sacrifice short-term transparency for long-term financial savings. A choice to make decisions in private is one I hate to take, but it is the right one in certain circumstances.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The strange case of the UKIP councillor who believes he was elected because the voters thought he was a woman

After the surprise election of many UKIP councillors across the country there have been some stories in the press about some of those elected. In Cornwall I've been disappointed that our contingent of kippers (or shoal as my search for a collective noun decided) have been less colourful than elsewhere.

But today my patience was rewarded with the story of the councillor who believes he was elected because the voters thought he was a woman.

The West Briton has the full story. Sadly, the paper didn't ask another Vivian (Hall, the new Tory councillor for Altarnun) for his opinion on the matter.

Of course, neither are quite as colourful as this Vyvyan:

To tweet or not to tweet

A few people have asked me what my attitude to tweeting and blogging will be now that I am on the cabinet.

I'm keen to try to carry on using both platforms much as I have been until now - to give my personal views on the key issues affecting Cornwall as well (on twitter, mainly) to rabbit on about almost anything.

Being on the cabinet, there are lots of discussions which have confidential information. I'm not going to break that confidentiality. But where possible, I will be seeking to make that information public in the right way through the council's formal mechanism. I'm currently working on a revised media and communications strategy for the cabinet which will formalise our approach to getting information out and responding the requests for information. I hope it will be seen as a desire to engage as positively as possible and not hide away.

So I will blog giving my take on what has happened, but it is not likely to be the place to come for breaking news from within the council. 

As far as twitter is concerned, I won't be live tweeting cabinet meetings any more. Now that I'm a member of that committee, I'm going to be taking a greater part in discussions and won't have the time. But I know that there will be other councillors who will be doing so. Similarly, I won't live tweet meetings of the Finance and Resources PAC. I'll also tweet a bit less during full council meetings - on issues where I am the responsible cabinet member. But I don't feel such a constraint over other meetings where I don't have such a leading role - so I'll carry on tweeting during those when something interesting crops up.

But twitter is a useful tool for engaging with the real world and I've found that I am able to tweet whilst paying proper attention to the meeting at hand. Others may not have such confidence and they will have to decide for themselves how to approach the issue. Hopefully those who are skeptical about new and social media will continue to be converted!

Monday, 10 June 2013

Causley Festival

Many thanks to everyone for organising this year's Causley Festival. And great that we had such fantastic weather.

My particular highlights were

- Bert and Pol, Cornish poets, performing on the opening Thursday night,
- the Seize the Day performance by Will Coleman and his troupe at the castle yesterday afternoon and
- the Music night last night in the Town Hall.

If you have any ideas for next year's festival, please get in touch (but allow a week for the team to recover from this year first!)

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Ask me...

The first meeting of the new 'Finance and Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee' takes place next Thursday 13th June in Truro.

On the agenda for every PAC meeting as a 15 minute slot for the public to ask questions relevant to the portfolio.

The PACs are a new invention designed to engage more councillors in the work of each cabinet member. There was a feeling under the old system that cabinet members had become too detached from backbenchers and that decisions were being taken without regard to the views of all 123 councillors.

By retaining the cabinet system, the council chose to continue to give the major decision-making power to the ten cabinet members. But the PACs mean that decisions have to be better consulted on before they are finalised. We are re-structuring the forward plan so that we take issues to the PACs before they go to cabinet (except in the most urgent and exceptional cases). The issues can be debated and fully understood by all councillors at this stage. Whilst there are 10 members of each PAC (and a PAC for each cabinet member), every councillor is able to attend every meeting and make contributions.

Of course, the cabinet member is not bound by the views of PAC members, but it seems incumbent on us to listen very carefully and be able to come up with a very good reason why we don't agree if that is the case.

Monday, 3 June 2013

The aims and ambitions of the new council

Today we published the aims and ambitions of the new Cornwall Council administration. This is the joint plan of the two groups that have formed the cabinet - the Liberal Democrats and Independents.

It is a document which is deliberately not too detailed. Those details are for all councillors to decide. But we wanted to set out the framework of our ambitions and our philosophy, to highlight some of the key concerns and to give reassurance as to our determination to limit the effect of cuts on the core services on which the people of Cornwall depend.

This is what we have said. I'd be keen to hear what readers think.

This administration will work to establish a positive, forward thinking Council, representing the whole of Cornwall. This will be a four year partnership with a ‘review’ after the first two years. We will work with our MPs to lobby government for a fair deal from Government and plan for the four year period, develop policies that reflect the future  needs of Cornwall within the current financial and political constraints – these will be based on the following:

A ‘can do’ positive and responsive approach.

A ‘lean’ council focusing on providing value for money, cutting wasteful spending and delivering the most efficient service. We will review the use of consultants.

We will develop, enhance and improve the Council’s relationships with our partners, the Parishes and Towns and the public. 

We have a responsibility to deliver services but need to be clear what can and cannot be sustained; budget appropriately; establish what we must protect, what needs to be devolved and what may need to be sacrificed. A vision for Cornwall over the next four years will be the basis of all our work. We need to build the future, not reluctantly surrender the status quo in the light of government cuts and a shortage of funding.

Our environment is fundamentally important, the public demand clean beaches, accessible countryside, community services such as libraries, a safe and protected environment and good roads and transport. We must deliver.

A sustainable economy: the key to the future. We will invest in Cornwall, fight for Cornish jobs and business and use European funding effectively and strategically. 

Economic development and regeneration will be a priority. We recognise the crucial role the EU plays in Cornwall’s economic development and will engage fully to seek benefit for all.

Protect the vulnerable. Some health services, social care and services for the elderly, children and those with disabilities are under constant threat. This creates negativity which we must overcome. 

We will endeavour to support young people into the world of work through learning, training and apprenticeship and address the issue of affordable transport. 

Homes. An area of great concern to all. We need to build more Council Houses for local needs, use available funds to support affordable housing and sustainable development.

Planning. Clear policies, a consistent approach, straightforward procedures and real consultation could create a stronger, less contentious planning process that everyone understands.

Transport. Access for all to the best transport network that helps residents become less reliant on their cars. We will make repairing our roads a priority.

The Green Agenda – we will promote sustainable, renewable energy production, support other sources of non-fossil fuel energy and protect our environment throughout.

Heritage, Tourism, Culture and the unique aspects of Cornwall will be protected, enhanced and used to maximum economic effect.

We will encourage communities to grow, develop and become more self-sufficient.

Cornwall Council needs to create a ‘will’ to support Towns and Parishes, devolve resources as well as responsibilities and create strong, resilient and sustainable communities.

We will pursue policies base on social justice, equality, working together and fighting for the needs of Cornwall. This must be underpinned by a fair and realistic budget.

We do not set out any aims or constraints or support any national policy at this stage – we will look at the figures, cost the vision, work from the starting point of what is possible and acceptable to Cornish tax payers and move forward on that basis. We believe there are benefits from bringing Health and Social Care together. Car Parking charges have been a contentious issue but are an example of budget contributions limiting the flexibility that communities can employ. This must be reviewed.

Cuts, diminishing services, fewer resources, constant restructuring in the light of the financial situation and Government priorities have been the watchwords in recent months. We will fight for fairer funding, bring as much investment into the area as we can and build the best, most inclusive, vibrant and successful Cornwall possible.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

50,000 reasons to love the Launceston Loyalty card

Since the Love Launceston loyalty card was set up a year ago, cardholders have saved over £50,000 in shops and businesses in Launceston. And more than 100 businesses in the town have seen increased footfall and sales which has helped them survive the tough economic conditions.

So shoppers at HBH Woolacotts have saved more than £6000. Customers at Hazard Clothing have saved more than £1500 and customers at Castle Pet Supplies have saved more than £1200. And at shops like Castle Jewellers, more than 50% of customers use their loyalty card when they make a purchase.

To celebrate the anniversary, this morning some of the Love Launceston crew were out in the town square during the Buttermarket to hand out this month's offer leaflets. The picture shows (left to right) Cllr Jade Farrington, me, Sue Issleib and Jen Issleib from Hazard.

We were also getting shoppers to enter this month's prize draw for a free meal for four at Cornish Delicacies worth up to £100.

Don't forget that your loyalty card entitles you to some great deals. To find out about this month's offers, go to the Love Launceston website.