Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Launceston Health Hustings (Do the Tories care about the NHS?)

This evening saw hustings organised by the campaign group 38 degrees in Launceston on the subject of health.

We have a good discussion about the new responsibilities that have been given to councils to work to improve public health. In addition, we talked about problems with the medical centre (and the lack of room to expand) and the recent closure of Launceston Hospital.

My colleague Jade Farrington was very firm in her desire to get the NHS Properties Division (who own the hospital land) and the GPs from the medical centre round a table together to sort out the problems that seem to be delaying the expansion of that facility.

We were also united in a desire to see the hospital back up to full working capacity.

Not surprisingly, there were differences of views. But I think all the candidates present valued the chance to chat about the worries caused by the changes to the NHS.

The problem was the lack of candidates present. Whilst all candidates from the three Launceston town wards plus Altarnun were invited, only six were there - three Liberal Democrats, two Independents and one Labour. No Tories and no UKIP thought it worthwhile to turn up to the only hustings of the campaign. Perhaps they don't care about the NHS and the new responsibilities of the council within it?

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Blue Badge cost to rise to £10

Cornwall Council will be increasing the charge for a three-year Blue Badge to £10 from 8 May 2013. The following is a briefing note I have been sent by the council to explain the change:

The national Blue Badge scheme is run by the Department for Transport (DfT) and allows individuals with severe mobility problems to park nearer to where they need to go. Each local authority has the responsibility for processing applications, and to assess people’s eligibility against a set of national criteria.

In Cornwall, approximately 33,000 people hold a Blue Badge at any one time, and 13,000 new applications or renewals are received each year. The scheme is managed by Shared Services.

Since 1983, the Government has capped the maximum councils may charge for this service at £2. During that time, the cost of administering the scheme has significantly increased, and last year Cornwall Council made a £100,000 loss.

What’s changing

From 1 January 2012, the Government increased the maximum a council may charge to £10, which is the fee Cornwall Council will set for applications from 8 May 2013.

While this may seem a big increase, the Blue Badge scheme still represents excellent value for money, at less than a penny a day. In addition, there is now a national issuing body, which the Council must pay £4.60 per badge; the remainder has to cover the Council’s administration and assessment costs.

Consultation

There was no mandatory requirement for the Council to carry out a local consultation with the public or people currently using the scheme. However, DfT carried out a national consultation on the changes in 2011. Many other local authorities have already implemented the £10 charge suggested by the Government.

An equality impact assessment has been completed (and published here: http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/default.aspx?page=27906). The Council’s view was that a local consultation would not be meaningful or cost-effective.

How the change will happen

People who have already applied, or make an application by 7 May 2013 will be charged the old £2 rate; those making an application from 8 May 2013 onwards will be charged £10. This is the fairest way to apply the change. They will be advised of the new charge when they contact the Council to make an application or for a renewal. This could be by phone, at a One Stop Shop or online.

A communications plan has been prepared to make sure this briefing is shared with all partner organisations which work with people who might be eligible for a Blue Badge.

There will be a review each quarter to check that the increased charge isn’t having an adverse effect on the numbers of applicants.

While the initial aim is for the scheme to break even again, there remains a risk that future inflationary pressures mean it operates at a loss, if the Government does not allow local authorities to increase it again in the future.

More information

To find out more about the Blue Badge scheme in Cornwall, visit www.cornwall.gov.uk/bluebadge. For information from the Department for Transport, which is responsible for the scheme, visit www.dft.gov.uk/topics/access/blue-badge.

Turning the House of Lords into the Westminster Multiplex

It seems that both Government and Opposition have taken to screening films and TV shows in the House of Lords in order to try to persuade peers to stay for evening votes.

So far, peers have enjoyed the Bond film Skyfall, a film on Clement Attlee and Downton Abbey.

If films and discussions are needed in order to persuade their Lordships to do their job, then the case for reform just gets stronger and stronger.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Launceston road repairs schedule revealed

I'm delighted to have been sent the provisional dates for the re-surfacing works around Launceston. A huge number of local residents have complained about the state of our streets. The potholes cause damage to cars and increase the risk of accidents.

Over the past three years, millions of pounds has been stripped out of the council's fund for road repairs and safety as the Conservatives and Independents have taken the money to plug other holes in their budget - mainly their disastrous car parking policy.

But the new budget, proposed by the Liberal Democrats and accepted by the majority of councillors, has an extra £2.5 million over the next two years to repair our roads. If the Independents, Labour and Conservative Leader of the council had their way, we would not be spending this money repairing our roads and the state of them would just be getting worse and worse.

The roads that are on the provisional schedule for re-surfacing are:

  • Western Road at the junction with Pennygillam roundabout - work commences 8th July for two nights;
  • St Johns Road - work commences 12th August for between three and five days;
  • St Thomas Road and Newport Square - work commences 7th October for up to 12 nights

Also on the list for work this year is Tredydan Road, but no date has been fixed for this yet.

As mentioned above, these are provisional dates. If there are emergencies in other parts of Cornwall (such as the Looe landslips) then these may be delayed. Equally, I will be pressing for work to be brought forward if at all possible. The constraints at this time are less about money and more about the people and equipment needed to do the job.

In the meantime, highway engineers will be filling individual potholes as quickly as possible. If you know of a pothole near you, please get in touch. Huge thanks to all the officers who have surveyed the roads and put together the schedule.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Why is traffic all backed up around Launceston...

For the past few days, traffic in Launceston has been pretty chaotic as there have been road works on St Thomas Road. These are happening to allow a pedestrian crossing to be installed on the hill and so that the pavement on the Newport Industrial Estate side can be widened.

Hopefully, the works will be finished in a few days, but traffic will continue to back up in the meantime.

At the moment there is no safe crossing between the Priory and the town centre. So people living in St Stephens, Lanstephan, Ridgegrove and Priory areas of town have to take their life in their hands if they want to walk into town. No wonder the car often seems the easiest option.

Sadly, the crossing that is being installed by the council is not the type that was asked for by local people. We wanted to see a pedestrian phase added to the existing traffic lights. But Cornwall Council refused this request and are simply installing a 'pedestrian refuge' type crossing a bit further up the hill.

A proper crossing is also being installed in a few months time on Western Road.

With friends like these... Tory chairman slams Cornwall Council parking policy

Tory Chairman Grant Shapps was in Cornwall this week to launch his party's local election campaign. Sadly for Mr Shapps, all did not go to plan as he lambasted councils which use town centre car parks as cash cows at the expense of local shops and businesses. Tory led Cornwall Council is, of course, one of the councils which does just that.

On the issue of parking, it has been the Liberal Democrats who have campaigned for more reasonable parking charges for the entire four years of this council. We have highlighted how high parking charges affect local shops and kill town centres. The Conservatives, who had the power to do something about this, sat back and raised prices year after year.

One of the key successes of the Liberal Democrat budget passed in February is that it has found £1.2 million each year for the next two years to underwrite cuts to parking charges. We are determined to encourage shoppers back to our town centres and lower parking charges is one way to do so. None of the Tory factions included parking charge cuts within their budget proposals and independents, MK and Labour all voted against cutting parking charges. Clearly the cuts passed in the budget are at risk of being dropped unless the Liberal Democrats win enough support on May 2nd to see them through.

It seems the Conservative strategy in this election is to try to pretend they don't run Cornwall Council. This despite the fact the Leader of the Council is a Conservative, the Conservative Group Leader served on the cabinet until recently and that the former leader of the council was paraded about at events with the Prime Minister in London.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Council promoting supermarkets, not town centres

Cornwall Council is promoting a new series of 'Made in Cornwall' fairs - which is a good thing. But the location of the new fair - Truro Sainsburys - seems a step in the wrong direction.

It is great that Cornwall Council is finally getting behind local produce. It makes a change from helping the chicken farmers of Thailand and Brazil. But promoting the goods is only half the battle. We also need to be promoting the local shops and businesses that sell them.

The reasoning given by the council is that this scheme puts Cornish produce in high footfall areas. But it no doubt promotes the supermarket just as much as the Cornish produce being sold there.

The bigger battle is to make Cornish produce part of the supermarket range on a daily basis - not just two days each month.

And we also need to be going into bat for local stockists - those who keep our town and city centres vibrant and who ensure that money spent in the shop largely stays within the Cornish economy.

So one cheer for this effort. I'll save the other two for when the council finally get behind our town centres.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Lance goes missing

Lance Kennedy was missing again from today’s meeting of Devon and Cornwall’s Police and Crime Panel. That’s the body which oversees the work of the elected Commissioner. It’s the second meeting in a row that Lance has missed and he is meant to be the Vice Chair of the panel.

The panel is not a trivial thing and the last meeting considered the three biggest subjects within its remit - the appointment of the new Chief Constable, the Commissioner’s Police and Crime Plan and the council tax precept. Today’s meeting is also not a small matter as the Commissioner is presenting the final version of his plan and it is a chance to hold him to account for his work to date.

Lance’s absence is all the more serious because he is the Cornwall councillor in charge of public protection. He is paid £16,000 per year (in addition to the £12,000 basic allowance) to take lead responsibility on policing and community safety. The fact that he has not turned up to the last two meetings of the panel seems to me like dereliction of duty.

When Lance was a police officer, if he failed to turn up for work then he would have faced some very serious consequences. Surely when he is Cornwall’s senior elected member responsible for community safety then he should be held to the same standards.


Monday, 8 April 2013

Nick Clegg launches Lib Dem election campaign in Cornwall

Lib Dem Leader Nick Clegg was in Cornwall today to launch the national Liberal Democrat election campaign. He spoke at the Eden Project about the faults with both of the other main parties.

Nick lambasted the Labour Party for their failures in local government as well as the Conservatives for the waste they have presided over in councils across the UK. He singled out Cornwall's decision to hire taxis to ferry tea and coffee between office buildings and attempts to raise council tax year after year. He praised Cornwall's Liberal Democrats for our success in freezing tax bills and investment in services.

Nick was introduced by Jeremy Rowe, Leader of the Lib Dems on Cornwall Council. Jeremy set out our local ambitions locally and the investment that we would be making in repairing roads, cutting parking charges and tackling anti-social behaviour. In contrast, he said, the Conservatives had wasted money on Plymouth's attempts to host the world cup and couldn't even get the basics like emptying bins right.


Foodbank Trolley Push

Congratulations to Bob Girvan, the manager of Truro Foodbank, who today completed his trolley push from Land's End to Launceston.

Bob has covered the 109 miles in seven days to highlight the problems faced by many people living in Cornwall who simply cannot afford to put a meal on the table. He also showed the great work that the foodbanks do across Cornwall in supporting so many people.

I was proud to have been able to support the foundation of the Launceston Foodbank with a donation from my councillor's community chest. I'm glad that they have been able to help feed almost a thousand people in their first year and I know that they will have to carry on doing such great work into the future.


Saturday, 6 April 2013

Launceston Town Council candidates announced

Following a slight technical blip, the candidates for Launceston Town Council have also been announced.

There are a total of sixteen to be elected in three wards (using the same boundaries as for the Cornwall Council election).

In North Ward, there is only one nomination for the two places so Margaret Young is automatically re-elected.

In Central Ward, there are six nominations for the seven places, so all are automatically elected. They are Rob Tremain, Paul O'Brien, Dave Gordon, Ashley Crapp, Graeme Facks-Martin and, er, me.

In South Ward, there are ten nominations for the seven places. However, two of those nominations are people who also stood in Central ward - Paul O'Brien and Rob Tremain. Assuming that those two withdraw from this race with their place on the council secure, that leaves eight candidates for seven places and a vote on May 2nd.

The eight remaining candidates are: Susan Alfar, John Conway, John Harris, Brian Hogan, Brian Keighley, Leighton Penhale, Tony Sandercock and Kevin Wadland.

Following the election, the new council will look to fill the two vacancies - one each in North and Central wards - by co-option.

Friday, 5 April 2013

Cornwall Council candidates announced

Cornwall Council has announced the lists of candidates for the elections taking place on May 2nd.

In Launceston Central, I'm up against a Conservative from Whitstone and a Labour candidate from the other end of town.

Across Cornwall, there will be 103 Conservatives, 91 Liberal Democrats, 76 UKIP, 68 Labour, 26 Mebyon Kernow, 23 Greens, 1 'Liberal' and 90 candidates standing as independents.

But the pattern in North Cornwall is very different. Here there are 21 Lib Dems - one in every division. Up against us are 15 Conservatives, 7 Labour candidates, 10 UKIP, 3 MK, 1 Green and 11 Independents.

Interesting to note that John Keeling, until now an Independent councillor and chair of the Corporate Resources scrutiny committee, is standing as a Conservative in Breage. Also interesting is that George Trubody, who was a Conservative cabinet support member until he resigned citing work reasons, is standing again in Rame but as an independent.

In Launceston South, the presumed Conservative candidate (he was featured on their leaflets as recently as November) is standing as an Independent.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Stadium gets the planning go ahead

The Stadium for Cornwall this morning got the go ahead from Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee. But big questions still remain as to whether the £16 million or so needed to take the project forward will ever be found.

In terms of the application being discussed today, it is clear that the proposers had listened to previous concerns and modified their design as a result. The stands are lower profile and the pitch will now have a 4G surface to enable it to be used more frequently. I share the worries of my colleague Rob Nolan that the location might be the wrong one and that it will enable the development of more (unwelcome) houses. But it is clear that the design itself is a good one.

But the question will remain as to how the development will be paid for. Cornwall councillors have voted against any idea of giving the scheme any public money. My personal view is that there needs to be a clear idea of the community benefit before public funding can be considered - but it was wrong to rule it out entirely at this time. But any consideration of public money is particularly difficult at a time when all councils are seeing services cut.

But with planning permission now secured, the scheme's proposers now have a much better chance of attracting grant and private funding for the scheme. As ever, time will tell.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Launceston Hospital to reopen next week

Following the discovery of legionella bacteria at Launceston Hospital, it's good news that the facility will re-open next week.

Although the hospital will only re-open some of its beds, it does mean that outpatient and minor injury facilities will be available once again.