Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Care Home Fees

This morning I was on Radio Cornwall talking about the council's approach to setting care home fees. This follows the announcement yesterday that a care home in Hayle is to close in two weeks and that 19 residents will have to be found new homes.

Normally, care homes need to give at least 28 days notice if they are to close or evict a resident. This allows relatives, the council and other care providers the time to find the most appropriate alternative accommodation. It is disappointing in this case than only two weeks notice has been given but the council teams will work with residents and their relatives to make sure that they are safely re-housed.

The council is making more than £170 million savings. Every department but one has seen their budgets cut dramatically. The exception is adult care - a recognition of the increasing workload and the fact that they look after some of the most vulnerable people in Cornwall. Last year, we were even able to increase fees.

However, the council cannot afford to increase fee levels further and we are confident that the amount we pay is enough to provide the right level of care for elderly and vulnerable people. But we will always listen to care home providers if they feel that they have extra information to give us. We will also help care homes to work together to get better deals on things like utility bills and supplies.

My post on the Police boss's questionnaire

I posted last week about a questionnaire which had been produced by Tony Hogg the Police and Crime Commissioner. The point I was trying to make was that the monitoring questions - about disability, sexuality, age and so on - seemed to have greater prominence but were not linked to the questions about crime and community safety.

There is a real point to having monitoring questions like this. They can help to identify whether services are used by and responsive to the needs of different sections of the community. The point I was trying to make in my previous post was that there did not appear to be any useful link between the services Mr Hogg oversees and the monitoring questions. It appeared to me that the monitoring questions were asked because someone felt they had to be, not because they would help plan services.

Within Cornwall Council I have been trying to make sure that the data we get back from our questionnaires is properly monitored and used to help inform our decisions.

My previous post has caused some disquiet, which is entirely my fault. I apologise for this, it was not my intention. I have taken down the original post.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Is Cornwall Council too poor to pay for bins?

It is true - Cornwall Council is not going to pay for bins (whether wheelie or otherwise) for every home in Cornwall. I'm not entirely sure why this story deserved to be the front page lead in today's Western Morning News.

Back in 2010, the council took the decision to move to a single waste contract for the whole of Cornwall. Stopping having six different contracts saved a heck of a lot of money. The new service didn't start too well - in fact it was a total disaster for the first couple of months. But it has now bedded down and I think most householders believe it to be a generally good service.

One of the decisions taken at the start was about whether to have wheelie bins or not. The last administration decided not. So residents put their rubbish out in black sacks and these are collected. If they want to use a bin of some description to protect the bags until they are collected then that is fine by us.

The only difference is in the former Penwith area where the old district council had a wheelie bin system. Many residents still use these bins and the council is happy to empty them. But they are not compulsory and the council will not replace them if they are lost or damaged.

Some residents have problems with seagulls or other wildlife attacking their rubbish bags before they can be collected. The council advises them either to use a bin, a seagull-proof bag or to cover their bags with an old bit of carpet. But we cannot provide any of these for residents.

The responsibility for rubbish stays with the resident until it is collected by the council. That is why we advise people to put their bins out on the morning of collection rather than the night before if possible. If their rubbish does cause a mess on a regular basis then our staff will talk to the householder concerned and give advice about how to stop the mess. If that advice is ignored then we will give a written warning. If they continue to refuse to take action then the council will issue a fixed penalty notice for littering - but this is very much the last resort.

Avoiding causing a mess and a nuisance for neighbours is just a matter of a bit of common sense. The alternative - the council paying for bins for all 270,000 houses in Cornwall - would be massively expensive and is not something that we can even think about affording at the moment.

Eric Pickles wants to allow parking on double yellow lines

The latest cunning wheeze from Local Government minister Eric Pickles is that drivers should be allowed to park for up to 15 minutes on double yellow lines. He thinks that this is the answer to helping high street retailers out of the current economic woes.

It is important to encourage visitors into town centres, but yellow lines are in place for a reason.  Allowing motorists a ‘grace period’ to park for a short period of time would cause danger and inconvenience to pedestrians and other road users, making it harder for people to cross the road and increasing congestion as motorists look for places to park.
 
The Council is continuously reviewing all parking restrictions and, if we feel that yellow lines can safely be removed, we will do so. We shouldn't have more regulation in place than is necessary.

There are many reasons why trade has fallen in many high streets over recent years, but we believe one of the ways to improve the vitality of town centres is to encourage people to stay for longer. In a number of towns, the Council, in conjunction with local Members, has introduced a lower two-hour parking charge to encourage longer stays. Most towns have free, on street limited waiting for those shorter stays – however road layouts make this impractical in certain towns.
 
The introduction of a grace period would be impractical to enforce as we would need to employ many more civil enforcement officers to ensure drivers did not treat any changes to restrictions as a licence to park all day.


Thursday, 18 July 2013

Could the end to wasteful council advertising be in sight?

It looks like the end of wasteful council advertising in local newspapers might be in sight. A Lib Dem initiative which could save Cornwall Council up to £360,000 each year has found favour with Eric Pickles.

The spending in question is on statutory planning, licensing and highways advertising in local newspapers. Many bits of the council's business have to be advertised in local newspapers in a prescribed format. That format is pretty boring and isn't really designed to draw readers in. In my opinion it is money very badly spent, but the council has no choice over it.

Now Lib Dem member of the House of Lords Graham Tope has proposed an end to the requirement to advertise in newspapers and says that councils should instead have to publicise the notices in any way the council “thinks is likely to bring it to the attention of persons who live in its area”. That might include on the council's own website and through One Stop Shops.

In response, Local Government Minister Eric Pickles has apparently told Conservative councillors that he is open to the idea and the requirement might end in as little as two years.

Cornwall Council currently spends £363,000 each year on adverts in local newspapers, with the majority being on these statutory adverts. If the legal requirement was withdrawn then the authority could decide what sort of advertising was proper value for money and on what occasions using local newspapers was the best way of reaching the desired audience.

Local newspapers are a very valuable way of reaching some of the residents of Cornwall and there is no doubt that the council will want to maintain a strong relationship with them. But relaxing the rules which require wasteful spending will mean we can save taxpayers money and potentially do more in partnership with local papers on schemes that actually work.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Launceston Rotary Shop needs volunteers

The community shop set up and run by Launceston Rotary has been hugely successful. They have raised and donated more than £50,000 for local groups and organisations.

Now they are on the look out for new volunteers to help in the shop.

If you can spare a few hours on a regular basis, please pop into the shop and speak to Peter or Alan.

Launceston Big Clean

Last night Launceston Town Council backed an idea from the mayor, Dave Gordon, for a Launceston Big Clean group to work to tidy up our town. The idea stemmed from a community clean up organised by local accountants Hodgsons last month.

The primary responsibility for cleaning our town lies with Cornwall Council and contractors Cory. The general view is that the town centre - which is cleaned every day - is very good. The rest of the residential parts of the town and pretty clean in the main but there are problems from time to time. When we are made aware of these, we report them and take action.

But there are many areas that are not the responsibility of Cornwall Council such as the river and some of the back alleys. So the new group will come together a couple of times each year to organise clean ups. We're keen to involve local residents associations, youth groups and anyone else who wants to take part. If this includes you, contact Dave Gordon via the town hall.

It was also good to hear that new litter bins will be installed on the peace garden - the island in the river at Newport Bridge - and on the new picnic area that is being developed by the Causley memorial stone further along the river near to the bowls club.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

An hour with Laurence Reed

Today I spent an hour answering questions on the Laurence Reed phone in show on BBC Radio Cornwall. This is part of a series of weekly interviews with all ten of the new cabinet members.

During the hour, I answered questions on the budget, parking, toilets, the fire service and adult care among others. The listeners came from all across Cornwall, including two from Launceston.

Answering questions in a format like this is something I really enjoy doing. Not only is it a way of helping with individual cases, but it also means explaining the reasons behind our thinking to a wider audience.

In some cases there is little that the council can do. We are not allowed to charge council tax to students - that's a matter for Parliament - and we can't reduce parking charges to £1 for a whole day. But there are other areas where it is good to hear the strength of feeling and to clear up misunderstandings about what the council is doing.

At the end of the day, the more we communicate as a council, the more that residents in Cornwall will understand of our work and be able to give us their views. That is why the cabinet are doing these phone ins and why we are holding lots of public meetings to discuss the new budget.

Next Monday, Julian German takes the hot seat. Please give him a call between 1 and 2 if you have any questions on 01872 222222. In the meantime, if you want to ask me something, email using the address on the right.

PS - This is my 2000th post on this blog. Glad it could be on such a positive subject

Monday, 15 July 2013

Campaign launched to donate unwanted holiday food to foodbanks

My Lib Dem colleague Joyce Duffin has helped to launch a campaign to encourage visitors to Cornwall and holiday home owners to donate unwanted food to local foodbanks and other projects which help homeless and vulnerable people.

There are 23,000 second and holiday homes in Cornwall and each week there can be tons of uneaten food left behind. Especially in the case of holiday lets, cleaners go into the property and often put the whole lot into black bags for the bin men to collect so that the property is completely clean and ready for the next visitors. The new scheme encourages holiday home owners and visitors to donate this to those in need.

Cornwall's foodbanks can accept unopened tinned and dried food that is in date and demand for their services is rising. Many projects can also take toiletries and good quality clothes, beachtowels and suchlike too. They cannot take out of date, fresh or opened food.

So if you own a holiday let or you know someone who does, please have a word and encourage them to pass on uneaten food to their local foodbank.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Cross party support for campaign to keep fire control in Cornwall

There was overwhelming cross party support among Cornwall councillors at yesterday's meeting for a motion opposing plans from the Home Secretary to hand control of the fire and rescue service to the Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner.

The principle reason for this opposition was the loss of local control. Cornwall's fire service is unique. It is built around our towns and villages and in response to the needs of each town. There was a significant fear that moving control to Exeter would lose this tailored approach and also result in cuts to our brigade in order to support the less efficient Devon service.

Cornwall's fire and rescue service has not always been so good - but huge strides have been made in recent years by the staff, the excellent leadership and by the council itself. Why would we want to go backwards?

I'm delighted that there was also massive opposition from the Conservative group to the idea that the inefficient Tory Police and Crime Commissioner should take control of Cornwall's fire service.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Launceston season ticket prices confirmed

A bit of really good news from today's council meeting was confirmation from the council that the £200 season tickets in Cornwall Council long stay car parks in Launceston will continue.

The news came after my colleague Jade Farrington asked the cabinet member for parking - Bert Biscoe - about plans to trial cheaper parking. This was a key plank of the Lib Dem budget passed in February.

Bert confirmed that the reduced season ticket price would stay and he also said that trials of cheaper 'pay as you go' parking would start soon. There is no certainty that these will include trials in Launceston, but I hope they will prove the benefit to all concerned of lower prices which bring in more drivers. Drivers in other towns would also start to see season ticket prices lowered as the trial in Launceston has shown that prices can be lowered without significantly affecting the overall income for the authority.

Some Launceston season ticket holders may have been quoted a renewal price of £500 by mistake. The council has confirmed that this was an error and they have apologised. The price remains the same and, if anyone did renew at the higher price, then they will offer a refund.

Opening the council up to all

Cornwall Council currently restricts the rights of those who might wish to film its meetings. To do so, you need to give 48 hours notice. This is seen by some to be overly restrictive and has been challenged by a local journalist. The government has also suggested that councils adopt a more open stance.

Our current rules are also unclear in the case of non-professional media - an increasing market.

Today, in my role as cabinet member for communications, I announced that the council will be seeking views on whether and how to open up the system to encourage people to film us and to do things like live blog or tweet from meetings. My personal view is that it will do us no harm to welcome more filming and other coverage and, by doing so, we will engage more with the public.

All councillors are being encouraged to have their say, but we also want to hear from journalists and from the public about what rules they want to see in place.

The views of everyone who wants to have their say will be fed back via the council's Constitution and Governance Committee and will then be voted on by the next meeting of full council on September 3rd.

The mechanism for having your say will be announced shortly. But, in the meantime, if you have any thoughts, please leave them in the comments section.

Cornwall Council asks for recall system for councillors who breach code of conduct

Cornwall Council today voted in favour of calling on the government to introduce a system of recall  for councillors found to have seriously breached the code of conduct.

The punishments available to the council in cases where a serious breach has occurred are relatively flimsy. In the past we could suspend a councillor or even refer them up to London to the Standards Board who could disqualify them for up to 5 years. Now the system has changed and the most that can be imposed is a censure and a suggestion that they apologise and undergo training.

Today councillors backed a call for the previous sanctions to be made available once again. But they also backed a proposal by my Launceston colleague Jade Farrington for a system of recall.

The details of a recall system would have to be determined. But typically they work like this. In a situation where the independent standards regime of the council found there had been a serious breach of the code of conduct, electors in the division of the offending councillor would have the right to demand a recall election. There would have to be a threshold for such a petition - say at least 10% of the electorate signing a petition within 2 months of the finding of misconduct. If a valid petition were presented then a new election would be held at which the offending councillor could be a candidate. It would then be up to local voters to decide whether they felt that the offence was grave enough that they wanted to remove the councillor from office.

Introducing recall would require a change in the law - as would restoring the previous sanctions. Cornwall Council today voted to ask the government to consider both.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Collin Brewer censured and resigns

Collin Brewer has announced his intention of resigning from Cornwall Council. His move came after the council's monitoring officer produced a report censuring him for outrageous and grossly insensitive comments about children with disabilities.

The story of Collin Brewer's remarks has been a long and tortuous one. Two years ago he made comments to a representative of Disability Cornwall saying that 'disabled children should be put down'. After a long standards board process, Cllr Brewer resigned. He then stood for re-election in this May's contests and was re-elected by two votes.

At that stage we thought that was the end of the matter. Many of us were unhappy to see him returned, but the will of his local electorate has to be respected and they had voted him back in the full knowledge of what he had done.

However, he then made more comments during a telephone interview with a journalist from Disability News Service. These included remarks which appeared to compare children with disabilities to 'deformed lambs whose heads should be smashed against brick walls'.

Mr Brewer immediately entered the standards process once again and the results of that were announced today.

The report of the monitoring officer found Mr Brewer guilty of the offences complained about. In a very strongly worded judgement, he was censured, ordered to apologise and banned from council premises where services for children with disabilities are commissioned or delivered. He was also ordered to go on various training programmes.

Some people have asked why more could not be done. Why could he not be disbarred from the council or suspended at the very least?

Sadly, these sanctions have been taken away from councils by the government. In the past we could have suspended him or referred him to what is known as the 'first tier tribunal' which could have disbarred him from public office. These sanctions are no longer available. The most we can do is the rather pathetic censure and ordering him to make an apology.

Tomorrow, Cornwall Council will debate calling on the government to return to us the power of suspension. I will listen to this debate with interest. Clearly the Collin Brewer case has demonstrated a good case for why the removal of these powers was wrong.

In the meantime, Collin Brewer has announced his intention to resign from the council. To be effective, such a move must be made in writing and so will only become official when his letter arrives in the post in the next couple of days.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Link Road Morrisons gets the go ahead

Cornwall Council's strategic planning committee today gave the go ahead for the new Morrisons supermarket on Launceston's Link Road. The committee also gave outline consent for a hotel, fast food restaurant, pub and 275 homes.

The vote was 20 in favour and just one against.

Both I and colleague Jade Farrington spoke to the committee. We both broadly supported the plans but had concerns about the loss of up to seven of the Millennium Avenue of oak trees. We both argued that an alternative entrance would have been better and we regretted that the developers had not been able to find one in order to preserve the oaks.

However, it is clear that the majority of people in Launceston support the scheme. The developers found 80% support and Jade found just over 70% support in her survey. At the same time, we found broad opposition to the idea of a supermarket on Race Hill car park with around two thirds opposed.

So the supermarket will go ahead and bring over two hundred new jobs to the town. It will also bring competition to Tesco and there will be mitigation measures in place to offset any damage to the town centre.

The rest of the scheme - the hotel, pub, housing etc - will need to come back for detailed planning permission. When it does I will be looking to see that the housing has not encroached onto employment space, that the much needed southern loop road is properly formed and that there are works to the South Petherwin Road to widen this and make it suitable for the extra traffic it will be asked to carry. 

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Speedwatch

This evening, Jade Farrington and I joined the Launceston Police Cadets and police staff to carry out a community speedwatch event on Western Road.

An event like this is based around education. The cadets get to see what speeding looks like and the drivers who go too fast are educated about the dangers that speeding poses. There aren't any tickets handed out for drivers who are going just too fast, but they are reminded by the cadets and officers about the problems and dangers of speeding.

Whilst we were with the cadets, we saw about a dozen cars pulled over. All but one that I saw were doing just over the limit. The driver who was doing 44mph got a more serious talking to from the police officer who was with us.

I know that the police team can sometimes go out with school groups and residents associations to do a similar exercise. It is particularly helpful in showing the difference between cars that really are speeding and those that simply give the impression of doing so. It's amazing what a loud exhaust does to give the impression of speed. If you are a member of a group that is interested in such an exercise, contact the local community policing team.