Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Budget comments - part 3

I'm back from a week off and thought I would answer some more of the comments posted as part of the council's budget consultation:

Suggestion:
Well, Cornwall Council, you are still charging the poorest in Cornwall 25% Council Tax (Cameron's reintroduction Poll Tax from April this year), and are still taking people to court for non-payment of this by the thousand.
Wouldn't it be much better if you sorted that out for the next buget?
Other councils are refusing to pass this burden on - and you must do the decent thing too.


Response:
I well understand the concern that this change generated. The decision was made by the full council last year. It's a decision I disagreed with at the time and voted against, but I have to respect the decision made by the majority. The council has, however, started a review of the impact of all welfare changes and, if this has created a problem that we can address then we will ask the full council to do so in time for next year. We are not allowed to make changes mid-year.

Suggestion:
how much does the chief exec get paid ffs, if you need us to provide the answers isn't he paid too much ???

Response:
The previous chief executive was on a salary range of £180,000 - £200,000 and was actually paid at the top of that range. When he left and an interim chief exec was appointed, the council asked for and received expert advice that the salary ranges for top officers had fallen in recent years by about 10%. We chose to cut that salary range for the interim by 12% and so the job now pays between £158,000 and £175,000. I would anticipate that, if any of the other directors leave, then we would be looking to cut the salary range for their replacements by a similar proportion.

Suggestion:
I believe in local solutions most definitely. I am 25 and disabled and I want to see people like me able to use the skills that they do have on a voluntry basis throughout our county to contribute to the lives of others, even if it is just in some small way and maybe even for an hour a week doing whatever we can get involved in without being talked out of it by the job center or being treated like a total convict by ATOS. People that are on disability benifits may have a physical or mental incapacity but it does not mean that they are totally absent of any need for human contact, social integration, learning new skills, enjoyment etc... You see people like myself at times can be the Local Solution that you are talking about but instead on a national level their is no encouragement for us disabled folk to be anything other than written off. I am 25 years old, fairly intelligent... before i got ill I was very good at working with young people, I was very good at talking to older people that perhaps had a mental disability like alzheimers and the point is I didnt mind talking to these folks and yet I sit here day in day out being frightened to do anything at all in case i get told that i am fit to work. This isnt the case but for those of us that want to do things like this for maybe an hour a week to just help someone else out, just out of kindness to give carers a break or to help out local charities to improve our own mental health and the skills i mention above- we get the impression that we cant or arent allowed to. So many people in this county go above and beyond and CC isnt utilizing those skills or coordinating it in a way that could actually save the services many people desperately need. I cant believe we are talking about Budget Cuts again because pretty soon their isnt going to be anything left to cut. All of our services for vulnerable people are turning into skeleton services - you are giving just enough money for projects / schemes still to be run but it is the absolute bare minimum to see the staff and services through especially vulnerable people support services and it is absolutely appalling and negligent. We as in a collective we need to start looking after people again and then may be people will be bothered to get behind your "local solutions" idea.

Response:
I agree. We should always be seeking to use the skills and abilities of all Cornwall's residents and never ignoring the input that any individual can make - whatever their circumstances. The cuts being made at the moment (and in the future) are due to the national situation and the cut in grants being given to us. That is why we have said that we cannot simply continue to chip away at every service - eventually reducing them to nothing. We have to review what we do and what we want to look like as a council in four years time. That is the point of our consultation and why I am starting on a 19 meeting tour of Cornwall.

Suggestion:
Cancel the proposed waste incinerator at St. Dennis. It is too expensive, obsolete technology, and would lock Cornwall into it until 2036, and as I understand it the council of the time would be landed with the cost of decommissioning and landscape restoration etc. rather than the waste company SITA.

Response:
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the decision on handling Cornwall's waste, and on the incinerator, the final decision was made by the previous administration. We are in a position now where any alternative would cost us far more than we could possibly save by adopting a different approach. At a time when money is so tight, we simply cannot contemplate this.

There are a couple more suggestions that I am getting answers to and I will post these as and when I have them.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Calm down Eric. It's only a bin

Is Eric Pickles scared of bins?

I only ask because his latest rant - about the terror of waste receptacles - seems even more bizarre than usual.

He goes so far as to describe having to exist within sight of a bin as making 'lives hell'. Come off it Eric. To be forced to live in an abusive relationship with no hope of escape might be described as a living hell. To be suffering with a painful medical condition with no hope of cure might be described as a living hell. To occasionally catch sight of your neighbours bins is most definitely not.

Mr Pickles wants councils to ensure that every home has somewhere to hide rubbish bins and bags. Most properties do, of course, but that isn't good enough for the local government minister. He wants councils to rip up their existing planning policies and insist that developers take his new phobia into account. I don't know about the cost of the changes to buildings, but the cost of changing a council's planning guidelines runs into many tens of thousands.

Here in Cornwall, we rely on the good sense of our residents over how to store their rubbish. Apart from some residents of the old Penwith, we don't use wheelie bins and are happy to allow people to buy bins, use seagull-proof sacks or just use black bags. We do ask that they don't put their rubbish out until the morning of collection to avoid problems with animals ripping sacks apart. Generally, this system seems to works pretty well without government interference.

Perhaps Mr Pickles should take a holiday instead of seeking to meddle yet again in the lives of hard pressed residents and impose even more burdens on local councils. If he does want a break he would be welcome to bring Mrs Pickles down to Cornwall to see that we don't need telling how to get the basics right.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Budget Q&A - part 2

I've had a few more suggestions about the budget in response to the short film I made. Here they are and my comments on them:

Suggestion:
Perhaps cut the wages of some of our Cornwall councillors! Perfect start in my opinion. I'm positive that a gross majority of you lot are very over paid for the work you actually do!?

Response:
The proposal for a basic allowance rise made last year was reversed earlier this year (I voted against the rise in the first place and in favour of cutting it back). A new scheme for special responsibility allowances (ie extra money for those who take on bigger roles) was also agreed earlier this year which saw a cut in both the overall amount paid and in the rate paid for specific roles (such as cabinet members).
It's a valid suggestion to make that rates should be cut further, but it depends on the sort of councillor you want. If you are happy with predominantly retired or independently wealthy representatives then that is what you are more likely to get if allowances are cut back. If you want a more representative cross-section of Cornwall's society then you need to have allowances that compensate members for the time they give up when they could be working.
Overall however, cutting allowances could only raise a tiny fraction of the savings that the council needs to make. So even if this does happen, we need far more ideas as well. 

Suggestion:
PMSL "protect the most vulnerable in society" thats the bggest laugh of the century!! Your making their lives a living hell fgs! what are you trying to do? get us all so stressed that it will make us ill and we dye or top ourselves because we can't cope with paying Council Tax, Bedroom Tax and now this Lifeline Service. All your doing is killing us all off so that you don't have to bother with us! Your all like that councillor who said that all disabled children should be killed at birth! Your all the same! Why don't you all take a cut in your wages for starters! and then refuse to have pay rises! I'm sure that will help by at least 90%.

Response:
See above re pay cuts.
We're genuine in our desire to see services for the most vulnerable protected. If you don't want to engage in this debate and simply stand back and hurl abuse then so be it. But if you don't engage then we can't take your viewpoint into account and we do want to hear from everyone.

Suggestion:
How much do you spend on corporate hospitality? Perhaps a few less snouts in the trough might help. Then of course, we have the good old "minimum wage" I bet that would taste real fine. See you in Lidl

Response:
I'm finding out what the council has spent on anything that might be viewed as 'corporate hospitality'. I'm pretty sure that the amount will be negligible - but any spending in this area needs to be unimpeachable. 


A short film about our budget consultation

I've made a short film about the council's budget consultation events which are taking place next month. These events are open to all and I look forward to seeing as many people as possible.



Contrary to what some have suggested, these meetings are not the only consultation we are holding. As well as the 19 meetings across Cornwall, we are also holding discussions with staff and businesses and with local councils.

And we are going to use new technologies as much as possible with a webcast meeting from county hall, another online Q&A session and a website which sets out the options and lets you choose between them.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Correcting a mistake over Redruth allotments

Every so often, Cornwall Council makes a mistake and it is good to be able to meet with someone affected, apologise and put that mistake right. That happened today in the case of Redruth allotment holder Bob Mills.

Most allotments are managed by town and parish councils and a few by allotment societies. But Cornwall Council has inherited 13 allotment areas across 6 parishes. These had massively different rents being charged for them and it is unfair on allotment holders to be charged different amounts for the same sized plot.

So we are introducing a standard charge of £50 per standard allotment with proportionately higher or lower charges for big or small plots. In order to cover our administration costs which are the same regardless of plot size, we will have a minimum charge of £25. We have decided not to increase charges all in one go, but to standardise them over a couple of years to ease any increases.

Unfortunately, in the case on Mr Mills and his fellow allotment holders in Redruth, we failed to take account of the small size of their plots. So they were being faced with an increase in charge from £27.50 a year to £50 over two years despite their plots being less than half standard size.

Today I met with Mr Mills and was able to give him the good news that, rather than increase his charge to £50, we were actually going to cut it slightly to £25. I also apologised on behalf of the council for our mistake and the anguish caused by it.

The other action we are going to take is to seek again to pass these allotments (and others we control) onto local towns and parishes. We think they are far better run locally and, if the town or parish is still not interested, then we will consider leasing the plots to a local allotment society if they can run them securely into the future. It would then be up to these local bodies to set the rental charges themselves.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Penwith's leisure timebomb

Over the course of the last couple of weeks, I have been involved in lots of meetings to do with the budget for next year. Our task of limiting cuts to frontline services is made all the more difficult by some of the situations that Cornwall Council has inherited from its predecessors.

One such is the PFI leisure contract for Penzance leisure centre. This costs the council £1.2 million per year.

In comparison, the 16 leisure facilities operated by the Tempus Leisure Trust (most of the rest of the leisure centres in Cornwall) together require a subsidy payment of £1.3 million per year and the Carn Brea Leisure Trust operates without any subsidy.

The contracts are slightly different. The Penzance contract is all in and the company takes care of utility bills and general maintenance. The same is true with Carn Brea. In the Tempus case, the council is still responsible for utilities and maintenance. But the stark comparison is still valid.

And the PFI contract signed by Penwith still has another 34 years to run, so there is no chance of a change anytime soon.

Of course, the company running Penzance leisure centre has done nothing wrong and they are perfectly within their rights to hold Cornwall Council to the contract. But being saddled with such a contractual millstone makes it very difficult to cut costs and balance the budget fairly.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Cornwall's budget - comments so far

Many thanks to everyone who has already given their views on how Cornwall Council can make next year's budget add up.

I want to listen to all the views expressed and to give some feedback where possible. BBC Radio Cornwall have kindly passed on some of the comments they have received, so here they are and some of my initial thoughts:

Suggestion:
I was disturbed to hear about cuts to libraries - we need the libraries in order to have an educated population - they're also centres of the community. When I'm in Liskeard library I always see many youngsters using the computers. They're an excellent resource. So keep the libraries - but cut some of the council perks - the bloated pensions, high expenses etc.

Response:
I'm also a great fan of libraries and would like to preserve these if possible. By moving one stop shops into library buildings we have been able to make savings without losing services.
Pensions, expenses and perks will be looked at, but we should not think that we can save enough money just from this area.



Suggestion:
Double the rates on second homes (and let's find out from the council how much that would bring in) - because they suck out more from the county than they bring in - and allow the poor people of Cornwall to access some of the European Convergence/Objective One money to start small businesses. We've had the poverty of Cornwall paraded around Europe for years in order to get this subsidy - but it doesn't actually help the poor - just big companies and big projects.  

Response:
The council has already done as much as we are allowed to on second homes. We have abolished the council tax discount they get and we are not allowed to charge them a premium. If you think we should be allowed to, please lobby your MP for a change in the law.
Enabling small businesses to get benefits from EU funding is a good idea and one I will pass on to my colleagues.



Suggestion:
We voted overwhelmingly against the unitary system and they brought it in anyway - so what is the point in taking part in the budget consultation? They will do what they want anyway. It's window dressing. 

Response:
Although the change to unitary divided opinion and I respect the views of those who opposed it, there is no doubt that it helped Cornwall's council services to survive. Much of the £159 million cuts that have already been made in back office functions were only possible because of the change to unitary. I understand why people might have doubted the commitment of the previous council administration to listen, but we are committed to listening to every viewpoint.



Suggestion:
My answer to the shortfall in the Council's revenue is Not to cut services but to re-introduce the annual increase in the tax. The Government, probably to enhance its own image, has encouraged Councils not to make any increase in contributions from residents.  How can this be sensible?  Prices and wages have continued to rise.  Surely, the annual increase should have been made to match the increase in the Council's expenditure.  To help the poorest, this could be a small or nil percentage for the lowest band, and a sliding scale increase for the higher bands.

Response:
The decision on council tax is one of the key questions facing us. The majority of councillors (including me) believed that the proposal for a freeze last year - combined with more investment in repairing our roads and in cutting many parking charges - was the right one. This year the council will have to make a fresh decision based on the current circumstances (many of which have changed over the last 6 months).
Even if the council had increased council tax last year by the 1.97% that was proposed, it would have brought in only an extra £900,000 or so this year compared with the £40 million cuts or so that we are facing.
However, the relative amounts paid by different council tax bands is fixed by law. So a percentage rise has to apply to all council tax payers and we are not allowed to increase lower bands by less.
That said, the council is reviewing the impact of the various welfare changes including the ending of full council tax relief on the least well off. We will consider whether there is anything we can do to help the very poorest households in Cornwall.

Suggestion:
Your talking point this morning is Cornwall Council, now there's a surprise, run the Council that lot couldn’t run a tap and now they’ve got the audacity to ask you to ask the people of Cornwall how to save money, excuse me who's getting paid a huge wage to make the decisions? Well they better start looking at the source of the problem, that's where they've got to start, with ridiculous wages and taking council vehicles home, which we are paying for, insurance, fuel, tax and all the rest of it!! It makes my blood boil, they are a law unto themselves and do EXACTLY what they want, would help if they knew what they were doing themselves!

Response:
The final decision will rest with all 123 councillors, but I reject the idea that it is wrong to ask the people of Cornwall what they think
I have asked for a review of the council's transport policy including 'company cars'. In some cases - such as social workers who spend most of their days out on the road - it makes perfect sense and saves money for them to use a council car. But we should always make sure that we get the best value for money from these.


Suggestion:
Stop road 'improvements'. Avers roundabout has just wasted millions on unnecessary works.  

Response:
I don't know the details of that scheme myself, but we need to make sure that any new schemes are getting value for money and are the best thing we could be doing with limited resources.



Suggestion:
Stop all these ring fenced pensions, reduce the number of councillors and stop giving everything out to contractors

Response:
We don't have the power to cut the number of councillors - that is for the boundary commission. My personal point of view is that a cut back to 80 or so would be a good move.
As for contractors - by law we have to get value for money by giving the job to the cheapest company who can do the work properly. If we did anything else, we would be accused of wasting money.



Suggestion:
Think the council should get quotes and not just use Cormac - private contractors tend to quote a bit cheaper. 

Response:
See above. We will get the best value for money. Cormac need to be competitive or we will not use them.
 


Cornwall's budget - have your say

This morning I have announced a series of public consultation events to encourage Cornish residents, businesses and visitors to have their say on budget proposals for next year.

The next few years will be no ordinary times. The council has to save up to £40 million next year and up to £100 million over the next four years. This cannot be done by making changes in administration and back office staff alone. There will have to be cuts to services as well. So the council wants to hear from Cornwall as to where they think savings can be made and which services they want to see preserved at all costs.

The initial budget proposals are being worked on at the moment. These will be made public on September 2nd. For the rest of September and early October, I and my colleagues will be going to every part of Cornwall to ask for views. We will be holding 19 public meetings as well as dedicated meetings with town and parish councils, businesses and our staff. We will also be holding a webinar - a conversation over the internet - and launching an online consultation tool called 'YouChoose' in early October.

I can't pretend that we will be able to accommodate every view and suggestion. But we will listen to everyone and consider every idea we hear.

Where possible, we will continue to make savings in back office functions. But we should not pretend that we can save all the money needed in this way. So far - through the change to unitary status and changes to the way we deliver services - Cornwall is saving about £159 million in back offices compared with only £11 million being saved from front line services. But we cannot do this again and so the axe will fall on the front line and we need to make sure that we are saving those services that people in Cornwall feel are the most valuable.

On the radio this morning, it was suggested that the council was being weak because we were asking people for their views rather than simply imposing our will on them. That might have been the way that some within the previous administration liked to do things, but it is not how the new Lib Dem/Independent partnership wants to work. We believe that we are hear to work for and with the people of Cornwall, not to let dogma (or party central offices) dictate what we do.

The public meetings, all of which will begin at 6.30 pm, are being held at:

Thursday, 5 September             St Austell - Old Restormel offices, Penwinnick Road
Friday, 6 September                  Perranzabuloe Parish Rooms
Monday, 9 September               Alexander Hall, St Blazey
Wednesday, 11 September        Launceston Town Hall
Thursday, 12 September           Shire House Suite, Bodmin 
Friday, 13 September                Wadebridge Council Offices, Higher Trenant
Monday, 16 September             St Pinnock Village Hall, near Liskeard
Tuesday, 17 September             Pool Innovation Centre
Thursday, 19 September           St John’s Hall, Penzance
Friday, 20 September                Helston Town Hall
Monday, 23 September             Roche Victory Hall
Wednesday, 25 September        St Germans Community Centre
Friday, 27 September                Millennium House, Pensilva
Monday, 30 September             Newquay Treviglas Community College
Wednesday, 2 October              Falcon Hotel, Bude
Thursday, 3 October                 Mabe Village Hall
Friday, 4 October                      Council Chamber, County Hall, Truro
Monday 7 October                    Frank Johns Centre, Hayle
Wednesday, 9 October              Clease Hall, Camelford

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Upper Chapel plans - public meeting

The public meeting to discuss plans to build 100 houses on land to the west of Upper Chapel will now take place on Wednesday September 18th at 6pm in the Town Hall. This is a change to the previously discussed date.

The Upper Chapel plans have provoked a huge amount of controversy. The proposal is on land that was considered by the long-running town framework group which decided that the area was unsuitable for development. It is outside the town development boundary and will cause massive highways issues - not least around the school.

At a recent town council planning committee meeting a large audience condemned the plans and the town's planning committee voted unanimously against them.

The original date for the public meeting and informal site visit was this month. However, commonsense has prevailed and it has been decided to hold the visit at a time when the problems caused on the local road network will be more evident and at a time when more local people will be able to attend.

The public is welcome to come and make their views known to members of the planning committee.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Banger racing this weekend

This weekend, the annual two day banger meeting takes place at Netherbridge, just over the border into Devon. It is a great event put on by North Cornwall Motor Racing Club.

If you have never seen banger racing, it is quite a spectacle. There are different classes from full contact bangers to classes which (in theory) allow no contact. There are even junior classes.

The NCMRC holds a number of meetings each year, but the two day August meeting is a highlight. You will be amazed at how some of the cars apparently written off on day one can make it onto the track again on day two.

Racing starts at 1.30pm on Saturday and at 12.30pm on Sunday. On Saturday evening there is a BBQ and music. Entry is £6 for adults each day and £3.50 for kids and OAPs.

Advance warning of another road closure

More road works - this time due to water works.

Westgate Street will be closed for overnight roadworks from September 23rd to 27th. The works will take place from 7pm until 7am each day.

Friday, 2 August 2013

St Thomas Road and Newport Square re-surfacing

Another road in dire need of re-surfacing is St Thomas Road and Newport Square. This too is on the list for action and the works will start on Monday 7th October and last for about seven night shifts.

The works will take place from 7pm until 7am each day.

This will, inevitably, cause some disruption to traffic and to local businesses. I'm keen to try to minimise these problems, so if any local firms or residents have concerns, please get in touch.

St Johns and Moorland Road re-surfacing

The dates for the closure of St Johns Road and Moorland Road for re-surfacing works have been changed slightly. The works will now take place from 12th to 23rd August during the daytime (0730 to 1800).

These works will cause considerable disruption as there will be a full re-surface for much of the road surface. There will be a diversion in place, but the best advice is to stay away from the roads if possible.

Residents of St Johns Road, Moorland Road, Cowlard Close and George Fox Close who have any questions about the works should contact Jamie Neal of Cormac on 0300 1234 222.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Parking Charges

There has been a lot of coverage today about a report which lists Cornwall in the top ten councils for parking income in the UK. Comparing Cornwall with London boroughs or Brighton and Hove is misleading. Cornwall has three times the population of the average London borough and twice that of Brighton and Hove. We are also a very popular visitor area and have a lot of car parks so it is not surprising that we have a lot of money coming in from them.

Without the income from parking, the council could not afford to provide the services that the people of Cornwall and our visitors rely on. We would have to cut these services and put council tax up. The income from parking equates to about 4% on council tax.

Whilst we receive about £8 million net income from parking each year, Cornwall Council spends £14.3 million each year on roads maintenance - things like hedge cutting, street lighting and so on. We also have a capital programme of £26 million for road repairs and safety works. On top of this, yesterday Cornwall Council approved a £60 million scheme to dual the A30 at Temple. This is one of the biggest bottlenecks on our road network which delays tens of thousands of drivers every year and deters businesses thinking of locating to mid or West Cornwall.

But it is right to say that parking charges in Cornwall are too high. That is why the council agreed with a Liberal Democrat proposal in the last budget for a scheme to cut pay and display prices. We believe that we could get the same income for the council but higher usage but cutting charges which would benefit the shops and businesses in our town centres and our visitor attractions which rely on footfall. This has already worked for season ticket prices and we hope to roll it out for pay and display charges too.