Tuesday, 23 December 2014

New Support Website

I know it's Christmas week, but I'm hugely grateful to a number of friends who have put together a website in support of me.

You can find it at alexfolkes.org.uk

A huge number of people have already sent me personal messages of support and many have also written in to local newspapers. My friends want to show publicly just how many people think that the way I have been treated is unfair and to keep alive the campaign to get my name cleared.

I have also had a number of people make very kind offers to help fund any legal action I might need to take. At the moment I am discussing with expert lawyers the best way to move forward. When this is decided, I may need help with legal bills. If friends and supporters are willing to make a pledge, that would be massively appreciated.

To those who have asked what is happening at the moment...

In order to prove that the claims made against me are false, I need to gather information held by various agencies including the Met Police and Cornwall Council and rebut those claims which are false. Such information has to be sought through a process known as a Data Subject Access Request. This can take up to 40 days. These applications have all been made - and the Met Police are already beyond this limit. In the meantime, I have already been able to show with documentary evidence that some of the statements made by the council are completely false.

Sadly, I think that this matter will take some time to resolve, not only wasting a huge amount of time and causing a lot of stress and anxiety, but also wasting a huge amount of Cornish taxpayers' money.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Made up quote by Graham Smith of the Cornish Guardian

On the Cornish Guardian website there is a story written by Graham Smith. He claims I answered a question which I did not and attributes words to me which I never said.

Mr Smith rang me on Monday to tell me that he and a photographer intended to 'doorstep' me. He then asked me if I had any response to what the council had said. I asked him if we could speak off the record. He agreed. I then said that I would be updating my blog later that day.

Mr Smith then asked me a question about the police investigation in 2006. I told him that I would not be answering that question. He suggested that if I did not answer then his readers would jump to conclusions. I said that I would not be answering his question and ended the call.

Mr Smith has made up a quote which I never said or anything like it.

I have made a formal complaint to the editor of the paper and, if I do not receive an apology and correction I will be making a complaint to the press complaints commission. I reserve the right to take legal action against Mr Smith, the paper and anyone who repeats the libel.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Cornwall Council announces independent inquiry

Radio Cornwall has carried the news that Cornwall Council is to commission an independent inquiry into the handling of false claims made about me. I cautiously welcome this acceptance by the council that there are significant question marks over the process they have followed.

The inquiry will be able to review the process by which decisions were taken behind closed doors and judgments reached without my having the chance to read and respond to the allegations against me. Indeed, I have still only received a list of claims and no actual evidence from the council that could lead them to reach the conclusions they have.

I am told the inquiry will also look into the decision to make accusations against me 
in letters to local schools and sports clubs, and the decision by the council to press release this. I hope that it will also cover data protection issues.

I fully expect to be given the chance to have my say to this inquiry and look forward to doing so. I thank the many hundreds of people who have been in touch with me to offer their support and good wishes.

I will not be making any further comments.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

The truth about why I resigned and the claims being made against me

Today, the chief executive of Cornwall Council, Andrew Kerr, took the incredible step of issuing a press release trying to force me to resign. I had planned on posting something short to assert my innocence of any wrongdoing. But the nature of the council press statement - which was released without any warning or notification - and Mr Kerr’s tactics in trying to bully me out of office deserve something more.

Here is the truth.
In 2006 (and before I became a councillor) I was one of many people who was arrested when credit or debit card details were found which linked the cardholders to a site containing indecent images of children. I have never viewed any such images nor had I ever visited the site or any others like it. I was able to show the police that my card had been cloned at some time in the past and used illegally for various things including a hotel in Brazil. I reported that at the time and my bank refunded the money. Of course I cannot be sure, but that is how I believe my card details came to be linked to the site as it fits the time my card was used fraudulently. When details are stolen on the internet they tend to come in a package and hackers can also have access to your address, email, password, phone, IP address, etc, which can easily be cloned and used by another person to cover their own identity and make it look like the victim of their fraud is the guilty party. The police searched my computer and other electronic devices I owned. Because I had done nothing wrong, and therefore there was no evidence against me, the police did not bring any charges and they told me the matter was closed.

I cannot blame the police for investigating based on the information they received. The whole episode put me through a huge trauma but I am reassured that they took such matters very seriously and I am glad that they were able to establish my innocence as they did.
In 2009 when I was elected to Cornwall Council my arrest was flagged up in an enhanced CRB check. I discussed this matter with the chief legal officer of the council. He told me that he would discuss it with the (then) leader Councillor Alec Robertson. I heard no more about this from the legal officer, Mr Robertson or anyone else. I assume that they took the view, quite rightly, that the matter was properly dealt with by the police and considered closed.

At some point within the past few weeks someone raised the matter with officers within Cornwall Council’s child protection team. Since then, anonymous letters and emails have been sent to the press and to opposition councillors. There seems to be a concerted campaign against me. Those first emails started a very difficult period in which meetings were held about me without my knowledge or involvement to discuss information and claims which they refuse to share with me. I have repeatedly asked officers for the information they received to be passed on to me so that I can refute it. They refused to do so. That limited information which has been shared with me I know to be untrue and they have not offered any evidence to support their outrageous claims. Given that they refused to share the information they had, I asked officers for time to go through the laborious process of requesting the information from the various organisations concerned which would prove their claims to be wrong. They refused to give me this time and convened another secret meeting which passed judgement. They then made deeply libellous and completely untrue statements to organisations, other councillors and the media. Nevertheless, I have started the process (which is likely to take some months) of seeking the information held and then correcting it where it is false. All they have told me is that everything relates to the original investigation in 2006 and that there have been no concerns or claims made about me relating to any time before or since.

It seems that officers are more concerned with covering their own backs than with establishing the truth. They seem to think they know better than the police did back in 2006 when they had all the evidence and were able to conduct a full and thorough investigation. On two occasions, whilst denying me the information on which they based their apparent judgement, Mr Kerr has demanded my resignation.
In the circumstances, in an effort to protect myself, my friends, my family and the council from harm, I chose to resign from the cabinet so that I could focus on proving my innocence. Sadly, the matter has become public, solely because to the actions of the chief executive who has bullied and harassed me and others throughout the process. He has consistently refused to give me or my lawyer the information that is being used to damn me. Nor has he allowed me the time to correct the wrong information held about me. Instead, he is briefing others within the council about the issue - claiming to pass on ‘facts’ which he refuses to share with me. I know the allegations are untrue and I am determined to prove it.

Now he has ordered officers to write to various organisations within Launceston and elsewhere to make claims which are untrue, which are deeply damaging to me and which I have not been given a chance to refute. Quite incredibly, he then chose to press release the fact that he had done so. As I have stated above, the police looked into these matters fully and did not find evidence to charge me because I had never done anything wrong. 

The lesson from this episode seems to be two-fold:
  • It does not matter if you are wholly innocent of any crime. An accusation based the fraudulent use of stolen bank details can nevertheless ruin your entire life.
  • Senior officers within Cornwall Council have no concept of natural justice and can force an elected politician out of his job through a kangaroo court.
I remain hugely grateful to everyone who has sent me kind messages, both since I stepped down from the cabinet and since this news broke. I intend continue to work my hardest for the people of Launceston and for Cornwall as a whole. 

In the circumstances, I have invited my party, the Liberal Democrats, to look into the matter under its own disciplinary processes. I have voluntarily suspended my membership of the party and the whip on the council for the duration of this process.
At the same time, I will be taking a leave of absence from the council for a few weeks in order to be able to obtain and correct the misinformation held on me, and whilst the party investigation is undertaken. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support which allows me to do this, and local people can be reassured that all casework and other inquiries will be properly and quickly dealt with.

But Cornwall Council needs to take a serious look at the person in charge. Mr Kerr is a tiny crumb of a human being. He is a bully who decided straight away that, despite the fact I had done nothing wrong, I needed to be forced out. He presided over the kangaroo court which passed judgement against me having refused to even allow me to see any evidence. When I refused his demands to resign from the council he came up with a scheme to bring this matter to public attention through the letters to local sports clubs and his press release today.

So here are some questions for the council:
  • Why, when the council knew all about my arrest - and the fact the police took no further action against me - back in 2009, did they then do nothing at all until the past few weeks? Where does that leave the chief legal officer, Richard Williams? Sadly for Mr Williams, given that he understands the law and justice, I suspect that Mr Kerr will be bullying him out of a job soon too.
  • Why does the council refuse to give me access to any of the claims, evidence, or information laid against me so that I can offer a proper defence?
  • Why did the council take the extraordinary step of writing to local organisations claiming that I am a danger of children when I have never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing?
  • Why was Mr Kerr allowed to press release this matter without any warning, putting me and others in danger of some sort of vigilante action given the incredibly partial and untrue statements given to the press?

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

TRAC Report and Meeting

Cornwall Council has published their final report and evaluation of the TRAC and CYCLE projects in and around Launceston, Bude and Caradon Hill. The project failed to deliver many of its objectives.

There will be a meeting at 6pm next Tuesday to discuss the project and report. I'm grateful to council officers Peter Marsh and Steve Wood for coming to make a presentation and answer questions. The meeting is open to the public and will be at the Town Hall - Otho Peter Room - at 6pm.

As promised some time ago, the report is available here or you can read it below.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Resignation as a cabinet member

Today I have resigned as a member of Cornwall Council's cabinet. This is the text of the letter I sent to the Leader, John Pollard:
Dear John
As you know, I am currently dealing with a personal issue. I am therefore writing to tender my resignation from the cabinet with immediate effect.
I would like to say what an honour it has been to be part of Cornwall's cabinet. I believe that we have achieved a huge amount. The new budget is extremely tough but I believe that it is the fairest and best way of addressing the challenge that Cornwall faces over the next four years. We have managed to cut huge amounts of waste in order to focus on high quality front line services and I believe we have done our best for Cornwall.
I hope and expect to be able to address the personal issues I am dealing with and one day to be in a position to regain my seat at cabinet. But that is for sometime in the future. In the meantime I wish you and my other colleagues well. I thank you all for your support, but particularly Jeremy who has been unflinching in his support and advice throughout our time on the council.
I will continue to work my hardest for the people of Launceston.
Yours ever


This is his reply:

Dear Alex

Thank you for your letter, please accept this email as my acceptance of your resignation.

Thank you for all you’ve done for Cornwall.

Oll an  gwella


I don't intend to make any further comment at this time. Many thanks.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Lib Dems campaign for end to second home tax loophole

Lib Dems in Cornwall are campaigning to end a loophole being used by some second home owners to avoid paying either council tax or business rates.

As the cabinet member in charge of finance in Cornwall, I have been asking ministers to close the loophole. Now Julia Goldsworthy, the Lib Dem parliamentary candidate for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle has written to the Chancellor.

Here's how the loophole works:
  1. A second home owner is normally liable for full council tax on their property (two years ago the government removed the requirement to give a discount on second homes and the council immediately moved to require full payment to be made). The average council tax in Cornwall is just over £1400.
  2. But if they declare that the property is actually a holiday let and available to rent for 140 days or more per year then they can classify it as a business and be liable for business rates. The average business rates for any business with the word holiday in the category is about £1030, but this includes vast holiday parks so in practice the average for holiday lets is far less. 
  3. But most holiday lets are able to claim small business rate relief which reduces their payment to zero.
The decision as to whether a property is actually a business or residential is taken by the Valuations Office Agency - an independent body over which the council has no control. I have asked the government to ensure that they are applying the current rules correctly and to make sure that the VOA obtains evidence that the property is actually a genuine holiday let before they re-classify it.

This dodge is currently legal, but it means that Cornwall Council is missing out on potentially millions of pounds of income which could help to support services which are facing the axe. That is why we want the government to take action to end the dodge. But in the meantime we want an assurance that only genuine holiday lets are being moved from council tax to business rates.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Medical Centre expansion

A meeting to discuss the expansion of Launceston Medical Centre has been scheduled for 7pm on Thursday, December 18th in the Guildhall at Launceston Town Hall.

Dan Rogerson MP, a representative from NHS England, Paula Bland and Jo Beer from local Clinical Commissioning Groups, and Peter Harper from Launceston Medical Centre will all be attending.

Please put it in your diary if this is an issue you are concerned about.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Costa seek permission to place tables and chairs in town square

Costa, who have already secured permission to change the former shop at 24 Broad Street in the town centre into a coffee shop, are now seeking permission to put tables and chairs outside in the square.

You can view the plans and make comments one the Cornwall Council website using the application number PA14/09343.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Road closures in Launceston

Three more road closures in town coming up:

1. Launceston Carnival - Saturday 11th October
Don't forget that lots of the roads in town will be closed on Saturday evening for the carnival. See you there!

2.   Windmill Hill, Launceston
Timing:            17th to 28th November 2014 (24 hours, weekends included)
Reason:          Transformer replacement works
Contact:          Western Power Distribution, Tel: 0800 365 900

3. Riverside, Launceston
Timing:            24th November to 12th December 2014 (24 hours, weekends included)
Reason:          Sewer lining works
Contact:          South West Water, Tel: 0844 346 2020

Police should share front desks with council rather than close down the service

Following the decision by the Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg to agree the closure of many of the police front desks across Cornwall, I have written to him asking him to talk urgently to the council about whether the police could share front desks with the council via our one stop shop network rather than close down the service.

Having easy access to the police is important to many residents and, while I understand the budget pressures facing the force, I am concerned that closing this many will have a significant impact on the local service. Cornwall Council is already talking to the force about sharing front desk services to some extent in Truro and I would hope that they would consider what could be done in other areas too.

Cornwall Council is facing massive budget challenges over the next four years and needs to save money in all areas. Combining our work with other public services, including the police, makes a lot of sense The two organisations could share costs and both could save money whilst preserving their service.

With the front desks scheduled to close on November 1st there is only a short time for action to preserve this service and I hope to hear back from Mr Hogg shortly.

Here is the text of my letter:
Dear Tony

Thanks for the meeting last Friday and for setting out the position of yourself and of the police regarding the closure of front desks including Launceston.

You will be aware that both Cornwall Council and the police are part of Cornwall's public sector group and Supt Julie Fielding is leading on the issue of property. Cornwall has also successfully bid to be part of the government's One Public Estate Project.

I appreciate the arguments made for closing front desks, but I know you will accept that there is still a desire among the public to have a face to face service from the police. Whilst you have said that the decision to close the desks will not be reversed, I am writing to ask whether you will agree to look further at co-operation between the police and council with a view to providing some police front counter services via our network of One Stop Shops.

I don't seek at this stage to prescribe what should or should not be the outcome of such talks, and there may well be some functions of the front counter which are inappropriate for our libraries and one stop shops. But I am of the view that it would be wrong not to at least explore the possibilities as a matter of urgency. As you yourself have said, the 101 service is still not working as it should and residents will be, in my view, rightly anxious about the decision to close their face to face access to police.

I look forward to hearing from you


Alex Folkes
Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources

Cables and cameras across Launceston

A whole host of cameras and cables have appeared around the streets of Launceston with a range of weird and wonderful ideas about what they might be for.

The simple truth is that they are part of a major traffic survey taking place in the town.

Cornwall Council is looking at whether our town needs any new roads, wider roads, a by pass or anything else. In order to make the case for any works - and to seek the funding to carry them out - the authority needs up to date and comprehensive traffic surveys and these cameras and cables are the best way of assessing vehicle numbers and speed and whether cars are just passing through or looking to reach a destination in the town.

Some people have suggested that we rely on data from the last comprehensive survey back in the mid 1990s. I'm afraid this is now massively out of date and would not support any funding bids. But rest assured that all the previously designed schemes and data is being looked at so that work is not repeated unless it has to be.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Launceston councillors express concern to Police Commissioner over future of Launceston police station

Launceston's councillors have expressed their concern to the elected Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg over the future of Launceston Police Station and the services it provides. Adam Paynter, Alex Folkes and Jade Farrington attended a meeting with the commissioner and local police officers and other councillors today.

The force has confirmed that the front counter will be closed from November 1st and that the future of the custody centre is under review. However the Commissioner gave an assurance that there is no proposal to close the station altogether.

"Local people will be concerned to see the closure of the front counter as it provided a key link for communicating with Police," said Adam Paynter, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston North and North Petherwin. "This concern will be heightened by the problems with the 101 non-emergency number which many people tell me does not work properly."

"We pressed the commissioner on the issue of the failings of the 101 number and he told us that the force was conducting a review. As far as we are concerned, the review needs to be completed as soon as possible and action taken to make the service work properly."

Alex Folkes, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston Central, raised concerns about the future of the custody centre:

"We have been told that there is a review of custody provision across Devon and Cornwall and we understand that it is likely that either Newquay or Launceston custody centre will close."

"Launceston is a large and modern facility which is very central to the force area. Losing it would mean officers being taken out of our area for three hours or more every time they made an arrest. I'm concerned about the impact this would have on local policing and put this to the commissioner. He agreed to arrange for those conducting the review to come to listen to local concerns before any decision is reached."

Jade Farrington, Liberal Democrat councillor for Launceston South, also raised local concerns over speeding and parking issues:

"Launceston is a low crime area where, thankfully, violent crime and burglaries are few and far between. Local officers are doing a fantastic job, however everyday issues like speeding in residential streets and obstructive parking are causing great concern to residents. Many tell us they would like the police to do more about these things. I raised these points today and urged officers to give them the attention local people are requesting."

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Launceston budget consultation event

Last night was the first of 19 public consultation events that I an hosting to discuss the Cornwall Council four year budget. There will be one in every part of Cornwall.

The format is similar to last year, after a brief presentation (I'm aiming for ten minutes or so) the floor is open to anyone who wants to do so to ask a question, make a comment or present an idea for the council to consider.

Last night in Launceston we had 40 people present and the subjects discussed included second homes, libraries, tourist tax, homelessness and bus services. I can't guarantee to have pleased everyone with the answer I gave - after all the council is having to make £196 million of savings by the end of the next four years. But I hope that people now feel better informed.

But the main reason for doing this is to listen to the views that people express. Sometimes these are supportive of our proposals. In other cases they are critical. Everything that people say is being noted and a full report will be presented to all councillors (and put on the council website) before the final budget vote. New ideas will be looked into and if the case is made for a change in our proposals then we will consider making that change. We want to get the right budget for Cornwall.

The audience included town and parish councillors, people representing local groups, members of the public and council staff. In fact, the only person who seemed to be missing was local Conservative councillor Vivian Hall who was meant to be chairing the event.

You can find details of the 18 remaining public events here.

Another Conservative who thinks second homes have no effect on house prices

Here is a Conservative MP who complains about high house prices and the problem this causes for people trying to get onto the housing ladder.

She is Anne Main, the MP for St Albans. Last month she made a speech in Parliament outraged at high house prices and demanding that stamp duty be cut so that people could afford to buy.

Obviously, like her colleague Brandon Lewis, Mrs Main does not believe that second homes have anything to do with house prices. After all, I am told that she owns a second home in Cornwall.

Second homes, the Tory view

Housing Minister Brandon Lewis (a Tory of course) has claimed to the Western Morning News that second homes have little impact on house prices. It is clear he doesn't understand either the impact of second homes on areas such as Cornwall or basic economics.

The impact of second homes, when there are large numbers of them as we have in many of the coastal villages of Cornwall, is to devastate local communities. Locals are driven out and shops, businesses and schools close. Prices rise to such an extent that no local family could afford to buy there.

That is why Liberal Democrats in Cornwall have joined with colleagues in Cumbria to ask for a separate planning use class for second homes. That would enable the council to require change of use planning permission  if a main family home is to be converted into a second home in areas where the scale of second home ownership is a problem.

Local Lib Dems are also asking the government for the power to vary council tax levels and impose a premium on second homes. So far, Conservative ministers have refused our proposals in both cases.

Tonight, Cornwall Council's budget consultation roadshow visits the Wadebridge community network area which includes the popular second home areas of Rock and Padstow and the second home that is visited each summer by Prime Minister David Cameron and owned by a chum of his. I wonder if local people there agree with the minister that second homes have little effect on prices?

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Road closures in Launceston

Blindhole and Market Street will be closed from October 20 to November 7 while South West Water carries out repairs.

Carboth Lane will be shut from October 13 to 17. If you have any questions or concerns please call 0844 3462020.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Cornwall Conservatives go AWOL on the budget (again)

Cornwall Council is currently deciding on its budget for the next four years. The council needs to save £196 million and the authority cannot look the same again. It is, without doubt, the biggest challenge that has faced the council since it was founded in 2009.

We are determined to make sure that everyone has their chance to comment on the budget proposals and we are genuinely listening to the views that people express. So on Wednesday we start a series of 19 public meetings, we meet tomorrow with the partners we do business with and we are holding meetings with individual groups to discuss the areas of the budget proposals that affect them. We are also engaging online and meeting with staff.

But the biggest say on the budget goes to the elected members of the council. There are 123 councillors who will take the ultimate decision on the budget decision. They have the right to propose amendments, to accept or to reject it.

You might think therefore that budget is a vaguely important part of what the council is all about and that councillors might have turned up to have their say or just to listen and understand.

There have been 10 portfolio advisory committee (PAC) meetings to discuss the budget and a further discussion as part of the full council meeting. (There have also been other informal meetings but some members have made clear they don't agree with having any sort of informal meeting and they boycott them.)

But despite styling themselves the official opposition on the council, the Conservatives continue to absent themselves from most budget debates in stark contrast to Lib Dems, Independents, Labour, MK and even UKIP.

During the full council discussion of the budget last Tuesday, only 11 (out of 30) Conservatives were present and only two spoke.

Across all ten of the PAC meetings, only 12 individual Conservatives attended any meetings. There were three PAC meetings with no Conservative voting members of the committee present at all and one other where the only Conservative present left halfway.

So do the Conservatives care about the budget decisions facing Cornwall Council? And how do they think they are representing their voters by failing to turn up?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Council budget webchat - UPDATED

This lunchtime I took part in an online discussion about the council's proposed budget for the next four years. We brought together a wide variety of social media and integrated them to make a pretty fantastic platform to engage with residents and got a great response.

Here's the geeky bit.

The platforms we used were the usual suspects - facebook, twitter and youtube - but also Cover It Live, a discussion platform we use alongside our webcasting which allows people to comment on the proceedings.

Thanks to the great work of our comms team, we got these all together in one place so that comments posted from a variety of platforms could be brought together in a single stream. We answered with live text and with seven short videos that we had prepared in advance to act as introduction, wrap up and to cover five of the most frequently asked questions.

The event ran for two hours and we plugged it via social media beforehand. We also got some support from Radio Cornwall who interviewed me this morning about the consultation and mentioned it on air when it started.

We got enough questions to fill the full two hours. I may not be the fastest typist, but I'm also not the slowest and I don't think I paused for the entire 120 minutes.

The live stream has been saved and archived and is available here.

To any council or elected politician wanting to consult with people, I would thoroughly recommend this sort of event. Of course, it is only a way of communicating with people who have internet access at the time you are live. It doesn't replace what a face to face session can do (and the council is hosting 19 such events across Cornwall starting next Wednesday) but it did reach out to many people who might be concerned but not worried enough to come along to an event in person.

Hopefully, I can persuade our excellent comms person who pulled it all together to write a blog with more of the technical details and I'll add a link if he does.

UPDATE - Here's a blog written by the guy who put the event together (and knows what he is talking about).

Scott Mann's cut'n'paste survey fail

Yesterday the Conservatives were embarrassed when their Police commissioner's public consultation event attracted just one person and Cornwall's Tory leader walked out of a discussion on the future of local library and leisure services. Today another example emerges of Conservative inability to engage on serious issues.

North Cornwall candidate Scott Mann has sent out a survey to some local residents cut and pasted from a national template. In among the misleading propaganda and spin comes this:

Clearly Scott believes that no one could possibly think that more clinics might be needed at Bodmin hospital.

But that's not the worst of it. He couldn't even think of a question about the economy locally.

At least our hard working local MP Dan Rogerson is on the case. Thanks to the hard work that he and other Lib Dems have put in, there are hundreds more apprentices in North Cornwall and thousands of workers have enjoyed an £800 per year tax cut.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Police Commissioner's public engagement session attracts just one person

Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner Tony Hogg today held the first of what he promised would be regular open meetings of his 'Accountability Board'. His promise was to use it to hold the chief constable to account. He had arranged a webcast from Devon County Council chamber and had fourteen police officers and staff lined up. The only trouble was that only one member of the public came along.

I don't think we should criticise Mr Hogg for his ambition - but it is clearly more than a little embarrassing to get so little response.

The public still see crime and anti-social behaviour as important issues. But I don't think they trust the institution of police and crime commissioners to hold the police to account on their behalf. Just look at the terrible turnout in PCC elections. Add in that a number of office holders have made the news for all the wrong reasons and it adds up to a failed institution.

It's surely time to write off PCCs as a failure and scrap the post. Lib Dems (and now Labour) have both committed to doing so.

Conservative empty chairs during Cornwall's crucial budget debates

Various Conservatives in Cornwall have been in the media making loud noises about draft budget proposals affecting libraries and leisure centres. But when push comes to shove, they don't even turn up to the debates that matter.

North Cornwall candidate (and councillor) Scott Mann invited a cabinet minister to visit a leisure centre last week on the pretence that its future is under threat. He promised to do something about it. (In fact there are no proposals to close leisure centres).

Today, the council committee tasked with examining the proposed leisure budget and service changes discussed the proposals and Scott Mann was conspicuous by his absence. In fact, no Conservative had anything to say on the subject.

Another senior Conservative, current group leader Cllr Fiona Ferguson, is a member of the committee that met today. She has also complained outside the council about proposals affecting libraries and leisure centres. Yet she walked out before the debate on libraries and leisure centres started, leaving an empty chair.

Although the council is committed to listening to every point of view and we have the widest ever consultation taking place, there is no doubt that councillors have a privileged position in this debate. When it comes to the budget discussions, councillors can propose alternatives and require a vote. But the Conservatives seem to have forgotten this. They seem happy to spout off in the press whilst refusing to use their chances to actually do something about it.

Nobody thinks that the current budget proposals are ideal. None of us got elected wanting to make front line service cuts. But we have to meet the £196 million target by the end of 2018/19. The proposals that have been put forward are just that - proposals. We want to hear alternatives - even if we end up disagreeing with them. The Conservatives are the self-styled opposition on Cornwall Council, yet they are refusing to put forward any alternatives. I think they are letting down their voters and, indeed, the wider population of Cornwall.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

North Cornwall Conservative campaigns for more politicians and bureaucracy

Whilst his colleague in Truro is railing against a Cornish Assembly because she says it will mean another layer of bureaucracy and elected politicians (it needn't), North Cornwall Conservative candidate Scott Mann is campaigning for, er, another layer of bureaucracy and elected politicians.

At today's full council meeting, Cllr Mann said he wanted to create a new tier of councils below Cornwall Council - something akin to the former district councils. But he forgets that the switch to unitary is widely credited with helping to save £170m by abolishing administration, bureaucracy and hundreds of councillors. Dozens of highly paid council chiefs were also abolished.

If Cllr Mann's idea was taken up then money would have to be diverted from libraries, leisure centres and caring for vulnerable people in order to pay for more bureaucracy.

Lib Dem policy of free school meals creates 76 new jobs

At the start of the new school year all infants at school in Cornwall (and throughout England) became eligible for free meals at lunchtime as a result of an intiative promoted by the Liberal Democrats.

As well as the obvious benefits for local families, often struggling to put nutritious food on the table, one other benefit has been to create 76 new jobs for staff to cook and serve those meals. That's just within the Cornwall Council maintained schools. Academies and free schools are also required to provide free meals for infants and their staffing arrangements are a matter for their governors, but there will have been new jobs created there as well.

Obviously the new scheme required new investment and the schools themselves stepped up to the mark to help pay for re-fitting kitchens where work was needed. At the start of the autumn term there were a few schools where some work was still taking place but all schools will be meeting this policy fully by the end of half term.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Cameron's devolution lunch - no mention of Cornwall

Prime Minister David Cameron today held a lunch at his official residence Chequers to discuss a Conservative Party reaction to the vote in Scotland to remain part of the UK. Devolution was top of the agenda but it seems that Cornwall was not mentioned.

In the last few days of the Scottish referendum campaign, the three main party leaders made a pledge about delivering further powers to the Scottish Parliament. Now the parties need to live up to their promises.

But many backbench Tory MPs are concerned that they did not agree to the pledge and want action to address the problem of Scottish MPs being able to vote on English laws, but not vice versa. Hence the lunch at Cameron's 16th century mansion.

Sadly, according to the list of attendees given by Conservative Home, there wasn't a single voice from Cornwall present. It seems that the Conservative debate on devolution will start and end with an English Parliament and will not consider wider issues such as greater powers for cities, counties or regions such as Cornwall.

Friday, 19 September 2014

What services should be devolved to Cornwall?

Last night Scotland voted to remain part of the UK. As I've blogged before, the time is right that we should consider what powers, rights and responsibilities should be devolved to Cornwall.

I'd be grateful to hear from as many people as possible - particularly those in Cornwall - as to what  you think is the right balance. I've created a short survey which takes a couple of minutes to fill in.

You can find that survey here.

Monday, 15 September 2014

BT Cornwall creating 50 new jobs at Bodmin Beacon offices

BT Cornwall have announced today that they will be creating 50 new jobs at the council's new Bodmin Beacon offices. The offices themselves will save money for the council to help protect front line services.

The new offices will have 625 desks and most of them will be filled from staff already based in Bodmin in various buildings. We need to get out of these because they are old, inefficient and expensive. If our staff move out then we can save money by selling off the old buildings or giving up the leases where they are rented. Depending on the prices we get when we sell them, the new building costs will be made back in about four years. It's a good investment which will save money.

There will be a few staff moving from St Austell and Liskeard, but our overall commitment to a significant presence in these towns remains and this small change has been known about from the start. Similarly, staff will be moving from their base at Higher Trenant in Wadebridge as Cormac take over this building.

But as well as saving money, our aim has always been to use the new building to work more closely with partner organisations and to bring new jobs to Cornwall. So BT Cornwall's commitment to base their tele-health and tele-care work at Beacon and to create 50 new jobs is very good news. Today the Chief Executive of BT Cornwall, Chris Leggett, described Cornwall Council as good people to do business with.

Other space in Beacon will be taken by Cornwall Housing* and by Cornwall Adult Education Service. Both of these are arms length companies delivering services for the council.

It's worth pointing out that the Conservatives - including their parliamentary candidate for North Cornwall - have consistently said that this investment was a bad idea. They refuse to say what services they would have cut instead and have refused to say what plans they have to bring new jobs to Bodmin or anywhere else in North Cornwall.

*Cornwall Housing will be confirming their decision on taking space at their board meeting later this month following approval at a finance committee and previous board meeting.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Devolution discussion on Sunday Politics - UPDATED

I was on the Sunday Politics South West this morning talking about the prospects of devolution to Cornwall. The debate was sparked by the independence referendum in Scotland. Whether it is yes or no, there will be fundamental changes in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK and many believe it is right that we should examine what is best for each constituent region and nation. So what will it mean for Cornwall?

The Liberal Democrats have announced that we will be fighting the next general election on a pledge to devolve powers from Westminster including the establishment of a Cornish Assembly. We believe in devolution on demand and recognise that what is right for one area may not be right for another. Just as when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up they had different powers, so we believe that what is right for Cornwall may not be right for Yorkshire or Dorset (or Wales or Scotland). Cornwall should not be held back by a 'one size fits all' policy.

The discussion about exactly what powers a Cornish Assembly should have and what should fit around it is still to be had. My belief is that the current Cornwall Council should take on more powers and become the assembly. I don't see the need for the creation of a new tier of councils below the assembly. More powers and responsibilities could be given to beefed up town and parish councils to fulfil the role.

So what do the other parties think?

The Conservatives do not seem to support any further systematic devolution to Cornwall. On the programme today, local MP and Minister George Eustice said that the reason so many powers (like the frequency of bin collections) are kept in the hands of Eric Pickles and other ministers was that local people have the right to expect a certain level of service. In other words, that local councils cannot be trusted to do the best for their residents and that a minister in London can.

Labour's shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn wrote to Cornwall Council recently offering further powers but making clear that these will only be given to authorities that join together. So we could only expect more power for a South West region (or maybe Devonwall).

UPDATE: Labour's Candy Atherton has told the Western Morning News:
"We are the first political party to say we don’t believe in Assembly"

So of the three parties with any hope of winning seats in Cornwall at the general election next May, only the Liberal Democrats are pledging to introduce proper devolution and a Cornish Assembly. More votes for the Lib Dems and more Lib Dem MPs will give a stronger hand to our negotiations with other parties in the event of a hung parliament to make our vision happen. Neither Labour nor Conservatives governing on their own will give Cornwall the freedom to make decisions for itself.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Young people need proper representation and more say over local EU programmes

Cornwall Council’s cabinet has urged the new bodies responsible for delivering local EU programmes to make sure they have proper representation from young people. They have also been urged to make the needs of young people are reflected in the schemes they support.

As part of the new round of EU structural funding, Cornwall will be setting up a new system of Local Action Groups (LAGS) to deliver a strand known as community led local development. These four LAGs will be overseeing 5% of the EU funding - some £24 million or more over the course of the scheme.

The good news is that the new LAGs will cover the whole of Cornwall rather than just bits of it. And the LAGs will be run by new boards made up of a mix of local town, parish and Cornwall councillors, representatives of the community and voluntary sector and of local businesses. One of the key aims is to make sure that these boards are truly representative.

Sadly, to date the boards are significantly lacking in young people. Yesterday the cabinet agreed that Cornwall Council should take on the role of 'accountable body' for the new LAGS to support their work. But we said that the LAGS should make it a key priority to do more to become properly representative. And we said that having proper representation from young people is urgent. We also need to ensure that the schemes that are supported by the LAGs include those which will benefit young people.

Local parents concern over pupil transport to Callington

A number of local parents have expressed concern over the difficulties facing Launceston-based pupils attending Callington College. One parent has found that a season ticket they bought is for a bus that no longer exists and others have complained about the unreliability of some of the remaining services.

For a variety of reasons, some parents choose to send their children to Callington College. In cases where this is a matter of parental choice (rather than because there is no place available at a more local school) then the council is not responsible for home to school transport.

In the case of getting to Callington, there are local bus services which are run by both First Group and Western Greyhound - the 76 and the 576 respectively. They run at various times through the day and enable pupils to get to and from school. However, First have withdrawn the return service that left immediately after school and pupils therefore have to wait for an hour or so before they can start their journey home.

One parent had bought a season ticket for their child from First Group in the expectation of being able to use the service which has now been withdrawn. I trust that First will be making a refund of the full price of the season ticket and the council will be supporting the parent on this.

The other principle concern is over the reliability of the Western Greyhound service. I am told that there are many occasions when the bus terminates at Westgate Street rather than continuing to St Stephens and beyond. As a result, children have to walk to final mile home. There are also issues with buses arriving on time or being cancelled altogether.

As the route between Launceston and Callington is not a subsidised route, there is little that the council can do to enforce the reliability of the service. But I am asking officers to get in touch with Western Greyhound to make sure that pupils and other passengers are getting the service that they pay for and aren't kicked off the bus early or left hanging around hoping that the bus will arrive.

Cornwall Council adopts a 'more local' approach to council housing

Cornwall Council is moving to a new housing register which will give greater priority to local people. Applicants to join the housing register will need to show a three year residential qualification and the council is seeking advice on whether this can be increased to five.

Delivering homes to meet the needs of local people is a key priority for the Council. We want to tighten up our allocations policy to try and meet the urgent need of our communities and the changes agreed will assist Cornwall Council and Cornwall Housing Ltd to better manage the housing waiting list and ensure that homes are allocated fairly to those in greatest need.
The cabinet also decided to impose an upper earnings and savings limit on those wanting to join the housing register. Anyone with a household income of more than £60,000 or savings above £50,000 will be excluded and, when it comes to allocating a house, preference will be given to those with a household income of less than £30,000. That's important because we should be working to help the poorest families get into adequate housing. Although those on higher incomes may not be 'well off', they are better able to be able to afford to rent privately or to think about buying than those on much lower incomes.
Finally, the council has decided that anyone who has been judged guilty of anti-social behaviour in relation to a tenancy in the past two years will not be eligible to be on the housing register.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hallam come back for more on Upper Chapel

Hallam Land Management, the developers who won permission to build 100 new homes on land north of Upper Chapel in Launceston, have submitted an application to increase the number of houses to 140.

The original application was resisted by both the town council and Cornwall Council as it ran contrary to the town framework plan - the plan developed in conjunction with the local community to set constraints on the building of new homes and new infrastructure over the next 20 years.

However, despite being rejected unanimously by both the town council and Cornwall Council planning committees, Hallam appealed and permission was granted by the government appointed inspector.

This news will come as a bitter blow to the residents of Launceston. We fought the original application because we know it is wrong for our town. We are grateful for the effort that both the town council and Cornwall Council put into the battle to stop a development which will create significant highways problems.

Now we find this was merely a trojan horse as the developers want permission to pack even more homes onto the same space. Just as the first proposal was wrong, this one is too and we will continue to battle against it.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Lib Dem Andrew George wins vote to reform Bedroom Tax

Cornish Lib Dem MP Andrew George today saw his Bill to reform the bedroom tax passed in the House of Commons. Andrew was first out of the hat in the annual ballot to select backbench MPs to promote changes to the law and he chose reform various welfare provisions including the bedroom tax.

The bedroom tax is the name given to the penalty imposed on people in receipt of housing benefit but who have more bedrooms than they need. Andrew's proposal will see a halt to penalties being imposed on those who cannot find a smaller property and those who have had significant adaptations to their home to help with disabilities.

The problem faced by many people in Cornwall is that there are simply not enough properties for people hit by the bedroom tax to move into. Most of my constituents who are affected tell me that they would move if a suitable home was available. Others have had adaptions, often costing tens of thousands of pounds, made to their current home. These would have to be made again if they moved.

In the vote today, Liberal Democrats were supported by Labour MPs. North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson joined Andrew George in voting to reform the bedroom tax. The third Lib Dem MP in Cornwall - Steve Gilbert - is away on Parliamentary business. The Conservatives voted against the Bill and two Cornish Conservatives - Sarah Newton and Sheryll Murray - also spoke against reform. Throughout proceedings, Conservative MPs tried all sorts of underhand tactics to avoid a vote including at one point asking for the House of Commons to sit in secret.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Carboth Lane road closure

South West Water are going to be carrying out sewer works in Carboth Lane which will require the closure of the road from October 13th to 17th.

I have asked that the suggested diversion does not encourage drivers to make the very sharp turn into Western Terrace when travelling north on Western Road (ie into town) or to turn from Western Terrace to go south on Western Road (ie towards the Pennygillam roundabout). Such manoeuvres are dangerous and cause delays.

If you have any questions, please contact South West Water on 0844 346 2020.

Should Police and Crime Commissioners be abolished?

My colleague Sue James has set up a petition to start a debate on the potential abolition of the post of Police and Crime Commissioner.

Sue says:

"I have no personal gripes with any particular Police and Crime Commissioners. I feel they have been given a role that the public do not want a single elected person to have, no matter what their political persuasion. I also believe that even if you believe in the purpose of the role, it would be impossible for even the most brilliant of people to carry out, when you think of the size of the electorate they are supposed to represent and the challenges facing police services up and down the land. The cost of the elections, the low turn outs and the cost of the offices Police and Crime Commissioners are feeling they need all needs a further review before we ask everyone to go to the polls again."

You can view Sue's e-petition at: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/68799

Monday, 1 September 2014

Cornwall Council sets out draft budget proposals

Cornwall Council has today published its proposals for saving £196m over the next four years and is asking members of the public, partner organisations and staff to give their views on the draft budget and come forward with any other ideas for saving money.

The Council's aim is to strengthen its partnerships with the rest of the public and community sector in order to make as many savings as possible without cuts to frontline services. The authority is seeking to devolve at least £34m of services to town and parish councils and to work on integrating services currently run by government departments, the NHS, voluntary and community sectors and Cornwall Council.

The unprecedented scale of the savings required means that all areas of the Council are affected by the draft proposals.  However, rather than simply ‘salami slice’ every service, the authority has developed a four year plan which will help protect the three key priority areas identified by the public and Members during last year’s budget consultation.  These are services for the most vulnerable in society (including vulnerable adults, children, older people and the poorest), public transport, and road repairs and maintenance.

We are determined to focus on what Cornwall will be like in 2019, rather than what we need to cut. Budgetary constraints and the changing nature of Local Government require a different approach and, as we said last year, we want to build a resilient and sustainable Cornwall and not simply reduce the services we provide.

To this end we have worked with Councillors, officers and partners to develop this budget, the Council’s strategy which underpins it, and a Business Plan which will implement it.  Our commitment is to create a leaner, more resourceful organisation that delivers essential council services in the most efficient and effective way. This also means having the courage to make some extremely difficult decisions.

At the same time we have been pressing the Government to change the way local government is funded to give Cornwall a fairer share of the money it allocates to councils to provide services.  We currently receive less than half the money per head of population than that given to Hackney and if we were funded in the same way as an average urban council we would receive an additional £48m a year. We are continuing to have discussions with Ministers over the need to recognise the cost of providing services to people in Cornwall and have recently sent a submission to the Independent Commission set up to look at this issue setting out how we think the system should be reformed.

Over the past few months we have looked closely at everything we do to see how we can protect services by becoming more efficient and changing the way the Council is run.  We started with the money we spend on ourselves and have already identified more than £30 million of savings through a radical restructure of senior management, reducing the use of consultants and agency staff by 59%, and a local pay agreement with staff. This work is continuing, with further savings due to come from ongoing restructuring and the sale of surplus buildings, but the sheer scale of the savings we need to make means we cannot rely on these actions alone.

We are looking to work much more closely with the rest of the public sector and the voluntary and community sector. We will be seeking to integrate our services and to share support functions and buildings wherever possible. But we know that front line services will also be hit and so we have worked with elected members, with partners and with the public to understand where they feel savings can be made and which services should be protected.

However we are also looking to the future and to developing the skills, jobs and infrastructure that Cornwall needs. We persuaded the Government to allow decisions on spending our European funding to be made in Cornwall, and we have seen significant Government investment in our rail, air and road links. We are also investing £50 million in match funding for the next round of the EU convergence programme.

The draft budget proposals include some things which we would want to do regardless of the need to make savings. These include further reducing the number of buildings and working more closely with partners to share costs. Others are savings we would prefer not to have to make and which we know will have a significant impact on the people who use these services. But, faced with the need to save £196m from our budget, we have very little choice.

However even implementing all these proposals will still leave us with a £6 million shortfall and this figure could rise depending on Government funding decisions. We have already ruled out a number of options as unacceptable in the current circumstances and, rather than have to revisit them in the future, are asking people to come forward with any ideas on areas for savings we might have missed or where we could go further than we are currently suggesting.

The draft budget proposals are based around four key areas:
  • Working with staff to reduce the pay bill – including further restructuring and the transfer of staff to new models of delivery and arm’s length companies
  • New models of delivery – including integrating health and social care services; devolving further services to town and parish councils and community and voluntary groups (eg libraries); creating trusts and partnerships to deliver services such as culture and tourism, and seeking external partners for services such as parking.
  • Management improvements – including delivering more services digitally and through the website; reducing administrative costs in areas such as IT and postage; more effective procurement and contract management and sharing buildings with partners and community groups;
  • Increasing income – taking a more commercial approach in areas such as public protection, licensing, planning, and waste.
We recognise that many people will be concerned at the impact of some of these proposals but the stark truth is we cannot protect services and save £196m by continuing in the same way. We have to become more efficient and change the way we run the Council. By doing this we can support key services for vulnerable children and adults, and help people who are struggling to make ends meet by maintaining council tax support.   We will also be supporting the bus network and continuing to fix potholes and maintain our roads.

We now want to hear the views of people in Cornwall on these proposals. We are holding 20 public meetings during October  so people can give us their views on the proposals and any new ideas.

Following today’s publication of the draft budget, the proposals will be considered in detail by the Council’s Portfolio Advisory Committees during September.

As well as the public meetings in October there is also an online form on the website where people can give their views and make any suggestions. - www.cornwall.gov.uk/cornwallbudget . This consultation will close on 29 October.

All the comments and suggestions made by members of the public and partners will then be used to produce a revised draft which will be discussed by the Cabinet on 5 November and then the full Council on 22 November when the final decision will be made.

UPDATE - Here is what the Western Morning News said in their editorial about the budget proposals.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Labour councillor Michael Bunney resigns

Michael Bunney, the Labour councillor for Mevagissey is resigning from Cornwall Council. His resignation will take effect this Sunday, 31st August.

Cllr Bunney is a teacher and has recently been appointed to a position at a council maintained school in Cornwall. That makes him an employee of the authority and therefore ineligible to be an elected member on the same council. Until now, Cllr Bunney has worked in Devon and so was not barred.

When he was elected in May 2013, Michael Bunney won 30% of the vote. In second place was UKIP with 28% and the Conservatives came third on 24%. The Liberal Democrats won 14% and the Greens 5%. A by-election will be held this autumn.

Congratulations to Michael on his new job and sorry to see him go.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Local MP pushing for Launceston Medical Centre expansion

North Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson has written to NHS England urging them to approve the expansion of Launceston Medical Centre without further delay.
The centre’s plans to expand to meet demand from people in and around the town are ready to go to the next stage, but things cannot progress until NHS England publish new guidelines covering the expansion of surgeries.
In a letter to Dan Rogerson in early July, NHS England pledged to be able to assess the Centre’s application to expand within a few weeks, but the necessary NHS guidelines have still not been published, despite a delay of more than a year.
Dan Rogerson has written to NHS England to demand urgent action. Surgeries across Cornwall and the rest of the country are facing the same predicament so Dan has also asked Government Health Minister Lord Frederick Howe to look at the situation.
Dan Rogerson said:
“It is clear that Launceston needs NHS approval and quickly. The Medical Centre has plans in place but we are still waiting for NHS England to publish its new guidelines and decide whether or not to give the go ahead and agree to the expanded GP service. The NHS’s delay in publishing its new guidelines is also hitting several other doctors’ surgeries across North Cornwall who have ambitions to expand or secure new premises.”
Launceston Medical Centre is the only GPs surgery in the town and serves an area of approximately a 10 mile radius from the town.  The Practice currently has 17,600 registered patients and the list is growing each year – in the last 12 months more than 300 extra patients joined.
Peter Harper, Launceston Medical Centre’s business manager explained:
“From 1st October this year, to meet the demands of our patient list, we will have 11 GP’s working out of 9 GP consulting rooms at the Medical Centre– we are desperate for additional internal space to enable us to provide the service our patients need.

“Virtually every month we have chased the NHS Local Area Team to see if we can submit expansion plans, only to be told each time that the guidelines for new premises have still not been finalised. Without this initial approval it is not worth starting work on detailed plans.”
Liberal Democrat Cornwall Councillor for Launceston South, Jade Farrington, added:
“With plans coming forward for much-needed affordable and open market housing for Launceston, the need to expand the medical centre is growing. This should tip the balance in Launceston’s favour and help prove the town needs to be at the top of the queue for NHS approval of our medical centre's expansion plans.”

Monday, 18 August 2014

Costa Coffee given Launceston go ahead

Costa Coffee have been given permission by Cornwall Council to open in the town square in Launceston. The decision was taken this afternoon by the council's planning committee.

The application was for change of use permission to allow the company to open at 24 Broad Street, a building formally known as the Health Counter and previously occupied by both Boots and Day Lewis pharmacies.

The move was opposed by many in the town including the owners and operators of a number of existing coffee shops. However the committee decided that there were not sufficient planning grounds to deny the application which will fill an empty shop and create 10 full time equivalent jobs.

This was always going to be a balanced decision, but I was disappointed that the company had failed to give any commitments to the level of community contributions which might be provided.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Plymouth introduce fines for too much rubbish

Plymouth City Council is apparently introducing a system of fines for householders who fill their bins too full or put out too much rubbish. They become the latest council to say that if you cannot close the lid on your wheelie bin (all households have them in the city) then it will either not be collected or you will be fined. The council also say that they will not collect bags of rubbish put out alongside the wheelie bin.

Here in Cornwall our attitude is that so long as you put out your rubbish at the right time and make sure it is in sensible containers like tied up bags or sealed boxes, we will collect it. 

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Season ticket price cuts raises additional £74,000 for Cornwall Council

A scheme that I have championed to cut the cost of parking season tickets across Cornwall has resulted in additional profits of more than £74,000 for the council - as well as happier local residents and drivers.

The previous situation was that motorists were being charged a lot for season tickets. They might be getting a discount on the daily pay and display rate, but that discount wasn't a lot. And the attitude of the previous, Conservative-led, administration seemed to be that regular price rises would automatically be paid by drivers.

And so commuters voted with their feet and abandoned car parks in favour of parking in residential streets. This led to lots of annoyance for local residents who couldn't park near their own homes.

So we piloted a lower cost season ticket in Launceston with a price cut from £470 to £200. When added to a bit of local marketing, the number being sold rose from less than 30 to more than 130.

Following that success, the scheme has been rolled out across Cornwall with similar positive results. An additional £74,000 has been brought into council coffers and that money will help protect a wide range of council services from some of the cuts that are being forced on us.

Launceston £1 parking deal extended until March 2015

Launceston's £1 all day Saturday parking deal has been extended at least until the end of March 2015, thanks to work by the town's Liberal Democrat councillors and local businesses.

Cornwall Council first ran the deal - which allows drivers to park in one of the Cornwall Council owned car parks all day on a Saturday for just £1 - for three months from April to June. That was extended by a month, but the authority has now confirmed that the deal will run until the end of the financial year at least.

This is great news for the town and for local businesses. We have shown that a special deal like this can attract more people into our town which benefits local shops and traders. At the same time, the council isn't missing out on income because many more people are using the car parks.

This was a key Lib Dem commitment from our election last year. Sensible offers and price cuts could benefit the town and preserve the income stream that the council relies on. I'm delighted this scheme will continue until the end of the financial year and I hope it will be made permanent after that.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Newquay Cornwall Spaceport?

Today the government has announced that Newquay Cornwall Airport is on the shortlist of sites for a possible UK spaceport. The Cornish location is on the list alongside six Scottish locations and one one Wales.

It's early days in any project and there hasn't been any public money spent on it. But the news does show the potential that the runway and surrounding enterprise zone has for attracting investment and high paid and high skilled jobs to Cornwall. The area already hosts the BLOODHOUND Project - the UK-led global project to build a supersonic jet-powered car - and many other high-tech industries.

The council would need to make sure that any public money being spent secures a good return. In the meantime, the lead is being taken by the Local Enterprise Partnership. Chairman of the LEP, Chris Pomfret, told the West Briton:
“The Aerohub at Newquay Cornwall Airport is a unique and nationally important asset and we want to unlock further growth in the aerospace and space sectors to create skilled well-paid jobs. Satellite technology is also an important part of the future economic strategy for Cornwall."

“To be shortlisted by the UK Space Agency review speaks volumes for the quality and location of Aerohub, but it is very early days. Before we make any decisions about whether we might eventually bid to host a spaceport we need to look carefully at the Civil Aviation Authority’s technical report and engage with the consultation over the coming months before deciding on any next steps.”