Tuesday, 27 May 2014

UKIP loses a councillor in Cornwall

UKIP has celebrated its undoubted success in last week's elections by deciding to cause another one. Their councillor, Michael Keogh, has resigned leading to a by-election on a date to be determined.

Cllr Keogh was elected for the first time last year and has cited time pressures as the reason for quitting. He served on only one committee in addition to his place on full council.

The seat will be an interesting one to watch. Sitting Tory Chris Ridgers was beaten by Cllr Keogh by just three votes last year with Lib Dem John Ault in third only 82 votes from top spot. Labour came last on just 9%.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

'Hapless' Tory housing policy proposal withdrawn

Cornwall Tories today tried to propose a new housing policy which would deny Cornish members of the armed forces based out of Cornwall the chance to go on the housing register. The party also suggested that social housing should be of a lower quality than at present.

The debate took place on the proposed strategic housing framework for Cornwall. This is a document which sets out the ambition for more and better quality social housing to address to significant housing need in Cornwall.

One of the proposals that we are currently consulting on is to strengthen the need for local connections for those seeking social housing in Cornwall. We want to make sure that the untrue rumours about local housing being allocated to people from Birmingham or London with no local connection remain just that.

But Tory councillor Scott Mann chose to raise an amendment today in order to bar anyone without a current Cornish address from going onto the housing register.

Except that this would bar members of the armed forces based outside Cornwall from going on the local register to be able to return home. And it would also bar those Cornish people looking for a council house or housing association property but who are currently living across the border in Devon from seeking to return to Cornwall. Although Cornwall is bordered on three sides by sea, we do border Devon and plenty of people who would describe themselves as Cornish and who have local connections with border towns live in Devon, in villages like St Giles and Lifton.

And the Leader of the Conservative group, Cllr Ferguson, also made suggestions that Cornish social housing should be maintained to a lower standard than we are currently proposing. She described the current maintenance programme as 'gold-plated'. Many speakers made the point that local people living in council housing deserve to live in high quality homes.

Ultimately, Cllr Mann chose to withdraw his proposal which was described as both 'hapless' and 'very silly' by councillors during the debate. Making sure that local people have the best access to affordable housing is absolutely right and forms the heart of the current council consultation on reform of the housing register. But ill thought through suggestions which would hit the armed forces and other local people are not the right way to proceed.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Launceston Police front counter to close?

Devon and Cornwall's Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg is proposing to close a number of front counters across the force area. Once of those that will go under his plans is Launceston.

Of course the police need to save money, but I question whether this is the best way to achieve those savings. If the police become more inaccessible, then will they retain the same level of public confidence? The 999 number is there for emergencies, but few people know about the 101 number for non-emergencies. That is the direction that people are being pointed in for enquiries that until now have been dealt with over the counter. But if few people know about it will we see more unnecessary calls to 999? And can the force guarantee that the performance of the 101 number will improve so fewer people give up on it?

Perhaps a quicker way for Mr Hogg to save money would be to cut back on his own bloated personal office - which, despite promises from the Home Secretary, now costs more than the old Police Authority, stop spending so much on consultants, stop claiming rent for a second home when he could stay in Exeter for free. He could also stop wasting money on pay offs to former staff members with whom he disagrees.

I have written to Mr Hogg seeking an assurance that the operational base and custody centre is not under threat and to ask for details of how members of the public will be able to contact the police in person if they need to.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Latest consultants and agency spending figures

Apparently there was some concern that the last Cornwall Council cabinet meeting was not told about spending on consultants and agency staff. There was a thought that this might have been because the spending had actually gone up.

Fortunately, I can confirm that the Lib Dem/Independent administration continues to cut this wasteful spending, an area where the former Tory administration was happy to throw money.

February figures:
April to February 2013/2014                                           £4,695,563
April to February 2012/2013                                           £11,173,910
Reduction in spend:                                                        £6,478,348
February Monthly spend 2014 (4week month):                 £246,605
February Monthly spend 2013 (4week month):                 £836,477

March figures:
April to March 2013/2014:                                              £4,966,824
April to March 2013/2014:                                              £12,148,140
Reduction in Spend:                                                       £7,181,316
March Monthly Spend 2014 (5 week month):                    £269,169
March Monthly Spend 2013 (5 week month):                    £974,228
So over the entire financial year 2013/14, the bill for consultants and agency staff fell by 59.12%. In my book, that's quite some achievement. Congratulations to all the staff involved in making this happen.

Town Hall to fly the flag

Launceston's town hall will be flying the Cornish flag of St Piran every day in the future. The decision was taken at the full council meeting last Friday.

I was an enthusiastic supporter of the move put forward by Cllr Rob Tremain, the town crier. As the historic capital of Cornwall, I think it is important to reflect both our history and our position within Cornwall. It also reminds some that Cornwall continues east of Bodmin!

The move was opposed by Cllr John Conway who pointed out that only 7% or so of Launceston residents wrote on their census forms that they felt themselves to be Cornish. But this move is more about reflecting where we are rather than how many people chose to tick a box on a form.

And, while Launceston is proud to reflect on its Cornish heritage, that does not mean that we do not continue to welcome the many thousands of visitors who come to our town ever week and the residents who originate from outside Cornwall.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Halal meat - a message from local butchers

There's been a lot of talk recently about Halal meat. If it's an issue you're worried about then please take the time to read these letters from Warrens Butchers and Jaspers which explain what the process actually entails. It's very different to the common media portrayal!

This is the message from Jaspers:

Jaspers are accredited by the Halal Food Authority (HFA) who do allow stunning to render the animal unconscious prior to slaughter, it does not allow stunning to kill.

We are highly regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and an Official Veterinarian who are continually on site through production to monitor animal welfare, slaughter and hygiene practices on a daily basis.

We have a Muslim slaughterman who is licensed by the Food Standards Agency and approved by the Halal Food Authority to carry out the bleeding and prayer process on each animal, but I must emphasise that each animal is stunned prior to this happening. Whether the animal is slaughtered using the Halal or Non-Halal method the slaughter process is exactly the same, the animal is always pre-stunned prior to slaughter.

All our animals are rendered unconscious using the electrical stunning method by a licensed slaughterman, this is an industry standard for the slaughter of sheep. We are regularly audited by the Humane Slaughter Association (HSA), of which I am a member. The HSA inspect all aspects of animal welfare on site, the stunning process, the equipment used to carry it out and the slaughter process as well as the daily monitoring the FSA carries out.

After the animals are electrically stunned the sheep are then bled, this part is the actual slaughter process.

Finally I have no problem with you visiting site to witness the slaughter process being carried out. We always welcome visitors, students, trainee butchers and chefs to come and see how the whole slaughter process is done in a very humane way which is approved by the FSA, British Retail Consortium, Red Tractor, English Beef & Lamb Executive and Soil Association, of which we are accredited by.

I hope this is sufficient information for you to stop the rumours circulating the town and to know that Jaspers are totally dedicated to high standards of animal welfare at all times.

This is the message from Warrens:

We are renowned for our high ethic standards of using our own and other local produce, farmed by local farmers to the highest standards of natural farming off the moors and the margins, we have it slaughtered locally in low stress facilities and to pin one of your raised points down straight away, EVERY ANIMAL WE HANDLE HAS BEEN PRE STUNNED, NO DOUBTS, NO QUIBBLE, PRE STUNNED!!!

As to the question of Jaspers actual practice, we will allow them to answer you direct, however I would like to explain Halal and the confusion it causes in the wider sense. Orthodox Jews and strict Muslims demand strict religious slaughter, this is indeed done by the knife on un-stunned animals, and to which, we, and the vast majority of people abhor.

There is then the compromised Halal method, which is acceptable to many forward thinking Muslims, whereby a practicing person of Muslim faith can work in the slaughter line, and providing he mutters a prayer to his God in thanks for for the lambs life and respect for its sacrifice to feed us, it becomes Halal to their faith.

This method of pre-stunning and then prayer is the one used in 90 per cent of Halal meat production in this country, nothing different to everyday slaughter practices except the prayer, and the fact a Muslim works there.

Except for religious intolerance, this should be acceptable to a western way of life, whereby we respect the welfare of all our god's creatures.

Please feel free to approach us at any time to find out facts, and I am sure the local farming family who run Jaspers would be more then willing to do the same.

It is an old saying that comes to mind here, A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so I thank you once again for taking the trouble and time to find out the truth before making statements as to the actual position of two highly respected businesses in the high quality meat sector.
I hope that this provides reassurance to local shoppers about the quality and animal welfare standards of local firms. Please keep supporting local shops.

Robo-sentencing is wrong

Nick Clegg is quite right to oppose automatic six month sentences for anyone caught carrying an illegal knife for the second time. All sentences which ignore the individual circumstances of the offence, the offender and the victim are wrong.

This Tory proposal will no doubt also be adopted by Labour, who seem to be unable to come up with a single policy idea of their own.

What Nick Clegg did not say is that knife crimes should be treated more leniently than they are at the moment. He didn't say that he was opposed to a stricter set of sentencing guidelines for judges dealing with offenders convicted of a knife crime.

But robo-sentencing, where there is an automatic tariff that does not allow a judge to consider the details of the crime, the effect on the victim and the circumstances of the offender, are very wrong. There will be some cases where a mandatory minimum term will be overly harsh. But there will also be cases where a judge sees the minimum as being the standard tariff and does not send an offender to prison for a longer term in a case where a free hand might have led to this.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Inaccurate claims being made against me

A story has been published which contains wildly inaccurate claims about me made by a former landlord. I made the truth clear to a journalist who contacted me, but the story appeared in any case. I do not propose to dignify the matter by responding in public, but the claims are false and I consider them libellous. I consequently consider any further publication of them to be libellous too. I am consulting lawyers on this issue and it would be inappropriate to say anything more.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Labour's barmy rent control announcement will be terrible news for tenants

Labour's big announcement at their European elections launch is that they will introduce rent controls. Just setting aside for a mo the fact that this has nothing to do with the EU elections, this policy is likely to do more harm than good to the housing market. It will certainly be extremely expensive.

Let's start with those who will benefit - anyone already in rented housing will see their rents capped. All will be good for them, at least until any major repairs need to be done.

The people who will lose out most will be people in need of rented housing. After all, who will invest in new housing for rent if you know that the amount of income will be capped. Maybe you will get a fair return now, but what about the future? And without a degree of certainty, few will make an investment that will require many years to get a decent return. So without a steady supply of new housing for rent coming onto the market, what will happen to all those people needing housing? They will be forced to continue living in cramped or inadequate housing, sleeping on sofas or with family.

Of course, local councils have started building council housing again, but the numbers are tiny and they are not likely to rise all that fast in the near future.

Those already in rented housing will lose out as well - at least in the medium to long term. With rents capped, the investment needed in renovations and repairs will be harder to make so properties will slowly dilapidate.

So in order to provide homes to rent under Labour's plan, there will need to be vast subsidies from the state - either the government or local councils - to encourage developers to build and to make sure that homes remain at a decent standard and get repaired when they need it. And let's face it, there isn't a lot of spare cash floating around in the public sector. The only answer will be big tax rises either locally or nationally.

Nobody thinks that tenants should be ripped off by having to pay exhorbitant rents. But the answer is surely to use market forces - by building lots more homes for rent - rather than artificial means to keep rents fair.

Slow, fair and steady rent rises are the best way of ensuring a market which rewards those who invest in rental housing with a fair return whilst making sure that the people who pay the rents (both tenants and councils) can afford to pay. That is what we have traditionally done in Cornwall under both the previous Conservative administration and under the new Liberal Democrat/Independent leadership.

Interestingly, the Labour group on Cornwall Council seem to disagree with their party leader. Back in February they didn't raise a peep in opposition to the slow and steady rent rise proposal. So will they actually support their new party dogma?