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?