Friday, 11 September 2015

Graham Facks-Martin

Graham Facks-Martin, one of the stalwart servants of Launceston and North Cornwall, died this morning after a long illness.

Graham was a town councillor for many years. Previously he had been the chairman of North Cornwall District Council. He was a Conservative, but of a sort not frequently encountered these days. Passionately pro-European, he was also a keen advocate of more social housing and served on the board of Cornwall Rural Housing Association, latterly as chairman.

Graham was awarded the MBE for public service in 2006.

Graham and I didn't always agree on everything, but his passion for the town was quite apparent and he argued his case with conviction whether he ultimately won or lost the vote. He will be missed.

Scott Mann's dodgy toilet complaint

North Cornwall's Conservative MP Scott Mann has asked the Prime Minister to intervene to force Cornwall Council to abandon a policy of seeking to devolve public toilet provision. The trouble is that he forgets that his own party, when in power, did exactly the same thing.

According to the BBC:
Mr Mann said their closure would "bring disastrous consequences upon the county" and this was a "fundamental public health issue".
Cornwall Council, in the face of a government requirement to make £196m of savings over four years, is seeking to find commercial, community or local town and parish council partners to take on public toilets. The rights and wrongs of the policy are a matter for legitimate debate.

But what seems to have been ignored by Mr Mann is that when the Conservatives ran the council from 2009-2013, they did exactly the same thing. They listed a large number of public toilets and told local councils that if they did not take them on then they would be closed. Some town councils - like Launceston - took on the service. Others did not and the toilets were closed.

If Mr Mann is successful and the remaining toilets are kept open at Cornwall Council expense then it will be unfair on the people of towns like Launceston who are currently paying through their council tax both for the town's toilets and for those elsewhere in Cornwall. Ending this double taxation is one of the aims of the current policy which Mr Mann objects to.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Whitbread threaten higher prices to pay new minimum wage.

Whitbread are saying that they will have to raise prices at their outlets including Costa and Premier Inn so as to be able to pay the new minimum wage which will rise to £7.20 per hour from next April.

The rise in the minimum wage (still not a living wage) should be good news - with the caveat that it only applies to over 25s and so many people under this age will continue to struggle. Of course it may not mean that people have a lot more money in their pockets as the government is cutting tax credits and other benefits at the same time, but it will mean fewer forms and less bureaucracy.

The third side of the triangle is that the government has also been reducing business taxes - both corporation tax and by offering grants to local councils to cut business rates.

Overall, every part of the economy will gain and will lose. Whitbread are benefiting from lower taxes. In return they have to pay their employees a bit more. The workers are getting more in their pay packet but many are getting less from benefits. The government are getting less in tax but paying out less in tax credits. It's not exactly revolutionary stuff but fits with the Tory ethos.

What also fits with the ethos of the free market is that if customers don't want to pay the higher prices that Whitbread are threatening then they can take their trade elsewhere. I would thoroughly recommend using your local independent coffee shop instead of Costa.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Government to propose expanding powers of Police Commissioners

Far from regognising that elected police and crime commissioners are a failed experiment, it appears that the government is proposing to give these people control over fire authorities. A consultation is expected to be slipped out next week in advance of elections next May.

Police and Crime Commissioners were created three and a half years ago to replace police authorities. The government's vision was a single person to over see the work of each police force. But the first elections showed that the public didn't understand or were not enthused by the posts and only 15% bothered to vote.

Since then, police commissioners have largely failed to connect with the public - and certainly don't seem to have done anything to reduce crime levels. Instead, they end up costing more than the police authorities they were meant to replace and are being forced to implement government funding cuts.

Now the idea appears to be that they might take on the oversight of fire and rescue services.

One potential problem is where the fire service's boundaries are not co-terminus with the police force - like in Cornwall. Here we have a Cornwall only fire service (part of the council) but Devon and Cornwall Police.

But even if they can get over the boundary issue, this is the wrong step from the government. Better would be to admit that police and crime commissioners are an embarrassing mistake and return to an updated version of police authorities.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Eagle House application withdrawn

The planning application seeking permission to turn the Eagle House Hotel into a private residence has been withdrawn.

The controversial proposal was first put forward - and refused - last year. This re-application was recommended for approval by planning officers but was due to be decided by the planning committee next Monday.

It has been suggested that the hotel has been sold to a buyer intent on retaining it in its current form. I'm afraid I have not had confirmation of this and so cannot confirm - but it would be good news if true.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Scott Mann on the MPs pay rise

Just to be clear, new Tory MP for North Cornwall Scott Mann absolutely and completely disagrees with the idea that MPs should get a 10% pay rise.

But he's trousering the cash nonetheless.

Tony Hogg will not re-stand as Police Commissioner

The elected Police and crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, Tony Hogg, has announced this morning that he will not be standing when the position comes up for re-election next May.

Mr Hogg has set out a number of reasons for his decision but a key point is that he no longer feels able to keep his promise to maintain a minimum of 3000 police officers for the force. This has been a key pledge and he says he is now allowing the chief constable to structure the force in a different way.

Mr Hogg, a Conservative, has also said that if he is not successful in his campaign to get an extra £12m from the government then he will proposed a large increase in the police element of council tax next year. Any increase above 2% would require public approval in a costly referendum. Mr Hogg's budget is subject to approval by the Tory dominated panel which scrutinises him but the rules are such that they can only reject his budget once. In effect, a commissioner can force through pretty much any budget they wish.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Potholes and trip hazards - Inspecting Launceston's roads for defects

This morning I joined fellow Cornwall Councillor Jade Farrington and town councillor Dave Gordon to see the work of one of Cornwall's highways inspectors. The inspector was going round the centre of the town looking for problems with pavements and roads and marking them for repair.

This is an exercise that is undertaken every eight weeks in Launceston and, during the two hours we spent in the town centre, we found 25 defects which have been marked for repair.

To be considered a defect, a hole needs to be 20mm deep if it is on the pavement or 40mm deep if it is on the road. But it also needs to be capable of repair, so there are some triangular gaps on the edges of pavements which could be filled in but the filling would come out again within 24 hours. That makes such repairs time consuming and wasteful.

Each defect that is noted is logged into the council's system using a handheld GPS enabled computer. It is also visibly marked on the street with yellow crayon. Repairs in town centres take place by the end of the next working day - so all of those we saw will be repaired by close of play on Tuesday.

Brian the inspector told us that 25 defects is relatively high for a single inspection route. Part of the issue is that Launceston town centre pavements are largely made up of granite slabs - now 150 years old. These are more prone to breakages than asphalt pavements and the gaps between slabs can open up very easily. You could quickly and dramatically cut the number of repairs by replacing all these with tarmac pavements - but at huge cost and probably to the detriment of how the town looks. (Before anyone gets concerned, no-one is suggesting this is ever going to happen).

Problems do occur between inspections. So if you know of a defect on a pavement or roadway in town (and it is not already marked with yellow crayon) please get in touch.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Cornwall could be first in line for Votes at 16

A Lib Dem amendment in the House of Lords could lead to Cornwall being one of the first parts of the UK where 16 and 17 year olds will be able to vote for local councillors. It's been a long journey since I was one of the co-founders of the Votes at 16 campaign in 2001.

The Lib Dem peers proposed the amendment to the government's Cities and Devolution Bill. It was passed by 221 votes to 154 and would have the effect of allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote in local elections. Given the time taken to bring a new law into effect and to register the new voters, it is unlikely that any change would come into effect before May 2017 when Cornwall Council will be up for election.

The House of Lords has voted in favour of lowering the voting age before. I assisted Conservative peer Lord Lucas with his bill in 2003 but such efforts have always been on a private members bills like that of Ralph Lucas rather than an amendment to legislation. Yesterday's government defeat will become law unless it is overturned in the House of Commons - in which case the matter will bounce between the two houses of Parliament until one gives way.

The voting age was lowered for the Scottish Independence referendum last year. It showed (as other instances around the world have also done) that 16 and 17 year olds took the issue of voting very seriously and entered into the debate fully. Their reasons for voting a particular way mirrored those of older electors.

Young people can get married at 16. They can also leave school and enter work. They have to pay tax and they can join the army. What they cannot do is to vote for the people who make the laws on all these matters.

It also makes sense to have a voting age set at a point in a person's life when they are most stable - before the upheaval of leaving home for university or whatever. The research shows that if a person votes when they are first entitled to then they are more likely to carry on voting throughout their life. If they don't vote first time then they are more likely to become permanent non-voters.

Whilst nationally the Conservatives oppose lowering the voting age, in Scotland the party has come out in favour having seen the positive experience of the independence referendum. Lib Dems, Labour, Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru all support a lower voting age and will put up a strong case when the issue is debated in the House of Commons in the autumn. I very much hope that the government recognises that this is a matter both of common sense and fairness and accepts the Lib Dem amendment.

Government's Cornwall Deal is 'Devolution Lite' - UPDATED

The terms of the Government's devolution deal for Cornwall - discussed behind closed doors by the council on Tuesday - can now be revealed. Cornwall may be the first rural area of the country to sign such a deal, but this is devolution-lite with key areas of the Case for Cornwall ignored.

Despite a very strong argument put forward by Cornwall for a wide range of new powers and responsibilities, the government have ignored the key areas of planning, housing, much of heritage and - crucially - they have not been prepared to concede any freedoms or flexibilities for Cornwall to decide matters to do with finance.

I applaud the work done by the Lib Dem - Independent cabinet running the council. They have led the process and achieved a lot. Throughout, the Conservative Group at County Hall have campaigned against the Case for Cornwall and would not even have achieved today's deal had they been in charge.

In my view, it is vital that Cornwall has more control over our own planning rules. We are governed by the National Planning Policy Framework which is designed for the whole of the UK. This one size fits all approach runs wholly counter to the concept of devolution but the government refused to budge. Many of us called for a 'Cornwall Planning Framework' to allow the somewhat different needs of our area to be put first.

The deal also refuses to allow Cornwall any freedom to take action on second homes. We asked in the Case for Cornwall for freedom to create a separate use class for second homes so as to require planning permission in areas where they are a threat to the community. We also asked for the right to charge a second home levy on council tax. Both have been denied by the government.

We know that there is a particular problem with housing in Cornwall with many people, particularly young people, priced out of the market. We asked for more control over housing policy to address this but were refused.

Cornwall also asked for more devolution in the area of finance. We wanted to be free of the Whitehall diktat to be able to take decisions in the interests of the people of Cornwall. Even after we watered down requests for more freedom over council tax, the government still refused to give ground. There has not even been an acknowledgement of the need for fairer funding.

The fear I voiced at Tuesday's council meeting was that, after today, the government would walk away believing that their conversations with Cornwall are at an end and that this is 'job done'. In truth, this is a step in the right direction, but it is barely a third of what Cornwall was asking for and Cornwall needs in order to control and shape our own destiny.


Apologies for failing to note that the Government's line is that they will only discuss giving further power to Cornwall in the area of finance, planning and housing if Cornwall has a directly elected mayor, centralising all powers in the hands of a single politician. Not even the Tories in Cornwall think that is a good idea and the House of Lords recently threw out a proposal from the government the include mayors in their Cities and Devolution Bill.


Also worth noting that Labour councillors on Tursday voted against the proposed deal. I understand their concerns over the government requirement to hold the discussion in secret, but am concerned that they appear to be against devolution.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Expansion of Launceston Medical Centre

New Tory MP Scott Mann today used Prime Minister's Questions to press the case for the expansion of Launceston Medical Centre. In response, David Cameron told him that he hoped the centre would be part of the new 7-day per week opening.

Sadly, Scott got the wrong end of the stick with his question. He tried to shoehorn a reference to new funding for the NHS and asked whether this could be used to fund expansion. What he fails to realise is that the funding for this expansion is there. It is the bureaucracy of the new NHS Property Company which is holding up permission for the centre to expand to meet the needs of the people of the town. New money would of course be welcome, but it is not the sticking point.

The response from the Prime Minister is also pretty baffling. He wanted to triumph his party's pledge to introduce 7-day per week opening of doctor's surgeries. Again, this would be very welcome in Launceston. But in order to open for longer, you need more doctors, nurses and other practice staff. Launceston Medical Centre has been trying but cannot recruit doctors to fill the hours that it is currently open and this has led to some of the delays for patients. This is not a problem restricted to Launceston but is replicated at practices across Cornwall. The reason is once again the bureaucracy introduced by the Conservatives and the lower number of trainee doctors choosing to enter general practice.

The former Lib Dem MP for North Cornwall Dan Rogerson was extremely active in the campaign to expand Launceston Medical Centre but came up against Conservative brick walls time and again. For the sake of the people of Launceston, I hope that the Prime Minister delivers on his pledge today. But there needs to be a bit more of an understanding of the real issues involved first.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

The Case for Cornwall

Cornwall Council today passed the 'Case for Cornwall' - our ask of government for more devolution of powers and responsibilities. We also had a briefing about the deal that the Government has negotiated with the authority. Sadly, the latter debate was held behind closed doors at the insistence of the Government.

The case itself is pretty broad with asks in a wide range of areas including the economy and training, culture, transport and the integration of health and social care services. It also includes requests for devolution in housing, planning and for much greater freedoms for Cornwall in respect of finance.

The Case for Cornwall was backed by councillors by 63 votes to 24. All the Conservatives who were present voted against, as did UKIP councillors. Lib Dems and Independents voted (broadly) in favour, as did Labour and MK. Sadly absent was Scott Mann. Although he is now MP for North Cornwall, he is still a councillor. As one of his constituents I got in touch with him to ask his views on the Case for Cornwall. Sadly he has not responded.

As for the deal on offer, the government's demand for secrecy means that I cannot say any more. It's fair to say that it is not all that we might have wanted, however.

The council's official line is that the deal will be made public as soon as it is ready to be announced. I am sure that it is entirely coincidental that David Cameron is planning to be in Cornwall on Thursday, signing pen at the ready.

Cornwall parking charges to fall again

The cost of parking in Cornwall Council car parks will fall again for many drivers as the authority has signed a new deal for those who pay to park by phone.

Until now, paying by phone for parking has incurred a 20p 'convenience fee' for each transaction. That may not be a lot, but it has been enough to deter some drivers. The new contract does away with this charge and I hope that many more drivers will take advantage of cash free parking.

Not only will this mean a saving for drivers, but hopefully also for the council. Whilst there will always be the opportunity to pay by cash, reducing the amount of money in parking machines as more people pay by card will mean less frequent cash collections and a saving for the authority.

Together with my colleagues Jade Farrington and Adam Paynter, I've made fair parking charges one of my main concerns since before I was elected to the council. This is another very welcome step.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Osborne preaches devolution but practises centralisation

George Osborne went big in his budget on the issue of devolution. He is behind the 'Northern Powerhouse' plan to create a powerful city region based around Manchester and to have projects in Leeds, Birmingham and elsewhere. His colleague Greg Clarke, the local government secretary has given a similar message.

So why is the Chancellor now telling local people that he wants to remove their right to make decisions over local planning applications?

The Chancellor's view is that local councils have been to NIMBY-ish and have failed to deliver the new housing needed. He has got a bit of a point in this respect, but most authorities would say that they are not helped by the ever changing regulations from Whitehall and by plans to destroy housing associations through an ill-judged right to buy scheme.

Osborne's answer is to force councils to give automatic planning permission to some housing schemes. This seems like a hugely blunt weapon which will harm local communities.

Most communities are not opposed to development per se. But they do object to insensitive development of bad houses in the wrong places. Here in Launceston, we have set out plans to allow new housing development south of Link Road where the land and infrastructure can cope. We have objected to development in other areas because of the hugely adverse impact on roads. Other towns will have their own concerns. Osborne's plans would appear to remove any vestige of local choice.

But his plans will do even more harm. Councils are currently able to negotiate contributions known as s106 payments to mitigate the harm done by new development. These might pay for public transport, school, leisure or health service improvements for example. Giving an automatic approval to schemes would remove the chance for local councils to negotiate a deal which accurate reflects the impact of a development. It will mean more users of a service with no more money for upkeep.

I agree that we need more housing in Cornwall and across the UK. We need the power to preserve the homes we have for local use and we need to work to build more. But the Conservative plans to give automatic planning permission are the wrong answer in my view.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A budget to hit the youngest and poorest - a true Tory budget

For all that George Osborne's budget headline is about a new £9 per hour minimum wage by 2020, poorer people, and especially the young, are going to be worse off as a result. And the lack of detail on devolution to Cornwall will have surprised many who were primed for a big (and complex) announcement.

The big surprise of the budget came at the end with the plan to raise minimum wage for over 25s to £9 per hour by 2020. Osborne is going to start very slowly however and is only promising a rise to £7.20 next April. Any rise is welcome, of course. But it should be remembered that the minimum wage was already on course to rise to more than £8 per hour by 2020 under the old plans. And the positive change will be more than off-set for many by changes to tax credits which will see a drop in income for the poorest families.

The chancellor's decision to cap tax credits and other benefits so that families will only get them for the first two children will appeal to many who perceive there to be a problem of large families having more children just to increase their income. He's making an exception for the arrival of twins and triplets, but the bigger problem is likely to be for partners who come together from previous relationships bringing their children with them.

At the same time, the chancellor has slowed the progress of raising the income tax threshold towards the £12,500 goal. Raising the threshold was a Lib Dem idea which David Cameron used to claim was unaffordable. The coalition made it happen though and it has delivered an extra £800 per year into the pockets for workers. That's good. But the Chancellor today announced that the threshold would rise only by £400 next year. Clearly he believes that tax cuts for the rich are a higher priority.

The chancellor has also announced a 1% pay rise cap for public sector workers for the next four years. Which would be made a lot more acceptable if MPs were not about to get a 10% rise.

The minimum wage rise will only benefit those over 25. Younger people will, once again miss out. There is a long standing battle to get equal pay for work of equal value when it comes to gender - and many organisations including local councils have faced large bills to settle claims of discrimination in the past. Surely this should apply to young people as well.

One other fundamental change which will hit the poorest young people is the proposal to abolish the higher education maintenance grant. This enables young people from poorer backgrounds - including many from North Cornwall - to go to university. Now the poorest young people will have to take out additional loans instead - saddling them with more debt than their richer peers if they want to study. It is clear that this will be a barrier to some of the brightest but poorest young people going into higher education.

The biggest surprise to me was the lack of detail on progress towards devolution to Cornwall. We had been primed for a big announcement, setting out the range of powers and responsibilities which Cornwall would be taking on. It didn't come. My understanding is that the Treasury has been changing its mind all the time. It is logical, of course, for the council to agree on the Case for Cornwall - the powers and responsibilities that we would like to have. But that only works if you have a government that is actually listening and will properly consider the case made to it. We will have to wait and see.

If the Tories wanted this budget to showcase the things the Lib Dems stopped them from doing for 5 years, they couldn't have done much more.

UPDATE - North Cornwall Tory MP Scott Mann weighs in with his considered thoughts on the budget:

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

LOBOs - or how Cornwall council taxpayers are footing the bill for expensive borrowing

Cornwall Council taxpayers are footing the bill for expensive borrowing according to a Channel 4 investigation. Most of the borrowing dates back to the former county and district days and has been inherited by Cornwall Council. However there is at least one deal which was done by the former Conservative administration in 2011.

The sort of borrowing being talked about is known as a LOBO - which stands for Lender Option/Borrower Option - although this is a bit of a misnomer as the contract is heavily weighted in favour of the bank. And because such lending is over hugely long periods - often 50-60 years - significant changes in interest rates can mean the deal turns into a very bad one for the council and council taxpayers. So when the Bank of England's base rate moved from about 4% to less than 1% and lending rates also dropped significantly, it meant that borrowing at 7% or more suddenly looks like a pretty raw deal.

During my time as finance portfolio holder I was, of course, aware of the LOBOs and the various other investments and loans connected with the council. Cornwall Council inherited a large number of loans both in and out - mainly from the old county council, but also from the districts. There were also decisions made during the first Conservative administration and a massive deal done in 2011 to borrow £40m.

Tory councillor, and former leader, Fiona Ferguson is making a lot of noise about this issue at the moment. It's curious that Fiona does not mention that she herself was the finance portfolio holder for a time and that she appears to have done nothing during her term of office about LOBOs or anything else.

Many councils appear to have made investments and take on debt at a time when interest rates were significantly higher. Cornwall lent money to a number of councils at rates that seem now to be quite extraordinary. South Lanarkshire is paying somewhere north of 10% to Cornwall Council in a deal which is very beneficial for taxpayers here, but not so profitable for those in Scotland. As with the Icelandic bank investments, it was not just authorities in Cornwall who were taking on large scale and long term debts at interest rates that now appear to be very high.

My principle concern during my time as finance portfolio holder was to manage down the net debt. It was never as easy as simply writing off investments against borrowings as all had set maturity dates and there are huge penalties for early settlement. However, I set officers the task of trying to reduce the overall net debt through decisions when call dates came in (ie dates when settlements could be made without penalty) and to look at any early settlements that would have been worth the penalty. At a time when the council needed liquidity to be able to manage the on-going cuts to our budgets, it seemed to me important that we were not tying up large sums to finance borrowings. Council debts and investments are constantly changing and officers were able to make some changes which I believe have been beneficial.

Four times per year the cabinet member for finance is held to account by members on the issue of investment strategy either at cabinet meetings or full council and I was regularly asked by members why we did not take advantage of current low interest rates to borrow much more. Some suggested this money be used for paying off existing debt. My reply was always that we would consider it if we could, but the terms being offered by the banks were never favourable. They would have involved further LOBOs with the ability of the bank to raise interest rates to our detriment. And the 0.5% or similar low rate was only ever available for very short term borrowings which would not have helped at all. However, if officers had come across a means of re-financing which cut payments and did not come with any additional risk then I would, of course, have considered it.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Coronation Park bench fire

 Despite a big publicity drive by the police and lots of anger in the community, no one has come forward with information about those responsible for setting the Coronation Park bench on fire.

 If you have any information or saw anyone walking towards the park shortly before the fire then please contact the police by calling 101 or emailing quoting crime reference CR/43481/15.

Time to change the law on car littering?

The Local Government Association has called on the government to change the law on littering from cars. At the moment it is hugely difficult to prosecute when someone throws litter from a car. Not only do you have to see it happen, but you have to identify who in the car is responsible and prosecute them as an individual.

Councils now want to change the law to match what happens in London where it is the owner of the vehicle who is responsible.

Cornwall relies on visitors for a huge section of its economy. And if our roads and verges are covered in litter then we run the risk of losing tourist business. So any change that makes it easier to fine (and thereby discourage) littering is good news.

But we cannot simply ask for a change in the law and expect everything to be better. The council also needs to sensibly use the powers it already has to investigate littering and fly-tipping and to prosecute where it can.

Ultimately, we need to explain to residents, businesses and visitors alike that littering costs the council (and therefore taxpayers) a lot of money which could be saved if people either used the bins provided or took their rubbish home with them.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Tory police commissioner (up for re-election next year) wakes up to fair funding campaign

Conservative Police Commissioner Tony Hogg is up for re-election next May and he has coincidentally decided that now is the right time to launch a campaign for 'fair funding' for rural police forces.

Mr Hogg claims that the Devon and Cornwall force is under-funded by £12 million per year and he says the current funding formula doesn't take account of the huge number of visitors to the region each year. He's right in both cases, of course. So why has it taken until the start of his re-election campaign for him to do anything about it? And surely the benefit of having a Conservative commissioner at the time of a Conservative government is that he can knock on Theresa May's door and get a better deal.

Before anyone should take Mr Hogg's campaign seriously, he should clean up his own act:

  • He should stop claiming public money for rent on his second home when he could stay in purpose built police accommodation for free.
  • He should cut the ridiculously high spending on consultants and agency staff. When the Lib Dems joined the administration at Cornwall Council, we cut such spending by 59% in the first year.
  • He should cut the amount spent on his office. It now costs more to run than the old police authority, despite promises that it would make savings.
  • He should stop giving golden good-byes to staff such as the £165,000 given to the former chief executive he didn't get on with.
  • He should stop wasting money on branded pens and post-it notes.

And while Mr Hogg complains about the government's decision to prioritise spending on policing cities rather than rural areas, perhaps he should look at his own patch where front counter and custody centres in Launceston are to close but those in Plymouth and Exeter are being saved.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Tory push polling in Cornwall

There has been some discussion in the national media about the concept of push polling following an unfortunate incident in the Lib Dem leadership election when supporters of one candidate appear to have engaged in somewhat dodgy activities.

But you can find examples of push polling much closer to home. Cornwall Conservatives are engaging in a form of push polling right now - and they seem quite proud of the fact.

Push polling is where a resident is contacted under the pretence of taking part in a survey or poll but instead of fair and balanced questions is given biased statements which might or might not be true but only present one side of an argument. The aim of push polling is either to produce a survey response which is wholly in favour of one side or to make residents believe a distorted message about a political opponent.

The Conservatives in Cornwall have attacked the campaign by the Liberal Democrats and others for more powers, rights and responsibilities to be devolved from London to Cornwall. They have every right to oppose the 'Case for Cornwall', of course. However, their survey tactics look decidedly underhand.

Deposed group leader Fiona Ferguson has blogged and included a photo of some of the survey questions:

Except when you look at those questions, you find that every one of them is preceded by a statement which is either untrue or horrendously biased. Those statements make this a push poll and the outcome a foregone conclusion.

So when a Conservative tells you that the people of Cornwall oppose more devolution, remember that this is how they got their 'evidence'.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Seeking answers over town centre broadband - UPDATED

Together with my colleague Jade Farrington, I'm seeking answers over the failure to provide superfast broadband to shops, businesses and residents in Launceston town centre.

The programme to bring superfast to Cornwall is a good one. It is partially funded by the EU and has so far provided access to 95% of Cornwall. But, despite pressure from Jade and myself and frequent requests from businesses, the town centre in Launceston has missed out. In part, this was because of the ancient nature of the existing phone system which mean new culverts and wires had to be put in. But that work was done more than a year ago.

So when the announcement came that the government was providing funds to increase connection access to 99% of Cornwall, Jade asked if this meant our town centre would finally be connected. The incredible answer was that the superfast team think it already is and therefore have no plans for work in the town.

Jade and I will keep up the pressure on Superfast Cornwall and BT to properly extend superfast to all of our town. But if you live in the town and cannot get access (and want it) please contact and and copy your email into and

UPDATE - Many thanks to all the residents and businesses who have been in touch. The message from both BT and Superfast Cornwall is that the entire town will be connected soon - they anticipate by the end of September. They also say that much of the town centre will be a FTTP (fibre to the premises) only area. This is normally the gold-plated service which delivers exceptional broadband speeds but at a cost. However, they assure me that those who want regular superfast will be able to get a similar package and similar price to those in other areas of the town. If you have any questions or comments please do get in touch.

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Government Minister urges Cornwall Council to grant planning permission to supermarket which will fund stadium

A senior government minister has taken the extraordinary step of writing to the leader of Cornwall Council urging the authority to pass the planning application for a supermarket at Langarth that will fund the Stadium for Cornwall.

John Whittingdale is the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and his letter is reproduced below:

During the general election campaign, PM David Cameron gave his support to the stadium and said that there would be government money to help pay for it. No details of any funding have been forthcoming despite a follow up request by Truro MP Sarah Newton. Her colleague, St Austell MP Steve Double, has suggested that the stadium should instead be sited in his constituency.

Whatever you may think of the stadium itself, it is surely an extraordinary action for a government minister to urge the passing of a planning application - not for the stadium itself - but for a supermarket that could help to fund the stadium. Given that there have been four planning applications for supermarkets in that area, is the minister not laying the council open the an appeal from another supermarket applicant if they are unsuccessful on the grounds that the council may have been biased by the letter? I have confidence that Cornwall councillors will decide the stadium related application on its merits, just as they will do every other application that comes before them. I can't help thinking that the Whittingdale letter is distinctly unwise.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Concerned about school places in Launceston? - Public meeting this Wednesday

A lot of people are concerned about school places in and around Launceston. The three primary schools in town are close to (or at) capacity and some children are having to be be bussed out to village schools. This may be great for some, but very problematic for other families.

A new school is promised as part of the Hay Common development, but this only has to be built when the 70th house is ready for occupation - and that may be some time in the future.

My colleague Jade Farrington has arranged a public meeting of the community network panel with Cornwall Council officers and others concerned with school places and the new development. It will take place this Wednesday - 17th June - at 7pm in the Guildhall at the Town Hall.

The town council will also be explaining their plans to take over the running of Launceston library.

If you are interested in either of these issues, please come along, ask questions and have your say.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Conservatives plans to cut poorer student access to university

Among all the concern at the backtracking made by many Lib Dem MPs on tuition fees in the last parliament, one thing that went largely unrecognised was the protection given to grants for the least well off students. Now it seems that the Conservatives are proposing to cut these.

These grants are vital for students from poorer households and for parts of the country, like Cornwall, which have traditionally seen fewer young people going to university. Cutting them was blocked by Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems for the past five years but now appears likely.

Tim Farron, a candidate for the Lib Dem party leadership and someone who has always campaigned strongly on social mobility issues, is leading the charge against this proposal.

The question is whether MPs from working class backgrounds, such as North Cornwall's Scott Mann, will vote to restrict access for poorer students in the future.

The full story is here.

Devon's Top Tory wants Devonwall

Devon County Council's Leader - Conservative John Hart - has said that Cornwall and Devon should join together (with Somerset as well) to seek new powers from government.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote that the new Tory government was planning on giving new powers to regions, but only in the form of combined council areas. It would appear that Cornwall, on its own, would not be enough. And what's more, such a combined authority would also need a directly elected 'mayor' before being allowed to take on new housing, policing, planning and transport powers.

In this matter, does Cllr Hart represent Cornwall Conservatives? We know that their group on Cornwall Council has refused to back the 'Case for Cornwall' a plan to bring a wider range of powers and responsibilities into local control. Would they be happier to see powers instead devolved to Devonwall?

Incidentally, it seems that civil servants have indicated that Cornwall may be treated as a special case for devolution. They have told council leaders that there will be an audience for the case for Cornwall which is far beyond the devolution proposed for other areas. I very much hope that is the case, but I think it will rely on advocacy from Cornwall's six MPs, all of whom are now Conservatives.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Eagle House Hotel - owners seek permission to convert to private residence

The owners of the Eagle House Hotel in Launceston have lodged a planning application to convert the premises into private accommodation.

This application appears to be the same as the previous application which was rejected by the council on the basis of the loss of amenity to the town. I would hope that this one sees the same result.

Launceston is a growing economy and the demand for bed spaces, both for business and for leisure, is only going to grow. So the loss of hotel beds would be a loss for our town. There would also be nine people who would lose their jobs if this application succeeds.

Perhaps most importantly, the town has, for many years, come to rely on the function room at Eagle House as a venue for everything from wedding receptions to sports club dinners. Whilst other spaces are available to hire, there is nowhere which replicates the facilities which have been on offer at Eagle House.

Public and stakeholder consultation on this application is open until June 22nd and the application number is PA15/04616.

UPDATE: I have been told of a correction to the documents submitted by the applicants and that the total number of jobs to be lost is 4 people employed on a part-time basis, the equivalent of 1.25 full-time posts.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Great British Tennis Weekend comes to Launceston

Friends at Launceston tennis club have asked me to publicise their event next Saturday. I'm more than happy to do so:

On Saturday the 13th of June, Launceston Tennis Club will open their doors as the nation goes tennis crazy in the lead up to a fantastic summer of tennis

The Great British Tennis Weekend is the UK’s biggest ever public tennis event and offers free tennis for anyone, whether you’ve never picked up a racket or haven’t played for a while and want to get involved.

The campaign aims to inspire people to get on court and take part in a variety of activities. Players will be able to experience a tennis session tailored to them, compete for fun prizes and much more – all for free

On the day there are three special sessions for juniors, a chance to experience the Ladies hour run weekly by our very own Jenny Worth (who was awarded for her outstanding work in the community by BBC Sports Personality of the Year '06) followed by an Adult session where all can join in with our club and get a taste for the sport! We will be providing food (including cream teas) for the Adult Session, awards in the form of wristbands, pens and new balls for the Juniors and will be easily recognisable on the day by our signage and t-shirts.

Key Points:

- Junior Sessions, half hour each from 11am - 12:30pm, time slot dependent on age
- Extra Ladies Session with Jenny Worth from 1pm-2pm
- Adults Free Play (everyone!) 2:30pm onwards
- Further Offers available for those interested in Joining the Club
- Launceston Tennis Club is a very active club! Check out our website to see what we've been up to so far this year

Monday, 1 June 2015

Tory Devolution Bill will ignore Cornwall

It looks like one of the first measures to be proposed by the new Conservative government will spell the end of Cornwall's push for greater freedoms and powers. The Devolution Bill requires new combined authorities with a directly elected mayor before limited powers will be granted.

The new bill is centred around a wish to create city regions based on the model being promoted in Manchester. There, the city council is joining with neighbouring authorities under the title of 'Northern Powerhouse'. They will have an elected mayor and will take on some additional housing, planning, transport and policing powers.

We are told that other councils can look to the same level of devolution, and this will include rural and 'county' councils. But they will have to form what are known as combined authorities. This does not appear to mean full-on integration in the mould of the unitary process. But it does mean some pooling of sovereignty.

So would Cornwall already qualify having seen six districts and one county council combine just six years ago? The bill (and government) are unclear at this time. But if not then it seems Cornwall's only hope of more powers would be in partnership with Plymouth and Devon councils.

And even then there would need to be a directly elected mayor to exercise power. Such a post is, I think, an anathema to most people in a rural area. How can one person know enough about every part of Cornwall (let alone Devon and Cornwall) to be able to take sensible decisions? A pool of decision-makers (ok, a committee) is far more transparent and democratic and allows different viewpoints and arguments to play out and be heard.

And what of the powers which may be transferred? The policing stuff is already devolved from government to Police and Crime commissioners. These have been so wildly unsuccessful that it appears the government is (at least in part) proposing to dismantle the system. More powers over housing, transport and planning would be welcome, but they are not spelled out.

What does seem clear is that despite the posturing in the run up to May 7th, there is no Conservative appetite for the specific requests that have been made to the government in the Case for Cornwall discussions which have taken place to date. It will be a challenge for the council to demonstrate that this project is not dead in the water and for Cornwall's new MPs to demonstrate that they meant what they said in their election campaigns.

Monday, 25 May 2015

Closure of Launceston custody centre confirmed

It's been announced that Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner Tony Hogg is shutting Launceston custody centre in October, having already closed the front desk at the police station. This means that police officers will have to take anyone arrested in Launceston as far away as Newquay, Plymouth or Barnstaple and they will be off the streets for hours while they do this - potentially leaving Launceston without any officers.

This chipping away at Launceston's police service has left many people worried about the future of the police station, with fears that Tony Hogg could shut it altogether. Along with other councillors, I met with the police and put this question to them. We are told that the situation will be reviewed in 18 months or so, but this is likely to be on the basis that if it is seen to be 'working' then the custody area will be declared surplus to requirements. And if that is the case then can the continued presence of the police in such a large building be justified?

So it may well be that the police end up moving to new (much smaller) premises in the town. But the police did give a firm commitment that there will always be a police presence in Launceston because the town is too big not to have one.

It is worrying to see Tony Hogg repeatedly cutting our police service. The money spent on his salary and office could be much better spent on frontline policing - I've posted on this sort of waste on many occasions in the past. It is also worrying that Mr Hogg should have insisted on a 'quick fix' to save money. Those tasked with finding the savings were blocked from considering potential money saving options such as new builds or more co-operation with other public sector agencies such as the council.

Whatever damage Mr Hogg continues to do, I know Launceston's officers and PCSOs are committed to doing the very best they can with the resources they have. The 101 number is still not operating as it should and a PCSO told me that not everything which is reported on 101 is getting passed down to officers in Launceston. If you report a crime then ask for a log number and if it isn't followed up you can push for officers to do so.

In an emergency always call 999, but to report any other crime or antisocial behaviour call 101 or email with full details and remember to ask for a log number.

Monday, 18 May 2015

BT Cornwall failing to deliver - UPDATED

A highly critical review by Cornwall Council has found that BT Cornwall are failing to deliver on their promises for more jobs and better services. Indeed, the only area where they are living up to their promise is in making savings - because the amount the council has to hand over is fixed in the contract.

The deal with BT was agreed by the authority three years ago and formally started a year later. The company agreed to make savings in delivering a range of back office functions including document management and IT. They promised to create 111 new jobs but have delivered just 35. Their aim was to attract new business and create a further 240 jobs, but this aspiration has failed completely leading to BT Cornwall pulling out of an agreement to rent part of the council's new office building in Bodmin. (The new building still makes financial sense for the council even without BT Cornwall's involvement)

The company has also delivered a poor service in some key respects. The recent upgrade of council computer systems to Windows 7 ran way behind time and the authority had to dedicate some of its own staff to checking that the work had been done correctly.

As a result, BT Cornwall has been fined more than £100,000.

When the deal was first agreed, there had been a proposal from the former cabinet member in charge (and now MP for St Austell and Newquay) Steve Double for a much bigger package to be handed over to BT. The majority of councillors were somewhat fearful of entrusting so much to the company and voted for a smaller deal. It seems the view of those of us who went for the smaller deal has been borne out - although Mr Double still seems to think the council should have gone 'all in'.

During my time on the cabinet, I received a number of entreaties from BT Cornwall to hand over more services to them. They wanted to take over the call centre in particular and said they would consider any service. Whilst a number of Conservatives pressed for more to be handed over, I and my cabinet colleagues resisted and insisted that BT Cornwall should deliver on the initial contract before being given more. I think we were right to do so.

Rightly or wrongly, Cornwall Council is in a contract with BT and it is important that BT Cornwall turns things round and delivers fully on the promises it made. It is in all our interests for the venture to succeed - to make savings, to deliver high quality services and to provide new jobs.

UPDATE - Cllr Fiona Ferguson, Leader of the Conservative Group, has written:
"Since the general election he and his (now former) Cabinet colleagues have said the jobs are not there and they were dubious for a considerable time as to whether this deal would succeed."
I cannot speak for others, but my concern about the BT Cornwall deal has been there from the start. I wished the new venture well but was not happy to see it extended until it had shown its success at the limited range of tasks with which it was first entrusted.

As for the promise of new jobs - BT Cornwall made repeated assurances to me and to others that they would be living up to their end of the contract and I trusted them when they agreed to take on space in the new office building to house them. Nobody expected the company to create all the new jobs overnight but it is now apparent that they are not forthcoming.

Departure of Andrew Kerr - UPDATED

Cornwall Council's chief executive Andrew Kerr is to leave his post and take up the position as chief executive of Edinburgh City Council.

Mr Kerr has been with the authority since January 2014 and is therefore likely only to serve around 18 months in Cornwall, depending on how much notice he works.

Regardless of his performance capabilities, it is very disappointing that Mr Kerr should be moving on after such a short period of time. It takes around six months to recruit a chief executive at least. An interim might be appointed (as happened last time) and they may be very good (as Paul Masters was last time), but there is still a reticence to take significant decisions until the new permanent post-holder is appointed.

There are three key areas where Mr Kerr was meant to be taking the lead and where his presence will be most missed:
  • The authority has set in place a four year budget plan but that needs to be seen through. 
  • The council is making the 'Case for Cornwall' calling for much greater devolution from Whitehall to Cornwall and one of the key reasons for employing Mr Kerr was his network of civil service contacts.
  • Mr Kerr was previously employed in Wiltshire where there was a significant devolution of services and an emphasis on localism - with local communities making their own decisions. We were promised that there would be a significant project in this area in Cornwall too, but we have yet to see that come to fruition.
Oops - Thanks to those who pointed out the typo. Mr Kerr has been with the council since 2014, not 2004.

UPDATE  - Apparently Mr Kerr is yet to actually resign. He has in fact informed the Leader of his intention to do so. I'm sure there is some technical reason for this but it came out in the most embarrassing fashion as the council was today asked to agree an urgent motion to set up the necessary committee to appoint his successor. Incidentally, Mr Kerr's contract states that he has a three month notice period.

Town Council by-election

A by-election will be held for the vacancy on Central Ward of Launceston Town Council after ten local electors called for an election to be held. (Declaration of interest: I was one of the ten).

The election will be held on 25th June and the deadline for nominations is 4pm on the 29th May. Election papers can be obtained from Cornwall Council by calling 01209 614298

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Polling Day Parking in Launceston

For polling day on Thursday, Cornwall Council are giving limited free parking in some car parks - but only where they are the closest to a polling station. I'm not aware that this is the case in Launceston but it is a very good initiative. 

For those who vote at St Thomas Church Hall, you can park on the road at Riverside for free - just be mindful that there will be a lot of traffic. 

More than half the town will vote at the Town Hall. I asked the town council if they will allow a small amount of free parking in the multi-storey. I got a somewhat negative response, but they have agreed to consider it at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

If there is free parking, please do not abuse the facility by staying for any longer than it takes to vote. Free parking is not being provided to enable you to nip into the town and do some shopping - however quick you are.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cameron pledges public money for Stadium. What does Scott Mann say?

David Cameron has today promised public money to fund a Stadium for Cornwall. Speaking to Tamsin Melville on BBC Radio Cornwall, he said:

"If it takes some extra money, I'd make that money available"

On the one hand this is a pretty blatant election bribe. Neither Mr Cameron nor anyone else in the Conservative Party has said anything like this before. Yet he happens to be able to come up with this very specific commitment during a visit to West Cornwall. Hmm.

On the other hand, where does this leave North Cornwall Conservative candidate Scott Mann? Scott famously resigned 'on a point of principle' as Deputy Leader of the Conservative Group when it was proposed to put public money behind the stadium. Is he happy that Mr Cameron should now be backing such spending?

To be clear, the principle of a stadium for Cornwall is one which the vast majority of people in Cornwall (myself included) support. It has been given planning permission and those behind the scheme have continually said that they will find the money privately. I wish them the very best of luck. But, for all of its benefits, any public money which goes into a stadium is money which is not available for spending on nurses, caring for vulnerable people, libraries, roads or whatever.

The current backlog of maintenance for Cornwall's leisure centres is up to £15 million. The total cost of a stadium - up to £15 million. If that amount of money is available from the public purse, then I would argue that it should be spent on the leisure facilities that truly benefit the whole of Cornwall.

General Election Hustings in Launceston

If you want a chance to quiz the candidates standing in North Cornwall in the general election, there will be a hustings event at Central Methodist Church in Launceston next Tuesday- 28th April at 7pm

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

The Tory plan to close Launceston police station?

Launceston Police Station is under threat. And the Conservatives - whose cuts have put it at risk but could still save it - are refusing to come to the rescue.

The front counter service has already gone. So local people have to rely on the very inconsistent 101 telephone service where they could be hanging on for 30 minutes or more. Before the front counter was closed, the Conservative Police Commissioner - Tony Hogg - was warned about the failings of his proposed alternative, but he went ahead anyway.

The next step has been to propose to remove the custody suite from the station. This is a very modern facility which has had a lot of money spent on it. It serves a wide area of Cornwall and Devon. But the force is now formally proposing to close it.

Why is this happening? The savings are being forced through by Conservative Home Secretary Theresa May. She has been clear that her party’s agenda is for massive savings across the public sector, and rural police are not exempt. So Devon and Cornwall police have to take their hit.

But it is also down to another Conservative politician - Tony Hogg the police and crime commissioner. It is he who sets the strategic direction of the force and decides where the money is spent. He could save rural policing and facilities such as Launceston’s. But he is refusing to do so.

The gradual run down of Launceston Police Station leads me to one question - is the complete closure of our police station next on the Conservative agenda?

When she was on a recent electioneering trip to North Cornwall, Theresa May was asked about the run down of Launceston police station. She said that “we have to rationalise our resources”. Alongside her at the time was local tory candidate Scott Mann who said nothing to oppose the cuts.

So - Theresa May, Tony Hogg and Scott Mann appear to have a plan to close down rural police stations. Can we trust them with our vote on May 7th?

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Mike Nicholls

Tonight I received the very sad news that former county councillor Mike Nicholls has passed away.

Mike served the people of Launceston for many years and, latterly, was elected as a member of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust Council of Governors representing East Cornwall.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Launceston Town Council says no to neighbourhood plan

Launceston Town Council tonight voted against moving forward with a neighbourhood plan. I regret that decision which I believe was taken following incorrect assertions and which will leave our town prey to developers.

A neighbourhood plan is a locally devised and legally enforceable document which allows a community to decide what sort of development it wants to see and where that development should go. There isn't complete freedom of decision. The neighbourhood plan has to be 'in conformity' with the Cornwall-wide Local Plan which, in turn, has to be in conformity with the National Planning Policy Framework. Both of these higher documents state that there will be development in all communities, so a neighbourhood plan cannot say 'no building'.

But, for all the restrictions, a neighbourhood plan is the best chance of protecting our town against over-development or building in the wrong place. The people of Launceston have said that we want to see new building, but only where it is sustainable.

Part of the problem is that our town boundaries are very close to the current edge of the built up area. So, in an ideal scenario, the town council would work with neighbouring parishes - Lawhitton, South Petherwin, St Stephens and St Thomas - on a combined plan. But (rightly) the town council cannot force those parishes to work with us and none have indicated they want to. But I still think it is right that we should move forward to do whatever we can to protect our town and encourage building in the right places not the wrong ones.

Unfortunately, there were those at tonight's meeting who believe that Cornwall Council will produce a binding document as good as a locally produced plan. That's not the case and so I fear that tonight's vote will simply leave the town open to more applications like the one at Upper Chapel which was allowed at appeal - in the main - because there was no local or neighbourhood plan to stop it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Western Greyhound ceases trading

Bus company Western Greyhound has ceased trading this morning. A number of their routes run in the Launceston area. Cornwall Council are co-ordinating efforts to provide services with efforts being concentrated on school routes and those which meet a social need.

The news will cause difficulty for many people who rely on local bus services for work, education and social needs. I know that people in Launceston rely on WG services for travel to Exeter, for example.

Routes operated by the company fall into three categories:

- school routes
These are all covered today and the council (which contracts the operator) will be working to make sure that they are covered in the future too.

- commercial routes
These are the services which operate on a profit-making basis. The council does not have a role in them and they are registered with the transport commissioner. Normally, to register a new operator or route takes some time but, in these circumstances, I hope that any alternative company willing to step in and take up a WG route will be able to do so without delay.

- subsidised routes
These are non-profit making routes which the council subsidises in order to meet a social need. The council is working urgently with other operators to see if replacements can be found. However it may take some days to do so.

As you can imagine, this is a fast-moving situation. The council will be posting updates on its website. If passengers find that the service they rely on is not operating, it may be that another operator will accept WG tickets and passes. Alternatively, try to use local Facebook forums to seek other passengers in a similar situation who may be able to share lifts.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Could you be Launceston's next town councillor? - UPDATED

Launceston town council is looking for a new member following the resignation of Maurice Davey. Maurice represented the Central ward.

The town council consists of 16 members (I'm one), in three wards. There are seven for Central, which I also represent on Cornwall Council, seven for South and two for the much smaller North. There were currently two members elected with a party label in 2013, but it is fair to say that the work of the council is wholly non-partisan.

The vacancy will be advertised and if ten electors call for an election then a full public vote will be held, probably at the end of June. If there is no call for an election then there will be a co-option with interested parties able to make their case to the current councillors who will vote on the new member.

If you think that you might be interested in becoming a councillor, the first point of contact should be the council clerk Rita Skinner -

UPDATE: Susan Roberts Alfar has also resigned from the council. Susan represented South ward.

Monday, 2 March 2015

New parking charges - what is the best option for you?

The new parking charges for Cornwall Council car parks in Launceston are a good deal for the town, but the different charges can be confusing. In order to work out what is the best option for you - whether you are an occasional visitor or a regular user - we have produced this factsheet.

For a one-off visit:

Up to 1 hour - 60p in the town council’s multi-storey car park
1-2 hours - £1 in the Walk House or Upper Cattle Market long stay car parks
All day Monday to Friday - £2 in the Upper Cattle Market long stay car park
All day Saturday - £1 in the Walk House or Upper Cattle Market long stay car parks

For regular users:

One working week (5 days) - £2 per day totalling £10 in the Upper Cattle Market long stay car park
Annual - £110 in the Race Hill car park on Fair Park Close or £215 in the other Cornwall Council car parks if you would like to park closer to the town centre.

If you are a regular car park user you may be better off with an annual permit, even if you do not use the car parks every day:

If you work five days per week with six weeks’ holiday, you’re parking for 230 days each year. The £110 permit is 48p per working day and the £215 permit is 93p per working day so you’re better off if you buy a permit. If you can’t afford the full amount in one go then you can set up a direct debit.

Four days per week is 184 days per year. With a £110 permit that’s 60p and with a £215 permit it’s £1.17 so you’re better off with a permit.

Three days per week is 138 days. That’s 80p or £1.56 so you’re better off with a permit.

Two days per week is 92 days. That’s £1.20 or £2.34 so you’re better off if you get a permit for anywhere except the Upper Cattle Market long stay car park which is £2 per day.

One day per week is 46 days. That’s £2.39 or £4.67. Your best option is to park in the Upper Cattle Market long stay car park which is £2 per day. But if you want to park in the Walk House car park it is still cheaper for you to buy an annual permit.

(These scales are all based on weekday day-time charges. Charges on Saturdays are cheaper and on Sundays and after 4pm car parks are free.)

To buy a permit call 0300 1234 222 or visit

New charges for Launceston car parks

After a massive battle Launceston has come out with a set of parking tariffs which will help support shoppers, workers and businesses – including the new shops which are now opening their doors.

Cornwall Council had proposed to scrap our £1 all day Saturday parking and £1 for 2-hour parking, and put up season ticket prices to more than £300. We’d all fought very hard to get cheap prices introduced in the first place so we know what a disaster this would have been for low-paid workers and for the shops and businesses which are fighting back and starting to enjoy growth again after a very tough economic period. The £1 all day Saturday parking in particular has helped boost footfall and meant that people can support the increasing number of markets, festivals, fairs and other events now being organised in our town.

Your Cornwall Councillors (Jade Farrington, Adam Paynter and I) put forward a counter set of proposals which gained the backing of Launceston Town Council and Launceston Chamber of Commerce who helped spread the word about Cornwall Council’s damaging plans. Sue Issleib in ...hazard clothing deserves extra special thanks. She helped distribute more consultation forms than anyone else, meaning that Launceston people sent back more responses than any other place.

The cabinet member in charge of the parking tariffs, Councillor Bert Biscoe, agreed to meet with Jade, Adam and me at the eleventh hour. We made it absolutely clear to him and an officer that their proposals would harm Launceston and would not generate any extra money because people would abandon the car parks and park in residential streets or shop out of town instead. We are very grateful that they listened in the end and, after negotiation, agreed to the tariffs below. Thank you to them and to everyone who supported this successful campaign. If it wasn’t for all the work everyone put in then I would be writing a very different post.

Please support your town centre and the car parks. If they aren't used enough then the council will increase the tariffs significantly next year to make up for lost income. It's down to all of us to make sure they don't!

Key points:
  • £1 for two hours will continue in the long stay car parks (Walk House and the Upper Cattle Market)
  • £1 all day Saturday parking retained in the long stay car parks
  • £2 all day Monday to Friday parking introduced in the Cattle Market long stay car park
  • Annual season tickets available for £110 or £215 depending on the car park – that’s 30p or 59p per day.

The full tariffs:
All below to apply Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm and come into effect on March 15th

Castle Street short stay car park
1 hour - 70p
2 hours - £1.30
3 hours - £3.60

Cattle Market long stay car park
2 hours - £1
All day - £2
3 months - £60
6 months - £113
Annual - £215

Cattle Market short stay car park
1 hour - 70p
2 hours - £1.30
3 hours - £3.60

Duke Street permit only car park
3 months - £60
6 months - £113
Annual - £215

Pannier Market short stay car park
1 hour - 70p
2 hours - £1.30
3 hours - £3.60

Race Hill permit only car park
Annual - £110
6 months - £58

Tower Street permit only car park
3 months - £60
6 months - £113
Annual - £215

Walk House long stay car park
2 hours - £1
3 hours - £3.60
24 hours - £6.30
3 months - £60
6 months - £113
Annual - £215

Long stay car parks £1 all day on Saturdays, otherwise same tariffs as Monday to Friday.

All Cornwall Council car parks are free on Sundays and free from 4pm to 9am.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Why overseas aid matters

Three years ago I went on a trip to Pakistan organised by the British Council which involved supporting a group of education advocates aged 18-25 who were campaigning to implement a new law which guaranteed free state education at both primary and secondary level. It seemed that getting the law passed was only the first step in the long road to making sure all children in Pakistan had access to education.

I blogged briefly about that trip at the time, but the whole pasty tax issue came up at the same time (to the extent that I was trying to organise a campaign from a hotel room eight time zones away). But since that time I have closely followed the work of the 'IlmPossible' campaign and the campaigners we worked with.

Today came the news that one of the campaigners, Noman Akhtar, has taken the step of moving from being an advocate for change to being the change he wants to see. He is now teaching slum children - one of the groups least able to access a basic right such as education.

Noman writes (please bear in mind that English is not his working language):

"May be right now I'm unable to provide them with proper school environment and props like uniforms, books, shoes, and stationary, may be I'm restricted to a hut classroom up till now yet I'm dedicated to give my full attention and affection to these child because they deserve it the most. I'm pretty sure that educating a child is merely equal to educating a whole family. With the grace of Allah, today i have my 1st Basic Education class at Slum area Huts for those children who are actually beggars, Labors, and extremely poor with the believe that my efforts will surely bring a positive change in them !! Need your extra support and wishes for this noble cause"

I don't pretend that the trip we made three years ago had anything other than a fleeting impact on people who were already as committed as Noman, but the support that the UK government gives through DFID projects such as ours to work like Noman's is absolutely vital. Education helps to stamp out terrorism and money spent in Pakistan on projects like this makes our country safer.

Monday, 9 February 2015

MP’s disappointment at lack of action on Launceston Medical Centre expansion

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson has said that NHS England and Conservative Health Ministers are passing the buck on the issue of approving crucial guidelines to allow GP practices to expand. GP practices cannot expand until new NHS ‘Principles of Best Practice’ guidelines are approved.

Launceston Medical Centre is one such surgery. The centre has plans to expand the number of treatment rooms, to improve access and to increase parking provision - but the centre will not be able to go ahead and submit their plans for approval until the NHS publishes its expansion guidelines.

Launceston Medical Centre is the town’s only GPs surgery and serves an area of approximately a 10 mile radius from the centre of Launceston. 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 have joined.
Delays in the guidelines would also hold-up aspirations for a new medical centre in Camelford.

NHS England has been promising to publish the guidelines for a number of months. Despite many reassurances that the guidelines would available ‘soon’, they have still not materialised.

North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson has been pressing NHS England and the Conservative Health Minister Lord Howe to act. Following a public meeting with NHS England representatives in December, local residents, Dan Rogerson and Launceston councillors were told that the guidelines were awaiting the approval of Lord Howe.

But in a letter this week to Dan Rogerson, Lord Howe said that whilst the delays were “frustrating”, approving the guidelines for expanding GPs surgeries was not his responsibility.

Dan Rogerson MP commented:

“We have been told by NHS England that the delays are due to ministers at the Department for Health, but this week we have heard from the Health Minister that the problems lie with NHS England."

“Over the past few months we have been urging NHS England to approve these crucial guidelines, so that Launceston Medical Centre can submit their plans to expand the surgery to help meet the growing demand from people in and around the town."

“Local people will rightly expect Health ministers and NHS England stop blaming each and start working together in the interests of patients in Launceston and across North Cornwall. I have once again asked the Health Minister Lord Howe to intervene and meet with me and senior executives from NHS England so that we can all sit down and sort this situation out once and for all.”

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Lib Dems seek guarantees on future of ‘lifeline’ bus service

Liberal Democrats on both sides of the Tamar have joined together to try to secure the future of a vital cross-border bus route.

It comes after residents across North Cornwall and West Devon raised fears about the future of the 510 route connecting Wadebridge, Camelford, Launceston, Okehampton and Exeter.

Operator Western Greyhound will stop running the route from 20th February. Whilst new operator Stagecoach South West is due to take over 510 services, passengers haven’t been told what will happen after the 20th February and fear that they may be left stranded.

Services currently run 5 times a day in each direction between Wadebridge and Exeter, with a sixth service operating between Exeter and Launceston. 2 services a day in each direction run on a Sunday.

North Cornwall’s Liberal Democrat MP Dan Rogerson and local Lib Dem campaigner Paula Dolphin, Parliamentary candidate for Torridge and West Devon, have joined forces to seek reassurances that the vital bus route will continue after 20th February.

Commenting, Dan Rogerson MP said:

“For residents who don’t have access to a car in Tregadillett, Pipers Pool, Hallworthy, Davidstow and other Cornish communities along the route, the 510 is a lifeline service allowing people to get to school or work, to the shops and to medical appointments in Camelford and Launceston. The route is also vital in connecting Launceston and North Cornwall with Exeter St David’s railway station.

“People are understandably worried that arrangements for the service after 20th February haven’t been decided, and that time is running out to make alternative arrangements if some services are being scrapped.

“I have contacted Stagecoach South West and the Transport Departments at both Cornwall Council and Devon County Council to press for reassurances that bus services along this route will continue, and that arrangements for the change of operator will be finalised and publicised as quickly as possible.”

Liberal Democrat candidate for Torridge and West Devon, Paula Dolphin, added:

"Many villagers in Lifton, Lewdown and Bridestowe rely on the 510 for connections to Okehampton and Exeter and will want reassurances that the bus route will continue to operate after 20th February. It is important that passengers are kept informed about changes, and that residents and campaigners from Devon and Cornwall continue to work together to secure better cross-border bus services for local people.”