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.