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 Julian.cowans@cornwalldevelopmentcompany.co.uk and richard@superfastcornwall.org and copy your email into jade.farrington@gmail.com and alexfolkes@gmail.com

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 http://www.launcestontennis.org/ 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.