Wednesday, 22 December 2010

No evidence of a Christmas present from Mr Pickles

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian addressed the spin surrounding the Coalition's cuts to local government. I hope you enjoy it - it is reproduced below:

For many weeks now, local people have been preparing for Christmas – looking ahead to family get-togethers, planning the celebrations and searching out those all-important presents.

But as a local councillor, and like many other people who work in or depend on the public sector, my thoughts have been dominated by the impending cuts.

On December 3rd, the Conservative/Independent administration that runs Cornwall Council voted through an emergency budget which included cuts totalling £170 million. In taking this action, they assumed that there would be a 30% cut in central government funding over the next four years.

This was only ten days before the government’s announcement of Cornwall’s funding package was due to be made public. Like many others, I hoped that the Secretary of State Eric Pickles would give everyone a big Christmas present by pulling back from draconian cuts.

And last Monday, when the announcement was made in the House of Commons, Mr Pickles responded to a question from Stephen Gilbert MP by stating: “I am delighted that the reductions in Cornwall will be 3.9% next year and 2.2% the following year.”

For a short period, I was pleased that the cuts were so much less than expected, but then the actual figures were released. These figures referred to a spurious concept called “spending power” and included estimates of locally-raised Council tax, Town and Parish Council monies as well as some NHS money. In terms of the cuts, it appeared to show a 9% cut to the main formula grant, though there was no detail about a range of other grants that the Council has historically dependent upon.

And adminst all this uncertainty, the political spinning went into overdrive.

Cornwall Council initially stated that it would take weeks for the Council to fully understand the complex statement, though it noted it was “in-line with expectations of around a 10% reduction in grant funding.” Days later, in a press release the Leader of the Council said it was a 16.5% reduction and almost exactly in line with expectations which, he said, justified the decision to push ahead with massive cuts!

By contrast, reporters in local newspapers interpreted the cuts as a 12% reduction in “core Whitehall funding.”

Cornish Liberal Democrats MPs also joined in the confusion, accusing the Conservatives on Cornwall Council of acting with “undue haste” because the Conservative/Liberal Democrat cuts are apparently less oppressive than expected.

Is it any wonder that people are confused.

There is a great lack of clarity about what is going on at the moment, though I and many others are having to work hard to make sense of it all.

In the meantime, wouldn’t it be great if Santa Claus could deliver some self-help books to Mr Pickles and his Coalition friends on the 25th December, covering such topics as finance, communication and straight-talking.

Election news

It has been a few days since my last blog and I would like to offer belated congratulations to Richard Hale and his team in the recent Truro City Council by-election. The seat was won by the Liberal Democrats with 266 votes, but MK polled 153 votes. This is our best-ever result in Moresk Ward and we out-polled the Labour Party who managed 103 votes.

Well done to the team on a good result.

MK is also standing in the Cornwall Council by-election for Camborne North. There are a total of six candidates with sitting town councillor Mike Champion flying the flag for MK.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

The amendments

Further to my earlier blog about the “emergency budget,” I would like to add a few words about the amendment that I tabled at the meeting regarding staff and the wage bill.

The final amendment was not as far-reaching as my original (see earlier post) and comprised two parts, which I felt were fairly innocuous.

It noted the decision of the Cabinet to undertake a review of “employee pay, terms and conditions” and sought assurances from the ruling administration that the potential impact on lower paid employees would be actively considered during negotiations with the unions and, secondly, reductions in severance arrangements (redundancies) not be considered.

Some councillors spoke against the amendments saying that we should not tie the hands of the Council when negotiating with staff.

I countered with reference to the continuing fall in the number of people employed by the authroity, which contrasted with the increase in the number of staff earning over £50,000, up from 127 in 2007-2008 to 143 in 2010.

And in terms of the severance packages for staff, these were reduced only a year ago. I put the view that it would be wrong to change the arrangements once again, as it would lead to staff being treated differently.

The amendment was taken in two parts. The first part about safeguarding employees on lower wages was defeated by a single vote – 51 votes to 50. The second part was also lost, by a much larger margin.

I can honestly say that I was disappointed (understatement) that the councillors did not take the opportunity to put down a strong marker to show some solidarity with the Council staff below management level.

For the record, I also supported the unsuccessful amendments to add extra monies to Adult Social Care; to review the proposed service reductions in relation to One Stop Shops and Libraries; and to guarantee adequate funding to ensure the future of the leisure facilities at Camelford Leisure Centre, Bude Sea Pool, Jubilee Pool in Penzance and the Hayle Sea Pool.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Cornwall Council budget is passed

MK councillors today voted against Cornwall Council's emergency budget, which was passed by 60 votes to 39 by Conservative and Independent councillors. Printed below is the speech that I gave as Leader of the MK Group.

On behalf of the Mebyon Kernow group, I would like to start by making our position clear on the public sector cuts being imposed by the Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition.

We consider it fundamentally wrong that this Government expects the public sector and ordinary people to “carry the can” for the failures of the private sector, the failures of the banks, and the failure of central government to regulate the financial markets.

And we consider that these ideologically driven central government cuts are too deep and being pushed through much too quickly.

In particular, it is our view that the likely extent of cuts to local government is not just overly onerous, but pure vandalism, which will lead to an inevitable decline in local service provision and the loss of hundreds and hundreds of vital public sector jobs.

We do however welcome the proposal to lobby for fair funding for Cornwall and its public services, and I can assure one and all that MK councillors on this authority will give this campaign our full and very active support.

Cornwall is not a rich area. Our economic performance is still weak, our residents receive amongst the lowest wages in the UK and there is widespread deprivation in our local communities.

The role that the public sector plays in providing decent jobs, and vital local services, is therefore especially important and we must do all that we can to protect it.

But over the next four years, the aggregated total of the proposed cuts outlined in this emergency budget in front of us today, would take £490 million out of the local economy – a sum equivalent to the Convergence programme.

It is truly reckless for central government to force through such reductions in spend and economic activity in an area like Cornwall in the middle of a harsh economic downturn.

The Government has got it wrong and we need to send a strong message to Westminster that our local services must be properly funded and protected.

As a consequence, we certainly consider it unwise to press ahead - gung ho - with such immediate and deep cuts here at Cornwall Council.

To return to this Council’s emergency budget; as a group, we have found the whole budget process flawed in the extreme and especially frustrating.

We are often told by the Chief Executive and the Leader that this unitary authority is a strategic body and that councillors should not treat it as a glorified district council.

But the scrutiny process around this budget has been engineered so as to discourage, for example, detailed consideration of the fundamental assumptions which underpin the figures, the frontloading of the cuts, the nature of service redesigns or the alternative service delivery models being investigated (outsourcing for short). Instead, discussions involving back-bench councillors have principally been focussed on frontline service cuts, which are very important, but represent less than 6% of the proposed cuts.

To put this in context, there was more discussion at scrutiny about increasing the cost of park and ride charges in Truro by 20p than, by contrast, the fundamental restructuring of certain services.

As members, we have been informed that Full Council should set the overall strategic direction of the authority, the headline budget figures and the resource allocations between the various service areas, while leaving the Cabinet and senior officers to (and I quote) to “achieve the savings and decide upon the operational changes required to deliver them.”

The MK Group does not agree with this approach and we have no intention of supporting headline budget figures, where the full implications of the cuts are not spelt out or even known.

We consider there has been inadequate scrutiny of the individual service budgets and how the reductions, as set out in Appendix C, were arrived at.

In this context, we have heard much about management efficiencies, rationalisation and streamlining but, too often, we were presented with staggeringly little detail about how the so-called savings might be achieved.

On the other hand, the restructuring of certain services, such as economic development, is already nearing completion – pre-empting this budget process.In many areas, we have seen no evidence as to whether such cuts might be appropriate, whether they are deliverable or how council services might be affected or where resultant redundancies might fall.

We have sought a lot of further information, which on occasion has not been forthcoming, and consider much more detailed scrutiny of what is appropriate for the different services is needed as a matter of priority.

A second element, which has had little consideration, has been the Cabinet’s decision to look again at the terms and conditions of employees to reduce spending by a further £10 million.

This Council is only able to deliver quality services to local communities, because of the dedication of staff.

But we have already lost numerous posts due to the creation of the unitary council, while actions surrounding this emergency budget could lead to the loss of a further 2,000 jobs.

But at the same time, the number of senior officers earning over £50,000 has increased, as has their overall share of the Council’s wage bill.

This is why we tabled an amendment to “ensure that the interests of employees on lower and average incomes are protected as far as is practicable and a more equal structure of pay and benefits is promoted across the authority, and that further reductions in severance arrangements are not considered.”

You will note that this is not the wording in front of members. It was rewritten by officers as, apparently, trying to rebalance the wage bill in favour of the less-well-off is against equality legislation, because it would most adversely affect those already on extremely high salaries.

The emergency budget also proposes £10 million of cuts from front-line services for the next financial year. We believe that many of these cuts are flawed and, in the case of the leisure provision, do not give adequate time and support to local communities to take on their local facilities.

What is more, there is so much uncertainty at this time about the final settlement and whether Councils might be able to increase Council tax. This is a time for caution. Remember, a 1% increase in council tax for each of the next two years would generate £7 million.

We consider that we should defer consideration of many of these cuts until the main budget-setting in February.

We have been told time and time again that a failure to act quickly will cost the Council an extra £5.6 million, but we understand that the majority of these deemed savings, over £3 million in fact, are management efficiencies that are already being pushed through by the Cabinet.

And going early with increases in fees and charges would only raise £300,000. We need clarity from the Cabinet on their figures.

To summarise, we cannot support this budget.

We believe it is necessary to do more to look carefully at how we can limit the extent of cuts; and join other councils, unions, community groups and others, to put real pressure on central government for a fair funding deal for local government.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

New play equipment in St Enoder Parish

As today’s Full Council meeting was postponed, I spent much of the day in the Indian Queens Recreation Ground where works have started to erect a Multi Use Games Area (fenced area measuring 20m by 12m with goal-ends and basketball nets) and to construct skateboard equipment on an existing tarmac surface.

The Recreation Ground is owned by the Parish Council and I have helped to pull together the funding for this project, which includes £10,000 from the former Restormel Borough Council and a £47,000 grant from China Clay Area’s Local Action Group. This is part financed by the European Agricultural Fund for European Development to promote and support business and community development in the China Clay Area.

The Parish Council also owns the Thomas Playing Field at Summercourt, where we have just erected a new metal climbing frame (above) to replace a smaller and aged wooden frame that had to be removed last year. These improvement works were supported by a £5,000 donation from the former Restormel Borough Council and a £8,000 grant from the Lottery’s Awards for All funding programme.

Also positioned within St Enoder Parish is the Fraddon Millennium Green, which is run by a group of trustees with financial support from the Parish Council. I am one of the trustees and we have just refurbished the Green’s existing play area. This included the renovation of the “Leonard the Loco” play engine, repair of the see-saw, two new seats for parents and a new metal fence around the play area.

The Green has also had a further facelift with Groundwork South West cleaning footpaths in the park, trimming back hedges and making other improvements.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Camborne North by-election

I have just heard that the Conservatives won the Camborne Town Council by-election in North Ward. The result was as follows:

Conservative - 478
Labour - 318
John Rowe (Mebyon Kernow) - 279

I would like to congratulate John for fighting a strong campaign. I believe that this was his third election in Camborne North and that this was his highest number of votes … so far

On another note, MK’s dispute with the Conservatives over their misrepresentation of MK’s position on local housing was featured in the West Briton today (see previous blog). When the journalist was writing the story he contacted me for information about the nature of the misleading information on the Tory leaflet. I supplied this information within a couple of hours. You can image how angry I was to see to see the article printed today, on polling day, claim that MK had “refused” to supply the information.

I have already been in contact with the paper and have sought an assurance that this further misrepresentation will be redressed in next week’s paper.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Misleading leaflet in Camborne by-election

Today, voters in Camborne will be going to the polls to elect a new representative for the Town Council (North Ward). MK’s candidate is John Rowe and he is opposed by candidates from the Conservative and Labour Parties.

Sadly, Mebyon Kernow have had to request an apology from the Conservative Party due to a misleading comment in one of their leaflets. The leaflet included an “out-of-context” quotation that was in my name. The Conservative leaflet stated:

‘No’ to further building of more homes on green-field sites in Camborne.

Dick Cole MK Leader on Cornwall Council, quoted in the West Briton, ‘protected green-field land on the boundary of settlements can be developed for subsidised homes.’ It begs the question, would MK really oppose housing developments on green-field sites?’

The quotation attributed to me was actually in the Western Morning News in early October, when the Council’s Development Plan on Affordable Housing was launched for consultation. I do not know if it was reprinted in the West Briton. The full extract was as follows:

This week Cornwall Council launches its Affordable Housing Development Plan Document (DPD). The exercise will re-assess where and how to build affordable homes "in an era of decreasing public subsidy."

Councillor Dick Cole, chairman of the panel which drafted the "innovative" document, said it sought to maximise the dwindling number of new sites and encourage communities to present their own small schemes. Mr Cole said this would include controversial "exception" sites, where protected green-field land on the boundary of settlements can be developed for subsidised homes.

As one and all can see, firstly it was not actually a direct quote. I would not have used those exact words but it does broadly reflect the position of myself and also Cornwall Council. But it clearly demonstrates that I was discussing community-supported small schemes and “exception sites” in rural areas, not large-scale developments around urban areas such as Camborne.

Indeed, as the Chairman of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel, I am extremely disappointed that my work, and that of the Panel, has been misrepresented for the purposes of gaining political advantage.

It must be pointed out that members of all political groups were involved in producing the Development Plan Document, which was then fully agreed for consultation by the Conservative-led Council. So, in misrepresenting what I said, Conservatives in Camborne were also actually criticizing the approach of their own Conservative colleagues.

Budget discussions at Cabinet

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet met today and recommended an emergency budget for the authority. This will now be presented to Full Council on 30 November.

I attempted to raise a number of issues about the extent of the cuts, how the “unavoidable budget pressures” had been calculated, and whether the cuts to certain services were appropriate or even deliverable.

No further information was forthcoming at the meeting, but the MK Group is continuing to challenge those parts of the budget papers where the detail is lacking or has yet to be prepared.

At the meeting, I also asked about the Cabinet’s proposal to revisit the pay and conditions of staff and asked that this be addressed sympathetically. One of the things that I spoke out against was any change to severance packages for people who might be made redundant. These were changed only last year and I feel that it would be morally indefensible to modify the arrangements in any way so that people losing their jobs in the future would get less than colleagues who are leaving now or have already left.

When the unitary council was created there were approaching 12,000 staff (not including schools). It is now less than 10,000 and, if the projected cuts occur, this will fall to closer to 8,000.

But, at the same time, there has been an increase in the number of staff earning over £50,000, up from 127 in 2007-2008 to 143 in 2010.

I told the meeting that while staff numbers are falling, it must be questioned why the the cost of high-earners is rising, adding that any review of pay and conditions must protect the less-well-off and rebalance the fairness of the wage bill.

And at this time, it means addressing other potential savings such as consultants, and expensive interim and agency staff.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

A consistent approach to Cornwall?

In my latest column in the Cornish Guardian, I addressed the approach of the London parties to Cornwall and its integrity as a unit. It was as follows:

The decision by central government to give the green light to the creation of a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) has, according to Cornwall Council, “been greeted with delight” by amongst others “representatives of the local business community.”

But last week, the proposed LEP, which would work to promote enterprise and regeneration across the area, was lambasted by Exeter’s Labour MP Ben Bradshaw.

Mr Bradshaw, who wanted a larger “multi-county”” partnership, told the House of Commons that Cornwall “as is so often the case, wanted to go it alone - a move unfortunately endorsed by the Government for political purposes.” He claimed this was much to “the consternation of the Cornwall business community and business leaders in the rest of the peninsula.”

Strange that. The bid for the LEP was actually supported by a wide range of local business figures including the Chairmen of Cornwall’s Federation of Small Businesses, the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Cornwall Business Partnership and the Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum, as well as the Managing Directors of firms such as Ginsters and St Austell Brewery.

Eden’s Tim Smit meanwhile describes the LEP as a “once in a lifetime opportunity for Cornwall to take control of its own destiny and to make a huge statement about its ability to shape its own future.”

I am in total agreement with this view. For too long, Cornwall lost out to “Devon and Cornwall” or “South-West” arrangements, where the main benefits were felt to the east of the Tamar.

Indeed, in the 1990s it was only because Cornwall and Devon were disaggregated, and Cornwall was treated as a region in its own right, that we were able to harness much-needed investment through the European structural funds of Objective One and its successor programmes.

I am genuinely heartened that the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition wish to respect the territoriality of Cornwall and treat it, in their words, as a “functional economic unit.”

But, at the same, I find it unbelievable that they are also pushing through a reform of parliamentary boundaries which will undermine Cornwall’s political integrity by creating at least one cross-Tamar constituency. How contradictory is that?

I also welcome the Labour Party’s continued opposition to the creation of Devonwall seats but, at the same time, I cannot understand the desire of Labour MPs to undermine the planned Local Enterprise Partnership and damage Cornwall’s economic prospects.

Isn’t it about time that the main parties treated Cornwall and local concerns in a consistent manner and not just as a political football?

Monday, 15 November 2010

MK Conference

This weekend, MK‘s Annual Conference was held at the Public Rooms in Bodmin. It was a positive meeting and members agreed an ambitious five-year plan to better promote MK and the values that we espouse.

It was agreed that MK should set itself the target of fighting at least 50 seats (40%) at the 2013 Cornwall Council Elections, put up a full slate of candidates at the European Parliamentary Election in 2014 and contest all Cornish seats at the 2015 General Election.

The consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill were debated at length, during which time Cornwall’s Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs were roundly condemned for not voting against the Bill. Another significant debate focussed on the cuts being imposed by the Coalition Government and the impact on Cornish communities and the wider economy.

There was passionate support for MK councillors and activists to stand up and fight to protect public services in Cornwall.

We also took time to remind members that Mebyon Kernow will soon be celebrating its important 60th anniversary and that a commemorative publication is to be produced and a celebratory event will be held in January 2011.

The commemorative publication is presently being written and it will be a comprehensive A4 booklet. It will explore Mebyon Kernow’s early days as a pressure group, its evolution into a fully fledged political party, past campaigns and more recent activities, as well as an assessment of MK’s achievements.

Photographs, press clippings and other images from the 1950s through to the present day will also be included.

It is anticipated that the cost of the booklet will be about £7.00, but members and supporters are being invited to show their support for this initiative by pre-ordering the publication at the slightly inflated cost of £10.00. Everyone who shows their support in this way will have their name listed in the booklet as a supporting subscriber.

On Saturday 22nd January 2011, Mebyon Kernow will be hosting an evening event at the Lowenac Hotel in Camborne to celebrate the anniversary. It will include music and other entertainment, reminiscences of the Party’s campaigns and activities, as well as a buffet. The doors will open at 6.00 and the entertainment will be from 7.00 until late! Tickets will cost £10 each.

For further information contact MK at Lanhainsworth, Fraddon Hill, Fraddon, St Columb, TR9 6PQ.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

My thoughts on the Cornwall Council budget

In the last week of October, the draft emergency budget of Cornwall Council was published by the ruling Conservative and Independent administration.

This budget was prepared on the basis that central government funding would fall by 30% over the next four years, though there remains great uncertainty what monies will be available in the future. The announcement from the Coalition that the main cuts would be 7.1% per year appeared less onerous, but subsequent information suggests that the cuts might be worse than 30% overall.

It is claimed that Cornwall Council’s budget will generate “savings of around £160 million over four years with £75 million achieved next year.” It also proposes to hold negotiations about employees’ terms and conditions to “save” a further £20 million, and it has identified £10 million of cuts from front-line services.

Last week, “backbench” councillors such as myself had our first opportunity to consider the proposals in detail through five meetings of the Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Committees.

I attended all five meetings and it was certainly a frustrating week. We heard much management-speak about efficiencies, rationalisation and streamlining, but in many areas we were presented with staggeringly little detail about how the so-called savings would be achieved.

The leadership of the Council has proposed significant cuts to a wide range of individual services, but clearly did not want their fellow councillors coming forward with anything more than minor tweaks.

They certainly did not want us to challenge the fundamental basis of the budget and its many parts.

But some of us did question how certain services such as Leisure could withstand a 44.8% cut or how Libraries could cope with a cut of 25.3%. We challenged whether such cuts were deliverable, whether they were appropriate in the first place or should be reduced in scale. We asked how council services might be affected and queried where redundancies might fall. Many of the responses were certainly less than illuminating.

There was more detail about some of the proposed cuts to front-line services and potential increases in charges. As a consequence, discussions about whether to increase the daily charge for Truro’s Park and Ride from £1.30 to £1.50, for example, took much, much longer than debates about the major restructuring of parts of the Council.

Pressure from members of the public and councillors has however brought a rethink in a small number of areas. The Cabinet backed down on their proposal to cut bus subsidies for evening and weekend travel, they agreed to look again at the loss of post-16 education transport subsidies and there was also a reprieve for Camelford Leisure Centre, at least for now.

The process continues and many of us intend to carefully scrutinise the emerging budget as carefully as possible.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Devonwall Bill - update

Last night, the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill was voted on for the Third time. It was supported by a total of 321 votes to 264.

I am extremely disappointed that all six Cornish MPs voted for the Bill. I had hoped they would have opposed the legislation, once the pro-Cornwall amendment had been defeated. Indeed, I had hoped that they would put Cornwall before their political party.

For the record, I understand that Andrew George MP rebelled by also voting against the Bill.

95% of Coalition MPs voted for Devonwall

Further to yesterday's blog about the Report Stage of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, I have looked in detail at the vote.

The amendment was moved by Charles Kennedy and sought to protect parliamentary boundaries in a number of areas including parts of Scotland, Anglesey, the Isle of Wight and Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly.

As noted previously, it was voted down by 315 votes to 257 votes.

All six Cornish MPs voted to support Kennedy’s amendment, but unbelievably they only won the support of twelve other Conservative / Liberal Democrat colleagues which included Scottish MPs and the member for the Isle of Wight. The MPs were as follows:

Peter Bottomley (Worthing West)
Philip Davies (Shipley)
George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth)
Philip Hollobone (Kettering)
Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall)
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth)
David Nuttall (Bury North)
Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

Liberal Democrat
Andrew George (St Ives)
Stephen Gilbert (St Austell and Newquay)
Mike Hancock (Portsmouth South)
Charles Kennedy (Ross, Skye and Lochaber)
Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West)
Alan Reid (Argyll and Bute)
Dan Rogerson (North Cornwall)
Bob Russell (Colchester)
Adrian Sanders (Torbay)
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross)

Over 95% of Coalition MPs voted against the amendment. This included Conservative MP Mark Prisk who spent the months leading up to the General Election masquerading as a Shadow Minister for Cornwall.

I am however pleased to report that the pro-Cornwall amendment was supported by MK’s sister parties from Wales and Scotland. Three Plaid Cymru and five SNP MPs voted in favour of the amendment, along with a member of the SDLP, two members of the DUP and all the Labour MPs present.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Home again ...

The reason that I have not blogged for ten days is because I have been on holiday in North Wales (that's me in the above picture).

It was good to refresh the batteries. I have now been home for 24 hours and I am already wistfully looking ahead to my next holiday … next year.

Today, I attended the first of five scrutiny committee meetings looking at aspects of the proposed Conservative / Independent budget for Cornwall Council which sets out to achieve a savage cut of 30%. More comment to follow soon.

I also found out that I have been deliberately misrepresented on a Conservative leaflet in the Camborne Town Council by-election that is presently taking place. Obviously, I now have to chase the Tories to demand an apology. More comment to follow soon.

And earlier tonight, the Coalition voted down an amendment to protect the integrity of Cornwall in terms of parliamentary seats. The vote was 315 votes to 257. To be fair to the Cornish MPs, I understand all six voted against the Government, but it seems that very few of their colleagues followed suit. A sad day for Cornwall. More comment to follow soon.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Devonwall issue not even debated

Like many people, I watched much of the debate on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill yesterday and found that the whole “spectacle” made me extremely sad and angry.

Amendments relating to Clause 9 were grouped into two blocks; the first relating to the number of MPs and the second to constituencies and related issues (including the protection of Cornish integrity). But MPs took so long talking about the total number of MPs that they did not get around to debating the other amendments.

I have already spoken to Stephen Gilbert and his frustration with the archaic approach of the House of Commons was palpable. The relevant clause has been agreed by the House, even though key elements have not been debated, but I understand Cornish MPs are already working to ensure that the importance of Cornish integrity can be addressed at a future date, perhaps at the Report Stage of the Bill.

The fight must continue, and I will blog again when I know more.

MK condemns "destructive" Comprehensive Spending Review

Mebyon Kernow has condemned the savage spending cuts outlined in the Comprehensive Spending Review as “destructive." We have consistently opposed the extent, severity and speed of the Coalition Government’s cuts, which we believe could undermine the economic recovery, lead to significant job losses, and hit the less-well-off and the vulnerable.

MK remains concerned at the savage extent of the average 19% four-year cut across departmental budgets, the estimated 490,000 jobs likely to be lost in the public sector and the knock-on effect to the wider economy.

Cornwall Council will also see an annual 7.1% fall in its budget for each of the next four years, leading to severe local cuts and job losses.

We are also angry that George Osborne has announced that he intends to further slash welfare spending by a massive £7 billion and cut social housing budgets by more than 50%, with new tenants having to pay higher rents.

We agree with the first ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland that the Coalition's cuts are "too fast and too deep" and risk stalling any recovery.

Many economists are expressing concern that these harsh cuts could undermine the fragile economic recovery and even lead to the possibility of a double-dip recession.

I agree with my colleague Cllr Stuart Cullimore, MK’s Social Justice spokesman and the Cornwall Councillor for Camborne South, who has remarked that the Comprehensive Spending Review marks a return to the politics of Thatcher and is "more about ideology than dealing with the public debt."

Monday, 11 October 2010

"Respect the Tamar" Rally a great success

The Jubilee Green at Saltash was today awash with Cornish flags, as over 400 people protested at the likely creation of a cross-Tamar constituency.

The Rally was addressed by a range of speakers. These included Adam Killeya and Edward Andrews, mayors of Saltash and Torpoint, Andrew Long on behalf of Mebyon Kernow, Mick Paynter Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorseth, Chairman of Cornwall Council Pat Harvey, Conservative MP Sheryl Murray and Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert, Jen Forbes from the Cornwall Labour Party and UKIP MEP Trevor Colman.

It sent a clear message to London about the growing cross-party consensus to protect Cornwall's integrity.

I will blog in more detail about the Rally soon.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Latest from the Incinerator Inquiry

Today was the penultimate day of the Public Inquiry into the proposal for an incinerator at St Dennis. I had the privilege of presenting the closing statement on behalf of the “Rule 6 Party” representing local people including St Dennis Parish Council and the St Dennis Against Incineration Group.

Our statement was quite long at 13,000 words and it followed statements by the Power of Cornwall, the Transition Cornwall Network and the Cornwall Sustainable Waste Network.

Just to give a feel of the arguments we made, I have listed below a few extracts from the statement.

1. “We may primarily represent the people of this area, but we do not consider this to be simply a local issue. SITA’s application for an incinerator has been vigorously opposed by people from all over Cornwall and further afield. Over one thousand individuals and groups objected to the proposal during the period of the planning application. It was opposed by county councillors, district and parish councillors, MPs, parliamentary candidates from across the political spectrum, local residents, business people, and campaign groups such as Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace.”

2. “This Rule 6 Party still holds the view that waste management, focussed around a single centralised incinerator with an annual capacity of 240,000 tonnes, does not represent a sustainable solution for Cornwall’s domestic waste in the 21st century.”

3. “SITA has presented documentation, dating from 2006 onwards, claiming that the Appeal Site is the most appropriate location for the incinerator, but the reality is that the site was selected before this documentation was even produced. Frankly, the consultants employed by SITA have not sought to investigate the best alternatives or the best possible sites for such a development, but to conjure evidence in support of a pre-conceived position and a pre-agreed location.”

4. “SITA themselves acknowledge that the materials contained within black bag waste, which would be incinerated if this proposal went ahead, include a large amount of material that could and should be re-used or recycled or composted – such as plastic, paper and cardboard, textiles, food waste, wood, glass, inert substances and metals.”

5. “The proposed chimney [at 120m / 394ft] would be approximately twice the height of the existing stacks at Parkandillick and it would tower over what is essentially open countryside. The height of the stack is much, much greater than the spire of Truro Cathedral (245ft), a structure which dominates the setting of the city of Truro; it is also greater than the Statue of Liberty and its associated pedestal (305ft), and Big Ben (316ft).”

6. “The adverse visual impact of the plume that would emanate from the chimney would also be significant. According to the fourth volume of SITA’s environmental permit application, the average plume length would be 45 metres though there would be occasions when it would extend to a length of 221 metres – almost twice that of the chimney. The document postulates that plumes will be visible at a height of between 100m and 199m for about 145 hours each year.”

7. “It is our view that the incinerator would dominate the communities of St Dennis, Treviscoe and the surrounding landscape – but not in an abstract sense. It would tower over peoples’ homes and the gardens in which they relax with their loved ones. It would tower over a range of facilities, such as the football pitch and the playground, used by young and old alike. And it would mean that a visitor’s lasting impression of St Dennis would not be the historic church built on the site of an ancient hillfort, or the farms of Carsella and Domellick which were both mentioned in the Doomsday Book. Nor would it be the community spirit so evident throughout the area or even the skytips fondly known as “Pointy” and “Flatty” which are a reminder of the local mining heritage. Instead, their lasting impression would be of a massive and overbearing incinerator casting its dark shadow over this part of Mid Cornwall.”

8. “We are extremely angry that the proponents of the incinerator proposal were so keen to locate the incinerator within the China Clay Area, an area they, from an external perspective, perceived to be less worthy of protection from inappropriate development than elsewhere.”

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

"It’s the Tamar – not the Amazon for heaven’s sake!"

I have just seen the interview that David Cameron did for ITV Westcountry yesterday, and the casual way in which he dismissed concerns about the possible creation of a Devonwall parliamentary seat.

In the interview, when asked about the consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill which, if left unchanged, would lead to the creation of at least one Cornwall and Devon seat, he said:

“I think it is very important to have constituencies that are the same size. That is fair. And in order for that to happen you do need to cross county boundaries. We don’t, for example, say that the Scilly Isles have to have an independent …have to have their own MP. It is right that you cross boundaries in order to have the right size House of Commons and the same size constituencies. That is fair.”

But ITV Westcountry, bless them, have released footage of Cameron speaking before the start of the formal interview. At this point he actually said:

“We have got to have equal-sized seats. It’s the Tamar – not the Amazon for heaven’s sake. But I won’t put it like that!”

What a gaffe! The pressure is now on Cornwall’s Tory MPs to speak to their leader and make sure that he does take Cornwall’s concerns seriously.

See you in Saltash on Sunday

Keep Cornwall Whole has organised a “Respect the Tamar” Rally in Saltash for Sunday 10th October. It is hoped that the Rally will showcase the full extent of opposition to a creation of a Devonwall seat.

Convenor Cllr Adam Killeya, who is also the Mayor of Saltash, says:

“This Rally will strongly make the case against a cross-border constituency, with speeches from a wide range of political figures and civic figureheads. But there will also be music, making it a real celebration of Cornwall and its distinctiveness.

“Please come along and add your voice to the fight to protect Cornwall’s historic border.”

The Rally will take place at the Jubilee Green in Saltash at 2.00. It will be preceded by a symbolic crossing of the Tamar by a flotilla of boats between 1.00 and 2.00. Parking will be available at Alexandra Square (0.3 miles) or Upper or Lower Belle Vue (0.6m) Saltash, with a walk down the hill.

A number of speakers have been confirmed including the Chairman of Cornwall Council, the Grand Bard of the Cornish Gorseth and the Mayor of Saltash.

I hope you will be able to come along and help us put pressure on central government.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

A million voices for public services

Yesterday, I was pleased to be able to give my support to UNISON’s “A million voices for public services” campaign.

The union states: “The recession has hit the government's finances hard and public debt has grown. Some are now arguing that we will have to cut the amount the government spends on public services.

“What's more, when times are tough we need good local services more than ever. They help support communities, help people back into work, help give our children the best start in life and help care for our sick and elderly. And by putting money into local services, we help kick-start economic growth. Big spending cuts are not inevitable; they are a political choice that you can speak out against.”

The union is, quote rightly, seeking to encourage politicians to consider real alternatives to cuts and the privatisation of public services.

“Taxing the banks and financial institutions that caused the credit crunch in the first place is one example. And we could make our tax system fairer - ending tax avoidance that allows the very wealthy to get out of paying their share. It's not just UNISON saying this. Many economists are warning that large scale cuts now could push the economy back into recession. Getting people back to work and getting our economy growing will allow the government to pay back the money it has borrowed.”

You can also support the campaign at

Saturday, 25 September 2010

My first week as a columnist

I have been invited to write a regular column for the Cornish Guardian newspaper - always worth a good read! My first column entitled: "An over-sized incinerator?" was published this week. For the followers of this blog, the article is reproduced below.

In less than two weeks, the Public Inquiry into the proposal for a massive waste incinerator at St Dennis will be re-convened at the Council Offices in St Austell. Over a period of three days, representatives of the applicant, the Council and the objectors will deliver their closing statements.

The arguments presented by both sides have certainly been extremely wide-ranging and complex; and speaking from a personal perspective, it has been a privilege to help the people of Mid Cornwall to fight the imposition of the incinerator.

Away from the Inquiry, I have often heard the statement: “well, the incinerator has to go somewhere” as if there are not more sustainable alternatives. But do we really need an incinerator, with an annual throughput of 240,000 tonnes, to deal with Cornwall’s domestic waste?

The reality is that in 2008-2009, Cornwall sent 194,958 tonnes of waste to landfill. The extent of residual waste is falling, and last year 187,343 tonnes were landfilled. This is much, much less than the capacity of the proposed plant. And this is at a time when only 37% of our local waste is being recycled or composted, considerably less that the government target of 50% recycling/composting by 2020.

What is more, at the Inquiry we debated the Waste Development Framework document which included “evidence” to propose a 240,000 capacity for the plant. Produced in 2006, it predicted that by 2010 the amount of residual waste in need of “land-filling or incineration” would be between 232,333 and 245,443 tonnes.

How wrong could they be? And how can people continue to argue for such a large incinerator when the “justification” for it, produced just four years ago, managed to over-estimate the amount of waste that would need to be dealt with by 45,000 - 57,000 tonnes (24% - 31%). Where is the credibility of their arguments?

An analysis of black bag waste carried out by Cornwall County Council in 2007 has also found that 60% of the contents of an average bag could be reused, recycled or composted, including materials such as paper, cardboard, plastic, wood, glass, metals, food waste and other organic matter.

I am sure that I am not alone in thinking that it is ridiculous that thousands and thousands of tonnes of such recyclable and bio-degradable material should be incinerated, when much better use could be made of these resources.

The case for a 240,000 tonne incinerator does not make environmental or economic sense, and it should not be allowed to get the go-ahead.

But we can all do our bit to work towards a more sustainable approach to waste. We can do our utmost to firstly reduce the amount of waste we create, while also maximising what we then recycle or compost.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

A meeting with the Deputy Prime Minister

A delegation from the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign met with Nick Clegg on Wednesday, to raise concerns about the consequences of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill which, if unchanged, would lead to the creation of a Devonwall constituency.

The delegation was cross-party and made up of myself on behalf of MK, the Mayor of Saltash Adam Killeya, Liberal Democrat Malcolm Brown who was formerly Cornwall County Council’s ‘expert’ on electoral/boundary reviews, the Vice-Chair of the Cornwall Labour Party Jen Forbes and Independent Cornwall Councillor Bert Biscoe.

The meeting was chaired by Lib Dem MP Stephen Gilbert. Also present were Conservative MP Sheryll Murray and Liberal Democrat MPs Dan Rogerson and Andrew George.

The thirty-minute meeting started with a summary of the Bill from Nick Clegg. This included his assertion about the importance of democratic reforms, the fairness of equal-sized constituencies and the difficulty of making exceptions on constituency size.

The members of the delegation then outlined a number of points in turn. Issues covered included the importance of Cornish integrity, the strength of our identity, Cornwall’s distinct economic profile and the growing wish to take more responsibility for our own future. The cross-party aspect of the campaign was also emphasised, along with the widespread concern of parishes in East Cornwall.

We also pointed out that the Government had already identified two specific constituency exceptions, relating to Scottish Islands, and the Bill stated that the borders of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland would not be transgressed. The delegation requested similar treatment for Cornwall.

Mr Clegg responded by questioning whether a cross-Tamar constituency would damage the standing of Cornwall as an entity.

I was allowed to respond on behalf of the group. I pointed out how Cornwall had, for many years, lost out to wider South West arrangements, that we welcomed how the new Government is pushing back the SW quango state and gave the example that Cornwall had recently submitted a bid for a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership. The point was made that a Devonwall seat would undermine these developments.

Dan Rogerson MP used the opportunity to talk about the view of many people that Cornwall is a nation. He spoke very well and Nick Clegg acknowledged the sentiments raised. He added that, for the purposes of the Bill, Cornwall’s status is that of a county, but perhaps there needed to be a debate about Cornwall’s position within the UK. We agreed. He then added however that you “cannot piggy-back such as issue of principle” on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

Sheryll Murray mentioned the 'Duchy.' Andrew George added that Cornwall’s call for constituencies to respect Cornwall’s border was not about isolationism. “We love England so much, we want to protect its border” he said.

I think it is fair to say that we received a fair hearing. Nick Clegg listened to what we had to say, but made no promises and gave no indication that he intended to change his position. He did say that he would inform David Cameron about the meeting and suggested that Cornish representatives also seek a meeting with the PM.

It remains to be seen whether the upper reaches of the Government act on our representations. But some progress is being made. Amendments to protect Cornwall’s border have been tabled by representatives of all three main parties, namely Andrew George (Lib Dem), Sheryll Murray (Conservative) and Harriet Harman/Peter Hain/Jack Straw (Labour).

Thursday, 9 September 2010

SITA / Eco-bos / Eden Greenwash

On the 2nd August, I blogged about the most recent days at the Public Inquiry into the incinerator proposed for St Dennis. I focussed on the fact that SITA were claiming the proposed eco-town developments at Drinnick/Nanpean and Blackpool could potentially take the heat from the incinerator.

This week, the Cornish Guardian featured the links between the eco-town development and its associated company Eco-Bos (74% Orascom, 25% Imerys and 1% Eden Project) and the incinerator on its front page.

In the story, a spokesman for Eco-Bos stated that there was no agreement in place with SITA, but they would not rule out using heat from the incinerator at this time. The Eden Project – described by the Cornish Guardian as “a leading light in sustainable resources, and at the forefront of eco-friendly ideas” – meanwhile stated it “was not against incineration per se.”

The eco-town developers and the Eden Project spend a lot of time trumpeting their “Green” credentials, but this can be considered little more than “Greenwash” if they are happy to associate themselves with a 240,000 tonne incinerator.

It is certainly not sustainable or green in any way.

"State of the Region"

I have just finished watching BBC TV's "State of the Region" debate from Plymouth, which featured MPs and councillors from the three main London parties, as well as business people, union representatives and other selected guests.

It was a depressing programme to watch. The mantra was cuts, cuts, cuts ...

Not one politician spoke up for fair taxation, to reduce the extent of the cuts.

Not one politician called for progressive tax increases so that the wealthy would pay their fair share.

And not one politician spoke out against the benefit and other cuts, while no action is being taken to address the largescale tax avoidance and tax evasion that is endemic in modern society.

If MK had been invited to participate, then maybe such comments might actually have got a hearing.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The public sector?

At today’s Full Council, a number of questions were asked about the bid for a Local Enterprise Partnership for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

A 40 page bid document, entitled “Empowering Enterprise” was forwarded to central government for yesterday’s deadline. It states that the LEP would be a “vibrant partnership between businesses, councils, colleges and communities to deliver a stronger local economy with improved employment, skills and quality of life.”

I believe there is a consensus that Cornwall should decide the direction of the Cornish economy, though questions were asked about the democratic accountability of the proposed body.

My own question was about the public sector. It was as follows:

“At the last Full Council, we unanimously backed a motion to lobby for fair funding for Cornwall’s public services. I am therefore disappointed by comments in the LEP bid document about reducing the percentage of people working in the public sector, and “re-balancing the economy” (not my words) towards the private sector. Is this not sending out confused message to central government and isn’t it about time that this Council stood up for workers in the public sector – including our teachers, workers in the NHS and our Council employees delivering vital frontline services?”

I did not really get an appropriate response.

Keep Cornwall Whole

Over the last few days, I have been very active within the new ““Keep Cornwall Whole” group. This has brought together campaigners from across the political spectrum, representatives of community and cultural groups, to oppose the creation of Devonwall constituencies through the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill.

As has been pointed out many times, the Bill seeks to reduce the number of MPs from 650 to 600. It wants all constituencies to be within 5% of the average constituency size. If the Bill is left unaltered, this would mean that Cornwall would have at least one cross border seat with Devon.

“Keep Cornwall Whole” has sent a submission to the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee and it has also written to all 650 MPs, in advance of the Second Reading of the Bill which took place yesterday.

The letter called on them to seek changes to the Bill, which would protect the historic integrity of Cornwall. One section stated that:

“The Bill, if unaltered, would mean that that Cornwall would inevitably have at least one cross border seat with Devon, despite its exceptionally distinct Celtic history and culture, unique geography as a peninsula bounded by the Tamar River, special constitutional position, and a specific economic profile that merits EU Convergence Funding.”

The submission and letter were sent by Adam Killeya, the Mayor of Saltash, with the support of Conservative, Green, Independent, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Mebyon Kernow representatives (myself included).

The Second Reading took place yesterday and I have to say I was very disappointed that the impact of the Bill on Cornwall did not feature more strongly in the debate. I understand, from reading the Hansard record of the debate that 74 MPs put their names down to speak, of whom forty were able to make a contribution.

Of the six Cornish MPs, only George Eustice made a speech. He outlined his opposition to the Alternative Vote and it did not even look like he was going to talk about specific Cornish concerns, until there was a short intervention from Sheryl Murray. It went as follows:

Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be extremely unfair to expect one of the Cornish constituencies—his, mine, or one of the others—to cross the historic Tamar border that we already have?

George Eustice (Camborne and Redruth) (Con): My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. Cornwall is a special case. It is not just a normal county—it is a duchy. That is certainly something that should be considered in Committee.

It is disappointing that the opportunity to address Cornish concerns were not tackled, especially when other members were able to focus in some detail on “regional” concerns, such as Andrew Turner MP from the Isle of Wight, and MPs from Scotland and Wales.

What a wasted opportunity!

I assume the three Lib Dem MPs from Cornwall were among the 30-plus MPs who wanted to speak but were not called by the Speaker.

One further MP, Mr Michael McCann (Labour) East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow mentioned Cornwall and Trotsky! The contribution stated:

“The Bill includes other measures that would be detrimental to our parliamentary system, including the arbitrary reduction of the number of constituencies and the permanent revolution resulting from the boundary changes before each Parliament. Trotsky would indeed be proud of the Bill on that basis alone. However, just in case anyone develops the mistaken and untrue impression that only Members of the House are concerned, I also have a correspondence with Keep Cornwall Whole, which demonstrates that people outside the House believe that the Bill is wrong and that it should not proceed.”

This morning, Cornwall Council unanimously passed a motion that Members of Parliament should vote to enable Cornwall to be represented by MPs whose constituencies lie entirely within the boundaries of Cornwall.

Friday, 3 September 2010

A near-miss in Camborne West

I have just been contacted by MK’s team in Camborne with the result of yesterday’s by-election for a seat on Camborne Town Council.

MK’s candidate Paul Jenkin (right) and his agent Stuart Cullimore ran an extremely strong campaign and missed out to the Conservatives by only 27 votes. Paul outpolled Labour, Liberal Democrat and Independent candidates. The full result is as follows:

Conservative – 427
Mebyon Kernow – 400
Labour – 222
Liberal Democrat – 150
Independent – 115

I am very proud of the team and the hard work they put in. It is a very positive result for MK. It was achieved in spite of the fact that the Conservatives threw everything they could at the seat – including colour leaflets as well as a certain Mr George Eustice – while Labour put out inaccurate / misleading leaflets that claimed MK was part of the Conservative / Independent administration at County Hall (before accepting that this was a nonsense and stopping the distribution of the offending leaflet).

The result certainly shows that MK is a force to be reckoned with in local government elections in Cornwall and we intend to keeping working hardand we will get more MK councillors elected.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

MK welcomes review of high-earners' salaries

Mebyon Kernow has welcomed the announcement by the leadership of Cornwall Council that it intends to review the salaries, pension contributions and severance arrangements for the most senior and well-remunerated staff.

This follows considerable controversy around the wage levels of Chief Executive Kevin Lavery and the massive pay-offs to two directors, who left the authority voluntarily, while severence agreements were being reduced for ordinary staff members.

I believe it is wrong that there is such disparity between the salaries of the high-earners in senior positions at Cornwall Council and the wages of ordinary workers, who are employed at the Council or elsewhere in Cornwall.

But it is important that the review is open and fully transparent.

Never again must it be possible for the details of the employment contracts of senior officers to be kept secret from councillors. And never again can it be possible for the Council to pay a golden handshake to a departing director and to keep the amount secret, even from elected members, due to some confidentiality clause or legal agreement.

Con-Lib budget will hurt the less-well-off

In recent weeks, MK has called on the Coalition Government to re-think the savage cuts it is planning.

A new report from a respected think-tank, The Institute of Fiscal Studies, has now confirmed that the first budget from the new Conservative / Liberal Democrat Government is regressive.
It shows that Government plans to impose savage cuts across the public sector and to reduce benefits, while increasing VAT, will fall hardest on the less-well-off and the vulnerable.

These cuts will have a devastating impact on public services, health, education, as well as a host of vital local government services, affecting millions and millions of people. The effect on the wider economy could also be extremely damaging.

Cornwall is already seeing the impact of government cuts. The unitary council’s budget has been slashed by £17 million this year, the leadership of the Council has announced plans to cut 2,000 jobs over the next four years in anticipation of further cuts, and “Building Schools for the Future” projects in Cornwall have been cancelled.

MK has also condemned the Government for the divisive nature of many of its proposals. These include the reduction in housing benefit payments for families struggling to meet their housing costs in an over-inflated market, plans to undermine the security of tenure for council house tenants, and the part-privatisation of the education system through the ill-judged Academy and Free School schemes.

My good friend and colleague Cllr Stuart Cullimore summed it up well recently (in an MK press release). He said:

“The United Kingdom has a Government, led by millionaires from very privileged backgrounds, which is promoting regressive policies that will increase division in society … it is telling that the Government is targeting errors and fraud in the benefit system (estimated to be worth around £5 billion), but it is doing nothing meaningful to tackle the mega-bucks tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes of the well-heeled which could be worth over £40 billion a year to the Treasury. This is a Government of double-standards, with a different set of rules for the wealthy.”

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Keep Cornwall Whole

Mebyon Kernow has been extremely critical of the forthcoming review of parliamentary constituencies which could lead to a “Devon and Cornwall” cross-border seat.

It is fair to say that representations to the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, even from Lib Dem MPs like Dan Rogerson, have been rather casually dismissed.

Last week, I attended a meeting called by Adam Killeya, the Mayor of Saltash. It brought together over twenty people from a range of political viewpoints to consider how we ensure that the integrity of Cornwall is guaranteed. Attendees included two Lib MPs, a Lord and a number of Cornwall Councillors.

I was one of seven people who agreed to meet on Monday 16th August (tomorrow) to develop the campaign and the best way forward.

Time is certainly not on our side. The second reading of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill will be on 6th September.

There is already a website, which will be developed as the campaign progresses. See

LEPs - what is going on?

At the last full meeting of Cornwall’s unitary authority on 27th July, councillors unanimously supported a motion that Cornwall should “manage it’s own Local Enterprise Partnership rather than one which combines Cornwall with any other part of the mainland UK.”

Not one councillor argued against the motion tabled by Lib Dem Alex Folkes. A number of contributors to the debate focussed on how the “Devonwall” and “South West” arrangements of the past had so disadvantaged Cornwall and its communities.

And yet last week, a press release was sent out by Devon County Council on behalf of itself and the unitary councils of Cornwall, the Isles of Scilly, Plymouth and Torbay, announcing a proposed Peninsula Partnership LEP.

Apparently, the Peninsula Partnership LEP would be for “high level strategic purposes,” but there would also be a Cornwall LEP in some bizarre partial two-tier arrangement. This smaller LEP would apparently “focus on day-to-day economic development, tapping into existing structures such as the Cornwall Development Company, its unitary authority and the Convergence Partnership.”

To say that I am angry that the democratically agreed position of Cornwall Council may be circumvented would be an understanding.

I want no part of the sell-out that is going on behind closed-doors at County Hall. A Devonwall LEP is not an option as far as I am concerned and I will oppose it to the utmost.

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Strategic Planning Committee

Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee yesterday voted to oppose Wainhomes application for 1,300 properties on the north-west side of St Austell.

The application was proposed for land that was not identified for housing development in any local plans. The application was speculative with the company arguing that St Austell did not have a five-year supply of land for housing, as specified in Planning Policy Statement 3. This main argument was based on the ridiculous 15,700 target in the Proposed Changes version of the Regional Strategy for the South West 2006-2026, though regional strategies have recently been abolished since the application was submitted.

The company had already gone to “appeal” for non-determination (ie. the Council not dealing with application within the allocated time frame). The vote to contest the appeal was unanimous.

I am not a member of Strategic Planning Committee but attended in my role as the Chairman of the Planning Policy Panel. I outlined my view that Cornwall’s democratically-elected councillors should decide the amount of development to take place in the future and then assess all options in order to decide the best sites for that development – not for the process to be driven by landowners and large house-building firms.

It was also good to point out that a recent appeal at Binhamy Farm had been dismissed by the Secretary of State and his comments reinforced the position of the Council. His comments included the following:

“ … the now abandoned ‘Proposed Changes’ version of the Regional Strategy for the South West 2006-2026 should not be given any weight as a material consideration in its own right.”

“ … given that land supply only falls below five years if the calculation is done on the basis of the requirements in the abandoned Proposed Changes version of the Regional Strategy, the Secretary of State considers that, until it can be demonstrated otherwise, it is reasonable to determine the case of the basis that there is at least five year housing land supply in the … area.”

“ … the Council … should be given the opportunity to address housing needs and a reasonable time to do so through the preparation of Local Development Documents, and also that the extent to which [the town] should contribute to additional housing is a matter for this process. He gives weight to this consideration, as local planning authorities will now be responsible for establishing the right level of local housing provision in their area, and identifying a long term supply of housing land.”

This view from central government does give hope that communities will be able to prevent inappropriate developments in the future.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Cllr Neil Plummer joins MK Group

Councillor Neil Plummer (Stithians) has left the Independent Group on Cornwall Council to “cross the floor” and join the Mebyon Kernow Group.

First elected in 1984, Neil has represented his local area for over 25 years on Cornwall County Council and now Cornwall Council. He has been a member of MK for many years, but has always preferred to stand for election as an individual and serve his area as an independent councillor.

I understand that he has found himself increasingly out-of-step with the Independent Group at County Hall. He now believes the Mebyon Kernow Group would be a better home for him and would leave him free to continue to vote independently.

I have known Neil for many years and I welcome his decision to join the MK Group. He is a proud Cornishman and an experienced councillor, who puts Cornwall and its people first. We look forward to working with him in the coming months and years.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Incinerator ... eco-town ... ?

Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were the 31st, 32nd and 33rd days of the Public Inquiry into the Incinerator. All the evidence has now been tabled, witnesses cross-examined and we will next reconvene on the 4th, 5th and potentially 6th of October for the various parties to present their closing statements.

The final witness was Tim Greenwood, a planning consultant representing SITA, and this last week was necessary for the scrutiny of his arguments.

I won’t attempt the cover the minutae of the various discussions, but I will comment on something that has not been widely covered in the media. And that is the relationship of the proposed incinerator to the eco-town.

It was acknowledged at the Inquiry that the adjacent clay processing facilities would only be able to take 6-8% of the heat produced by the incinerator (allegedly a combined heat and power plant). SITA are now arguing, however, that the proposed eco-town developments at Drinnick/Nanpean and Blackpool could potentially take the heat and have stated they were in negotiations with Imerys. It even submitted a letter to this affect from Imerys, which was dated 2009.

We really grilled Mr Greenwood on this point. I asked about the negotiations. There was no answer because it was commercially confidential, we were told. I asked him about the likely timetable for the construction of the westernmost parts of the eco-town - again great certainty, though it was acknowledged that it would be a great many years before houses and industrial premises were likely to be built.

Mr Greenwood was also asked whether there were any negotiations with the new company ECO-BOS taking the eco-town forward or its main stakeholder ORASCOM. Again – no answer.

Everyone knows I am not a great supporter of the eco-town, but I would have thought it would aim to have wind turbines, ground-source heat pumps and other sustainable forms of heat generation. I would have thought it would not need to import heat over several miles, along an expensive infrastructure of pipework, from an unsustainable incinerator burning 240,000 tonnes of rubbish each year.

Isn’t it about time that the promoters of the eco-town scheme made a public statement that they are not interested in heat from the proposed incinerator?

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fair Funding for Cornwall

On the same day that the leadership of Cornwall Council announced plans for budget cuts, I persuaded the members of the Council to back calls for a Commission to investigate the underfunding of public services in Cornwall.

The motion to Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, which had cross-party support, noted that vital public services in Cornwall receive less funding than other parts of the United Kingdom, called for a Commission and for the Council to produce a briefing document which could be forwarded to central government.

Alec Robertson, the Conservative Leader of the Council, sought to add an extra section about the ongoing work of Cornish MPs but also to remove the reference to the Commission. I agreed to add the extra paragraph, but held firm on the call for a Commision. His resultant amendment was defeated by 42 to 34. Members from all parties, and the Cabinet, opposed the amendment.

All members supported the main motion when the key vote on the proposal was taken.

The text of the motion as agreed was as follows:

This Council:

Notes that hospitals, schools and vital public services in Cornwall receive less funding than other parts of the United Kingdom.

Notes that public sector cuts will have an especially adverse impact on Cornwall, if we continue to receive less than our fair share of government expenditure in the first instance.

Notes the actions of the six Cornish MPs, resulting in Andrew George MPs adjournment debate, and agrees to support our MPs in lobbying for fairer funding for Cornwall in relation to (i) the 2011/2012 financial settlement and (ii) the revision of Local Government finance, recently announced by the Coalition Government.

Writes to the new Coalition Government to seek a Commission to investigate the full extent of the underfunding of Cornwall, similar to the recent Holtham Commission in Wales.

Agrees to produce a briefing document, outlining our broad concerns about the underfunding of Cornwall, which can also be forwarded to central government.

The Council had earlier unanimously agreed a motion to work towards the setting up of a Local Enterprise Partnership for Cornwall.

Cuts at Cornwall Council

On Tuesday, the leadership of Cornwall announced plans to deal with projected 30% cuts in Government funding. The Chief Executive has made the following statement within Cornwall Council:

“The headlines are that we are taking decisive action now to ensure we protect essential services for the people of Cornwall. We will be setting our own emergency budget for 2011 in November, soon after the Government's comprehensive spending review.

“We are anticipating cuts of around 30% in Government funding over the next four years which means we need to find £110 million savings from 2011 onwards. Our message is clear - we need to act speedily to protect services and jobs. If we don't, it will lead to more difficult decisions having to be made in the future. We want to make decisions ourselves now so that we are not in the position of being told where to make cuts further down the line.

“As I have already said in previous messages, jobs are undoubtedly going to be affected. Pay and wages make up around half of the Council's budget and current estimates suggest that around 2,000 jobs will go over the next few years.”

Monday, 26 July 2010

Cornish Constitutional Convention

It turned out that I did speak at Saturday’s Cornish Constitutional Convention Conference after all. I became the substitute for Conservative MP Sarah Newton who was poorly and could not attend.

Ten years after the formation of the Convention (see above), I felt it to be important that we celebrated the dedication of the many people, who have campaigned so hard for devolution to Cornwall over the last decade and for the many years before that.

In particular, in my short speech, I focussed on the Declaration for a Cornish Assembly campaign that was launched by MK in 2000 and carried forward in partnership with the Convention. It remains a massive achievement to have collected 50,000 declarations demanding greater Cornish home rule and is the bedrock on which we can build.

The BBC’s Graham Smith has already blogged about the Conference on The event was also filmed and will be accessible on Cornwall Council's website from Tuesday or Wednesday.

Commenting on the non-appearance of Sarah Newton however, Graham Smith did note that the panel “ended up being five middle-aged, middle class blokes.” Graham ... at 43, I may be getting on a bit but I will never be anything other than a working-class chap from Cornwall.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Eco-town - Vision and Principles, Principles, Principles, ...

It is well-known that I am sceptical about the eco-town planned for the St Austell / China Clay Area. And today, I had the “pleasure” to chair the latest meeting of Cornwall Council’s Planning Policy Panel.

We were presented with a working draft of the Vision and Principles for the development. The seven key identified principles were:

Principle 1 - Symbiotic Relationship with St Austell
Mutually beneficial relationship between the Eco-town, St Austell and villages

Principle 2 - Vibrant Hearts
Concentrate most intensive uses at most accessible point.

Principle 3 - Sense of Place
Identity of the place, open spaces, wilderness and distinctive character to influence public realm and character

Principle 4 - Balanced and Empowered Community
An inclusive community for all ages

Principle 5 - Continued Innovation
Develop opportunities for innovation in the areas of ecology, economy, social, built environment and green technology

Principle 6 - Integrate Place with Natural Systems
Give meaning to the eco in eco-town by combining urban and natural fabric and raised awareness

Principle 7 - Partnership Working & Delivery
Bringing together strategic partners and organisations.

At the meeting, some of my colleagues were very supportive of the eco-town initiative but others were more critical. Obviously when faced with such “planning” speak as shown above, I has a lot to say.

But whether we like it or not, the principle of an eco-town near St Austell is contained within a Planning Policy Statement produced by the last Labour Government. The principle of the development is therefore established in “national” planning policy, unless the new Coalition revokes the relevant PPS.

I have heard no indication that this is going to happen and it is clear that the main role of the Planning Policy Panel is likely to be challenging the direction and resultant detail of the five component parts of the proposal, rather than the actual principle of the development itself.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

A response from Bert Biscoe

This morning I have received an email from Bert Biscoe in response to yesterday's blog about his articles in the Western Morning News.

Dear Dick,

I have read your remarks. I apologise to Mebyon Kernow, which I have always known to be inclusive and outward-looking in both its principles and its activities. It was not my intention to imply anything negative about the Party, or indeed, any of the mainstream Parties and politicians at work in Cornwall. You are right that the quote might be taken to infer an allegation of exclusivity. It was clumsy of me.

I'm sure that you would agree, however, that there are self-proclaimed 'nationalists' and others (eg 'national liberationists!') who attempt to perpetrate a confused ideology of separatism, exclusivity and negativity, whose activities and statements often bring Cornwall and Cornish people into disrepute and undermine the principles and objectives which, in so many spheres, you and I and many others across the political spectrum share. I'm sure that you share my contempt for such views.

I would be happy if you care to print this statement in the blog. Unfortunately, it is too late to rectify it in the WMN but I have dispatched the above as a letter to the editor.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Cornish Constitutional Convention

This Saturday, I will be attending a Conference marking the tenth anniversary of the founding of the Cornish Constitutional Convention.

I was one of the three founders of this organisation and its Vice-chairman for the first few years. I have not been directly involved for a number of years, because I disagreed with its subsequent direction. This was particularly around the time of the “unitary council” debate, when the divisions between “local government” and “regional / national government” for Cornwall were unforgivably blurred by too many.

The Western Morning News is presently running a series of articles from Convention Chairman Bert Biscoe and, I have to say, I am more than a little annoyed. One quote from Bert, which has appeared in both yesterday’s and today’s paper, said:

“The campaign is not a nationalist or politically biased campaign. It is inclusive, serious about improving conditions and prospects for all those living in and doing business with Cornwall.”

As the Leader of Mebyon Kernow, I am offended by this statement. It is simply unacceptable for Bert Biscoe to, once again, imply that those of us who are happy to describe ourselves as Cornish nationalists, are somehow not inclusive.

I am extremely proud of the fact that MK is an inclusive and welcoming political party, that is campaigning for devolution to the historic nation of Cornwall (which obviously makes us nationalists) and a better deal for all the people of Cornwall. Or to paraphrase Mr Biscoe, we are “serious about improving conditions and prospects for all those living in and doing business with Cornwall.”

For the record, given that so many MK members have campaigned so hard for devolution to Cornwall during the last decade, I would like to put it on record that I am disappointed that a representative of MK has not been asked to address the conference.

The speakers will be Kevin Lavery, the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council, Conservative MP Sarah Newton and the Conservative leader of Cornwall Council Alec Robertson, Lib Dem MP Andrew George and Lib Dem Welsh Assembly member Mike German.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

"Fair funding for Cornwall" motion

I can report that I have tabled a motion for debate at the next Full Council Meeting of Cornwall Council on Tuesday 27th July. The wording is as follows:

This Council:

Notes that hospitals, schools and vital public services in Cornwall receive less funding than other parts of the United Kingdom.

Notes that public sector cuts will have an especially adverse impact on Cornwall, if we continue to receive less than our fair share of government expenditure in the first instance.

Writes to the new Coalition Government to seek a Commission to investigate the full extent of the underfunding of Cornwall, similar to the recent Holtham Commission in Wales.

Agrees to produce a briefing document, outlining our broad concerns about the underfunding of Cornwall, which can also be forwarded to central government.

The motion is seconded by Cllr Stuart Cullimore (MK) and is also supported by Les Donnithorne (Liberal Democrat), Andrew Long (MK), Neil Plummer (Independent) and Terry Wilkins (Conservative).

Cuts, cuts and cuts

Throughout the months of June and July, we have seen severe cuts in public spending announced in Cornwall. The unitary Council has been told to cut over £13 million from its budget for this financial year, while the Building Schools for the Future project has been sidelined. This means that £75 million to refurbish six schools in the first wave has been lost and future funding to refurbish and replace school buildings will no longer be available.

The new Government has also failed to heed our calls to address the under-funding of public services in Cornwall.

If that was not bad enough, today’s news that the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government has frozen match funding for Cornwall’s Convergence programme absolutely beggars belief.

Public sector cuts will have an especially adverse impact on Cornwall, if we continue to receive less than our fair share of government expenditure in the first instance.

But for central government not to match-fund EU structural funding, which we only receive because of our low economic performance, could cost hundreds of jobs in Cornwall and see many businesses fail.

It makes one wonder – what is the point of having six Cornish MPs in the Coalition if this is what they come up with!

Monday, 12 July 2010

How much did they really spend?

This month, on his BBC blog, Graham Smith has inspected the declared returns of General Election candidates in Cornwall and posted a number of blog entries on how campaign funds were spent.

For the St Austell and Newquay constituency, where I stood, he noted the following:

Dick Cole (Mebyon Kernow) spent £4,708.20 for 2,007 votes - £2.35 each
Caroline Righton (Conservative) spent £40,968.07 for 18,877 votes - £2.17 each
Steve Gilbert (Liberal Democrat) spent £33,852.39 for 20,189 votes - £1.68 each
Clive Medway (UKIP) spent £947.50 for 1,757 votes - 54 pence each
James Fitton (BNP) spent £400 for 1,022 votes - 39 pence each
Lee Jameson (Labour) spent £1,208.75 for 3,386 votes - 36 pence each

The above figures relate to the ‘long’ campaign – January 1st 2010 to polling day on May 6th 2010. Graham also blogged that in the ‘short’ campaign (the three weeks after the election was called officially) Stephen Gilbert spent £12,375.42 while Caroline Righton spent £12,344.97.

But is this the full story? Of course not!

My expenditure was primarily two A3 full colour leaflets (my election communication delivered by Royal Mail as is the case for all candidates, and one hand-delivered by supporters), some black and white A4 leaflets, posters and timber for boards.

This is quite a contrast to what was spent by, for example, the Liberal Democrat victor in St Austell and Newquay Stephen Gilbert.

As well as the ‘election communications’ allowed to all candidates during the main election period I have received at least eight leaflets and two 12 page booklets from Stephen during a period of 18 months. All were delivered by the Royal Mail. This year, we also received three targeted letters, again all delivered by the Royal Mail, and – 48 hours after polling day - I received a further hand addressed envelope (second class stamp).

For the purposes of the return, I understand that expenditure prior to 2010 did not need to be recorded. There were, of course, also Lib Dem leaflets that were delivered around the seat by hand and then there is the costs of posters and other campaign ephemera.

My household also received a further letter in the name of Vince Cable, while my parents received two communications from Nick Clegg – all again via Royal Mail. I also understand that this expenditure does not need to be recorded as the candidate’s name was not mentioned.

It will come as no surprise that I believe expenditure recorded by the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives is much less than what they actually spent.

The main parties were also given enormous amounts of coverage on UK-wide television including the leaders’ debates, parliamentary broadcasts, features on local TV, as well as UK-wide newpapers. Just think what that was all worth to them!

MK on the other hand was denied our own election broadcast and even excluded from fair coverage on local TV. But, before Graham says anything, I think Radio Cornwall treated my campaign in St Austell and Newquay fairly.

Note: I have concentrated on the Liberal Democrats for this blog entry as I have mislaid some of the Conservative leaflets that I received. But suffice to say, I think the same applies to them. They sent out a number of leaflets via Royal Mail, including letters from senior Tories such as George Osborne, and spent loads on billboard advertising throughout Cornwall which is not linked to any individual campaign because the actual candidates were not featured.