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.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

MK opposes "Devonwall" constituency

Mebyon Kernow has hit out at plans from the Conservative / Liberal Democrat Coalition for a review of parliamentary constituencies which could lead to a “Devon and Cornwall” cross-border constituency.

The Government this week announced plans for a referendum on an Alternative Vote system for the next General Election, but also proposed a reduction in the number of seats from 650 to 600. Each constituency would have around 78,000 voters and it has been stated that the constituencies should not deviate by more than 5% from this average size. It has been widely predicted that a cross-Tamar constituency could be created.

As a Party we are committed to the Single Transferable Vote and are disappointed that the referendum is only for the Alternative Vote and not a more proportional voting system.

But we find it unbelievable that leadership of the Lib Dems is actually promoting a cross-Tamar seat. It must be very upsetting for Lib Dem members in Cornwall to see the Deputy PM Nick Clegg so casually dismiss the call from Dan Rogerson MP for him to respect the “boundary between Cornwall and England,” trotting out the line that creating equal sized constituencies would outweigh all other considerations.

MK will fight to protect the integrity of Cornwall as a political unit, something that Nick Clegg and the Coalition Government do not even recognise as an issue.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Compensation for loss of office?

Last week, Cornwall Council’s draft Statement of Accounts 2009/2010 was published. This includes the details of the pay levels for top officers. It showed that 560 officers earned over £50,000 in the last financial year with thirty earning more than £100,000.

The report also shows that the Director of Corporate Support who left voluntarily in March received £78,750 “compensation for loss of office.” It also shows that the Corporate Director for Children, Schools and Families, who resigned in October, also received compensation but I do not know the amount because the draft accounts specify a “duty of confidentiality by virtue of a legal agreement.”

It is fair to say that “backbench” councillors on the new authority are not happy about the situation and questions are being asked about these pay-offs as well as the wider wage bill for senior officers.

I was contacted by the Western Morning News for my views on this situation, part of which was published. A few comments were then posted on the thisiscornwall website about me/councillors which I found unfair.

One person referred to councillors also being on a “gravy train,” there were comments about the part-time nature of councillors’ work and one lady said she did not think that “councillors should earn such a wage of 10,000 per annum unless they are forced to clock in and out every day like other employees.”For the record, there is no gravy train for councillors. And speaking for myself, I am a full time councillor usually working between 40-50 hours on council-related business each week, sometimes it is even more, and I have no other income.

This year, I will receive a basic allowance of £12,128 and a further £3,578 for chairing the Planning Policy Panel.

On the subject of staff pay, redundancy and other payments, etc, I have been consistent and outspoken. It is my belief that there should be less disparity between those at the top and those at lower levels of companies/Councils/etc.

When the unitary authority proposal was pushed through by the Liberal Democrats and senior officers of the County Council, it lead to a number of redundancies. Many of these were to very senior staff members (including the former Chief Executive), who benefited from generous severance packages.

In November last year, I was extremely critical of the decision by Cornwall Council’s cabinet to limit severance payments for future redundancies. I was told that those employees who would lose jobs as a consequence of the ‘transition’ period (ie. the actual shift to the unitary council) would have redundancy payments calculated on the old policies, but later job losses as part of the ‘transformation’ (whether identified in the unitary bid or not) and ‘efficiencies’ would be treated differently through new policies. I disagreed and remember describing the shift as inequitable and morally indefensible. The recently-departed Director of Corporate Support said the change was equitable.

I specifically railed against the fact that the extremely well-paid council officers did extremely well out of past arrangement, but that it would be less-well-paid staff members who would lose out in the future.

At the time I also sought clarification that all staff members would be treated the same in the future. I was told this would be so, but that was clearly untrue as we can see from the payments to the former Directors for Corporate Support and Children, Schools & Families.