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?