Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Coalition need to rethink approach to economy

My latest article in the Cornish Guardian looks at the growing problems in the UK economy. It was as follows:

Headline after headline in recent weeks has painted a gloomy picture of the economic problems facing the United Kingdom, casting significant doubt on the wisdom of the British Government’s austerity drive.

I believe it was the economist John Maynard Keynes who said that “When the facts change, I change my mind".

Isn’t it time that David Cameron and George Osborne took his advice, admitted that circumstances are changing, looked again at the scope and depth of the cuts they are implementing, and found a new and different way forward?

The Coalition continues to make the argument that severe cuts to public spending will not damage the economy, and that job losses in the public sector will be more than compensated for by growth in the private sector.

But figures show that this assertion is false. The latest figures, for the three months leading up to June, show that 111,000 jobs were lost in the public sector during this period but that the private sector created only 41,000 new jobs across the UK.

Over a similar three-month period, unemployment figures show that 80,000 people joined the dole queue – taking the number of people out of work to above 2.5 million. This is a two-year high.

I consider that the Government’s approach is both wrong and counter-productive. It’s drastic spending cuts have reduced growth, as tax receipts from working people have fallen and welfare costs have increased. This makes no sense at all!

What is more, the International Monetary Fund has acknowledged that the UK’s economic performance is much weaker than anticipated, and has cut its growth forecasts for the UK economy.

It has advised the Coalition to consider slowing the pace of deficit reduction and, along with a number of economists, has stated that there is a strong possibility that the UK could fall back into recession – signalling the much feared double-dip recession.

As the cuts start to bite and people worry about the provision of public services in their local areas, it is not surprising that there is also increasing public dissatisfaction with the actions of the Government.

Recent polls are clearly showing that people think that the Government is cutting public expenditure unfairly, and that the cuts are both too fast and too deep.

Taking into account all the economic indicators being reported at the present, surely now is the time for the Government to think again and to reduce its programme of cuts, thereby safeguarding jobs and boosting economic activity?

I must admit the idea for using the Keynes quote came from an old Guardian article by Polly Toynbee. Thanks Polly.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

A sad loss for Cornwall Council

It is sad to hear the news that Cllr Mike Clayton died on Monday. Mike was an extremely hardworking and committed councillor, who was respected across the council chamber.

He was an Independent and served Wendron Division. As well as being Deputy Leader of the Independent group, he was Chairman of the Electoral Review Panel, though his personal focus was planning matters.

Mike was the Council’s Planning Champion and he assisted me with the work of the Planning Policy Panel, for which he was Vice-Chairman. It was a real pleasure to work with Mike on a range of issues and, in particular, he lead initiatives to provide affordable housing for local people in rural areas.

Mike was a good friend to so many of us, he had real heart, and will be greatly missed.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Anti-incinerator group says Council's alternative costs are "a fallacy"

Anti-incinerator group StackAttack has today claimed that the Council’s estimate for an alternative option to the incinerator planned for St Dennis is “wildly misleading.”

StackAttack claim that Freedom of Information requests reveal a huge discrepancy between claimed and likely costs.

Spokesperson Oliver Baines has said: “It’s hard to conceive how they have got this so wrong. The Council claimed, in public, that not going ahead with the incinerator would cost Cornwall £322m. Information provided by the Council under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed a catalogue of errors in their calculations. Our realistic assessment is that their figure should be not £322m, but £132m.

“That’s a staggering discrepancy of £190m. The difference is so huge that we wonder how the Council managed to achieve it or whether it actively sought to mislead the public, or whether Councillors themselves have been misled. It obviously had in mind the cost of building the incinerator – £165m – as a target figure to exceed, to prove that not having the incinerator is more expensive than having it. What we didn’t expect was such a wild over-estimate. I wonder what Councillors will think about having the wool pulled over their eyes.”

Diana Padwick, one of StackAttack’s founders, has added: “The information reveals that the reality is the opposite of what the Council claims and that the cost of the incinerator, at £165m, will be £33m more than the alternative.

“It is scarcely credible that Cornwall Council can claim the alternative would be so massively more expensive when in fact it will be £33m cheaper.

“The only explanation we can see for this incinerator still being pursued is that Cornwall Council, having made a decision somewhere between 6 and 12 years ago to do so, entered a contract with SITA and has failed to see that the world has changed in the meantime. If it is to keep up with rapidly changing technologies, year on year reductions in waste and dramatic increases in recycling, it needs to look again at its calculations, urgently.”

Update on waste incinerator

I have been informed that Cornwall Council will today commence works on the access road to the proposed site for the waste incinerator near St Dennis.

This follows the decision of the Council’s Cabinet in July to push ahead with works “at risk” on the incinerator project – before the necessary revised project plan (and costs) have been agreed and before the outcome of the Section 288 challenge brought by local people is known.

I remain nonplussed by this decision. How can the Council start works on a project before it has taken the decision as to whether the increased costs, that will be outlined in the revised project plan, are acceptable?

You may recall that in an entry on this blog some two months ago, I reported on a meeting of the Council’s Waste Panel, when officers refused to tell councillors what the costs of the project would be, even though a likely contract price had been agreed between SITA and their preferred provider.

We were told that we would be told the cost when it was presented to the Cabinet for agreement in the Autumn!

I have since found out that in a letter written by the Council to the High Court in order to facilitate a speedy hearing of the Section 288 challenge included certain information about aspects of the costs, options on land, etc, that was not shared with the members of the Waste Panel.

The letter was written only three days after the Waste Panel and I have complained why such information was not made available to the elected members of the Council.

To say that I am jaded by what is happening would be a massive understatement. I do not like being kept in the dark and I will continue to challenge this process at every opportunity.

Back from my holidays

There have been few blog entries in recent days, as I have been away for one week of “hard-earned” holiday in Snowdonia.

To anyone who is interested, the break was wonderful. Ann and I even stomped to the very top of Snowdon (see above). We chose what we thought would be the best day and yet we had to trek up through dense fog, arriving at the summit in torrential rain. Thank goodness, there was a café there with steaming cups of tea to enjoy.

The weather did eventually clear – it was great to be able to view North Wales for miles – and I have come to the conclusion that I am not half as fit as I used to be. Too much time spent seated in council meetings, no doubt.

Anyway, back to blogging!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Total Politics 2011 Blog Awards – some more thanks

The latest rankings in the Blog Awards have been announced and my blog has been listed in two more categories. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to vote for this blog – much appreciated!

The blog has been listed at no 13 in ‘top 35 councillor blogs,’ alongside six other Cornish councillors.

While in ‘top blogs overall’ it have been listed twice – at no 143 as Mebyon Kernow and at no 232 as Cllr Dick Cole. Not sure what is going on there, but I understand others have pointed out inconstistencies. Some editing of the lists is clearly needed!

UPDATE: The double-entry has been sorted. The final placing for this blog in 'top blog overall' has edged into the top 100 - at no 92.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

The sale of the Restormel Offices - no answers at Cabinet!

The members of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet today voted to develop a business case for the sale of Council offices in St Austell, and to appoint Terrace Hill Properties Limited as their preferred bidder for the site.

The report presented to the Cabinet claimed that they could sell off part of the site to a supermarket and use the capital receipt to build new offices at a cost of about £12 million.

I spoke at the meeting and opposed the proposal, raising a number of issues for the Cabinet to address.

Local member consultation
Six months ago, I found out about the possible sell-off via the front pages of local newspapers. I complained that local members from the wider area (eg. the China Clay Area, St Blazey, Par, etc) had not been informed.

Councillors from these areas were promised that they would be kept informed, but this did not happen. We finally got a short briefing last week after we heard rumours from junior members of staff and took the initiative ourselves to approach the Head of Property.

It does not stack up!
I pointed out the potential receipt from the sale (which was included within confidential papers) suggested to me that the whole thing did not make financial sense.

An important centre
I also outlined my view that St Austell should be a key centre for the authority and I had little faith in promises that there would continue to be a strong Cornwall Council presence in the town.
I pointed out that numerous members of staff were being moved out of the St Austell offices. Another member added that it was obvious that the offices were deliberately being run down.

Examples I gave included the fact that legal staff are about to be moved to Camborne; Electoral Services is now based in South East and candidates for next months town council by-election in St Austell will have to travel to Liskeard to drop off their nomination papers; staff dealing with the proposed St Austell eco-town are based in Truro; and most planning staff thought they were being moved to Truro until a few days ago. I could go on!

Maintenance backlog?
Other arguments presented by the Cabinet Member and Head of Property included the assertion the building’s layout was “inefficient” and there was a significant maintenance backlog. Yet it was only 12 months ago that we were told that the Penwinnick offices were amongst the best that Cornwall Council had. What is more, there will be a growing maintenance backlog if this Council continues to neglect the St Austell offices (presumably in the expectation of a sale!)

Surplus land
For my last point, I pointed that if we as a Council did find surplus land at any time, we should not sell it to supermarkets but, where appropriate, should go into partnership with local developers to provide proper affordable housing for local people.

The Cabinet response
The leader addressed the lack of consultation and promised there would be consultation with all local members in the future (just like they did six months ago).

All the other issues that I raised were ignored, they were not discussed and no comments were forthcoming.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Devonwall seat - consultation news

The “Boundary Commission for England” is consulting on their proposed new parliamentary constituencies for Cornwall and England. It will be for a 12-week period, from 13 September 2011 to 5 December 2011.

In their supporting document, they state that they “cannot recommend constituencies that have electorates that are more or less than 5% from the electoral quota (apart from the two covering the Isle of Wight).”

I, on the other hand, believe we have a responsibility to make the case for Cornwall-only constituencies and to continue to show the strength of feeling against the ridiculous proposal for a Devonwall constituency.

Indeed, let’s send them an absolute avalanche of representations which will make central government think again or to encourage MPs to develop backbones and vote against the changes.

Written representations can be via a consultation website, at Or emailed to or sent in writing to: Boundary Commission for England, 35 Great Smith Street, London, SW1P 3BQ.

The Commission will also be holding a public hearing in Cornwall which will take place at the Alverton Manor Hotel in Truro on 10th and 11th November. I will blog again when I have more details.

But, in the meantime, lets get writing …

Top left wing blogs - number 41

The Total Politics magazine has started publishing the results for its Blog Awards 2011.

There are a number of different categories and I am pleased that this blog has been placed in the top 75 left wing blogs. I have come in at position 41.

May I say a big thank you to everyone who took the time to vote for this site. It is much appreciated.

Cornwall is well-represented in this section of the awards. A number of other Cornish bloggers, some with MK links, were also placed. These include the Cornish Zetetic’s site (position 47), Cllr Stephen Richardson's (position 53), Rob Simmon’s (position 64) and Simon Reed’s has sneaked in at position 75.

Well done to one and all.

Monday, 12 September 2011

BAD NEWS: Coalition plans for Devonwall seat announced

The “Boundary Commission for England” has today published its recommendations for constituency boundaries for the next General Election.

And, following the refusal of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs / Lords to protect the territorial integrity of Cornwall, a cross-Tamar Devonwall has been recommended.

They wish it to be called Bideford & Bude and it would include the following Cornwall Council divisions: Altarnun, Bude North and Stratton, Bude South, Camelford, Flexbury and Poughill, Launceston Central, Launceston North, Launceston South, Poundstock, St Teath, Tintagel.

It has been well reported that there is a growing anxiety amongst MPs about the final outcome of the boundary review and it has been suggested that many, who face losing their seats and livelihoods, might oppose the legislation.

Now is the time for us to use this announcement to put pressure on the Coalition and their MPs to oppose the changes which will need to be agreed by Parliament.

Now is the time to fight back and to do all in our power to undermine the legislation.

Tory Ministers guilty of "breathtaking hypocrisy"

Government Ministers including Eric Pickles (Planning), the Chancellor George Osborne and Grant Shapps (Housing) have this week been accused of “breathtaking hypocrisy” by the Guardian newspaper.

Collectively, these men are spearheading moves to relax planning guidelines, making it more difficult for local people to oppose planning applications. But the newspaper reports that they have also been prominent in campaigns against developments in their own areas.

George Osborne has campaigned against two incinerator proposals and was even honorary president of one campaign group.

Eric Pickles meanwhile opposed a composting facility in his Essex constituency, arguing that waste should not carried over long distances.

And yet, this is the man who as Secretary of State, and in spite of widespread local opposition, sanctioned the construction of a massive incinerator at St Dennis.

In an interview with the Western Morning News (2nd July), he has even admitted that he did not read the Inspector’s report, stating that he did “not know the details of St Dennis, as decisions can be taken in his name.”

I believe that Government Ministers are guilty of “breathtaking hypocrisy,” while Eric Pickles is also guilty of negligence and an indifference to areas other than his own.

Statement of the week: “We are where we are …”

Last week, councillor after councillor began speeches with the awful phrase: “We are where we are …”

Whether it was in the Waste Panel, or in the Scrutiny Committee discussing cuts to the budget for discretionary bus fares, they somehow felt that this statement passed blame onto some past group of councillors, or some past action, and insulated them from having to properly explore a different way forward.

I would suggest this phrase represents a failure to challenge.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

A dysfunctional housing market!

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian looks at planning matters again. It is as follows:

The Government is continuing to attract significant criticism for its proposed National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF), which one Tory MP has announced will allow developers to build “what they like, where they like and when they like.”

The Framework has been denounced as “cavalier,” while opponents have accused the Coalition of “downgrading the rules which protect the natural environment” and distorting the meaning of sustainability to “mean its mirror opposite.”

At the same time, Government housing minister Grant Shapps has acknowledged that house prices in Britain have become "too unaffordable" while the National Housing Foundation has branded Britain’s housing market to be "totally dysfunctional.”

But their simplistic solution, in line with their planning framework, is to “build, build and build.” This is simply wrong, especially for Cornwall and its communities.

Let’s look back at the last few years and a few facts and figures.

In 1991, Cornwall had about 190,000 occupied dwellings. Over the last twenty years, over 45,000 new properties were built – an increase of 25% in housing stock. And yet, in spite of all this building, house prices went up and up!

Indeed, in the ten years from 1997, house prices almost tripled while private sector rents have also spiralled out of control. But wages, in areas like ours, have climbed by only 35% over the last decade.

The Housing Minister may talk about the high cost of housing, but his Government is doing little to reduce the cost of renting or purchasing a house, especially in low wage areas like Cornwall.

In terms of “affordable housing,” the Government is actually doing the exact opposite and now wants housing associations to charge more for their rental properties.

If Grant Shapps and his colleagues are serious about dealing with the dysfunctional housing market in this country, there is much they can do.

They could and should investigate legislation to control prices in the private rented sector – so that people are not paying out a disproportionate amount of their income to simply keep a roof over their heads.

They need to increase government investment in the delivery of truly affordable homes for local people, and to rebuild a public rented sector with rents kept as low as possible.

And they need to take on the banks who are denying many young families fair mortgages by demanding huge deposits and, in many cases, refusing mortgages to people seeking affordable properties.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Statement of the day: I'm proud to be Cornish, but ...

In the debate on a public holiday on St Piran's Day, and in the Members' Library after the meeting, it was amazing how many councillors uttered sentences along the lines of:

"I'm proud to be Cornish, but ..."

"No-one is a prouder Cornishman than me, but ..."

"I'm Cornish, but ..."

It is all very disappointing and it shows why Cornwall needs more Mebyon Kernow councillors.

Other debates at County Hall

There were two further debates at Cornwall Council today.

The first was a Liberal Democrat motion which sought to monitor the number of staff and salaries, etc, in the three operational areas of the unitary council – known romantically in New County Hall as east, central and west.

The aim was to make information available to encourage a fairer deployment of resources across Cornwall and it was supported by a majority of councillors. It was ironic (understatement of the year) though to see Lib Dem councillors blaming others for the centralisation they caused by pushing through the unitary authority in the first place!

A large number of the concerns came from councillors in the north and east of Cornwall. My contribution was to point out that the impact of the centralising influences stretched further than that. I raised concerns that the Council’s presence in St Austell faced being downgraded due to the influence of Truro and likewise Penzance is losing out to Camborne and elsewhere.

The final motion dealt with by the Council was to acknowledge serious under-funding of the NHS in Cornwall and to challenge the Secretary of State to uplift Cornwall’s health funding by £20.6 million in this financial year in order to combat the underspend.

Unsurprisingly, this was carried unanimously.

Councillors not standing up for Cornwall

At the full meeting of Cornwall Council this afternoon, councillors had the opportunity to support a motion which simply instructed the Chief Executive to respond to a consultation stating that any change to existing bank holidays should lead to the creation of a public holiday for St Piran’s Day.

Sadly, councillors voted to defer making a decision – including many who, in the previous debate, spoke out so strongly against Devonwall and in favour of greater powers for Cornwall.

As I said at the meeting – if the Council does not make this simple representation it will show how its lacks ambition and sees Cornwall as merely a nameless, rural hinterland somewhere to the west of Plymouth.

If a St Andrew’s Day holiday is ok for the nation of Scotland; if a St David’s Day holiday is a possibility for the nation of Wales – then we must argue for parity and a St Piran’s Day holiday for the historic Celtic nation of Cornwall.

I was one of a number of councillors who recorded their names as voting against the amendment to defer this item.

For information - with the exception of the MK Group, all other groups on the Council were split when it came to the vote.

Councillors standing up for Cornwall

At the full meeting of Cornwall Council this morning, councillors voted to strongly assert their anger at the shift towards an elected Police Commissioner for “Devon and Cornwall,” and to not support the Chief Executive becoming the PARO (Police Area Returning Officer) for the Commissioner Elections if they happen next May.

The heart of the motion was to “send a strong cross-party delegation to the Home Secretary to assert stronger Cornish representation in governance, opposition to Devonwall, assessment of the case for a Cornish Commissioner and Police Force, principle of democratic governance and accountability.”

It was also good to see some councillors at the meeting standing tall and demanding action for “our country” or “nation” – and it wasn’t the usual suspects!