Monday, 30 April 2012

A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian looks at the Government’s record and, in particular, their plans for regional pay. It is as follows:

April was a bad month for the Government.

It is still reeling from the ongoing criticism of George Osborne’s unpopular budget – not least, for their planned tax-breaks for millionaires, negative changes to tax allowances for pensioners, as well as the VAT on pasties, VAT on works on Listed Buildings and more.

There was also the “petrol panic” following poor ministerial advice, as well as the ongoing Leveson Inquiry which focussed on links between the Government and Robert Murdoch’s newspaper empire.

In the House of Commons, their difficulties were even branded an “omni-shambles.”

And then, the news broke that economic growth had stalled, dropping the United Kingdom back into recession – the first “double dip” recession in decades.

I believe this clearly shows that the Chancellor’s harsh and unforgiving austerity programme has been a failure. The Government has cut public spending too severely and the promised private sector progress has been much slower than they predicted.

It is the less-well-off and ordinary working people, in places like Cornwall, that have suffered most from Government reforms and the cuts to public services.

Indeed, the Sunday Times “Rich List” shows that the fortunes of the UK’s one thousand wealthiest people have actually increased by nearly 5% during the last year – making them richer than ever before.

To make matters worse, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has also announced that he backs lower pay for NHS staff in poorer areas – with the only exception to be highly-paid managers tasked to deliver the Government’s controversial and unpopular reforms to the National Health Service.

Lansley’s plan for regional pay would mean that nurses, midwives, paramedics, porters and cleaners would earn less in deprived areas like ours, while employees in more affluent areas would get more.

For decades, there have been campaigns to ensure that individuals get a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work and do not lose out because of their gender, race or personal circumstances.

So how can it be right that public sector workers could be paid less because they happen to work in Cornwall?

It is disgraceful that the Government wants to entrench Cornwall as a low wage area, siphoning off money to be spent in London and the South East, increasing inequality across the UK.

This is unacceptable and the Coalition must be made to think again.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The “Pasty Tax” Protest March

Well done to Kernow King, the organisers of the “Pasty Tax” Protest March, and the hundreds who attended in truly appalling weather.

I was disappointed that I could not attend, but I was out of Cornwall due to a prior commitment.

But from looking at the pictures on Facebook, it looked like a truly fantastic Cornish event, with the banners showing great humour while pulling no punches!

Once again, well done all! Cornwall is proud of you.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Free Cornish Nation

Mebyon Kernow has just brought out its latest edition of “Cornish Nation” magazine, which is published three times a year.

If you are an MK member, your copy is in the process of being sent out to you.

This edition covers a range of topics such as MK’s view on Cornwall Council’s Core Strategy, opposition to the “Pasty Tax,” the election of Leanne Wood as the leader of Plaid Cymru, and much, much more.

A free copy of “Cornish Nation” is available on request from If you would like a copy, please forward your contact details and specify whether you would like the magazine in either hard copy or as a pdf.

New investment in Indian Queens School

On Thursday, I attended a meeting of the Children’s Overview and Scrutiny Committee, which discussed a matter of great significance to my local Parish.

The report concerned the number of children seeking places in Cornwall’s primary schools and reported that “there is only one area within the county where reception intake pressure for September 2012 cannot be managed without provision of additional accommodation.” This was St Enoder Division with the schools under greatest pressure being Indian Queens CP School and Summercourt CP School.

It was acknowledged that applications for reception places for September 2012 significantly exceeded the capacity of the two schools. Put simply, the two schools have a combined PAN (pupil admission numbers) total of 60, but they are almost 80 applications. The report stated the following:

“In terms of deliverability, given site capacity and potential for expansion at the two schools it is recommended that Indian Queens CP is the Preferred Option to meet demand for additional Reception places in the local area.  High level options have therefore been considered to expand/rationalise existing accommodation in order to ensure that Indian Queens CP School is able to accommodate a minimum of 300 pupils in 10 classes from September 2012.

“A temporary interim solution (Elliott classroom) will need to be provided in order to ensure a sufficient number of places are available to accommodate the September 2012 reception intake. A permanent build solution (potentially to enable the school to accommodate 330 pupils in order to ‘future proof’ provision) will then need to be scoped and implemented if the school is to continue to meet the forecast level of demand for places in the local area in the longer-term.”

I welcome this news but acknowledge there is much to sort and I look forward to supporting the headteacher, her team and council staff in coming up with a proper solution for the area, ensuring that all local children get a school place in their local parish in the coming years.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Pasty Tax Protest March

If you can, join Kernow King at the Pasty Tax Protest March in Falmouth on Sunday.

Let us hope that Cornwall can send a strong message to the Coalition Government.

Cornwall Council, waste and failure

My column in this week’s Cornish Guardian focuses on Cornwall Council’s new waste collection contract. I deliberately tried to be balanced, but given the extent of complaints that are still coming through I now feel I should have been much less forgiving. The article was as follows:

Launched on 1st April, Cornwall Council’s new waste collection and recycling service, run by private company Cory, has been slammed by thousands of residents as a disaster.

Many hundreds of homes have yet to receive their new recycling containers, there have been many thousands of missed collections, and heaps of rubbish have piled up on the streets of our towns and villages. There have also been numerous other problems, relating to green waste and dog mess.

There were always going to be some teething issues, but the scale of the problems has proved to be truly immense. There have been so many complaints that the Council’s call centre – even with extra staff – could not cope.

Indeed, it has been confirmed that, in the first week of the new arrangements, 50% of calls were not answered. Those people who did get through were promised action within 48 hours, but time and time again, this did not materialise.

It is to be welcomed that both Cornwall Council and Cory have issued a full apology to local residents, and agreed that there should be a full inquiry into what happened.

Like other Cornwall Councillors, I have monitored problems both in my local area and across Cornwall as a whole. It is clear that some dreadful mistakes were made and it has to be concluded that Cory were inadequately prepared for the commencement of the contract which has been mishandled.

Some of the lorries were too large to access certain Cornish streets, the allocation of staff to new rounds compounded difficulties, and the publicity relating to the new service could, and should, have been much, much better. In the former Restormel area, for example, many of the residents did not realise that the Conservative-led administration at County Hall had downgraded their recycling collection from a weekly to a fortnightly service by terminating the SERCO contract (which, for the record, I did not support).

But in all fairness, we must accept that it was a mammoth undertaking to replace individual waste collection services from the former district council areas with one Cornwall-wide service with 470,000 individual weekly collections.

We should also commend those individuals on the frontline – collecting our waste and recycling, or serving in the call centre – who have worked extra hours to seek to resolve the problems caused by a massive failure of management.

However, the time for excuses has passed. The leadership of Cornwall Council and the management of Cory must get to grips with delivering the new service and ensuring that it is of an extremely high standard for all residents.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Update on Indian Queens Pit

Work started on the new community building at Indian Queens Pit about ten days ago. The old poor-quality modular building, asbestos store and old toilet have been removed.

Unfortunately for the Pit Association, we have found mining remains.

We knew there was a strong likelihood that we might encounter shafts or other features, and included a contingency within the funding for the project.

A mining assessment was carried out with a digger to explore whether there were any remains in the area of the building – and we have identified five features in the vicinity of the footing of the building, including a shaft and stoping.

We are now liaising with our mining expert, builder and others to consider what we do next. We will go forward but one thing is certain. The overall cost of the project has increased and fundraising therefore continues.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

“Pasty Tax:” Nick Clegg disowns Lib Dem leaflet from Cornwall

The Liberal Democrat Leader today appeared on the Sunday Politics show. He spoke in favour of the “Pasty Tax,” which he said was a Coalition policy which he had sanctioned. He also distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat leaflet distributed in a recent Truro by-election.

The exchange was as follows:

Andrew Neil: You signed off of the “Granny Tax.

Nick Clegg: Yes.

Andrew Neil: The “Caravan Tax.”

Nick Clegg: Yes.

Andrew Neil: The “Pasty Tax."

Nick Clegg: Yup.

Andrew Neil: And the Charity cap.

Nick Clegg: Yes. Yes.

Andrew Neil: You signed off on all of that. And if you did that, why then is this leaflet from your party … issued by the Lib Dems in Cornwall – “Stop the Tories taxing our pasties.”

Nick Clegg: I clearly disagree with that because as you quite rightly point out that was a Government decision - not popular in Cornwall - I dare say that you might be able to find some Conservative candidates who will be campaigning against this so-called “Pasty Tax.”

Nick Clegg: … Of course, I disagree with a leaflet which somehow suggests that the budget is not a Coalition budget …

No to Coalition plan for regional pay in the NHS

This weekend, Coalition Health Secretary Andrew Lansley has announced that he backs lower pay for NHS staff in poorer areas such as Cornwall.

Lansley’s plan for regional pay would mean that nurses, midwives, paramedics, porters and cleaners would earn less in areas such as Cornwall, while employees in London and South East of England would get more.

This is a disgraceful and totally unacceptable proposal.

Cornwall suffers from the lowest average wages in the UK, and yet the cost of living is especially high. Thousands are struggling to access housing at a price they can afford, while government cuts are having a devastating impact on public services and the local economy.

The reality is that there is already great inequality across, and between, the nations and regions of the United Kingdom. And I strongly believe that central government should be working to reduce this inequality but if Andrew Lansley and his allies get their way it will get worse.

Regional pay will mean that more money would be siphoned out of Cornwall to be spent in London and the South East – and that would be a scandal. It must be opposed.


Saturday, 21 April 2012

Andrew George MP accuses MK of “silly politics”

The Western Morning News has today covered MK’s challenge to Cornish MPs to resign from their respective Coalition parties over the “Pasty Tax” and other policies that are damaging Cornwall.

Helpfully, the newspaper shows that only a miniscule 15 coalition backbenchers – ten Tories and five Lib Dems – voted against the “Pasty Tax.”

Liberal Democrat Andrew George, described as a member of MK “in the 80s when it was possible to also be a member of other political parties" is reported as saying: "People have moved from parties before but it is not going to happen over this issue. I would prefer to make this a cross-party issue rather than flinging around accusations – this is unhelpful, silly politics and diverts us from standing shoulder to shoulder."

He is also reported as saying local MPs would "have another crack" at reversing the tax as the Bill moved through the committee stages.

I would like to point out three things.

1. When Andrew George was a member of MK in the 1980s, you could not also be a member of another political party. MK member stopped being a pressure group in the early 1970s when it became a fully-fledged political party.

2. Last year, Cornish MPs spoke out against the creation of a Devonwall parliamentary constituency. Their party colleagues outside of Cornwall refused to support the campaign and then the majority of the Cornish MPs (five out of six) voted through the actual legislation.  Will they do the same on the “Pasty Tax”?

3. In the spirit of Andrew's commitment to this being a "cross-party issue," will he condemn the actions of Lib Dems in the Truro area for their actions in the recent Boscawen by-election?

Friday, 20 April 2012

Article in Inside Housing magazine

The latest edition of Inside Housing magazine was published today and it featured an article about my work as an MK Councillor written by Lydia Stockdale. It was entitled: “The flag bearer for Cornwall” and is a long article, nearly 2,000 words in length.

Printed below is an extract:

The gross domestic product generated by individuals in Cornwall is two thirds of that of the average person in the UK. Workers here earn 20 per cent less than elsewhere. Meanwhile, the average cost of a house in Cornwall is £216,129, just 5 per cent less than the UK average of £228,385.

In fact, housing-related problems account for more than half of the correspondence Mr Cole has with his constituents. ‘I’ve had more people come to me as a councillor in the last two or three years on housing issues than ever before,’ he states.

‘We’re in this terrible place where ordinary working people cannot afford to buy a house or to rent in the private sector,’ he continues. ‘When I was first elected 13 years ago you could buy a new house in my village for £60,000 - if you want to buy one of those houses now, it’s £150,000.’

Many of those who contact Mr Cole ‘are in good jobs, earning a reasonable amount of money, but they get paid, pay their rent, and work themselves silly to get through to the end of the month, by which time they will have nothing, then they get paid again and go back to the start’, he says. ‘Life is just a cycle of eking out enough to exist - that’s wrong.’

Just 12 per cent of Cornwall’s housing stock is social rented - this compares with 16 per cent in the south west and 23 per cent across the whole UK. Mr Cole suspects the Homes and Communities Agency’s affordable homes programme - which sets ‘affordable’ rents at 80 per cent of market rates - will do little to improve this situation.

‘Instead of introducing a rent control act, for example, central government is actually just making the problem worse. It’s tying the affordable element to the out-of-control open market element - I think that’s absolutely barking mad.’

The Mebyon Kernow leader says this with passion, but in his case actions speak louder than words. When Cornwall Council absorbed the county’s district councils to become a unitary local authority three years ago, Mr Cole was forced to choose between continuing his work as a councillor and 14-year career as an archaeologist for the local authority - he was not allowed to do both.

The married 45-year-old, who comes from what he describes as ‘a traditional, working class, Cornish family’, opted to ditch his full-time job and the salary that came with it to focus on his life in politics, which began when he joined Mebyon Kernow the age of 20. ‘I felt I needed to argue the things I felt were important,’ he says.

The full article can be read at

Thursday, 19 April 2012

The "Pasty Tax," Angela Eagle and Liberal Democrat hypocrisy

The Liberal Democrats are rightly coming in for considerable criticism following last night’s vote on the “Pasty Tax,” when only five Lib Dem MPs opposed the proposal.

Speaking in the House of Commons today, Labour spokesperson Angela Eagle drew attention to a recent Liberal Democrat leaflet (Truro Boscawen by-election).

You may recall that I commented on this leaflet a couple of weeks, which stated that a vote for the Liberal Democrats would “stop the Tories taxing our pasties.”

Waving the leaflet, Angela Eagle described the leaflet as a “desperate effort to hoodwink the public.” She pointed out that only five Lib Dems actually voted against the “Pasty Tax” and no-one could be “fooled by their dubious political posturing,” adding that “it was Lib Dem votes what won the pasty tax.”

The leaflet in question (stated: “Joseph Swain and the Cornish Liberal Democrats are campaigning hard to stop the London-based Tory party putting a tax on one of our County’s best loved icons. Labour care more about sausage rolls. By voting Lib Dem today you’ll be voting to aid the campaign to save the Cornish pasty industry, which the Conservatives have put under threat.”

THE FACTS: 261 Conservatives and 34 Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the “Pasty Tax” on 18th April. Only five Lib Dem MPs (three from Cornwall) and 10 Conservative MPs (three from Cornwall) opposed the tax.

MK calls on Cornish MPs to resign from Coalition

Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall has formally condemned the two Coalition parties for refusing to rethink its plans for a “Pasty Tax.”

Last night, 261 Conservatives and 34 Liberal Democrats voted in favour of the “Pasty Tax.” Only five Lib Dem MPs (three from Cornwall) and 10 Conservative MPs (three from Cornwall) opposed the tax.

MK has also challenged the six Cornish MPs to resign from their respective Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties in protest at the actions of the Government on the “Pasty Tax” and wide range of other issues.

In a statement issued today, MK Deputy Leader stated the following:

“The Prime Minister and the Coalition is not listening to the representations against the ‘Pasty Tax’ and it is even ignoring the views of its local MPs. This is disgraceful, and it is symptomatic of Cameron’s disregard for Cornwall on this and wide range of other issues.

“It is about time that Cornish MPs started living up to their election promises and put the needs of Cornwall ahead of the interests of their political parties.

“I call on the MPs to put Cornwall first and to resign from their respective Coalition parties, sending a strong message to Cameron and Clegg that Cornwall cannot be treated with such contempt.”

Cllr Long has also called on Conservative and Liberal Democrat members in Cornwall to disassociate themselves from the actions of the Coalition Government. He has invited one and all to join Mebyon Kernow – the Party for Cornwall.

The "Pasty Tax" vote - the facts!

Last night, an amendment was tabled to the Finance Bill, by Stephen Gilbert, to prevent the introduction of the Pasty Tax. It was lost by 295 to 260.

I understand that of the 295 MPs who voted against the amendment, all were members of the Coalition Government – namely 261 Conservatives and 34 Liberal Democrats.

The 260 MPs who supported the amendment included members from the Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, DUP, SDLP as well as the single MPs from the Alliance Party, Green Party, and Respect.

Only five Lib Dem MPs (three from Cornwall) and 10 Conservative MPs (three from Cornwall) supported the amendment.

I find the failure of Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs to rethink their proposal for a “Pasty Tax” to be truly shocking. It is disturbing that only 15 Coalition MPs could be bothered to vote against the Government and it shows that they do not understand or wish to represent the best interests of Cornish communities.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Is it any wonder that the people of St Dennis feel so let down?

My column in this week's Cornish Guardian unsurpisingly focuses on the latest in the incinerator battle. It is as follows:

The Appeal Court has reinstated planning permission for a massive waste incinerator at St Dennis. This comes as a massive blow to St Dennis.

I remain extremely angry at how this whole matter has been handled over the last decade and it is clear to me that the people of the China Clay Area have been failed by the main political parties, the planning system and now the legal process.

The following ten points summarise some, but not all, of the failings of the whole debacle.

1. In 2002, Cornwall County Council agreed a Waste Local Plan, which specifically included plans to construct an unpopular incinerator in the China Clay Area.

2. In 2006, the Lib Dem controlled County Council agreed the “Integrated Waste Management Contract” with SITA. The decision was opposed by the Conservatives.

3. The Contract specified the incinerator should be built near St Dennis, but the councillors gave no consideration to the merits or otherwise of the proposed site for the plant. Subsequent evidence confirms that the Council had secured an interest in the site some two years previously and was not interested in other locations.

4. The proposal for the incinerator was turned down at a Planning Committee meeting in March 2009 and SITA registered an appeal in September 2009.

5. Throughout this period, both before and after the refusal of the planning application, leading politicians from the main parties came to St Dennis to offer support to campaigners (and get their pictures in the paper). This included Cllr Alec Robertson, the leader of Conservative-led Cornwall Council, who promised local people that the Council would robustly defend the appeal.

6. By early 2010, lack of progress meant that Cornwall Council had the right to terminate the Contract. And even though, the Conservative-led administration had given the go-ahead to spend over one million pounds to defend their decision at a Public Inquiry, they refused to end the Contract or to work up a Plan B to a single centralised incinerator.

7. The planners from Cornwall Council did well at the Public Inquiry which took place between 16th March and 7th October 2010. But this proved to be a sham, with other staff from Cornwall Council preparing information to undermine the Council’s own case and Cllr Robertson writing to Eric Pickles to ask him to find in favour of SITA.

8. The Inspector, who oversaw the Public Inquiry, produced a scandalously biased report for the Secretary of State and it ignored numerous objections lodged by local people.

9. Eric Pickles granted permission for the incinerator but, in an interview with the Western Morning News, admitted he knew nothing about the case and had not even read the report.

10. Last year, local campaigners challenged the decision. It was quashed by the High Court, after a judge ruled that proper processes had not been followed. But this has now been over-ruled by the Appeal Court.

Is it any wonder that the people of St Dennis feel so let down?

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Pasty Tax: Lib Dems cannot have it both ways!

Since the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition introduced plans for a Pasty Tax, local MPs have spoken out against the proposal. They have queued up to be photographed eating Cornwall’s national dish, and have made numerous statements lambasting this nonsensical proposal from their own Government.

But the Lib Dems have even had the nerve to blame the Conservatives for the proposal, which was also signed off by Lib Dems such as Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander. In the recent Truro City Council by-election, they even distributed literature stating: “Stop the Tories Taxing our Pasties” (see photograph to right).

However in Westminster, senior Liberal Democrats are standing firm with the Chancellor of the Exchequer in support of the Pasty Tax.

On last week’s Question Time, Liberal Democrat minister Sarah Teather contradicted the likes of Andrew George, Stephen Gilbert and Dan Rogerson. She said:

“You can have a situation where a large business is able to sell hot food without paying VAT and yet the family-run chippy down the road is having to pay VAT and that’s not fair. So what we are trying to do here is to just make a level playing field … it is just a straightforward, simple matter of a level playing field."

She then went on to claim that the Pasty Tax was geared to hit large businesses on the High Street, such as TESCO and Greggs, who were undercutting smaller family businesses.

It was a clueless response. Here in Cornwall, we know the realit. The Pasty Tax will adversely affect numerous pasty producers and retailers, from larger firms such as Rowes and Barnecuts, to smaller firms such as Berryman’s, the Chough Bakery, Philp’s Bakery, Ann Muller's Pasties, and well as local butchers.

Incinerator latest

Further information about the decision of the Appeal Court on the proposed incinerator has been released.

The people of St Dennis have been refused an automatic leave to further challenge the decision to the Supreme Court. I understand that the objectors will have until 27th April to make an independent approach to the Supreme Court.

The final decision also rules out the possibility of an injuction to stop the planning consent from being implemented.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Cornwall Council rules out development at Ruthvoes and Quoit

I have welcomed the announcement from Cornwall Council that it has ruled out the development of stand-alone “eco-standard communities,” including one at Ruthvoes and Quoit Farms - part of which falls in my division.

The Ruthvoes and Quoit Farms proposal was one of a number of proposed“eco-standard communities” that had been added into the recent Core Strategy consultation by planning officers.

There was uproar within communities across Cornwall at such imappropriate and unsustainable growth. Elected councillors were also extremely angry that the proposed sites had been added into the consultation paperwork after the councillors had commented and they were not informed of this fact. They were allowed no option to object to their inclusion within the consultation.

At the last Full Meeting of Cornwall Council (27th March) Mark Kaczmarek (the Cabinet Member with responsibility for Planning) included the following statement within his report to councillors concerning the Core Strategy.

“These papers also included, in error, sites that had been submitted to the Council as potential ‘eco settlements’ which had not been considered by the authority. I understand these caused concern and as such I do not intend to take these forward further as part of the Core Strategy.”

I have also written to Mr Kaczmarek requesting him to send letters to all residents within the affected areas confirming that no stand-alone ‘eco-communities’ will ever be considered in such areas.