Monday, 24 December 2012

Best wishes for Christmas and the New Year

I would like to wish all readers of this blog a Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year. I hope you all enjoy the festive break. 

Nadelik lowen ha blydhen nowydh da.

Blogging will recommence early in January.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Flooding in St Enoder Parish

The level of rain that has fallen over the last few days has been truly unbelievable. All parts of Cornwall have been affected to varying degrees and in St Enoder Parish, I have met with some residents who have been affected by flooding and I will be making a series of representations tomorrow (Christmas Eve) and into the New Year.

The above photograph shows the main road through Fraddon in the early hours of Saturday morning.

If you live in St Enoder Parish and have been affected, please let me know so that I can build up a full picture of how local people have been affected.

Sad setback for Chagos Islanders

The news that the Chagos Islanders or Chagossians have failed in their latest legal bid to return to their homeland is truly saddening.

The Islanders lived on the Chagos Islands, a British territory in the Indian Ocean, until they were evicted in the 1960s and 1970s by the UK government in order to allow the United States to build a military base on the largest island, Diego Garcia.

They took their case to Strasbourg after a long-running legal battle in the UK, with the Law Lords ruled against the Islanders by a majority of 3-2 in 2008.

But last week, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that the case was inadmissible. It stated: "The court notably found that the heart of the applicants' claims under the European Convention on Human Rights was the callous and shameful treatment which they or their antecedents had suffered during their removal from the Chagos Islands."

But the court added that because the claims had been settled "definitively" in domestic courts with a small amount of "compensation," the applicants had "effectively renounced bringing any further claims to determine whether the expulsion and exclusion from their homes had been unlawful and breached their rights".

A spokesman for the islanders has appealed to the Coalition Government to “stand by their pre-election promises to bring about a just and fair settlement to one of the great tragedies of the 20th century, perpetrated by the UK on the defenceless - the brutal removal of an entire people from their homeland and their way of life, into a life of exile, poverty and hardship."

Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the latest ruling, two-facedly adding: "We have made clear our regret for the wrongs done to the Chagossian people over 40 years ago.”

Mr Hague. Now is not a time for platitudes. Now is the time for your Government to end this shameful and sordid episode in British history. Now is the time to allow the Chagos Islanders to go home. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

Coalition cuts will destroy local government

On Wednesday, Eric Pickles (above) announced the latest financial settlement for local government. He told the House of Commons that the average cut to local councils was 1.7%. Putting spin into over-drive, he nonsensically claimed that it "represents a bargain to local authorities." 

Cornwall Cornwall was told it would face a cut of 1.8%, but this is a cut to its “spending power.”

This spurious concept of “spending power” includes estimates of locally-raised council tax, Town and Parish Council monies, some NHS funding, and so-called extras such the New Homes Bonus (which “rewards” councils that promote high levels of development).

The reality is that this equates to a much more significant reduction in Cornwall Council’s main formula grant but, as yet, these figures have not been released. I understand that, today, senior officers at Cornwall Council have been in contact with the Department of Communities to seek clarity on future funding for Cornwall. No such clarity has been forthcoming.

The utterances of Pickles are crass and offensive. And the spin that he put on the cuts is just dishonest. He does not understand local government or appreciate the hard work of council workers in providing vital public services.

Indeed, I would go further. If the Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition does not reverse its cuts, it will destroy local government!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Coalition insensitivity on councillors' rights

This week, the two-faced Conservative and Liberal Democrat Coalition has praised the work of local councillors.

Local government minister Brandon Lewis (above) paid tribute to our “often unsung and ongoing work in standing up for local residents,” commenting also on our  “integrity,” “independence” and “respect” as “champions of the people.”

But he then went onto to announce the Coalition was planning to stop councillors from joining the local government pension scheme.

He said: “Councillors are volunteers undertaking public service; they are not and should not be employees of the council dependent on the municipal payroll … they are not professional, full-time politicians, nor should they be encouraged to become so.”

What hypocritical hogwash! I am a full-time councillor. This is because, in order to properly represent my community, it takes 40-50 hours a week. I have been offered other work, but have been unable to accept it because of my Council duties.

I take my role as a councillor seriously, my sole income is my “expenses” – in effect my wages – and I pay a small proportion of it into the local government pension scheme.

I resent the fact that politicians such as Lewis dare to describe councillors who pay into a pension scheme as having a “corrosive influence on local democracy.”

Make no mistake, this Government is doing all in its power to undermine local government with its cuts. And now it is deliberately trying to undermine the ability of individuals to serve their local communities as councillors, in particular making it ever more difficult for people of working age to take on this role in places like Cornwall, where there is only one principal authority.

"Slash and burn" Lavery off to New Zealand?

It came like a shot out of the blue. The news broke at about 4.00pm, when it became public knowledge that Kevin Lavery had been offered the post of Chief Execuive for Wellington City Council in New Zealand.

Featured in the Dominion Post, under the heading “Council chooses slash and burn CEO,” the New Zealand newspaper stated the following:

“An Englishman with a reputation for cost-cutting has been picked as chief executive of Wellington City Council, ousting long-term incumbent Garry Poole.

“In a closed-door meeting on Wednesday night, councillors spent three hours debating the appointment of Kevin Lavery, who will receive a salary of $420,000. Councillors interviewed four people for the position on Monday, after deciding in August to advertise the position.
Mr Poole applied for the job but The Dominion Post understand he lost out in a 9-6 vote to Dr Lavery, chief executive of Cornwall Council in southwest England.

“In that role, which he has held for four years, Dr Lavery has been responsible for a £1 billion (NZ$1.94b) budget, and has driven a controversial proposal to outsource shared council services, including information technology, call centres and procurement in an effort to cut costs. In 2010, his pay package was worth £245,342 (NZ$476,732), and a newspaper investigation found that Cornwall Council had the highest staff credit card bill in Britain.

“Mr Poole announced the decision in a statement to staff yesterday: ‘As you can appreciate, it is a decision that for me is a significant disappointment. I am enormously proud of Wellington and what we have done to help it build an international reputation as a remarkable place to live, work, visit and play.’

“The council would be announcing the new appointment in ‘due course’ and he would work with the executive leadership team on the transition. ‘I have great confidence that we all will ensure this change does nothing to disrupt the quality and consistency of our work.’

“Mr Poole declined to be interviewed yesterday.

“At Monday's interviews, the short-listed candidates gave presentations to the full council before being questioned by councillors. Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown and Deputy Mayor Ian McKinnon oversaw the process. All staff and the public were ejected from the floor of the town hall when debate began on Wednesday.

“Ms Wade-Brown had previously said the council was aiming to reach a decision before Christmas.

“She also declined to comment yesterday but in a statement thanked Mr Poole for his work over the past 15 years and said the council would work closely with him to ensure a smooth transition.

“She did not name the successful candidate, saying that would be published once negotiations were complete.”

As a Cornwall Councillor, it comes as no surprise to find out such news via the media – it is almost the norm at County Hall – and I assume we will not know until tomorrow whether Kevin Lavery has accepted the appointment.

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Cornwall Council Has (no) Talent

Today, squeezed in between two normal meetings, I joined a number of fellow councillors and staff from the Democratic Services section to perform a Nativity Play. This was part of the annual Cornwall Council Has (not) Got Talent competition, which raises money for Children in Need.

The narrator was Cllr Andrew Wallis was an angel! I was one of the three "not-so-wise" men played by three of the group leaders (see below). The others were the Lib Dem's Cllr Jeremy Rose and Cllr John Wood from the Independents.

My deputy leader Cllr Andrew Long played the donkey with great gusto (see below). Other councillors involved included Joyce Duffin as Mary, Bernie Ellis as the innkeeper and Lisa Dolley as a sheep, while Sally Bain played a triangle.

Thanks to Andrew Wallis for the photographs. For more images, see

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Local Plan referred back to PPAP

And third up, was the debate around Cornwall's draft Local Plan. After one and a half hours of "debate", it was referred back to the Planning Policy Panel which I chair.

I will write in more detail in the near future about the significance of what happened,

Mebyon Kernow councillors back committee form of governance

The second key debate at Full Council today was the future governance arrangements for Cornwall Council. Two options had been worked up by the Governance Review Panel of which I am Vice-Chairman.

These were a revised form of Cabinet and a “Strategic Committee” alternative. I moved the “Strategic Committee” option, but this only won the support of the five MK councillors and about twenty others. 

It is a disappointing result but one that was expected.

Mebyon Kernow councillors oppose "Strategic Partnership"

Today was Full Council and the first agenda item was the so-called Strategic Partnership. In the first vote, councillors voted against the full BT outsourcing option – known to many as the “thick-JV” option. It was rejected by 71 votes to 30.

The second proposal to be put to the vote was to keep services “in-house.” This was lost by 50 votes to 46. The fifty councillors were mainly Conservatives and independents, but included at least six Liberal Democrats.

Early in the afternoon session, councillors voted to back a less comprehensive, but still extremely significant, “thin-JV” option.  This option includes ICT, document management, telehealth and telecare, and will involve the transfer of over 300 staff into a private company.

It is a sad day for Cornwall Council and the public sector.

For the record, all five MK councillors at the meeting (myself, Stuart Cullimore, Loveday Jenkin, Andrew Long and Tamsin Williams) backed calls to keep services in-house and opposed all the other options. Our sixth councillor, Neil Plummer, was not present because he is ill with pneumonia. 

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Coalition needs to discover the spirit of Beveridge

In this coming week’s Cornish Guardian, my column will note the 70th anniversary of the Beveridge Report and contrast it to the actions being perpetrated by the Coalition Government. Here’s the preview:

December 2012 marks the seventieth anniversary of the Beveridge Report. Produced during the Second World War, this document sought to tackle what it described as the “five giant evils” of “idleness, ignorance, disease, squalor and want.” Beveridge himself said that they were operating within a "revolutionary moment” in the history of the world and that it was a “time for revolutions, not for patching.”

The recommendations of the Report were truly far-reaching, and the Ministry of Information stated that it had been “welcomed with almost universal approval by people of all shades of opinion and by all sections of the community” and that it was seen as “the first real attempt to put into practice the talk about a new world.”

The Beveridge Report led to real societal change, including the creation of the National Health Service and the welfare state. Indeed, there was a whole raft of post-war legislation which covered areas such as national insurance, family allowances, pensions, housing and rent control.

Seven decades on, we should be celebrating how the work of Beveridge and his colleagues benefited millions and millions of families.

But I am fearful of how the policies of this present government are undermining the traditional fairness that has been at the core of British society for so long, much of which emanated from the reforms of the late 1940s.

We have had the Health and Social Care Bill, which has privatised great tracts of the NHS, ignoring unprecedented levels of opposition from nurses, doctors and ordinary people.

We have received report after report demonstrating that government policies are impacting most on the less-well-off and the vulnerable.

And only days ago, 59 charities and other organisations (including Oxfam, Barnardos, the Children's Society and the Child Poverty Action Group) joined together to condemn attacks on the welfare budget.

Describing the government’s approach as “punitive and unfair,” they argued it would hurt children and families, and “risk losing the very safety net” instigated by Beveridge.

Their joint letter also stated “the truth is that the vast majority of those who rely on benefits and tax credits are either in work, have worked, or will be in work in the near future … while the chancellor paints a picture of so-called ‘strivers’ and ‘skivers,’ our organisations see the reality on the ground: families scraping by in low-paid work, or being bounced from insecure jobs to benefits and back again."

I believe that the Coalition Government needs to listen to those groups campaigning to end all forms of poverty and social injustice, and to act accordingly, with the spirit of Beveridge foremost in their minds. 

Gwinear, Gwithian and St Erth by-election result

The latest by-election for a seat on Cornwall Council has returned a Conservative.

The winner was former Penwith District Councillor Anthony Pascoe, who out-polled two prominent local independents who came second and third.

MK put forward John Gillingham, who polled 6.2% of the vote. This was John’s first-ever election campaign and he was also MK’s first council candidate in this area since the 1970s.

John worked extremely hard and I would like to congratulate him and his team for their efforts. I understand they were very well-received on the doorstep, though sadly this did not translate into more votes.

The full result was as follows:

Anthony Pascoe (Conservative) – 332 (35.3%; down 2.8%)
Sheila Furneaux (Independent) – 167 (17.7%; down 16.4%)
Michael Roberts (Independent) – 163 (17.3%; up 17.3%)
Yvonne Bates (Liberal Democrats) – 121 (12.9%; down 9.3%)
Malcolm Hurst (Labour) – 76 (8.1%; up 2.5%)
John Gillingham (Mebyon Kernow) – 58 (6.2%; up 6.2%)
Derek Elliott (Independent) – 24 (2.6%; up 2.6%)

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Leveson Inquiry

My latest column in the Cornish Guardian focuses on the Leveson Inquiry. It is as follows:

Lord Justice Leveson’s wide-ranging Inquiry into the “culture, practices and ethics of the press” has reached its conclusion. After sixteen months, and numerous hearings, he has produced a hard-hitting report some 1,987 pages long and containing over one million words.

It is to be welcomed that “regional” newspapers such as the Cornish Guardian have been praised as “playing an important social role” and being “good for our communities, our identity and our democracy.”

But tellingly, the main bulk of the report tackled how elements of the press had (i) failed to respect privacy, (ii) obtained information illegally or unethically, and (iii) harassed individuals.

The behaviour of certain journalists, investigators and their editors were rightly condemned by Leveson as “outrageous.”

The report contained a range of recommendations, including a “new independent press regulator” underpinned by legislation to ensure that it has the power to act.

The Prime Minister David Cameron has already refused to support the key proposal of a “statutory body” to oversee the regulator, expressing concerns that it could infringe both “free speech and a free press.”

I do not share Cameron’s view and feel that it is the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg who has summed up the situation rather better.

He has noted that there are two principles at play. One is the belief that a “raucous and vigorous press” is the “lifeblood of a healthy democracy.” And the other, is the belief that “the vulnerable, the innocent and the weak should be protected from powerful vested interests.”

This is an extremely important balance that must be achieved in the future.

I would not want to see an end to high quality investigative journalism, but it is important that action is taken against those who have undermined reporting in the UK.

There have been so many shocking examples of how hundreds of people, both celebrities and ordinary folk, have had to endure invasive surveillance, and have also had their phones hacked and their computers compromised.

To give just one example, I was pleased that Leveson condemned one of the tabloids who “obtained” private medical information about Gordon Brown’s four-month-old son, and then published the fact that young child had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis.

Such intrusions are unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

We need a responsible media and that is why I support Leveson’s full recommendation for a new independent press regulator, underpinned by legislation.