Thursday, 29 September 2016

Councillor Numbers

Today members of the Council meet to have a first stab at what the number of Cornwall  Councillors should be in 2021.
As an 'urban, indeed Truro,  member' I recognise the difficulties members face managing large divisions. Division size ranges from 0.7 sq kilometres in Penzance to 137 sq kilometres in Poundstock. Some rural members are looking after, perhaps, 7 parish councils.
Many members also have a very long journey into Truro and therefore spend many hours travelling.  As each division must have the same number of electors so that everybody's vote is worth the same,  I think members with large geographical divisions will need to be compensated for that.
Many people may not appreciate that members do not receive their travel costs for visits within their division - only for certain official meetings, which are mainly in Truro. 
If a councillor has to bear their own travel costs for travelling around even bigger divisions then we can assume that only well off people will be able to afford to be councillors.
With that caveat, my personal view is that the number of councillors needs to be radically reduced:
1. A lot of the meetings at Cornwall Council are laid on to involve all the councillors, rather than them being useful in themselves. That is the tail wagging the dog.
2. The external group who reviewed the Governance of the Council said that the current number of members is 'unworkable'.
3. The Council has persuaded the Boundary Commission to put off until 2021 the correction of the electoral imbalances on the basis that the Council has a fundamental review of its numbers. Tweaking them to 105 or 115 (as is proposed) is not going to cut it.
4. The administration has persuaded the Government to devolve powers to Cornwall without a mayor on the basis it would have a fundamental review to ensure visible and accountable leadership . Tweaking the numbers of members will not be acceptable.
5.  The public want the number reduced.
The Council say they have no evidence  to support a smaller number. True, but that is because they are not looking and listening. They need to start.
I suggested 100 to the Panel to show all interested parties we were moving in the right direction.   We could then work up a lower number with all the bells and whistles.
That was rejected.  So let's get serious. I think a credible case may be made for, say 70.
It could be something like this:
9 Cabinet members including the Leader
3 Planning Committees of 15 each (no Strategic planning committee)
1 Licensing / miscellaneous licensing committee of 15
4 Scrutiny Committees to cover the 4 directorates (each directorate to have 2 Cabinet members)
Audit Committee of 9 which would also have oversight of the Council's pension scheme
Constitution Committee (to incorporate the Electoral Review Panel)
Plus one or two other committees such as Cornwall Harbours Board and the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority
This would half the number of positions that needed filled.
As the Council is cutting services, has been told it is too big by a group of external experts and has made no effort to work more efficiently,  it is going to have to reduce the numbers.
The fact that it is making such a meal of its governance review, and is even proposing to continue this review for years, means it has not a leg to stand on.


Friday, 19 August 2016

What the Council does on a nice morning in August (18th) what a shambles

A few lowlights. There were no highlights:

1. Complaints tabled about councillors not turning up to meetings to discuss how the Council is governed. Concern expressed that the process of reviewing how the Council is governed is taking place too quickly and we need more meetings! There are too many already (in my view).  4 in August alone.

2. The Steering Group held a meeting on 14th July (its role is to steer 2 committees working on this so that they are both going in the same direction) but the Chair and Vice Chair of  the Constitution and Governance Committee did not turn up to be steered.

2. Report on how the Leader got on with his public meetings on governance of the Council (Who Decides). There were seven meetings fronted by the Leader, Deputy Leader and senior officers. . Only 240 people attended in total. These were described as the 'usual suspects- Cornwall Councillors and Town/Parish Councils with very few members of the public present' .

3. Only 3 out of 200? Parish councils attended the sessions with the GREG (the external group of experts looking at governance of the Council.

4. Only 30-35% of Parish Clerks had actually opened the recent newsletter from the Council which told them about all the sessions on governance (never mind circulated to their members).

5. Complaints tabled about central government and lack of funding for the Cornish language. Fears raised that Cornish minority status endangered. However, Cllr Dolphin (Lib Dem Chair of Committee) wants to stand down from the working group dealing with this as she is too busy. No member of the Committee would volunteer to replace her. So it is mainly the Bards who are left.

6. But I imagine that the Committee did approve the 13th version of the Terms of Reference of the Health and Well Being Committee (committee established in 2012). I had to leave before that vote.

What sort of message can we learn from this and will we?


Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Brexit Revisionism.

My letter to the West Briton (unpublished) re the Pro EU Rally on 1st July

Dear Sirs,

I was interested to see your article about the pro EU rally on Lemon Quay attended apparently by councillors from all parties.

I campaigned for Remain: I stood on the streets, door knocked in Daniell Road, banged on about it in my blog ('Eurosceptic Yes Brexit Delusion No'), was 'shunned' for 3 days at the (Royal Cornwall)  Show and was rubbished on the radio.

However, I saw no sign of other councillors campaigning for Remain in Truro.
They, of all people, should know that it is always best to campaign before the votes are cast.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Governance Review Submission

Representations to the GREG (Governance Review External Group)
Background
I am a member of the Conservative Group. I was group leader from the time that the previous Leader of the Council stood down towards the end of 2012 after a vote of no confidence in him (relating to the proposed strategic partnership with BT) until June 2014.
I stood down as I found the role of Leader of the Opposition too large and time consuming a responsibility with my family and other commitments. My position was made more acute by the lack of any officer or administrative support for someone in my position. I also felt that the job would become even more challenging in the light of the call by the Council for more devolved powers.
I am a lawyer by background. I was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. But have no other local government experience.
The cost of democracy
Democracy is, of course, very important but also expensive. I think that the single thing that would make the most difference to the efficient operation of the Council, an increase in public confidence in its work and value for public money would be for the Council to recognise that officer resource is expensive and valuable. In contrast it is considered to be free. This results in a culture of endless and often pointless meetings which do not really advance public services in Cornwall.
A diagram produced by the Council to explain which committees will take which role in the current Governance and Electoral Review makes this point perfectly.
The number of meetings, often called at short notice or with single item agendas on different days of the week make it difficult for a member who has other commitments to participate. We squander our own time as well as that of officers. It is also more difficult to keep an eye on important things that are happening because we are wading through treacle with so much paperwork.
I understand that the totality of agenda pages produced per year is around 3,000,000. Very many papers (understandably) go largely unread by most councillors.
The fact that the Council has so many independent members makes the scope for team working, whereby likeminded members can spread their resource between different issues, very limited. A council with less members would reduce this issue.  It would make members less local but I think it wd also make members more accountable. They would then mainly  have political labels and the public would know who was in charge.
Pragmatically, I do not see the Council being prepared to alter the way it does business in a material way. They did not take the advice of the previous GREG.
So against that backdrop I would like to make the following observations:
Council
This can be a rather unedifying grand standing occasion (assuming anyone is watching). It would be interesting to know the numbers watching the webcast, provided these exclude officers and members.
Members go to some trouble to think up motions so that there is something to grand stand about. This often simply results in a letter to the Government but the impact on officer resource from dealing with these motions should be examined to see whether it is really worthwhile. The estimated hourly rate of officers sitting through these occasions would be interesting.
Cabinet
With the benefit of only a few months in the Cabinet at the end of the last administration, I wd say that this works reasonably well.
However, there is a problem where, as now, there is a dual party administration. This is because the Leader is given a list of nominees by the groups which form part of the administration and he then has to find those nominees a portfolio that suits their expertise.
And it is only in very unusual circumstances (such as, in this administration, where there were allegations of child pornography) that he can require those nominees to stand down. From an outsider's perspective the current portfolios have to be looked at with that in mind. I wonder how they work in terms of organisational effectiveness.
Informal  Briefings
These can be very useful but there are a lot of them on different days. I have to wonder whether a podcast would not work better in many cases. It wd be interesting to know the attendance rate.
Policy Advisory Committees
There are too many of these. They often have very thin agendas. The fact that they are not on the same day of the week makes it difficult for working members to participate.
As a member of the opposition they seem to be pretty ineffectual in some cases. We do not chair them. They have no power to commission work (unlike Scrutiny).  Therefore, you end up trying to advise the portfolio holder on something about which you are unlikely to know more about than they do.
They were introduced so that we all felt involved in policy formation (so 10 committees with 10 seats each).  That appears a little like the tail wagging the dog. I am sure that there are honourable exceptions such as the Planning PAC.
The Scrutiny Committees would probably work better if they were opposition led.
I have no knowledge of licensing. Planning seems to work reasonably well but I know members of the public find these committees very remote and would criticise them for not listening to locals' views.
Strategic Boards
I have no direct knowledge of the LEP but the idea of it and the fact that it is private sector led seems sound, as it aims to promote the economy. 
There are so many other boards now, with the advent of devolution, that it is very difficult to keep a track of them. However, partnership working is the future and I would suggest that the Council needs to pull back and perform more of a scrutiny role on these rather than duplicating their work.
Community Network Panels
I would say that these were a sop to localism to obtain Government agreement for the formation of the unitary council. I have reservations about them as they have no democratic mandate being a mix of, Cornwall councillors and parish councillors. But I recognise that some see them as a useful bridge across the gulf between Cornwall Council and the 200+ parishes. There are often initiatives to try to find them a role.
Local member role
 This is variable but it is an all hours service. If there are to be less members (and I can see a case for that on grounds of organisational effectiveness) , there would need to be more support for members especially those with large divisions - for example, a recognition in the allowances scheme of their need to travel within their divisions.
Conclusion
 With devolution, we are going to need to feel our way. I cannot see public support for a mayor in Cornwall. I would certainly not wish to return to the committee system as it wd not be organisationally effective. The Cabinet model is probably our best hope but my comments above are designed to make it more effective.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Is it any wonder people do not trust the Council?

It was a bad day at Cornwall Council on Tuesday and not just for the wasted time and personal attacks coordinated by the LibDems.

It showed, and not for the first time, that media manipulation and political spin are more favoured than honest admittance of failure. And it indicates a rottenness at the core of the LibDem/Indy administration at County Hall.

In 2014, with much publicity, the Council became a 'Living Wage' employer. I expressed reservations about this; it was an exercise in tokenism as the Council did not propose to do it for indirect staff such as Cormac and carers.

Secondly, I was worried about its affordability when there would be a need to preserve other staff's differentials. These concerns were brushed aside.

However, apparently the Council quietly capped its obligations to pay the Living Wage at 3 per cent per year.

In October 2015 they were told the Living Wage would involve a 5.1 per cent increase.

Naturally, you would assume that the Council would pay 3 per cent (assuming you knew of the cap).  But no. The Council did not offer to pay anything at all. They took the view that the wording of the 'cap' was such that, if the increment exceeded 3 per cent, staff got nothing at all under this formula.

If there was a drafting error then the Council should not have sought to rely on it. It was a clear breach of good faith, cutting across the staff ballot, whereby better paid staff had given up some of their rights to allow lower paid staff the Living Wage.

The Council need to ask themselves some very serious questions about the manner in which they deal with staff and their union representatives in the future.

This represents a fundamental breach of trust.

The Council also sought to cover it up. They only finally told members what had occurred on the Saturday of a Bank Holiday weekend.

So yesterday, in a fit of embarrassment, the Council voted to pay the Living Wage (uncapped) for one year and think again next year.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Can Leadsom lead?

My many doubts about Andrea Leadsom:
1. Her lack of experience in Government, particularly at a time of great uncertainty and challenge. It is one thing to suddenly become the Leader of the Opposition; quite another to immediately become PM.
2. She has limited support from MPs. We need a candidate who can unite the party and the country, Leavers and Remainers.
3. She has spent 20+ years in the City of London but is happy to front a campaign which has ignored and belittled the advice of the independent Governor of the Bank of England. Astonishing.
4. She has spent 20+ years in the City of London but she does not appreciate the importance of confidence, market certainty, passporting rights and influence over financial regulation to the financial services industry, which is one of our most important exports.  Incredible.
5. She has so far failed to answer the questions raised by Pascal Lamy, the former head of the World Trade Organisation, about her strategy in negotiating new trade deals. This is a key part of the way forward.
6. She has led us down a path with no fair warning as to the great challenges we will face. As an MP her job is safe for now.  Others are not.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Residents' Parking Schemes : proposals go to Transport Committee this Friday

 This item goes to Transport Portfolio Advisory Committee on Friday 4th July 10am at County Hall (open to the public).
A few headlines from draft proposals for Committee to consider:
Schemes proposed for Trehaverne Terrace and Rosedale area and Hendra areas.
 Residents parking permits at between £50 and £80 per year. Additional permits may be more expensive.
 On street parking charges may be introduced in Truro. Likely to be city centre. 
Estimated (Cormac) costs of introducing all proposed schemes across Cornwall £3.6m including 20% contingency.
Schemes to allow carers to have permits.
Agenda available on line  CLICK
Please contact me with comments or if you want further information. 
Fiona Ferguson CC
Blog : www.trehaverne.com
Twitter : @fionaferguson13
07731 548 139