Friday, 21 November 2014

Councillor Folkes: An independent Enquiry is needed

As I made clear in my blog yesterday, I am not in a position (and it would be entirely inappropriate for me) to reach a conclusion about any allegations against Cllr Folkes which led to his resignation.  My difficulty is with the extraordinary manner in which the Council has handled this matter.

To establish the truth, I am calling for an independent enquiry into the circumstances surrounding this matter and in particular:

1. To establish what circumstances caused the Council to become concerned about Cllr Folkes which led to his resignation;
2. Who knew (or thought they knew) what and when;
3. What action was taken by whom; and
4. Was that action appropriate in the context of the Council's duties and its obligation to treat Cllr Folkes fairly.

The actions, or non-actions of those at the most senior level in Cornwall Council need to be examined.  That can only be properly accomplished by an impartial independent enquiry.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Latest: Councillor Folkes' resignation

The events surrounding Councillor Folkes' resignation have taken a bizarre turn this afternoon.

The Leader of Cornwall Council gave the clear impression that Councillor Folkes' departure was a purely personal matter and not related to the Council.

He refused to comment further. However, on further questioning on Tuesday, he finally wrote to me and said :

" I have been advised that I am unable to provide any details about the matter at this time, however I have instructed the Chief Executive to ensure that any matters arising out of his resignation are fully investigated and addressed as quickly as possible".

On the same day his director for education , health and social care was saying in a "Strictly Confidential" letter to un-named individuals that Councillor Folkes should not "have any access to children or young persons".

Whatever Councillor Folkes may or may not have done is not something I can comment on; nor would I wish to until such time as any formal enquires are complete.

But serious questions need to be asked about the management of this matter by the Leader and his administration.

To give the impression that a resignation is not related to the Council when it emerges that it is and then to admit that Councillor Folkes was ordered to resign looks like a cover up.

Those now charged with conducting the proper investigation into this sorry mess will eventually have to explain themselves and their conduct.

Friday, 7 November 2014

James Mustoe wins in Mevagissey

Congratulations to James Mustoe winning the Cornwall Council seat of Mevagissey last night.  A hard fought campaign  but a great result.

I look forward to welcoming James to the council and working with him as he represents his division.

 We made a start last night when James, Steve Double and I attended the meeting held in Gorran by the Parish Council to discuss what to do in the light of Cornwall Council's decision to withdraw its grant to keep open the public toilets from April 2015. 

Full results

James Michael Mustoe    Conservative           348         
 Michael Williams    UK Independence Party  281         
 Charmain Nicholas          Labour                   204          
 Christopher Maynard      Liberal Democrat   197         
 Katherine Moseley            Green Party          50              

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Alex Folkes Resignation

 The resignation of Councillor Folkes from his role as the cabinet member responsible for Finance  and  Communications on Cornwall Council is as unexpected as was the resignation of the Councillor Haycock from her cabinet post.

The leader of the council Councillor John Pollard remains extraordinarily tight-lipped on the subject and has determined that he will take over the responsibilities himself.   The announcement could not have been more badly timed coming as it does on the eve of the budget going to Cabinet today and then Full Council later this month,

Whatever the truth of the situation I sincerely hope that Alex Folkes has not suffered a sudden personal tragedy which requires his resignation.

Cornwall Devolution Debate

Tonight at 10.30 the BBC are screening a devolution debate: More powers for England, more powers for the South West and/or more powers for Cornwall?

One might think  that everybody would be in favour of English votes for English laws.  But some panelists simply did not care.  They are only interested in Cornwall in isolation to the rest of the UK.   Others, like Andrew George MP, were concerned that it would give rise to two classes of MP at Westminster, as if that was somehow important.

Very few of us wanted to see the South West become a region (again) for administrative purposes although it must make sense to work together where it is beneficial,  for example, on some transport issues.

Most (including me) were in favour of more powers for Cornwall.  I would argue for more powers on a case by case basis, where it makes sense for decisions to be made in Cornwall.   For example, a power to design a service to improve bus transport in rural areas.  Recently, the Government has accepted Cornwall's bid to be a pilot scheme for a new rural bus service, although the Leader of the Council seemed unaware of this.

But new powers do not come without new responsibilities and without risk.   The Silk Commission has recently recommended that Wales move away from the situation where Wales gets a block grant from Central Government  to one where it raises more tax locally so that it is more 'on risk' and more accountable to the people of Wales.

More powers to tax people in Cornwall, as most panelists, including the Leader of the Council, appeared to want, would be a very poor substitute for a better deal on Government funding for Cornwall.

Local taxation powers would leave Cornwall competing with richer regions, which would have the means to raise more tax.  Average council tax in Cornwall is already above the national average. That does not seem fair to Cornwall.   Before the Government capped council tax it rose at between 5 and 10 per cent a year. That is what the future would look like under this administration at County Hall.   Even UKIP, who claim to be low tax party, has voted to consider a 6 per cent rise in council tax.

Some local taxes may seem like 'no brainers',  such as a levy on out of town supermarkets.  But Scotland recently said they will abandon their supermarket levy.   It is reducing inward investment into Scotland.

In Wales the economy has fallen more behind England since devolution.   Also, education standards are behind England and the Health Service in Wales is not in a good state.   Unlike England, Wales has not protected spending on the health service in real terms.

To minimise risk you would end up needing more expensive advisers to support more expensive politicians. The Leader of Wales is paid about the same as the prime minister- approximately £140,000 a year plus office expenses.    The Leader of Cornwall receives approximately  £32,000.   So it would certainly be bonanza time for local politicians and we would doubtless see the same old faces in the 'souped up' role.  People in Cornwall must make sure that hey are getting value for money from local government. Only a third think so now.

We should proceed cautiously with devolution in Cornwall.  There are risks around taking more responsibility for the failure of local services and the local economy.

Any change to the democratic administration of Cornwall should be one occasion when a referendum is needed.   The debate should be had and the people of Cornwall should decide the future not those with a vested personal interest.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Residents' views discussed in secret - prior to Press Release

The residents' survey for 2014 has finally been released by Cornwall Council.   So what was all the fuss and the secrecy about?

It shows that Cornwall is a below par authority with question marks over efficiency , trustworthiness  and listening to local residents.   All areas which we should expect to be better than they clearly are.   Other residents and town and parish councils will not be surprised by any of that.

The council says it is a baseline of where we are now and will help to measure progress in the future.  

If this administration has its way it will be unrecognisable in a few years time.   The benefit of any survey therefore depends on consistency of questions not only on an ongoing basis but also similar to other authorities so that proper comparisons can be made.

If the council is requesting more powers to raise taxes (without limit) shouldn’t we expect to be consulted about it?   An authority that is seen as not particularly trustworthy or efficient needs to listen  to the people paying the bills. 

Secret meetings to manage bad news is not the way to do it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Councillor costs

 I understand that Cllr Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, is arguing that Cornwall Councillors should be reduced in number to 60 or 80.  As he acknowledges, we do not have the power in Cornwall to do this.  So that electoral divisions are decided without reference to party politics, this is dealt with by the Boundary Commission.

 I certainly agree that democracy at Cornwall Council is very expensive. But if Cllr Folkes is actually keen to reduce the cost, as opposed to just talk about it, there is much he could do. After all, 'democratic services' is his responsibility.

 Does he really think 19 member meetings/focus groups (generally attended by the Chief Executive) on the Council's Strategy are good value for public money?

 If he honestly thinks that we should half the number of councillors then another way of achieving a similar level of saving would be to half councillors' allowances.  There is no sign of this at all.

Indeed, when I suggested last week that, as hundreds of officers were losing their jobs, we could reduce the cost of Cabinet members, he rejected this out of hand.

Currently he is campaigning to re brand Cornwall Council as a Cornish Assembly. Backbenchers on Cornwall Council receive £12,000 a year. Members of the Welsh Assembly receive a minimum of £53,000.