Thursday, 28 November 2013

Talking to the trees.

On Wednesday I held a public meeting at All Saints Highertown to discuss the Council's plans for 'highway improvements' related to the Taylor Wimpey development at Old Richard Lander School and the impact on the trees on A390 along the verge opposite Penwerris Road.

The meeting was somewhat derailed by someone campaigning in a by election for the City Council who claimed wrongly that they had saved the trees.  Nevertheless, more than 50 people turned up. Officers from Highways explained that they were working on a plan to try to replace the extension of the bus lane with a bus gate at the end of Treliske Lane which would allow buses to jump the queue.

They have been working with Taylor Wimpey on a redesign since August when residents first discovered men in yellow jackets eyeing up the trees.  The plan is still not done and they do not expect to go out to public consultation for, maybe , five or six months. It is not yet clear whether the plan is feasible and whether all the trees can be saved but they are doing their best to minimise any destruction.

They had a bit of a roasting by the public last night- as did those playing politics with trees.  Many people took the opportunity to air their frustrations with the new look Chiverton, Trafalgar Roundabout, 'priority junction' at the end of Newbridge Lane et al.

In all the melee I forgot to say that Woodleigh Grange is to be rebranded after Christmas.  The hot favourite is Penn an Dre (meaning Head of the Town) or possibly Parc Penwethers.

Cabinet yesterday, highlights or lowlights.

At Cabinet yesterday there was the most surreal discussion ever.  Cllr Folkes and his Lib Dem colleagues attempted to persuade the rest of the Cabinet to back a plan to build a big office in Bodmin in part speculatively for BT. The Lib Dems could not even agree what they would do with it if BT didn't want space in it.  In particular, they do not want to move any significant number of staff from Liskeard or St Austell to Bodmin.

The Section 151 officer was brought in to advise them in the strongest terms that their plan would prevent the Council from saving over £750,000 a year.  But those who had waved through provisions charging vulnerable people for transport to day centres and raising adult social care fees by more than 200% in some cases, seemed not to care.  As they were six out of ten in favour (all the Lib Dems plus Julian German) that carried the day.

Andrew Wallis who voted against with good reason, because it prioritised offices (for BT) over front line services for the vulnerable, has said, however, that he will now get behind the project.  No risk of a resignation on principle there then.

Look out all those struggling to make a crust in small shops and small sheds - your council tax/ business rates will be spent on quality office accommodation for the Council (or even BT).  Is Cllr Folkes listening to his own propoganda that there is no money?

In addition.....

Rumours circulate that the Cabinet's extremely controversial decision about the closure of the Mexico Inn level crossing at Long Rock may be 'called in' for review.  Many members of the public were present for that debate.

Increased charging for transport for vulnerable people and adult social care were waved through.  Some residents may now pay up to nearly £800 a week (a rise of over 200%)

It was probably unavoidable but I was sad to see the break up of the Carn Brea Leisure Centre.  Even if the running track is remade at Redruth School (and I hope it is) I doubt it will ever be as satisfactory as it is attached to the public leisure centre.

£100,000 per year was agreed to support the Cornish language provided the government grant us £400,000.  Apparently the language has reached 'a turning point' on which the Council must capitalise.

The Council will be offered the choice of voting for 42,250 houses (approved by the last Council) or 47,500 ( the minimum that officers consider will be acceptable to the Planning Inspectorate).  A debate for 14th January.

Why we didn't amend the Council Budget; an anorak's guide

As my colleagues from the last Council will know I support constructive Budget amendments.   So why not this year?

Well, amendments can only make a good budget better.  They cannot fix a bad budget.  Despite that we still submitted an amendment for the approval of the Monitoring Officer and Section 151 Officer.

However, this year the goalposts were changed.  I was informed that the amendment would not be acceptable for debate as an additional resolution but only to amend one of the budget resolutions already proposed.  Further, that the Monitoring Officer considered that all the Budget resolutions should be taken together (as they were on the day despite the suggestion of Mebyon Kernow to the contrary).

We could not support the whole Budget because it has made so little progress in addressing the problems the Council faces.  The Cabinet are not being tough enough early enough on the the Council's own costs. For example, how can a vanity project like building an ivory tower in Bodmin for BT be supported?  The costs of projects like Bodmin will come out of the money which could otherwise be spent on front line services.

In theory we could have submitted a whole different Budget but that would have been an undeliverable amount of work for the Finance Department.   There is also the difficulty that where it involves staff changes you need to consult staff and the unions.  Realistically, this is just not possible from the back benches in terms of logistics or timetable, assuming, of course, that the Cabinet was prepared to facilitate it.  We circumvented this last year by supporting the Lib Dem amendment- officers had not blocked that from going forward because they were convinced it would fail.  Arguably, they were being more cautious this year - hence the moving of the goalposts.

Finally, our amendments or alternative budget proposals would need others' support and we doubt that there is enough appetite in this Council to take an early grip of difficult issues.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Cutting services or cutting costs?

Cornwall Council has voted for its budget with a 1.97% rise in Council tax and cuts to many services.

I voted against. I think this administration does not have the will power to take tough decisions.

They talk the talk that they need to save masses of money but they do not walk the walk. The longer it takes them to take tough decisions on the cost of the Council's management structure and its surplus assets, the less money there will be to spend on services for the people of Cornwall.

I could not support the Budget because it involves cuts to services but does not look to further reduce the Council's own costs in a serious way.

As was perfectly clear from the Budget debate, members of the controlling groups would not generally back this approach if we had joined their administration.

I fear that the Council is in severe danger of becoming a self serving institution rather than one that serves the public.

Much consultation was done with the public on the proposed budget cuts but derisory notice was taken of the results. Indeed the leader says they have failed to convince people of the severity of the financial situation facing the Council. This budget suggests that they have failed to convince themselves.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Swindon children

In response to Cllr Wallis' blog comments.

I asked a serious question about a matter that is within his remit and was referred to me as appearing on the home page of the Mirror website at the weekend.   He said that he did not know the answer and the dismissive manner of his reply made me believe that he did not care. Not until a tweet mentioned his blog yesterday evening did I know that he did make enquiries.   Cllr Wallis does not mention my later tweet when I said that the story goes way back.  So for the sake of completeness here it is.

So the correct answer to my original tweet is:   Yes Cllr Wallis will ask if there is any substance to a story in a national paper about other authorities sending their children to Cornwall and it is surely right that he has.   His original response could therefore have been less dismissive and we could have saved the time of the monitoring officer.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Secrecy over Leisure Centres' sudden closure

I have been asked about the sudden closure of the leisure centres in both Saltash and Liskeard.

To my amazement the Council has been economical with the truth about why the Saltash and Lux Park Centres were suddenly closed on Friday.   The Council writes press releases on all manner of things but none when its agent suddenly closes its leisure centres.

This is inexcusable.   It will have caused inconvenience to the public and shows a failure of organisation.  It also shows a failure of effective communications - the Mills Report told the Council to get its act together on this when it investigated the unscheduled closure of Newquay Airport by the former LibDem County Council.

The sorry state of many of our leisure centres is being hidden from the public.  This is wrong.   It is particularly surprising when the Council has set itself up to win the trust of the public- and it is consulting on what services the public 'want' cut.

I call on the Council to explain the sudden closures.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Alex Folkes; a man with no plan

Alex Folkes could not remember the Council using the phrase 'no money, no choices' (see my blog on Living Wage). The actual phrase (Council Press Release 2nd September) was 'the reality is we have no choice: times are hard and there is no money'.

An Ivory Tower – in Bodmin

Cornwall Council is proposing to build a big new office block in Bodmin.   This was originally considered by the last Council in the context of a large deal with BT.  That proposal included a “centre of excellence” for procurement services which would be used by BT throughout the south of the UK.

The present leadership of the Council organised protests against that deal but now seem to think that the much smaller deal which I proposed is doing “rather well” – in their own words.

When we enquired about whether an opportunity would be taken to extend the scope of the BT deal, there seemed to be a limited appetite and certainly no momentum behind doing so.

So what you would not expect in those circumstances would be a proposal to build a big office block in Bodmin speculatively hoping that BT will wish to share it.

LibDems generally voted against the 'big' BT deal in the last administration and yet they still long for the ivory tower (estimated cost £15m) that might have gone with it.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

West Briton Letter

Derek Elliott of UKIP and Cornwall Councillor (Letters 7 Nov ) is perfectly entitled to point out that he did not support his leader and the other members of his group.   They voted in favour of Cllr Egerton's motion to consider a 6 per cent rise in council tax but he did not. One UKIP member was absent.

Now he says he leaves his UKIP badge at home.  Perhaps it would have been fairer to the voters of Four Lanes if he had stood as an independent candidate.

On the other hand, as I understand UKIP portrays itself as a low tax party, he may feel entitled to ask his colleagues to give up their UKIP badges.

I think he is unfair in describing Conservatives as 'sheep' because they all voted against 6 per cent.  They voted as they saw fit.

Fiona Ferguson CC
Conservative Group Leader
07731 548 139

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Living Wage

On Tuesday there was a big debate on the living wage.  This is a great aspiration and I haven’t come across anyone who would deny better wages to our lowest paid.

The Lib Dem/independent administration at Cornwall Council has said,   “We have no money, no choices”.   So they have been asking what services people would like to see cut.

In the wider Cornish economy it would be hypocritical to increase wages to our staff while buying in services from others who do not pay it.   How will the Council control the wages of all their suppliers?  And would this put private sector jobs at risk?

While at the same time cutting a range of essential services, they think that it would cost the Council over £1 million to implement the living wage over the next five years.  But their figures are untested and do not include the knock-on impact it will have throughout the rest of the Council.  They estimate that it would also cost schools more than £5 million over the same period.

The real cost will be inflated by negotiations with the unions on maintaining the differentials of other pay grades - a cost described by officers as potentially 'huge'.