Monday, 21 December 2015

The end of BT Cornwall

BT Cornwall have lost the court case to retain their contract with Cornwall Council and the parting of the ways will now commence.

It is disappointing that Cornwall Council and BT have failed to make the BT Cornwall partnership work.

The main reasons for creating the partnership were to facilitate the integration of IT departments with the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust (RCHT Treliske) and to provide the capacity  to handle a number of large IT projects (such as the conversion to Windows 7).    The provision of Telehealth and Telecare services in Cornwall were also a big part of the deal as was the expectant creation of significant numbers of jobs.

The alternative considered (and rejected) was to bring in external consultants at a multi million pound cost to assist the Council with these projects.

RCHT pulled out of the BT deal at the last minute and this decision now gives the Council and RCHT the opportunity to consider their options afresh.    It will be an essential component of the business case currently being written to integrate health and adult social care.

We have been urging the Council to prepare a Plan B for life after BT but we have seen no evidence of this so far.

The resultant return of staff to Cornwall Council and the unravelling of the partnership will result in significant cost which are unlikely to be fully recovered from BT Cornwall.   That burden will again fall on the Cornish taxpayer.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Another bus lane fiasco in Truro?

As a councillor who expressed concern years ago about the (then proposed) Tregolls bus lane, I would like to flag another part of the so called Truro Sustainable Transport Strategy that is causing me concern.

As recently as 2008 the junction with Newbridge Lane on the A390 into Truro was made into a 'semi roundabout' in a deliberate attempt to deprioritise traffic exiting from Newbridge Lane - and so keep the traffic on A390 running.  A bus lane was also created through this junction.

After many draft plans it is now proposed to scrap the scheme, which cost several hundred thousands pounds.   Instead the junction will have traffic lights and the end of Penwerris Road, which was closed off, will be reopened for traffic exiting Malabar.    This is to reprioritise Newbridge Lane and allow it to cope with additional development on the Dudman Estate (which goes to Strategic Planning Committee on 17th December).    This will cost more than £1 million.

Under the Labour Government's Regional Spatial Strategy in 2008 even more development was proposed for Truro than the current plan.

It is nonsense to tell us that we are not to worry as this will all be paid for by the Government and developers.   If we ask for money for this , it undoubtedly reduces what we can get for other things.

That bus lane is now considered unnecessary.   If small sections of bus lane are not necessary why was the small section on Tregolls Road (in and out of town) ever installed in the first place?

Please look out for the Council's consultation in January and make your views known.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Truro Sustainable Transport Strategy: Bus lane fiasco

Many of us have been extremely dubious about the Truro Sustainable Transport Strategy for some time. 
The bus lane fiasco in Tregolls Road shows that we were absolutely right to be concerned. 
The Council has described the introduction, followed by the immediate abolition of the bus lane, as a 'tweak' to their Strategy.  This is not so.  It was fundamental to their thinking that people would be encouraged to get on the buses because they would be moving faster than cars.  This does not work without bus lanes. 
Another bus lane on the western side of Truro has also recently been dropped, although it too was originally considered essential.
The fact is that Truro does not have the road space for bus lanes.
The Council was convinced that the people who come from East Cornwall and use the Western Park and Ride would swap to the Eastern Park and Ride but apparently they have not: they would rather have the convenience of their own car.
If we are to avoid total gridlock the Council needs a root and branch review of their Transport Strategy for Truro.   In the meantime they should stop approving developments based on computer modelling which clearly does not work.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Cornwall Council as King Canute: more on the surf tax

Monday, 3 August 2015

Another meeting on the surf tax

After concerns expressed by a significant number of members, the Housing and Environment Policy Advisory Committee looked again at the Cabinet's proposal to introduce a surf tax.

Despite us rehearsing all the reasons why this is not a good idea (see previous blog dated 20 May) the Committee still decided to recommend that the Cabinet proceed with their plan.

If the Council introduces a tax on surf schools operating on 'Council beaches', I would expect at least some surf schools affected to challenge the tax. The Council said it was not aware of any legal challenge.  If you know differently or you may challenge the tax once it is introduced or you have any other comments, please get in touch.

These are the beaches that are proposed to be taxed.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

A tale of two stadiums

Today there was an eight hour discussion at the Strategic Planning Committee mainly on enabling applications for the Stadium for Cornwall and a new stadium for Truro City Football Club.

Really disappointing that the Committee felt it had to put the cost of two stadiums onto Truro City Centre. The Government offered to help. Why let the Government off the hook and take the adverse retail impact on Truro instead by approving two out of town retail parks to compete with the City Centre?

It looks like a failure of leadership. Was this not just the right moment to stand up for Cornwall?

Perhaps the Council will reduce town centre parking charges if things get really tough. But I would not hold your breath. Its next plan is to charge for on street parking in town centres too.

Tomorrow, a meeting on the Council's proposed surf tax.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Council's 'briefing' on LOBO loans (£400m of 'toxic debt')

I have received a copy of a note from the Portfolio Holder together with a briefing on LOBOs.

There are two errors:
1. The best way to minimise your borrowing costs is to borrow only what you need for the period you need it and, if it is important to have certainty, fix the rate.
 It is a mistake for the Council to enter into a cocktail of complex financial  instruments which the Council thinks will minimise its risks but in fact carry different risks which the Council is not well placed to evaluate.
The way of calculating the price to exit an 'inverse floater' is an example. 
Banks would not ordinarily run the risks that the Council is running on these deals. They swap out their risk.
2. The Council has a good credit rating. It is better than the banks it is borrowing from. So the banks should ordinarily have to pay higher rates of interest than the Council.
This should put us on red alert to start with that the deals might be too good to be true. It also means that we should be aware that the terms of these deals would look jaw droppingly attractive  to the banks.
If the banks lent to central Government, they would get peanuts in comparison. Can anyone imagine the Government offering  National Savings Bonds where the rate is fixed except that if rates go up the investor can raise the rate and the Government has to redeem  the bond early if it does not like the new rate ?

Comparing fixed PWLB loans with LOBOs is like comparing apples and oranges. On the PWLB loans the rate is fixed.  So the Council takes a view that it is comfortable to pay the fixed rate on a PWLB loan for the designated period - like a fixed rate mortgage.

The LOBOs are not fixed as the lender can ratchet up the rate on the option dates.

If the Council has to carry liquidity (which pays derisory interest rates - on average, 1.17%) to hedge against suddenly needing to repay the LOBOs then that is another cost that the LOBOs are causing the Council.

I did not raise this issue until 1 December last year because the Council does not disclose in any of its documents details of these deals. Other Councils do.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

'LOBOs': Call for Independent Inquiry

 Those who have been following the story highlighted by the Channel 4 Dispatches programme will realise that Cornwall Council have been dealing in complex loans through which £millions of Cornwall's money could be lost.

Some questions that need answered :
1. What is the cost to the Council of these deals which can even involve compensating banks for the cost of complex derivatives such as Bermudan swaptions?
 2. Why was the Council taking bets on interest rates?
 3. Why has the Council failed to be transparent about these deals? Other Councils are.
 4. Why does the Council not appear to comply with CIPFA guidance on LOBOs?

I am calling for an independent enquiry on what risks Cornwall Council has been taking on complex LOBO (Lender Option Borrower Option) loans.

Clive Betts MP the chairman of the Local Government Parliamentary Select Committee has been particularly outspoken and said, "I think the FCA [Financial Conduct Authority] now ought to investigate this, and if it hasn't got the powers then the government ought to consider giving it the powers to regulate this in the future."

Mr Betts may well get things under way first. If he does then I expect Cornwall Council to play a prominent and transparent role.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Council borrowing blunders exposed by Channel 4 TV

Many of you will have just seen the Channel 4 Dispatches programme which has highlighted the problems with Cornwall Council entering into complex loan arrangements and not understanding the consequences.

On the 17th February 2015 I asked Cornwall Council about the huge amounts of money that had been borrowed, the extraordinary length of time over which the agreements had been made and why I thought there was significant risk to the Cornish taxpayer.

Listen for yourself to what I said at that meeting and judge if I gave Cornwall Council a fair warning that they were taking enormous risks with taxpayers' money.

It takes about 6 minutes.   Thanks


Council to have more borrowing powers?

 Part of Cornwall Council's "Case" to Government for more powers is to ask for more borrowing powers (current total Council debt around £800m). But would this be safe?

 It appears that the Council (almost exclusively the old County Council) has taken out bank loans totalling £400m, which are repayable in 40 to 60 years.

In the early years the Council claims that it was making a profit by borrowing cheaply and investing at a profit. The Icelandic bank debacle showed that this was not a risk free strategy for the Cornish taxpayer.

But there was a more fundamental problem: the Council was borrowing long but investing short term. So the market could catch it out, as indeed it did when the recession hit in 2008 and interest rates dropped like a stone: It was a massive bet on interest rates.

I also recently discovered that the Council's £400m bet on interest rates was actually a one way bet. It appears that the banks have the option to raise the interest rate periodically throughout the 40 or 60 year period. The Council's "option" at that point is to repay the loan early.  So the loans are called LOBOs ( lender option/ borrower option).  It sounds balanced but, of course, the borrower option is no option at all.  All the Council can do is refinance its loan at the new (higher) market rates with a different lender or lose the use of the money.

The banks lay off their (limited) interest rate risk by entering into complex financial products such as Bermuda swaptions.  The cost of these exotic instruments is effectively passed on to the Council.  The Council just hopes for the best.

 When challenged,  the Council says it is comfortable with its borrowing strategy. It is utterly impossible to understand why.

More borrowing powers for Cornwall Council?  I think not. My fear is that the Council are entering into transactions to make tiny savings but the risks of these transactions are huge.  If you do not understand it, best not to do it.

The Council weren't keen to explain what it had been getting into either.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Bespoke services for Cornwall

Having  a bespoke flood authority for Cornwall, a body which deals with Cornish heritage (not English Heritage) and so on sounds absolutely great.

But, bespoke generally costs more.  We all know that money is tight. It seems unlikely that the Government will want to provide us with additional funds to create bespoke services.

We may get more money to deal with flooding, an issue that was highlighted in the Conservative Manifesto but do we want to spend it on what, at least in some respects, would be a rebranding exercise?

The Council now seems to have woken up to this and is asking for additional monies to run these new Kernow services.  But going forward the Council would take on new risks from these new responsibilities. I am not convinced that the Council has established a good enough reason to do this.

It is a bit ironic that the Council's ask on Heritage involved them taking over the Cornwall and West Devon World Heritage Site. So no worries there then on  Devonwall.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Should the Council have more powers over green energy?

The Council says that the national grid within Cornwall is now at capacity. Therefore, if there are to be more renewable energy measures (wind and solar parks, geothermal and marine) there needs to be investment in the grid.

The Local Enterprise Partnership  (LEP) plans to spend more than £100m ( out of £600m ) of Cornwall's EU monies upgrading the grid. The Council wants to form a partnership to take the decisions on how this money should be spent.

This may lead to more large scale wind/solar, although the recent changes in Government's  subsidy regime make this less likely. Perhaps the subsidy changes mean that the LEP should review this £100m investment in any event.

But the Council keeps all the business rates from renewable energy projects so it is keen on this income generating initiative.

The Council also wants Government money to explore geothermal power. As £11.5m is already provisionally allocated for that from Cornwall's European funds it may be argued that more public money for this is not a top priority.

Finally, the Council wants another chance to run a project of subsidised measures to insulate people's homes. As only £5m out of £100m was spent of a similar Council project with British Gas, it is hard not to be concerned as to whether this new project would be a success. An alternative might be for any new scheme to be run by the voluntary sector.

Monday, 29 June 2015

What impact will the Council's plans for devolution have on the NHS?

Even members of the Council's Working Group on devolution do not understand what the Council have in mind in relation to health. An extra meeting has been arranged for today to try to explain it.

If we are only talking about joint commissioning (arranging in Council speak) of social care services, then that makes a lot of sense. Indeed, the Coalition Government  gave Cornwall funding to run a pilot project to get this done. So, no big deal on devolution, the Council should just get on with the job.

However, if it means the devolution of  the health budget  to Cornwall (as appears to be happening in Manchester: Devo Manc) then, I think there would be widespread concern about this.  This appears to be contemplated by the draft business case provided to members in January.

Apparently, Manchester believes that it can take a 5 per cent cut in Central Government funding and still make more savings to use locally.  But, it is risky.  The Cornwall Council's net budget is (only) £500m compared to the health budget of £1.3 billion.

Surely this needs public debate.  The Welsh Health Service has been described by the British  Medical Association as in 'imminent meltdown'.   So, if the Council get this wrong, there is a huge potential for failure.

Friday, 26 June 2015

Give Council more powers to raise tax?

The greatest frustration of the current administration at County Hall is that their powers to raise council tax by more than the Government cap (currently 2 per cent a year) requires a public referendum.  When it did not, you may recall that council tax used to rise at between 5and 10 per cent a year.

Ex Finance Portfolio holder, Cllr  Folkes, included the abolition of the referendum in a wish list to Eric Pickles 18 months ago of  50 ways to save the Government money. Warped thinking: save the Government by taxing people in Cornwall more.

Before and since it has been a recurring theme.

But the Council has no mandate for this.  It was included in their Case for Cornwall (more powers for the Council) approved in January. Since then they have tried to fudge the issue by saying that they are worried about the timing or the cost of the referendum.

Let us not beat about the bush: what they are worried about is they do not believe they could win one.
As I have been trying to give this issue more exposure (which they have failed to do themselves) they may drop it in the end. But if you have a view for or against, please sign our survey at and send them a message.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Cannot be Cornish if you oppose the Council?

Since the very beginning, when the administration at County Hall decided it should ask for more powers following the Scottish Referendum, we have urged public consultation.

To take power and therefore risk into Cornwall needs public support.

It is, oh so easy, to be ambitious with other people's money.

We are conducting a 'survey' on the public's views. We are using this survey to get certain facts into the public domain. We feel we must do this because the administration has failed to do this itself in any meaningful way.

In contrast the Council  has produced a 'petition' by which you may support its 'Case'.
But you may disagree with some or all of its Case or you may feel you need more information (either about what is intended, how it will be paid for, whether the NHS/ police support etc etc). Or you may not even know what the Council is up to at all.  Much of the Council's paperwork is CONFIDENTIAL.

The Council do not really facilitate objections: If you are not "#standing up for Cornwall"  then they imply that you are disloyal and a non-believer.

This is hardly a balanced debate on a very serious subject with potentially large and enduring effects on Cornwall.

Any 'Case' must be a Case for Cornwall, not a Case for Cornwall Council.
Final decision date for the Council on the Case is 21st July.

If you would like to sign the Council's petition, which makes no mention of them seeking the 'freedom' to raise council tax without a referendum, a copy is below.

Cornwall Survey

 Cllr John Keeling MBE is asking Cornwall residents for their views on the "Case for Cornwall"

Download the SURVEY

or complete ONLINE

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Hats off to Mr Waller who took on the Council on a wind turbine and won

I am told that in 2014/2015, the Council's extra income was about £500,000 arising from its right to keep all business rates from wind/solar parks and (conservatively- their word, not mine) it expects to raise it a further £450,000 per year in the next few years.

This gives rise to clear potential conflicts of interest on planning applications on these installations.

So I was pleased to see that the Government announced on Thursday that, with immediate effect, local communities should have the final say on whether onshore wind turbines are acceptable.

Subsidies are to be withdrawn, which is a good thing in my view. Not unexpectedly, the industry is protesting.

The Council was recently slammed when its decision to approve a single turbine at Tredinnick was quashed by the courts for a catalogue of reasons, including its failure to report to the Planning Committee the concerns of English Heritage and of the National Trust as to the effect on the setting Of Grade 1 listed Trerice House.

The Council says that there are only 3 or 4 judicial reviews of its decisions each year, compared to thousands of planning applications.

I suspect that this is more to do with just how gruelling and expensive it is for individuals to take on the Council in the courts. Whatever the outcome, you are never recompensed for the money you spend and the stress you suffer. On top of that the developer can always reapply.

So hats off to Mr Waller, who took on the Council and won.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Do the Council know what they are doing?

A few months ago, with great fanfare, the Council cut the first turf for their £15m new office to share with BT at Bodmin.

Now we are told that the performance of BT against the contract is not good at all.

I am afraid that I have lost confidence in the Council's ability to negotiate and manage deals of this size. I am sorry to say that they appear to be outmanoevred and attempting to operate in a league or two above their own.

They also look inconsistent and disorganised. First, members are advised to do a huge deal with BT. We eventually decided to do a small deal as a pilot project and to try to take the opportunity to have an integrated IT deal with our health partners.

This was followed by a bout of enthusiasm and empire building. But the enthusiasm very quickly collapsed.

This does not bode well for the Council's 'bespoke outsourcing' contract between Cormac and Nottinghamshire County Council, under which Cornwall is, effectively, the entity to which (road maintainance)services for Nottingham County Council are to be outsourced.

Is it really too severe to ask if the Council know what they are doing?

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Concerns about transparency and conflicts of interest

Note to Adam Paynter, Portfolio Holder for Finance

We shall be meeting on Friday at the Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee (PAC) to give you, as the Portfolio holder, the benefit of our advice on finance and resourcing issues for the Council.

This is a somewhat ludicrous process as we have no resource to help us to advise you but depend on our wits alone.

So, I apologise in advance if the answers to any of these questions I raise should be obvious to me but I would like answers on Friday please:

1. Following on from the concerns I expressed at the Resources PAC last December and in Full Council in February and my recent request to an officer for information on the Council' s investments, I would like a full understanding of why the Council has long term borrowings of £633m (of which £551m are over 40 years) (average rate of interest 4.45%) and investments of £508m (average investment return 1.17%) of which £354m are short term.

This looks like a massive bet on interest rates that has gone wrong, although you sought to reassure me to the contrary in February.

I believe the PAC should have a full understanding of what is going on. The slides from the meeting last December referred to £393m of the long term borrowings as 'LOBOs'. I received some details on these from an officer but I am concerned to know more. As we have £393m it is surprising that they are not explained in any Council documents.

2. I would like to know why there was no consultation with the Committee on the Council's response (deadline last Friday) to the Government's Consultation on a Reform of Business Rates. This has profound implications for the finances of the Council and the economy of Cornwall. The draft response, which I obtained on Thursday but too late to input, also seems to run counter to the Council's 'Case for Cornwall'. The Leader specifically told us that devolution of business rates would not form part of it.

3. Particularly in the light of the recent judicial review decision which was extremely critical of the Council's decision to approve a wind turbine and the clear conflicts of interest for the Council as a whole, please publish full details of the business rates that the Council retains from renewable energy installations and explain how these are computed.

Many thanks.
Fiona Ferguson

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

U turn by Council coming soon?

I wonder how many of you were signed up at the Royal Cornwall Show (or on line/ in your local library) to 'pledge' your support for the Council's 'Case for Cornwall'?

I have always found it totally astonishing that these pledges are being obtained without explaining the real deal: the fact that part of the 'Case' involves a mandate to ask the Government to abolish the limit on annual rises in council tax in the absence of a public referendum.

For the first time yesterday, after I have gone on and on objecting to this for over a year ( the idea was first floated by Cllr Folkes when he was Cabinet member for Finance), there are now signs that the coalition at County Hall are finally starting to change their mind.

Well yes, back tracking is absolutely necessary. Probably no councillor has a mandate for this. Conservatives certainly do not. Further, the Conservative Manifesto 2015 pledges to help keep council tax rises low and maintain the referendum.

On average, council tax actually fell by 11 per cent in real terms (ie after taking account of inflation) under the last Conservative led coalition government.

I do not believe any Council has won a referendum on council tax rises since 1999 (in Milton Keynes). But I am not counting my chickens yet. I would not sign a pledge if I were you. But if you do, you may wish to write on it that you do not support more powers to raise council tax. Oddly, there is no box that deals with council tax.

I am stepping aside as Leader of the Conservative Group but this is one bone I am not giving up on.

Dudman Public Meeting

The public meeting on Dudman Farm was attended by about 50 people last night. I do not think anybody was in favour apart from Mark Dawes from CAD Architects, who kindly turned up to take residents' questions.

The main issues were around the impact on congestion on A390, air quality on the Highertown corridor (which is twice the EU limit for the pollutant, Nitrogen Dioxide) and access.

There will a further blog with answers to questions raised. Please make your comments direct to the Council by 15th June. See earlier blog for contact details.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

A new team

It has been a huge privilege to lead the Conservative group on Cornwall Council. However, I am not standing for re-election this year.

I take this decision, particularly in the light of the Council's campaign for more devolved power. Scrutiny of what is happening at County Hall will become increasingly challenging and time consuming.

I very much appreciate all the support I have had already from my husband and children but together with my other commitments an increased work load is something I cannot contemplate.

This is an opportunity to broaden the Conservative councillors on 'the front bench' at County Hall, which I welcome.

I wish my successor, who will be elected on 12th June, the very best of luck.

I shall continue to represent my division in Truro and play a full role in the Conservative Group.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Using Cornwall's capital with a Government (which has a majority of 12) wisely

Instead of a lot of half baked projects with potential for high costs/risks, would it not be better for Cornwall Council to concentrate on making progress on the public's main priorities?

Let us use our negotiating position with central Government wisely. The Council should consult on what are the public's priorities (in contrast to the public consultation on the Case for Cornwall that merely asks for a pledge of support to the Council's wish list).

My guess would be:

1. Better cooperation between health and social care to improve health and end 'bedblocking'
2. More housing for local needs (especially rented homes)
3. A30/38 upgrades
4. A better deal on business rates especially for town centres
5. A Stadium for Cornwall

And should the Duchy of Cornwall continue to be exempt from compulsory purchase where land is acquired by Cornwall Council in the public interest? The Duchy's exemption meant that the Truro Eastern Park and Ride at Tregurra Valley was particularly objectionable to many people (because it included a supermarket)and it has held up infrastructure in Newquay. Basically, the Duchy are able to dictate the terms on which they dispose of their land.

Where the Council already has a government pilot running, such as for a better bus service (current pilot in Falmouth), why not complete the pilot before taking on the franchising (and risk) for all the bus services in Cornwall?

And make sure our public sector partners are on board before we run up costs on projects they may not support?

Finally, surely we want fair funding for Cornwall, not bits and pieces of other taxes (such as VAT and stamp duty), as the Council proposes, which may or may not be enough, topped off with uncapped rises in council tax?

Case for Cornwall (devolution of powers): Is there a risk that it will satisfy nobody?

In contrast to the sedate meeting last week in Penzance with 20 members of the public present, the (webcast) meeting in Truro this week had about 100 residents present. Many of them were very angry.

They felt that the Case did not address their concerns about too much new housing being built in Cornwall. They considered that the Council's work at the recent public enquiry on its proposed Local Plan for 47,500 more houses was substandard. And the inspector has adjourned the enquiry and will write to the Council requiring it to do more work on the Plan.

Others questioned whether the Council had the resource and expertise to manage new powers.

And concern was expressed about the proposal to abolish the cap (currently 2 per cent a year) for rises in council tax.

275 more houses proposed in Highertown: public meeting 9th June


275 houses behind Carrine Rd, Valley View Drive, Valley Close and Penn An Dre
At All Saints Church Highertown
The revised plans can be viewed in the lobby of the Church until the planning meeting to decide this application (expected to be 6th July 10am at County Hall- opposite Sainsburys).
By kind permission of the new vicar, Jeremy Edwards, the church will be open at least between 8.30am and 6pm during this period.
The revised application is an 'outline' one so details may change.
Please raise any concerns you have directly with the Council by 15th June online at : (follow links to Planning Applications) or direct to Planning and Enterprise Service,Cornwall Council,Circuit House,Pydar Street,TruroTR1 1EB Quote PA14/04970
Updates on what is happening will be posted on the notice board in Shop on corner of Newbridge Lane and in Church lobby and on gate into playing field on Newbridge Lane.
Please feel free to contact me on this or any other issues of concern.

Fiona Ferguson CC
Cornwall Councillor
07731 548 139

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Penzance public meeting

Last night was the first of four public meetings for the Council to try to get a mandate for its campaign for more powers.

There were about 20 people present excluding Cornwall Council members and officers. Almost all were already known to the Leader of the Council for their campaigns on other issues.

I think most were in favour but they fairly asked if the cost to Cornwall had been assessed and the availability of the necessary expertise.

I cannot say what they felt about the Council's campaign to make it easier to raise council tax. The Leader took no vote on this! I think there has only been one case of the public voting for more tax and that was in Milton Keynes in 1999.

I have to question whether another 3 similar meetings will give the Council the mandate it seeks. People that take the trouble to turn up to a meeting to discuss devolution tend to be in favour.

The Council's approach to the challenge they want to take on is ambitious but also naive. I hope the Government will not drop a lot of new powers on them too quickly. "Too much, too soon" can cause as many problems as "too little, too late".

At the moment the Council is getting help from the Civil Service to write their case for power. This must still be using up hundreds of hours of officer time when they say they have no money. Will the Civil Service stay to help the Council implement it?

The proposals last night were presented by the Chief Executive. If all goes to plan in Edinburgh today he will be leaving at the end of July and Cornwall will be managing without a CEO for a bit.

West Langarth: 'stadium enabling application': Open Letter to INOX

Dear Rob,

To ensure clarity around what this application provides in terms of a Stadium and replacement open space and the timetable for those, I would be grateful if you would immediately publish the relevant documentation ie Section 106 agreement, any bond, trust or other document that is part of the contractual matrix that is designed to ensure that this project will happen.

This is especially important as the availability of Government money now means that there is not only one option open to Cornwall. This particular project, which has the benefit of being further ahead than any other, has disadvantages for Truro eg the grant of a planning application in a place otherwise considered inappropriate, causing adverse impact on the City Centre and the relinquishment of 11 acres of public playing fields. It is also highly complex.

This will enable there to be satisfaction that the scheme will happen and that can be weighed in the balance by the Planning Committee on 16th June against adverse impacts. It should avoid last minute arguments on the ˜legals˜ as occurred in March. So, I hope you will welcome it.

Kind Regards
Fiona Ferguson
Cornwall Council Truro Trehaverne

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Surf tax shambles

Swimmers getting away from the Council tax-man?

As my colleague Cllr Fitter said, when you are in a hole, best to stop digging.

What is wrong with the Council's proposed tax:

1. It sends the wrong message to surf schools, the second blue light service on the beach.

2. It will encourage more hire of surf boards without a beach presence, so less safe.

3. It is another anti-tourism measure, like closing public toilets.

4. It is unenforceable.

5. The license scheme will give the false impression that the Council can monitor the qualifications of surf instructors.

6. We are,in the end, talking about income of £40,000 and it will probably cost more to collect than it raises.

7. The tax could be the subject of a legal challenge.

8. The damage to reputation of the Council will be huge and unnecessary.

Cllr Fitter, like Cllrs Pearce and Parsons, proposed a fixed fee licence of £500 (which would allow surf instructors to use all our beaches) as a compromise. The Independent/LibDem administration refused to listen and ploughed on with their own unworkable proposals.

But, in a last ditch attempt to avoid losing face (and the tax!) the Leader promised to refer it back for further discussion. What a shambles!

Further discussion will be at the Housing and Environment Portfolio Advisory Committee on 31st July. But then any proposed fees would need to come back to Full Council on 15th September for approval. So no fees will be available for this year so far as I can see.

In the meantime lawyers and accountants might like to read the Council's proposal in full.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Case for Cornwall: Questions

The public are being consulted on a devolution of powers to Cornwall

A short guide to some of the difficult issues in the 'Case for Cornwall':

The Council seek more power to raise Council tax without any public referendum imposed by central government. The referendum cap has led the Council to 'manage on' 2% rises or less for the last 5 years. In 2002-2009 rises ranged between 5 and nearly 10 per cent per year.

Council is looking for a single public sector budget for Cornwall. Will this expose Cornwall to risk that we cannot fund? Do we want the protection of a National Health Service or to fend for ourselves. The health budget in Cornwall dwarfs the Council's budget.

The Council propose the possibility of planning permission for conversion of houses to second homes. This would create a two tier property market in Cornwall.

If the Council controls the electricity grid (as proposed) there is likely to be more large scale wind and solar as the Council benefits from their business rates.

More power is sought for compulsory purchase powers for the Council to acquire land 'at no development land value' to build more housing.

A number of quangos are proposed to preside over all of this. Who will really be in charge?

Will the Council get more money for the extra administrative costs of dealing with more powers?

Are we satisfied that the Council is up to the job of taking on these extra powers within its existing resources?


BT: Council Heroes

On 16th September 2014, just before his shock resignation, Cllr Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, announced, with great fanfare, 100 BT jobs for the Council's new offices in Bodmin.

Since the general election he and his (now former) Cabinet colleagues have said the jobs are not there and they were dubious for a considerable time as to whether this deal would succeed.

BT have gone from hero to zero in 8 months.

I have to ask:
1. Were the Cabinet being straight with the public last September?
2. If so, did they ever have the management of the BT contract under control?
3. If things are so bad and the IT upgrade is complete (this is a job that the Council said it could not do itself) why do they not consider termination of the BT contract? If they are going to wipe the floor with BT, how easy will it be to continue to work with them?
4. If they did terminate the contract, would the Council try and do a joint deal with the health bodies in Cornwall to deal with all their IT. That was the original idea which the Council was unable to achieve. Do our health colleagues regard the Council as so unstable as to be an unsuitable partner?

I do not suppose Health would admit this but the reality is that the future is bleak if the Council cannot even work with them on basic IT provision.

Not the best story on the day the Council announce that their Case for more powers goes out to public consultation?

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Outsourcing: Is Cornwall Council up to it?

The performance issues with Cornwall Council's IT contract with BT are very disappointing indeed. However, it is not all bad news.

The Council calculated that its alternative to outsourcing its IT upgrade would have been bring in consultants and pay (£8m) to get them to do the upgrade: the Council simply did not have the capacity to do the job itself.

So where the work has not gone to plan the Council has had BT to blame and it has been able to charge BT penalties for poor performance. Imagine the scene if people in Cornwall could charge penalties to the Council for its failure to deliver services?

The creation of extra jobs from the BT contract was always a pretty wooly obligation. So I was surprised that the Council were prepared to build their £15m office in Bodmin on the back of it.

The experience of the Council in executing and managing the BT contract has led me to be cautious about a new plan the Council has to make money by taking on road maintenance for Nottinghamshire.

Last week the advisory committee recommended that Cabinet approve this proposal. It will go to Cabinet on 12th May. The deal goes to Nottingham County Council for approval on 20th May.

It is great for Cormac to be ambitious to make money elsewhere for Cornwall. However, I fear that the costs and risks for Cornwall are being woefully underestimated. And the timetable is incredibly tight.

For Nottinghamshire, however, they will be able to blame (and penalise) Cornwall Council if their potholes are too big!

New staff car park at Bodmin: costs so far announced are £400,000

Council are spending £400,000 on works to create a new car park for staff at Bodmin.

These are not the only costs. Details of some costs have been suppressed on grounds of commercial confidentiality. This is odd as the land for the car park is being acquired from the Homes and Communities Agency and not from a commercial organisation.

No news yet on any funding for any of the 400 schemes which members have requested for yellow lines, speed restrictions and residents' parking schemes!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Open Space next to 42 Carrine Road: Deadline 6th April

The Applicant has appealed to the Planning Inspectorate against refusal of planning permission for a three bedroom house on open space next to 42 Carrine Road. I think that I have been in touch with everybody who contacted me about this but if anyone else would like to make representations to the Planning Inspectorate they need to do so by 6th April.

Please let me know if help is needed (07731 548 139)

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Case For Cornwall

I understand that the "Case for Cornwall" was sent by Cornwall Council to all the political parties on Friday. As below

Case for Cornwall

The Independent/Liberal Democrat administration say it will be published to Cornwall today. I have a copy because I sat on the cross party working group appointed by the Council. We were not allowed to delete any new powers which the Council was requesting and my efforts to have public consultation on the content of the document have been ignored.

The administration believe that it is more important to ask for powers now than to have the public's backing.

For example, it believes a public referendum should no longer be necessary for 'excessive rises' in council tax (see page 29).

If Cornwall had been asked would it agree? Is this really what the public expected to emerge from a 'fairer funding' campaign?

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Council Bonuses

The current Independent/Liberal Democrat administration intends to set criteria by April next year for council officers to 'earn' bonuses. The first bonuses would be paid in 2017 by reference to officers' performance in 2016.
I have said on many occasions that I do not see how the Council can justify slashing services and many jobs while at the same time paying bonuses to council officers.

So, although I attended a briefing earlier this week for members of the Performance Development and Remuneration Committee for senior officers, I have decided not to take part in it.

The remainder of the Committee is composed of Liberal Democrats and Independents and they will employ an external consultant as chairman.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Carrine Road land fenced off

Planning permission was turned down a few months ago for the open area of land beween 40 and 42 Carrine Road after I intervened.  No further application has been made so far.

However, last week part of this land was fenced off.  I am afraid that my guess is that the owner is gearing up to make another application and is trying to make the land look more like a development site.

 I have alerted Cornwall Council but as the fence is not much more than 1 metre high approx there may be little we can do about it.

I have asked Truro City Council to put in a bid to make the land a community asset.  I am afraid that only means they would get the option to buy it if it is put up for sale but it would allow public debate about this open space.

Carrick District Council had the opportunity to adopt it as open space some years ago but chose not to.

I will do what I can to preserve it.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Air in Truro can be as bad as Central London

This week a public consultation has started about making Truro an Air Quality Management Area.
Basically, the Council are consulting on what precise area should be covered and what measures should be taken to improve air quality.
Levels of Nitrogen Dioxide, which should not be more than 40 micrograms per cubic metre can be as high as 96 in Highertown.
Poor air quality can aggravate lung and heart disease and asthma.
The recent dramatic rises are attributed largely to increased use of diesel cars.
I have asked the Council for electric buses for the Park and Ride but so far I have had no response.
Highertown, particularly the narrow canyon part of the road rising to Penn An Dre (the development on the Old Richard Lander School site) is worst affected.
But there is also a problem in Kenwyn Rd where it narrows near the City Inn.
At the moment the A390 accommodates  27,100 vehicle movements per day.
With 2,200 new houses proposed for this area, this could increase, the Council estimate, by 6500 per day. I would guess that it could be more but even an increase of 6,500 would have a very adverse effect.
The Council think the Eastern Park and Ride may help but admit that the Western Park and Ride has not reduced traffic. Mostly, it is just a massive cheap car park for RCHT,  Truro College and Threemilestone Industrial Estate.
Comments please by 13th April to: Truro Air Quality email or by phone 0300 1234 213. 
There will also be a drop in session at Truro Leisure Centre on 18th March 5 - 8pm.

 More information and links at Air Quality , Truro  

Alex Folkes: Report

I requested that this matter was the subject of an independent review.

Mrs Lowton, who, I understand is a solicitor and expert on child care law, undertook the review. Her report, published today, has identified a number of areas in which mistakes have been made by the Council in 2005, 2010, 2013 and 2014.

She has also made recommendations on where the Council's procedures for dealing with safeguarding issues should be improved.

Reviewing the conclusion of the LADO (Council's safeguarding) process was outside Mrs Lowton' s terms of reference and she has not therefore reviewed the evidence that the LADO considered.

However, she has said that 'the LADO process was swift and decisions were made which were reasonable in all the circumstances'. In her view the evidence gathering was comprehensive, independent legal advice was sought, the membership of the LADO committee was reasonable and their decision was unanimous.

She explicitly rejects the argument that the LADO committee was a 'kangaroo court'.

She believes that the Metropolitan Police Service, in initially not allowing the Council to share evidence with Cllr Folkes, failed in their duties to cooperate with child protection investigations.

She says the Council could not ignore evidence in its possession.To do nothing was not an option: Its duty was to prioritise children's welfare.

Mrs Lowton acknowledges that Cllr Folkes ' complaint to the Information Commissioner about breach of confidentiality of his personal information will be dealt with separately. She acknowledges that the fact that Cllr Folkes 'went public' in his blog and elsewhere made it more difficult for the Council to maintain confidentiality.

There also remains outstanding the Chief Executive's complaint about Cllr Folkes under the Code of Members' Conduct, which may in due course be considered by the Council's Standards Committee.

One key issue for the Council will be to consider reintroducing a safeguarding (DBS/CRB) check for all members. This policy was introduced in 2009 and for some reason was not applied after the local elections in 2013. Therefore, if Cllr Folkes had first been elected in 2013 he would not have been checked at all.

Overall, Mrs Lowton says that the Council, in its recent actions, were right to make the protection of children their key priority.

Budget 2015

Many of those in the in current Cabinet were elected on a promise they would 'cut the waste and not the services that people rely on'.

So presumably in 2013 they predicted no significant cuts in government funding? Now
apparently they can confidently predict the future right out to 2019 and tell us savings are needed of £196m.

Most of these 'savings' are not cuts in funding as such but simply mean that the Council takes the view that its budget should naturally rise in line with inflation even if no one else's does.
This administration, more than anyone, owes it to Cornwall to go the extra mile to minimise cuts in public services.

When a Band D householder has to find around £1500 per year for their council tax, it is not good enough for members of this Council, not all of whom pay their council tax, to argue that the rise is only the price of a bar of chocolate a week or whatever.

It is also notable that we are seeing astronomical rises in parish precepts (commonly 30% this year, even in one case, 300%, as parish and town councils struggle to take on the services that this Council has ditched).

In those circumstances, I have to question whether this Administration is as efficient as it could be.

Times may be tough but this Council is still recruiting this week for three posts at up to £78000 per year. These posts are three layers of management below the Chief Executive.

Despite the advice of the Chief Executive and other senior officers, who have said that the existing structure of 10 advisory committees is unsustainable as services and officer posts are reduced, this Council has failed to make its own democratic structures more efficient.

Oh yes, I know that public protest has resulted in the reduction of meetings held behind closed doors, but it is sheer complacency if this Council thinks that is really the best it can do.

If we are not more efficient some may question whether members of this Council have cut services but at the same time have acted to protect their own vested interests.

Can we really justify the number of committees we have, with each chairman paid £6000 for chairing, perhaps 8 meetings a year, while at the same time cutting half the library budget, all the youth services budget, all the leisure budget, even carrying out a risk assessment to decide whether those manning certain school crossing patrols may be cut, without putting children's safety at risk. The list goes on and on....

I accept that a delay in this Budget would mean more cuts. So I cannot stand in its way but, in all reasonableness, I cannot be expected to support it.

Friday, 9 January 2015

More Cost Savings

Cornwall Council have started the year with another cost saving initiative by preventing "...offices from being opened, staffed, heated etc. on one day between the BH on 1st Jan and the weekend."

In order to save money all offices were closed and staff given an additional day's holiday on Friday 2nd January.  If they had to work that day then they will have until the end of the month to take another day off in lieu.

I have asked the Council how much money was saved.

Cllr Folkes: Leader's response

Following my letter to the Leader of the Council I met with him this week.

He has assured me that the review of the Cllr Folkes matter will be conducted independently and will shortly get under way.

I do not know why this has taken so much time but the administration now needs to get on with it.

The Leader has confirmed that if any new information is available about this matter then, if it is provided to the Council,  the Local Authority Designated Officer (LADO) can decide whether the cross service Committee (which includes the police) which made the original decision should be reconvened to consider it.

I am sure the LADO's decision on referral to the Committee should also be covered by the review.

Cllr Folkes has indicated that senior Liberal Democrat colleagues on Cornwall Council have seen evidence of his innocence and that he will be applying to rejoin the party at local and national level.   Any evidence that Cllr Folkes can produce to the Council which suggests that the Committee reached the wrong conclusion would be helpful.
It would be strange in the extreme if the Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council has access to evidence which leads him to a contrary conclusion to that of the Leader.  They must both be able to see the same information and they both can’t be right if they come to different conclusions.

I hope that when the outcome of the review is published the fog will clear.  

Monday, 5 January 2015

Cllr Folkes: Letter to Lib Dem Cllrs says he can now prove he is innocent

Open letter to Cllr Pollard, Leader of the Council

Dear John,

I have read Alex Folkes' letter to Liberal Democrat councillors published in the latest edition of the Cornish Guardian.  I would be grateful if you would give me an update on the timing of the independent enquiry into this matter.

It would be very unfortunate if in the meantime Cllr Folkes were to commence defamation proceedings against the Council or its officers.  Contesting these proceedings would involve cost to Cllr Folkes and also to the Cornish taxpayer.  It would be a great pity for those costs to be a further pressure which needs to be funded by a reduction in public services.

I hope that Cllr Folkes will publish the evidence which he says proves his innocence and I understand has been seen by Jeremy Rowe.  It seems to me that this can only help resolve the matter more quickly and may avoid costly litigation for all parties.


cc Cllr Jeremy Rowe, Deputy Leader