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 www.standupforcornwall.co.uk 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 : www.cornwall.gov.uk (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