Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Road closures in Launceston

Blindhole and Market Street will be closed from October 20 to November 7 while South West Water carries out repairs.

Carboth Lane will be shut from October 13 to 17. If you have any questions or concerns please call 0844 3462020.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Cornwall Conservatives go AWOL on the budget (again)

Cornwall Council is currently deciding on its budget for the next four years. The council needs to save £196 million and the authority cannot look the same again. It is, without doubt, the biggest challenge that has faced the council since it was founded in 2009.

We are determined to make sure that everyone has their chance to comment on the budget proposals and we are genuinely listening to the views that people express. So on Wednesday we start a series of 19 public meetings, we meet tomorrow with the partners we do business with and we are holding meetings with individual groups to discuss the areas of the budget proposals that affect them. We are also engaging online and meeting with staff.

But the biggest say on the budget goes to the elected members of the council. There are 123 councillors who will take the ultimate decision on the budget decision. They have the right to propose amendments, to accept or to reject it.

You might think therefore that budget is a vaguely important part of what the council is all about and that councillors might have turned up to have their say or just to listen and understand.

There have been 10 portfolio advisory committee (PAC) meetings to discuss the budget and a further discussion as part of the full council meeting. (There have also been other informal meetings but some members have made clear they don't agree with having any sort of informal meeting and they boycott them.)

But despite styling themselves the official opposition on the council, the Conservatives continue to absent themselves from most budget debates in stark contrast to Lib Dems, Independents, Labour, MK and even UKIP.

During the full council discussion of the budget last Tuesday, only 11 (out of 30) Conservatives were present and only two spoke.

Across all ten of the PAC meetings, only 12 individual Conservatives attended any meetings. There were three PAC meetings with no Conservative voting members of the committee present at all and one other where the only Conservative present left halfway.

So do the Conservatives care about the budget decisions facing Cornwall Council? And how do they think they are representing their voters by failing to turn up?

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Council budget webchat

This lunchtime I took part in an online discussion about the council's proposed budget for the next four years. We brought together a wide variety of social media and integrated them to make a pretty fantastic platform to engage with residents and got a great response.

Here's the geeky bit.

The platforms we used were the usual suspects - facebook, twitter and youtube - but also Cover It Live, a discussion platform we use alongside our webcasting which allows people to comment on the proceedings.

Thanks to the great work of our comms team, we got these all together in one place so that comments posted from a variety of platforms could be brought together in a single stream. We answered with live text and with seven short videos that we had prepared in advance to act as introduction, wrap up and to cover five of the most frequently asked questions.

The event ran for two hours and we plugged it via social media beforehand. We also got some support from Radio Cornwall who interviewed me this morning about the consultation and mentioned it on air when it started.

We got enough questions to fill the full two hours. I may not be the fastest typist, but I'm also not the slowest and I don't think I paused for the entire 120 minutes.

The live stream has been saved and archived and is available here.

To any council or elected politician wanting to consult with people, I would thoroughly recommend this sort of event. Of course, it is only a way of communicating with people who have internet access at the time you are live. It doesn't replace what a face to face session can do (and the council is hosting 19 such events across Cornwall starting next Wednesday) but it did reach out to many people who might be concerned but not worried enough to come along to an event in person.

Hopefully, I can persuade our excellent comms person who pulled it all together to write a blog with more of the technical details and I'll add a link if he does.

Scott Mann's cut'n'paste survey fail

Yesterday the Conservatives were embarrassed when their Police commissioner's public consultation event attracted just one person and Cornwall's Tory leader walked out of a discussion on the future of local library and leisure services. Today another example emerges of Conservative inability to engage on serious issues.

North Cornwall candidate Scott Mann has sent out a survey to some local residents cut and pasted from a national template. In among the misleading propaganda and spin comes this:

Clearly Scott believes that no one could possibly think that more clinics might be needed at Bodmin hospital.

But that's not the worst of it. He couldn't even think of a question about the economy locally.

At least our hard working local MP Dan Rogerson is on the case. Thanks to the hard work that he and other Lib Dems have put in, there are hundreds more apprentices in North Cornwall and thousands of workers have enjoyed an £800 per year tax cut.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Police Commissioner's public engagement session attracts just one person

Devon and Cornwall Police Commissioner Tony Hogg today held the first of what he promised would be regular open meetings of his 'Accountability Board'. His promise was to use it to hold the chief constable to account. He had arranged a webcast from Devon County Council chamber and had fourteen police officers and staff lined up. The only trouble was that only one member of the public came along.

I don't think we should criticise Mr Hogg for his ambition - but it is clearly more than a little embarrassing to get so little response.

The public still see crime and anti-social behaviour as important issues. But I don't think they trust the institution of police and crime commissioners to hold the police to account on their behalf. Just look at the terrible turnout in PCC elections. Add in that a number of office holders have made the news for all the wrong reasons and it adds up to a failed institution.

It's surely time to write off PCCs as a failure and scrap the post. Lib Dems (and now Labour) have both committed to doing so.

Conservative empty chairs during Cornwall's crucial budget debates

Various Conservatives in Cornwall have been in the media making loud noises about draft budget proposals affecting libraries and leisure centres. But when push comes to shove, they don't even turn up to the debates that matter.

North Cornwall candidate (and councillor) Scott Mann invited a cabinet minister to visit a leisure centre last week on the pretence that its future is under threat. He promised to do something about it. (In fact there are no proposals to close leisure centres).

Today, the council committee tasked with examining the proposed leisure budget and service changes discussed the proposals and Scott Mann was conspicuous by his absence. In fact, no Conservative had anything to say on the subject.

Another senior Conservative, current group leader Cllr Fiona Ferguson, is a member of the committee that met today. She has also complained outside the council about proposals affecting libraries and leisure centres. Yet she walked out before the debate on libraries and leisure centres started, leaving an empty chair.

Although the council is committed to listening to every point of view and we have the widest ever consultation taking place, there is no doubt that councillors have a privileged position in this debate. When it comes to the budget discussions, councillors can propose alternatives and require a vote. But the Conservatives seem to have forgotten this. They seem happy to spout off in the press whilst refusing to use their chances to actually do something about it.

Nobody thinks that the current budget proposals are ideal. None of us got elected wanting to make front line service cuts. But we have to meet the £196 million target by the end of 2018/19. The proposals that have been put forward are just that - proposals. We want to hear alternatives - even if we end up disagreeing with them. The Conservatives are the self-styled opposition on Cornwall Council, yet they are refusing to put forward any alternatives. I think they are letting down their voters and, indeed, the wider population of Cornwall.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

North Cornwall Conservative campaigns for more politicians and bureaucracy

Whilst his colleague in Truro is railing against a Cornish Assembly because she says it will mean another layer of bureaucracy and elected politicians (it needn't), North Cornwall Conservative candidate Scott Mann is campaigning for, er, another layer of bureaucracy and elected politicians.

At today's full council meeting, Cllr Mann said he wanted to create a new tier of councils below Cornwall Council - something akin to the former district councils. But he forgets that the switch to unitary is widely credited with helping to save £170m by abolishing administration, bureaucracy and hundreds of councillors. Dozens of highly paid council chiefs were also abolished.

If Cllr Mann's idea was taken up then money would have to be diverted from libraries, leisure centres and caring for vulnerable people in order to pay for more bureaucracy.