Monday, 15 September 2014

BT Cornwall creating 50 new jobs at Bodmin Beacon offices

BT Cornwall have announced today that they will be creating 50 new jobs at the council's new Bodmin Beacon offices. The offices themselves will save money for the council to help protect front line services.

The new offices will have 625 desks and most of them will be filled from staff already based in Bodmin in various buildings. We need to get out of these because they are old, inefficient and expensive. If our staff move out then we can save money by selling off the old buildings or giving up the leases where they are rented. Depending on the prices we get when we sell them, the new building costs will be made back in about four years. It's a good investment which will save money.

There will be a few staff moving from St Austell and Liskeard, but our overall commitment to a significant presence in these towns remains and this small change has been known about from the start. Similarly, staff will be moving from their base at Higher Trenant in Wadebridge as Cormac take over this building.

But as well as saving money, our aim has always been to use the new building to work more closely with partner organisations and to bring new jobs to Cornwall. So BT Cornwall's commitment to base their tele-health and tele-care work at Beacon and to create 50 new jobs is very good news. Today the Chief Executive of BT Cornwall, Chris Leggett, described Cornwall Council as good people to do business with.

Other space in Beacon will be taken by Cornwall Housing* and by Cornwall Adult Education Service. Both of these are arms length companies delivering services for the council.

It's worth pointing out that the Conservatives - including their parliamentary candidate for North Cornwall - have consistently said that this investment was a bad idea. They refuse to say what services they would have cut instead and have refused to say what plans they have to bring new jobs to Bodmin or anywhere else in North Cornwall.

*Cornwall Housing will be confirming their decision on taking space at their board meeting later this month following approval at a finance committee and previous board meeting.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Devolution discussion on Sunday Politics

I was on the Sunday Politics South West this morning talking about the prospects of devolution to Cornwall. The debate was sparked by the independence referendum in Scotland. Whether it is yes or no, there will be fundamental changes in the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK and many believe it is right that we should examine what is best for each constituent region and nation. So what will it mean for Cornwall?

The Liberal Democrats have announced that we will be fighting the next general election on a pledge to devolve powers from Westminster including the establishment of a Cornish Assembly. We believe in devolution on demand and recognise that what is right for one area may not be right for another. Just as when the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly were set up they had different powers, so we believe that what is right for Cornwall may not be right for Yorkshire or Dorset (or Wales or Scotland). Cornwall should not be held back by a 'one size fits all' policy.

The discussion about exactly what powers a Cornish Assembly should have and what should fit around it is still to be had. My belief is that the current Cornwall Council should take on more powers and become the assembly. I don't see the need for the creation of a new tier of councils below the assembly. More powers and responsibilities could be given to beefed up town and parish councils to fulfil the role.

So what do the other parties think?

The Conservatives do not seem to support any further systematic devolution to Cornwall. On the programme today, local MP and Minister George Eustice said that the reason so many powers (like the frequency of bin collections) are kept in the hands of Eric Pickles and other ministers was that local people have the right to expect a certain level of service. In other words, that local councils cannot be trusted to do the best for their residents and that a minister in London can.

Labour's shadow local government secretary Hilary Benn wrote to Cornwall Council recently offering further powers but making clear that these will only be given to authorities that join together. So we could only expect more power for a South West region (or maybe Devonwall).

So of the three parties with any hope of winning seats in Cornwall at the general election next May, only the Liberal Democrats are pledging to introduce proper devolution and a Cornish Assembly. More votes for the Lib Dems and more Lib Dem MPs will give a stronger hand to our negotiations with other parties in the event of a hung parliament to make our vision happen. Neither Labour nor Conservatives governing on their own will give Cornwall the freedom to make decisions for itself.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Young people need proper representation and more say over local EU programmes

Cornwall Council’s cabinet has urged the new bodies responsible for delivering local EU programmes to make sure they have proper representation from young people. They have also been urged to make the needs of young people are reflected in the schemes they support.

As part of the new round of EU structural funding, Cornwall will be setting up a new system of Local Action Groups (LAGS) to deliver a strand known as community led local development. These four LAGs will be overseeing 5% of the EU funding - some £24 million or more over the course of the scheme.

The good news is that the new LAGs will cover the whole of Cornwall rather than just bits of it. And the LAGs will be run by new boards made up of a mix of local town, parish and Cornwall councillors, representatives of the community and voluntary sector and of local businesses. One of the key aims is to make sure that these boards are truly representative.

Sadly, to date the boards are significantly lacking in young people. Yesterday the cabinet agreed that Cornwall Council should take on the role of 'accountable body' for the new LAGS to support their work. But we said that the LAGS should make it a key priority to do more to become properly representative. And we said that having proper representation from young people is urgent. We also need to ensure that the schemes that are supported by the LAGs include those which will benefit young people.

Local parents concern over pupil transport to Callington

A number of local parents have expressed concern over the difficulties facing Launceston-based pupils attending Callington College. One parent has found that a season ticket they bought is for a bus that no longer exists and others have complained about the unreliability of some of the remaining services.

For a variety of reasons, some parents choose to send their children to Callington College. In cases where this is a matter of parental choice (rather than because there is no place available at a more local school) then the council is not responsible for home to school transport.

In the case of getting to Callington, there are local bus services which are run by both First Group and Western Greyhound - the 76 and the 576 respectively. They run at various times through the day and enable pupils to get to and from school. However, First have withdrawn the return service that left immediately after school and pupils therefore have to wait for an hour or so before they can start their journey home.

One parent had bought a season ticket for their child from First Group in the expectation of being able to use the service which has now been withdrawn. I trust that First will be making a refund of the full price of the season ticket and the council will be supporting the parent on this.

The other principle concern is over the reliability of the Western Greyhound service. I am told that there are many occasions when the bus terminates at Westgate Street rather than continuing to St Stephens and beyond. As a result, children have to walk to final mile home. There are also issues with buses arriving on time or being cancelled altogether.

As the route between Launceston and Callington is not a subsidised route, there is little that the council can do to enforce the reliability of the service. But I am asking officers to get in touch with Western Greyhound to make sure that pupils and other passengers are getting the service that they pay for and aren't kicked off the bus early or left hanging around hoping that the bus will arrive.

Cornwall Council adopts a 'more local' approach to council housing

Cornwall Council is moving to a new housing register which will give greater priority to local people. Applicants to join the housing register will need to show a three year residential qualification and the council is seeking advice on whether this can be increased to five.

Delivering homes to meet the needs of local people is a key priority for the Council. We want to tighten up our allocations policy to try and meet the urgent need of our communities and the changes agreed will assist Cornwall Council and Cornwall Housing Ltd to better manage the housing waiting list and ensure that homes are allocated fairly to those in greatest need.
 
The cabinet also decided to impose an upper earnings and savings limit on those wanting to join the housing register. Anyone with a household income of more than £60,000 or savings above £50,000 will be excluded and, when it comes to allocating a house, preference will be given to those with a household income of less than £30,000. That's important because we should be working to help the poorest families get into adequate housing. Although those on higher incomes may not be 'well off', they are better able to be able to afford to rent privately or to think about buying than those on much lower incomes.
 
Finally, the council has decided that anyone who has been judged guilty of anti-social behaviour in relation to a tenancy in the past two years will not be eligible to be on the housing register.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Hallam come back for more on Upper Chapel

Hallam Land Management, the developers who won permission to build 100 new homes on land north of Upper Chapel in Launceston, have submitted an application to increase the number of houses to 140.

The original application was resisted by both the town council and Cornwall Council as it ran contrary to the town framework plan - the plan developed in conjunction with the local community to set constraints on the building of new homes and new infrastructure over the next 20 years.

However, despite being rejected unanimously by both the town council and Cornwall Council planning committees, Hallam appealed and permission was granted by the government appointed inspector.

This news will come as a bitter blow to the residents of Launceston. We fought the original application because we know it is wrong for our town. We are grateful for the effort that both the town council and Cornwall Council put into the battle to stop a development which will create significant highways problems.

Now we find this was merely a trojan horse as the developers want permission to pack even more homes onto the same space. Just as the first proposal was wrong, this one is too and we will continue to battle against it.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Lib Dem Andrew George wins vote to reform Bedroom Tax

Cornish Lib Dem MP Andrew George today saw his Bill to reform the bedroom tax passed in the House of Commons. Andrew was first out of the hat in the annual ballot to select backbench MPs to promote changes to the law and he chose reform various welfare provisions including the bedroom tax.

The bedroom tax is the name given to the penalty imposed on people in receipt of housing benefit but who have more bedrooms than they need. Andrew's proposal will see a halt to penalties being imposed on those who cannot find a smaller property and those who have had significant adaptations to their home to help with disabilities.

The problem faced by many people in Cornwall is that there are simply not enough properties for people hit by the bedroom tax to move into. Most of my constituents who are affected tell me that they would move if a suitable home was available. Others have had adaptions, often costing tens of thousands of pounds, made to their current home. These would have to be made again if they moved.

In the vote today, Liberal Democrats were supported by Labour MPs. North Cornwall MP Dan Rogerson joined Andrew George in voting to reform the bedroom tax. The third Lib Dem MP in Cornwall - Steve Gilbert - is away on Parliamentary business. The Conservatives voted against the Bill and two Cornish Conservatives - Sarah Newton and Sheryll Murray - also spoke against reform. Throughout proceedings, Conservative MPs tried all sorts of underhand tactics to avoid a vote including at one point asking for the House of Commons to sit in secret.