Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Road Safety Partnership launches bid for four new crossings

The Launceston Road Safety Partnership has launched a bid for four new crossings in town. In a letter to the Council and to local councillors, the Partnership gives the details:

Over 400 responses have been received and the democratic view of the people is that pedestrian crossings should be provided as a priority in the following locations

1 Western Road – between the turning for Meadowside and East Cornwall Garage with a pelican being the preferred option

2 Newport traffic lights. – the drop kerbs and stipples are in place but crossing here remains perilous as there is no pelican green man or pedestrian haven on the light sequence.

3 White horse – a permanent crossing is necessary where the school crossing lady operates from

4 Westgate Street – Livingstones to the Westgate public house

I am delighted to give my wholehearted support to the Partnership in the campaign for these crossings and to thank them for the excellent work they have done so far on this issue.

Cornwall set to become last to declare General Election results

There has been a big rumpus in political circles over the decision by many councils to hold the counts for the general election on the Friday rather than the Thursday night. Cornwall is set to become one of those councils. Indeed, it is likely that the Cornish results will be the last in mainland UK to be declared.

And, what is more, it seems that we will not have a count in each constituency but instead have two major count centres with each hosting the count for three contests. The count centres look likely to be Carn Brea Leisure Centre and a site near Dobwalls.

Both these decisions will be controversial.

There has been a campaign recently to 'save general election night' - in other words to have the counts on the Thursday night rather than Friday. I think this is a bit of a false campaign in that we have had lots of Friday counts over the years. The most important aspect is to make sure that we get the right result - not the fastest result. That said, I do like the drama of election night and would prefer counts to be held on Thursday rather than Friday.

What is most disappointing is that it seems that Cornwall will be one of the last areas to declare as the counts will not even start until the Friday afternoon. I'm not sure that this is the right image for the County to send to the UK as a whole. The late results will imply that we cannot get our act together.

As for holding counts locally rather than in regional centres, I take the view that counts should be as transparent as possible. That means having them locally and trying to give local electors the chance to view the work in action. I am disappointed that it seems that the history of local counts is being abandoned.

Whilst councillors, MPs and others can froth at the mouth about these decisions, the ultimate decision will be for the Returning Officer - the Council's Chief Executive Kevin Lavery.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Elan abandons residents to snow and ice

I am dismayed at the decision of developers Elan Homes to abandon the residents of Kensey Valley Meadow to dangerous roads and unsafe footpaths.

The roads and footpaths of Kensey Valley Meadow in Launceston have been particularly badly affected by the recent snow and ice and are still dangerous to use. Residents have been unable to drive to and from their houses and have found the footpaths to be dangerous. Some residents are trapped in their homes.

Many residents of Kensey Valley Meadow have been in touch with me about the dangerous state of the roads and footpaths on the estate. Some people have had to cancel family Christmas visits and others are fearful about losing their jobs if they are unable to drive to work.

The roads on the estate are unadopted and so Cornwall Council says that it is not able to provide salt or grit to make them safer. The responsiblity falls with developers Elan Homes who simply reply that their company policy is not to salt or grit developments. The offices of Elan closed at midday on Christmas Eve and staff will not be available again for five days.

I am shocked and appalled that Elan should treat residents of its development this way. It appears that they do not care that family holidays are being ruined, that residents are fearful of losing their jobs or that people may be seriously hurt on the snow and ice. Whilst Elan staff are enjoying safe and happy family holidays, many residents of Kensey Valley Meadow feel trapped and abandoned.

I have asked Cornwall Council to consider urgent action to salt and grit the roads of Kensey Valley Meadow as a special case but I am not hopeful that they will be able to do so.

I have been pressing both the Council and Elan Homes to get the roads adopted since I was elected in June but both have been dragging their feet on the issue. Now we see residents suffering as a direct result.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Slippery conditions

You probably won't need telling that the road and pavement conditions around Launceston are pretty horrendous still with ice making any sort of venture outside very difficult.

For me personally it is very tricky as I have 16 concrete steps up to the front door of my flat and they have become next to impassable. I know that many people are worried about going out at all. Those who have yet to finish their Christmas shopping will be hoping for a rise in temperatures tonight.

I have been asked by many local residents why the Council is not salting more roads and more pavements.

The full answers can be found on the Cornwall Council website. In short, the Council will salt the main (A and B) roads if they think that they will become dangerous. But they can only work so fast and cannot reach every road. Around town, the A30 is the responsibility of the Highways Agency, not Cornwall Council. The Agency tend to be a bit slower to react. In town, there are lots of the major routes that are salted, including:

Western Road - St Thomas Road - St Stephens Hill
Dutson Road
Tavistock Road
Windmill Hill
Race Hill
Dockacre Road to Prouts Corner
The A388 to Polson
A circuit around the town centre

A full map is here (you can drag it and zoom in), but remember that most roads are not salted and neither are footpaths. With the hills around town, this can make footpaths especially dangerous. There are some salt bins around the town which residents are free to make use of. But please also remember that the salt will run out and so please only use what you have to and do not expect it to work straight away. If you find a salt bin which is empty, let the Council know by calling 0300 1234 222 or email roadstransportandparking@cornwall.gov.uk.

But that will leave many areas untreated. The residents of Kensey Valley Meadow, for example, can find it impossible to drive cars out of the estate as the Council does not salt the roads there. I know that people living in Ridgegrove, Lanstephan and other areas will have the same experience.

I am asking the Council to look at a better road treatment policy, but any change will take time and will not come into force during this cold snap.

My new ALDC column - Cornwall is different

I've been asked by the people at the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors - ALDC for short - to write a regular column for their website (or occasional, depends whether they like it).

My first effort, giving Lib Dem councillors around the country an insight into what has happened in Cornwall since June can be found here. The main point in make is that Cornwall Council is very different to those I have worked in and with before. That is sometimes a good thing - there's a lot more consultation about the budget - but also sometimes a very bad thing - there is a lot of drift and officers are often taking the lead where members should be.

(For those who haven't come across the term before, a Section 9 Political Assistant is a council officer working to assist the councillors of one party only. The work is usually concentrated on press and research. The rule is that either all or none of the parties on a council must have such a post and in Cornwall it is none.)

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Matthew Taylor's son Arthur gets cancer 'all clear'

In much happier news, I am delighted to hear that Arthur Taylor, the three year old son of Truro MP Matthew and his wife Vicky, has been given a provisional all clear after his battle with cancer, after eight months of intensive treatment and a major operation two weeks ago.

Commenting, Vicky and Matthew Taylor said:

“The last eight months have seemed an eternity of worry, and especially the last two weeks. The operation brought a real risk of disabling Arthur, and we could not know if the chemotherapy had been successful until the tumour was analysed. But it has all proved better than even the Doctors hoped. We are so grateful to the NHS, and we are so proud of Arthur.

“Within days of his operation we got the news there was no sign of any disabling damage. Then at the Great Ormond Street children’s Christmas Party came the most important phone call of our lives. The tumour which was removed was all dead. Scans show the secondary tumours in his lungs have gone. And although another secondary tumour further up his spine is still to be scanned, they fully expect that has gone too, with only slight damage to the vertebrae. Arthur asked us why we had burst into tears, and all we could say was we were so happy it was Christmas.

“In the words of the surgeon – ‘this is as good as it gets’. Arthur won’t have the final ‘all clear’ for many years yet, and we know we’ll be seeing the inside of a hospital many more times, starting in January with more scans and tests – but there is no sign of active cancer now, and he’s got every chance it will stay that way.”

The operation (to remove what was left of his primary tumour after six months of intensive chemotherapy) was brought forward unexpectedly by a week at very short notice. The result is that Arthur is out of hospital in time to celebrate Christmas with Mum and Dad and brother Jacob, and family members from as far a field as the United States.

Matthew Taylor had already announced in 2007 that he would stand down at the General Election, so that he would not have to be away from his young family in Westminster every week. He says now that:

“This was the best decision of my life. I have been able to concentrate on Arthur, the family, and my constituency casework for the last eight months, without having the worry of campaigning to defend my seat.

“I chose to stand down to raise my two sons here in Cornwall where they can breathe fresh air, play in green fields and go to the beach – and so I can be fully part of their lives as they start school, not away in Westminster every week. To Vicky and me, Arthur’s cancer simply made it 100% clear it was the right decision, though we will continue to play active roles in Cornwall, and pursuing the issues we believe in.”

Fantastic news.

Anna Werrin and John Morris

I was very saddened to hear of the deaths of two people I worked with.

The first is Anna Werrin, who has died following a stroke. Anna was Charles Kennedy's Head of Office throughout his leadership of the Liberal Democrats and subsequently managed Chris Huhne's second leadership campaign in 2007. I worked closely with Anna in both roles as I was taking photos for the Party. I always felt that Anna was a figure of importance that the media never really cottoned on to. She never sought the limelight but had a magnificent political brain and managed really difficult situations very well indeed.

John Morris came from a completely different sphere. He was, for two years or so, the Reserve Team Manager of AFC Wimbledon, joining the club under Dave Anderson. In this role, John brought on a large number of young players who have gone on to reach a high standard in the non-league game both with Wimbledon and with other clubs. I used to enjoy reserve team games almost as much as the first team and made a lot of friends among the players. John was always a football man first and foremost. You read about Arsene Wenger spending all his off moments watching match videos and thinking about tactics. Well, John was the same. He was always ready to talk about his charges with fans and was another who never courted the limelight but had a profound influence on those around them.

My thoughts are with the families of both Anna and John.

Salmond's legal threat

So let's be clear about this...

- There will be separate debates in Wales and Scotland featuring Plaid and the SNP as appropriate;

- The SNP will not be running enough candidates UK-wide to have a chance of forming a Government;

- Alex Salmond is not even going to be a candidate at the General Election

And yet Mr Salmond is still thinking about taking legal action in order to secure himself a space in the UK wide leaders' debates.

Is this a case of ego above reason?

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Two ways to tackle Newquay's problems

Over the summer, Newquay had a number of problems involving the combination of alcohol and young people. Most tragically, there were the deaths of Paddy Higgins and Andrew Curwell who fell from the cliffs around the town.

Two very different ways of tackling the problem have been evidenced in the past few days.

The Tories sent George Osborne to the resort to issue soundbites.

But Newquay Town Council has other ideas and backed a plan by my colleague Geoff Brown (a Newquay Town Councillor as well as Lib Dem Cornwall Councillor, although it should be stressed that this scheme is totally non-political). Geoff and his wife will spend two to three days per week for thirteen weeks during the spring travelling to Berkshire to speak in schools. They aim to reach every school in the county and to speak to every pupil in year 11 and chose Berkshire because it was where Paddy came from.

Their message will be that Newquay is a great place for a holiday, but that alcohol can ruin that holiday. It isn't just the tragic accidents that meant that Paddy and Andrew lost their lives. At the luch lower end of the scale, too much alcohol can mean a miserable time. Please come to Newquay, but please don't ruin it for yourselves or for others.

Full marks to Geoff and to Newquay Town Council for reaching out in this way. Perhaps Mr Osborne could learn something from their work.

Snow hits Launceston

Despite the weather forecast saying that we would be clear and dry today, the snow has hit Launceston and made driving conditions very tricky indeed.

I've been on to Cornwall Council asking them to send gritters to the area as soon as possible. As things stand, a couple of inches of snow have made the main roads very tricky and some of the side roads next to impassable.

It's currently sunny and blue sky over town but that is likely to mean falling temperatures as the afternoon progresses and so the remaining snow will turn to ice.

The Council will be salting all the A and B roads in our area over the course of the next couple of hours but it will take some time to happen. So please be patient and don't drive unless absolutely necessary.

In the meantime, why not do some Christmas shopping in town and, if you have any concerns about older neighbours who live on their own, please pop round and check that they are ok.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Launceston car park prices rise again

Back in June, the Liberal Democrats stood for election with a manifesto commitment to introduce 10p first hour car parking in all towns. We believed that it was the best way to support struggling town centre shops. It was a measure that was already working well in the former Caradon area. And the measure was certainly popular with local residents. I think that I only came across two people who didn't like it of the hundreds that I talked to.

Since the election, we have pressed the case for this change and the Council is now considering it. At the recent parking panel, the members threw out a Conservative Cabinet move to increase fees by up to 300% and instead said that, for the coming year, fees should rise by just 5%.

So far, so good.

I assumed that as Launceston car parks had seen fees rise from 60p to 70p for the first hour earlier this year (a rise of 16.7%), that there would be no further increase.

Unfortunately this is not the case. Not only is there to be another increase, but it will not even be limited to the 5% promised.

Fees are going up by 10p across the board (equivalent to 14%). For the first hour, this will mean you will be charged 80p. For 1-2 hours the charge will be £1.30, £1.90 for 2-3 hours and £2.50 for 3-4 hours.

So law abiding people wanting to pop into local shops have seen a rise of a third (33.3%) in just two years.

I believe that the people of Launceston have been misled by the spin that parking charges are rising by just 5% and am asking the Council to reconsider the change urgently.

If you agree - or have any other comments - then you can fill in the consultation forms by clicking here. I also understand that you can get a paper copy of the consultation at the Launceston One Stop Shop.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Enfranchise the forces

We may not have forces fighting in Iraq any more, but there are still more than 10,000 UK troops serving in Afghanistan and many more on other bases around the world. With a General Election due in the next six months, I believe that this country owes it to our soldiers, sailors and airmen to make sure that they have a real opportunity to vote in that election.

That means two things. Firstly, the Government needs to ensure that everyone who wears the British uniform is allowed to vote. According to the MOD, as of 05/11/09 there were 5,119 service personnel not eligible to vote at the next General Election as they are not British, Commonwealth or Irish Citizens. This includes 4,143 Ghurkhas and 928 service personnel with ‘No Nationality Recorded’ (which is a bit worrying in itself).

Secondly, the Government must take action to make sure that UK forces overseas have a real opportunity to vote. The only way that they can currently vote is appoint someone else to vote on their behalf - a proxy. But how may actually do so? I believe that the law should be changed so that our forces overseas can vote in person. But in the meantime, the MOD should have a special recruitment drive to make sure that every member of the armed forces overseas appoints a proxy.

The UK armed forces dominate political discussion week after week and will surely do so at the general election. Surely they should be able to have their say.

If you support this campaign, please sign the 10 Downing St petition and join the Facebook Group.

Conservatives exclude Lib Dems from County Farms review - UPDATED

Cornwall's Conservative led Cabinet has excluded all Liberal Democrats from a review of County Farms. These are the agricultural holdings which are owned by the Council and rented to farmers.

A review of the County Farms strategy is very sensible and the Cabinet agreed yesterday that a review panel should be set up. You would have thought that the membership would have encompassed councillors from across the county and across the political divide to make sure that every aspect is considered.

Yet Carolyn Rule - the Cabinet Member responsible - has decided that no Lib Dems should be allowed to participate. And so the expertise of people like Adam Paynter and Glenton Brown (both farmers of long standing) will be ignored.

I have nothing against the people who have been chosen (
Pam Lyne, Bob Egerton, Mike Eathorne Gibbons, John Dyer, Lisa Dolley, Judith Haycock, Phil Tucker, Chris Goninan, Philip Parsons & Gavin Shakerley), but Cllr Rule clearly needs to think again.

UPDATE: It now seems that Cllr Rule has realised her mistake and has invite both Adam and Glenton to be part of the review panel.

Are Nick and Miriam expecting?

It's just because, seeing the card drawn by their sons Antonio and Alberto, you can't help but wonder...

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Was Council telling the truth on Scilly link?

Back in September when the Cabinet last discussed the Scilly link project, everyone was assured that Option C would be pursued alongside the 'preferred' option A. So when Option A was scuppered by the planning committee on Monday, surely Option C was ready and waiting to take over?

Not according to Transport Cabinet Member Graeme Hicks at today's Cabinet meeting. He told those present that he would not be following up any further option that involved Penzance.

Earlier, he answered questions from Penzance residents who had travelled up for the meeting telling them that the promised action on Option C had not been taken and no tenders for route operators had been sought - only an exploratory discussion with a company which ended up making no tender bids at all.

So why was the promised action not taken and does the Cabinet have a clue what it is going to do next?

Tory budget - utter confusion

At Cornwall Council's Cabinet this morning there was utter confusion about the status of the budget. Despite the Conservative Leader of the Council sending out a press release commending the budget plans, he appeared to back down today whenever he was challenged on a controversial point.

I asked about the plans to close some One Stop Shops for two additional days a week and was told that this was only an idea and was not yet definite - despite it being in the Council's budget for this year.

My colleague Doris Ansari asked about the outrageous plans to get rid of weekly rubbish collections in East and West Cornwall (including Launceston) and was told that it would be foolhardy not to consider it. I wonder if the Conservative Councillor's motto ought to be: 'One Cornwall - Two Tier Service'?

Other facilities, such as Looe Bowls Club, are scheduled for closure in the budget without local councillors or the public even being told. When challenged on these, Cabinet members hastily promised consultation.

Which leads me to the question - just what status does this budget paper have? We are told that the Cabinet has discussed it in detail several times (and individual cabinet members have been working on plans for ages with their officers). Yet they are running away from every controversial proposal.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Conservatives Cuts for Cornwall 3: Close public loos

Another revelation from the Conservative Budget Book. They want to close some public loos or cut the hours that they are open, saving £100,000 this year and a further £200,000 next.

Ask any councillor and you will find that public loos are viewed as essential services by many residents. Being caught short when you are out of your house can be worrying and if there is no public loo available then it can be incredibly embarrassing.

If there is no public loo available then many people (particularly older people) are likely to stay at home more.

There is the additional effect on tourism. Tourists need places they can go to the loo. A town without public conveniences is a town that will lose tourist business.

Library Newspaper Success!

I've never had a campaign success so quickly!

Neil Burden, the Cabinet Member responsible for libraries, has just written to all councillors to say that as the amount of newspaper content that is available on line is being restricted, he has abandoned his plan to cancel library newspaper subscriptions.

That's fantastic news for linrary users.

Conservatives Cuts for Cornwall 2: Cut One Stop Shop opening hours

The Tory budget book (see below) contains a promise to cut One Stop Shop opening hours in areas where the service is not well used.

We don't yet know where the axe will fall (and I sincerely hope that it will not be in Launceston, but this particular cut blows the gaff on Lance Kennedy's promised review of One Stop Shop opening hours.

First we were told by the Chief Executive that One Stop Shops would be opened longer, including into the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

Then we were told by Cllr Kennedy that there would only be a swap in hours, so opening on a Saturday morning would mean closing at another time.

Now it appears that some One Stop Shops will be closing for an extra two days per week.

In another blow to Launceston, the Conservatives will be cutting the support given to councillors by localism officers. This will affect the ability of councillors to work with local groups and residents and the ability to do casework. Mark and Rosemary (our local community network staff) do an excellent job and help me arrange meetings, deal with casework and find grants available for local groups. Without them I couldn't represent local people nearly so well.

The administration's commitment to localism is a sham. First they delayed the whole project whilst they conducted a review. Now they are planning on cutting back before local community networks and the One Stop Shops have had a chance to establish themselves. It appears that the Council is becoming more and more Truro-centric.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Council votes down Penzance Harbour scheme

News has just come through that the Council's Strategic Planning Committee has rejected an application that formed the basis of one of the options for the new Isles of Scilly link project.

The application would have meant the in-filling of Battery Rocks, the loss of the beach there and the use by many large lorries of the newly claimed land to off-load freight for the Islands. This was hugely unpopular with many local residents who wanted to see a split scheme with passengers using the harbour and a freight terminal at an out of town site.

At earlier meetings, the Council assured us that both schemes would be pursued so that if the Battery Rocks scheme fell then full advantage could be taken of all Government funding offers for the other scheme.

We shall no doubt see at Wednesday's Council meeting whether this promise holds water.

Tory Council Leader's local association shamed over 'charity con'

It appears that the Conservative Association to which Cornwall Council Leader Alex Robertson belongs has been "duping" a charity choir into taking part in a Christmas carol concert to raise money for party funds as well as charity.

The Western Morning News has the full story. In essence, St Ives Conservatives invited the Helston Chamber Choir to sing at an event to raise money for the charity St Julia's Hospice. They didn't tell the choir that they would also be raising money for the Tory Party.

The event didn't happen in the end and the organiser has promised to pay the expenses of the choir and make a donation to their work, but it's all very unseemly.

Cornwall Council Chairman's £16,000 taxi bill (Updated)

The Chairman of Cornwall Council has a budget of £16,000 per year just for taxis. This is on top of her basic and special allowances and mileage allowance.

I appreciate the role that the Council Chairman does - attending many events and representing the Council - but Council taxpayers look set to be asked to fork out for a tax rise double the rate of inflation next year thanks to the Conservatives. Surely the Chairman's taxi bill is not the highest priority and could be cut.

Let's be clear, the Chairman has a car and receives a mileage allowance of 50p per mile when she uses it on Council business - so she is not out of pocket. This particular Chairman has made the generous offer that she will not take her full allowances, but the principle remains. There may be exceptional circumstances when a Chairman cannot use a car and needs a taxi. But these have to be the exception rather than the norm.

For £16,000, the Council could buy a brand new car and pay for petrol for a whole year and have change to spare. And at the end of the year there would be an asset to sell or use again.

Note: I've modified this post to make it clear that it is the position of Chairman of Council having this budget that I object to and nothing to do with the current holder of this post.

Conservatives Cuts for Cornwall 1: Scrap weekly rubbish collections

Cornwall's Conservatives are planning to scrap weekly rubbish collections in Launceston.

The proposal, hidden in the Council's budget book, will come into force in two years time. I, and my Lib Dem colleagues, will campaign to save weekly collections.

Residents are rightly concerned that this will have a significant impact, particularly on the tourist trade and will lead to problems with vermin and with smells. The idea of allowing rubbish to pile up in the streets for up to two weeks at a time is horrendous. Liberal Democrats guaranteed to retain weekly rubbish collections in our manifesto and will fight this proposal tooth and nail.

Dan and Alex campaign to save free newspapers in libraries

I've joined with Dan Rogerson in a campaign to save the provision of free newspapers in libraries across the county.

The Conservative led administration at County Hall has decided to cut this service from January 1st. The savings will be tiny but the effect on some of the least well off local residents will be immense.

At present, Launceston Library has the Western Morning News, Times and Daily Mail on the five days a week they are open. (The Mail wouldn't necessarily be my choice of newspaper, but there you go). They also carry the weekly papers (which are not being cut). Other libraries in the county carry a similar spread of papers.

According to staff there, the papers are very well read. Many people, particularly older residents, don't have access to the internet and are not comfortable using computers in any case. They form the bulk of the readership, which also includes people searching the jobs pages and people waiting to use other library services.

The cost of providing newspapers is just a couple of pennies per reader per day.

The Conservative led administration at County Hall promised to cut bureaucracy but instead they are cutting free newspapers in local libraries. It's quite clear that their penny-pinching is being aimed at some of the least well off and most vulnerable people in the County.

Six weeks ago on Radio Cornwall, Council Leader Alec Robertson promised no front line service cuts. The decision to take newspapers away from libraries proves that you can't believe a word he says.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Launceston Amateur Boxing Club

Last night I went to Penstowe Manor at Kilkhampton for one of Launceston Amateur Boxing Club's fundraising shows. I'm afraid that I wasn't there for the dinner, but from the look on the faces of the diners it seems that the food went down well.

The boxing itself was 12 bouts featuring contests between a wide range of boxers aged from about 10 upwards. (It's not often that the reaction of the crown to a boxer is 'ahhh').

As ever, safety is paramount and gloves, headgear and other protection is rigorously checked before each fight and between rounds.

The boxers themselves came from Launceston, Newquay and as far afield as Romford and Weymouth.

It was a fantastic event from a great club. Des Charnock and his team deserve a huge pat on the back for their efforts and I look forward to their next event. Des himself opens up the club every weekday and travels with his fighters to contests up and down the country. He has already seen a number of them progress up the ratings very rapidly - which is testament to his abilities as a coach as well as to their skills as boxers.

Launceston's late night shopping

I can't believe that there's anyone reading this who wasn't at late night shopping in town on Saturday (the streets were packed). But huge congratulations to my colleague Sasha Gillard-Loft and everyone involved in the whole event.

From parading camels to mulled wine and elves, it was a great evening and did the town proud.

Friday, 11 December 2009

I know we're close to the border, but...

Launceston is in Cornwall, not Devon

Cornwall Council's own silly expenses story

With expenses on the front pages of all the papers, it seems apt to relay the story of Cornwall Council's own expenses mystery.

Yesterday there was a public meeting held in Penzance to discuss the proposed harbour developments and plan to locate both passenger and freight service for Scilly there. This meeting was organised by the Council and all members of the Strategic Planning Committee attended so that they could listen to the views of residents and see the scheme for themselves before the decision making meeting on Monday.

As usual, councillors made every effort to cut travel costs by sharing cars or taking the train. Yet they are told that they cannot claim travel expenses for what seems like a vital meeting.

On the other hand if I, who am not a committee member, choose to take my car all the way down to Penzance on Monday - not sharing with anyone else - to attend the meeting where I have no vote and which has little to do with my constituents, then I can claim full expenses including food.

I'm not going to make the trip because I have more local things to attend to and I don't believe in charging unnecessary costs to the Council.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Cornwall Tories propose 2.9% council tax rise

Cornwall Council's Conservative led administration are proposing a 2.9% rise in Council tax for next year.

The final decision won't be taken until the Full Council has its say in February and Cornwall Council is only responsible for part of the final Council tax bill. The Police, town and parish councils and other agencies such as the Environment Agency can also add 'precepts'.

In June, the Lib Dems stood on a manifesto pledging to limit Cornwall Council's tax rises to the level of inflation over the course of the four year term. Inflation is measured in two different ways. RPI inflation is currently -0.8% and CPI inflation (the more stable version and the Government's preferred measure) is just 1.5%.

Add to this the fact that the Government formula grant for Cornwall for next year has increased by 4.5%.

I'll have a much closer look at the budget plans over the next couple of days and post here what they are saying they will do for local services.

Cornwall Council's 462 page agenda

Next Wednesday, Cornwall Council's Cabinet will be holding their monthly meeting. Today, the Shadow Cabinet met to be briefed on the matters that were coming forward for decision. Our meeting was at 2pm and at noon we received the agenda. All 462 pages of it. And it is still incomplete. There are four reports still to be finalised and distributed.

The most controversial discussion will be on the new Isles of Scilly link project. The proposal is to build a new combined freight and passenger facility on Penzance harbour including some reclaimed land from the sea. Many Pz residents want to see the freight element moved to an edge of town facility, but the Cabinet is being recommended to accept the combined facility.

The Cabinet's plan may be scuppered however if a planning application (due to be discussed in Pz on Monday) is refused. If it is then there is no time to appeal before funding schemes run out and we will be back to square one.

Later in the agenda, in the confidential section, there is a decision to be made on who will build the new boat and who will operate the new service.

There is a huge report due on the Ofsted Improvement Plan - but this is simply marked 'to follow' so we don't yet know what is in it.

There is a formal report on the Adult Social Care Performance Rating. Cornwall is one of only eight Councils in the country marked simply as adequate but it has been acknowledged that we are now improving.

The biggest single item we are awaiting is the business plan (promised in June, due in October, delivered in December?) and the budget for next year. The budget papers are unlikely to yet have precise spending details, but they should indicate the likely council tax rise that local residents will face for the coming year. I hope to be able to reveal this in the next 24 hours.

Other matters include the very significant housing strategy. The document I have read is, indeed, a very comprehensive document. But it is only stage one in a process. It sets out the different ways, for example, that the Council could fund new affordable housing. But it does not set out what is affordable and what the Council actually plans to do year on year. That planning is the next stage and I hope that we can move on to it as soon as possible.

In a similar vein, the Council recognises that the community outside the home is a key part of a housing strategy - open spaces, play areas, community halls and so on. Again, we need to wait for the Council to conduct what is known as a 'green infrastructure review' to find out where we are and how the shortfalls can be addressed.

But at least we are travelling further along the road with this document, but it is still a long way to go before we know how we get more affordable homes for Launceston people or how we get the decent play areas and community halls we need on the Ridgegrove and Lanstephan estates (among others).

We're not finished yet...

The Cabinet will also be discussing:

- Monthly Financial Monitoring report
- Integration of out of hours service
- Street Naming Policy
- Tolvaddon Business Park Spine Road
- Cornwall Local Development Scheme
- Photo-Voltaic Loan for Schools
- County Farms Strategy Review
- Cornwall Airport Limited (in confidential session)

Phew...

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

David Penhaligon would not be backing MK

Dick Cole, Leader of Mebyon Kernow, is entering General Election mode. Nothing wrong with that. But he has quoted an outrageous statement on his blog which demands an answer.

Dick quotes and article in the Western Morning News y a Simon Parker which is disparaging about the Lib Dems and about Nick Clegg in particular. All fairly standard stuff. But he claims that David Penhaligon, the much loved MP for Truro for many years and the man who inspired me to join the Liberal Party, would today be backing Mebyon Kernow.

I am sure that, had David not been tragically killed back in 1986, he would have gone on to lead the Liberal Party and the Liberal Democrats. I am sure that, although very different in style to Paddy Ashdown, he would have had the same effect in launching the Party from the ruins of the merger to one which would command attention on the national stage. You never know, he may even have been more successful than Paddy.

But even if we don't try to re-imagine history but simply have David alive and well today, I am sure that he would be a very active and passionate member of the Liberal Democrats. When David didn't agree with Party policy he argued passionately for his case (and usually won the day).

David believed in making sure that the poorer people in Cornwall had a better quality of life. The Liberal Democrats would raise the tax threshold to £10,000 so that many thousands of Cornish residents would no longer pay any tax at all. I'm sure he would have had no truck with overly bureaucratic tax credits and other centralised means of handing a few quid to poorer people and far more to consultants, contractors and bureaucrats.

Of course MK would want David as a member. Any party would. He was immense. But to claim that David would have walked away from the Party he loved and which he helped to create is a step too far.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Council votes to keep existing taxi arrangements

Ever since the new council started work, there have been complaints from local taxi drivers that they are not allowed to pick up fares across the county but are still restricted to the old North Cornwall area.

In reality, most Launceston taxi drivers will want to remain working in the town and the surrounding area. It is the area they know best and where they have a large number of 'regulars'. But, because we have no rail stations in North Cornwall and because passengers often want to be taken to Newquay Airport or even to Truro, drivers want the flexibility to be able to ply for trade there rather than having to drive back empty.

The situation is compounded for drivers in Bodmin. Bodmin Parkway station is actually in the old Caradon area and so Bodmin based drivers who wanted to pick up at the station had to be licensed by both NCDC and Caradon councils.

Today the Council discussed whether or not to change from six zones to a single zone covering the whole of Cornwall. Drivers in the old NCDC, Caradon and Penwith areas wanted a single zone whilst those in the centre of the county favoured keeping six areas.

It was clear that there was not enough support for a single zone even though Bodmin Lib Dem Ann Kerridge made the case quite forcefully. And so Bodmin Conservative Lance Kennedy and myself made a compromise proposal. We wanted to keep six zones for the coming year but to have a review after 12 months by which time the Bodmin Parkway situation could be sorted and a scheme for three zones considered. This proposal was narrowly defeated.

And so we keep six zones and Bodmin drivers wishing to pick passengers up from the railway station need two licenses from the same authority.

An answer on parking enforcement

I asked the Council about parking enforcement at Full Council today.

Graeme Hicks, the Cabinet Member for Highways, told me that he didn't think that it would be financially viable for the Town Council to take on parking enforcement. But he assured me that when the signs and lines have been completed and a re-jig of enforcement officers has been done, the effectiveness of the system would be a lot better.

Cllr Hicks assured me that Launceston currently gets 3.5 hours per day of car park enforcement and twenty five hours per fortnight of on-street parking enforcement. Although he admitted that officers sometimes struggle to complete the whole of the on-street work.

I hope that Cllr Hicks assurance about better enforcement in the New Year holds true and I'll be making sure the town gets all the help it needs.

Boundary Committee proposes big changes for Launceston

The saga of Cornwall Council's boundaries is long and involved. Suffice it to say that the elections in June were fought on draft, rather than final, boundaries. The final report of the Boundary Commission is now out and there are further changes proposed for Launceston.

The town will still keep three wards and the North Ward will still be a mix of town and villages, but many areas of the town itself are set to change.

At present, the Lanstephan Estate is split between North and Central Wards. It is proposed that the whole estate, together with Cross Lanes, sits within North Ward.

Part of the St Stephen's Hill area of town - that part to the West of St Stephen's Hill itself - will move to Central Ward.

In the centre of town, the Castle and shopping area of town will move from South to Central wards.

I'll be chatting to local residents and my colleagues Sasha Gillard-Loft and Adam Paynter about the changes (which still have to be agreed by Parliament). No changes will come into effect until after the next council elections in 2013.

Tories doubt North Cornwall villagers' motives in schools referendum

I'll blog in a bit about the major issues coming out of today's full council meeting, but I wanted to point readers to my colleague Jeremy Rowe's blog and his post about Cabinet Member for Schools Sally Bain.

Recently there was a proposal (strenuously, but ambiguously denied) that two village primary schools were to be closed. The villages of St Mabyn and St Tudy organised a referendum (properly overseen by the Electoral Reform Society) and 97.3% of those who voted backed keeping the existing schools open.

Yet today Sally Bain said she doubted that the villagers were acting in the best interests of their children and refused to give an assurance that village schools in the County would not face closure despite repeated requests to do so.

In contrast, the Lib Dems have pledged to keep all village schools open.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Cornwall snubbed in bid for schools cash. What now?

The very disappointing news came through this week that Cornwall has been rejected in its bid for £580 million of funding in the Building Schools for the Future scheme. The aim was to bring all of the county's 31 secondary and four special schools up to scratch.

Instead, the Government have chosen 11 areas - predominantly Labour areas - which will get the cash instead.

It's thoroughly frustrating and means that many Cornish pupils will have to be taught (and teachers have to teach) in outdated classrooms for many years to come.

The bid originated under the Lib Dem run County Council last year and has been supported by the Conservative led administration since they took over. Given that this funding route has been closed off, the question is where can we get this money now? I am sure that Alec Robertson and his colleagues will be asking themselves the same question and I'm sure that all parties will be working together to seek a solution.

Bangors Lane Waste Site application submitted

Sita have formally submitted their planning application to move their waste and recycling site to Bangors Lane on the Pennygillam Industrial Estate.

The plan is to move their existing facility - which is too small - and to create a much larger site which will continue to provide a range of recycling options for residents as well as to enable the transfer of household rubbish from the regular bin lorries into larger vehicles. Larger trucks will be able to carry more waste and so cut down on the number of journeys overall.

I've had the benefit of seeing initial plans from Sita and these raised a number of questions in my mind but overall the scheme looks to be well thought through.

I don't sit on either the local planning committee or the Cornwall-wide planning body and so will not be able to vote on the application but I will be going along to the meeting (date not yet known) to ask questions of the developers and planners to make sure that local people will not be adversely affected by the scheme if it gets the go ahead.

Cornwall Council wasting money telling farmers how to drive

I see that Cornwall Council has spent a load of taxpayers' money on a new advice leaflet telling farmers how to drive on roads.

I'm sure that most readers will have been frustrated to have been stuck behind a farmer on the road every so often. I know that most drivers have also come across roads caked in mud after a tractor has come out of a field.

But what effect will this leaflet actually have?

Farmers have a job to do. At certain times that means they have to take slow moving vehicles onto the roads. Often these vehicles are caked in mud from fields and there is little they can practically do to clean them at the gate. Thie road use is usually dependent on crops or animals or the weather - nothing they have much control over.

Some farmers are extremely considerate drivers - pulling into laybys as often as possible to let built up traffic pass. Others are simply not willing to consider other road users. So they're just like the rest of us in this respect.

Will any farmer really change their ways because of a leaflet from Cornwall Council (even if it has NFU backing)?

Just how much has this leaflet cost and what effect does Cornwall Council really expect it to have?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

World Cup Draw to get 5 hour build up on BBC

I know that the World Cup is a big deal. I'm going to be pretty glued to it next summer. And tomorrow's draw will allow the anoraks among us to start predicting England's 'inevitable route to glory'.

But does BBC Radio 5 Live really need to devote five hours of coverage to the draw before it even takes place?

According to the BBC website:
BBC Two/online from 1715 GMT, Jonathan Pearce commentating; full commentary on BBC Radio 5 live and live text commentary on the BBC Sport website from 1200 GMT
The draw starts at 5pm for goodness sake (so the TV is missing the first 15 minutes because you can't interrupt Ready, Steady, Cook). Are they really that short of programmes or has the whole world gone Motty Mad.

Parking fees across Cornwall set to rise 5% - but Cabinet wanted 300%!

This has the potential to be a good victory for common sense.

The Parking Panel met recently to look at charges in car parks across the county. The paper in front of them proposed equalising the charges is all the former 6 districts. This would have meant trebling charges in some of the cheapest car parks. You have to assume that this was the view taken by the Cabinet or it would never have seen the light of day.

Sensibly, the panel decided that this was unacceptable. They ordered a complete review of all parking in Cornwall, including the Lib Dem plan for 10p first hour parking in market towns to boost local shops and a sort of Oyster Card as pioneered by Lib Dem run Caradon Council. In the meantime, they have limited the rise of just 5% for the coming year. Councillor Chris Pascoe, for the Lib Dems, argued that we should hold off on any rise at all but that a 5% rise was the next best option.

Unfortunately, the Parking Panel does not have the final say on this matter and it will now go to Cabinet on 16th December. One can only hope that they back up this decision and do not revert to their original 300% plan.

You can read more over at Andrew Wallis' blog.

Why John Hirst, not UKIP is more likely to get the UK out of Europe

Iain Dale has been very consistent in tracking the case of John Hirst, a former prisoner who has been arguing that convicted criminals should not lose their right to vote in elections. Iain and I take different views on this matter (I believe that all UK citizens should have the right to vote unless they are convicted of an electoral offence and he doesn't). but I commend him on his assiduousness in this matter.

Iain reports that the Government has failed to take account of the European Court of Human Rights' judgement that the current UK position (that prisoners should not be able to vote) is incompatible with Human Rights law. The Government has responded that they are still consulting. The ECHR says that they have had long enough and so they must change the law immediately (ie in time for the next General Election) or be kicked out of Europe.

The Government has the perfect opportunity to change the law (there is a Bill going through Parliament at the moment that they are planning to amend with a commitment to a reform of the voting system), so that is no excuse.

It seems to me that (unintentionally) Mr Hirst has a better chance of forcing the UK out of the EU than UKIP!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Cabinet Member walks out of his own meeting

There was another briefing this morning on the proposed Affordable Housing PFI bid. Many members had significant concerns and wanted the Full Council to be able to make the final decision. The only concession made by Housing Cabinet Member Mark Kaczmarek was to hold a meeting where he said all councillors would be able to have their say and ask any questions they wanted.

That meeting was today and a large number of members turned up and wanted to ask many questions. All was going well until Cllr Kaczmarek walked out of his own meeting saying that we had had enough time to ask the questions we wanted. Those of us who still had concerns were able to spend a profitable further chunk of time getting answers from the officers.

To make it clear - the cabinet member who said that he wanted everyone to be able to ask all the questions they wanted and detail their concerns was not even prepared to stay around to hear those questions and concerns.

The key problems raised by those present included:

- what happens if the PFI company or the contractor goes bust?
- what is the wider strategy for affordable housing in the County given that this scheme will only provide 7% of out affordable housing need each year for four years?
- will these houses have decent local facilities including open spaces and play areas?
- will the scheme guarantee work for Cornish firms as Cllr Kaczmarek said?
- can we guarantee that the houses that are being built for sale will not be bought as second homes?

and many others.

It's fair to say that the officers present did a great job of answering the questions and were able to assuage our concerns on some matters. But there are still many worries about this scheme and I know that Cllr Kaczmarek, had he stayed around to listen, would have come to no other conclusion than that there are still many councillors unhappy that the Council is going down this route.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Signs and lines in town - when the rain stops!

I have blogged before about the urgent need for work to make the parking restrictions in Launceston enforceable. The 'signs and lines' are not currently right and so bad parking cannot be punished.

Cornwall Council has the necessary works planned but is waiting for a few days of dry weather to be able to get out in town and do the work.

Cornwall Tories demand underage drinking!

At each Full Council meeting, Cabinet Members produce a report on what they and their service have been doing in recent weeks. This gem comes from the report of Tory Cabinet Member for Stronger Communities Lance Kennedy:
"There has (sic) been 60 visits to enforce underage sales of alcohol"

Monday, 30 November 2009

What St Austell Bay means for Cornwall (clue: lots more Lib Dems)

Back in the days when the BBC covered by-elections properly, a standing feature of any coverage would include Peter Snow producing a map of the UK showing what the result would mean for UK politics nationwide. One particular highlight was the result of the Ribble Valley by-election when the entire country went Lib Dem gold except for a tiny portion of East Anglia. John Major would have been the only Tory MP to survive the onslaught.

Following the Lib Dem win in St Austell Bay last Thursday, I've done the same thing for Cornwall Council.

Based on a uniform swing of 13.46% from Conservatives to Lib Dems (and with Independents and others holding their own), the result in Cornwall would be:

Conservatives 9 seats (down 41)
Liberal Democrats 80 seats (up 42)
Independents 31 seats (down 1)
Mebyon Kernow 2 seats (down 1)
Others 1 seat (up 1)

The only Conservatives to hold their seats would be Joan Symons, Scott Mann, John Dyer, John Fitter, Neil Hatton, Liz Penhaligon, Armand Toms, Roger Harding and Pat Lamshead.

More immediately, the Lib Dems would also take all six of the Parliamentary seats in next year's General Election.

Friday, 27 November 2009

TRAC gets the go ahead

Although work commitments meant I wasn't able to stay for the debate, I'm delighted to hear that the TRAC plan for a multi-use trail alongside the Launceston Steam Railway track at New Mills got the go ahead at Planning last night.

This trail will be great as a stand alone project, but will have massive value for the people of Launceston if it can be extended as part of the strategic network of trails across Devon and Cornwall.

The Camel Trail is already in place and runs between Wadebridge, Bodmin and Padstow. It brings many thousands of visitors to the area each year and provides a lot of income for local businesses ranging from hotels and restaurants to bike hire firms.

In Devon, the Tarka Trail does the same and the construction of the Granite Way in West Devon is going to do the same.

The new project aims to link up the current trail network to create a great resource for walkers, bike riders and, hopefully, horse riders as well.

The plan is to link the (now approved) New Mills section with Launceston, coming in at Newport. The trail will go on to link the Newport Industrial Estate with Ridgegrove Lane and createt a safe crossing that is currently lacking at Newport.

That would be a boost for businesses in town and hopefully bring in many additional visitors. It will also be of benefit to local residents who simply want to be able to get safely from one part of the town to another.

This has been a cross party effort with my colleagues Adam Paynter and Sasha Gillard-Loft backing the scheme as well as local Tory Phil Parsons. Congratulations to Peter Sainsbury and the team who are making TRAC a reality and good luck with the rest of the scheme.

Compare and Contrast

If you hack the i-phone planting a worm that causes lots of trouble for millions of users, you get offered a job.

If you hack into the US looking for evidence of extra-terrestrials, you get deported.

St Austell Bay - Cornwall turns its back on the Tories

I made it to St Austell Bay yesterday after all. I had to work in Launceston until 6.45 and made it down there for quarter to eight for the last bit of knocking up and the count.

And boy am I glad I did.

John Oxenham's victory - on a huge 13% swing - was a great triumph for him and for the St Austell and Newquay team. But it will also have wider implications for the Conservatives in Cornwall.

Seeing the ballot papers come out of the boxes and the tally sheets, I thought we were close but no cigar. The Conservatives went into the election with a majority of over 350 (one of their safest seats in the County) and when the boxes were opened I thought we were looking at a Tory hold with a majority of around 50. That would have been a great swing, but still a Tory hold.

Hamish McCallum, the Lib Dem agent, said that he thought at this stage it was still 'do-able'. I thought he was simply putting on a brave face. I'm sorry Hamish, I was wrong.

In the end, after a recount, John Oxenham won by 15 votes and becomes the 39th Lib Dem councillor in Cornwall.

The Conservative candidate was Bob Davidson, their County organiser and a man who promised in a letter to voters that he would go to sort out County Hall. Maybe Tory Leader and Deputy Alec Robertson and Jim Currie (both of whom came to the Count) will be secretly glad that Bob won't be there to tell them where they have been going wrong?

Bob Davidson was beaten by the Lib Dem Graham Walker back in June (majority 19) and was beaten again last night. He was so ungracious this time that he refused to stay for the formal declaration. Instead he was pacing around outside with his phone glued to his ear.

The Lib Dem campaign was an incredibly strong one. Virtually all the Cornwall Councillors came to help John and there was also a great showing from the constituency parties and campaign teams.

The Tories also threw everything they could at it - matching the Lib Dems leaflet for leaflet. That is almost unheard of in Cornwall. Yet still they lost.

I think that the message from St Austell Bay is that Cornwall has seen what the Conservatives have to offer in the County and they are turning their backs on them. Back in June commentators might have looked at Cornwall and thought that the Lib Dems would have a tough time defending their seats. After last night's results I think we all know that the Lib Dems can hold off the Tory challenge. It's still going to be a tough fight, but it is one that the Lib Dems and the people of Cornwall know they can win.

A footnote: Labour stood in this election and managed just 66 votes - less than 5%. They are finished in Cornwall.

Another footnote: Where were Mebyon Kernow. The so called Party of Cornwall couldn't even put up a candidate for an import and by-election in the County. At their conference last week, Leader Dick Cole promised big things.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Polling Day in St Austell Bay

I can't get to St Austell Bay today for polling day in the first Cornwall Council by-election. But I have been there the past few days and it certainly looks like it will be close.

The by-election is being held because Conservative Richard Stewart has had to stand down for health reasons. Richard had a majority of about 450 over the Lib Dems - one of the safest in the county.

However, it is clear from the number of activists on the ground that this time will be a lot closer. As well as Lib Dems and Conservatives, Labour are standing but nobody has heard anything from them all campaign.

The Lib Dem candidate is John Oxenham, who is the only candidate to live in the ward and has put forward a vigorous campaign on key local issues. The Conservative candidate is Bob Davison, who is a career politician and already a town councillor ensewhere in St Austell. Incidentally, Bob is close friends with Tory MP Grant Schapps, the bloke to announced plans to concrete over Cornwall* at the Tory Party conference. Bob is the Conservative's campaigner in chief for the whole of Cornwall and was very embarrassed to lose out (to a Lib Dem) when he stood in a different ward back in June.

I'll be looking out for the result which should come through at around 11.30pm tonight.

*Ok - not literally, but he wants to remove almost all restrictions on where developers can build.

Launceston Road Safety Partnership

I went along to the Launceston Road Safety Partnership meeting on Tuesday night where the main order of business was to find out the results of the vote on new road crossings for the town.

I won't steal the thunder of the LRSP which will be announcing the results shortly, but I was amazed at the high turnout in the vote (conducted through the Cornish and Devon Post). It goes to show just how much people in our town are concerned about the lack of safe crossing facilities.

Other issues that came up include the new Traffic Order for Launceston - it sounds boring, but will make significant improvements to parking and the flow of cars through the town.

Also discussed was the imminent arrival of Cornwall Council's signs'n'lines department which will sort out the parking mess that I have blogged about before. Most of the on-street parking rules in town are not elgally enforceable and that has led to lots of congestion and annoyance - as well as loss of income for shops.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Lib Dems only a point behind Labour in latest poll

The excellent website Political Betting has started commissioning its own polls. They are carried out by Angus Reid Strategies who use the same sort of methodologies as most of the other UK pollsters (only MORI - the company behind yesterday's poll which had the Tories just six points ahead - differs in major ways).

The new poll - completed earlier today - has the Tories still well ahead on 39% (still shy of the magic 40% barrier) but Labour slumping still further to 22% and the Lib Dems on 21%, a single point behind.

'Others' are still very high at 18% - which I think is probably fairly accurate at the moment, although a lot of people currently thinking 'other' will drift back towards the main three during the election.

If true, it clearly shows Labour heading for massive trouble. Because of the ways the votes are split around the country, Labour could be level with the Lib Dems and still have more than twice as many seats, but it would mean a sea change in UK politics.

Children in Need

Last Friday was Children in Need day and Cornwall Council held a 'Cornwall's Got Talent' event with staffand members performing in front of a packed Council chamber.

I was invited to be one of the judges alongside Council Leader Alec Robertson and Chairman Pat Harvey. Entering into the spirit of things, we were asked to play the role of three of the Britain's Got Talent judges. So Alec became Simon Cowell, Pat was Sharon Osbourne and I, for my sins, was Louis Walsh.

To play the role properly took moments of serious research (I googled 'Louis Walsh catchphrases'). And so every comment started with 'Hey...' and I used up my stock of 'you owned the stage', 'emotional rollercoaster', 'best singer of the night' and ' I didn't like it, I loved it' by the end of the third act. So, just as Louis does, I repeated them all.

The acts themselves were an eclectic mixture. We started off with staff from Democratic Services doing a sort of Riverdance and Stavros Flatly thing with the 'help' of four councillors. You can find the results on Jeremy Rowe's facebook account.

After that we had a band, a couple of soloists, a saxophone duo and the MC - County Solicitor Richard Williams - miming to Duran Duran (I guess you had to be there).

It was a great way to spend a lunch hour and I hope we raised a decent amount of money for a great cause.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Launceston Town Council meeting

Last night was the monthly meeting of Launceston Town Council. The biggest topic of the night was the renovations at the Town Hall. The architect and the designer were both there to give presentations on their work and the Town Council gave its approval to go ahead.

The scheme will cost around £1m overall and the proposed works will be on display at the Town Hall before work starts. It will mean a much more accessible building with a more welcoming feel and the ability to host small conferences as well as dinners, dances, shows and theatre.

The second big issue was the very disappointing reply that had been received from Cornwall Council in response to the Town's offer to take over on-street parking enforcement in the town. As residents will know, the parking in town is a mess at the moment - in the main because the signs and lines are not right and so are unenforceable. But, although the Council claims that Launceston gets 1900 hours of enforcement time per year (that's 36.5 hours per week), we hardly ever see a traffic warden in town and so people know they can park with impugnity. Bad parking causes obstructions and means that locals and visitors cannot get to local shops easily.

But Cornwall Council has failed to understand the offer the is being made and seems determined to put all sorts of obstacles in the way of any real action.

I have promised to take this up with the Council at the next council meeting.

Also on the agenda was the proposed closure of the magistrates court (see below) and the usual reports back from councillors, the Mayor and myself on behalf of my fellow Cornwall councillors.

Equality in Social Care Conference

Yesterday I was delighted to be asked to chair a conference in County Hall on equality in Social Care.

An audience of 80+ heard from Pam Vickery of the Care Quality Commission and Tracy Sweet of NHS Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and discussed topics such as religion and belief, literacy, mental health, data usage and human rights - and how all of these can affect the type of care a person receives and whether they have equal access to it in the first place.

There were also the inaugural care equality awards with the winning team being the CHAMPS - a project for people with learning disabilities who become healthcare champions, testing access to services and spreading information. A number of the CHAMPS also helped to run the day. Othr projects to be honoured were a longstanding horticultural project at Eden for people with mental health problems, an information project for young people which accredits health services as being young people friendly and the Community Health Services Healthy Lifestyles project for people who have lost a limb.

It was a great event and I hope that other attendees learned as much from it as I did.

Launceston Magistrates Court set for the chop

The Government has put out a consultation paper on the proposed closure of Launceston Magistrates Court in Dunheved Road. It looks like they have been learning from the Conservatives on Cornwall Council as the 'consultation' is so biased that there is only one possible answer.

There have been court sittings in Launceston stretching back to the middle ages. But the claim is that the court building is now not fit for purpose.

I agree that the current set up is not particularly tenable. The building is too small, there is no accommodation for prisoners, it is not accessible for people with disabilities and does not have the right rooms for witnesses.

But the Government has completely failed to consider the option of bringing it up to scratch. The only considerations given in the paper are to leaving it as it is or closing it. With the loss of the tax office, this is another example of the Government leaving Launceston high and dry.

Ironically, we have a new extension to Launceston Police Station to allow prisoners to be kept there but these prisoners will have to be driven to Bodmin to attend court. The new Bodmin police station, meanwhile, has no cells - so prisoners from the town will have to be transported to Launceston overnight before being sent back to Bodmin for court appearances.

In a sign of just how little the Government cares about our area, they have even managed to put out a consultation paper spelling Cornwall as 'Cornwell' five times - a paper signed off personally by the Minister as being accurate.

The paper goes on to say that there is adequate public transport between Launceston and Bodmin for anyone who needs access to the court and does not have a car. Local people know that this is a fallacy. So much for Jack Straw's promise that justice must be accessible for all.

It looks inevitable that the court will close. Make no mistake that this is a Labour Government that has given up on Cornwall.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Liz Truss - right to stand, wrong to win

A story that is exciting the interest of the Westminster-centric surrounds the right of Elizabeth Truss to stand as the Tory candidate for South West Norfolk. She was selected but then immediately the process began to de-select her after a number of local members claimed that they were deceived by her about a previous affair with a married Tory MP.

Last night she (very) successfully fought off the de-selection challenge

Iain Dale has led the charge in favour of her staying on in the position and I think he is right. Here's why:

I knew Liz Truss (as she styled herself then) back when she was a member of the Lib Dems and involved in the Lib Dem Youth and Students - as was I. I didn't find her the easiest person to get on with. Alex Wilcock has his own take on this and he writes far better than me, so go there to find out more.

Liz's affair with Mark Field was well publicised at the time. She claims that she mentioned it in her initial application and believed that this information would be passed along during the selection process. I see no reason to disbelieve her but it really doesn't matter.

What goes on in a person's private life is just that - private. A right to a private life is guaranteed in the Human Rights Act - even in the Tory version. Unless, it appears, you are a politician.

Should there be a different standard for politicians? Possibly yes. In cases where a person is blatantly hypocritical then there is a public interest defence to exposing this. But there is nothing of the kind here. Assuming Liz does not try to put 'family values' at the forefront of her selection or election campaign then there is no hypocrisy and so no case to answer.

Clearly the likes of Sir Jeremy Bagge and others in the SW Norfolk Conservative Association believe something different. The question arises - should we now judge him by his own standards. I would assume that he is not a hypocrite and certainly do not level that charge against him. So presumably he would view questions about his own family life as being legitimate.

All that said, I very much hope that Liz Truss fails to be elected to Parliament. Not because she is wrong to stand, but because her policies are wrong for the country. That is the basis on which this issue should be judged.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Labour's Jedward poster - is it really such a good idea?

Labour have launched a new campaign poster comparing Tory bosses David Cameron and George Osborne to X-Factor stars John and Edward Grimes. The tag-line is "You won't be laughing if they win".

Hmm

Does this mean that Labour are accepting that the Conservatives are set to win the next General Election?

Are they accepting that people vote for Jedward because they fill the John Sargeant quotient - so bad that it's funny to see them win?

Is there are real danger that electors might take the same point of view when it comes to the General Election?

I just can't see it. I think there are two real possibilities. Either that people will continue to be so hacked off with politics that they just won't bother to vote (or, if they do, they will cast a lot of votes for 'none of the above' style parties such as the Greens, UKIP and the BNP). Or they will be so desperate to get rid of Labour that they will vote for anyone they feel can get rid of Labour - nationally the Tories are best placed, but locally the Lib Dems will be the main challengers in many seats.

So what should the Lib Dems feel about this poster? Is anything that damages Labour good for us?

I think the effect will be pretty negligible. While the poster is amusing, it's a bit ambiguous and it won't be appearing on too many billboards near you (too much danger of Jedward being voted off the X factor and being forgotten).

The only lasting effect is likely to be that politics in general (and the Tories in particular) will be cheapened. This is hardly an issues poster. It simply trivialises things in the way that morphing William Hague's head on to Margaret Thatcher's body did in the 2001 election. And you also have to remember where the message is coming from. Nothing that Labour says at the moment has much credibility and descending to photoshopped images is hardly adult.

If Labour are determined to take the campaign this far down market then I really don't think they have much left.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Cornish Language signs - what do you think?

There was a bit of a row at the Cabinet meeting yesterday about introducing Cornish language street signs as part of a wider Cornish language strategy.

The proposal is that, when new or replacement street signs are needed, these either be in Cornish or bi-lingual. There would be encouragement to use Cornish names wherever possible.

Thus, Plas-an-Gwarry would stand on its own (it is Cornish), but Richmond Hill would have (in smaller letters) Bre Richmond underneath.

Whilst many councillors were in favour and the Cabinet voted it through, others, such as Morwenna Williams and Fiona Ferguson, were very much opposed.

The additional wording on the signs would cost no extra and no signs would be changed unless broken and so there would be no additional burden on the council tax.

So it's over to you. What do you think of this proposal? Please leave a comment or contact me using the details on the right hand side of the page.

Post Office closure consultation was a sham says report

Perhaps Cornwall's Conservatives have been learning from the Government on how not to conduct a consultation.

A report out today from the House of Commons Public Acounts Committee says that ministers showed a "real lack of concern" for communities across the Westcountry when ordering the closure of dozens of post offices across the region - including Newport Post Office in Launceston.

The report says that the consultation was 'little more than window dressing'. By stating the number of closures in advance, the Government had, to all intents and purposes, already taken the decision they were consulting on.

The report goes on to say that few people were aware that there was a consultation and that the savings achieved by closing the post offices were comparatively small.

Outrageously, the Government has already brushed the report aside. The minister responsible has said that, despite the failure to consult and take the decision properly, the decision stands.

Sounds a lot like Cllr Robertson.

Snappers in the news

Thanks to Lib Dem Voice from bringing us these two:

David Cameron is under fire for having his private snapper take pictures of him in the Whitehall Garden of Remembrance before the Armistice Day Service yesterday.

I have to say that I don't think Mr Cameron has necessarily done that much wrong - although it has clearly hit a few nerves. Whilst Andrew Parsons (the photographer) might have breached rules about who is allowed to enter the garden to take photos, I think it is right that our politicians demonstrate their support for our troops, active and retired, living and dead. If photos help them to do so then take the photos (but stand outside the garden boundary to do so). There is a line that shouldn't be crossed, but I would suggest that is more to do with how the photos are used, rather than having them taken.

Also in the news, the Austrian politician who had himself photoshopped into a picture not once but twice.

Farewell RyanAir link to London

The not-at-all-hypocritical RyanAir are at it again.

They have announced that the route from Newquay to London will not be returning in their summer timetables having been pulled at the last minute from the winter run.

The only RyanAir flight now due to operate from Cornwall will be the flight to Alicante in the summer timetables.

They couldn't possibly cancel that too could they?

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

I report to myself and manage myself

Cornwall Council's Cabinet has decided to create a new committee to help oversee the running of the airport. The Airport Development Group will sit between the Cabinet and the two business organisations that run the airport and the land around it.

All of this was recommended by the report by Sir John Mills into the running of the airport and is to be welcomed.

The trouble is that the proposal appears to be that the same bunch of people will be on the committees at all levels:

At the top will be the Cabinet (cabinet members and chief officers)
In the middle will be the Airport Development Group (cabinet members, chief officers and heads of service)
Also in the middle will be the Economic Development and Transportation Services (cabinet members, chief officers and heads of service)
At the bottom will be the Cornwall Development Company and Cornwall Airport Limited (cabinet members and external business people)

So the cabinet members and chief officers will manage themselves and will also report to themselves. It doesn't really matter that there may be a few differences in which cabinet member sits on which committee - they all come from the same pool and there is no difference in outlook.

This was not what Sir John Mills wanted to see and he specifically recommended against it. It's a shame that the Cabinet can't see what problems could come as a result.

Is this also available in English?

The Cabinet was really proud of its first Green Paper - on Cornwall's economy - which they debated today.

Proud of it until every backbencher slammed it as being total gibberish.

The language used is totally beyond the reach of anyone but a management consultant and is self-contradictory in many places. There's an absolute work of genius on page 23 with a diagram that deserves an award for bad communication.

And yet this document was meant to be going out to the Council's business partners and to local communities for consultation.

Apparently it had already been delayed for a month because it was 'not yet ready' (translation - even worse than it is now) and still the members of the scrutiny committee were complaining that the administration were ignoring many of their concerns.

At Cabinet today, member queued up to complain about it and wrung an admission from the Leader that it needed to be 'in plain English and fit for purpose'. Cabinet Member Carolyn Rule agreed to go away and proof-read it. I hope that she goes further and gets it re-written in English.

Yet more confirmation that Cornwall Council's Tory Leadership just doesn't get it when it comes to consultation.

Cabinet sticks two fingers up to consultation

Cornwall Council's Cabinet today discussed the report from the Scrutiny call in of their decision over a new severance policy.

Essentially, Scrutiny told them that:

- their consultation with the unions wasn't good enough
- their consultation with council members wasn't good enough
- their consultation with the public wasn't good enough
- they didn't consider other valid schemes.

Yet today's meeting said that the original decision was fine and could be confirmed. The Leader refused to allow anyone other than the Chair of the Scrutiny Committee to speak and even the cabinet members themselves said nothing.

The Cabinet has clearly just stuck two fingers up to the entire scrutiny process.

Everyone talks about building a good working relationship with the unions. But how can that happen if they are not consulted properly.

How can scrutiny committees do their job properly if their detailed reports are just rejected outright?

Can the Cabinet really be happy with having a severance policy based on age discrimination. Two employees who have the same length of service will receive different payouts if they were born at different times. Although the new policy is just about legal thanks to a special exemption clause, that doesn't make it right. And Cabinet did not even consider other options which officers confirmed were legal.

Launceston Community Network Meeting

Last night we had the second informal meeting for the Launceston Community Network Panel. As it was still informal (in other words, the Cabinet had not yet signed off on the formal functions and powers of the Networks), we decided to invite two organisations who are not controlled by the Council to come and make presentations about their work.

And so we heard from Sgt Aaron Ward and his colleagues from the Police about their work and priorities. Although the levels of crime in Launceston and the surrounding area are low (averaging 12-18 recorded crimes per week) there are still many concerns. The biggest one in town is to do with parking and parking enforcement. The ability of the Police to enforce anything but obstruction offences has been taken from them. Their replacements - civil enforcement officers - are few in number and their time is limited. I was horrified to hear there are just 5 for the whole of Cornwall and they spend almost no time in the town. In addition, the current signs and lines make most regulations unenforceable. In December this issue will be addressed but we will still need someone to enforce the rules. Launceston Town Council has asked Cornwall Council to allow it to enforce, but has yet to hear back.

In rural areas the biggest problem is speeding and the Police are working with local residents to look at this.

We then heard from Kate Milton from the Primary Care Trust about health concerns. Kate explained what action the PCT could take to address local health concerns and how they are trying to consult local residents.

At the end of the meeting, Paul O'Brien, the Mayor of the town, asked us to look at how we can work with all the different businesses, community groups and Council departments to promote Launceston as a venue - for businesses and for the houses for workers to live in. This was a great suggestion and we'll try to include that as early as possible in our work programme.

Friday, 6 November 2009

2005 - Tony Blair pledges that if Labour is re-elected he will serve a full term.

2007 - Blair quits as PM - less than halfway through his term of office.

2009 - Gordon Brown pledges that, if Labour is re-elected, he will serve a full term.

It's time to re-start the Paddy for Afghanistan campaign

Gordon Brown has made a big speech this morning telling Afghanistan's President Karzai to take the issue of corruption seriously. It is widely accepted that the Afghan Government is a by-word for corruption and little progress can be made in the country until the issue is taken seriously by those who have the power to change it.

According to the BBC:
Gordon Brown has told Afghan President Hamid Karzai he will not put UK
troops "in harm's way for a government that does not stand up against
corruption".

There was considerable disquiet in the UK and elsewhere at the time of the Afghan elections that British and other troops are being sent to fight in the country - with significant casualties - to enable an election the result of which is doubted by just about everyone in the country and around the world. Put simply they say, why should British troops be dying to support a corrupt regime which rigs elections?

A year or so ago, it was seriously mooted that Paddy Ashdown would be asked to take over as the UN's chief representative in Afghanistan. He had performed a similar role in Bosnia and had made it his first task to root out corruption and establish the rule of law. Paddy's take on this is that the rule of law is a precursor to democracy. As he said at the time - what's the point in having elections if the system is corrupt. There's no point voting if you know that the election will be rigged and whoever gets in will be out to line their pockets in any case. Never was this thought more ably proved than in the case of the Afghan elections.

Paddy had the support of UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, of the US Government and of our own Government. And he was willing, albeit reluctantly, to serve. So why wasn't he appointed to the role? Because President Karzai objected. The feeling was that Karzai knew that Paddy's first mission would be to stem the corrupt practices - just as he had in Bosnia. Perhaps Karzai feared that his own interests - and certainly those of his cronies - would be harmed by Ashdown.

If Brown and the International Community are really serious about tackling corruption in Afghanistan, isn't it time they re-started the movement to get Paddy Ashdown in charge in Afghanistan?

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Still no idea of what Tory/Indie coalition stands for

A way back in June, Tory Council Leader Alec Robertson promised to produce a manifesto setting out what the new coalition administration at County Hall stood for. This is needed because it is unclear to local residents whether we should believe the Tory manifesto or the 31 different Independent ones. We need to know what vision the administration has for Cornwall - what they hope to achieve and on what basis we can judge their success or failure.

With a new administration, the process was always going to need some time - Alex Robertson said it would be ready by October.

October came and I asked for an update on progress. Cllr Robertson said that what would actually be coming was a Business Plan for the Council - not exactly a political manifesto but it should at least have given us a clue what they were on about. But, they were failing to meet their promise to produce this by October and so we would have to wait until November to see the draft document.

Now we have the agenda for November's cabinet meeting and, guess what...

Yep, no sign of the Business Plan on the agenda.

Another broken promise and no idea what the Tory led administration stands for.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Cabinet set to agree to localism - at last!

After the shock of putting localism on hold, it looks like the cabinet will finally be allowing devolved decision making in the county.

Localism - allowing local members to work with town and parish councils and others to take local decisions - was a key plank of the move to unitary status. Without localism we would have all decisions being taken in Truro. There would also be a huge gulf between decision makers and people.

It was a massive mistake, in my view, for the new Tory led administration to stop localism in its tracks. It sent the message that Cornwall Council was not interested in what local people have to say.

After a lengthy consultation process and endless meetings - led by the Communities Scrutiny Committee - the Cabinet will next week consider a proposal that would see localism start again. It appears that Cabinet Member Lance Kennedy will accept the recommendations of the scrutiny committee word for word.

That's great, but it is incredibly frustrating that we should have had to wait so long. Liberal Democrats said that we should have let the local committees develop at their own pace and in the direction they wish - exactly what the new report says. So why we had to wait for a decision that could have been made four months ago is anybody's guess. There is no doubt that relations with town and parish councils have been hurt as a result.

Cabinet told to think again on severance scheme

Cornwall Council had its first call-in meeting today and this resulted in the first reference back to Cabinet.

Under council rules, most decisions are taken by the Cabinet rather than the full council. Ordinary members have no say in the decision itself but can object if they feel that the process for taking a decision was faulty in some way. It's a bit like a judicial review.

In this instance, members of the Corporate Resources Scrutiny Committee objected to the decision on introducing a new severance policy for staff at the council. The Cabinet chose to harmonise the seven old council policies (sensible and needed) and agreed a new policy.

However, there was significant concern from the unions that they were not consulted on the change and from members that they were not involved and that the Cabinet had not considered significant alternatives. And so the decision was called-in. It emerged during the meeting that the reason that the new HR panel was not consulted was that its terms of reference were so badly drafted that they could not be asked for their thoughts and that the 'consultation' with the public was in fact a 'finger in the air' exercise with absolutely no consultation.

Despite all these failings, Cabinet Member Jim Currie said that he believed that the procedure followed was sensible and robust and that the resulting policy was a good one. Scrutiny Committee members weren't allowed to judge the policy itself, but they clearly rejected Jim's assurance that the procedure was good by voting unanimously to demand that the Cabinet re-consider.

I'm very glad to have been a part of that decision and hope that we will now have a chastened Cabinet which will take future decisions in a more open way and following proper consultation.

An email from 10 Downing St

This really doesn't need any comment from me. It's the response to my signing a 10 Downing St petition:

"You signed a petition asking the Prime Minister to "resign".

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to that petition and you can view
it here:

http://www.number10.gov.uk/Page21213

Prime Minister's Office"
Click on the link and you get this:

"The Prime Minister is completely focussed on restoring the economy, getting people back to work and improving standards in public services. As the Prime Minister has consistently said, he is determined to build a stronger, fairer, better Britain for all."
So that's alright then.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Ridgegrove gets the all clear

I'm delighted to be able to report that, following the safety audit of the play facilities on the Ridgegrove Estate, the remaining equipment has been given the all clear and will remain in place.

I'm delighted for this, but wary that it is only a small success in an on-going battle.

Whilst the swings etc are safe for the timebeing, I'm still going to be pressing the Council to replace the equipment that has been removed recently and to guarantee to replace equipment when it goes beyond its safe life in the future.

The safety audit was carried out by an extremely efficient officer from the former Caradon Council. Whilst I had been warned that even the smallest deficiency could see the equipment ripped out (a flake of paint was mentioned), I was glad to see that his attitude was to point out how easy it was to repair anything that was wrong. Hence he told us how cheap and easy it is to replace the shackles which are close to the end of their life. The other officers present were therefore able to recommend that the maintenance work is done without losing the play equipment.

It's great to meet a 'can-do' officer and team.

Inevitably, one piece of good news has led to another problem. In the report of the safety audit, the Council points out that the nearest suitable ball playing area is 1224 metres (very precise!) away at Priory Park. They note this as being walking distance.

I would question whether more than ten minutes brisk walk is fair for an 8-10 year old to kick a football around, but there is something even more troubling in this.

That is that the 'safe walking route' shown on the map takes would-be footballers down Dutson Road to Newport Square. This stretch of road has no pavement and forces pedestrians to walk on the outside of parked cars - in the middle of a main road. I have therefore urgently written to the Cabinet Member for Housing, Mark Kaczmarek, who sent me the report to ask him to clarify whether this can really be classed as 'safe'.