Tuesday, 28 September 2010

'Big Cornwall', 'Active Partnering' and other nebulous concepts

This afternoon I went to a briefing with officers about various economic matters in the East of Cornwall.

One of the items we discussed was 'Active Partnering'. This is the fancy name for Cornwall Council working together with town and parish councils to deliver services in the future. This is all very well as a concept but will depend a lot on the detail of what services are delivered locally, how they are delivered, how much they cost and who is responsible for quality.

Unfortunately, there were a number of items on the list of possible services which could be delivered by local councils which hit a raw nerve:

- Tourist information. Yep, the same Cornwall Council that tried to dump Launceston Tourist Information Centre without any sort of succession planning, wants to take the money saved by abandoning Launceston and the three other TICs which used to be run by Cornwall Council and spend a tiny amount of the savings on a tokenistic joint effort spread across Cornwall.

- Parking Enforcement. When Launceston Town Council formally wrote to Cornwall Council offering to take on civil enforcement duties in the town due to the lack of decent action by Cornwall they received an incredibly patronising response which suggested that the Town Council was not capable of handling the work. Now, suddenly, with massive savings having to be made, Cornwall Council is interested in the idea.

- Car Parks. The Town Council also wrote to Cornwall Council asking about the possibility of taking back the management of car parks which were transferred to NCDC in the 1974 local authority reorganisation. This was met with a firm 'No'. Now, with massive savings having to be made, Cornwall Council is suddenly interested in the idea. (Are you seeing a pattern yet?)

- Grit Bins. One of the cornerstones of the whole 'active partnering' mantra is that there has to be an improvement in services. Yet this principle is being abandoned when it comes to winter road maintenance. Cornwall Council has announced that, in 15 months time, it will stop managing grit bins. If a town or parish council wants grit bins in their area to be re-filled then they will have to do so themselves (at their own cost, natch).

So instead of a principled move towards more localism, it appears that active partnering is more an attempt to shift costs from Cornwall Council to town and parish councils which are not (yet) capped. Given the high-handed manner with which Cornwall Council dismissed the offer by local councils to take on these self-same services less than a year ago, I can imagine that the answer that might be received will be short, sweet and end with 'off'.

Of course, it could still work. But I would think that Cornwall Council needs all 123 members to be ambassadors for the scheme. But it's very difficult to get us on board if we are not told what the scheme means and, when there is a briefing, the person who can answer the political questions doesn't bother to turn up.

The wider issue concerns the nebulous term 'Big Cornwall' which senior officers and Cabinet Members have been bandying about for some time. We are told it is part of the move towards a 'commissioning' or 'enabling' council. Does this mean that Cornwall will be moving towards the model that is apparently being pioneered in Suffolk? Who knows? As yet, ordinary councillors have not been given any details of this plan which would appear to signal a fundamental shift in the whole set up of the authority.

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