Friday, 28 October 2016


Don’t spend thousands fighting a legal battle that can’t be won
Conservatives urge Council not to continue with Devonwall legal challenge

The Conservative Group at Cornwall Council has always been apposed to the idea of the cross county Parliamentary boundary concept known as ‘Devonwall' and they remain firmly apposed to it.

However, legal advice that Cornwall Council has received from a QC is that a legal challenge is extremely unlikely to succeed as it has been an Act of Parliament since 2011. This decision was made five years ago by a coalition led Government, which at the time saw Cornwall represented in Parliament evenly by three Conservative MP’s and three Lib Dem’s.

In this instance the Conservative Group feels strongly that residents would prefer that public money were spent funding more essential services in Cornwall such as Adult Social Care, Road Maintenance and even Public Conveniences and not funding an expensive legal battle that ultimately only lawyers themselves will win.

Commenting on the issue the Conservative Group Leader, Cllr John Keeling, said: “This isn’t about whether we’re happy with the idea of Devonwall, it’s about whether we’re happy to continue spending public money on a legal battle that we as a council cannot win. We’ve already spent a significant amount of money getting Counsel Opinion so why would you go against that recommendation and start spending thousands more.”

A request by the Conservative Group for the meeting to be cancelled was overlooked by the administration. The result is that Tuesday’s extraordinary meeting scheduled for 10.30am in Truro will go ahead creating additional travel expense for all attending councillors as well as significant expenditure on more officer time.

Marsh,Baxter,Hendra Appeal

The appeal made by Marsh & Baxter Developments Limited & Hendra TC & CP Limited
against the decision of Cornwall Council has been allowed. This decision will certainly not help the enabling development for the two stadium applications. Pity!

See the full decision here:   Appeal 27th October 2016

Boundary Review Letters

Kate Kennally Chief Executive
Cornwall Council
The Exchange, County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro TR1 3AY

21 October 2016
Dear Kate,
Thank you for the Council’s detailed first draft submission on council size along with the copy of the Cornwall Council Strategic Governance Review Report. It was helpful to receive this material in time for the Commission to consider it at its meeting on 18 October. The purpose of this note is to outline the Commission’s initial observations.
I should start by saying that the Commission has asked me to convey their appreciation for the considerable work that is being put into the exercise, both by members of the electoral review panel and by officers. From the outset, the Council and the Commission committed to working together closely in order to achieve the best outcome for the future of Cornwall and that remains our shared objective.
It is evident that much effort has gone into this initial analysis, largely by way of comparisons with other councils. Also, there is much helpful material in the survey of existing members. However, whilst such data is useful in a contextual sense, the Commission was surprised that the opportunity had not so far been taken to address fundamental issues about arrangements concerning governance, accountability, and community leadership for the new Council in order to understand the level the elected member capacity required in what will, essentially, be a very different kind of authority.
As was indicated at our initial briefings, the Commission views each authority as a distinct political entity and, consequently, regards comparisons with other councils as being of limited value. This will be particularly true in the case of Cornwall with the exciting and ambitious plans set out in your devolution deal. However, the Commission felt that the work so far has used the current council size as its starting point with relatively little apparent movement away from a ‘business as usual’ approach.
For the next submission, therefore, the Commission anticipates that the panel will wish to explore the opportunity provided by the review to go back to ‘first principles’ to suggest what number of councillors might be required under the new arrangements. Requirements to meet governance, accountability and community leadership needs are
the three aspects that inform the Commission’s judgment when setting the number of councillors.
In encouraging the panel to take this approach, the Commission notes the preface of the Council’s Strategic Governance Review Report. which observes that the Council is being presented ‘with a once in a decade opportunity to develop and implement a new model of governance over the course of the next four years……’. Also, it will be expecting to get a better understanding of how the Governance Review Report’s reflections and recommendations on the role and number of councillors has informed the panel’s view about council size.
In addition, the Commission would find it helpful to see how the proposal for a more strategic role for Cornwall Council working alongside town and parish councils under a devolution arrangement impacts on councillor numbers.
We hope that the Council will address these aspects explicitly in drawing up its next submission for December. At that point, I should stress that we are not expecting to see a fully worked up submission but rather an assessment that addresses these points and what they suggest for council size. We note that it has already observed that the next stage might point to a different range than that identified so far. The Commission can then reflect further and, informed by our comments, the detail can then be worked up for the final submission.
Finally, the Commission recognises that there are a range of views about how Cornwall could be governed going forward and it acknowledges that there may be more than a single view presented to it. Alternative submissions could come from groups of councillors, or a single councillor. It is content to accept more than one submission and none of them are required to be endorsed by full council. As with all of our electoral reviews, every submission is judged on the basis of the evidence provided, irrespective of its source. Also, the Commission can consult more widely on the most appropriate number of councillors for Cornwall, including a full public consultation if necessary.
Separately, the Commission has received a request from the Leader of the Council requesting a slight delay in the warding phase of the review in order to allow for the new Council elected in May 2017 to settle in and I am pleased to confirm that the Commission has agreed to this request. This does not change the schedule for the council size submission.
I hope that these observations are helpful and will assist the panel in taking forward their work. Needless to say, Commission officers will continue to help in any way they can. I look forward to receiving the next view on 16 December.
Yours sincerely
Jolyon Jackson Chief Executive
Local Government Boundary Commission for England
0330 500 1290

Local Government Boundary Commission for England, 14th Floor Millbank Tower, Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP

John Pollard Leader of the Council
Cornwall Council
The Exchange, County Hall
Treyew Road
Truro TR1 3AY
21 October 2016

Dear John,
Thank you for your letter of 14 October requesting a delay to the start of the first consultation phase on warding patterns that will form part of the electoral review of Cornwall. The Commission has considered this request and appreciates your desire to allow time for the new Council to settle and have sufficient opportunity to consider options for warding following the May 2017 elections. Like you, we want to ensure that there is full participation in the process and, therefore, recognises that this is a sensible proposal.
Accordingly, the Commission will accept your suggestion and amend its programme to the following dates:
Warding pattern consultation 25 July – 2 October 2017 Draft recommendations LGBCE meeting 21 November 2017 Draft recommendations consultation 18 December 2017 – 26 February 2018 Final recommendations LGBCE meeting 17 April 2018 Final recommendations published 15 May 2018
We anticipate that it is likely that we will receive more than one submission for warding patterns during this phase – both for the whole of Cornwall and for various localities. This is commonplace and will allow both the councillors and the people of Cornwall to give them full consideration.
Finally, you also refer to the work of the electoral review group and indicate that it would be useful to have feedback on their early thoughts on council size. It was helpful to the draft submission from the group in time for the Commission to consider at its meeting earlier this week. Jolyon Jackson will be writing to Kate Kennally in the next day or so setting out the Commission’s observations.
Local Government Boundary Commission for England, 14th Floor Millbank Tower, Millbank, London, SW1P 4QP
Tel: 0330 500 1525;;
I hope that this is helpful and, of course, fully reciprocate your view about the importance of the Council and Commission continuing to work together closely in order to achieve the best outcome for the future of Cornwall.
Best wishes
Professor Colin Mellors

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Councillor Numbers

Today members of the Council meet to have a first stab at what the number of Cornwall  Councillors should be in 2021.
As an 'urban, indeed Truro,  member' I recognise the difficulties members face managing large divisions. Division size ranges from 0.7 sq kilometres in Penzance to 137 sq kilometres in Poundstock. Some rural members are looking after, perhaps, 7 parish councils.
Many members also have a very long journey into Truro and therefore spend many hours travelling.  As each division must have the same number of electors so that everybody's vote is worth the same,  I think members with large geographical divisions will need to be compensated for that.
Many people may not appreciate that members do not receive their travel costs for visits within their division - only for certain official meetings, which are mainly in Truro. 
If a councillor has to bear their own travel costs for travelling around even bigger divisions then we can assume that only well off people will be able to afford to be councillors.
With that caveat, my personal view is that the number of councillors needs to be radically reduced:
1. A lot of the meetings at Cornwall Council are laid on to involve all the councillors, rather than them being useful in themselves. That is the tail wagging the dog.
2. The external group who reviewed the Governance of the Council said that the current number of members is 'unworkable'.
3. The Council has persuaded the Boundary Commission to put off until 2021 the correction of the electoral imbalances on the basis that the Council has a fundamental review of its numbers. Tweaking them to 105 or 115 (as is proposed) is not going to cut it.
4. The administration has persuaded the Government to devolve powers to Cornwall without a mayor on the basis it would have a fundamental review to ensure visible and accountable leadership . Tweaking the numbers of members will not be acceptable.
5.  The public want the number reduced.
The Council say they have no evidence  to support a smaller number. True, but that is because they are not looking and listening. They need to start.
I suggested 100 to the Panel to show all interested parties we were moving in the right direction.   We could then work up a lower number with all the bells and whistles.
That was rejected.  So let's get serious. I think a credible case may be made for, say 70.
It could be something like this:
9 Cabinet members including the Leader
3 Planning Committees of 15 each (no Strategic planning committee)
1 Licensing / miscellaneous licensing committee of 15
4 Scrutiny Committees to cover the 4 directorates (each directorate to have 2 Cabinet members)
Audit Committee of 9 which would also have oversight of the Council's pension scheme
Constitution Committee (to incorporate the Electoral Review Panel)
Plus one or two other committees such as Cornwall Harbours Board and the Inshore Fisheries Conservation Authority
This would half the number of positions that needed filled.
As the Council is cutting services, has been told it is too big by a group of external experts and has made no effort to work more efficiently,  it is going to have to reduce the numbers.
The fact that it is making such a meal of its governance review, and is even proposing to continue this review for years, means it has not a leg to stand on.

Friday, 19 August 2016

What the Council does on a nice morning in August (18th) what a shambles

A few lowlights. There were no highlights:

1. Complaints tabled about councillors not turning up to meetings to discuss how the Council is governed. Concern expressed that the process of reviewing how the Council is governed is taking place too quickly and we need more meetings! There are too many already (in my view).  4 in August alone.

2. The Steering Group held a meeting on 14th July (its role is to steer 2 committees working on this so that they are both going in the same direction) but the Chair and Vice Chair of  the Constitution and Governance Committee did not turn up to be steered.

2. Report on how the Leader got on with his public meetings on governance of the Council (Who Decides). There were seven meetings fronted by the Leader, Deputy Leader and senior officers. . Only 240 people attended in total. These were described as the 'usual suspects- Cornwall Councillors and Town/Parish Councils with very few members of the public present' .

3. Only 3 out of 200? Parish councils attended the sessions with the GREG (the external group of experts looking at governance of the Council.

4. Only 30-35% of Parish Clerks had actually opened the recent newsletter from the Council which told them about all the sessions on governance (never mind circulated to their members).

5. Complaints tabled about central government and lack of funding for the Cornish language. Fears raised that Cornish minority status endangered. However, Cllr Dolphin (Lib Dem Chair of Committee) wants to stand down from the working group dealing with this as she is too busy. No member of the Committee would volunteer to replace her. So it is mainly the Bards who are left.

6. But I imagine that the Committee did approve the 13th version of the Terms of Reference of the Health and Well Being Committee (committee established in 2012). I had to leave before that vote.

What sort of message can we learn from this and will we?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Brexit Revisionism.

My letter to the West Briton (unpublished) re the Pro EU Rally on 1st July

Dear Sirs,

I was interested to see your article about the pro EU rally on Lemon Quay attended apparently by councillors from all parties.

I campaigned for Remain: I stood on the streets, door knocked in Daniell Road, banged on about it in my blog ('Eurosceptic Yes Brexit Delusion No'), was 'shunned' for 3 days at the (Royal Cornwall)  Show and was rubbished on the radio.

However, I saw no sign of other councillors campaigning for Remain in Truro.
They, of all people, should know that it is always best to campaign before the votes are cast.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Governance Review Submission

Representations to the GREG (Governance Review External Group)
I am a member of the Conservative Group. I was group leader from the time that the previous Leader of the Council stood down towards the end of 2012 after a vote of no confidence in him (relating to the proposed strategic partnership with BT) until June 2014.
I stood down as I found the role of Leader of the Opposition too large and time consuming a responsibility with my family and other commitments. My position was made more acute by the lack of any officer or administrative support for someone in my position. I also felt that the job would become even more challenging in the light of the call by the Council for more devolved powers.
I am a lawyer by background. I was first elected in 2009 and re-elected in 2013. But have no other local government experience.
The cost of democracy
Democracy is, of course, very important but also expensive. I think that the single thing that would make the most difference to the efficient operation of the Council, an increase in public confidence in its work and value for public money would be for the Council to recognise that officer resource is expensive and valuable. In contrast it is considered to be free. This results in a culture of endless and often pointless meetings which do not really advance public services in Cornwall.
A diagram produced by the Council to explain which committees will take which role in the current Governance and Electoral Review makes this point perfectly.
The number of meetings, often called at short notice or with single item agendas on different days of the week make it difficult for a member who has other commitments to participate. We squander our own time as well as that of officers. It is also more difficult to keep an eye on important things that are happening because we are wading through treacle with so much paperwork.
I understand that the totality of agenda pages produced per year is around 3,000,000. Very many papers (understandably) go largely unread by most councillors.
The fact that the Council has so many independent members makes the scope for team working, whereby likeminded members can spread their resource between different issues, very limited. A council with less members would reduce this issue.  It would make members less local but I think it wd also make members more accountable. They would then mainly  have political labels and the public would know who was in charge.
Pragmatically, I do not see the Council being prepared to alter the way it does business in a material way. They did not take the advice of the previous GREG.
So against that backdrop I would like to make the following observations:
This can be a rather unedifying grand standing occasion (assuming anyone is watching). It would be interesting to know the numbers watching the webcast, provided these exclude officers and members.
Members go to some trouble to think up motions so that there is something to grand stand about. This often simply results in a letter to the Government but the impact on officer resource from dealing with these motions should be examined to see whether it is really worthwhile. The estimated hourly rate of officers sitting through these occasions would be interesting.
With the benefit of only a few months in the Cabinet at the end of the last administration, I wd say that this works reasonably well.
However, there is a problem where, as now, there is a dual party administration. This is because the Leader is given a list of nominees by the groups which form part of the administration and he then has to find those nominees a portfolio that suits their expertise.
And it is only in very unusual circumstances (such as, in this administration, where there were allegations of child pornography) that he can require those nominees to stand down. From an outsider's perspective the current portfolios have to be looked at with that in mind. I wonder how they work in terms of organisational effectiveness.
Informal  Briefings
These can be very useful but there are a lot of them on different days. I have to wonder whether a podcast would not work better in many cases. It wd be interesting to know the attendance rate.
Policy Advisory Committees
There are too many of these. They often have very thin agendas. The fact that they are not on the same day of the week makes it difficult for working members to participate.
As a member of the opposition they seem to be pretty ineffectual in some cases. We do not chair them. They have no power to commission work (unlike Scrutiny).  Therefore, you end up trying to advise the portfolio holder on something about which you are unlikely to know more about than they do.
They were introduced so that we all felt involved in policy formation (so 10 committees with 10 seats each).  That appears a little like the tail wagging the dog. I am sure that there are honourable exceptions such as the Planning PAC.
The Scrutiny Committees would probably work better if they were opposition led.
I have no knowledge of licensing. Planning seems to work reasonably well but I know members of the public find these committees very remote and would criticise them for not listening to locals' views.
Strategic Boards
I have no direct knowledge of the LEP but the idea of it and the fact that it is private sector led seems sound, as it aims to promote the economy. 
There are so many other boards now, with the advent of devolution, that it is very difficult to keep a track of them. However, partnership working is the future and I would suggest that the Council needs to pull back and perform more of a scrutiny role on these rather than duplicating their work.
Community Network Panels
I would say that these were a sop to localism to obtain Government agreement for the formation of the unitary council. I have reservations about them as they have no democratic mandate being a mix of, Cornwall councillors and parish councillors. But I recognise that some see them as a useful bridge across the gulf between Cornwall Council and the 200+ parishes. There are often initiatives to try to find them a role.
Local member role
 This is variable but it is an all hours service. If there are to be less members (and I can see a case for that on grounds of organisational effectiveness) , there would need to be more support for members especially those with large divisions - for example, a recognition in the allowances scheme of their need to travel within their divisions.
 With devolution, we are going to need to feel our way. I cannot see public support for a mayor in Cornwall. I would certainly not wish to return to the committee system as it wd not be organisationally effective. The Cabinet model is probably our best hope but my comments above are designed to make it more effective.