Wednesday, 26 February 2014


Cornwall Council's Budget with cuts to services and 1.97% rise in council tax was approved yesterday. The Conservative group did not support it.   

We believe that efficiencies should  come before cuts to services.   It is inevitable that some cuts will need to be made but the emphasis of the presented budget was wrong.

However, we hope that the new Chief Executive will minimise the impact of any cuts by making considerable efforts to make efficiencies first.
We cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with an administration which will make cuts to libraries, public toilets , bus services to name a few  (and with more to come) and at the same time sign a deal for a new Council office in Bodmin.

This deal which, according to.Cllr.Folkes, he signed, sealed and delivered on  20th February, will  cost £15m. It is designed to provide accommodation for 675 people (although we don' t know who) and it will sit in four and a half acres with 219 (free?) car parking spaces.  

Monday, 24 February 2014

Newquay; Will a 'fudge' be enough to keep it open?

Last July the European Commission held a consultation on draft proposals to do away with airport and airline subsidies.

The proposal was to grant a ten year partial amnesty on payments to airports and airlines at the end of which they would have to be viable without taxpayers’ subsidies.

Last minute lobbying against those proposals has produced a slightly watered down version of the original proposals but still leaves the main 10 year policy intact.  A fact that Councillor German  (Independent, Cabinet member for Economy and Culture, and member of the Airport Consultative Forum) has been reported as saying is “a fudge”  (WMN 20th Feb).  He said it delivers the message that the Council can continue providing money to the airport as long as it avoids telling the EC.

In answer to the question :  Will the new Aviation Guidelines take into account the specific situation of very small airports (below 700 000 passengers per annum)?  the EC says;

“Under the current market conditions, airports with annual passenger traffic of up to  700 000 may face increased difficulties in achieving the full cost coverage during the  10-year transitional period. For this reason, the  maximum permissible aid amount for airports with up to 700 000 passengers per annum will be 80% of the initial operating funding gap for a period of five years after the beginning of the transitional period, without a  compulsory phasing-out of operating subsidies.

For instance, if the initial average annual funding gap of a small airport  over the period 2009 to 2013 is equal to EUR 1 million, the maximum  amount of operating aid that the airport could receive as an ex-ante established fixed sum would be EUR 4 million over five years (80% x 1 million x 5).

The Commission will then reassess the need for a continued specific treatment of airports below 700 000 passengers per annum and the future prospects for full operating cost coverage, in particular with regard to the evolution of market conditions and profitability prospects for those airports.”

So in Newquay’s case that would mean reducing the operating subsidy by 20% or £600,000 per year (as compared with the average of the last 5 years) for the next 5 years.  Who will fund the deficit if the Council and the government are not allowed to?

The original business plan from 2009 accepted that Newquay would not be profitable until passenger numbers reached 1.5 million (a figure which most experts in Europe agree with).    Their business plan was based on reaching that number.

 Has Cornwall Council now accepted that Newquay will never be viable in its own right and that subsidy will be needed for ever?   If so what form of creative accountancy will make this acceptable to the EU?     


Retirement for Gordon and Polly Smyth

It was a privilege for me to be amongst the 100s of people at the lunch yesterday at All Saints Highertown in honour of Gordon and Polly Smyth on their retirement after 18 years service to the community. 

It has always been a pleasure to deal with them both and I wish them all the very best for the future and a long and happy retirement.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Newbridge New Yellow Lines and Residents' Parking Scheme

I am holding a drop in session on Saturday 22nd February 9.30 -10.30am All Saints Highertown Church hall to give an opportunity for us to discuss any concerns you may have about these proposals. If you prefer, please get in touch with me as soon as possible and in any event before 28th February, which is the end of the Council's consultation period.

 As I have said many times, a scheme can only go ahead with the support of residents. So please respond to the letter from the Council (and me if you wish).

It is NOT take it or leave it. For example, you can ask for your road to be excluded -although there is a risk that commuters will then 'move ' to your road. You can ask for the hours of restriction to be shorter.  The Council are consulting on  8am to 6pm.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Signs of the times

Having had, literally, to beg (successfully) the then acting Chief Executive to get a new sign for Treyew Primary School when it became Truro Learning Academy I now realise I approached the problem all wrong.

What I should have said was that I needed a new sign for the office.  That would have been easy.

So what I have learnt is that when I need a road resurfacing (and who doesn't?) I will now simply request 20 tons of tarmac for the office floor.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Thanks to John Pollard and all our staff

To: Cllr John Pollard, Leader Cornwall Council.
cc: Cllr John Wood, Chairman Cornwall Council

Dear John,

Whilst we have a slight respite in the weather I would like to thank you and via John Wood all our staff for their outstanding work during the appalling weather that has caused so much suffering.

I am also grateful for the lead you have taken in making the case to the Prime Minister David Cameron and other government ministers not just for funding for storm and flood damage but also more generally for the good of Cornwall. This is something that we all need to pursue and I will also continue to work towards those same goals.

The list of damage across Cornwall  illustrates the vulnerability of our coastal communities and our dependency on the transport links to the rest of the country.   The funding from the government for the rail links and consideration of alternative routes is to be welcomed as is the recognition that the funding formula for flooding has discriminated against us.   In whatever form I can I will also press our case at the highest levels.

Lastly we should not forget the people of Cornwall in their various communities who have shown us the spirit and determination that should inspire us all.


Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Alex Folkes' money 'saving'

Alex Folkes has suggested 38 ways for Cornwall Council to save money.
 Allow Cornwall Council control to raise charges on things like the Tamar Bridge and create local income tax and tourist taxes? 
Most of us would lose the will to live if  we considered each suggestion in turn but perhaps a few general observations can be made.

Approximately eight of these are not ways for the Council to save but in fact ways to make it easier for the Council to raise more money by taxes or fees. He talks of local income taxes, tourist taxes, less restriction on raising (bridge) tolls. I hardly think that the Council wants these powers to charge us less.

Bizarrely, Alex Folkes considers that allowing the Council to charge more in planning fees would be a demonstration of market forces. In fact, it would simply be a tax by another name as the Council is the only provider of planning permissions.

A few of the ideas repeat those already proposed by the Local Government Association to update the way in which it is decided how much government grant local authorities will receive and for these amounts to be clear well in advance to allow good budget planning. This is long over due.

Three points relate to the extra costs or restrictions that arise for the Council from state aid, procurement and VAT rules. These are fair points but they probably all depend on renegotiating a deal with the EU, which I thought Liberal Democrats were generally against. Unless you say you will leave unless you get a better deal, your bargaining position is rather poor.

Five ideas relate to filing less returns with central government, simplifying accounts etc but some of these may give rise to less transparency and less ability to compare the performance of Cornwall with other local authorities. One idea would actually give rise to more red tape.

Eight ideas are a plea for more powers. This is very attractive to the Council, of course. However, as the recent news on the Iceland Bank fiasco demonstrates,  the more rope we have.........
Of course we must get more money to cope with flooding  and natural disasters but much of that case has already been made to the government.

There may well be a case to review the number of councillors.  However, I think that councillors are the very last people who should make a decision on this for  obvious reasons.

Overall, it is a list which looks like it has been pulled together in large measure from ideas of officers. It is very much what would suit the Council, not necessarily what would suit Cornwall.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Loss of £600,000 by Cornwall Council is a triumph?

The announcement by Cornwall Council that it has lost over £600,000 has been spun as a good news story by the administration.

This is now the end of a long running saga in which investments made by the old County Council and Restormel Borough Council went bad. The Council has taken a loss on capital of more than £600,000 and I am not sure what the calculation is for lost interest, if any.

Alex Folkes’ choice of  phrases such as 'I am delighted'  and  ‘good value for money for the council and our taxpayers’ in the context of the loss of over £600,000  is just a triumphant spin too far. 

We should bear this chastening experience in mind when we ask the government to give us more powers to spend taxpayers money.

Good start

Cornwall Council's new Chief Executive Andrew Kerr has hit the ground running.

He has announced that almost half the most senior management posts at the Council will go.    I am sorry that this will be a painful process for the individuals involved but if the Council is going to be leaner it has to start at the top.

The breadth of activity carried on by the Council is vast.  One new directorate, for example, will be responsible for the environment (including waste and transport) and the economy.  This will include working with the Local Enterprise Partnership to spend £500m new investment monies coming from the EU.   Another  directorate will cover public health, adult social care, safeguarding of children and education.

So this downsizing is not without risk. However, it is a risk that must be taken.  I hope that the appointee to the Health, Social Care and Children's directorate is really able to grasp the opportunity provided by the money from Central Government to integrate the activities of the Council in this area with the NHS.  We need to stop trying to assign blame for issues such as 'bed blocking', and instead concentrate on finding solutions to improve the health and well being of Cornish residents.

Of course, this can only be the start of the Council's efforts to reduce its management costs and it is something the Conservative group have been advocating all the way through the budget process.

I imagine that there will be significant redundancy costs.  These need to be kept under strict control and I doubt the financial savings will be immediate.

Urgent consideration will also need to be given to downsizing the political machine at the Council.   There are just too many meetings which are not an efficient use of members' or officers' time.  With less officers the elected members will need to show the Chief Executive that they too can act promptly to reduce unnecessary bureaucracy and costs.

A good start, but this will need to be a fair and progressive reorganisation of the management structure of the Council in which the members will have to play a large part.