Monday, 29 September 2014

More jobs for the boys?

Spurred on by the Scottish Referendum, many local politicians have thrown themselves into a frenzy of campaigning for more powers and even a whole new tier of local government.

There are more than 400 councillors in Devon, in contrast to 123 in Cornwall, but many are, quite rightly, questioning the cost of democracy. The last thing Cornwall needs is another reorganisation of local government.

The most important attribute of (local) politicians should be competence. If we think there are particular new powers we need in Cornwall then let's ask for them. But let's us not create new tiers of Government.

This year has seen the Council campaign for more power over health spending in Cornwall, while at the same time running up an overrun of millions of pounds on spending on adult social care due to what they admit was poor management.

 The best way of making the case for new powers in Cornwall, locally and nationally, is competently using those powers we already have.   Would creating another layer of expensive politicians improve that?

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Leisure Funding - Carn Brea

Last week, with the Scottish referendum debate raging, the Council announced that Asda had pulled out of the deal to buy the site of the running track at Carn Brea.
Personally, I hate the idea of the running track no longer being available as a fully public facility. However, last November the Council announced that they were entering into the Asda deal to provide funds to refurbish the centre, whose future was vulnerable.
Since then, as a result of forced sudden closures of other leisure centres in East Cornwall, following an incident at Lux Park when ducting dropped into the pool, there was a review conducted of all leisure centres in Cornwall. It found that there were £18m worth of maintenance works needed. Only £4m has been budgetted for, which was carried out to avoid any centres being closed immediately.
Since then the Cabinet has also announced its draft budget which withdraws all funding from leisure services.
But the spin last week was that there was no need to worry. That does not appear frank or transparent.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Devolution doesn't guarantee better

Next week the LibDem/Indie Cabinet at Cornwall Council will put their agreed 'Strategy' for 2014-2018 to Full Council for approval.

Part of the Strategy is that the Council ask the Government for more powers for Cornwall to manage ourselves.  This is clearly very attractive but it is important for the Council to consider how far it is taking the devolution agenda.

It is absolutely key to make Cornwall as attractive as possible for inward investment and to encourage the creation of more well paid jobs here.

There is a risk that some aspects of the devolution agenda may put off new businesses establishing here. The Scotland experience suggests that it would be wise to be cautious. Additional tax raising powers may give cause for concern.

To take just one example, the Cabinet recently wrote to the Government to campaign for no cap at all on the rate of council tax that may be levied here. The administration do want not to have to put excess rises in council tax to a referendum vote, as they are currently obliged to do by national legislation.
This would certainly take the pressure off the Council to be efficient and well run. From 2002 until 2009, when the unitary authority commenced with a Conservative/ Independent coalition, the average rise in council tax was generally between 5 and 8% each year.

As the current administration are campaigning against local referendums, their brand of devolution seems to be about devolution to the Council, not devolution to Cornwall.

Friday, 5 September 2014

The truth about the budget proposals on parking

Cabinet member, Alex Folkes wants me to clarify the Cabinet's position on parking charges (see my blog of 3 September) I am happy to do so, although I am surprised he would not rather do this himself.

The Budget book (page 83) says that the Cabinet proposes to increase income by charging £500,000 per annum for staff to park at certain buildings. Page 83 does not say when this will come in but Alex says it will not be for 3 years. This is because, while cutting services, the current administration decided to guarantee to pay all pay rises for staff who are not made redundant (and to guarantee their terms and conditions) for the next three years. In exchange staff gave up their right to be considered for a bonus in that period.

Also, Alex believes that it will or should be possible to raise a further £2.9m from car parking without increasing charges by RPI plus 1% per year (page 49 of Budget Book). He does not say how he will do this. Trials over the last year to reduce parking charges without losing money (never mind making more money) have so far resulted in an estimated overall loss to the Council of about £20,000 (plus set up and administration costs of of £86,000). So the Cabinet has set itself a difficult task.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Results of Residents' Parking Survey in Hendra and Kenwyn

In July I spent about 4 days or so carrying out a door to door survey of views on whether there was support for a residents' parking scheme (similar to those recently introduced in Redannick) in Hendra and/or Kenwyn.

Some residents expressed concern that this was a stealth tax by the Council.  In fact, due to the cost of planning, consulting, implementing, administering and enforcing, the Council would rather 'keep its head down' and do nothing at all. However, due to pressure from residents including those voiced at a recent public meeting held at County Hall in February, it was agreed that I would consult residents for their views. But, even if in favour, the Council did not promise to take any action.  I paid for the production costs of the leaflet. I mention this to reinforce the point that the Council are not pushing this scheme.

I delivered just over 800 surveys. Nearly a quarter of residents replied.  Views were very mixed. To protect everybody's privacy I obviously cannot publish the results road by road. However, my conclusion is that there is support for a scheme in Carylon Road and probably in the area around Trehaverne Terrace. There is also quite a lot of support in Stokes Road.  There is some support in other roads but most residents in other roads were against or did not respond.

This is an important issue which is blighting many people's lives. I am afraid that a number of announcements made by the Council this week are likely to make the commuter parking issue worse. These are the proposals announced on Monday:

1. to raise council parking charges by the rate of inflation plus 1% in each of the next 4 years;
2. to introduce charges for on street parking (to raise a further £1m per year); and
3. to introduce charges for Council staff parking in certain locations (which have not yet been announced).

My next step is to discuss the results with officers and see whether a scheme could be introduced in the limited area where it is likely to be supported. This would only happen after a formal consultation.