Thursday, 23 October 2014

Residents' views discussed in secret - prior to Press Release

The residents' survey for 2014 has finally been released by Cornwall Council.   So what was all the fuss and the secrecy about?

It shows that Cornwall is a below par authority with question marks over efficiency , trustworthiness  and listening to local residents.   All areas which we should expect to be better than they clearly are.   Other residents and town and parish councils will not be surprised by any of that.

The council says it is a baseline of where we are now and will help to measure progress in the future.  

If this administration has its way it will be unrecognisable in a few years time.   The benefit of any survey therefore depends on consistency of questions not only on an ongoing basis but also similar to other authorities so that proper comparisons can be made.

If the council is requesting more powers to raise taxes (without limit) shouldn’t we expect to be consulted about it?   An authority that is seen as not particularly trustworthy or efficient needs to listen  to the people paying the bills. 

Secret meetings to manage bad news is not the way to do it.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Councillor costs

 I understand that Cllr Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, is arguing that Cornwall Councillors should be reduced in number to 60 or 80.  As he acknowledges, we do not have the power in Cornwall to do this.  So that electoral divisions are decided without reference to party politics, this is dealt with by the Boundary Commission.

 I certainly agree that democracy at Cornwall Council is very expensive. But if Cllr Folkes is actually keen to reduce the cost, as opposed to just talk about it, there is much he could do. After all, 'democratic services' is his responsibility.

 Does he really think 19 member meetings/focus groups (generally attended by the Chief Executive) on the Council's Strategy are good value for public money?

 If he honestly thinks that we should half the number of councillors then another way of achieving a similar level of saving would be to half councillors' allowances.  There is no sign of this at all.

Indeed, when I suggested last week that, as hundreds of officers were losing their jobs, we could reduce the cost of Cabinet members, he rejected this out of hand.

Currently he is campaigning to re brand Cornwall Council as a Cornish Assembly. Backbenchers on Cornwall Council receive £12,000 a year. Members of the Welsh Assembly receive a minimum of £53,000.

Friday, 10 October 2014

More on Cornwall's Spaceport Bid

Let me begin by making it clear that I think it would be brilliant to host the UK spaceport in Cornwall.  There must be issues with noise for nearby residents. I can only hope that those aspects are being borne in mind although I note that there has been no consultation with local councillors, never mind the public, so far.  It was noise that made a previous Lib Dem led administration  say no to hosting joint strike fighter aircraft at Newquay and, as a result, that opportunity was lost to Lossiemouth in Scotland.

I assume that the space use would not conflict with the reliability of the civilian use of the airport.

Cllr Folkes, Cabinet member for Finance, would like me to assure you that the Council is hoping that all the money for bidding on the spaceport will come from Cornwall's  European Convergence monies.

What, I think, most people would regard as a very large sum has been set aside for this purpose. At this stage I better not say how much the Council tells me has been set aside in case it is commercially sensitive but Cllr Folkes may be happy to do so. Let's just say I am surprised by the amount and it better be money well spent.

I suppose the difference between me and Cllr Folkes is that I regard the monies from Europe as every bit as much Cornwall's money as money from the UK Government, borrowed monies or monies from Council tax or business rates.

One point I hope Cllr Folkes and I can agree on is that a spaceport would appear to require a runway extension of between approximately 450 and 750 metres at Newquay.

Let me make these two points absolutely clear for Cllr Folkes' benefit.   I am in favour of an airport and runway extension.  His party have democratically decided that they are not.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Newquay Airport: Mixed messages from the Lib Dems

Yesterday, I received a briefing from the Liberal Democrat Portfolio Holder about what a great thing Newquay Airport is for the Cornish economy.

The annual subsidy from the Council is currently £3 million per year (excluding the cost of capital on the £27m borrowed by the Council to help pay for its upgrade to a civilian airport).

It is hoped to reduce the subsidy by increasing the number of flights. The original business plan was for 1,400,000 flights per year. It is still only about 200,000 despite the 'Dawlish Dividend' (whereby extra people had to fly in and out in the absence of the railway).

The briefing also says that on Monday the Council submitted a bid to be the UK's spaceport. However, this week the Liberal Democrat Conference voted against airport expansion.  Not only would the spaceport be an extension of airport use, it would also need an extension of the runway.

I wonder how long it will take before the Lib Dems at County Hall condemn their own policies?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Sale of Penwith District Council Offices but what about parking for Leisure Centre and Penzance Hockey Club?

The Cabinet have a plan (inherited from the previous administration) to sell the old Penwith District Council offices largely for housing with a strong affordable element.

 The Portfolio Holder reported to the Finance and Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee yesterday how they were getting on. They said they had consulted the Penzance Hockey Club on the sale. In future the Club will be surrounded by new housing.

However, they failed to report what the Club thought. Indeed, one might have formed the impression that the Club was happy with all aspects of the proposal. Not so. The Club, which also takes party bookings to gather income to help it finance itself, wants it to be clear that hockey (and parties) create noise (and, in the case of hockey, flood lighting). A developer (and future residents of the new housing) would need to accept these to avoid endangering the future of the Club.

But the Club's main concern is to ensure the continued availability of nearby parking for itself and the Penzance Leisure Centre. These facilities, for tournaments and galas, are a magnet for young people from all over Cornwall. It is disappointing to find that this issue has not really been gripped by the Portfolio holder.

Let us hope it is now.

The local councillor, Jim McKenna, says he is on the case.

Carn Brea Leisure Centre - the Council weave a tangled web

On 27th November 2013, when deciding to renegotiate with the Leisure Trust at Carn Brea to allow the sale of the running track and the use of most of the proceeds to refurbish the Leisure Centre, the Cabinet said:

'At present, the Leisure Centre faces an uncertain future, with rising maintenance costs and limited financial resources. If this situation continues, [Carn Brea Leisure Trust] has stated that the future operation of the Leisure Centre (and running track) could be at risk.'

The Council's deal to sell the running track cratered recently when Asda pulled out. But in briefing the Finance and Resources Portfolio Advisory Committee on the abortive deal yesterday, Alex Folkes, Cabinet Member for Finance and Resources, was at pains to say that there was no threat to the Leisure Centre.

So does he know better than the Trust which runs the Centre (although he never said so at Cabinet last November). Or, more likely, is he just tangled up in his own spin?

As part of its Budget proposals, the Cabinet no longer wishes to fund Leisure Centres that it is currently responsible for, never mind help those such as Carn Brea,which it does not.

Would honesty about the future of the Leisure Centre not be the best policy?