Monday, 30 January 2017

Local Government Boundary Commission for England: Visit to Cornwall 6th Feb.

My letter to the Boundary Commission prior to their visit on 6th February.
Attention Mr J Jackson and Mr C Mellors
Dear Sirs,
I understand that you will be visiting Cornwall Council on 6th February to review progress of the Council's work on making a final recommendation to the Commission for the number of councillors for 2021.
I apologise that I am not able to attend the meeting with you as I have a long standing prior engagement.
I am a signatory to the Conservative group submission to the Commission but I hope you will not mind me updating my views in the light of subsequent developments.
There is clearly no magic number which is just right. However, to meet your timetable, it is most important (after approximately 50 meetings/workshops/events) to make a decision and move on to the next stage of agreeing the new boundaries.
In view of the evidence previously submitted and the subsequent evidence received from the Cornwall Association of Local Councils (who recommended 85 to 95), I would support 85. This is the number proposed by my group at the meeting of the Council on 24th January but the Chairman decided not to debate it pending further work by the Electoral Review Panel.
It represents a significant reduction but is clearly sufficient to populate the various committees that would be needed. There have been at least two iterations of these committees tabled by officers and these could be refined.  
Further, the Constitution and Governance Committee is now recommending to the Council that the number of committees involved in policy development and scrutiny be reduced from 11 to 5 (reducing the Committee positions involved from 115 to 75).
85 is not the lowest number that could be made to work but it is the lowest number that the current administration have been prepared to consider.
I appreciate very much the difficulties for members, particularly those with large rural divisions: less councillors would mean more work, no matter what any 'role profile' may say. This is an elected role and not one where we can effectively reject work on technical grounds and nor would many of us wish to. Further, new technology can create work as well as save it.
However, fundamentally, the Council needs to be an effective decision making body in order to provide visible and accountable leadership for Cornwall and there are currently too many members to achieve this.
Interestingly a councillor remarked at one of the recent meetings on this subject that we don't need a mayor but we need a mayor's office. He elaborated that people need to know where to go to get answers.
This Boundary/Governance review alone shows that there is almost no relationship between time expended by members and effectiveness in decision making.
85 is the recommendation on the basis that we are seeking to work with your timetable. However, I think that you should be aware of the work of the Cornwall Executive Group (senior management from many of the key bodies working in or with the public sector in Cornwall) ('CEG').

 The Council agreed that CEG would be involved in establishing a Leadership Board for Cornwall (to include the Leader of the Council and representatives of partner organisations). This was a proposal that came from the Governance and Constitution External Group when it rejected, on balance, a mayoral model.

However, CEG has formed the view that the Leadership Board will not meet the Government's wish to have visible and accountable leadership and there is a risk that Cornwall will miss out on more power and more Government money  (as compared with areas which have mayors).

It has reported its view to the Constitution and Governance Committee and has indicated that it is now considering whether it can come up with an alternative suitable governance structure.

This could involve the creation of area boards for east, central and west Cornwall, the creation of leaders for those areas, a combined authority with the Isles of Scilly (with the existing unitary councils becoming the delivery arms), the creation of locality and strategic councillors and so on (see item 5Constitution and Governance Committee agenda 26th January).

The concern they express is that 'We have to ensure that we have the right governance model to ensure that we do not get put to the back of the queue, as then we are not serving the people of Cornwall'.

Yours sincerely 
Fiona Ferguson CC 
Truro Trehaverne

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Truro -Cornwall :European Union Capital of Culture 2023?

Should 'no money' Council really spend over £500,000 bidding to be EU Capital of Culture 2023?

The Independent /Lib Dem administration propose to spend more than £500,000 bidding to become the European Union's Capital of Culture in 2023.

I campaigned for Remain. The Council sat on the fence. We all know and accept the result.

1. Does applying for an EU accolade sit very comfortably just right now with a strong vote for Leave in Cornwall?   The other contestant cities either voted decisively  Remain  (Dundee ) or narrowly Leave or Remain. 

2. Although at this moment the UK has been appointed host country for the competition for 2023 this may be affected by our decision to leave. The Government acknowledge this. It is hard to believe that when the rubber hits the road on the negotiations with the EU that confirming the UK's right to host this event in 2023 will be a priority. (It has been occasionally been hosted by Norway and other non members before but only by countries considered on their way in, not out).

3. Other cities like Dundee have been working on their bids for years apparently. We are now proposing to throw money at the project to get a bid done quickly. Why take this risk?

4. Truro- Cornwall is not a natural fit with the competition. As the Council acknowledges the bid is aimed at cities, not regions.

5. Will people consider this Trurocentric?

6. £500,000 is an awful lot of money for such an uncertain bid.

7. This is only the tip of the iceberg. The bid involves more spending of up to £25,000,000.

8. At this stage the Council's supporting partners are only contributing their expertise.

9. If this was such a good idea why is the Council up to 2 years behind the other contestants.

10. Are we really comfortable with the Council's estimate of the positive economic impact if the bid is successful?

Overall, why not spend any money available on actual projects, not bidding for titles?

Sunday, 15 January 2017

IT Project Questions

As it stands I cannot support this project as I do not have the expertise and I have not had sufficient involvement.   

Here are my questions;  in no particular order.

1. Why is the price suddenly £18.15m when the budget signed off in October included £9m for IT?

2. What is the length of the life of the product? I am concerned the proposed pay back period of three years may be insufficient? 

3. What member engagement has there been? The results of the member survey have not even been collated (in which councillors are asked about their IT needs).

4. Are savings to pay for this project being doubled counted? There is, for example, already supposed to be a saving of £500k on staff mileage (to cover the administration's decision not to charge staff for parking)?

5. What evidence do we have of partners' buy in?  Members agreed to the small BT deal in order to work closely with health and then RCHT dropped out.

6. How much is single person discount in total? More information needed on how this software will cut fraud on claims.

7. What is the estimated cost of working hours being lost? £15.70 per hour?  How is this calculated? If it takes officers 20 mins to log on now what will it be after the spend?

8. Is this product as off the shelf as possible to minimise problems with adoption and the difficulties mentioned in the report of recruiting IT people?

9. Will councillors get IT equipment in next Council? I use my own but will all councillors be expected to provide their own?

10. As price is in US dollars, is currency risk being hedged?

11. What fees were paid to Gartner for their advice?

12. Can you provide demonstration on 24th Jan for councillors as use of Skype earlier this week was disastrous in attempting to persuade councillors of benefits of virtual meetings.  

13. Is there a risk that we will raise expectations of public but not able to meet them (instant access to the Council will expect an instant response)? 

14. We seem to be 'paying to play' for the use of this software. Can we afford it?  Are we at the complete mercy of Microsoft? 

15. With the references to the involvement of the project with small businesses in Cornwall, are we mixing up buying IT equipment for the Council and creating jobs in Cornwall? Are there risks with this?

16. The benefits of some of this assumes data sharing being agreed by residents. Many people will have reservations about this.

17. How will the cost be shared across the Council now that 1/3 of staff are in the associated companies/ALMOs and selling their services to third parties in some cases?