Top Secret – Hush Hush

On Friday I attended a meeting that was not open to the public, even though the recommendations from this meeting could have an effect on Cornwall. What I can say is that this meeting took place in Camborne, it was on CCTV and the future of it. (I did argue the case for it to be open)

What I can’t say is actually happened at this meeting, even though I have said before and at the meeting that most of all this information was already in the public domain. You could refresh yourselves with a previous post I wrote that was not subject to these restrictions. Click HERE
Anyway, what I can say is this meeting took over 2 hours and a recommendation was indeed made. I just can’t say what the recommendation was, or how it was discussed. What I can say is this recommendation will be presented to the Communities Scrutiny Committee in October and then onto Cabinet for the final say in November. Yes, that means full Council will not have the final say. Sadly, only 15 Members of the Council attended today, even though it was a full invite.  
Because the powers-to-be decided that this information should be restricted I now can’t discuss any of the issues raised with either the two Town Councils I cover, and/or the general public until it appears on the Communities OSC Agenda. You can hardly call that being open and transparent.

Cornwall Council – Staff and Sickness

Again at Cabinet Meetings you get a lot of statistics in the monthly reports. It’s good to know some of these facts, but sometimes you have a memory over-load in just trying to read and make sense of them all. As everyone in this Country knows, there are going to be some massive cuts, especially in local Government. The trick is how do you manage these cuts without affecting services.

Currently at Cornwall Council there are 19,970 people employed across the board. There are also 1,374 vacant positions with only 109 of these being advertised. Now it looks on paper that one way to implement cuts is to reduce the amount of staff. This looks all fine and dandy on paper, but what about those staff left? They have to take up the slack from those missing positions.

This in turn can lead to an even greater problem. You find that the staff become over-worked by picking up the slack. They then can go off sick with various illnesses like stress. Currently sickness is a problem at Cornwall Council and one that the senior management say they are addressing.

On one of the reports on targets it lists sickness this is taken from April – July 2010. Click HERE for the report. The report lists days off per staff. These figures are not just for this period, but what they would be over the entire year. It gives an indicator of how things are proceeding. The current figures are by Directorate the figures are: ACS 4.35 days, EPE 2.71 days, CSF business units 2.36 days, Communities 1.71 days, CE 1.41 days, Schools 1.37 days, Resources 1.32 days.

I do worry that not having the right number of staff in positions will lead to a poorer service. I understand the need only have the right number of staff and not pay for someone to sit around, but I do really fear that we are not covering ourselves with the right staffing levels.

We will be watching you

As ever, Cabinet is one of those meetings on a Councillors monthly calendar that they should attend. The reasons are that most of the major decisions are made by the Cabinet. This is a moot point with a lot of Councillors. It’s also one of the best ways of finding out what decisions are made, and how the debate went. Sometimes (just sometimes) a late amendment to a proposed plan is suggested by a back bench Councillor that is in turn added to the original proposal.

On one of the more interesting and possible contentious items on today’s Agenda was Item 15.  This is the plan to introduce Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras in all of the Council’s household’s waste recycling centre, i.e. SITA sites. The Council wants to monitor the use of these centres and to stop the misuse of the sites. The misuse is not the general public who recycle house hold waste, but traders who are not allowed to use these sites to dispose of trade and industrial waste.

It is claimed up to 13% of all waste that goes though these sites is in fact trade waste. This waste generally can not be recycled and ends up in the ground. As you know the Council gets charged to do this. These cameras will monitor those who enter the sites and pick up any cars that are very frequent users. The cost of installing these cameras in all the sites is around £200k

The second part of this recommendation is that all vans and large trailers will be banned from using the sites.  In this scheme all vans and large trailers would be banned unless a permit for their use had been obtained. Permits would be issued to residents if they could show that the vehicle was the only suitable vehicle available to use the site. The applicants would need to show that their waste is not commercial in origin and that their vehicle was not over a given size that would impede the operation on site.

The permit system will be introduced in January 2011 with the camera fitted and in operation by the 1st April 2011. This was passed today at Cabinet with the support of all those Cabinet Members present.

I made the point that stopping the misuse of these sites is all well and good, but would this not encourage and/or increase the likely hood of fly-tipping. I further asked that if this did indeed turn out to be the case would adequate resources be found/directed to stop, and if need be, prosecute offenders. I was told that the Council takes a zero tolerance to fly-tipping and vigorously prosecutes offenders. The trick is catching these offenders if they off load in the middle of the night and away from the likely hood of being seen.

(Click here for full Agenda)

CCTV Inquiry Day – Day 2

17th Sept is the date for the CCTV inquiry day. This is the second day of this inquiry, as the first day resulted in more questions than answers.

Sadly, Cornwall Council has decided that all this information should be restricted by means of this info being placed on ‘Pink Pages’ (not for public use). I am really struggling as to why they have taken this stance. Most the details in this report are already in the public domain, so further restricting it seems, well, pointless. The last day did attract a lot of interest, so maybe the Council wants to control this information a little more.

I have sent an e-mail to the Monitoring Officer (Chief Legal Officer) asking for the reasoning behind this, and for clarification. I have also asked a further question that if I was to do a FOI request would this information be made available. If it would, then that further proves the point of the over zealousness of restricting this information.

I guess I will have to wait and see as to what the MO says…

A New Resident Association – Porthleven

I am happy to be involved with the formation of a new Residents Association. This time it’s in Porthleven. I am a strong believer that these organisations really work. It shows true community spirit when trying to form an Association and making them a success.
This Association will be called Porthleven Residents Association (Coastline Estates) this will include those present areas that are part of Coastline, or have been connected to Coastline in the past. The streets that are included are Wheal Rose, Matela Close, Gibson Way, Bickford Crescent, Tor Close, Mounts Bay Terrace, Wesley Court, Parc a Maen, Shrubberies Hill, Torleven View and Wellington Terrace. A fair few streets indeed.
This Association is still in the infancy with the formation of the Committee, Constitution and other bits that are needed to make it legal as an Association. The aims are what ever the group and people want it to be. It’s planning to meet every few months to discuss various issues that residents have. It’s not going to solve the world, but it does aim to make some things better using a collective voice.
It will be great if people who wish to take part, or have concerns to come along to the next meeting on the 8th November (Town Council Offices). As the more people who take part the better the chances it will have of being a success. If people are willing to do this, then this association will be the success like the Bulwark Residents Association. They started with nothing and in a few months have come on a long way. All it takes is people to get involved.
It’s easy to moan from the comfort of ones home, but if you feel passionately about improving you area, these Associations are a great place to start.

Devonwall – A Boundary

Much has been in the news about the proposals by the Government for a change to the voting system and reducing the amount of MP’s. The first part I am opened minded. I am looking forward to evaluating the different voting methods before I nail my colours to the mast. The second part I am also in agreement in principle, but that part has a mighty sting in its tail.

That sting is with a reduction in MPs certain historical boarders could change. It could result in the first Cornwall-Devon Parliamentary seat. To a vast majority that is just a step too far. They believe Cornwall should remain whole with ether 5 or 6 MPs. This looks like its purely a numbers game. Each Constituency should contain the same amount of electorate with a margin of 5%. That does not work well for Cornwall. Because for 6 MPs it does not have enough voters, but for 5 its has too many. Hence the possible ‘sharing’ of an MP with Devon.

So, where are we now?  Well last night Parliament voted in favour of this Bill. All the 6 Cornish MPs voted in favour, but this was only the second reading. It now passes onto the Committee stage where many believe the finer points will be argued and fought out. It will then return to Parliament for its final reading before going to the House of Lords, which will then return to Parliament to become law.

Simple? Well that’s until the Boundary Commission makes its report on how the seats should be divvied up. From my experience and listening to many others this Commission is a mystical beast, who seems to do what it pleases. Look at the previous Cornwall Unitary Boundaries. Many ancient parishes and boundaries were ignored just because of numbers. Much protest was made, but it changed little. I fear the new Parliamentary seats will be completed in the same way. Here is my previous Post on the Boundary Commission.

Today at Cornwall Council the Council voted in favour of fighting any plan(s) to share a seat with Devon. It will do everything in its power to stop this. That’s if the Commission will listen. Will all MPs fight this as well? Well I hope so, as to vote for a shared MP would surely cost them their seat at the next election.

What can the ‘Joe in the Street’ do? One very important thing they can do is to register to vote. Why? Well, the Commission is likely to use December 2010 electoral role for its information. It’s imperative that we have enough voters to retain the current boundaries, and not having to share it with our neighbours across the Tamar.

Webcasting – A vote – A shambles

I came away wondering how the success of web-casting turned into an utter shambles with a motion to extend the project. Now for less than £20k the web-casting has allowed over 17,000 people to view live and watch the recorded meetings of full Council. No one could argue that this is not a success in allowing more people access to a Council meeting.

So imagine today, a further motion (as was always the plan) to extend this to include meetings held in the Trelawney room. Mainly Cabinet, but also to web-cast the planning meetings held at County Hall before it’s rolled out to the other planning areas. So far, so good. Then it turned into a shambles with an amendment proposed by Cllr Eathorne-Gibbons.

Now I have no problem with amendments, its democracy. Sometimes an amendment can improve the original motion, but today was not one of those times. The amendment would have killed off web-casting with almost imidiate effect (he said he was in support of web-casting in his speech). I knew this and so did many others, but it was only when this was explained to Cllr Gibbons by the Monitoring Officer he had to change his amendment. You have to ask yourself how can you have any faith in an amendment when the author himself does not understand it.

What happened in the end was the amendment was passed 44-37 votes. This meant the web-casting will continue and would include the broadcasting of Cabinet (good), but it stopped the ability to extend the coverage that would include the room that the Cabinet is held.  So you can broadcast it, but you can’t have the equipment to do this……

Also, as part of the original motion it was recommended was to give the Council some scope in broadcasting other important meetings that are in the public interest. This amendment stops that. We now will have to continue to do what we currently do using other media. The last few of these have cost over £3k per time.

The Council was also looking to hire out this facility, but that can’t be done because only Council and Cabinet can be broadcast using this equipment. This amendment has not made the Council more open and transparent and cost effective, but hamstrung it.

I do wonder sometimes.

Here are some other views Cllrs FolkesRowe,  and BBC’s Graham Smith

Helston Harvest Fair Carnival – Winners

As you may know I have been working with the Bulwark Residents Association to help them raise £80k for their new park. This weekend they entered the Carnival doing a ‘under the sea theme’. It was great as we had 18 children and 7 adults as part of the float. The Children has all made fish hats and fish flags. The truck was decorated in the same theme. I was King Neptune. (see right).

It was a great afternoon, especially the parade around Helston. I have to say a massive thank you to Porthleven Metal Works who kindly provided the truck and the driver for the float . Without them, we would not have been able to do the event.

I really like working with this group. They are a lot of fun, and who really want to make their area better for everyone. A special thank you should also go to Julia, Amanda, Rob, Cookie, Nic, Mel, Karen, Carrie, Anita, Zoe and Julia’s Mum who helped out to make this a great day.

It was topped off as we won the small float section!! The children were over the moon with winning and all wanted to hold the trophy.

A thank you also to the Harvest Fair Committee and Helston Town Council for the organising and running this event. Without them and their hard work, this event would not have taken place.

So far in only a few weeks the Residents Association has managed to raise just over £300 doing a sponsored walk and naming a teddy bear competition. The Committee of the Association has voted that the next fund raising event is for my legs to be waxed.  Of course this was a unanimous vote by the Committee, so who am I to argue with democracy at work!

A meeting with the Leader & the Chief Exec of Cornwall Council

The Chief Exec of Cornwall Council Kevin Lavery had arranged a meeting with the Helston and Lizard Community Network. This took place at the One Stop Shop, Isaac House. I welcomed this, as its sometimes hard to have a conversation with Kevin whilst over at County Hall due to busy schedules. The Leader of the Council was there too in his official role, and being a Councillor in this Network

There are 7 Cornwall Councillor in this network, but only two managed to attend due to diary conflicts, or due to some other reason. That gave Mike Clayton and I more time to talk. The brief was simple. Ask what you like. Now this is the type of brief I like as there can be no prepared answers.

I raised a real concern I have, and from speaking to other Cornwall Councillors they have the same issue. This is the relationship between the Cabinet and the Council. Now in principle I support the Cabinet system, but I have some very grave concerns on how this is being interpreted at present. I said to Alec and Kevin that if nothing changes and there is a change of rule from central Government on how a Council is set up, then the Cabinet is in real danger of being replaced by a Committee system.

What I would like to see from the Cabinet is a change. At present a lot of back-bencher’s feel they are out of the loop on how decisions are made. I am not asking for every detail to come to Council as we would not get anything done. But what I did say is (and I use my own expression). that the Cabinet ‘throws a few bones to the council’. This way, the other 113 Members feel they are actively involved, and not just there to make up the numbers. Since the formation of Cornwall Council there have been only 3 real policy debates by the Council. Everything else has been done by the Cabinet.

If some items were referred to the Council for their views those back-bencher’s would feel they are included in major policy and expenditure decisions.  I did not expect any promises from either Kevin or Alec, but I felt I have given my eight pennies worth. What took me back was Kevin agreed that there is a concern on this issue,  and would welcome more debates and decisions at Council. As there is a ‘them and us’ feeling at present.

Now this is not going to change over night (or at all) because there are various legal and constitutional issues that need to be over come first, but its not impossible. I came away that at least I had said something that had been bothering me for sometime.

For me, I can’t help liking Kevin and Alec. I really think they want Cornwall Council to work, and to be a leading Council in the UK. To do that they need the Members support and we need to support them. Its a two way street in my book.

Total Politics – Top 30 Councillor Blogs

I can honestly say I am stunned. I came home today to find that I had made the top 30 Councillor Blogs in the UK. I came in at number 28. I would like to say a huge THANK YOU to all those who took the time to vote for me. Here is the link to the Results.

I was not the only Cornish Blogger to make the list. Councillor Alex Folkes came in at number 5 (His LINK). Well done to him.

Thank you again.

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