How much – surely not!

Sometimes I do really wonder what goes on at Cornwall Council. Pay is just one of those areas that has got out of control. I am not directing this at the workers and lower management, but those near or at the top. I have never had an issue with people being paid and to a point paid well to reflect the tough and important job they do, but this latest news is just hard to believe, especially considering the cuts we are facing at Cornwall Council.
At the beginning of the week I sent an e-mail in response to a rumour that I had heard. I needed to find out if this rumour was indeed true. As in all large organisations there are many rumours, you just have to workout which one is true, and which ones are just rumours. Sadly I wish this one was indeed a rumour, but it’s not.
It turns out that we have an agency worker who is paid between £500 and £1000 per day. I asked for the correct figure, but no confirmed figure was given, just the acknowledgment that I was correct in what I feared. Worse is that this person has been paid by Cornwall Council for near 18 months. I could understand hiring temp staff at the beginning whilst the districts were dissolved and the Unitary was set up, but surely we could have found a permanent and cheaper replacement before now. A saving grace is that this person leaves Cornwall Council on the 15th of November. 
If you take the simple approach of a person working a 5 day week on the £500 per day that is a yearly salary of £120,000. If you use the £1000 per day (that was not denied and would have been if it had been untrue) this is £240,000 per year. That is more than Mr. Lavery. Sure, that person might not get the full amount as I am sure the agency gets a slice of the daily rate. Still, it’s a shocking amount. Of course they might not work 5 days and only say 3, but you have to ask yourself why would we need a head of service who is only there just over half the week. As to who this person is, well they are not a director, but the head of Customer Services, so not even top level management (though pretty senior).
We are facing huge cuts our services, but let’s sort this mess of wages out once and for all as then we might then be able to pay for and provide the services the people need.
Only today I heard of another rumour of a person who I was told was being paid not by Cornwall Council but by a government organisation to ‘help’ the Council. It turns out that we are paying and its £90k per year. It seems this post was ‘created’. Of course this is subject to this rumour being confirmed and is therefore just a rumour. Got to asked yourself, how many more rumours are there like this?!


Cabinet – Budget on a nod

For those living in Cornwall you would probably be aware from all the coverage that today was the day that the Cabinet’s emergency budget was announced. I would like to say that there were some changes to what was proposed, but sadly not a sausage. I could say what is listed HERE is what was nodded though by all the Cabinet.
I have posted before and areas that I would find hard to support. I asked the Leader, Alec Robertson when would the details as to why they are cutting 27 bus routes, Post-16 travel (further Education) and details of how a sports centre trust would be set up and function. I was met with a nothing answer along the lines of “don’t worry about the details all you need to know if that we have to cu and set the budget” Well sorry Mr Leader I do need to know these details if I have to stick my hand up on the 30th November and vote
Another outstanding comment from Jim Currie “this is only a financial exercise”.  That comment seems a little insensitive considering these cuts will have a huge impact on those people of Cornwall. No one is saying that savings must be made. Cornwall Council has lost a huge amount of funding from central Government. It was pointed out these cuts equated to the same budget of two former District Councils. It is a very big punch to take and be still standing. Saying that, it was confirmed today that we won’t actually know in money terms how much money we will lose as the government won’t release those details until December.
My big problems are I don’t think the basics have been done. Take for example I have repeatedly requested a printer in the Members room to be changed to allow duplex printing (both sides). I have been told that there is no money to pay for a new one, but printing documents out on a single sheets costs more money in a few months than it would be to replace the printer. If many more printers are the same and only print out one side imagine how much money could be saved in paper alone. This is just one example. Sometimes you have to spend a little to save a lot. This point is Cornwall Council has a huge buying power and it could get these items a lot cheaper than normal. This was pointed out by Sir Philip Greens report on Government spending. If we sorted out the basics first, then maybe, just maybe these cuts might not have to be as bad.
Now these recommendations are going to the Scrutiny Committees. Great, they should be able to examine these proposals in-depth. Sadly I doubt it. The reasons the first scrutiny committee meets on the 1st November with the last meeting ends on the 5th. Each Scrutiny OSC is only scheduled to meet once, abet all day. The Cabinet will re-meet on the 17th November for its final recommendations before it’s submitted to full Council on the 30th for the decision. Just looking at the time-line it does not allow much time to asked questions and get detail answers on how, why and what planet are you on when you made the decision to cut, scale down or bodging certain services. Considering a public agenda and report has to be made available to the public and Councillors 5 working days before the meeting is held. Not a lot of time for this process to take place and you could argue that it’s only having the bare minimum of scrutiny. But am I being cynical on this process?
Speaking to many back-benchers after the meeting there are many who are concerned that these cuts should have more thought into them. The question is, will those Councillors be able to vote against something that will hurt a lot of people if they feel they have not had the full information and rational behind them.
I am remaining unconvinced that this is the best way to do this, and I will be asking some tough questions in the next few weeks. Anything less and I will fail those who have elected me. 

Isle of Scilly Link – The final hurdle over?

News just released is that the Government has approved ‘in principle’ the funding for the new Isle of Scilly Link. As many will know from the news coverage and my blog posts this has been a long and contentious issue. The news was given in the House of Commons on the 26th Oct by the Rt Hon Philip Hammond MP, Sec of State for Transport.

Maybe now everyone will get together to make sure this project works. I think it is time to use the old saying and ‘bury the hatchet’ once and for all. I think this may take sometime though.

Sadly it comes at the same time that the helicopter link is still under threat with the Isle of Scilly Steamship Company not now supporting the move from Penzance Heliport to Lands End Airport. I do hope something is worked out as this would be another blow to Penzance

Cornwall Council Budget – Ouch!

A few hours ago the emergency budget for Cornwall Council was released to the general public. As many will know this information was already in the public domain, but I as a Councillor could not comment on it because it was still marked ‘confidential’. So what has changed from that draft info to today’s report? I would say nothing that I could make out. I can honestly say it is going to be bad, but what alternative is there?

Current Recommendations for Service Cuts 2010-11


Communities

  • Removal of funding for Fire Service Support and Improvement Team (£250k)
  • Reduction in subsidy to Leisure Services (500k)
  • Reduction in leisure provision (220k)
  • Emergency Planning (50k)
  • Removal of a number of OSS shops (250k)
  • Rationalisation of Libraries (250k)
  • Libraries and One Stop Shops 0.000 (475k)
  • Reduction in culture budget (50k)

Environment Planning and Economy

  •  Review Beach Water Safety, toilet provision and cleaning for non owned beaches (100k)
  •  Transportation, Waste and Environment Client reorganisation (800k)
  •  Part removal of Bus subsidy (50k)
  • Removal of support to evening and Sunday bus services (500k)
  • Truro park & ride (250k)
  • Transport Studies (300k)
  • Part removal of Bus subsidy (100k)
  • Removal of Post-16 Transport subsidy (Budget held by Children’s) (500k) (500k 2nd year)
  • Newquay Airport – increased income and car park charges (75k)
  • Waste – removal of all recycling banks (168k)
  • Waste Education (200k)
  • Removal of travel awareness budget (300k)
  • Traffic management (125k)
  • Road safety Education (100k)
  • Further reductions in Cornwall Development Company contract (150k) (200k)

Children’s

  •  Connexions services further reduction over the 25% (400k)
  •  Additional grant cuts on top of 24% abg and connexions (800k)

Chief Executives

  • Publicity and photography (16k)
  • Stop Council newspaper column (50k)

Adults
  • Removal of uplift for Adult Social Care (£4m)

Total Cabinet Recommendations on Potential Service Cuts £10.554 million. As you can see these cuts are really going to hurt services that we provide.

Leisure seems to take a hit with the closure and/or removal of funding for Budehaven, Camelford Leisure Centres and Hayle outdoor pool.  Jubilee Pool, Penzance transferred to a non-council organisation, or if not, I guess it will close. The remaining centres that are under the councils control could be placed into a Trust, but as yet I have not seen any details on how that would work. Would the Council owned centre in Helston be allowed to become a trust on its own or with other centres. Helston’s centre is the only one in the west that is still under council control. Most of the council owned ones are in the North of the County

The Libraries and One Stop Shops (OSS) have been targeted as well. It looks from the report that some will be merged together and those who are not well used will closed. This could be up to 20 Libraries and 10 OSS. I shall be eagerly waiting for the model on what qualifies to stay or goes. Helston’s Library has recently been refurbished, so I would hope that is safe. Otherwise it would be a criminal waste of money to refurbish, but then close it.

A shocking and brutal cut that will have impact on people’s lives is the removal of all subsidies for evening bus services. At present this service carries around 460,000 people a year. 27 bus routes could be removed. This will really hurt rural areas that rely on bus services. This is one area I will really struggle to support when it’s time to vote. After my recent brush with public transport the service is bad enough already. This would make it worse.

Post-16 travel subsidy is also likely to go. This again is an area that I will struggle to support. Its all well and good saying colleges will pick up the slack because they need students or else they don’t get funding, but colleges are facing cuts as well. It will be down to the families to find the money. For those on low incomes this would be unaffordable and it would result in a drop in those attending college.

These are just some of the areas that are going to be cut, or removed. For the full report please click HERE and the Agenda click HERE.

All these areas will go though the Scrutiny process first. This could allow those back-bench Councillors to make changes to what is proposed. Even if some are changed, we still have to find other areas to cut to make up the shortfall.

Waste Collections – Former Kerrier Area

Due to the closure of United Downs landfill site on the 31 October the refuse collection times in the former kerrier district area will change. Some collections will be earlier, others may be later. From the 1 November please make sure that your rubbish is out for collection by 7:00 am. Your recycling collections will be unaffected.


I doubt it will cause much extra trouble for people as most people place their bins out  the night before. Anyway I thought I would let you know. For further information click HERE

Local Planning – Site meeting

Porthleven Town Council held a planning site meeting on Saturday. They wanted to see for themselves what the impact an application would have on the surrounding area. There had been many objections in writing to Porthleven Council and Cornwall Council, and at a previous Town Council meeting many objectors turned up and expressed their views.

The Town Council listened to both the applicant and objectors and at times it got a little heated between the two parties, but the Town Council did manage to listen to the various points made. The Town Council then retired back to the Council Offices and debated the various points.

In the end it felt that it could not support the application. It will be writing to Cornwall Council requesting for this application to be refused for various reasons including harm to the character and amenity of the area and lack of local support. It now heads back to Cornwall Council either for refusal under delegated powers, or if not, it will go to the Planning Committee for a decision.

Spending Review – Was it good for you?

The Government has now released the details on its Spending Review. There are lots of areas that have come under the squeeze, but I will concentrate on some those that could affect Cornwall Council. Click HERE for the full review, and Pages 47-50 for Local Government. The question is it as bad as we thought. For those from different Political Parties they will treat it like people treat Marmite. But, let’s look on the simple details and how it could affect you and me. 
As I feared the Grant cut is near the 30% mark that the Council expected. It’s 28.4%, or 7.1% year on year. That will have a major impact on what services Cornwall Council provides. At least it’s not worse. But what is bad is on page 48, point 2.36 of the review it makes reference to the Fire Service. It says there will be a reduction in fire resource expenditure of 13% and within this a 25% cut in grants to Local Authorities (LA).They say in the report it will be up to the LA how to implement this. (How nice of them..)
Capital funding from all departments to the LA will be reduced by 45%. It says it will prioritise capital investment on areas of greater economic value, such as high value local transport. We will just have to wait to understand what ‘high value’ means.
An interesting part is that social housing getting reformed to provide a more tailored need to the individual with a lower cost (what ever that means). It also says that there will be investment to deliver 150,000 new affordable houses, but it does cover itself by saying ‘up to’. That could mean anything from 1 to 150, 0000 houses. 
On a positive note it ‘claims’ it will give significant devolution of financial control to Councils, by removing the ring-fencing around all revenue grants expect the simplified schools grant and the new public health grant. This looks like on paper a reduction of core grant formulas from 90 to 10. So I hope this will mean we are not now ham-strung on how we spend the money. I have seen in the past one Dept sitting with a large pop of money and not able to spend it, but other Dept desperately need it, but can’t use it. I hope this will allow more control to direct the money to where it is needed.
There are many aspects to this review that will have some sort of impact to our day to day lives. This Government cut Building School’s for Future (BSF), but in the report if says it will rebuild or refurbish over 600 school during the spending review. Lets hope some of that money does indeed come our way.

As always it’s the detail behind the head-lines. I am sure over the coming days many people will look over those details and workout how this is going to reflect on how we at Cornwall Council provide a lot of services.


Anyway I do think the review is worth a read and then make up your own mind on how good you think it is.

The cat is out of the bag

Today is the day when we (Cornwall Council) learn the details of the cuts we could be facing. This could be around the 30% mark. This could come in two waves of reduction in funding.
The first one is the Formula Grant from central Government. It’s expected to be 30% with at least 10% of those cuts coming in the first year. The remaining spread evenly over 3 years. The second is the Area Base Grant. This is likely to be 30% too, but this will be cut in the first year. On top of that, the Government is likely to cap Council Tax at 2.5%. 
So if the 30% is true, then we are going to face some real changes. £10 million is ear marked to go in the first year. Yesterday Cornwall Councillors were given details of possible cuts and other areas that were looked at. These papers were marked ‘confidential’ and were for Councillors eyes only. That’s until Monday 25th October when the report is published for Cabinet and therefore a public document.
For what ever reasons these details are now in the public domain and if you click here you will be able to read some of the proposed cuts (Click Here for Graham Smith’s Blog). I personally can’t publish the details due to the rules, but there are areas being cut that I think are wrong.
I can say what I do think is wrong, and will remain that way till I am explained fully as to why it was included in the cuts. For me it’s cutting the bus subsidy for evening and Sunday services, and the cutting of Post-16 student travel subsidy. It makes it harder to understand when we are keeping things like attending Royal Cornwall Show (cost around £50k). I feel let’s get our priorities right.
No matter what is cut, it’s going to be painful, but at least cut only those services that are really surplus and not shy away from those areas are politically sensitive.
Take for instance that we are borrowing £14 million to fund a Solar Park, but by the maths produced in the Cabinet report (as I post previously) will only have a return of £10 million over 25 years.  
Sometimes the logic for me is as clear as mud

The Last Post

For Helston’s Royal Air Force Association this was indeed the Last Post. After 63 years of helping ex-RAF service personal and their families they have called it a day. Formed in 1947 it has helped many people during those years.  I myself have a soft spot for the RAF since both my father and my grandfather clocked up over 67 years of service between them. I felt honoured to be invited in my role of a Cornwall Councillor.
Today’s service was held at St Michaels Church, Helston. I would say over 100 people attended this service. For those who have never attended a service like this, the Standard is marched in, laid on the Alter where there is a handing over ceremony to the church. This Standard will now rest in this church until it fades away to nothing. It is like the graveyard outside, a final resting place.  Have you ever wondered when you see lots of Regimental Colours in a church? Well, this is what happens to them once the unit is disbanded. 

After a few readings, hymns and a robust rendition of the National Anthem we all left the church and headed to the Royal British Legion for tea, sandwiches and cake. I think a rather fitting end to this whole event.  Also present were 3 of the founding members of this Association. They were there at the beginning and witnessed the end. 

Guy Gibson VC

Guy Gibson VC, who is he? Well he is a son of Porthleven. Born in India, but his mother was a born and bred Porthleven-er. He was a damn good pilot too, who led a squadron of equally exceptional pilots and aircrew in a raid against 3 dams during World War Two.

At last nights Porthleven Town Council meeting there was an item that I and Dick Powell had asked for. This was to discuss the possibility of a better monument than what is currently well hidden in the cemetery behind St Barts Church. To be honest you almost trip over it trying to find it as its not the easiest thing to find. It’s quite surprising how many people do actually come looking for it. When I owned a shop many people came in asking for direction. Many of those were Dutch.

It was felt that this was a good idea to look at something better and more fitting. One idea that met with a lot of approval was a large plaque in granite/metal to be placed on the iconic Bickford-Smith Institute. The two seem almost matched. A Mr. Vic Strike who is an expert on Gibson, and who also lives in Porthleven came along to the meeting. He was fully supportive of this course of action.

The Council voted to form a small working group (of 4) to look into various ideas and consult with the public. Vic Strike was also invited (and accepted) to sit on this working group. I know we have a street named after him, but I do believe this idea of a plaque is a worthy and fitting idea for such a person.

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