Porthleven – Parking Enforcement

At last nights Porthleven Town Council meeting the Councillors read a report written by me about hiring extra enforcement for parking in Porthleven. This report outlined some basic plans with costs and drawbacks. Those Councillors present felt that this could be possible, but they felt that they needed more details before they make their decision.

I believe that the Council is going down the right course of action in accepting in principle that it could work, but before they do commit they want further details and clarification on many points. It’s a credit to the Town Council that they want to make sure all the I’s are dotted and T’s crossed before they make this decision. They are going to send me a list of points that they need answers too before they agree (or not) to this proposal. If they do in agree in principle, then they plan to consult the public for their views before making the final decision.

It’s good to see a small but local Council being proactive in trying to solve a difficult issue. Many times I have heard what the point of a local Council because they have no power, but I say to those who criticise that these volunteers do try to do the best they can with the resources and powers they have. 

7 days to go

Yes, 7 days to go until the Government releases it dreaded Spending Review. Cornwall Council is in-line for some really serious cuts in grant funding from the Government. This could total 30% with a third of that having to be made in the first year (2011-12). The remainder of it spread out over the following three years. This is a huge amount that the Council has to deal with. You could say that the Council could just raise Council Tax to cover it, but the Government is most likely to ‘cap’ this at no more than a 2.5% rise.

I am told that a lot of saving have already been made, but a further £20 million has to be made. £10 million has already been identified in ‘re-organising’ working practices, staffing levels and better use of buildings, but that still leaves a further £10 million to be found. This is where Council services are under pressure. What ones could be cut or scaled down, and what ones cannot.

This was the point of a briefing I attended along with many other Councillors. The level of detail was very good. It listed many areas that could face cuts. No definite list, but a shopping list that Councillors could decide as long as it added up to the £10 million. I really can’t say what was on those lists because it was marked Confidential and therefore I am bound by the Code of Conduct. In fact those present were not allowed to keep the documents just in case they got mislaid and ended up in other hands.

Unlike previous Budgets I had little, if any say in how it was done apart from a yes or no once it was presented to full Council. Those on a Scrutiny Committee did have a chance to vote and change certain elements, but not everyone who is a Member of Cornwall Council can be on one of these Panels.  So I welcome this chance to really discuss this before hand and my thanks go to those who organised it.

I for one will find it a little harder to sleep tonight knowing what Cornwall Council faces in the coming months.

Solar Panels – Again

I blogged about solar panels a few weeks ago (Click HERE to refresh yourselves. I asked if having Cornwall covered in them would be a price worth paying. I am personally not convinced due to a few reasons. Before I go into why not, please click HERE to read the report from today’s Cabinet meeting on Kernow Solar Park. It makes for some interesting reading as to why Cornwall Council really wants to get into this market.

The first thing I noticed is that Cornwall Council is going to have to borrow £14 million to fund this. It was £10 million, but that had to be re-address due to some figures not adding up. There is nothing wrong with borrowing £14 million if its going to make you more money in the end. That’s a good decision. The point is will it?

In the report that this farm will make £400k per year. Considering the life is 25 years, that makes a £10 million profit over this period. I pointed out that there is a difference between the expenditure and profit of £4 million. I was told that this was covered, but I am not sure where or how, unless I missed something. It’s only when you look closely at these figures is that the whole costing is based on a rather large and generous subsidy from the Government. This is 28.7 pence per unit and is near 3 times what the the average domestic consumer is paying at 10-12 pence per unit.

So the Government is paying more out of our Taxes to support this. It could get worse as if the Government re-looks at this generous tariff and reduces it, then the whole project does not work. If this does happen, then I was told we (as in Cornwall Council) will re-look at this plan. I asked if this tariff was cut in the review, then why spend the time and resources in getting this project this far? I was then told that this has to be all up and running before March 2012 to be locked into this generous tariff. As once in this tariff it’s locked for 25 years and is unable to be amended. (I am sure some smart lawyer on the Government pay-role could indeed find some clause to change it).

So you can see why Cornwall Council would like as many of these as possible as they really are a cash cow. The old saying robbing Peter to pay Paul never rung so true. As the government gives with one hand, you can bet it has a larger hand waiting to collect it back.

There is no getting away that we have to reduce our carbon footprint, and if there are enough of these Cornwall Council could be an energy supplier. But I am not sure if the people of Cornwall would benefit with cheaper electricity for having fields of panels in place of farmland.  Maybe someone thinks differently and thinks having more is a price worth paying. I mean what do I know, I am just a Councillor.

Another Motion

I am involved with another Motion to Full Council. This time I am the seconder, and Andrew Long of Mebyon Kernow fame is the proposer. This Motion has support across all the Parties. The point of this Motion is firming up how the meeting of all 123 Cornwall Councillors should be conducted.

In the past this meeting has not always run as smoothly as a lot of back-bench Members have liked. In fact it has been said that this meeting is pointless due to all the major decision are made by the Cabinet. The only real exception to this is the Budget which Full Council gets the final say. The reasons are because this is the type of Council we have to have due to the rules laid down by Government. It is hoped by many Members that Mr Eric Pickles will change the rules and allow the Local Authority some scope to adapt these rules somewhat.

I have been slightly saddened that this Motion has been subject to some obstacles being placed in front of it. But due to the commitment of those who are supporting it, we have overcome this resistance, and pressed on to get it on the Agenda.  Click HERE to read the details of this Motion. I hope this Motion will be debated by Members as after all this is their meeting.

Meeting the Chief Copper

Next Tues (19th Oct) after Full Council, Members will have the chance to meet the Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police, Stephen Otter, for around 45 minutes. This will discuss various issues including effective partnerships and dealing with budget cuts that both organisations are facing in the coming months.

Not sure if 45 minutes is enough considering 123 Members may wish to put questions to him. I am on the understand that this is a briefing, so the normal closed doors rules apply (sigh). In fact, I doubt I will be able to say anything of what took place during this meeting.

But, if you would like me to ask a question I will do, I just might not be able to tell you the answer. Saying that, I do appreciated his time to come and see what we have to say. I know he is a busy man and his Force is not going to escape the Governments cuts

Three supermarkets and a wall

Three supermarkets and a wall sounds like a film title, but its not. It’s what Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee has to decide this Thursday (14th Oct) starting at 10am. Click HERE for the Agenda.

On this Agenda could be the future of Wadebridge. Three supermarkets want to come to Wadebridge, two are recommended for approval with the other recommended for refusal. It’s going to be a long and interesting day in listening to points, views and arguments from the various pro and anti camps. It is then, after listening to all those points, that 21 Councillors that sit on this Committee will make its decision. Click HERE to see who is on the Committee. One thing for sure, one side is not going to be happy on the decision. For that decision you will have to turn up and watch the procedure, or wait till the news breaks. I have to in the meantime read over 600 pages of the report, including a Retail Impact Assessment.

As for the Wall, this is another chapter in the long and bitter planning application on the future of the Isle of Scilly link from South Pier, Penzance. I have to say this has almost resulted in civil war between the different factions that support this application, or don’t. There seems to be no middle ground between the respective parties. On opening my e-mails this morning I was greeted with 25 e-mails on this subject. I have voted for refusal and approval in the past, so you will have to either turn up, or wait for the news to break on how the vote goes.

In the meantime my coffee table is now awash with the reports and other associated documents that I have to read by 10 am Thursday. My fellow Councillor Jeremy Rowe has made enquiries for this very important meeting to be web-casted, but due a ridiculous decision that I and others have posted about, this is unlikely to be seen live outside the walls of County Hall. One step forward, two steps back springs to mind. This would have been a perfect situation to be more accessible to those who do not live in Truro.

Tourism – It’s important

I sit on the Tourism Panel. Tourism is important to Cornwall. Without it, we would be up the creek without a paddle, and probably the canoe too. It equates to £1.5 billion to Cornwall, or in money terms the income equivalent of £3000 for every man woman and child who lives in Cornwall. It employs 40,000 people. So it’s very important to Cornwall.
From the stats and figures that we were shown today, it seems Cornwall has come though the current recession better than expected with the average length of stay down from 7.5 days to just under 7 days. We have around 88% repeat visitors. These are people who come back to Cornwall within 5 years. So it seems once they come, they will return. 
While the visitor numbers are good, it seems that whilst lots of money is spent in Cornwall a large part of it does not stay because of the VAT and Business Rates what goes to the central coffers of the Government. The Tourism Minister, John Penrose is currently draft a new Policy on Tourism that could mean that more of this tax money stays within the borders of where it’s been spent. One dreaded word that was mentioned by Malcolm Bell was a Tourism Tax. This was merely mentioned as an idea and nothing more than that (yet).
I raised a question what was Visit Cornwall (Tourism Wing of CC) doing to attract visitors to Cornwall during the Olympics. This is one of the largest events to happen to the UK since 1948 when the Olympics were last here. It has a huge potential to attract more people to visit Cornwall and more importantly revisit over and over again. At present nothing overtly happening, but Malcolm Bell did acknowledge more work should be done to attract those wanting to get away from the Olympics or wanting to see more of what the UK has to offer whilst they are here during the Olympics. He said he would get more details from Visit Britain who is handling a lot of the PR on tourism during the Olympics. I believe this is a trick not to be missed.
On the downside, Cornwall Development Company (CDC) which Visit Cornwall sits in is facing cuts along with everyone else. The danger that was pointed out by me and many other Councillors on this Panel is the budget for Tourism is seen as a soft target in these cuts. It may seem soft on paper, but current money that goes into tourism would have a more hard hitting effect on Cornwall and those who this industry support.
I am very confident that we have the right man at the helm in Malcolm Bell. From the meeting I have had with him he currently knows what he is talking about.

Cornwall Council – Having to waste money!

Cornwall Council is probably going to have to spend a further £140,000 that it should not really have to. Why? It’s because a large number of people have not returned their Electoral Registration forms. Out of the 253,362 home that these forms were sent, only 163,630 households (64%) have responded by the middle of September. 

The Council will now have to send reminder letters to the 89,732 householders who had not yet responded. This will cost at least £45,000 of taxpayers’ money in postage charges which could be spent on other Council services.  If that fails to work then it will have to employ canvassers to go door to door. As I said before this whole exercise could cost £140,000. The largest demographic group is those up to the age of 35 who have not returned their forms.
There is an interesting breakdown on those who have responded. Out of those who have responded, 37,068 have been made via the free phone number, 25,788 using internet registration and 7,686 using text messaging. The remainder using the pre paid envelopes.  Of these forms 64,074 had no changes and could have been returned via the automated services.
As the decision on future parliamentary boundaries will be made using the December 2010 electoral roll, the Council is keen to encourage as many people as possible to register.  The indications are that if everyone in Cornwall who is eligible to register returned their forms, the numbers on the register would help ensure that the county retains its current six MP’s within the existing Cornish boundaries.
So I urge those who have not responded to do in the next week or so. An Election might seem a long time away, but this register could have far reaching consequences way before we go to the polling stations.

Public Transport – A shock to the system

It’s been a long time since I have had to rely on public transport as luckily I have a car, but this week has brought home to me how difficult it is get around if you don’t have a car, or access to one. I have had to rely on public transport because my car is very poorly with its head gasket gone.

Because a lot of my work as a Councillor is not in my local area, I have to travel. The big drawback to this is without a car I have to use the bus. I would like to use the train, but the nearest stations in Penzance or Camborne are over 15 miles away. So I have to get a bus to get to the station. Porthleven is hardly what I call remote; I would say there is an hourly service to Helston, some 3 miles away. This bus travels from Penzance to Falmouth. So its not that bad as long as you have plenty of free hours to a) wait and b) the time it take to get to a place. It’s just if you need to get to other places a problem arises.

Take Truro, its the de-facto capital of Cornwall, but there is only one direct service in the morning, but as I was told by First’s customer service that college children get priority, so if that hardly a good start for a commuter trying to get to work. This bus leaves at 7:30 am and gets in around 9am.  If not, I was told I could get to Truro via either Penzance (requires two changes) or Camborne (requires 3 changes). If I had to go via any of them, I might as well get off and get the train as it would be quicker. There used to be a direct route from Penzance to Truro via Helston/Falmouth but this was stopped some years ago. I dread to think how difficult it would be to get to anywhere east of Truro

At a recent Community Network meeting we discussed transport and buses. Sadly at this meeting First (the bus company) failed to send any senior managers to answer questions, even though they promised, but at the 11th hour they sent one of the general staff who could not speak on anything because he was not really in a managerial role that would have access to that type of information. All he said (no fault on him) I will take that question back to my boss.

I would never expect a public transport service like you get in a large city (would be nice though), but it would be nice to get one that enables you to get around without spending many hours waiting and travelling around in the aim of trying to get to somewhere that is only 20 miles away. The Government and to an extent Cornwall Council bangs on about ‘Green Travel Plans’ and how people should stop using their cars, but what is the alternative? People are not going to stop using a car because the alternative is just not there.

As for the price of a bus ticket, this is more expensive that using a car. That just makes no sense at all. I travelled back from Helston (3 miles) with my son. It cost £3.90 for both of us one way. Hardly a cheap method to travel around. Its just not affordable to use a bus as a regular means of travel. Personally I would be more than happy to pay more in Council Tax, or dare I say it in parking charges if that money went directly to fund better public transport. I would not have a problem with that.

I have to say it’s not until you have to try something you really know how difficult it can be. For me, I am looking forward to getting my car back; as I don’t really think I could cope without it until things change in public transport.

Briefing on next-gen Broadband – makes sense now?

(I received this briefing today, so I thought I would share it with you all)

Background – the actnow project (2002-2008)
The award winning actnow project was the UK’s first broadband partnership, set up in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly between the public and private sectors, and funded with EU Objective One funds matched with BT private sector and UK public sector investment. It had stunning success, far exceeding its original targets, and helping over 10,000 small and medium sized businesses to make the most of first generation broadband technology by working more productively and expanding into new markets.
The economic impact is clear, with over 4,000 jobs secured and an annual impact on the peninsula’s GDP exceeding £100m.
EU Convergence Funding
When Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly qualified for EU Convergence Funding for the 2007-2013 period, the challenge from the EU was to make investments that would truly transform the economic landscape, enabling Cornwall’s business base to change from a reliance on older low earning sectors like agriculture and tourism, to a more knowledge based, high value added economy.
Cornwall’s businesses had seized the opportunities of first generation broadband, and in many cases pushed it to the limit. The Cornwall Economic Forum grasped the opportunity to promote a significant investment in Cornwall’s digital infrastructure, and this helped ensure its inclusion in the new Operational Programme.
Next Generation Broadband (NGB[1])
The Next Generation Broadband investment represents the single largest and most transformational ERDF investment that the Convergence programme will make. It contributes towards the programme’s operational objectives by providing the platform for economic transformation to a more knowledge based, high value added, lower carbon economy. The project links together and adds value to virtually all other investments in the programme, including, place based regeneration activity, innovation centres and the Combined Universities in Cornwall developments.
Convergence ERDF funds will be used to gap fund the selected private sector investor, British Telecom (BT). The infrastructure will be built, owned and operated by BT. There will be an obligation to ensure open access to wholesale services by all service providers. BT intends to invest £132.5 million if a £53.5 million grant is awarded. The project is not reliant on UK public sector matched funding.
The investment will deliver the following Operational Programme results:
          10,000 businesses using new infrastructure
          6,000 businesses with improved performance (GVA)
          4,000 jobs created and 2,000 jobs safeguarded
A Business Focussed Investment
The primary purpose of this project is to ensure that targeted high growth, high value businesses, including start-ups, those with potential to develop, and inward investors, have access to NGB services. The number of targeted businesses will be maximised by ensuring early deployment to business parks and other areas of Convergence activity, providing fibre connectivity with up to 100Mb/s capability. High value businesses will be prioritised for connection within the rollout plan wherever possible and will be selected for higher speed solutions where this is achievable.
Demand stimulation activities will be an integral part of the project, driving businesses take up and highlighting new opportunities enabled by world class connectivity. The project aims to drive up both business and overall take up, ensuring private sector investment is maximised and guaranteeing the long term sustainability of the network.
Extensive Coverage
Access to superfast broadband in the wider community is hugely important in order to attract and retain high value businesses in Cornwall. The BT proposal offers wide coverage, with a fibre rich solution available to 86% of all premises. There are 2 main types of fibre based solution – FTTP and FTTC
Fibre to the Premise (FTTP). The fibre optic network is extended from the local telephone exchange (there are 100 in Cornwall) as far as the business or household. Fibre has staggering capacity (e.g. a single strand can transmit millions of calls or dozens of HDTV channels simultaneously), so FTTP is a fully future-proofed connection. With launch speeds of 100Mbps, we are aiming to make about half the fibre connections as FTTP.
Fibre to the Cabinet (FTTC). The fibre optic network is extended from the local telephone exchange to the green roadside cabinets. Superfast broadband is then delivered over a much shorter copper line to the end user – often a few hundred metres instead of several kms – giving typical speeds of 15-40Mbps.
Infill solutions, such as wireless, satellite and advanced copper technology, will provide a step change in broadband connectivity in the estimated 14% of premises where a fibre solution is uneconomic.

This scale deployment provides the commercial incentive for BT and helps the feasibility of their business case. Wider coverage in turn drives significant wider socio-economic benefits, including the ability to work more flexibly from home, to start up knowledge businesses, attract inward investors, and the opportunity to develop innovative new NGB content and applications. The scale will also ensure the network becomes attractive to

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