Children’s Services, Ofsted and Failings

Cornwall Councils Children’s Service has recently undergone an inspection by Ofsted. The last time this happened (2009) the report post that inspection was very bad as it highlighted many failings in this service. As a result of that inspection and report, this service was subject to Government intervention by means of an Improvement Board. With the Chairman of that board appointed by Government.

The Council was told it must improve or the consequences would be dire and far reaching. The Director at the time fell on his sword and resigned. Other staff left, or new staff were brought in to improve this service. This mammoth task had to be completed as a priority as children’s wellbeing and in some cases lives were being put at risk by these failings.

Cornwall has approximately 117,000 children and young people up to the age of 19 years. This is approximately 22% of the total population in the county.

It was then only a matter of time before Ofsted returned to see what improvements had been made. From my experience Ofsted pull no punches and will look at every detail. They will always find something, the issue is, how bad this something would be.

That something they found was bad, not as bad as it could be, as areas had and were improving. The problem was then and still is at senior manager level (as identified in the report in 2009 and 2011). A quote from the report is as follows:

“The previous inspection also found that management support for staff was inconsistent in ensuring that policies, procedures and guidance are followed. Additionally, managers did not provide sufficiently effective challenge about the quality of child protection and child in need plans. This remains the case, despite significant increases in the number of social workers and management capacity, and the structural reorganisation in children’s social care services”.

Not everything in the report is all doom and gloom as some areas have improved to adequate. In other areas there is even the odd good. The problem is that overall we are still failing the children of Cornwall. This alone is a massive failing.

I am not sure what political fallout there will be, or if anyone falls (or pushed!) on to their sword, but I am sure there will be a few nervous people sweating for a few weeks if not months post this report.

To read this report in full click HERE as you will then understand the scale of work that needs to be undertaken to make this service function correctly.

Child Poverty Panel and Food Banks

Child poverty is a serious issue and needs to be addressed with the aims of eradicating it. Not an easy task in anyone’s book. The Children’s School and Family Scrutiny Committee whose area this covers set up a Single Issue Panel to gather evidence from various organisations. Once this has completed a report will be compiled and presented to the main Committee. It will not be able to solve this complex issue, but will highlight areas that Cornwall Council can address.

Today was the chance for another organisation to present its evidence. This organisation was the Trussel Trust (www.trusseltrust.org). This Charity runs 5 Food Banks in Cornwall which are based in Truro, Bude, Liskeard, Falmouth and St. Austell. They plan to open three more in Helston, Newquay and Penzance. These are part of the franchise of 80 food banks in the UK under the umbrella of this Charity. During the first year of operation (Sept 2009/10) the Truro Food Bank (www.trurofoodbank.org) was donated nearly 5 tons of food, which over 3 tons was distributed to about 500 people. Over a quarter of whom are children. The commonest causes for crisis are benefit delays and cuts, debt, homelessness and unemployment.

On Sundays Politics show the subject of food banks was also highlighted and a more worryingly it highlighted a different group of people who are now coming to these banks. This group are those people who are in employment, but have had a set back like illness, drop in salary, or some change in personal circumstances.

I asked the question to those present from the Trust if this issue was being replicated in Cornwall. The simple answer was “No, not yet”. It is the “not yet” that has got me worried.

So how does this system work? It is run on a voucher system that around 40 organisations currently hold and then can issue them to people in need. These organisations include CAB, community Police, Housing Associations, Doctors, homeless charities and churches. Once you are given this voucher you take it to the depot where you will be given 3 days worth of emergency food. This of course does not completely solve any issue, but in many cases it throws the lifeline that is desperately needed.

It makes you think what would happen if groups and charities like the Trussel Trust were not around. What other means would people resort to just to stop being hungry. That list would be extensive and in a lot of cases probably not legal.

Further information and contact details are: Phone – 0772171669, email – info@trurofoodbank.org or their website – www.trurofoodbank.org

A Saffron Bun and a Pot of Money

Friday for me was a good end to a busy week for reasons that I will now explain. My first appointment was with the Mayor of Falmouth, its Town Clerk and a senior member of that Council. I had been invited to this meeting on my favourite subject of car parking and charging.

To be honest when a Town Council wants to meet with me to discuss parking and charging I never know what to expect. Sometimes it can be hostle, or I sit there and listen to comments about Cornwall Council more interested in money, than people. I guess this goes with the territory of being the Chairman of the Parking Advisory Panel.

No hostility this time, as I was met with a coffee and a saffron bun. That is a good start in anyones book. The meeting started with me explaining the current situation and how it would affect Falmouth. I also had the chance to tell them what was really happening and to dispel the ‘rumours’. I am sometimes really surprised as to how these rumours start and are so different from the facts. In a lot of cases, far worse than the facts.

What was also surprising that it was not the normal “we want the car parking for free”, but sensible ideas for Cornwall Council and Falmouth Town Council to work together to achieve something that was of benefit to both. They the Town Council have the local knowledge to know how different carparks work and if that was fed into Cornwall Council, then just maybe we could make both parties happy. Falmouth did not ask to be given any special treatment, but just wanted to make peoples trips to Falmouth better. I for one can’t argue with that.

I will be looking forward to what they come up with and how we (as the Panel) can help them. For me personally I like this approach, it is far better than the placard, marches and the hostile way some areas approach this subject. I always feel that sitting around a table talking is a better way of achieving something than trying to listen to that view via a megaphone.

My role and that of the Panels is advisory. This Panel wants to help and work with other Councils, but it has to be a two way dialog that results in give and take from both sides.

The last meeting of the day was in Helston about money available via the Regional Growth Fund. A lot of money is available and bid projects have to start at £1m. The Helston and Lizard area could really do with this investment. Any project has to be private and public sector, with at least half the money coming from the private sector. This means businesses will have to get their cheque books out first.

This was the second meeting on this subject and is still in the very early stages of sitting around a table with various businesses. I was there after being volunteered by the Cabinet Member for Economy and Regeneration and the other Cornwall Council Community Members that this area covers. Basically I am a link.

It was decided that the best way forward is for the South Kerrier Alliance (subject to board approval) to be the main leads on any project. They also have a proven track record with obtaining £1.8m in funding for the redevelopment of the Helston Cattle Market. The plan is to work up a bid for September. The timeline is tight, but it would be foolish just to ignore this pot of money as it could make real difference to the area.

As I said, it was a good day to end a busy week.

They Have Let Me Loose With a Weekly Column!!

About 14 months ago I started blogging, not a natural writer I at first struggled. I can now say I really enjoy writing and it is even more heartening to know people read what I write.

Just over a week ago I was contacted by the Packet Newspaper to see if I wanted to write a weekly column in the Helston and Lizard edition of this paper. At first I had the same thought and reaction as when I first started blogging, but then I thought why not, if it helps people understand what I do then what have I got to lose? I guess time will tell!

So this week on page 59, my first column was printed. It is less than 500 words, so I can’t bore you all to death with my drivel. If I do bore you and the sales of the paper drop, then no doubt I will be back to only blogging.

(signed copies always available)

Cabinet Makes the Call on Car Park Charging

At yesterdays Cabinet, the recommendations made by the Parking Advisory Panel were accepted with only a few tweaks. One of these tweaks was on Season Tickets. The Panel had originally said these yearly tickets would be worked out on the equivalent of 100 days car parking for the first year, rising to 150 days the second. When the Panel was asked to re-look into charging. It gave the option that if the budget was critical, then it could be charged at 150 for the first year. I am pleased to say the Cabinet decided to implement the 100 days option.

I made the point at this meeting that Cabinet needs to make a decision as to how charging is treated. The Panel has always seen car parking and charging for it as a service with a sensible revenue, and not simply, a cash cow. I got the response from the Leader and the CEO that the Panel would get that answer before the next Panel meeting. I followed this up today with a covering email to the Leader, CEO and the Portfolio Holder.

Also, the Cabinet said it would look at devolution of car parks to Town and Parish Councils. Again, I welcome this additional recommendation. But, before these Councils suddenly rush to ask for certain car parks there could be a sting in the tail. This sting could be that it is unlikely that these car parks will just be handed over and with it all the revenue . It is more likely that Cornwall Council would still like a share of the pie and ask for some of the profits to be handed back, or for the smaller car parks, additional services to be taken on by the Town and Parish Council. Any request will have to be backed up with a cast iron business plan.

In the meantime the Panel will get on with the busy work plan it has for the year.

A Boat and The Budget

The second full Council meeting of the year was mainly about a boat and the budget for 2011/12. As always, this meeting concerned discussing the limited amount of business that is not dealt with by the Cabinet. It sometimes (most of the time) feels like dealing with the scraps off the table.

The boat item is for the plan to replace the ship for the Isle of Scily link. Yes, this subject still rumbles on, but maybe it is coming to a conclusion. The Council was asked to support and vote for some of the capital to make this project happen. The other money comes from the European Union and the Dept of Transport. After a few negative comments a vote was taken and was passed. All that is needed now is the final approval from the Government Ministry. This we are told ‘should’ be made at the end of this month.

The budget was the main Agenda item for today. In the current climate it was going to be bad. The simple fact is the Government (let us not forget a Conservative and Liberial Democrate coalition) has cut funding to Cornwall Council to the tune of £170m, with 12% of that coming this year. We can all play the blame game and say it is Labours fault for leaving us in this mess, or the current administration of cutting too harshly, but blaming does not solve the issue of less money.

The real issue is how do we make less money stretch to all services? The answer to that is we can’t. All departments at Cornwall Council have been told to make savings. This has been very hard, and some areas have seen massive budget cuts. One of these areas is Supporting People. This covers around 11,000 people to the tune of £14m. The reduction in this budget is around £5m, or simply 40%.

Much has been made of this percentage and it looks very harsh at face value. You have to though look behind the percentage and the figures as not all areas will see a large cut, as some critical areas will only see a 5% cut. As with all areas, savings can be made. For example a service provided under this title was being provided in the East of Cornwall for around £7, but in the West is was near £64. This cannot be right in anyones book and there must be room for better value without the need to simply remove a service.

I asked a question to the Portfolio Holder, Armand Toms, if with this reduction can you provide the same level of service as what is currently provided? His simple reply was “Yes, I believe with some changes and better implementation this can be achieved to near the current level of service”. I believe him, as this man has real passion and would not say something that he did not believe in.

He mentioned that 57% of those organisation that fall under Supporting People have accepted the proposals. That still leaves 43% that have yet to reach a deal. If they do manage that without a drastic cut to a service then this is good news. If not, well lets hope it does not come to that.

His words carry weight and even though I have concerns on this area I decided to vote in favour of the budget, not because I fully believed in it, but the alternative is far far worse. If you think Cornwall has to make hard choices, but spare a thought for areas like Manchester and Birmingham Councils who like our neighbour in Devon are really up the creek without a paddle.

On the plus side (if you can call it that) there will be no Council Tax increase. Good news? Seems so, but look closer to find that if there was a rise, this extra money would just be taken out of the Formula Grants given to Cornwall Council. It is basically then a numbers game.

The vote on the budget was 63 for, 40 against and 1 abstention. Making 103 out of 123 present at the vote.

Porthleven Town Council – Joint Bid for Money

You may wonder why I attend and sit on so many Panels and Committees at Cornwall Council. The reason is you need to attend to find out what is going on, and to make sure anything that could be a benefit to Porthleven and Helston South is directed in that direction. People often complain that there is no money available, but this is not strictly true, you just need to know where it is all kept and hidden.

One of those Panels I sit on is the Tourism Panel and like it or not, Porthleven is a tourist destination. Many people are employed within this industry, sadly many only on a short term seasonal bases. At last nights Porthleven Town Council meeting I presented a piece of work that has come through the Tourism Panel.

This is called Cornwall Seaside Towns Program. 12 towns have been shortlisted to bid for £400,000. It might not seem a lot to go around, but I believe not all town will be successful and receive this money. To be successful a town will have to submit a plan that would show that this money would be best spent in their town.

Any plan submitted will have to meet a certain criteria and that principle will be:

• Seaside towns asked to develop a package of initiatives/actions (capital & revenue) which will improve the visitor (and local community) experience
• Town Councils to lead the programme in their town
• Town Councils to ensure linkages with other opportunities/initiatives
• Clear demonstration of linkage to wider strategy and vision for the town
• Mix of seaside funds and other funding e.g. Town Council and private sector
• Civic Pride/Public Realm improvements combined with worklessness/skills/training activities
• Clear evidence of substantive support from appropriate private and public sector partners

The Town Council discussed who would be the best organisation to link up with who would meet the criteria. It was felt (and voted on) that the Porthleven Food Festival Committee would be the ideal partner. Four Porthleven Town Councillors, including me, will form a working group and invite the same number of members from the festival committee to join up and work on a bid. Time is critical as any bid will have to be submitted by July, with the final decision made in December 2011.

I am very confident that we will be able to submit a couple of bids as I believe we stand a very good chance of winning some of this money. If we do win, it would be a real boost for Porthleven.

A Week of P’s – Parking

It is a week of P’s, first Planning and today my old favourite Parking. The dust has settled (briefly) on charging structures, but now it was time to get on with the work plan for the remaining year.

The issue of VAT and NDR has been a concern of the Panel for sometime. As I’ve blogged before, we hand over £1.7m in Vat and £3.4m in NDR to the Government. These charges come out of the revenue of car parking. The Panel has never liked this, and so it seems other Authorities feel the same. So much so they have taken the lead in addressing this.

The Panel has recommended that Cornwall Council writes to the Government raising the point that car parking charges should be exempt from VAT, or that the money raised this way should be handed back. Also, we have decided to write to those other Authorities that are campaigning on this subject to ask if we can lend support by means of a more united front. This way we would have a bigger and louder voice, and who knows, the HMRC might (and it’s a big might) listen to us.

Another issue on the Agenda for today was Concessionary/Free Permits. Currently we believe that there are around 4000 of these permits in circulation, many left over from the old District Council days. To be honest it is a complete mess as the figure could be higher. It means we are giving free car parking to organisations, businesses and public sector organisations. It is costing the Council (you and I) around £1m per year to subsidise these bodies. That means the coin we all place in the machines pays for others to park for free.

The Panel has decided to reconmmend to Cabinet the removal of all the current Concessionary Permits from April 1st 2011 except for those which are in place though a legal agreement, or are part of a licence. Of course there are some charity organisations and other well meeting bodies that could not survive without some help, so we have decided to make a new policy that will allow any organisation to apply for a Concessionary Permit subject to the approval of the appropriate Cabinet Member. So it is not a no never, but you will have to prove you really need it before it will be issued.

As always with Parking some people are not going to be happy. I don’t want to list all the users, organisations or bodies who have permits as that will take too long. It will be far simpler to give you the link to the Agenda item for you to look at some of those listed. Some of them are really shocking.


Click HERE for that link and enjoy.


Hayle Supermarket Wars – Three Out of Four Survive

Wow, a simple word, but it sums up todays Strategic Planning Committee. This meeting started at 9:30am and continued past 6pm. I always thought it was going to be long, but I never expected how long, or what would transpire during this meeting.

Hayle, a town that has a population of 8000 has certainly been re-placed on the map of Cornwall. It has a proud history, but for the last decade it has been left out of much needed investment. That was until three supermarkets and one international bank decided it wanted to develop various areas.

First to present it’s case was ING, their proposals are for South Quay. I could give a detailed account of what happened, but that would take half the night just to type out. It would be far simpler to say the debate took over four hours, and when it finally came to the vote, four different motions and counter motions were put forward and vigorously debated. At certain times some of the issues got confused, but in the end a decision was made. It was felt that as this application was the preferred option by means of sequential testing, a deferrement for 5 months was passed. This would enable the applicant to address the major concerns that were raised during the debate and highlighted in the report.

Next up was Morrison’s with their proposed plan on the current Jewsons site. This was less controversial on the heritage side than the ING plan, but similarly it had a few concerns needing to be addressed before any application is approved. This debate took slightly less than ING’s but still took around two hours. This was also deferred because this plan was second on the sequential testing and if ING could not, or did not address the concerns, then this would be the new favourite.

It was ASDA’s turn to try and convince the Committee than their plan was best. Unlike the previous two applications this was the first of the out of town proposals. Now this application really did go though the millstone as this was recommended for refusal, but ended up with something different. Lots of the community had turned up to show support, mostly I believe was because of ASDA’s plan for Hayle RFU to be given new grounds. When it came to the vote we started with refusal, then deferment, then approval, and finally deferment. I could go on, as at one stage we could have faced two Judicial Reviews if we had gone down a certain path, but light shone though, and pulled back from the brink (only down to some clever thinking on the consititution).

The last plan to test the metal of the Committee was Sainsbury’s. Again, this was an out of town proposal. This plan was the forth and last on the sequential test. In other words, it would have been a miracle to be suddenly be the front runner as it would have needed the three previous plans to be refused. After a short debate (short by means of the previous three) to motions were presented, deferment and refusal. Refusal won, but I very much doubt the applicants were best pleased with this.

So what happens now? Well, the three remaining plans in the race will need to go away and look at their proposals. They will all need to be improved and the items that need to be addressed will have to be, because as shown today, this Committee will want the best price and deal for Hayle before any permission is granted.

The question now is how far will these three applications will go to secure permission? I hope a very long way, as I believe this will be of benefit to Hayle.

Hayle’s Supermarket War – The Eve Before the Battle

Tomorrow is a big day for Hayle in what could be described as the ‘Battle of the Supermarkets’. Four of the beasts all wanting to come and build in Hayle, but only one spot up for grabs.

From what I can tell the public are split over which supermarket should win. For every person who says they prefer a certain plan, you find someone against it, or who supports another option. My previous blog on this subject has attracted a lot of traffic and comments. Over 22 people have made comments, some close to the personal mark (not aimed at me), but I have allowed them to enable the debate to carry on.

So what is the best plan? That is a very good question which is hard to answer. This though will be needed to be answered by the 21 Members of Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee. Which way will they go? Who knows. I think it would be easier to pick the Winning lotto tickets for the next 3 weeks than make a call on which application gets the nod.

What I do know is that those Councillors present will listen to all the speakers on all sides, the professional officers comments and would have studied the extensive report that has been produced for this meeting. If you have some spare time and want to read this report, then click HERE.

Far too long Hayle has sat between it’s bigger cousins of Penzance and St. Ives, and I truly believe that it has been overlooked far too many times for investment. Could these plans be the break Hayle needs, or will it break it’s back and destroy what is left?

No matter what decision the Committee comes to, it will be wrong. Why? Well, this is because (as I have said before) there is no clear winner of support by the public or a plan that pleases all the statutory agencies that have been consulted. Planning is never simple, even a house extension can lead to hostilities between groups and neighbours. Let’s hope when the dust settles there will be no long term adverse feelings between the people of Hayle.

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