Isles of Scilly Boat Project Sinks On The Homeward Course

The Government has finally given Cornwall Council the news on it’s part of the funding for the replacement ship and associated works for the Isles of Scilly. I am afraid from the Councils, the Isle of Scilly and probably half of Penzance this is terrible news. The Government has said it will not fund it’s side of the project.

The replacement project only worked if all 3 partners funded this project. It means there is now not enough money for the project to work. More concerning is the Convergence money is now lost too, as this was needed for other elements to be released.

I expect the full impact on this decision will not be fully felt for a few days until the numbness has subsided for those in favour of the project. Of course, if you were against the project in the first place, then sales of bubbly might see an increase in and around Penzance.

Personally, I am not sure where this leaves Penzance and the Isles of Scilly, but I do think it will be very rough until something (if anything) is worked out.

Below is the official statement from Cornwall Council that was released 20 minutes ago

News that the Government has decided not to fund the Isles of Scilly Sea Link Project has been greeted with disappointment and dismay by members of the Route Partnership who say Ministers are missing the opportunity to safeguard the future of the vital sea link.

The Route Partnership, which includes Cornwall Council, the Council for the Isles of Scilly and the Duchy of Cornwall, has been working with the Government on proposals to safeguard the future of the sea link between the Isles of Scilly and the Cornwall mainland since 2002. The bid, which includes proposals for both the harbours at St Mary’s and Penzance, together with a new vessel, has been designed to overcome the growing problems which are threatening the operation of the service in the future.

The sea link is responsible for carrying 45,000 passengers (90,000 trips) and 13,000 tonnes of freight to the Isles of Scilly annually (35% of all passengers and 95% of all freight) and is essential for the continued social and economic wellbeing of the 2,200 Islanders.

The Route Partnership has been waiting since January for final approval from the Department for Transport in order for Cornwall Council to let contracts for the harbour works, the building of a new combined passenger/freight vessel and appointment of a private operator to run the new service from March 2013. The tenders are due to expire on 31 March and earlier this month the Partnership warned that time was running out for the Government to reach a decision.

The Partnership has already reduced the costs of the scheme by £26 million and on March 16 Cornwall Council agreed to borrow an additional £5 million, with an additional £700,000 coming from the Convergence programme. This took the level of local contributions up to £26.75m – 43% of the £62.05 m required for the scheme.

Graeme Hicks, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet Member for Transportation and Highways, is angry and disappointed by the Government’s decision not to fund the scheme. “We were asked by the Government to develop this scheme and have done everything we can to reduce the costs and increase local funding over the past few months” he said. “The proposed scheme was a comprehensive one which would have enabled improvements to be made to the harbours in both Penzance and St Mary’s as well as providing a new vessel. The decision not to provide funding is a huge missed opportunity and I am very disappointed by the Government’s short sightedness.

“I am also disappointed by the lack of support from the local MP” he added. “This made it much more difficult for us to make our case to the Government and is, I am sure, one of the reasons for this decision.

“Developing this project for the Government has already cost more than £5million and we will need to look at the detail of the Government’s announcement before deciding what future action to take. “

“Cornwall Council and the other members of the Route Partnership have done everything they can to ensure this project goes ahead” said Philip Hygate, Chairman of the Route Partnership and Chief Executive of the Council of the Isles of Scilly. “It is very disappointing that the Government has decided not to support this project which would have allowed £12.75m of EU Convergence funding and a further £15m from Cornwall Council towards the overall cost of the project.”

“The community on the Isles of Scilly have watched this project being developed over the last eight years with growing anticipation that this would, when implemented, safeguard the service for years to come. I am devastated that having come so close to delivering this project, the Government has decided not to support it” said Councillor Mike Hicks, Chairman of the Council of the Isles of Scilly.

“This is a very sad day for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly” said Cornwall Council Leader Alec Robertson. “This decision means that there is now no funding available to deliver improvements to the sea link. The European funding will now be reallocated to other projects within the programme and the opportunity for the Council to borrow funding to support the project has been lost”.

“However the need to maintain a sea link remains and it will now be up to the Government to ensure a solution is delivered”.

Tea Gate

If I said that on three occasions Cornwall Council hired a taxi to transport tea and coffee to another building, you might think I was making it up. Sadly, and more shockingly, this really did happen. If this had come to light on April 1st many people would have thought nice try, but I am not falling for that. Also you could imagine Monty Python doing a sketch on this.

The total cost to the tax payer was £10.50, so it will hardly break the bank. But again, it is the principle of it being allowed to happen. The reason it happened was because of a change to the canteen at Carrick House that left no refreshment facilities during this change.

At first the ‘company van’ was used, but this stopped when this van was handed back to the lease company. Instead of a) going without a cup of tea, or b) going without a cup of tea, someone thought of sending it by Taxi. I am still concerned that a van with a driver was used, but I guess I will leave that one go.

I will probably be accused of not being helpful to Cornwall Council from those within, but when we score own goals like this, is it little hardly surprising when the public gets miffed on how their money is spend. I feel if issues like this are highlighted, then maybe, just maybe they will stop.

The West Briton in their printed and online paper have covered this story HERE. I think the illustration of the journey is rather good.

Today, the Daily Telegraph has covered Tea Gate HERE

Domestic Abuse – The Hidden Side

The Children’s Schools and Families Scrutiny Committee I sit on at Cornwall Council has formed a small Single Issue Panel (SIP) looking into child poverty, the links and effects it has on our children and families. We have looked at various issues that are associated with child poverty by means of asking different organisations to preset evidence to this SIP.
One of those organisations who presented evidence was an organisation called ESTEEM which is an organisation that helps men who have been subjected to domestic abuse, which includes physical, emotional and mental abuse. This form of abuse is rarely discussed, or even thought about because the perception is only men commit this form of abuse. This like other forms of abuse will have a huge effect on children and their families.
Nationally for every three victims of partner abuse, two will be female and one will be male. One in six men (16%) and one in four women (29%) aged 16 and over will suffer domestic abuse in their lifetime. In 2009/10 4.2% of men and 7.5% were victims of abuse. Again, in 2009/10 40% of stalking victims were male.
The most prevalent age group for male victims is 26-34 where 3.7% of men stated they were a victim of partner abuse compared to 1.7% of 45-54 year olds, 3.6% of 16-19 year olds and 3% of 20-24 year olds. Around 20% of men who have suffered partner abuse had done so for more than a year. In 2008/09 this was 97,000 men. The number of women convicted of perpetrating domestic abuse has quadrupled in the past six years from 806 in 2004/05 to 3,494 in 2009/10.

There are various unique issues on this subject in that men do find it difficult to recognise they are victims and when they do, find it hard to report it because they are treated very differently by statutory and voluntary services. Society also treats this differently and you will often hear the comment of ‘man up’ or ‘be a man’, so it is little wonder men find it extremely difficult to report or even talk about it.

If a man is subject to domestic abuse he has no where to go, as currently in the UK there only 11 refuge beds for men, compared to 4000-7000 for women. The nearest refuge bed for a man in Cornwall is in Weston Super Mare and it has one bed; this is compared to 3 dedicated centres for females in Cornwall. Roughly the Government spends £6.5 million per year on female anti-abuse projects/campaigns and almost zero for men.

These figures speak for themselves and highlight this forgotten area. I asked the gentleman who presented this evidence what can we (Cornwall Council) do to highlight this area. He said get the message out on this type of abuse and if you can, fund or build a refuge for men in Cornwall. The later will be tricky without money, but that does not mean it should not be attempted. From my viewpoint I will make sure this topic is in the final report and then make sure it is acted upon.

One last point, here are the contact details of  ESTEEM, please pass them on:

Office – 01872 226981
Mobile – 07825 220232
Website – http://www.esteemmen.co.uk/

(NB: figures have been sourced by ManKind Initiative and come from various Government Departments)

Single Double Time – Good or Bad?

A Motion was presented to the recent meeting of Cornwall Council asking for the Council to support a Private Member’s Bill that would introduce Single Double Time in the UK. This is currently at Committee Stage in the Houses of Parliament. If passed, this will change the way we put our clocks forward and back at certain times of the year.

If you want to read about the bill then click HERE. I really think you should because if it becomes law, then it will affect you. This time zone was last trialled between 27 October 1968 and 31 October 1971.

Many Councillors entered the debate on the merits and negatives to this Bill. In essence, the sides fell into two main categories of those supporting the motion because of tourism, and those against because of farming. A few Councillors expressed concern that it did not work last time, so why again. Highway safety was thrown in to the debate, but it seemed that on one hand there are fewer accidents in the evening, but an increase in the mornings.

It may shock some, but I decided not to speak on this matter because the area I serve has both elements of the debate and I could see both the positives and negatives to this Bill. More importantly, I had very little information about the benefits and negatives to this Bill as no detailed report was presented with the motion. Finally, I felt that no matter what I said this Bill would be decided in Parliament and this letter would have little impact on that decision.

The Chairman decided after the debate had run its course to go to the vote. This was duly taken and vote of 44-40 was cast in support of this proposal. For the record I abstained because of my previous points. Now a letter will now be sent to Parliament expressing support for this Private Members Bill.

On a final note, a pundit or two have nicknamed this as Double Slaving Time

My Members Question and the Response

My first Members Question to full Council was directed at the Leader of the Council. I blogged before about my concern as to why so many senior officers went to the LGC awards (HERE), and why the Leader sanctioned this, or at least didn’t say something to reduce the numbers. I might have understood if they took lower tiered staff in reward for their hard work, but they didn’t.

In response to my question I received a rather curt reply along the lines of yes, it fails the ‘tabloid test’, but it was still a really good idea for everyone to go, because it gives Cornwall national recognition. As well as we should be proud of being nominated for ‘Most Improved Council’. Also thrown in to the response was it only cost £500 to attend.

The Leaders comments received a round of applause from the Tory faithful (at the moment), which I felt I had to respond by saying “it is nice to see the Tory Party now fully supporting the Leader”. This was in response to the cloak and dagger, rumour and counter rumours of a challenge to his leadership (read more about it from Jeremy Rowe and Graham Smith). My comment raised a cheer and laughter from certain quarters of the chamber. I could not help but notice that my comment received a few smirks from the blue side too.

As part of the procedures on questions a Member is also entitled to a supplementary question which mine was as follows-

“Does the Leader still think it is appropriate that during austere times with pay freezes and redundancies, several already highly paid Officers should attend an awards ceremony at the expense of the Cornish Tax Payer? Bearing in mind it is not only about the financial costs, but you as the Leader in allowing these Officers to be away from their primary function at Cornwall Council and much more importantly, the negative perception this sends out to both the public and members of staff?”

I received no answer to my supplementary question apart from “I will get back to you in writing”. This is hardly in my opinion an answer. Let’s hope I do get that answer, or at least the simple yes or no to it.

You may think I am a killjoy and should not complain about people attending functions like these, especially if they cost the tax payer very little. My real point to all this is the message it sends to public who are worried the service they currently receive from Cornwall Council could be cutback, or completely stopped.

The staff must also feel aggrieved because many at Cornwall Council are having to re-apply for their jobs, or don’t know if their job is still going to be there in 6 months. Try telling a member of staff how good it is to be nominated for an award of Most Improved Council when they don’t know if they have a job. To them the nomination will seem like a cruel joke.

Many Councillors including myself reluctantly voted in favour of the budget in January and last October on the understanding that we as Cornwall Council run a tight ship in order to benefit the public. We (and I use the collective we as after all I am part of the Council) must do much better in these difficult times.

Further Web-casting Gets Green Light

Anyone who follows this blog will know I am a firm, if not a little obsessive believer in Cornwall Council be as open as possible in the way it conducts it’s business. This sometimes not only involves changing procedures, but changing mindsets. The later, is generally the most difficult and frustrating part. One way the Council has been more open is in the introduction of web-castings of firstly full Council, and more recently Cabinet meetings.

Previously I have said the web-casting of meetings should not just stop at full Council and Cabinet, but we should also broadcast as many meetings as possible. This includes meetings like planning and those which have a strategic nature to the people of Cornwall, as not everyone wants to, or is able to travel to County Hall to watch a meeting.

Last time the expansion was tried it failed because of the misunderstanding on costs and other misconceptions. I do understand we can’t just have a unlimited budget for this, but even if we don’t broadcast live, we could still record and make those recordings available in the archive via the main Cornwall Council web-page.

This time I was hopeful that those issues raised before had been clarified and would not be brought up again. So after a short debate a vote was taken and the Council voted in favour (phew) of expending web-casting. A further step forward would be allowing the public to also engage more by social media during meetings, but if I am honest this might take more work in convincing the non-believers of this being a good idea.

Selling Tobacco To Those Underage Goes On

The selling of tobacco to those underage is hardly earth-shattering news. For as long as there has been a legal age restriction, tobacco has been sold to those below it. Will this ever change? If I were honest, then I would have to say no. However, I do believe that every effort should be made to discourage youngsters from taking up the habit of smoking in the first place. This means making sure the avenue of buying from shops is curtailed as much as is possible.

A latest survey by Trading Standards Officers in Cornwall has highlighted that the sale of tobacco by shops to those underage is continuing. Out of 33 premises visited, 60% sold tobacco to the young volunteers who are generally 15 and 16 years old. In total 13 of the 25 shops visited sold to the children without challenging the item. The children also purchased tobacco from vending machines in 7 of the 8 pubs visited without being challenged. I think the later point is a lot harder to police because in a lot of pubs vending machines are out of the way, but is this an excuse?

The figures have disappointed Trading Standards and if these percentages of shop sales were replicated across Cornwall it would seem that this is a much larger issue. No doubt these shops which have failed to uphold the law will be sweating a little, because the possible fines for this breach are considerable.

At the end of the day as long as tobacco is sold, those who are underage will still be able to access it by means of an older friend, sibling or parent. I guess the question should be what else should we do? Answers on a postcard please.

The Chairman of the LEP – MK2

Today at twelve noon, the new Chairman of the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) for Cornwall and the Isle of Scilly was announced. The appointment of is role has been made to Chris Pomfret, a man who lives in Port Isaac and seems to have a wealth of experience working in business and industry.

I would like to wish him the best of luck in what is likely to be a challenging role. Let’s hope as head of the LEP he is able to attract the vital investment Cornwall needs without forgetting the smaller players that are currently working hard in Cornwall.

Click HERE for the profile for Chris Pomfret from the Food Standards Agency

A New Crossing

Anyone travelling on the Helston to Porthleven road near the Fairground Car Park and the Boating Lake could not help but notice a change to this road, because I have had installed a small, but essential pedestrian island. I have always said since being elected that I would put in some sort of crossing, and now I am very happy to say this work has now been completed.


This area is well used by pedestrians because the Boating Lake is located close to a large, free car-park. I am not saying anyone is speeding. However, due to the hill people are either accelerating on the incline or are travelling downhill, often leading to excess speed.

I have said before that I had hoped for a full crossing with lights, but that was not within my budget as this sort of crossing is in the area of £50k. This crossing including all the associated ground works cost £12k. I paid out of my Members Highways Budget £10k and the other £2k was paid by South Kerrier Alliance, and I am very grateful for the support they have given.

Most Improved Council Award & How Many People Does It Take To Collect it?

Cornwall Council has been short listed for the ‘Most Improved Council’ in the annual Local Government Chronicle Awards 2011. This award ceremony took place last night in London at a Gala Dinner.

Now I have to admit that I did raise one eyebrow when I heard that we had been shortlisted as I know this Council has gone through, and still is going through massive changes. So, to be ‘recognised’ for this improvement award we must be doing something right? Others may see it as some sort of ironic joke, but I will leave that up to you to decide.

My issue is with the number of people we sent to this dinner and award ceremony, and why someone did not think and say “how is this going to look to the public when they are facing cuts and reductions to services”. I can understand sending the Leader and the CEO to this, but does it require a further 5 senior Council Officers (6 Officers and 1 Cllr in total).

Maybe they need this many people to attended because the trophy is so damn big it needs this many to carry it, or to guard it on its return journey back from the untamed land of England. Of course if the Council does not win this award then it would be an even bigger waste of money and time to send this many people to something we did not win.

As of 8:15 am there is no news of winning. My guess is that we did not win, because I am sure the Council would have been out with a press statement quicker than it took for the award to be collected from the stage.

Update:

No, Cornwall Council did not win the most improved council award.

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