Porthleven Town Council and Spending Tax Payer’s Money

In last week’s West Briton there was an article following Porthleven Town Council (PTC) monthly meeting. This was to do with a request by the authors of the Harbour to Harbour book for financial support. I feel that as I was present at that meeting a few points need to be re-clarified to dispel any misunderstanding, especially post this weeks letters page of the same newspaper.
At the monthly meeting of PTC there is an item on the Agenda for people, groups or organisations to make a request for a grant. Generally the Council is supportive of most applications as long as they have a direct link to Porthleven.
The town council received a request by the authors of Harbour to Harbour for a grant. They gave no indication as to how much, and did not turn up to explain their position, even though they were invited. The ‘standard’ grant is £50 and last year the authors received double this standard grant.
This book is a fantastic success and raised a lot of money for a worthy cause. The Town Council even brought one of the hardback copies (£50) as it felt it was a good snapshot of Porthleven. It does however; have to make sure any money it spends is justified. No matter how good the cause is.
The Town Council did not turn down the application for a grant. It merely wanted to know how much the authors wanted and therefore was seeking clarification. It could have just said here is the standard grant and saved itself some of this negativity. But In fact, it wanted to give at least near quadruple (£180) the standard grant.
Again, it did not turn down the application, but just wanted clarification to how much was being requested. It is sad that this clarification has been seen in this light, but it does show that the town council takes the time when spending tax payer’s money. I will also add that the authors have withdrawn their application. Which I think this is regrettable.

A New Leader for the Liberal Democrats at Cornwall Council

They say a week is a long time in politics, and this week has sure been interesting. First with the leadership challenge to Alec Robertson by Fiona Ferguson (24-18). Which has opened up further questions of the direction of Cornwall Council if near half of the ruling group do no support their leader.
Now on today’s Martin Baillie’s Radio Cornwall show we hear that the veteran politician Mrs Doris Ansari OBE has decided to step down as Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group at Cornwall Council. Mrs Ansari has been in local politics since the early 70’s and no matter what you think of her political leanings, being re-elected so often shows she is doing something right. I may not agree with some of her policies, but I certainly respect her views and advice. 
This really makes the next few weeks very interesting, as not only is the Tory rebellion still burning away, but the LD will be selecting a new leader and deputy. The current deputy is Jeremy Rowe, who will be the front runner to succeed Mrs Ansari. Also in the wings for deputy and/or leader are Edwina Hannaford and Alex Folkes.
If Jeremy does win will he make noises to the Independent Group or the 18 Tory rebels to see if a deal could be made to change the direction of the Council? After all, if 18 Tories are willing to challenge their leader, this can’t mean they support all of his policies.

With Cornwall Council’s AGM on 17th May I can expect much horse-trading between various factions, groups and Councillors. Who knows, we may see a new administration at Cornwall Council in the coming months?

The Leader Survives, But By How Many Votes?

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt know there has been “Trouble at Mill” within the Conservative party at Cornwall Council. Tonight at their AGM this trouble has been sorted, at least for the time being.

There was indeed a challenge to Alec Roberson’s leadership and this was by Fiona Ferguson. A vote was taken and Alec won. Not sure on the number split, but it must have been close, as if it was by a large margin it would have been released to shore-up and reaffirm his strong position of leader. One can only guess (at this time) the numbers

What now must happen is the opposing camps must try and find common ground to at least work together. This is a must for not only the other Councillors at Cornwall Council, but for the people of Cornwall. I hope we do not see any retaliatory strikes from either camp, especially from the winners, as this would do much harm to the working of the Council.

It will be very interesting to see if any changes are made to the Cabinet at Cornwall Council’s AGM, and in the following weeks, to the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the various Committees. If there are any ‘forced’ changes to any of these positions there may well be trouble ahead

UPDATE: Sources say (though I cannot confirm them) the vote was 24 to Alec, 18 to Fiona. That if true is a very close result. It will no doubt raise further questions in the coming months

Cornwall Council – Beach Management Strategy

The link between Cornwall and its beaches is a strong as the link between bread and butter. The beaches are not just important because they look nice, but they are a significant economic and environmental asset for Cornwall, and provide an iconic image. They are without doubt a major reason why people visit and indeed live, in Cornwall.

With near 300 beaches around Cornwall’s coastline there is plenty of choice from sandy dunes to rocky coves. Out of these beaches Cornwall Council manages leases or delivers services on 86 beaches with 46 of these are privately owned.

At a recent meeting of the Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee the item for discussion was the Draft Beach Management Strategy for Council Councils owned beaches. The draft strategy describes the fundamental management tasks that the Council should provide on those identified beaches and the Additional management tasks that the Council should take if beaches are to retain their important role in Cornwall’s economy and environment.

As with all policies costs and funding are a major factor. It is of no surprise that Cornwall Council is looking of ways to reduces it spend in this area without downgrading the service it provides. One of the many areas it is looking at is beach cleaning.

There has been a discussion as to why the Council and therefore the tax payer should pay for the cleaning of beaches that are not owned by the Council. Out of the 46 private beaches 13 of these are cleaned by the Council. Is it right that the tax payer should pay, or should the land owner pay, or at least contribute to there running? This is a very difficult question as most people would not care (or not given it the thought) who owns the beach as long it is a clean and safe beach.

The current budget for 2010/11 is £287,000 and for 2011/12 it is £269,000. This is not a small amount of money, but if you look at it on a more strategic level this budget generates far, far more to Cornwall and therefore could be seen as money well spent.

My personal view is that we don’t suddenly stop cleaning the beaches not owned by us, but to talk to the landowners to see if a deal could be reached that is beneficial to all parties. Those other major beach owners (National Trust and Duchy of Cornwall) would no doubt be horrified if they were suddenly told it is now your problem, but nether should we be scared of saying “come on pay your shares”.

Yes/No AV Debate at County Hall

On Tuesday night I was invited to the Yes/No AV debate organised by the BBC, but held at County Hall. By attending I was hoping for serious points being made as to why I should vote yes or no in the Referendum on the 5th May.

There were four panel members, Candy Atherton, former Labour MP and George Eustace MP both in the No to AV camp. In the Yes to AV we had Lord Dartmouth, MEP for UKIP and Nathan Hallow for the LDs The ringmaster was BBC’s local radio presenter Laurence Reed.

Members of the audience asked questions to the panel members, who took it in turn to answer them. At first the questionable were answered in an orderly fashion, but this soon stopped and the panel members started to interrupt other members. By the end of the debate the panel were talking over the other members in louder and louder voices hoping by talking louder it would some how make their points better.

The main point of the debate was to explain to those present and the listeners of the radio show the pros and cons to the two options. The panel members missed this, and spent a lot of the time trying to score small and sometimes petty points on the other panel members. All the panel members made draw dropping comments that should never have been said.

I came away from the debate with no clearer picture of the best system. I am not sure what the general public will think of it, but you can listen on Thursday 28th via Radio Cornwall’s Laurence Reed Show from 12 noon and come to your own conclusion.

For me, it was like a pantomime show, in parts entertaining, but once over forgettable.

Morale at Cornwall Council

A recent survey was undertaken by Cornwall Council to gauge the morale of its staff. A lot has happened in the last two years with the disbandment of the District Councils and the formation of the Unitary Council. Add the funding pressures it has been a difficult time. Huge credit should be given to the staff who despite the uncertainly have carried out their roles with professionalism.

10,648 employees were invited to take part in the survey which was carried out across all areas of the Council between 2 and 18 February. Out of these invites 4,176 employees completed either the online or paper questionnaire. This is response rate of 39%.

As with all surveys it has mixed responses the positives being:

• 60% of employees are satisfied to be working for the Council and 73% would like to be working here in 12 months time.
• 60% are committed to what the Council is trying to achieve
• 80% (up 5%) felt that all the Council’s customers were treated fairly regardless of their background
• 91% are happy to go the extra mile when required
• 79% believe they make a difference in their day to day work
• Overall job satisfaction is high – with 67% saying they are happy with their jobs – the average for local authorities we compared against.
• 91% of managers felt they had the skills and competencies to lead their teams
• 85% felt that the team they worked in co-operated to get the work done
• 61% felt they could meet the requirements of their job without regularly working excessive hours, with 67% saying they were able to strike the right balance between their work and home life.
• More employees ( 85% – up 12% ) now have a better understanding of how their work contributes to the objectives of their service area

This is followed up with the negative, or what a Council would say ‘areas for improvement’

• Managing change – only 15% of employees felt the Council managed change effectively – however this is actually an increase of 1% since 2009. However only 11% felt that changes were being made for the better and just 23% said they had the opportunity to contribute views before changes were made which affected their job.
• Appraisal – Less than half of employees (46%) felt their last performance review was helpful, although 58% felt that the review accurately reflected their performance, and 74% felt they were clear about was they were expected to achieve.
• Improving morale – only 26% felt morale was good where they worked, just 35% felt valued and recognised for their work they did, with only 33% felt they were valued for what they offered the Council. Although 62% of employees said they were happy to be working for the Council, only 37% said they told people it was a good place to work and less than half (42% ) said they were proud to work for the organisation.
• Pay and conditions – although 14% of employees said they had personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination whilst at work, this figure has actually fallen by 1% on the figure in 2009, with 82% said they knew who to go to if they experienced this. Just over a third of employees (39%) felt that their pay was fair given their duties and responsibilities and 49% would like their pay to be more closely linked with to how well they do their job.

A concern is why only 15% of employees felt the Council managed change effectively and more worryingly, 14% of employees said they had personally experienced bullying, harassment or discrimination whilst at work. These two areas must be address as a priority.

At the end of the day I welcome this survey and think it is a step in the right direction, but it will be all for nothing if the negatives are not addressed.

The King is Dead, Long Live the King (Queen)?

Politics would not be politics without rumour, counter-rumour and talks of a crisis in the system or the leadership. Cornwall Council is not immune to this carry-on, and if anything is to be believed the old saying of “trouble at the mill” might be rather apt.

From my own experience; any position of leadership is a difficult affair, as there are many pitfalls or blind alleys to avoid if your leadership is to be a success. Whilst you are fulfilling the role, you also have to contend with people who might push you into that pit or blind alley and take the crown.

Wednesday 27th is to most a normal day, but for those at Cornwall Council who belong to the Conservative group it could be the final battle in the rumoured internal civil war. The Conservatives of Cornwall Council are having their AGM and in normal circumstances the current leader gets the nod to continue as a mere formality. This year it will not be a formality, as if the rumours are correct, a challenge will happen. If you were a betting person then you might pass this bet because the numbers are rather tight regarding who will be the victor.

To win the title you need support from twenty-four members of the group, that is if all the members turn up. It will get trickier as to who will win as if there is not a full complement, it will then come down to how many of the rival camps turns up. This point is in my opinion the key to who will win.

What happens If the current leader survives? A further issue they may face is the number of his group who did not support him. If it is a low number then this could be passed off rather easily. The difficult part will be if, as I envisage, the number of anti’s is large, it then might be a little harder to pass off.

You may wonder why I am even blogging about this issue as I am not in the Conservative group, and this whole episode could be seen as an internal bun-fight. If only it were that simple, but as the Council is halfway though the electoral term and if any leadership change happens we could see Cornwall Council move in a different direction. In turn, this could have an impact on lives of the 550,000 people of Cornwall.

I for one will be interested in hearing the news from this AGM and who has carried the day.

Referendum – Yes, No or Don’t Care?

In little over two weeks the Country will have the chance to take part in a Referendum on how we elected MP’s to Parliament. The Government is giving us a choice between the current system of First Past the Post (FPTP) and Alternative Vote (AV). The last time anyone outside of Wales and Scotland had the chance to take part in a Referendum was in 1975

So what are the differences between the two options? The simplest way to understand is to watch the short and simple film provided by The Electoral Commission. This also saves me from boring you to death with lots of words!

My personal feeling with this referendum is AV is fudge on what could have been achieved. If we really had the choice I would have preferred Single Transferable Vote (or at least a choice of different systems than the current two on offer). This in my opinion (for what it is worth) is far better then listing a whole host of candidates and then picking them in order of preference. For me, I would probably just vote for one candidate or at a push, pick one other if I thought they had like minded views.

Why would I only pick one, or at a push two? This is because outside of Wales and Scotland it is a three party state.  Contrary to what is going on at national level they all during an election campaign and preach they are different. Of course, there are parties who are not in the gang of three, but if these other parties are to be elected to Parliament in any significant numbers it would take a complete change of mindset from the citizens of the UK for that to happen, not just a change to the voting system.

The real interesting point to this Referendum is even if the AV vote is won, it does not necessary mean AV will be used. The reasons are because it depends on the rest of the Bill on boundary changes getting though Parliament, and that my friends, is a whole different kettle of fish. The plan under the Bill is to get rid of at least 50 MPs and their seats. You can imagine these 50 MP’s and the party which is likely to lose the most (Labour, but around 13 from the Cons) seats are not over the moon for having to vote in favour to receive their P45’s. Of course there is always the House of Lords to help ease their way into retirement as an incentive to say yes to the Bill. That is if there is any room left after the latest round of ‘re-balancing’ the Lords.

For the Duchy/County/Independent Country (depending on your viewpoint) of Cornwall the change to the boundary will have a further ‘bonus’ of probably having to ‘share’ an MP with our neighbours in Devon. That means those MPs from Cornwall who support AV will have to vote in favour of a shared MP if they wish for AV to become a reality. If they do, then no doubt at the next election this point will be on ALL the rivals’ election material.

As there are no Parish, Town or Unitary elections in Cornwall (until 2013) turnout is likely to be low. My guess is if turn-out in Cornwall gets past 20% this will be a good result. Nationally I fear the turnout will be in the low 30%. Which is kind of ironic as a point that the pro AV claim is most MPs are not elected by the majority; this could lead to a counter claim of a change to the voting system that is made by a minority?

Lastly, and I believe real issue which should be addressed is why so many people at national and local level choose not to vote. The average turn-out (Cornwall Unitary Election 2009) at local level was 40.1% and national (General Election 2010) was 65.1%. I doubt the main reason as to why so many don’t turn out is not because of the current voting system. Most I believe will say I am not interested, it does not affect me, or they are all the same and nothing changes.

How do we change people’s lack of interest in voting? Well, we could go down the Australian route and make voting compulsory? Or is making people turn up an affront to democracy, the right to freedom of choice, and the right to vote or not?

Parking Panel – The Fat Lady is Gagged (for the time being)

The Parking Panel was ear-marked for the chop at today’s Cabinet meeting. As many will know there was some issue of how this came about, but I have covered it before, and feel there is no need to rake over it again.

During the discussion on this item a further recommendation was made by the Portfolio Holder, Graeme Hicks. This was the removal of the recommendation for the termination of the Parking Panel and a further review to be undertaken to investigate the best model and way forward on issues surrounding parking and the emotive issue of charging.

As the current Chairman of the Parking Panel I welcome this, and feel this is the right way forward. This is because at the end of the day the first priority is making sure any policy is right and it is achieved by the best means.

Of course, all the panels may still go and if it is the best way forward then you will get no argument from me. I do though feel that all the panels do work, as it not only gives greater member involvement, but also allows for more in-depth examination of certain key and emotive areas.

Buying Loyalty?

Many back-bench Councillors are concerned with the direction of the Council under the current leadership. This has the potential to make next Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting a lively affair. One item of business on that agenda is the official termination of the Parking Panel and the establishment of a new role of Cabinet Support Member.

Rumour and counter-rumour is rife on the survivability of the current leader. A Bookie would probably give evens on any bets placed on the leader surviving. If any of the rumours are to be believed, the current demand is for a certain number of Cabinet Members to be replaced. The talk is of between 2 and 4 who could be thrown out of the executive club. This is backed up with talk of ‘soft landing’ positions for those who could be disposed with.  

A sceptic could say it is with unbelievable coincidence that the new role of Cabinet Support Member has been born. No doubt those party loyalists will say it has always been on the cards, but for those outside of the inner-sanctum of the Cabinet will most likely come to the conclusion that it is a massive incentive, or what mere morals would call a bribe to keep the rebels quiet. 

At present there are no Terms of Reference for this new ‘award’ and my feeling is it will have no real decision making powers. Along with the title and bragging rights a Special Responsibility Allowance (SRA) will come with the role. This SRA has the potential to be rather generous as my current feeling it will be around £8k per year. I come to that conclusion because it is near half what a Cabinet Member receives (£18k) and about the same as a Scrutiny Chairman also receives.

To add to my suspicious nature it turns out this award is solely in the gift of the leader, and not as you would think the Cabinet Member, this adds to my belief of a pay off. This all reminds me of a long forgotten feudal king who rewards his favourites and troublesome Barons with titles and positions hoping these are enough to stop them thinking “I would really like to wear that crown”.

If my theories are indeed true will those usurpers realise this is nothing more than a bribe and reject the wooing and go for the crown? Or is the lure of gold and power just too much to resist?

1 2