Truro and the Drummer

The Internet and twitter has been buzzing with talk about the new ‘drummer’ statue that has recently been unveiled on Truro’s Lemon Quay. There is no doubt it has got people talking; which is partly what art is about.

I like the statue, but the meaning of what it stands for is kind of lost on me. Rob Nolan, the Mayor of Truro explained the statue symbolised “Cornwall marching to a different beat” Yes, I can understand that message, now it is explained.

It is its connection to Truro that puzzles me. Surely a statue that costs around £85k should have a connection to the town and area it is place in. This statue in my opinion fails on both parts. Truro and its past residents are famous for many things; surely this should have been better reflected in a statue.
As for the statue there is certainly one talking point and it’s nothing to do with a drum, or beating it. It is the complete reverse on how a classical Greek statue is depicted. Hate to say it, but it draws you away from the message (however confused) of the statue.
If I was honest, my first thought on seeing the statue was thinking it would not look out of place if it was sporting an Orange Sash. This might make it more suitable to a well known street in Northern Ireland than Truro.
Credit is however due to the people/committee who ordered the statue. They could have gone with the easy and cliché option of a miner, or fisherman, but instead went for the more modern (mild) shock option.
The great thing about art is its meaning is purely down to who looks at it. I am sure everyone will come to their own conclusion on what they see and if they like it or not.
The site ‘Truro People’ has more pictures HERE


Panorama and Me

On Monday the 4th July at 8:30pm, Panorama will be running a program hosted by Tom Heap called Why I Hate Junk Mail? Why am I blogging about it, well I will be on that program. The program is about the amount of junk mail we receive though the letterbox and the cost of disposing it, which is met by the tax payer.

It all started about two months ago when I was contacted by Panorama asking if I would like to take part in their show. At first I thought it was a wind up as what would Panorama want me with. They explained that they had been reading my blog and liked the articles I wrote on waste, recycling and the costs. 
I agreed (still numb from the shock) to take part. A few weeks later a team of four, including Tom Heap turned up in Porthleven to start filming. I thought they would ask for my thoughts and that would be it and all over in a blink of the eye. Little did I know, but they stayed with me for half a day filming me and Tom. Now I don’t know how much will end up on the cutting room floor, but the producer did say I get a good airing. 
Firstly, it was a great honour to take part, as I have grown up watching Panorama and have always liked it. Secondly, I was really proud that my blog which started out rather tongue in cheek now gets read by many people not just locally, but nationally. 
I have only just been allowed to talk about it, because I agreed to keep it embargoed till nearer the time. 

A Change to the Logging of ASB Calls

Lance Kennedy who’s responsibility covers Community Safety has told Members of Cornwall Council of a change of heart by Devon and Cornwall Police on Anti Social Behaviour (ASB) calls/complaints.

The Police, as from the 20th May 2011 would only give log numbers for live (as in happening) ASB complaints. All other historical, or past events would not be given numbers. These past events would just be passed to the local beat managers.

Now, following representations all ASB calls will now be logged. This is a great change to the system as without logs it is very hard to build up a pattern of complaints if there is no evidence. I would urge all people who are subjected to ASB to call the Police.

Please please unless it is a emergency call the non-emergency Police number on 08452 777444

Side-lining Councillors?

There is an interesting item (one of many) on the forthcoming Cornwall Council meeting. One that has caught my eye is the recommendation to change how surplus land owned by the Council is deposed of. Item 12 on the Agenda on page 99 gives the full details.

In the report it says:

With a significant disposals programme having been achieved during the 2010/11 financial year and another large number of programmed disposals for the current financial year it is important that the decision making process is streamlined so as to avoid unnecessarily taking up Cabinet time with reports requesting permission to dispose of surplus assets. 

There is also the possibility that devolution of services may result in disposals to, for example, parish and town councils and it would be more efficient if decisions on the transfer of less significant properties could be made without referral to Cabinet.

The wording which I have highlighted also caused me concern as my worry is there could be an excuse to not to bother with putting it to Cabinet, and public scrutiny, because the sale could be very controversial.  It could be conveniently used to off load something, especially as the financial limit has also been raised to the following:

 (i) In paragraph 5.1, increasing the financial limit for capital and revenue payments and receipts for officer decisions to £1,000,000 for capital and £500,000 per annum for revenue; and 

(ii) in paragraph 5.1.5, limiting the discount that can be allowed by the Director for Resources in making a disposal decision to £250,000 in relation to capital and £250,000 per annum in relation to revenue. 

There is also a huge potential for less Local Member involvement in any disposal of assets. This has happened before when sales have only come to the attention of the Local Member when it appears in the Cabinet Report, or worse, in the local press.

I am all for less bureaucracy and the streamlining of how the Council carries out its business. But, at the end of the day elected oversight is a must, and it should not be watered down to stop awkward questions being asked.

Joint Meeting on Tourism

Today I attended a joint meeting of the Tourism Panel of Cornwall Council and the Visit Cornwall Partnership (VCP). The VCP is made up of businesses in the tourism industry.  For me, it was good to meet some of the players in the industry and who came from the Minac Theatre, St Austell Brewery , The Scarlet Hotel, Classic Cottages to name but a few.

The issue of the tourist tax, or bed tax was discussed and those from the industry were very annoyed by the comments made by the senior officer of Cornwall Council to a Parliamentary Committee. They felt this was a PR disaster for Cornwall’s tourism industry which had in turn gone international with the news coverage. Those from the industry felt the officer should be fired, flogged or sent to the various tourism organisations in Cornwall to explain himself.

After the bed tax issue was discussed it was felt that tourism should be higher up on the political agenda. I agree, as for an industry that accounts for at least 25% of the Cornish economy there is no Cabinet position for Tourism. If not a full Cabinet Portfolio you could put it under one of those new Cabinet Support Members that the Leader likes so much.

It was also agree in principle that the Tourism Panel and VCP should meet for regularly as in the last two years today was the first time both panels had met. This would work as it would have those in the industry who know the business and those in the business of politics singing from the same hymn sheet.

Alex Folkes who is also on the Tourism Panel has made comment about today’ s meeting HERE

Helston Business Meeting

Last night I attended (as an observer) the Helston Business Forum which had been arranged by the Helston Town Centre Manager, Richard Dennery. I have to say first I was not sure how many people would turn up, but as we got near the starting time it was standing room only. I reckon there were at least 100 people in the room, and it seemed all from the business community.
The meeting started with Richard talking about a few facts and dispelling a few myths on town centre shopping. He then talked about his draft plan for the town centre. The draft was in a very draft form and as Richard said “everything is still on the table, and nothing has been decided”. It was then over to those gathered to ask questions.
The first and only real topic that got discussed was on parking and the associated prices. I was amazed at some of the points that got made on parking, not because I disagreed with what they said, but because they were not true. A lot of myths still surround parking as I heard Camborne gets free parking and others made points that were completely untrue.
After about an hour of listening to it, I raised my hand to speak. Always a dangerous move as you really don’t know how it will go. Surprisingly it went well and I took the time to explain some of the issues surrounding parking charges. I then said something about the businesses helping themselves by offering to give back the parking free if the customer spent so much in their shop. A previous speaker who owns the health food shop in Helston already offered this, and he said this works. 
Those gathered then took matters into their own hands and basically said we (shop keepers) should all offer this. A multitude of hands went up and it seems many thought it was a good step forward of helping to solve the issue of charging. Suddenly it all looked positive and people were offering to help with making up posters so everyone had a uniformed sign.
For a town the size of Helston it amazes that there is not a Chamber of Commerce, or something similar. It is a credit to the Town Centre Manager for getting so many people in the room to talk about various issues, and more importantly help solve them. Hopefully meeting like this will be more frequent and the traders come together for the good of Helston. It was a good start and they will build on this first meeting.

The Restriction of Information

I am a firm believer of ‘Open and Transparency’ in Local Government and have pushed at many doors to make the Council more open and therefore better understood by the people of Cornwall. I blogged a few days ago about an incident at Cornwall Council’s Cabinet where those not on the Cabinet were barred from seeing certain information. This information was in reference to Equal Pay Claims and the Monitoring Officer, who I have great respect for gave advice that because this information was so sensitive it could not be given to those outside the Cabinet.

Ok, I can completely understand his advice, but only to a point. Personally I do not want access to the complete report, as to be honest there is no need. What I should and have been pressing for is a ball park figure of the liabilities that Cornwall Council faces in a worst case scenario. The simple reason is if it is a large amount this could then have an effect on the budget and/or the services we provide. As a back-bencher this information is important and therefore should be provided.

So my best attempts using various bits of legislation have failed. I have though managed to get the answer that any money will be made available from the reserves. My worry is the possible settlement for equal pay claims could be rather large, or otherwise we would have been told.

This whole issue is frustrating not only because I believe we could be facing a rather large settlement, but for me once information has been restricted once, it is very easy to use it again. It is like the thin edge of the wedge.

Lastly, the most worrying aspect of it all is not just the money, but the fact of being an equal opportunity employer is finding itself being taken down this course of action in the first place.

Crossing the Floor

In just over two years of Cornwall Council there have been two by-elections and two deflections to other groups/party. One by-election was due to the sad death of a Councillor, the other was in part to the criminal conviction of another Councillor.

I have blogged before about Councillors crossing the floor, or changing parties/groups whilst in office. The last blog was about Neil Plummer. The latest defection or what other may say liberation concerns Jan Powell. Again, for the record I thought and still think Jan did a fantastic job as Chairman and before that as a member of the Health and Adult Scrutiny Committee. I was most surprised that she was removed from that Committee by the Leader of the Conservatives. Details are still sketchy as to why, and I doubt we will ever find out the true reasons.

Anyway, I still believe that if you cross the floor you should stand in a by-election. People do vote for people because they stand under that party’s banner. Crossing the floor to a ‘rival party’ is for many is just too much. I will say many people do vote for the person before party, so there is no exact science on voting.

However, how can you be absolutely certain you have the complete support of your electorate if you change sides? Unless you contact everyone you don’t. You may ask a few people what they think, but this is hardly a full survey. In fact the only way you can be sure is to re-stand and let democracy take its course.

Of course you can disagree with my view (many do), and no doubt the whole strange concept of being and Independent and in a ‘group’ will be raised. But, people have in fact voted for me as an Independent (twice); so I will take comfort in that. If I did decide to change from being an Independent I would stand in a by-election. That way if I retain the seat, I have the support of the electorate. It would be the same if someone decided to go become an Independent from another party – By-election.

At the end of the day Jan’s move is further heartache for the Leader, but a coupé for Jeremy Rowe’s new leadership, which he has blogged Here.

Now the question is will Jan be placed back onto the Health OSC to rub salt into the wounds of the Leader, and if further barrels of salt will be poured over the wounds if she is re-elected as Chairman of the OSC. No doubt lots will be discussed between now and the next OSC as to who will stand for the role of Chairman.

A Letter to the Editor

The Leader of Cornwall Council has decided to send another letter. This time it is to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, and it is in reference to their article on Credit Card spending. It seems the Leader is still miffed about this article and feels Cornwall Council got slated wrongly, even though the Council supplied the information in the first place. 

Here is the very letter that has been sent to the Daily Telegraph:

When did FOI become Freedom of Misinformation?
20 June 2011
Dear Sir
An article in your paper criticised Cornwall Council for using “credit” cards and for spending council taxpayers’ money on inappropriate items.  Both statements are wrong.
The Council does not use credit cards.  These are purchase cards which save an average £33 per transaction.  Over the past two years we have saved £2.8 million of taxpayers money – the equivalent of employing 70 children’s social workers, running two primary schools, eight leisure centres or 24 average sized Cornish libraries for a year or maintaining our rural road network in Cornwall.  Far from being criticised for being the highest spender, Cornwall deserves praise for being the best in this area.
Your article suggested that Council staff had wasted money eating in Rick Stein’s Seafood restaurant and on lavish Council trips abroad – wrong again.  The payment to Rick Stein was not for a meal – but was part of the Future Jobs Fund project, a Department for Work and Pensions European funded scheme to provide jobs for people in Cornwall.  The much criticised foreign travel related to educational visits involving teachers from schools in Cornwall which were fully funded by the British Council. 
I am also extremely disappointed that you chose to use information you knew to be wrong.  We informed the journalist the day before you published the article that the costs of foreign travel and meals were expressed in local currency and not sterling but you still chose to publish inaccurate information. 
I have been a loyal reader of your paper for more than 30 years and am disappointed you decided to publish misleading information which unfairly  damaged the reputation of local government in general and Cornwall in particular.  Such action does not meet your normal high standards.
I am also concerned that having championed open and transparent government in Cornwall and provided you with our data without trying to hide anything, this has been abused.  Dealing with FOI applications has cost the Council £339,000 over the past two years – money which would be better spent on essential services for the public.  Your action means that we will now have to put additional resources into this process to ensure that the public are protected from such Freedom of Misinformation.
I hope you will now take this opportunity to put the record straight by printing this letter.
Yours sincerely
Alec Robertson
Cornwall Council 

There is however a word of caution and a quote by Mark Twain sums it up: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel

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