Earn Nectar Points for Recycling?

Sorry if the title raised your hopes of earning a few Nectar points for recycling. Sadly, this scheme is being rolled out in Birmingham and not Cornwall. Personally, I think the idea of trying to make people recycle more by fines and punishments rarely works.

Birmingham’s view is to reward, as then there is something for everyone. The Council gains by not paying the high land fill tax and the customer gets a reward that can be spent in a variety of shops. This method of reward is now being copied by most retailers since the Tesco Clubcard proved to be a huge success. So if these reward schemes are so successful isn’t about time Local Authorities adopted them?

In Cornwall the recycling rate is on average about the 39%. Trying to get more people to recycle a greater amount of their waste is for a lot of Councils the Holy Grail. Leaflets and flash marketing drives only work to a point. Maybe this, or a similar scheme could work in Cornwall.

I will be asking the question on feasibility and possible costs to senior officers once things settle down from the summer period.

Torchgate – Two Days Later

I am still counting and my anger has not subsided since I found out about the amount of money being spent by Cornwall Council and The Cornwall Development Company (CDC) on the torch relay. At first it was £20k, then £13k, then £17k and finally it was announced a fund of £135k has been put aside.

The cock and ball story on the numbers of people who will travel to Cornwall to see a torch being carried is a work of fiction and could be entered for a literary award. It is not only the numbers or people, but also the amount of money they will spend defies logic. Have these people forgot there is a recession on?

Before someone announced these figures they should have checked with the London Olympic Committee, or at least checked their press statements. You see, and I quote Lord Coe.

“The relay aims to go within an hour’s travel time of 95 percent of the population”

This is followed up by the Olympic minister Hugh Robertson saying:

The Olympic Torch Relay brings London 2012 to the doorsteps of the UK giving everybody the chance to celebrate the London Games

If Lord Coe and the Olympic minister say just about everyone will be able to see the relay in their own backyard, then why in all that is holy are the powers-to-be predicting such high visitor numbers for a one day event? Blind-Pew could see these figures do not add up.

If the Council was awash with money, then maybe we could spend this money, but it is not. I will give you an example (one of many) on how hard it is to find money for simple things.

For the last two months I have been trying to get the missing dog bins in Porthleven replaced. In total 5 are missing. I even said I would settle for three being replaced. You would think this is a simple process. Officers who I have met with to discuss this issue have been very helpful to the point of being apologetic, but they have said there is no money for the replacements; let alone any additional bins.

For the cost of a few hundred pounds I cannot get a bin (or three) replaced. But with one stroke of a pen £135k can be found. Have certain senior people at Cornwall Council got their priorities right?

It’s a joke, and this joke is not the funny type.

Oh, and I still want the dog bins replaced. Maybe if I call them Olympic dog bins I will get as many as I like!

Wadebridge, Sainsbury’s and a Few Bushes

The battle between two of the nations big boys of supermarket took place today at Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee. The target, Wadebridge. Now both of these supermarkets had almost similar  plans, and roughly the same store size. Both offered large amounts of money in 106 contributions, but there could only be one (in supermarket terms) winner.

Both claimed to have local public support; only Sainsbury’s had support from the local parish and Wadebridge Town Council. The difficulty in all of this is one application had to go first to state their case. Sainsbury’s won this battle too. When quizzed (by myself) and others as to why Sainsbury’s was first the simple answer was they got their application in first, and Morrisons had some outstanding landscaping issues. This point last point was deigned by Morrisons.

The issue facing both application is in the independent report (many will disagree with it) by GVA it said  Wadebridge could support only one additional supermarket. In any planning application when independent information is presented it can either be used for, or against the proposals. If a report says there can be one more and you say no, you can bet your last pound this report would be rammed down your throat and used against you in the almost certain appeal and/or Judicial Review.

To cut a long story short Sainsbury’s got the approval 14 votes for, 3 against. Extra conditions were squeezed out of Sainsbury’s with no more than 20% of retail space for non-food items. A bus too and from the town centre for the life of the store, and not for five years. Lastly an independent survey to be undertaken in two years time to see the impact the store has on the town.

Morrison’s being the second application heard faced an almost impossible task of getting approval because the independent report said there was only space for one. Again, to cut a long story short a vote was taken for refusal and was carried 12 votes for, two against and five abstentions. Many felt they had to abstain because of the issue of priority on which application got heard first. This being a very moot point and will no doubt be included in any legal action undertaken by Morrisons.

I can help wondering if Morrisons had address the landscaping issues; they might have been first up to bat. Have a few trees and bushes cost Morrisons many millions in lost sales?

Of course there is the NON planning issue of Cornwall Council gaining several millions from the sale of the land to Sainsbury’s. But that is not a planning reason, and one that could not be discussed at the committee. However, conspiracy theorist might think otherwise; especially when it comes to who got to go first.

It was a tough call today and one that will no doubt happen again when Falmouth, Penzance and Hayle’s applications are heard.

Torchgate

I really do despair sometimes at some of the decisions and actions at Cornwall Council. We all know the story of the Olympic Torch coordinator and how it made the national and local press. At first it was said this position was for £20k for eight months work, and then I got emailed with the message from Cornwall Council that the true costs was only £13k.

Now, only an hour ago I received another email saying the £13k was indeed true, but if you add in other costs the position will cost the tax payer £17,395.  So, this means the original reported figure was not far wrong.  This mixed message on pay does not paint the council well.

If this £17k was the only cost I could at a push live with it. I still say this role could be carried out with existing staff, but for arguments sake lets say there is no one. However, when I am given the line of the economic and promotional advantages as the justification of spending more money I get really annoyed.

You see this is such a chance in a life-time the powers-to-be have decided to spend more money on this one day event. The Leader of Cornwall Council is going to stump up a further £75k from his Leader’s contingency fund. Yes this is the very same fund that found £50k to go on the failed Plymouth World Cup bid. Not only this, CDC is going to add another £50k to the pot. So a one day event will cost at least £135k!

A further excuse reason given is this one day event will generate at least £7m in spending by means of visitors. Again, I have been given details as to how this will be achieved.

  • 10,000 additional visitors to Cornwall staying for two nights each spending £275 per day (£5.5m)
  • 10,000 additional day visitors from the wider region spending £45 per day (£450k)
  • 100,000 Cornish residents spending £20 a day (£2m)
Is it right we can spend this amount of money for one day? After all this torch will only pass though only 20 communities and will be carried by around 150 people. On that last point, I hope all the torch carriers are indeed full residents of Cornwall.
I ask if it is right because I am constantly told that there is no money for any additional services. I can think of a few children’s play areas that could do with a little investment like Horseshoe Playing Field, Porthleven and Bulwark Road whose play park is non-existent. These children will get more out of play equipment than the Olympics.
I am counting to 10, slowly….

Wadebridge and Supermarkets

Tomorrow, the supermarket giants of Sainsbury’s and Morrisons battle it out for a site in Wadebridge. Cornwall Council’s Strategic Planning Committee will be deciding if one, two, or none get the go ahead.

The fear held by many is once a supermarket gains a hold in an area it sucks the life out of the town centre. The level of trade taken from a town centre is a hard one to judge. It will take some, but how much is the question. The Independent report by GVA has highlighted such the case in its report. It gives their predictions as to how much trade would be taken away.

The Morrisons site is the larger of the two sites with 2,120sq m net sales area and Sainsbury’s 1,957sq m. There is also a difference in comparison goods with Sainsbury’s having the larger non-food sales. Again, the question is how much trade will either of these supermarkets take away from a vibrant town centre.

In GVA’s report it is said Morrisons will have an impact of between 17% – 30% on Wadebridge’s town centre. This equates to between £1.5m and £2.9m diverted away from the town centre. For the Sainsbury’s store there is a slight difference of 17% – 29%. However, there is a sting in the tail if Morrisons is considered alongside the recent Tesco extension between £2.3m – £3.5m will be diverted, and between £2.8m -£4.1m if Sainsbury’s gets the go ahead.

As for support, Wadebridge Town Council supports Sainsbury’s, but not Morrisons. The recommendation in the report is approval (subject to a referral) for Sainsbury’s and refusal for Morrisons. If Sainsbury’s is approved it will pay near £831k in Section 106 contributions and if Morrisons gets the go-ahead it will pay £790k. This money would pay for various improvements/projects in and around Wadebridge.

This meeting will not be web-cast due to the meeting taking place in St Austell.

Car Parking Charges in Helston and Porthleven

As many will know I spent a good amount of time travelling around Cornwall visiting Cornwall Councillors to discuss car parking charges in their areas. The last area I visited was Helston and the Lizard; which also covers my own division of Porthleven and Helston South.

Helston is a market town of around 11,000 people and three miles down the road is Porthleven which has a further 3500. Helston like many other market towns it is finding it hard to compete against the large out of town supermarkets. Many of the businesses of Helston offer to give your hour’s car parking charge back if shop in their shop.

Helston is also lucky in that it has around 60 free on street parking bays (30 mins) which allow you to pop in  quickly. This though does not keep people in the town for long. The current charges are 50p for the first hour, then £1.80 for two. This rise between the two tariffs stops many people staying longer.

One of the proposals to entice people to stay longer in the town is to introduce a 2 hour tariff. This would allow more time to browse/shop than having to rush around and try and fit everything into 30 minutes or an hour. I visited 12 businesses asking for their views and they all replied the two hour tariff was a good idea. Many said they would even give the pound back if you shopped in their store (subject to a min spend).

Out of the meeting with my fellow local Councillors the following tariffs are proposed for Helston and Porthleven.

  • Up to 2 hours car parking for £1
  • Castle Green (Helston) car park £1.50 all day
  • 10p off all other tariffs
  • Fair Ground car park to remain free.
  • Charging period 9am – 4pm 
Nothing is perfect, but these proposals are good for the Helston and surrounding areas. If Cabinet accept these tariffs, then they will come into force on the 15th March 2012

It is not all bad at Cornwall Council

Monday was not the best start of the week for Cornwall Council with the story of £20k being spent on an Olympic Torch route coordinator and the little publicised story from the Daily Telegraph on Chief Exec pay.

It is not though all doom and gloom as there are stories that show Cornwall Council can do something right. This story is about the council trying to reduce the number of children injured whilst travelling in cars. Last year 63 children were injured this way in Cornwall.

The child’s car seat is without question a life-saver and without it many more children would be injured, or worse killed each year. A correctly fitted car seat will do its job. However, one that is not fitted right could put your child at further risk.

On Saturday 27th August, Cornwall Council’s Road Safety Team will be located at Penryn’s ASDA supermarket from 10am till 4pm. Other road shows are planned, but if you are in the area why not pop in and have your child’s car seat checked.

£20k for One Days Work?

It does make you wonder what is going on at Cornwall Council with the latest ‘good idea’. This so called good idea is to hire a new member of staff to coordinate the Olympic Torch travelling though Cornwall for one day.

You would think the Council could find someone currently employed within the organisation to carry out this work. Does it really require the council to hire someone for six months (Oct 2011 till May 2012) on £20k to organise the route which covers 84 miles?

From the details provided if the person employed for this was hired for a full year we would be paying them £40k. It is also not clear if there are any additional payments like travel, relocation, or accommodation would be paid.

I am sure there will be some very miffed staff at Cornwall Council once they find out about this. This position is advertised via Cornwall Development Company (CDC) website. CDC is a wholly owned by Cornwall Council.

UPDATE: CDC have sent out a press statement clarifying the position and actual salary of the torch coordinator. The actual wage that will be paid to the successful applicant will be £13,126.  Maybe the next time an advert is placed it gives out the correct information, or adds the words Pro-Rata next to the salary. I would hate to be the applicant who applies, only to find out near £20k turns out to be £13k.

Cornwall Council and the Concessionary Fares Inquiry

The Inquiry Day into Concessionary Fares, or to give its correct title of English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS) was always going to attract a lot of interest, especially as any changes will affect many people. Any cut has the potential to affect not only to those who are entitled for free travel, but those full paying customers who use the buses because routes could disappear.

Cornwall has the highest re-imbursement rate in England with £7.6m spent in 2010/11 period. The reason for the grant is not to subsidise bus operations but to pay for any increased costs that may have been incurred.

There are 125,000 Cornish pass-holders and a further 500,000 visitors who are entitled to use this scheme each year. I asked the question to the bus companies present the percentage of tourist users, but they said they did not have that detailed information. However, they did say it equates to around to 25% of all journeys in the three month summer period. If we had more detailed information maybe we could lobby Government for some sort of dispensation.

The bus companies are not only facing a potential cut from Cornwall Council because of a £2.2m shortfall in this year’s budget, but also from the Bus Service Operator Grant (BSOG). This cut could be up to 20% in 2012/13. Add to the pot the high fuel prices a lot routes could be in doubt.

Bus companies could also do better by reducing their costs and making the services they provide more cost effective. One way they could do this is by introducing Smartcard ticketing which could enable them to recoup 8% and a further 2% if they have Automatic Vehicle Location equipment.

During the inquiry there was a call for a nominal fee to be paid per journey, but this cannot be carried out as this would be illegal under the current Act of Parliament. This also rules out charging tourists to use the service. The scheme does not even allow for voluntary contributions from passengers. It was interesting to note that only the English scheme was valid in Cornwall with Scottish and Welsh pass-holders having to pay the full fare.

The general message from all those Councillors present is there should be no dramatic cut in funding to the ENCTS. The big problem is where this £2.5m shortfall will be made up from? If it cannot be found within the Transport budget what other service would have to make the sacrifice?

Many other Local Authorities are facing a similar dilemma to their ENCTS, and will no doubt be looking at Cornwall to see what we do.

Let’s hope they don’t think car parking could take up this shortfall.

Cornwall and Struggling with Bills

A day has passed since I stepped up and admitted my mistake. As you can imagine my phone never stopped ringing all day. Many calls were from various forms of media, but many too were from colleagues and residents. It was also heartening to receive support messages via email, text and twitter.

There were a few who are not happy with what I did and no doubt there are others who remain quiet who are not too happy with me either. I can understand that, and if truth be told respect that. I know I have some ways to make amends to for my actions two years ago. Hopefully I will be able to do that by continuing to work hard for my area.

There is an old saying of “there go by the grace of God” as anyone could find themselves in the same position as I did. I hope not, but if the figures for the last three years indicated many have, and are finding themselves in similar positions as I did.

Last year over 50,000 council tax reminders were sent out to households in Cornwall. With around 255,966 council tax accounts in Cornwall this means near 20% of households got some type of council tax reminder last year.

As for liability orders this figure is even more shocking as shown in the figures for the following Council Tax periods.

1/4/09 – 31/3/10: 14,057 orders issued
1/4/10 – 31/3/11: 16,710 orders issued
1/4/11 to date (four months): 7129 orders issued.

If this years trend continues then by the 31/3/12 there could be 21,387 orders issued. This means just over 8% of households who could face liability orders in Cornwall.

A question is why are so many people being or have been issued with a liability order? No doubt many will come to their own conclusions, but with the cuts and the cost of living rises many people are having to make choices to what bill they pay at any certain times.

Tough times are indeed here.

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