Free Car Parking But Read The Small Print

A campaign run by Cornwall and Devon Media Group, which publishes the papers West Briton, Cornish Guardian and Cornishman wants to help promote town centres by encouraging people to use them. This initiative is to be welcomed and I hope it will really encourage more people to use the town centres. Cornwall Council is supporting this campaign by allowing ‘free’ car parking in some of its car parks on the 29th February.

The way the free parking works is you will have to buy one of this week (23rd) papers I mentioned before. Inside those papers are a voucher which you will have to display in your car on the 29th February to receive free parking. It also only covers certain car parks (All Helston and Porthleven car parks are included). There is however a long list of excluded car parks. My advice is to check before you park and leave your car, as you will more than likely receive a parking penalty if you parked without a voucher, in a commercial vehicle, or in an excluded car park.

I have two problems with the Cornwall Council side of this offer.

The first one is why Cornwall Council is giving preferential treatment to one group of commercial papers. It would have been far better to offer this deal to all the local papers in Cornwall. These other papers have at one time or another have run campaigns to help town centres. Furthermore this could be seen as Cornwall Council putting other papers at a commercial disadvantage, and helping to increase the profits of one company over another. Is this right for a council to be doing this? I feel a council when dealing with any news organisation (and business) should be equally fair to all.

The second one I have is many car parks are excluded. This could lead to confusion and misunderstanding. Confusion and/or misunderstanding might lead to a parking fine, which will ruin anyone’s day, especially if they thought it was free! After all, the council is not technically losing any revenue because it is a leap year day. Maybe it would have been far simpler to just say it is free in all car parks for one day? Sometimes I think the council struggles with the concept of keeping it simple.

I do believe any campaign that encourages people to use a town centre is good; if Cornwall Council is involved it should be treating everyone equally. If the other papers turned down the offer to take part then that is fine. However, other papers where not asked at first which is a mistake (though some other papers are now printing vouchers).

Maybe the only way any campaign will work is everyone working together. In this case important parties have been left out. I hope these left out parties do not take it personally……

You can fool some of the people all the time…

Council’s have a habit of being accused of being too secretive, even though those within the council environment sell the message of being ‘open and transparent’. If we were talking about a private company then it is up to the board or whoever owns the company to say how the company is run and its financial arrangement, or keep them secret. However, a council is not private, and any money and its use is of public interest. And rightly so.

The Stadium for Cornwall was always going to be, and is an emotive subject; no matter if you want to see it built, or think it is a folly. I have closely watched the proceedings and have been either directly involved via the Strategic Planning Committee (proposed approval for outlining permission), or indirectly as a back-bencher of Cornwall Council. I have often wondered how the PR around this project has been poor so many times.

Restriction of information under the guise of commercial sensitivity is one of the biggest mistakes the  council is making. You might understand the need for commercial sensitivity on subjects like a contract to offer a service or a bid process, but when there is a potential of taxpayers money being used and the cost is already well documented, you should be straight with the public. No matter if it is £10 or £10m.

The public is not stupid and if a plan is explained in a clear and detailed way, that public will be able to make a rational decision. You might not like the decision, but that decision will have been made on fact and understanding. Everyone knows the stadium will cost £15.2m for a 10,000 seat stadium and there are three key partners which have formed a new company to deliver this project. Having read the Cornwall Council scrutiny document three times, I feel there is only one or two details that I believe fall into any kind of label of ‘commercial sensitivity’ in the whole document. The rest of the information in the document should be in the public domain. Even North Korea would have the difficulty in claiming commercial sensitivity to most of this document.

The public is told in a (clarification) press-statement issued early Monday evening: “the council would like to make it clear that there has been no proposal to use council tax payers’ money to fund the stadium’s construction”. I was most surprised to see the use of the word construction. I would have thought it had been better to have used the words “no tax payers money would be used in the project other than that which has already been spent” (£120k and change). As the word construction could lead to further confusion and misunderstanding.

I really feel if Cornwall Council wants people to understand this project, and maybe support it (or not), then tell the whole story. If truth be told I am uncomfortable with a lot of what being said to date, and the restriction of information that should be in the public domain.

As a saying goes “You can fool some of the people all the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time”.

West Cornwall Community Wheels Service Stops

Monday’s have a habit of being the worst day of the week and this Monday has lived up to that reputation with the shock announcement of West Cornwall Community Wheels (WCCW) bus service being withdrawn from twelve-noon.  Cornwall Council’s Passenger Transport Unit (PTU) were equally shocked on receiving the news.

Details are still a little cloudy as to the reasons why WCCW has suddenly stopped proving this service because it was operating this morning. The PTU has issued a phone number for people to ring with any concerns. This number is 01872 323562.

The routes/services so far affected are: Hayle Area Dial A Ride, Six Parishes Dial A Ride, East Lizard Dial A Ride, MUL016, MUL028. Cornwall Council is making sure alternative arrangement for schools etc are put in place to make sure no one is left stranded.  This I have had confirmed by a phone call.

Once I have more details, I will let people know.

Truro Olympic Torch Civic Event

The Chairman of Cornwall Council, Pat Harvey is well aware many people will have difficulties in seeing or attending events connected with the Olympic Torch due to the issue of the torch quickly passing though a limited number of towns and villages in Cornwall on the 19 May 2012.

To celebrate this, the Chairman will be hosting a Civic Event at Truro Cathedral; which will be a free event to all invitees. In a letter to all Cornwall Councillors, the Chairman, asks for nominations to attend this event. In that letter, the Chairman says:

I would like to open the Civic Event up to those who would not normally have the opportunity to attend such events. I am therefore asking all 123 Members to send in nominations. Please could you nominate members of your community that you believe deserve the opportunity to attend this event. I am not restricting the number of nominations, but should we exceed expected numbers, all names will be sorted by constituency and put in to a hat to be drawn at random.

Please send all nominations to Kate Varcoe (kvarcoe@cornwall.gov.uk). The closing date for nominations is Monday 26 March 2012. It is very important that all nominations are received by this date as the deadline will not be extended.

Please include the following information with every nomination:

Name, address, contact number, reason for nomination, dietary requirements – please give details and any hearing or sight difficulty or mobility issues – please give details

You can either nominate people directly, or contact me and I will make sure those nominations are passed-on.

A Killer Letter

Scott Mann’s (Former Cornwall Council Deputy Group Leader of Conservatives)  resignation letter:

Alec,

I have sent this email to you in advance of it going to the Conservative group.

After much thought I have decided to resign from my position as deputy leader of our group. I’m afraid that the straw that broke the camels back is the funding of the stadium for Cornwall. Although the group are generally supportive of the stadium they have made it clear on two separate occasions that no tax payer funding should be used. However a report is now being presented asking for 12-16 million pounds worth of funding.

I am of the view that the aims and ambitions of the council need to reflect our supported will as a group. It is very apparent that this has not been the case here. Another example would be the CDC review after our group asked for greater probity and control with their accounts further funding is being put in place with no control over spend.

There appears to be separation from what the group are saying and what you are doing. It is my view that your leadership style is one that is not conducive to democratic decision making. The only example I can think of is that of Brian Clough. Clough had a very blinkered approach to his job. There are some similarities; he achieved success at Nottingham Forest in much the same way that we have managed the transition to unitary and the financial savings that we have made. However, Clough had a hugely talented squad in which he asked each of his team to perform a job. He didn’t sideline anyone no matter how difficult they may be. The only understanding they had was that if they didn’t perform they where out of the team. It was Clough’s way or the highway, it worked at Forest but he was out of a job at Leeds in 100 days.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank both you and your cabinet team for the excellent financial discipline you have shown over the last three years. I would also like to both thank and apologise to our group members. I would like to thank you for your support in my role over the last 10 months, and apologise for not being able to deliver in the way you wanted. I except my share of criticism for that and would add that I have learnt a lot about myself in the time in this role.

I have spoken to several members about the difficulties this role has presented me with. I feel that now is an appropriate time to do this with the AGM coming up.

I will, as always continue to uphold my Conservative values both in group and in the council chamber.

I will happily discuss my decision with any member of our group.

Stadium for Cornwall Business Plan Scrutinised

At the recent Environment and Economy Scrutiny Committee (EESC for simplicity) the long-awaited report and business case was discussed. This report was in two parts; the first being held in open session, and the second being closed. The reason for the second part not being held in open session due to the commercial sensitivity of many details contained in the report. It is a real shame parts of the report was in closed session, as many of the myths surrounding this project could have been explained.

The current business plans have been modelled on the current partnership of  Inox Group, Truro & Penwith College and the Cornish Pirates Rugby Football Club Ltd and does not include Truro Football Club. Also the plans have taken into account the Cornish Pirates current league status, and not a higher league, ie the premiership.

Any project this size is not going to have an easy time in getting though the various hoops to be a reality. The group behind the project also have work to do, especially on the financial side, but I think this message was taken on board at the meeting. The committee was told if the project is given the go ahead after full planning permission is granted; all the financial matters have been resolved, the stadium could be built and operational within a year.

Many good questions were asked today at the EESC, and points of clarification, or answers were given in response. I cannot specify what was asked, or said in answer due to the rules I am governed by. For me, there is a concern any decision on this project could be based on myth, or misunderstanding. It is fine to agree or disagree on a project, but accept it, or reject it on fact.

I believe the stadium will again be discussed at the next EESC meeting in March or early April. Let’s hope those concerns raised at this meeting will be answered.

Maybe the next meeting will be webcast as this project is very important.

 

Freezing(ish) Council Tax

At yesterday’s Cornwall Council meeting, there was a diverse list of agenda items. The first of the topics was on the budget; which meant the setting the level of council tax that will need to be paid in the 2012/13 period.  The other topics was on what time planning meetings start, and the Olympic Torch.

On the issue of council tax, the Sec of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles said Councillors have a “moral duty” to sign up to the government’s council tax freeze. If a council accepts a freeze, they will get a nice one-off grant from Mr Pickles. This sounds like a great and simple plan which on paper and to many will seem as a no-brainer. But, isn’t there also the age-old warning as there is no such thing as a free lunch?  This handout from Mr Pickles could be interpreted as one year-long free lunch, but what happens after?

This concern shared by many council finance officers and Councillors is the potential for a massive shortfall in finance the following year. This could require a large and unconformable tax rise in the preceding years. In Cornwall Council’s case this shortfall could be as much as £15m for the period of 2013/14. The choice could be either wack-up the council tax, or face more cuts. I should not say cuts because the new trendy word for cuts is reductions, or streamlining.

Fear not, the administration, ie the Cabinet, say though prudent savings and a sudden income there is roughly £7m to cover this shortfall. Phew… that’s good then…we are all saved. However, how much of a black-hole will there be in 2014/15. My guess is pretty big. This is the real concern and one I fear the most, especially the very same government department is looking to reduce the base-grant it gives councils.

After a rather short (in council terms) debate various votes were taken on different parts of the budget. The vote on freezing council tax for 2012/13 was carried by 94 votes for, 12 against and 6 abstentions. I abstained on this because I could not fully support this, nor could vote against and then put added pressure on people’s hard pressed finances.

I have got to say there were some good parts in the budget that should be welcomed. These included the Cornish Bursary, the ‘extra’ money being put into bus subsidies, public toilets stay of execution, and money for affordable housing. These are welcomed and received the support of the majority of the council. I voted for these parts of the budget which was carried overall.

While Cornwall Council will not increase its side of the council tax, many people will still see a rise in their council tax. This is because many Town and Parish Council’s had to put extra’s onto their precept because of the added functions ‘handed-down’ by Cornwall Council. Furthermore,  the Devon and Police Authority added 2.6% to their budget. For Porthleven residents they will only see the Police Authority rise because Porthleven Town Council decided to keep the precept as the same a the previous year.

Finding Out About Road Works

It is accepted that as long as we have roads, they will need to be maintained and repaired. Sometimes this maintenance is time-consuming, frustrating and expensive. Council’s and some utility companies do send letters, but these are normally only sent to the affected areas. That means many people will not know of work being carried out until they find themselves diverted, or joining a traffic queue.

There is however a website that holds all the current and many proposed road works in the whole of the UK. This includes Cornwall Council’s work. I signed up today, and found the process simple and finished the process in a few minutes. You can opt-in to receive emails daily, weekly or fortnightly. You can also target a certain areas, roads, or distance from a postcode. Plans are being worked on to make this site more ‘smart-phone’ friendly which I think is a great idea.

Here is the link to this great website: http://www.roadworks.org/

Enjoy.

 

100 Years of Helston Boating Lake

On 20th July, Helston’s boating lake, or to give it its official title of Coronation Park and Boating lake, will be 100 years old. I plan to hold some sort of celebration event on this day. This park and lake might be in Helston, but I know many people from the surrounding area use this lake. It is quite simply a jewel, and I am very proud to have in my division.

One of my plans is to reintroduce the on-the-lake firework display (subject to funding/costs) that was a common event in the early days of this lake. I think this would be a fitting celebration. This is not the only event planned to celebrate the event as I have formed a working party that includes the Cornwall Councillors of Helston, The Community Network, South Kerrier Alliance, Helston Town Band and Helston Town Council to help organise the day/eve. I am really pleased Helston Town Band has said it would attend this event, which I am really grateful to.

Helston's Boating Lake (Thanks to Helston People for the photo)

During my monthly report to Helston Town Council I talked of this event, and said I hoped the whole community of not just Helston, but the surrounding areas would attend these celebrations. This met with approval of not only the town council but from the many members of the public in attendance.

It was after the public participation one member of the public pressed into my hand a £20 note. I said, rather shocked, I could not take this. His simple reply was “I want to, it will help pay for the fireworks.” I had to ask another member of the public who this gentleman was. It just goes to show how generous people can be. Hopefully, at the next town council meeting, I will get the chance to say thank you.

The date for your diaries is the 20th July with more details will be announced once the working group has met and discussed any ideas. Of course, feel free to send me any ideas you have for this event.

Stepping on Madam Chairman’s Nicely Polished Shoes

For the last few days there has been news coverage on a motion that will be debated at Tuesday’s Cornwall Council meeting. This motion has one aim. That aim, is to re-clarify, and give clear guidance for the civic role of the Chairman of Cornwall Council. This motion has been submitted by me, seconded by Andrew Long (MK), and supported by Jeremy Rowe (LD), Jude Robinson (Lab) and Steven Rushworth (Con). This cross-party support shows how important the role of the Chairman is.

The motion is as follows:

“The Local Government Act 1972 sets out that the Chairman of the Council is the civic head of the authority and is given precedence at civic events (this is not the case where there is an elected mayor or, in the case of royal events, where the Lord Lieutenant takes precedence).

Therefore, this Council recognises the intent of the Act and ensures that the Chairman, as the civic head of Cornwall Council, is in attendance and the council lead, at all events relating to the Olympic Torch Relay  including the receiving of the Flame at RNAS Culdrose, at Lands End, at Truro and, if possible, at the handing over at the border with Devon and, beyond that, at all future events of this stature and significance”.

The concern of many Cornwall Councillors is the non-political role of the Chairman is being sidelined when Cornwall Council is to be represented. This has come to the forefront, over the Olympic Torch Relay. Considering Cornwall Council is dipping into the coffers to pay for this event (in Cornwall), it is only right that any representation on behalf of the council is non-political, and represents all of the council; which the Chairman does.

Of course, there has been the accusation of this being political mischief, but how can it, when the motion is supported by all political parties and groups at the council. This cross-party support just goes to show it is non-political, and furthermore, shows the importance of the civic role of the Chairman.

I can honestly say this motion would never have seen the light of day if reassurances had been given to Councillors, clearly accepting that the Chairman was the lead in any civic function required by the Council. Those reassurances were never given and it was felt this issue would have to be dealt by the whole council in an open and democratic way.

The sad part to all this is the perception that senior members of Cornwall Council are squabbling over who gets into any possible photo-shoot. I feel this is unfair, from my point of view it is not the case. Lines have been blurred, and these lines need to be clearly (re)established to make sure this does not happen again.

Roll on Tuesday…

1 2