Pasty Tax Cools Down

The Government has had a change of heart on the proposals for VAT on bakery products like pasties. This is to be welcomed as Cornwall would have been adversely affected for obvious reasons.

The campaign to highlight the issues and problems these proposals would cause was very good. In many areas it was cross-party and the local and national press helped to give this campaign a very high-profile. However, it is amusing as someone not aligned to any political party to now watch the various political parties claim they did more work than the other party. All three of the national parties are at it, with each blaming the other for not doing enough.

Lastly, I would just point out that changes to the VAT system were just proposals, and were subject to public consultation (21st march – 2nd May).  Thankfully the responses were listen to, and more importantly, acted upon. So not really a U-turn, but nevertheless welcomed.

So well done to ALL, as it just goes to show that working together actually gets results.

A NO to stadium funding from Cornwall Council’s Leader

A few hours ago, the Leader of Cornwall Council sent all Councillors a letter that he has sent to the partnership behind the Stadium for Cornwall venture.  Honestly, I am surprised it has been sent, as I would have at least expected the Cabinet to discuss this issue at their next meeting. I guess not. Though the Cabinet might have discussed this at one of their ‘informal meetings that is not open to the public, or most Councillors.

However, in the letter, it makes reference to the leaders personal view, but say’s given the full councils vote a few days ago, it would be inappropriate for the Cabinet to ignore that view. Personally, I have no idea where this now leaves the stadium project, but my fear is it will remain on the drawing board as one of those ‘it could have been great‘.

The response on the Pirates Rugby site HERE

Here is the letter:

 

 

Porthleven Community Group’s Coffee Morning

The Porthleven Community Group held its first coffee morning on Saturday at the Public Hall. The aim of this coffee morning was to bring people together to chat, and swap ideas over a piece of cake and hot drink. All this was free, with all the cakes ( I had to try them all n0t wanting to upset anyone!) having been made by the group.

From what I saw, the coffee morning was a great success with many people exchanging ideas and writing those ideas down. With this information it is hoped to target issues that people feel most strongly about, or would like to see improved. The group knows there is no magic-wand to wave, but understands if you get people together there is more change of succeeding.

So well done to all of the group, and I look forward to the next meeting to discuss the various options that people suggested during the event.

The Home-made Cakes

Helston just misses out on Portas Pilot money

At less than a minute after midnight, the details of the 12 towns who have been selected for a share of just over £1m from the Portas Pilot was publicly released. The Portas Pilot was always going to be a tough competition with over 370 town’s applying. Helston put in a very strong bid, and to give their bid an extra edge, made a video that has to date, has had over 10,000 hits. Even Mary Portas had made positive comments on Helston’s video.

Sadly, Helston was not selected. The full list is HERE. Even though Helston was not selected, another Cornish town was. So well done Liskeard! The good news is there will be another round selected in July, with Helston’s bid automatically going through to that round.

Even though Helston was not selected, the town and businesses should not lose heart. I am seeing some great work from the business working in partnership with the newly appointed Town Centre Manager.  This partnership working over the last few month has been excellent, and just goes to show what can be done if people come together to work for a common goal.

So well done Helston for coming together to help solve the problems facing the town centre.

 

Twitter and its use in Local Government

There is a lot of social media platforms out there who all have a varying degree of popularity. YouTube and Facebook are just two of these, and probably the most popular. The real new-boy on the market is Twitter, a micro-blogging site that limits you to 140 characters. This platform has been around since 2006, but it is only in the last few years that Twitter has become really popular, now with over 200 million users.

The reason for this blog topic is a study I came across the other day called An Overview Study of Twitter in UK Local Government. This is an excellent piece of work that was completed in May this year. I am also grateful to the authors for allowing me to use their research on my blog.

While the public are quick to embrace these new platforms, local government is often slow on the uptake, and is often late in embracing new ways to communicate. Much of this is due sometimes ponderous nature of local government, with a policy needed to be written and approved before it is fully implemented. There are some very proactive local authorities, but this is not across the board. However, the real issue is not convincing council officers the bonuses of using social media, but those elected to office.

In the day’s before widespread use of social media in local government, the public only really knew the going’s on at a council by the print-media. Often, information did not get out due to journalist not being able to be everywhere. This was in many parts advantageous to a local authority because information could be controlled, or at least sanitized before its release. It is not like a local authority wanted to keep everything secret (some may argue that), but they know the wrong information, or negative information can be damaging to an authority reputation, including those political groups who are in charge during that term of office.

Twitter has blown that control out of the water, because the pure beauty of Twitter its instantaneous. This is a double-edged sword as five Cornwall Councillors found out back in January 2010 with Twittergate. However, it made Cornwall Council sit-up and take notice of this micro-blogging site. To the council’s credit instead of sticking its head in the sand, or trying to ban (well it did try, until the council realised the folly of trying) it, it has embraced it, and now has just over 5000 ‘followers’.

Cornwall Council is not alone in the use of Twitter, as some 84% of councils (363) have at least one Twitter account, compared with 73% last year.  There is 426 local authorities in the UK. 346 of these are in England, 26 in Northern Ireland, 32 in Scotland and 22 are in Wales. Furthermore, just under three-quarters (73%) have at least one Facebook account, compared with 62% a year ago. More information HERE

The use of Twitter differs with person to person. I tend to use twitter two ways. Information, and general communication, or what they used to call ‘back in the day’ as talking to people. In this study, it has found:

“Politicians devote limited attention on the conversational elements of Twitter, they tend to use the medium asymmetrically during and after elections and are also likely to draw an audience with elitist characteristics, e.g., established journalists. Variations in terms of political affiliation and audience seem to be highly contextual from one political system to the other”.

I find this a great shame, as the real beauty of Twitter being accessible to people not just in your area, but on a more global stage. If you just use Twitter to send out repetitive messages, then, you are nothing more than a bot. Using Twitter as a human will get whatever message you want to get out be better understood. Furthermore, the study points out:

“empirical findings show that their use of Twitter rather tends to support self-promotional models and interaction with the audience remains limited. Saebo (2011) found that tweets produced by Norwegian elected representatives lack deliberative characteristics and focus on general information dissemination, discussions with other representatives and publicly agreeing about non-controversial topics. Golbeck et al. (2010) found that members of the USA Congress are mainly using Twitter to promote links to their blogs or articles about themselves instead of attempting to provide the public with new insights about legislative processes”.

Again, I think this is a lesson to all political and local authority users of Twitter, and how we should all strive to be more human and engaging in our use of this micro-blogging site. The same goes for those who use twitter to campaign for a cause. Repeating the same message over and over again tends to make me click the mute, or unfollow option on Twitter. This study has certainly made me think how best to engage with my followers.

The study shows the date when local government authorities embraced twitter. The first authority to ‘go live’ was St Helens Council, which is a metropolitan authority in Merseyside. They did this in 2007. The majority of authorities signed up to Twitter in 2008/09 . Cornwall Council took the plunge in April 2009.

You would think London council’s would feature heavily in the top 15 council’s using Twitter. In fact they do not, with the top-5 followers and tweets list do not have any London authorities . The council with the most followers is Glasgow, with over 21,000. The most prolific tweeting council is Walsall Council who have tweeted over 11,000 times. Cornwall in comparison has tweeted 2,900 times. Either Walsall is just tweeting about everything and anything, or Cornwall Council is not tweeting enough.

As for the contents of the tweet, the analysis for the size of tweets revealed an average of 108 characters per tweet. About 20% of the tweets have 138 characters or more and 9.5% of them are at the maximum allowed size of 140 characters. Only about 28.7% of the tweets did not contain a single link to other content, while about 70.5% contained one link and the rest 0.8% contained between two and five links. Yes five links!

While Cornwall Council is one of the older users of Twitter, I still do not think it is using this platform to its full potential. This is not the fault of officers not interested, but the resources assigned. One of the fears is how the public would see tax-payers money being spent to employ dedicated social media officers. In the past, there have been headlines of ‘council officer paid xxx to use Facebook/twitter/social media. The public is outraged, and councils retreat, wary of attempting this again.  I believe the outrage could be minimised if more clarification was given on how important and powerful the use of social media can be in local government. To many people, social media sites are just gimmicks, or only for leisure use. This leads to a misunderstanding of its importance and usefulness.

There is a lot more work to do in trying to convince politician’s that social media is important, and council’s to resource the use of social media properly. After all these politicians are policy and purse-string holders . This will only come about if the public does not have a fit when they hear a council has dedicated social media officers whose main job is this to promote and advance these platforms.

I also feel the Leader of a Council, the CEO and the Directors should be on twitter as the corporate and political face of a council. For Cornwall Council only one Director is actively using twitter, and that is the Chief Fire Officer. Sadly he is now leaving, so we will be back to none. Furthermore, only two Cabinet Members are on twitter out of twelve. This enforces a culture of remoteness of senior council officials.

As for political group leaders at Cornwall Council, only the Liberal Democrats have their leaders on twitter. Maybe the other political leaders should be using twitter too, that way the public will see all sides of the argument. Cornwall Council has 123 Councillors, but only 22 (17%) Councillors have a twitter account. Out of those 22, five are regular users, with a 7 more occasionally using the platform. The rest are, well, idle. I always find it amusing when someone says they are on twitter, but never use it. Having an account is not a twitter user. Though this might all change the closer we get to an election!

Of course it would be unfair not to mention many Councillors use Facebook in their role. But, the very nature of Facebook is its heavily controlled by the user. It is not as ‘open’ as Twitter. At the end of the day, social media is not for everyone, nor should it fully replace the face to face contact a council and its elected official have. Still,  like the telephone and e-mail changed the way local authorities engaged with the public, social media has a very important part to play.

Anyway, have a think, and please read the study

 

Poverty in Porthleven and Helston

First, a ‘hat-tip’ to the blogger Mudhook for finding this information on poverty in Cornwall. This information is provided by the Church Urban Fund and looks at poverty in a Diocese and then at parish (not civic) level. The link can be found HERE. The figures produced are very interesting and cover poverty for children, pensioners and working persons. Also is the life expectancy for those who live within a parish and other important facts on social housing etc.

Porthleven (Diocese of Truro):

  • Child Poverty (% of children in poverty): Porthleven – 16% (137 out of 185)
  • Pensioner Poverty: Porthleven 17% (144 out of 179)
  • Working Ages Poverty: (% of adults receiving key out-of-work benefits) – Porthleven – 13%
  • Life Expectancy (boys): Porthleven – 77 years.
  • Life Expectancy (girls): Porthleven –  83 years old.
  • No Qualifications (% of working age adults without any qualifications): Porthleven – 29%.
  • Social Housing (% of households living in social rented housing): Porthleven – 16%.
  • Lone parenthood (lone parent families as % of all families with children): Porthleven – 22%.
  • Ethnic diversity( % of population who are not white British): Porthleven – 2%.
  • Older population (% of population who are aged 65 and over): Porthleven – 23%.

On the overall deprivation scale, where 1 is the least deprived in the diocese, this parish ranks 156 out of 223 parishes in Truro diocese. This means that this parish is relatively deprived compared with other parishes in the diocese. Set against national figures, this parish ranks 10370 out of 12706 parishes in England. That means that the parish is among the most deprived.

Helston:

  • Child Poverty (% of children in poverty): 14%
  • Pensioner Poverty: 16%
  • Working Ages Poverty: 13%
  • Life Expectancy (boys): 78
  • Life Expectancy (girls): 80
  • No Qualifications: 25%
  • Social Housing: 14%
  • Lone parenthood: 19%
  • Ethnic diversity: 2%
  • Older population: 17%

On the overall deprivation scale, where 1 is the least deprived in the diocese, this parish ranks 39 out of 223 parishes in Truro diocese. This means that this parish is among the wealthiest in the diocese. Nationally, this parish ranks 8396 out of 12706 parishes in England. That means that the parish is relatively deprived compared with other parishes.

The Lowest and Highest figures and percentages in Cornwall are:

  • Child Poverty (% of children in poverty):   Lowest  – 3% Isle of Scilly. Highest – 37% Penwerris
  • Pensioner Poverty: Lowest – 7% Feock. Highest – 28% Penzance, St John the Paptist
  • Working Ages Poverty: Lowest – 2% Isle of Scilly. Highest – 28% Penzance, St Mary’s
  • Life Expectancy (boys): Lowest – 72, Penzance, St Johns the Baptist. Highest – 81 Whitford
  • Life Expectancy (girls): Lowest – 75 Cury and Gunwalloe. Highest – 86 St Gennys
  • No Qualifications: Lowest – 14% St Eval. Highest 42% Treleigh
  • Social Housing: Lowest – 1% Lelant. Highest – 40% Penwerris
  • Lone parenthood:  Lowest – 5% St Neot. Highest – 40% St Keyne
  • Ethnic diversity: Highest – 18% St Pinnock
  • Older population: Lowest – 4% St Eval. Highest – 35% St Just -in-Roseland

These figure are very worrying, and just goes to show Cornwall is in desperate need of real money to tackle some of these issues. Europe is still handing Cornwall millions, but isn’t is about time central government looked to invest in Cornwall, just like it has in other parts of the country.  After the way things are going in Europe, this European money might not be available in the near-future.

Here are some link to Cornwall Council on Poverty: HERE and HERE

Cory and the Waste Contract

A third briefing on Cornwall Council’s waste contract with Cory took place at County Hall on Monday. As we all know the implementation of this contract has not gone according to plan. In some areas this plan has had more issues and has not worked at all.  The Portfolio Holder for this department, Cllr Steve Double, Cory’s MD and Head of Communications, and various senior Cornwall Council officers were on hand to explain the current position and answer any question from the Councillor’s present.

It is now Day-36 of the contract and collections are still being missed.  Out of around 470,000 weekly collections roughly 0.7% are still being missed. This is around 2200 households. As you can see these missed collections have been greatly reduced and Cornwall Council and Cory should be congratulated on this.

Another area that is still having trouble is the delivery of the recycling containers. Today, we were told by the Cory MD this will be sorted very soon. I asked if more of these containers could be located at the One Stop Shops (OOS) as these supplies run out in a few days. The answer was yes, with more containers being placed in the OSS by the end of this week.

The last area that is also having trouble is the new green garden waste containers. Councillors were told today this hold-up is in parts because the scheme has been so successful. So far over 13,000 residents have taken up this scheme. However this has led to a backlog of around 2000 undelivered containers. Cory said they are delivering roughly 300 per day, but they are receiving 80 new requests. In the meantime, if you have subscribed but still have not received your container, you can just place all your garden waste in a black bag and it will be collected.

It was also good to hear that Cornwall Council has from the 1st May applied any contract penalties  a per the contract. I don’t know how much this is, but any financial penalties on a contract will not be good for Cory.

 

Is Selling the Olympic Torch Right?

A few days have passed since Cornwall celebrated the arrival of the Olympic Torch in style. This has set a high standard which other parts of the country would be hard-pressed to beat. However, it should not be too much of a surprise if a few of these Olympic Torches find their way onto well-known auction sites.

My first thought on hearing this news was of disgust, as how could someone sell something so quickly after having the honour of being selected to carry one. However, there could be reasons why they are being sold like a family is struggling financially, and the sale of this torch would help this family. You cannot really fault someone if they are putting their family first, as at the end of the day your family does come first. Could we all honestly say we would not think about selling if someone offered you a couple hundred thousand for it?

From my understanding, there were two ways you could be selected to carry one of the torches. One is you were nominated by a member of the public for the good work you have done for the community, and the other is being selected by one of the corporate sponsors.

LOCOG, the organisers put a cost on each torch at just under £500. The corporate carriers had their torches paid for fully. Whereas the ‘community nominations’ had to pay around £200 to be able to keep one of these torches. I think this is a mistake, as no one should have had to pay for them because this might have placed a financial burden on a family. I mean who wouldn’t buy a torch if you were selected to run with one?

If you were nominated by the community for all the work you have done in that area and decided to sell the torch, then surely the money (minus the initial cost) could, or should go to that community. If the figures are to be believed that torches are selling for over £100,000, then this money could really make a difference. Again, it would be hard to say this is wrong because there is a greater benefit to the community if a torch was sold.

The more you think about it, the more complex the issue is. You can now understand why LOCOG has taken a neutral stance on the selling of these torches. If they said you cannot, but are themselves making people pay for them, then it makes LOCOG look rather silly.

If someone feels they are financially disadvantaged by having to initially buy one of these torches I could use some of my community fund to pay for the initial cost of the torch, and I will then donate the torch to Helston Museum for everyone to see a part of history.

I guess the final decision on selling it and the consequences for that action lays with the owner of the torch

The Olympic Torch Goes Through Helston

The day had arrived when the Olympic Torch would start its 70 day epic journey around the United Kingdom with some 8000 people having the honour of carrying the torch. Helston was lucky enough to be selected as one of the town on this epic route. After Friday evenings feel-good event at the fence of Culdrose, the Boy and I set of early to bag a good position.

When we got into town around 8:30am the street were pretty empty, by 9am it started to fill up. By the time it got to 10am, Coinagehall Street was packed with 1000’s of people all eager to catch a glimpse of the torch. You could feel the excitement in the crowd with the cheering and waving of flags every time a car passed. You could not help but join in and wave at a bemused bus drivers on their service routes.

The torch was running a little late, but you knew it was coming with all the cheering coming up the street. It got to my position just after 10:30 with the crowd around me cheering like they had won the lottery. And then it was all over. The boy was filming and we had a full 18 seconds of the torch as it passed us. 18 seconds might not sound a lot considering how long we had been waiting, but it was sure worth it, and well worth the wait.

As the boy and I headed down to the Boating Lake to take part in the events there, the Torch Bearers from the Helston part of the routes were happily talking and having pictures taken with people. It was really great to see this and people waited their turn to have a picture taken. However, what really surprised me is these Torch Bearers were more than happy to just hand over their torch for people to hold and have their picture took with one. I am not sure if this was part of the brief, but If not I thought it was fantastic for the Torch Bearers to allow people be part of history too. After all holding a Olympic Torch is an once in a lifetime opportunity.

Here are some pictures taken during the event:

Helston 9am

9:30 am

10:30am

The Olympic Torch

A Great Moment


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