Helston College C-Block Rebuild Gets the Green Light

There was one bit of good news at Monday’s Cabinet meeting. That is the recommendation for the rebuild of C-block at Helston College has been approved in principle. This is fantastic news for all those children who go to this school. I am glad Cornwall Council’s Cabinet fully supported the proposals.

Now, post this decision, the £10m and change needed to build this new block has to be identified. As in the Cabinet report this money is not readily available. Once this has happened work needs to start as soon as possible. A question that will also have to be answered is will the new block be built on the existing site, or another site?

Still, today’s decision is a good one for the people of the area.

Council Services For Sale

Monday’s Cornwall Council Cabinet was going to be a day that would put the council firmly on the Shared Services privatisation path. On the table were many of the council services, like the One Stop Shops and Libraries which are set to be run by a private company. The sheer scale of the sell-off is staggering.

A Scrutiny Single Issue Panel (SIP) was set up to look into this proposal. To the SIP’s credit, they did a great job in highlighting the many dangers and unknowns Cornwall Council would face if it went down this path. Even the Chairman of the council’s Audit Committee, and known Leadership loyalist said, “There is a major risk in this venture.” You have to ask yourself, is it right the Cabinet is taking a massive gamble with tax-payers money? Councillor Biggs, and co-chair of the SIP, said in his report: “This venture is a Leap of Faith.”

Most damning of all the debate was Councillor Currie’s comments. When the Councillor responsible for resources (the money) say’s he was not fully consulted in these proposals. That should stop the process in its tracks, It is like someone running into a brick wall. In fact Councillor Currie did a fantastic rearguard action to stop the process.

The best line (for the wrong reasons) was the Leader’s in responding to those who had concerns with the plans. He said: “if you do not like the option you have the option to abstain.” Abstain? Unless the council’s constitution had been changed, a Councillor can vote against something, not just abstain!

Unsurprisingly, the Cabinet voted to process with the plans for Shared Services. Only Councillor Kaczmarek voted against, with Councillor Currie abstaining.

I guess time will tell if this Leap of Faith actually works. If not, the tax-payer will be left to pick up the bill when the private company walks away with all the money.

 

Good Evening Mr. Bond

The Queen and James Bond taking part in the Olympic opening ceremony just blew me away. Both Bond and the Queen are quintessential British. China can have its drums and fireworks, but they do not have Bond, or the Queen. The words “Good evening Mr. Bond” will I am sure go down in history.

Elgar’s Nimrod told you in a few bars which country is hosting the games. This was followed up Perry’s and Blake’s Jerusalem, sung by a young boy who you would have to be dead not to be moved by it.

The whole opening ceremony was British to the core. It showed strife, hardship, humour and understatement. I am sure the many millions who were watching the ceremony were at times scratching their heads wondering what was going on. I say, who cares, as it showed Britain is different, and we like that.

Humour played a part too. Who would have thought Mr. Bean would be involved? Not me, but it worked. Music also played a very important part during the ceremony. Britain might not be an economic or military superpower, but it is a superpower of music. Though, if I could have a rerun of the ceremony, I would ditch McCartney. It was painful to my ears.

The scene of the industrial revolution forging the Olympic rings was just fantastic. I just loved how it all came together to tell a powerful message. British design was there too, with the ‘copper petals’ which formed the Olympic Cauldron. Each petal represented the 204 countries taking part. A first is all the teams taking part have female competitors. This is a remarkable achievement, too

I always feared we would try to match the Chinese opening ceremony, and I thought that would be impossible. However, I should not have worried because our ceremony showed the world we are at times a pretty odd bunch, but still a very proud nation which can still teach the world a trick or two.

The whole event had British firmly stamped on it. Well done Danny Boyle for the ceremony. It sure made me proud to be British.

The most iconic picture of the 2012 Olympics?

Cabinet to decide on Helston College

On Monday 30th July, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet, will be making some pretty huge decisions that will set the path of the council for years to come. The main one is the option of ‘shared services’. To explain it in the simplest term, it is privatisation. Others might call it something else, but I see it nothing more than selling off certain functions of the council. However, this is not the subject I will be talking about. This blog is on the proposals for Helston College.

For anyone who has ever visited Helston College will know ‘C’ block is in a very poor state. In truth, it is not far off from being a hazard to those who use this site. The college has long campaigned for something to be done, but like most things, it all comes down to money.

Now finally, a series of option are now being presented to Cabinet on Monday. These range from ‘temporary repairs’ which I believe is a pointless exercise because it is merely painting over the cracks and still not solving the problem. I believe the only creditable option is for a total rebuild. Report HERE.

This rebuild option is not cheap. The figure quoted in the report is the costs could amount to just over £10m. That is a lot of money in anyone’s book. However, it is the right and only option to solve the college’s problem. If this is the option that is taken forward, there is a discussion to have if the same site is used for the rebuild, a different site, and how a rebuild will be carried out without affecting the running of the college.

So how will the rebuild be paid for? We all know Cornwall Council is not awash with spare cash, so this money will have to be found from somewhere. A few options could be used. One of these is reassigning money already earmarked in the capital spending. In a biased way, I would say why not. But this would be unfair on that project which gets kicked into the long grass. Cornwall Council could also borrow it using its AAA rating to get a good deal.

Another option, which I have written to the CEO, Kevin Lavery (a few months ago) requesting to use the money from the sale of one school to fund this rebuild. The school in question is the former Richard Lander school site which is being sold by Cornwall Council. I have also spoken to senior Cornwall Council officers about this proposal and in principle this could happen. Though there are some technicalities, though not insurmountable

Of course this is not as simple as cashing the cheque from the sale and writing another for Helston, but it is a creditable option which would not affect another capital project. Sadly, I have no vote in this matter, but I will support any option that gives Helston College the rebuild it desperately needs.

Let’s hope the Cabinet makes the right decision and accepts it has to rebuild this block which will give the school the facilities it needs to educate our young people.

Planning: solve the noise issue by not opening the window!

At today’s Strategic Planning Committee there was an application for a major development in Bude. As with any development you have those for and against the application. As a member of that committee (or any other planning committee) you have to weigh-up the different arguments and come to a decision. This in itself is never that simple. However, in the report, there was a paragraph that really made me check it was not April 1st.

The paragraph in (page 16) question and relates to noise is:

 “In my opinion this will have a negative impact on the desirability of the proposal as a place to live. However, the noise assessment indicates that, provided thermal double glazing is installed where noise levels would otherwise be higher it will be possible to achieve acceptable internal noise levels. This gives rise to the problem of how to ventilate the premises without opening the windows, particularly at night-time when the recommended levels are lower”.

Yes, this person is saying the noise levels would be acceptable if the windows are double glazed and you could not open them!  It then goes on to say how you would overcome the issue of not being able to open a window.

“The report recommends the use of passive ventilation in line with the requirements of Part F of the Building Regulations. It is my understanding, however that the Building Regulations do not take account of situations where windows can’t be opened due to the external noise levels being high. I would therefore recommend that if you are minded to approve the revised proposal a condition is attached to secure the submission and implementation of a noise protection scheme”.

I would have thought it would have been far simpler to just to say building a house next to a noisy road is not a good idea and should not be encouraged/allowed. Not, you solve the noise problem by keeping your windows shut!

 

Mayor, Committee or Cabinet: Which do you want in Cornwall?

Cornwall Council is conducting a Governance Review post the introduction of the Localism Act. It does not have to do this, but the council and its Members felt it was the right thing to do. The aim of the review is to find the best form of governance for the people of Cornwall.

My role in all this is I am part of the review panel looking into the various options. I fundamentally believe any change has to be in the public interest, or we should not do it.  For most of the public, it will not matter which system Cornwall Council has, as long they feel their opinion really counts.  I have said before, if the process is flawed, then no matter which system you have, the process is still flawed. This review is also not about decisions made, but the process. So it is very important to get that process right.

There are five basic options on the table. Keeping with the existing format (strong leader); a different Cabinet set up; committee structure; a hybrid system or a Mayor. For Councillors, there have only been two real options on the table, the cabinet or the committee structure. However, a hybrid could come about by picking the best bits from the Cabinet and committee system, or if the public want something else, then it should have that.

As for the Mayor option, this is not at the top of the list. Though, so I am not eating my own words later on, I will say if the population of Cornwall want a Mayor, then it can have one. At the moment no one yet has said it is a good idea, and I personally think it will not work in Cornwall for various reasons. But my personal view is not important.

For the review to work it really needs the public’s input, as without it any change to how the council is administered could be wrong and the public is no better off than they are now.

The difficulty is when you mention how a council runs as in an administration,  you often get a glazed expression back with the words of:  ‘ as long my bin is emptied, pothole filled and council tax is not too high etc’ they do not mind how a council arranges the deck chairs.  Or, they will mention an actual decision that has been made.

My greatest fear with this review is Cornwall Councillor’s reinvent the wheel and end up with a square wheel. Any change has to be for the right reason and not for political power, or nostalgic reasons.

Welfare Reforms and the Bedroom Tax

Usually Cornwall Council is pretty good on briefing its elected members on major changes to funding, or items that will have an impact on the lives of people who we serve. On Monday, there was a  briefing on the Governments Welfare Reforms that will start in April 2013.

My view is any reform to the welfare state has to be for the right reasons, not just reforming the system to save money. That is never a good idea, as it often harms those most in need. Reform should only be carried out to make sure those most in need get the help they require. Granted, it is a difficult balancing act, but as I have just said, a change just to save money is a dangerous way to carry out a reform. More so as this welfare reform is the biggest in 60 years.

The current welfare system has over 30 different kinds of benefits schemes, so I won’t disagree that it  could do with a little streamlining to make it understandable to those administering and using the system. This streamlining is being carried out by the introduction of the Universal Credit (UC). Basically, this is a single means-tested support for working-age people who are in or out-of work.

The aim of the UC is designed to ensure work pays; it will personalise conditions according to people’s capability and circumstances, and is payable in a single monthly payment. A worrying point on the one monthly payment is this will be made to the head of the household. I fear this could lead to further issues.

There is also a cap to how much will be paid. This cap on the amount paid will be no more than the UK average household earnings. From figures I have, the current average wage in the UK is £26, 079 (Cornwall it is £21,258). A question was asked at the briefing was would the amount pay be based on regional pay, the answer was no. The current benefit cap is £35,000. Members were informed that this new cap of the average wage would affect 150 families in Cornwall.

Of course, there are far more details on these changes available via the normal channels, like the council’s One Stop Shop. I am not staying the system will be the Holy Grail of welfare reform, as with any new system there are still many of the actual details to be released, and more strangely still to be agreed. Which brings me on to another point of why do successive Governments roll-out new schemes when the real detail has not been finalised? It is like buying a new pair of shoes and only getting the box, and then you have to wait to see what type of shoe you have brought, and find out if they actually fit!

However, the real snake-in-the-grass in this reform is the changes to Housing Benefit. This has the potential to really hurt the people not only in Cornwall, but the rest of the country, too. Under the new scheme if you live in either social housing (a council house) or private rental and you have a spare bedroom(s), the Government is going to reduce your Housing Benefit.

For example, if you have one spare room, you will see a reduction in payment of 14%. In monetary terms (average rent) this equals to £9.70 per week reduction. For two or more spare bedrooms this reduction goes up to 25%, again in monetary terms this is £18.50 per week.

I think the rationale behind this is to make people downsize houses that are not in full use, and therefore free up some under used housing. However, this only would work if you have a surplus stock of houses so it is easy to downsize when rooms are surplus for one reason or another. In Cornwall there is a critical shortage of social housing (22,000 on the waiting list), so it is very hard to downsize because of the lack of social housing. So you will be penalised for no fault of your own!

From next year, the Government will reduce your Housing Benefit if you have spare rooms; even if you cannot move though no fault of your own. Like the lack of available housing. This is a totally wrong on all levels. These cuts will put on added pressure to find that extra money and will also lead to people struggling to pay their rent; which means someone could lose their home. Under the current rules being homeless for non-payment of rent/mortgage is classed as making yourself homeless. Making yourself homeless means the council has no duty to house you.

The figures of households that will be affected by this change is 1200 for Cornwall Council owned social housing (Cornwall Housing). The actual number of households that will be affected is going to be far, far greater because the other Registered Social Landlords (RSL), which includes Coastline Housing, Penwith Housing etc have yet to tell Cornwall Council their numbers. And you will have to add in all the private rental, too. I was told these details would be available by September. However, figures of 33% of households that could be affected were mentioned at this briefing.

These changes will not only be restricted to RSL housing, as those in private rental, will also be subject to the new rules. That I believe will have a far greater impact on people than first thought.

Cornwall already has  a housing crisis with the lack of affordable rents, this change to the benefits it going to hurt people the benefit system was meant to help.

To add to Cornwall’s concerns is the funding for Cornwall Council council tax support will have a £6m shortful when this new system comes into effect. There is one positive, these changes will not effect pensioners.

Helston’s Coronation Lake Centenary Celebration

Months of hard work by the working group for Coronation Lake centenary celebration finally paid off on Saturday 21st July with a truly amazing day and evening. Any outdoor event relies on the weather and the centenary celebration’s weather was just perfect (I was very worried about the weather) after weeks of very poor weather.

The event was opened by Sir Ferrers Vyvyan, The Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, who made a great speech about his own memories of the lake and area because of his local connection between his family and Helston. Sir Ferrers then unveiled a wonderful plaque to mark the celebrations.  Helston Town Band then played throughout the afternoon, but with short breaks for other entertainment to take place.

The first step 100 years ago

I was truly amazed to see so many people at the lake. I reckon there was least a couple of thousand who enjoyed the many community stalls, entertainment, or just chilled out. The ten displays of pictures of the lake from the last 100 years were also very popular. The Old Cattle Market (OCM) provided live music from 5pm till midnight.

The final two parts of the celebration was the 100 lanterns, made by local school children to float on the lake and the firework display. Both of these events left me speechless, especially the firework display which was truly epic.

Huge, huge thanks must go to all who helped leading up to the day, and on the actual day. Cornwall Council and Cormac certainly stepped up to the plate by cleaning up the area before the event, supplied extra bins, and an environmental team who patrolled the area during the day clearing up any litter.

However, very special thank you’s should go to Charlotte Chadwick for being my right hand-woman, Jude Carroll who helped all the school children make the lanterns, Rob and Sue Ford for putting on all the music, Simon and Kym Stone and all at the OCM and SKA. Furthermore, if you ever want to have a firework display, you must use this company Celebration Pyrotechnics. Of course, a thank you should go to those who financially contributed to the event which includes Downsland Trust, all the Cornwall Councillor of the Community Network and Helston Town Council.

The Centenary Plaque

Children painted on this throughout the day. It will now be framed and put on display at the park.

The launch of the lanterns

The lanterns at night

The lanterns

Fireworks!

More bangs!

Whoosh!

Danger at Porthleven Cliffs

Several months ago there was a massive cliff fall along Porthleven beach. This event took place at night, so there was limited danger to the public. With such a large part of the cliff coming away, this has weakened other parts of the cliff face.

It is impossible to predict when another part of the cliffs will collapse, but as a layman looking at it, I would guess it is more likely to come away sooner rather than later. The landowner of the ground above (Donkey Field) has erected additional signs at the field, and below on the cliff face to warn people of the danger.

I have also informed the National Trust and Cornwall Council of this danger and they are actively monitoring this area. The Police Inspector of the area has also been informed.

The simple message is please don’t stand near a cliff face, especially when ‘Danger’ is written all over it!

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Cornwall’s Train Service to be Cut?

The Government has just announced a massive investment in the countries rail network to the tune of £9 billion. You would think this would be good news, but for Cornwall it might not be.

The Department for Transport (DfT) has told Cornwall Council that it plans to cut the three of the nine direct services to and from London.  The DfT has included these reductions in the Invitation to Tenders, which Great Western Rail Franchise is part of. This is a bitter blow to the council who have invested over £35m in the local rail network over the last decade.

Cornwall Council understands the importance of the rail network in Cornwall to both business and leisure. It showed this commitment by helping to meet the cost of upgrading the signalling, station improvements, and other infrastructure improvements. The council has been rewarded for this investment by a reduction to the service.

The council lobbied for a 30 minute mainline service in Cornwall. Sadly this has in reality been turned down as the DfT has said this would be up to the operator and would place no obligation on the operator to do this.

It is not all bad news, as the Truro to Falmouth service will become part of the deal. This is because the service is now financially viable. This means Cornwall Council does not have to subsidise the service anymore. This also means it does not get a share of the profits either!

Let’s hope the serious lobbying to safeguard the current service to MP’s, Member of the House of Lords and other key people by Cornwall Council pay’s off. As if not, the council has given a warning to the DfT it will campaign on all levels to make sure the current service continues.

But will the DfT listen? Answers on a postcard

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