One Conservative Fired and Two Quit

The fallout from Tuesday’s Budget meeting continues at Cornwall Council, and if I was a betting man I would bet more is to come. Today, Carolyn Rule, one of the Conservative Members on the Cabinet quit the Conservative Group and became an Independent. The simple reason was on how her own party had acted and voted on Tuesday.

Then later, about an hour ago Lance Kennedy another Conservative Cabinet Member also quit the Conservative Group citing the same reason as Carolyn. He has also become an Independent, but I am unsure he has joined the Indi Group unlike Carolyn who joins their ranks today.

This has not ended, as Steven Rushworth has been fired from the Cabinet by the Leader Jim Currie. I do not know the full details, but I am told it is over the Budget and how he voted against the Cabinet. Though technically he just voted for the 0%.

As it stands, those who have quit the Conservative Group have so far kept their current positions in the Cabinet. I also believe at least one more Conservative will resign, but that has not happened and should only be treated as a rumour.

The atmosphere at County Hall is fraught, especially for many of the staff who are seething on being badly let down by so many Councillors. And next week I feel it will be getting worse once the full detail and impacts the 0% Budget will have on services and staffing.

Legislation on Second Homes a Step Closer

Let’s forget about the Budget for a minute, though it is hard knowing the stinging cuts to be administered because people wanted to play politics and look at the motion on holiday homes/second homes.

To refresh yourself, the wording and possible outcomes are HERE.

I will again make it perfectly clear this is not an attack on second homes or holiday lets that some have tried to portray. This is, and only is about trying to bring in some control into an unregulated market; which is having an effect on our communities.

Currently Cornwall as of November 2012, has 8,348 holiday lets and 14,446 second homes, making a total of 22,794 dwelling. This is out of a housing stock of 259,346. These numbers have steadily increased and is roughly a rise of about 20 per cent* over the past decade. This trend is continuing with 21% of dwelling in the South West in the 2nd homes/holiday let category.

In 47 out of 211 Parishes, the number exceeds 20% of housing stock. eight have over 40%, three have over 50% and one has 59% of housing stock currently available.

There are impacts on sustainability backed up by previous reports** have suggested that where second homes comprise more than 20% the sustainability of that community can be significantly harmed. It also Impact on house prices, have Economic, Environmental and Social and cultural impacts.

Cornwall is not alone, other areas and local authorities face similar and in places greater numbers. Some of these are: London, Cumbria, North Norfolk, Scarborough, West Sussex to name but a few. So there is common ground on this, and hopefully local authorities can work together to achieve something.

I am very pleased to say the Motion was supported by all but 5 Councillors present at the meeting. I am also thankful to the supporters of the Motion, Councillors Julian German, Graham Walker, Dick Cole and Andrew Long.

Now, the various department at Cornwall Council will work together in producing a details and evidence based report that shows something needs to be done before it is too late. It would be good if any public would like to add to the debate, both in the benefits and negatives, then please drop me an email.

Let’s hope the Government will listen this time. I also look forward to hearing from the six Cornish MP’s and I will be asking for their support in getting back some sort of control into our communities.

*In the 2006/2007 Survey of English Housing. **The Taylor Review of Rural Economy and Affordable Housing 2008 and Affordable Rural Housing Commission 2006

 

Cuts to council services over the price of a chocolate bar

Tuesday’s Budget meeting was always going to be long and heated. As I have said previously, it was the battle of the 0% budgets and the Cabinet preferred option of the 1.97% increase, or to put it into monetary terms the increase to the Council Tax bill would be 42 pence per week on a Band D property, or 10p on a Band A.

Let’s be clear, no-one likes to raise Council Tax unnecessary. That is a fact. But for the last two years Cornish residents have had a 0% increase in the Cornwall Council part of the Council Tax bill. However, the £170 million and counting cuts to the grant settlements from Government can only be absorbed so far. In the end you run out of areas to streamline, or the favourite in local government circles, restructuring. That means Council Tax has to be raised if people want services to remain.

What actually happened shocked even me for the blatant disregard for setting a Budget that will protect deliverable services. Instead we got headline catching bullet points. That if you look behind them will result in service provision being reduced, and in some cased stopped. No spin, that’s the harsh reality. That is the bases of both amendments.

In a turn of events that no-one expected, least of all the Lib Dems, a great majority of the Conservatives instead of voting against the Lib Dem amendment, voted for it. This was carried and that made it the substantive motion. The Cons, then withdrew their amendment (after lunch officially). This left only one option on the table.

You cannot help but think the Lib Dems were out-manoeuvred by the Cons in the vote. Especially as the Con amendment had the unworkable tag from the S151 officer. So it had little if any chance of getting approved. And as it is so close to an election, the two big parties could not be seen to lose the advantage to each other. Furthermore, and confirmed by two of the four group leaders, there was common ground to support the 1.97% Budget but one group leader would not. Guess who? Yes, the Cons group leader.

Before the final vote on the substantive motion (the amendment, now formally adopted.) was taken, the interim CEO, Paul Masters also spelt out the impact on staffing levels and therefore service provision this substantive motion would have. This will be at least (I would say more) 135 jobs lost, which will be made up of full, part, agency and temporary staff. With no staff, there will be no service to provide. There is also the redundancy costs which unsurprisingly have not been factored in, and now will have to be found from somewhere. Yes, you’ve guessed it, more cuts.

The S151 Officer made it perfectly clear to all those present that a pro-rata cut would be applied to all Directorates if the amendment was carried. These details and impact was also read out before the vote, just to make sure everyone knew what they were about to vote on. You’ll be surprised how often people do not understand, or get confused on what they are voting for. You only got to watch the webcast to see. (Well you could have, but that will be gone under the cuts!).

These are:

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As you can see, £0.8 million from Adult Social Care, £0.7 million for Children’s, £0.3 million from Shared Services which includes call centres and libraries and £0.4 million from Localism, Strategy and Communications. For the latter, this cut would completely stop certain functions.

The vote was finally taken and 52 Councillors voted for, with 49 against the substantive motion. There were also 3 abstentions. For the record, I voted against the substantive motion.

What the residents of Cornwall ended up with from the decision, is pretty looking headlines for the forthcoming elections. It looks very nice Lib Dem/Conservatives gave you a 0% increase, so vote for us. But get beyond the election, these very same people will be wondering how their pretty headlines will actually deliver services. The truth is they will not.

It is well recorded that I have never been a fan of the JV, but this budget has almost certainly killed off that process and if the reduced figures are actually true on the savings, including the ‘created’ jobs, these have now all but gone. So much so, the Cabinet meeting set for today, which included the final decision on the JV, and the issuing of the Invite to Tender has now been postponed until a later date.

For less than a price of a (weekly) chocolate bar, these services and functions could have been saved. But I guess having a good election leaflet is better than doing what’s right for Cornwall.

Staff who work so hard delivering services must feel so undervalued. I spoke to many staff who all wondered if they had a job after today’s vote. Some were in tears. Others just could not believe what had happened. It may have been forgotten by some Councillors, but staff are also residents, who can vote and their families vote will no doubt be very tempted to put an X in a different box in May. Especially after Tuesday and setting a Budget on political grounds, rather than what is good for Cornwall.

However, the most unsettling part of the day, was when Councillors were gleefully smiling that the motion they supported was carried. It was sickening to watch and I was ashamed to be in the council chamber with them.

Furthermore, and more bizarrely, the very same people who were saying we must protect the council tax payers, and without any irony, were proposing a £2.30 odd increase per week in council house rents. You really could not make it up

And later today, the Corporate Leadership Team will be having an emergency meeting to discuss the massive impacts this Budget will have on services. This is on top of an email sent this morning by Cllr Toms, the Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care on the dire consequences that will have to be actioned with almost immediate effect just to balance the books.

The Night Before the Motion and the Numbers of Holiday Lets and Second Homes in Cornwall

Tomorrow will be a long day, not only because we have the Budget debate for setting the Council Tax for 2013/14. Also on the agenda are two motions, one of the use of voice recognition software, or in simple terms a lie detector. The other motion is to lobby the Government to introduce legislation that would require planning consent if you wanted to change a dwelling into either a second home, or a holiday let. It will not be easy to get the Government to introduce this legislation, and will be likely to be a long process. Though, that should not be the reason not to start the process.

To remind yourself of the motion, click HERE

Previously, I have blogged on the number of second homes at the Parish, Cornwall Council Electoral Divisions and Community Networks. However, missing out of that data was the number of holiday lets. Now thanks to the Community Intelligence team for their help, I have those numbers.

I will give you the top 10* on both second homes and holiday lets for both Parish and CC Electoral Divisions to add support to the motion.

Parish:

Parish Holiday lets business rates database 29/11/2012 Second homes Council tax database 27/11/2012 Total Holiday Lets and Second homes November 2012 Total household spaces, 2011 Census % household spaces holiday lets and second homes
1) St. Minver Lowlands             261            507             768 1292 59%
2) St. Minver Highlands             151            253             404 775 52%
3) St. Merryn             288            438             726 1406 52%
4) St. Endellion             125            275             400 863 46%
5) Poundstock             131            107             238 519 46%
6) St. Tudy             123             25             148 333 44%
7)Maker-with-Rame              38            270             308 736 42%
8) St. Just-in-Roseland              75            293             368 905 41%
9) St. John                5            140             145 368 39%
10) Gerrans              94            178             272 704 39%

Porthleven is listed as number 76 out of 211 listed Parishes with:

Porthleven              81            151             232 1753 13%

Now here is the top 10 for CC Electoral Division:

Electoral Division  Holiday lets business rates database 29/11/2012  Second homes Council tax database 27/11/2012 Total Holiday Lets and Second homes November 2012 Total household spaces, 2011 Census % household spaces holiday lets and second homes
1) St Endellion           559        1,054        1,613       2,930 55%
2) Padstow           450          978        1,428       3,366 42%
3) Roseland           246          603          849       2,458 35%
4) St Ives North           218          593          811       2,691 30%
5) St Issey           263          279          542       2,215 24%
6) Looe West and Lansallos           191          328          519       2,170 24%
7) Poundstock           234          228          462       1,966 23%
8) Flexbury and Poughill           321          167          488       2,252 22%
9) St Ives South           100          377          477       2,243 21%
10) Mevagissey           211          319          530       2,526 21%

 

Now you can see there needs to be something done before it is too late. And I believe control via the planning system is one way you can protect communities. Furthermore, the number of second home and holiday lets fluctuate because a number of these types of dwelling switch roles on a regular basis. This adds to the problem in collating the actual numbers.

I will publish the whole list of second homes and holiday lets at a later date

* As of 29/11/12 second homes and 27/11/12 for holiday lets

The Lib Dem 0% Budget Amendment

I critiqued the Tory (group) budget amendment yesterday and was quite damning about it, especially as it does not add-up and will result in poorer services being provided.  The Lib Dem Budget amendment is (slightly) better than that of the Tory one. This can be read HERE.

This is the S151 Officer’s views on the Lib Dem amendment

“This proposal satisfies the essential requirement of an amendment to the budget in that the savings recommended address the whole budget shortfall arising from a no increase in the council tax”

Well that is good then, as at least the figures will work. However,  the problem with this amendment is on the subjects to be cut. This is the full transcript of the S151 comments:

LD 1LD2LD3

I firmly believe the use of Consultants has got out of hand at Cornwall Council, but not all those listed as Consultants are those highly paid people brought in. In fact, many are regular members of staff who have been used because there is a shortfall in qualified people available, or they are there to cover sickness, or maternity leave. My worry will a general cut in all the directorates will lead to services being scaled down, or stopped. I have always argued for better staff coding to separate the £1000 per day Consultants and those on regular wages.

As for the communication budget, my views on this are the same as I blogged in the Tory amendment. It will stop vital services and functions being carried out.

My real concern is on the Council Tax increase collection rate. Only a few weeks ago, various people and groups jumped up to denounce the 25% CTB and many of the comments were on the use of bailiffs for non-payers etc. Now if the collection rate was even more enforced, it would lead to greater and more robust use of bailiffs. In an ideal world the collection rate should be 100%, but it is not, and there are reasons for this.

This like the Tory amendment is more about election headlines, than a sensible budget, which will protect services. The difference between the two amendment is one (to a point) adds up. It is just a shame a more united front from all groups could not be achieved. However from what I am told, this could have been done, but one group leader would not, and was more interested in pursuing an alternative. It is not hard to guess who that is.

I believe Tuesday is going to be hot tempered and long. I just hope people can put party politics and election leaflets to one-side and come up with a budget that will protect services. If not, it will be a very sad day.

 

The Tory 0% Budget Amendment that does not add up

I blogged about the battle of the 0% budgets and how the two largest political parties at Cornwall Council are trying to out do each other on producing the best headline grabbing Budget. Now the details have been released on both and reading them makes my blood boil. However, it is the chief financial officers professional view which has to be read.

The chief finance officer, is also known in local government circles as the S151 officer. They have given their professional view on the Tory (group – though I should say element of it) Budget amendment, which is different to the Tory-lead Cabinet Budget. The amendment proposals are by the former Cabinet Member for Finance, Fiona Ferguson and Scott Mann.

If this amendment is implemented by means of a majority vote the actual outcome will lead to job loses, but worse, the actual services the council provides will be reduced, or stopped completely. You cannot help but think (and I would agree) this amendment to the Budget is nothing more than electioneering of the worst kind. It seems they are more interested in having a good headline on an election leaflet, than actually looking after Cornwall and its people.

The details to the Tory amendment is HERE. However, it is the S151 response to the amendment that is so damaging. More so,  as the S151 position is politically restricted so the advice given would be neutral. I have worked with this officer at length and can say they put the council’s well-being  and services provided first.

This is the S151 response to the amendment. However, the most damaging blow to this amendment is the first sentence:

“this proposal does not satisfy for an essential amendment to the budget in that it fails to deliver a medium term sustainable budget strategy”

The rest of the S151 officers view is as follows:

Tory1Tory2Tory3Tory 4

Everyone wants low Council Tax bills and good services. And in an ideal world, the council should be able to set a 0% budget. But it is not an ideal world, the financial pressures are massive, which have been made worse by the very party in Government this amendment comes from. Even worse, MPs are putting pressure on people to have a 0% budget, so they and their party look good too. I say to them, concentrate on your own house, before you tell Cornwall Council what to do.

For me, I do not mind paying an extra £25 or so per year because services will be protected if an increase of 1.97% is implemented. We have had two-years of no increase. So it has not all been doom and gloom.

The very same party behind this amendment has made the poorest (with little sympathy) and most in need pay 25% or over £300 extra per year. But seem happy to push for a 0% increase even though it will make services worse.

Tomorrow, the details and views on the other 0% amendment. It is only slightly better than this Tory amendment.

2011 Census Data Interactive Map by Cornwall Council Electoral Divisions

The Community Intelligence Team at Cornwall Council has put together all the 2011 Census details in an interactive mapping tool which breaks down all the detail via the council’s Electoral Divisions. This is a great tool and massive congratulations should go to the team behind this and other great data produced. My own research though the various data bases has been greatly helped by the Community Intelligence Teams help. Thank you.

The map can be found HERE and more information on the Census can be found HERE.

 

Porthleven Road and Stopgate set to be a 40 mph zone

40mphI have received good news from Cornwall Council’s highway engineers on my proposals for the reduction of speed limits on roads leading into Porthleven. I am very pleased to say the proposals to reduce the speed limits from 60 mph to 40 mph have been officially approved.

The two roads that will see this change is the Porthleven Road and the road leading to (and from) Stopgate. This work is set to be completed by March, which further good news. A further change is extending the 30 mph zone on Beacon Road.

The JV limps on

Late, yesterday afternoon, or what some would call early evening, I attended the meeting of the Single Issue Panel (SIP) for Support Services (JV). This meeting was in two parts, the public (for about 5 minutes) and then in Part 2, which the public cannot attend.

The first part of the meeting was on this document HERE. I am sure people will come to your own conclusions after reading the document. However in the report, various Cornwall Council officers remarks said BT-Lite (light for you purists); whilst not matching the original level of savings was nevertheless a good deal and worthy of consideration. However, I am not sure the bar on what is a good deal is set high enough.

The second part of the meeting was about the financial side of the deal including the actual proposed saving to the departments that will be handed over the BT. Now the rules do not allow me to say what was actually discussed. Though I would argue most of the detail is already in the public domain. But rules are rules.

I can say there are savings and jobs will be transferred. Also In-house and the part-privatised options were compared. Again, I can only say there are differences in savings between the different options. We were also told a robust contract (why do I think of the waste contract when someone mentions robust) would be in place to make sure the council is protected. And it was made very clear on the massive financial penalties the council would face if the council decided to leave the contract for no real reason. I think that is all I can say until it all the info becomes public.

The meeting was done and dusted in little over an hour. It will now be up to the Cabinet to make the final decision as whether to issue the Invite to Tender.

A Motion submitted to Cornwall Council on Second Homes

Previous blogs on the subject of second homes and holiday lets have been on the numbers of each type. For some areas the numbers are quite staggering. I firmly believe it all comes down to a balance between the different types of dwelling in an area. However, it is hard to find that balance when there is not way to control certain types of housing, like second homes.

I think it is about time some sort of legislation is brought into use. Sadly, it needs Parliament to do this, and so far, they have done little, if anything to bring in legislation to control certain housing types. So instead of waiting, I have decided to act and at least get something started that will bring in some sort of legislation.

I have submitted a Motion with the support of two other Independent Councillor, Julian Germans and Graham Walker and two Councillors from MK, Andrew Long and Dick Cole. I hope this Motion will be supported by the majority of Councillors from all political parties on the 26th February.

The Motion is as follows:

“ 1) This Council believes, in principle, that the law should be changed to ensure that those dwellings which are not main residences, commonly known as second homes, are clearly and separately identified as a planning class and that any person wishing to change their main residence to eg a holiday let or second home be required to apply for planning consent.

2) A letter signed on behalf of the Council by all the Group Leaders be sent to the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government and the six Members of Parliament for Cornwall asking that the legislative means of achieving the principle set out in paragraph 1 of this resolution be urgently explored and pursued.”

Furthermore, as part of putting in the Motion, I enlisted the help of a Planning Consultant, Paul Bateman, who through his work talking to others in his line believes there is a need for legislative change. His expertise in what legislation needs to be introduced has been really helpful.

The legislation changes could be:

1) Introduce a Section 55 [3A] to the Town and Country Planning Act 1990, as amended, that states “For the avoidance of doubt the change in use of a dwelling in use as a sole or main residence to a dwelling not in use as a sole or main residence involves a material change in use of that dwelling.

2) Provide an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987, as amended, to:

  • a) Amend Class C3 to remove the words “whether or not in use a sole or main residence” and replace it with “in use as a sole or main residence”.
  • b) Establish a new classification (“C5”) for dwellings not in use as a sole or main residence.

3) Provide an amendment to the Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) Order 1995, as amended, to:

  • a) Allow the permitted change from Class C5 to C3, unless planning conditions otherwise restrict the C5 use as a sole or main residence.

4) Introduce a simplified procedure for Certificates of Lawfulness to establish existing C5 uses on an effective date, with a twelve month transitional period for such applications.

Lets hope my fellow Councillors support this motion. It is not about stopping or banning these types of dwelling, but bringing in some controls before it is too late for our communities.

 

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