Making our beaches more accessible

Yesterday, I attended my first official event as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People. The event was held in Bude to celebrate the new beach access ramp at Widemouth Bay and at Summerleaze Beach two accessible beach huts for adults and children with disabilities. There is also the ability to hire a Draisin Plus Wheelchair Tandem from a local cycle hire business, Bude Cycle Hire who have worked in partnership with Cornwall Council to offer this service.

Cornwall has some of the best beaches in the country, sadly, not all are accessible. This is why the Changing Places Campaign has so important in making our wonderful environment more accessible. There is still much to be done, but the £240k investment by Cornwall Council is a great start. And the people at yesterday’s event were very grateful for this investment.

For me is was not just standing there for the photo and then going. It was a chance to spend the day ( and I could wear shorts and flip-flops) with parents, carers and Cornwall Council staff listening to their concerns. The main point the parents and carers put over was they wanted to be listened and consulted more when changes to services happen. The various groups also understand the council is facing some tough choices, but wanted to help the council with those decisions. It is a fair point they made, and one I will make sure the channels are always open for views to be exchanged. It was great to see local member Nigel Pearce popping down to share the day.

My simple message to those gathered was educate me, and I will see how I can help.

A few pictures from the event:

Ramp at Widemouth Bay

Ramp at Widemouth Bay

The new bike

The new bike

Not often you can wear flip-flops to work!

Not often you can wear flip-flops to work!

The First Week as a Portfolio Holder

The first week as Portfolio Holder has passed at a blistering pace. I am still chuffed to bits on having the Children and Young People portfolio, and I am looking forward to meeting everyone who contributes to this directorate. I am not one who just sits at County Hall, and will be looking forward to actually meeting the people who are in the field making sure our young people get the right service.

I have also been made very welcome in the role and everyone has been extremely helpful in bring me up to speed on current situations. More in-depth briefings will be happening in the next few weeks, so there will be a lot to take on.

It has been a good start.

Cornwall Council Election Turnout

As with any election the turnout varies, this could because a few reasons like high profile local issues and whether or not there is another election taking place at the same time. For Cornwall the main election was for Cornwall Council, but there was also many town and parish elections too.

I think we all wish the turnout is high, however the reality is very different with the turnout rarely above 50% for local elections. I always find this strange as the local council like Cornwall Council has so much influence on people’s day to day lives. I would say more than our actual government.

So how was the turnout for the 123 Cornwall Council seats?

Top five Cornwall Council Division voter turnouts

  • Rame Peninsula – 49%
  • Looe West, Lansallos – 48%
  • Roseland – 48%
  • Feock & Playing Place – 47%
  • Menheniot – 38%

Bottom five Cornwall Council Division voter turnout

  • Newquay Central – 18%
  • Redruth Central – 21%
  • St Dennis and Nanpean – 21%
  • Newquay Treloggan – 22%
  • Redruth North – 23%

For my local area the turn out is as follows:

  • For Porthleven and Helston West – 32%
  • Helston North – 36%
  • Helston South – 27%

The big question is how do we increase voter turnout? I find it really hard to understand why people cannot take 10 minutes to turn up at a polling station and vote. Furthermore, there is an even more simpler way to vote via the postal vote. This method has your ballot papers sent to you and all you have to do it put an X in the box and post is back to electoral services. Simple.

Anyone got the solution?

Childrens Porfolio and other positions

The discussion of which Cabinet portfolio is assigned to who has taken place today at County Hall. I am very pleased to say I have been given the Childrens Portfolio. This is an area I really wanted, as I have for the last four years been involved in scrutiny and policy development for this portfolio.

The main areas this portfolio covers are:

  • Education and Schools
  • Safeguarding Children
  • Family Services
  • Integrated Youth Services
  • Individual Needs and Disability Services
  • Carers Board

There is a lot to do, but I am really looking to continuing to work within this area. The next few weeks will be taken up with bringing me up to speed on the various areas.

For those worried about the local divisional role I carry out, do not worry, as I will still give the same level of dedication I have given to date. The local role is to me as important as the Cabinet role.

The other portfolio positions are:

  • Devolution and Localism – Jeremy Rowe
  • Health and Adults – Judith Haycock
  • Homes and Communities – Geoff Brown
  • Transport and Waste – Bert Biscoe
  • Environment, Heritage and Planning – Edwina Hannaford
  • Economy and Culture – Julian German
  • Partnerships – Adam Paynter
  • Finance and Resources – Alex Folkes

Cornwall Councils New Cabinet

Today I was made a Cabinet Member at Cornwall Council as one of the Independent Group nominations to the Cabinet. No portfolio has yet been assigned, as that will be confirmed tomorrow afternoon. There are a few areas I am very interested in, but these are just expressions of interest and it will be up to the Leader to assign the portfolio.

Congratulations should also go to my fellow Cabinet Members; John Pollard (leader), Jeremy Rowe (dep leader), Julian German, Geoff Brown, Edwina Hannaford, Alex Folkes, Adam Paynter, Bert Biscoe and Judith Haycock. I am looking forward to working with all of them.

The work is going to be hard as there are tough times ahead. Also the Council will be working under a new governance model which will require a lot more co-operation between the portfolio holders and the portfolio advisory committees (PAC). I also look forward to working with the wider membership of the council, officers and the public. These will be key to pushing Cornwall Council forward.

For those who think I will be suddenly change from poacher to gamekeeper fear not. I will still be tweeting and blogging. I hope using both these platforms I will bring a greater understanding as to how the council works and my new role. if needs be, I will be there to highlight concerns I have publicly.

More tomorrow!

Tory Leadership saying one thing, high-command saying different?

With just a day to go until the full membership of Cornwall Council meet and decide the administration (for at least the next year) it seems the Tory Leader at Cornwall Council is saying one thing, but the high command are saying completely different. In a transcript I have come across the Tory’s spell out a clear message. It is as follows:

“I have to reiterate that all of the association Chairman in Cornwall remain unwaveringly of the view that the opposition is the only practical way forward. The overnight (Friday’s decision on the 4/4/2 split) news reinforces that view. All of you may rule the day if you decide otherwise.

Of course this is not a welcome message to some and is sometimes considered as interference. No so. We are part of the group for the simple reason we offer advice which is not always regarded as necessary or helpful. In this instance we would not be doing our job if we said nothing. For those re-elected group members it is very difficult to said contemplate the next four years given the previous period of government, albeit in coalition. But all of you were elected to represent your wards as conservative candidates and not, as one has commented, to sit around for four years doing nothing (if in opposition). That isn’t the role of a Councillor it is to represent your wards. We have a superb message which did not inspire the electorate to vote for us in significant enough numbers and we did suffer from the UKIP surge. But that’s life

Going into coalition probably leaves Labour as the opposition and that would be disastrous in many ways not least giving them a platform they do not deserve and providing them with council wide activities that would otherwise go to us. Active Councillors should seek to involve themselves in internal as well as external groups of influence; the LEP is an obvious one but there are many like this. We should seek to nibble away at the alternative view. In coalition we will be regarded as the promoters of this or that and be unable to add a critique.

And opposition provides us with more time to talk to the electorate, gauge their concerns, note them and act on them. And be ready to step in when the administration fails and to broker a much better position; for Cornwall and ourselves.

We need to ask ourselves why we want to be tied to a governing group were we will be seen as the junior partner, but still held accountable for everything that goes wrong. What is the pressing need to form a coalition in the first place? Is there a current crises within Cornwall of such magnitude that without forming a coalition the council will cease to function? Being been told by a Conservative Councillor that is is the view of (some) Conservative members that they do not want to sit around for four years doing nothing is a disgraceful reading of the function of elected paid Councillors if they are prepared to waste their time for four years at the council taxpayers’ expense.

By far the best way forward is to form a constructive opposition to the governing group. In this way we can remain active, promote our own solutions where we see things can be improved and formulate attractive policies to put before the electorate in four years time and as the inevitable bi-elections in the meantime. I also have to conclude that finding ourselves in a coalition at the time of the next general election just as our party seeks a nationwide mandate to govern and with inhibited with out own electorate at the same time, is a recipe for disaster”

So there you have it, the Tory Leader is saying we ‘really’ wanted to be in it. But as it has been shown hurdle after hurdle was put in place until such times a decision had to be made without the Tory’s in the administration. And now the reality is the associations and Tory high-command think very differently, and what to be in opposition.

Why? I think that is fairly obvious, as the biggest fish to catch is parliamentary seats, and with all six Cornish MP seats having close margins there is a lot at stake.

Horse-trading and unanswered calls

Cornwall’s residents might be wondering why it has taken so long to form an administration at Cornwall Council. However, the reality of forming an administration that will actually works is not that simple.

For example no one party has an over all majority and even with just two parties getting together, it still does not guarantee the formation of an administration. Why? Well, it is the full council of 123 which votes for a Leader, and to guarantee a preferred choice for Leader you need 62 votes. Without a Leader you cannot form a Cabinet, and with no Cabinet, there is no administration. Furthermore, the first full council meeting is on the 21st; so that is the first opportunity for anything to be officially decided.

This is why for the last two weeks the various groups and parties have been locked in talks to find common ground that everyone can agree with. This in itself is not a simple task, but needs to be done or else the administration would quickly fail. This cannot be allowed to happen as the cuts in funding and pressures that Cornwall Council faces in the next four years will need a lot of unity between the different groups for services to be delivered.

As the discussions have progressed, the smaller parties at the council felt it was up to the big-three to sort out the administration. This left the Indy’s, Lib Dems and Tory’s to have more focused meetings, though still keeping the smaller parties informed. However, there is always a point when actual decisions have to be made as to who is in/out of any administration. This came to a head last week when it was felt there was enough talking and agreements had to be reached.

On Thursday the big-three met in their individual groups during the day, with the Indy’s meeting at 4pm. The Indy Group gave the group leaders three options for the administration to take to the other group. Sadly, the Conservative Leader did not feel the need to stay around to find out the result from the Indy’s even though the Lib Dems did. So nothing further could be discussed, which is very disappointing.

With time running out it was imperative that an agreement had to be reached by Friday. The Lib Dems and Indy’s reached agreement on who could be the preferred Leader and the Cabinet split which followed on from Thursdays discussions. It just needed the Conservatives to either agree or disagree. This proved rather problematic, as the Tory Leader was not returning calls. Various messages were left, and deadlines were given for a response. These past and still nothing firm was coming from the Tory’s. A final deadline was given.

With the final deadline fast approaching the Tory Leader finally responded. Though, this was just a call to say more time was needed. At that point, it was felt enough time had been given and now an administration would be formed without the Tory’s. Even if more time had been given to the Tory leader, there was still no guarantee decision would come from her.

The now preferred administration being four Indy’s, four Lib Dems and the two remaining Cabinet positions coming from the smaller parties. The preferred Leader of the Council is John Pollard, and the deputy-leader being a Lib Dems which means Jeremy Rowe. It is also likely the Chairman will be an Independent too.

For me I got the feeling that many in the Tory Group had more desire to be in opposition, but could not just put themselves into it for fear of being criticized for doing this and it would be better if they were ‘forced’ into opposition. As you can only put up so many hurdles until there was no other option but to leave the Tory’s out.

Of course the Tory Leader was quick to put out a press-statement saying the offer was unfair etc. However, I read it more as crocodile tears, rather than being really upset.

Roll on Tuesday as anything could happen before that!

Porthleven CIC Apprenticeship Open Day

The Porthleven CIC in conjunction with Falmouth Marine Network is holding an open day on Saturday 18th for 16 to 25 year old interested in an apprenticeship course.

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If you are interested in this exciting opportunity, feel free to come to the Public Hall (committee room) between 11 am and 3pm to see what is on offer.

Government gives its response to second home legislation

You may remember in the previous incarnation of Cornwall Council a motion was passed to lobby the Government for a change in planning legislation which would require planning consent if a dwelling wishes to be used as a holiday let, or second home. The aim of this legislation is to bring in some control into Cornwall’s housing issues.

Letters were sent to the six Cornish MP’s, the Minister whose responsibility planning comes under, the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister asking them to bring in this new legislation after it has been fully investigated.

To date, only two of Cornwall’s MP replied to the original letter. I am grateful to Dan Rogerson and Stephen Gilbert for their responses, and to Andrew George for his correspondence via email. It is very disappointing that the other three MP’s did not see fit to reply on this very important issue.

I am also grateful to Dan Rogerson for chasing the Minister for a response. The Council received this response on the 9th May via Dan Rogerson’s office. In that letter:

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As you can see, the Minister is not supportive of the change in legislation, and sadly gives no real alternatives to helping address this issue raised by the Council. The only alternative given by the Minister, and one that really worries me, is to build more houses!

Yes, you could build more houses, but without any legislation, many of these new dwellings could be used as second homes and/or holiday lets. Which just adds to the pressure onto Cornwall’s housing. Furthermore, what happens when you run out of land to build on?

It is clear the Governments view on addressing the housing issue in Cornwall is to build more houses.

Cornwall Council issues a further statement on Councillor Brewer

This afternoon, Cornwall Council has issued a further statement in reference to the recent comments made by Cllr Brewer. It is as follows:

The Council has received numerous complaints from members of the public over the recent comments made by Councillor Collin Brewer.

In recognition of the concerns which have been expressed, the Council’s Monitoring Officer requested that the complaints be assessed as a matter of urgency in accordance with the Council’s ethical standards regime.

It has now been formally determined that the case merits a full investigation to decide whether there has been a breach of the Members Code of Conduct and, if so, the nature and extent of that breach. That investigation, which will be carried out by a senior lawyer from within the Council’s Corporate Governance Team, will be expedited.

Earlier this week the leaders of the main political parties on the Council issued a joint statement to clarify the position of the authority: “The recently published comments which are attributed to Councillor Brewer are completely unacceptable and are contrary to the Council’s policy of supporting all people with disabilities. Such views have no place in local government. These remarks represent the personal views of Councillor Brewer who does not speak for the Council or the people of Cornwall.”

It is anticipated that Councillor Brewer will not be allocated any seats on Council committees.

The authority does not have the legal power to sack a Councillor and following the Government’s abolition of Standards for England in 2012 and changes to the Code of Conduct regime the Council no longer has the ability to suspend Councillors.

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