Bookstart Bear, Children and a Portfolio Holder

I have often said getting out and about and meeting people as the Children and Young People Portfolio Holder is a very important part of the role. This week I had the pleasure to meet and hangout with Bookstart Bear at the Truro Register Office. No it was not a marriage ceremony, but to celebrate the work of Bookstart in Cornwall.

The Bookstart programme is run by Booktrust, an independent national charity that encourages people of all ages and cultures to engage with books. This is done with support provided though a unique public/private partnership, that includes funding from the DfE, generous publisher support and the local authority to provide free Bookstart packs to babies and toddlers.

During the last ten years, Cornwall has delivered 100,000 Bookstart packs making the county in the top 5% nationally. This equates to 350,000 free books worth around £1.4m given to children to help inspire a love of reading. It doesn’t stop there either, as well as providing free books, Bookstart facilitates a range of fun activities through Bookstart Bear Club. This club is run in various community spaces with staff offering fun interactive activities including stories and rhymes.

All this is achieved by a trail blazing partnership and one of the first in the country for the Registration Service working with the Library Service and Children’s Service to gift the initial Bookstart pack when parents register the birth of their child. This has since 2010 resulted in 100% gifting of Bookstart packs.

During the celebration event I saw first hand the joy of children taking part in the activities with their parents, seeing Bookstart Bear and all getting a book and sticker. This is a great programme which costs a fraction to deliver in return for huge benefits. I was very impressed with books also being available in dual languages. This helps parents with English as an additional language (EAL) read to their child in both their native language and English.

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Trains, Buses, Ferries and Taxis – School Transport

The issue of school transport, buses and the use of taxis has hit the headlines. The leading headline is Cornwall Council spends £3.9m on taxis each year. At face value this is an eye-watering amount, but lets give a little content to that figure.

This figure of £3.9m is part of a school transport budget of £12.4m the Council spends each year. This amount includes the cost for school buses, public buses,  trains, ferries and even taxis.

The reason why the Council spends so much is because we have a legal duty to provide transport to schools if a pupil lives a certain distance from their designated school. For primary school children, we have a legal duty to provide transport if a pupil lives two or more miles from their designated school. And for secondary, it is three miles.

Each school day, the Council transports 13,125 pupils to their places of education. This is broken down as the following:

  • 7500 school bus contracts
  • 1350 taxi/private hire
  • 1800 public bus services
  • 150 rail
  • 75 ferry
  • 2250 post-16

Of course the Council looks at all options when getting a pupil to school. And sometimes due to the remote and rural locations of many of our settlements, we have to use alternative methods of transport, like a taxi. The issue is further complicated with a limited or non-existent public transport network. We where possible have multiple passengers in the taxi. So we do not end up with a couple of taxis going to the same street.

The Council strives to keep the transport cost down, and recently a route which was serviced by a bus at £150 per day was replaced by a taxi at £40 per day. So it makes sense to use a taxi.

If you compare Cornwall to other authorities, we has the lowest average cost per mainstream pupil in the South West – £685 – compared with £986 per mainstream pupil in Devon and £936 in Somerset.

 The council is also undertaking a review of transport. And it is hoped money can be saved. However, as the Council has a legal duty to get our children and young people to school, we will still have to use alternative methods, like taxis

 

Porthleven’s 2013 Pram Race

Porthleven’s annual Pram Race took place on Sunday in very windy conditions. The ‘race’ started at The Ship Inn and ended at the Atlantic Inn. Even though the race is the fun part, the aim of the race is to raise funding for charity. This years charity is the Made for Life Foundation. As part of the event, an auction was held at The Ship Inn on the Friday

In total, it is looking like the amount raised for the charity is heading towards the £2000 mark, with £1700 of that being raised at the auction. The main organiser of the event was local artist and business owner, Suzie Williams; and she deserves huge credit for organising the events. Thanks should go to the race participants and the marshalls.

And now for the pictures:

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Government confirms Newquay Airport qualifies for support

My Cabinet colleague Adam Paynter – whose responsibility covers Newquay Airport – confirmed  and welcomed today’s formal confirmation from the Department for Transport, that the air service between Newquay Cornwall Airport and the London region is eligible for a Public Service obligation (PSO).

By Imposing a PSO on the route between Newquay and London will mean the Government providing a subsidy to an operator to deliver the connection for a four-year period.  This will provide a much more secure future for the route than the current situation which relies on the commercial decisions of an operator.

The next stage is for the Department for Transport to formally notify the European Commission of its decision.  This will then be followed by the Council issuing tender documents inviting airlines to submit bids to operate a service.   Under EC regulations, airlines must have a two month period in which to prepare and submit bids to the Council.

This is great news for the airport and the council who own the airport, as the Newquay to London route is important to not only the airport, but also the Cornish economy which benefits from having the airport.

The week ending 25th October

I am going to try something a little different when blogging. I will be doing a round-up of the week of some of the things I have been doing that have not had an individual blog post. That way, you will get a better understanding of my role as Lead Member for Children and Young People, and as a local Councillor.

This week, the entire membership of Cornwall Council met. One of the biggest items on the agenda was on whether Cornwall Council’s Cabinet should work up a budget on a 6% Council Tax increase. It was an interesting debate, which had Members debate on whether to protect services, a bigger increase in Council Tax should be set. This issue is made more difficult, as the Government has set a cap of a maximum 2% rise in Council Tax before you have to hold a referendum.

After the debate, as is normal practice, a vote is called for. The result of that vote was 79 against, 33 for and 3 abstentions for a 6% Council Tax Budget. I do understand the merits of the original motion of a 6% rise, but even with a 6% rise, the council would still have to make £17m worth of additional cuts instead of a £23m with a 2%. Plus, the cost of a referendum £1m would have to be met. So if the referendum was lost, services would be required to find the costs from existing budgets.

Wednesday evening I attended the celebration even for 18 Cornish student who had been part of the Nuffield Trust programme run by Cornwall Learning. I had the honour of being asked to present certificates. I came away very excited to see so much talent being produced in our school system. I spoke to many of the students who had been part of the programme and talked about their projects. As for the projects which students had undertaken was on diabetes in pregnancy, a Cosmic Ray (yes really!) Displacement and many other clever and inspiring projects.

I got to visit Curnow Special School along with the Head of Service for Learning and Achievement. This is a fantastic facility, with dedicated staff who give a positive learning experience to children with complex needs. I got to meet many of the staff and students at this school and came away extremely happy with the facilities and methods at this school.

United Nations Day at Cornwall Council

Today, in 1945 the United Nations was officially formed after the failure of the League of Nations and World War Two. At its founding, 51 States signed the Charter, and now 193 States belong to the UN. Also on this day in 1949, the Keystone was laid of the United Nations Building in New York.

The UN Flag was raised at County Hall to mark United Nations Day which is celebrated internationally to inform people of the aims, goals and achievements of the UN. The Day commemorated the formation of the United Nations Organisation on October 24th 1945 when the UN Charter was ratified by all permanent members of the Security Council and more than half of the signatories.

Cornwall Council welcomed representatives from the Cornwall Branch of the United Nations Association to County Hall on Thursday, 24 October to mark the flying of the United Nations Flag. This year I was asked by the Chairman of Cornwall Council, John Wood to host this event, which I was very honoured to do so. Furthermore as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People it was great to see so many students and MYPs attending the ceremony.

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Unrestricted Filming at Cornwall Council Meetings

Yesterday, the entire membership of Cornwall Council approved unrestrictive filming – including blogging and tweeting – of council meetings which are open to the public.

Previously, the council did allow filming, but required 48 hours notice. Now there is no requirement for any notice. There is still one rule to filming. That is you must not cause disturbance to the meeting while filming. I think this is only right and I am sure people will respect this rule.

I very much welcome this step forward to make our meetings as open as possible. The myth is Cornwall Council is a closed shop. It is not. In fact it is one of the most open and transparent councils. As we webcast many of our primary meetings; and now allow filming, blogging and tweeting without restriction.

Cornwall Council should be congratulated for this forward thinking approach.

Cornwall bucks the national trend on GCSE results

The DfE has recently released the national picture on 2013’s GCSE results. For Cornwall these results are excellent with our results bucking the national trend of a decrease. The national picture is 58.6% receiving A-C grades including mathematics and English. This is down from 59.4% in 2012.

For Cornwall, we have seen a jump from 55.4% in 2012 to 59.3% in 2013. This is a huge leap forward. However, this is not the end of the good news, as Cornwall has seen a steady rise in A-C grades since 2009. As in 2009 48.9% were achieving A-C grades.

I am really proud of these results and would like to congratulate everyone on this achievement. This is not only students who took the exams, but the teachers, parents and carers who have helped with support, advice and the knowledge. It shows our schools are committed to providing the best quality education for their students and these results show that once again, their hard work has paid off.

Well done.

Cornwall Council recommends the appointment of Andrew Kerr as new CEO

Today, Cornwall Council via the CEO Recruitment Panel has recommended the appointment of Andrew Kerr as the new CEO. Andrew is currently Chief Operating Officer at Cardiff Council and is the former CEO of Wiltshire Council.

The full council will need to approve the recommendation of the panel. Once that has (hopefully) been done, I will look forward to working with Andrew in the coming months and years.

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Cornwall Council’s Budget and You Choose

As part of the consultation for the 2014/15 budget, the Council is trying to use different methods to consult with the public. One of these is free* programme called You Choose.

This is an online budget simulator which allows you to choose the level of funding each directorate. You can cut funding in some areas or invest in other areas as you try to balance the books. As you make your choices you can see how this affects the Council’s budget overall and the level of council tax. The results of You Choose will be fed into the overall budget consultations and will influence the budget for 2014/15.

More information on You Choose can be found HERE. Or you can go straight to the simulator HERE

*the programme is free to use, but there is a small £500 cost if the council wants a very detail breakdown of the data.

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