Cornish Delegation has meeting with Schools Minister

Today, the Director of Children’s Services, the Head Teacher of Helston College, Andrew George MP and me, met with the Schools Minister, Rt Hon David Laws MP to discuss funding for Helston College C-Block.

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The aim of the meeting was to directly discuss funding options with the Schools Minister at his office. I am very grateful to Andrew George for organising this meeting with the Minister. As this gave our delegation the opportunity to explain the Colleges and Councils position on funding and the condition of the building.

The outcome of the meeting was very positive and encouraging, as the Minister agreed to send to Cornwall a senior official from the DfE to look into the C-Block issue. Of course no-one was expecting the Minister to get out his cheque book and give us the money; as that’s not how things work.

I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to meet us.

NUT and NASUWT Industrial Action and the impact on schools

On Thursday 17th October, there will be industrial action by the NUT and NASUWT in protest against Government changes to their pensions, increased workload and proposals to bring in performance related pay from the autumn. This industrial action is a national dispute between the teaching unions and the Government.

This industrial action will result in disruptions to school provision in Cornwall; when many schools will either be fully or partially closed on this date. I would say most if not all schools affected by the industrial action have already (or will be) informing parents. As a result of this industrial action Cornwall Council is collating a list of those schools affected and has published a list. This list will be updated as and when a school confirms its course of action to Cornwall Council.

This link can be found HERE.

A week of meetings and two conferences

I think most people who read this blog would have noticed a period of no or limited blogging. This was on purpose, as my new role as a Cabinet Member required certain things had to change. That doesn’t meant I have all gone corporate, but a balance has to be struck. And until I had worked out how I was going to blog, it was best to limit the blog posts.

Now found that balance and I am re-invigorated with tapping the keyboard and sharing my views, thoughts and frustrations. As part of blogging, I will try and do a weekly round-up of some of the things I have been doing which I have not blogged about separately. To give you an insight to the varied role I have.

For the week of 30th September till the 6th October it has mostly been a week of meeting on budgets in one shape or another. However, I have also been to two conferences.

The first was the Aiming Higher Conference which is in its seventh year. The attendees are a mixture of parents and carers of disabled children and professionals who specialise in this field. I was asked to open the conference which this being my first to open, there was an added pressure of not talking a load of rubbish.

I found the conference very useful as the agenda was set by the parents and carers. So it was good to understand just some of their concerns. And as you probably guessed it, these concerns were about services, budgets and the national picture; including the latest government view. The latter was delivered by an excellent presentation from Amanda Allard of the Council for Disabled Children. This presentation was excellent and showed the national picture on certain issues.

The second conference I attended was that of the pre-school alliance, which took place on Saturday. This conference gave me the chance to talk to providers, after small social enterprises who are having a tough time. The feedback I got was on the Two-year funding, failing numbers, Ofsted and the lack of free training. The training was a big issues as much was out of the price of the small providers.

I gained a lot of very useful information from both these conferences. It is also very good talking to the people who deliver the services. As for me, it keeps it real.

Next week will include David Laws MP and the Duke of Edinburgh.

Cornwall Council releases its draft budget plans for 2014/15 to the public

The message has been clear, Cornwall Council is facing a difficult time in dealing with the reduction of funding and providing services. And now Cornwall Council has released its draft budget proposals after the PAC process has been completed. The PAC’s looking into each service area and made their recommendations.

The link to the information is HERE

Reading through this information will show there will be some difficult service re-alignments and in some cases complete cuts of services. This budget is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg of cuts, as in the next five years £196m will have to be found with up to £50m found in the 2015/16 period. Of course this could change, if there is a change of heart from the Government. Which if I was a betting man, I have more chance of picking the next three winners of the Grand National.

Recording and filming at Council meetings without prior permission.

Today, the Constitution and Governance Committee discussed and approved the recording, filming and broadcasting of all Council, Cabinet and Committee meetings to be permitted at all public council meetings without prior permission. However before everyone gets their clapper-boards ready, the Full Council has to approve these recommendations.

I will point out the  council already has a filming policy, which does allow filming, but this requires 48 hours notice and permission to film. The change is because the Government has issued more guidance on filming at council meetings.  

I believe this is another huge step in the right direction of making Cornwall Council more open and transparent in carrying out our business. This will follow on from the council allowing webcast, tweeting and blogging in its meetings. Of course there are risks with allowing a free-for-all, but I think the pros outweigh any cons of allowing recording and filming. Of course anyone who wishes to record or film must carry out that action without disrupting the meeting.

2% or 6% Council Tax Rise?

As a member of the Cabinet at Cornwall Council we as a collective have set our provisional budget for 2014/15. This includes a 1.97% rise in Council Tax for this period. This is to deal with £19m budgeted savings and the extra £23.9m that has to be found for this period. This is not the only pain, as £196m has to be found in the next five years which includes up to £50m for the 2015/16 period.

However, the stance of 1.97% rise  is not fully supported throughout the entire membership of the council. As some members want another year of Council Tax freeze and now, a group of Councillors within the council want to see a 6% rise. The point of a rise is an interesting one, as you could rise Council Tax to provide and safeguard those services. But the flip-side is can people afford the rise?

I always like to put the impact of a rise into pound, shillings and pence. A 6% rise would result in a rise of about £1.40 per week on a Band D property. A 1.97% is roughly 42p per week.

For those who don’t know it, for every 1% increase raises just over £2m in revenue. So to protect all services, Council Tax would have to rise by a lot. For instance you would have to put up Council Tax about 19% to cover the cuts in the 2014/15 period.

You could argue the merit of looking at a bigger rise, but Government rules on rising Council Tax forbids a council from rising it above the 2% threshold without a referendum. The sting in the tail is a referendum will cost £920k. And you would still have to find this money from the existing budget if you lose the referendum. Even if the council agreed to the principle of a 6% rise, the council would still have to find roughly £15m of the £19m worth of extra cuts.

My view on this is two-fold. A 6% rise would be difficult to win on a referendum as households are already feeling the pinch; and finding the extra money over still massive cuts could be a step too far for many. I believe a 1.97% rise is right. But I do acknowledge there needs to be a bigger discussion on the 2015/16 budget and having to find up to £50m worth of savings.

What do you think?

 

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