Cornwall Council’s Mo-Bros in aid of Movember

Today, on the last working day of  November, a gang of Mo-Bros gathered to compare and smile (if not laugh) at the various styles of taches being sported by staff at Cornwall Council. It was great to see so many men take part this year and the assembled men are just some who have taken part in this years Movember.

And here is the scare-the-kids picture!

Cornwall Council staff take part in Movember

Cornwall Council staff take part in Movember

On Monday, I shall publish my attempt. So you have been warned!

Is a bigger Bodmin office the right move?

Now I have recovered from the mammoth Cabinet meeting of some 25 items, many of which were complex, I can blog as to why I voted against the bigger Bodmin offices. Before I do, I will say that out of the 25 items, only three of those decisions did not have unanimous support from the Cabinet. So this post is not a disagreement with my Cabinet colleagues, but coming to a different conclusion.

In theory, I have no objection to a bigger office in Bodmin or anywhere else as long as it is strategically right. The last administration did come to the conclusion that to help deal with the massive budget pressures, the Council cannot afford all the buildings the Council occupies now or previously.

This leads me on to the overall office rationalisation of reducing the number of main offices the Council occupies. Let’s face it; the Council is going to struggle to fund the existing accommodation without having to take the savings from other parts of the Council. This will no-doubt affect front-line services.

By building a bigger office in Bodmin, we could reduce the number of other offices and benefit from the savings. However, when this is suggested or god-forbid implemented it is met with opposition; as national and local politicians often want a council office in their location. So office rationalisation often fails to be implemented as well as it can be. Looking at this from a purely financial angle, if we built a bigger office, the Council could save £750,000 per year, and reduce a further £1.7 million in maintenance. Tough choices, yes, but if cannot make them, how will we be able to deal with the massive cuts of £196m in the next five years?

Of course this will not be popular, but which is more popular: the ability of providing front-line services, or having lots of buildings in different locations which do not provide front-line provision. My answer is providing front-line services. Hence why did not think the recommendations went far enough in trying to save money in office accommodation and making sure we provide the services to people, especially to the most vulnerable.

The other reason I was did not agree with the recommendation is why are we building a larger office for BT? This ‘preferred’ tenant has given nothing more than a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ of actually becoming tenants. This has me very worried, we all know BT are a very sharp corporate body who would only become tenants if it suited them, not the Council’s requirement to service the load repayments.

Furthermore, BT has not signed a pre-let agreement which would give some security of actually taking up the tenancy. This is despite BT being asked for some sort of pre-let. Are your alarm bells ringing? For me, yes they are. As what will happen If BT do not become our tenant? Then what? That answer is the Council would have to fill it some how.

So go big, which will save money, this will allow the Council the best chance to provide services. BUT before you build, have your tenant(s) signed up the best you can, or else you will end up trying to fill a large building on the hoof. This course of action never works.

Out of the 10 Cabinet Members, only six voted for the recommendations set out in the report. However, this is now a Cabinet decision and we as a Cabinet all get behind it

Full Council Debates and Votes on the Budget for 2014/15

Today, the Full Council of Cornwall Council met to debate and decide the Budget for 2014/15. The Cabinet has pulled no punches who have repeatedly said the future is stark and there is going to be a lot of pain for the Council in having to deal with the staggering cuts in grant funding from Government; but still having to provide an ever increasing demand on those services the Council provides.

The vote is simple, Councillors have the choice to either vote for the Budget, or vote against. This makes things a little simpler, but for those who decided to vote against – either individually or as group – no alternative Budget(s) were put forward. Which is disappointing, as merely voting against without trying to do a better Budget is just not good enough in today’s difficult climate.

I can say this as a Portfolio Holder, Local Member and resident of Cornwall, it is not my wish to reduce services, but I have little choice in having to look at how services are provided. This will mean some services stopping. We do have a duty to make sure the ever reducing pot of money the Council receives – without the means to raise Council Tax without a expensive referendum – goes further.

However, there are no money trees, Leprechaun’s pot of gold or any other mythical ways of raising money. Therefore, and regrettable, we will have to make some pretty touch choices in the coming years.

Of course, the debate had the standard political swipes, but with no alternative budget having been put forward it is little hard to take the criticism, when those who do not like it do not take the time to work up their own Budget. I know in the past I have not liked certain aspects of the Budget, and have put in alternative elements of the Budget. But this is politics and I expected little else.

So how did it go? Was the Budget passed? Yes it was, and by a large margin too. The actual vote was 77 for the Budget, with 33 against. I think it was also the first time there were no abstentions. The approved Budget includes a rise of Council Tax of 1.97%. I should point this raise only includes the Cornwall Council element of Council Tax, but does not include the town/parish council and the Police element.

Our Looked after Children Celebrate Success

This week saw the celebration event for our Looked after Children at Falmouth University. The event is designed for the Council who as Corporate Parents, celebrate the academic success of our Looked after Children. Or a more commonly known name is children in care. Before I continue I should say a massive thank you to everyone involved in the event and those often unsung heroes who support those young people every single day.

I was very proud to be asked to present the achievement certificates to the young people. It was wonderful to see the achievements of these young people who with their guardians and Council’s support, are able to get an education which will lead on to greater things. It was also wonderful to see a few of the young people who I have personally met and have found it difficult to come to terms with their emotions and circumstances, are now full engaged and doing really well.

Our Looked after Children deserve the best chance we as a Council can give. This is not only my responsibility as Lead Member for Children and Young People, but all Cornwall Councillors and staff who are their Corporate Parents.

A simple line on our responsibility as Corporate Parents is: Not only cared for, but cared about

The Brook Bitesize programme dealing with relationships and sex

This week I attended and took part in the Brook Bitesize Outreach programme at Hayle School. What is the Bitesize programme? The answer is it delivers Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) sessions in formal and informal settings.

This programme covers many subjects that explores relationships and sexuality in a way that encourages young people to examine their own attitudes and values on the subject. It aims to help young people to interpret the range of messages (and myths) they receive and provides them with reliable, factual information, giving them the knowledge and the skills required to negotiate positive relationships and to enjoy good physical and emotional health as a result.

I found this programme to be fantastically delivered and more importantly, in a way that engaged the Year 11 students who were taking part in the programme. The programme covered the use of condoms and how to use them correctly; STDs and the impact on not being safe, or if you have an STD making sure you receive the right treatment; the use of alcohol; and the correct usage of words and expressions that have all too often been used negatively.

The last 45 minutes of the programme was given over to questions. These were asked anonymously, but tackled all subjects. And I mean all subjects. It was great to hear these questions being asked and answered in a very positive and to the point manner. It certainly gave me confidence in the right information being given to these students. 

By having programmes giving good and up to date Relationship and Sex Education – like the Brook programme –  we can make sure our  young adults have the right and up-to-date information that allows them to make informed choices. Which is something as a parent and Lead Member for Children and Young People I totally endorse.

Day 20 of Movember

It is now day 20 of Movember and the tache is coming along very nicely. As someone always willing to take something to the next step,  I have this year brought a pot of  moustache wax. Yes, really, moustache wax. This of course brings a new challenge of how do you actually use the stuff!

Moustache Wax

Moustache Wax

This year I have noticed how many more men are taken part in the campaign, especially at Cornwall Council.  As wandering  between offices there is rarely someone not doing Movember.

With 10 days to go I hope I can achieve my aim of being able to actually twist the end of the tache. Or I might have to force myself to keep it until I can!

If you can, you can still donate to this worth-while campaign by clicking THIS link.

And now for the scary bit, an actual picture of me and my tache!

 

Day 20

Day 20

Porthleven Road (B3304) set to be closed

Anyone travelling on the Porthleven Road will have noticed the traffic lights near Penrose Corner. These have been there for a while until the repair work starts. This repair work is now scheduled to start in January. The repair work will result in the road being closed for around 12 weeks due to the extensive nature of the repair work.

This will mean all traffic in and out of Porthleven will be along Methleigh Bottoms and Stop-gate. Added to the issue, there will be an increase in traffic up and down Fore Street. As Fore Street has limited-time parking, there is a potential for added congestion if this parking was allowed to continue during the repairs. Therefore, I am looking into suspending parking on Fore Street for the duration of the repairs. I believe this is unavoidable and I know people will be unhappy with this.

I will inform everyone as soon as I have a confirmed start date for repair work.

Council Tax set to rise by 1.97%

Yesterday, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet approved the budget for 2014/15. This is subject to the final approval of Full Council, who have the final say on the budget.  Contained within the overall budget, is a recommendation for a rise in Council Tax of 1.97%. This however, is only one possible increase in the Council Tax bill.  As the Council Tax bill is made up of three parts: Cornwall Council, the parish/town council precept and Devon and Cornwall Police. This will more than likely result in a higher increase in bills than 1.97%.

No-one likes to raise tax unnecessary, but in Cornwall Council’s case, it has little option. This is due to the stinging cuts to the Councils grant, and with the added restraint of a cap on the limit Council Tax can go up without a referendum. It is a bleak picture, as the Council is having to find £196m in savings on top of the £170m reduction in the last four years.

The big question is how do we deal with the cuts and at the same time deal with a greater demand on our services? And for that question to be answered, we need the public to engage – and vice-versa – with the Council on how best we do that. This process of better engagement started this year, with more public consultation events than ever before, and by using different ways of engaging with people. Like You Choose. It is paramount we as a Cabinet and Council must build on this for the following years budget setting.

 

 

A kind but anonymous donation to my Movember campaign

This week I received a letter in the post which contained £100 in the envelope. Along with the money there was short typed note inside.

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This letter was in the same format as I have received in previous Movember campaigns. I still have no idea who – and very generously – sends me the donations. I am though very grateful to whoever this person is, and would like to say thank you. It is just a shame I cannot do this personally.

If you can support Movember, you can do so via this Link.

Tory Group Leader, Councillor Ferguson Gets It Wrong

Earlier in the week, the Tory Group Leader at Cornwall Council Councillor Ferguson publicly via twitter made certain remarks, one of which is totally unacceptable and unwarranted.

The original Tweet from Cllr Ferguson mentioned a ‘story’ in The Daily Mirror on Swindon Borough Council ‘thinking’ of sending its Looked after Children to Cornwall. As you can see from my response, I do not know what other Councils are thinking. I do use social media extensively, but I certainly do not follow every council on what they are doing. Nor had I actually seen or could find this ‘article.’ *I have now found the original article, it is not pleasant and HERE it is.

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Of course, I wanted to know what the tweet was about, so the following morning (original tweet was sent late the night). I contacted my Head of Service which Looked after Children comes under, asking if any contact has been made. The response was we have had no inquiries or contact from Swindon Council. Other officers within the service were also asked, with time spent making sure no-one had been contacted

The Cllr Ferguson, followed the original Tweet with this outrageous comment and without any further correspondence early the following afternoon:

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On seeing this outrageous tweet, I asked Cllr Ferguson to remove it, or I will report it to the Monitoring Officer. As the contents were beyond fair political boundaries. Sadly, this tweet has not been removed. And therefore I am leaving it within the hands of the Monitoring Officer for investigation.

Putting the tweet aside I still wanted to find out the contents of the papers article. More officer time was spent, including those from the comms dept to find the article and contact Swindon Council for clarification. As by the Guidance, any LA who sends Looked after Children to another LA should inform that LA for various reasons including Safeguarding. I also contacted my counter-part at Swindon for clarification. And this is where I got to the bottom of it all.

The Lead Member for Swindon Council kindly and swiftly replied to my email. And here is where Cllr Ferguson comes unstuck and gets it totally wrong.

You see this article dates back to 2005! Yes 2005. I was not even a Councillor then let alone a Cornwall Councillor. The comment which Cllr Ferguson refers to was made at a committee meeting by the then Deputy Mayor, who subsequently resigned as the Deputy Mayor and Councillor. This has been clarified by the Lead Member for Swindon Council. No wonder I could not find the article from 2005!

This has made the original tweet and the outrageous follow-up more damaging. As Cllr Ferguson made these comments on a very out of date story, that had no relevance to my current role, or Cornwall Council.

As Cllr Ferguson made the comments publicly, I will be seeking a public apology, and the removal of the tweets.

Furthermore, as Cllr Ferguson is a senior politician at Cornwall Council and Group Leader for the Tory Group and should check her facts before she so publicly criticises me and my position as Lead Member for Children and Young People.

With this public response, I can put the record straight.

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