Blimey, has another years just shot past? It certainly feels like it. Now we have got Christmas and Boxing Day over and our somewhat crazy activity of trying to eat our own body-weight in food stuffs and partake in the odd tipple that would give colleagues in Public Health cause for concern, it is time to do my round-up of the year. As this will be my last blog post for 2013.
Looking back over 2013’s blog posts, it has reminded me of so much that has happen, it is difficult to know where to start without repeating the actual posts – I will spare you that, but if so inclined, you can happily read them individually. The first thing I noticed is that I have been blogging for four years and one month. That is 956 posts in total.
Getting back to 2013. The start of the year saw changes to the Council Tax Benefit (CTB) scheme, and the introduction of everyone paying at least 25% of their Council Tax bill. This controversial change came about because the Government handed over the responsibility of operating the scheme to Local Authorities. In Cornwall Council’s case, the Government short-changed the Council by £6m to deliver the same level of payment. This change is still being analysed, but the data is not looking good on its impact.
The Council’s budget for 2013/14 was set, and in my opinion, the whole process got hijacked for the forthcoming May local elections. It would have been sensible to raise Council Tax to enable services to be delivered which would help reduce the impact of Government grant cuts. In the end we ended up with something that was more to do with who wins the next election, than actually delivering services. For me, this was the low point of Cornwall Council for 2009/13.
The BT Joint Venture was signed off in April, and without going into this in great detail, the battle around this subject resulted in a BT-Lite JV instead of the full BT JV. The JV also saw the Leader being deposed and the CEO deciding to head to pastures new in the Antipodes. On Kevin leaving I will say I might not have agreed with Kevin in many issues, but I liked him and respected him. He should also be proud of the difficult achievement of turning six District and one County Council into a Unitary Council. I doubt few could have achieved this.
May came swiftly, and the election campaign started. It was hard-fought and exhausting. Anyone who has fought an election will know what I am talking about, but losing after all that hard-work must be a bitter pill to swallow. Sadly, there were some Councillors who I was sorry to see go, but not in all cases. I am however, extremely grateful to the residents for voting for me again.
The election result meant not one party/group had an over all majority to form an administration. This resulted in a lot of horsetrading with the original aim of having a cross-party administration. However, one of the largest groups, would not play ball. So a partnership was formed between the Independents and Liberal Democrats which resulted an administration being formed.
For me, I was very honoured to be selected (thank you Indi’s) for a Cabinet position. And even more honoured to be given the Children and Young People Portfolio. It is a tough brief, but one I have wholeheartedly say I love doing. I am also under no illusions as to how tough it is going to be in 2014. The reduction of funding is going to hurt.
It is not only County Hall that has had a lot going on, but the area I represent – Porthleven and Helston West. A huge highlight was being awarded a grant by the Coastal Community Fund for just short of £100,000. This is good news for Porthleven and the projects in the bid will start to materialise in 2014. The Bulwark Association finally got their much-needed park. I am so proud of this small group of people who despite a few set backs still managed to achieve their dreams of a new play park.
It would be wrong for me not to mention one of the most controversial planning applications in Porthleven. The Shrubberies Hill development of 60 new dwellings consisting of 60% local needs to be built on the edge of Porthleven. You might not agree with my stance, but I said I would take a neutral position. It is hard to do, but I felt as this had to be done because I could not walk anywhere in Porthleven without hearing “Andy you must stop this” or “Andy you must support this.” I was expecting this issue to be a major part of the May election, but in all the dwellings I ‘knocked’ – and believe me I knocked on just about every door in Porthleven – 26 people actually made reference to the proposed development.
The final decision was made by Cornwall Council’s West Planning Committee. That decision was close, as the application was passed on the Chairman casting vote.
Being in public office is difficult with no handbook on how to do it. Everyone has an opinion, and those options should be respected, but you cannot always please people. However, I have noticed a darker and distasteful element of public criticism to have entered our culture. And that is the way in people comment online. This is done under a pseudonym and I have read not only untruthful comments about myself, but many of my colleagues too. I am all for fair criticism, as it is part of the role, especially when people do not agree with the way you voted or acted. But surely this can be done without such nastiness? It is getting out of hand and I wish for 2014 if people disagree with certain actions, do it in a more reasonable and polite manner? Surely this is not much to ask for? For the first time ever I have banned someone from commenting on this blog. This is due to the offensive comments not only to me, but to other people too.
On a very positive note I have witnessed the great community spirit Porthleven has during 2013. So many people all wishing to make Porthleven a better place to live. To the Food Festival, the raft race, duck race, pram race and countless other ‘events’ that go on in Porthleven. Volunteers like the Porthleven Community Group who have been behind and supporting so many events in Porthleven. Their crowning glory this year was the re-introduction of the Torchlight Procession. This was a remarkable event and those behind it should be very proud.
So what about the year ahead? The first one is Cornwall Council will have a new CEO; as Andrew Kerr officially takes up post in the New Year. I would like to offer him a warm welcome. It is going to be a tough position, as the Council is heading into difficult times with having to find a further £196m of savings. The previous £176m was hard It resulted in a large reduction of workforce. Saving were made, but without affecting front-line services too much. However, the ‘fat’ is gone, and it will be impossible to just trim here and there. This will mean we will see the end to some services being provided and/or huge changes to how a service is delivered. I wish it was different, but unless there is a change in how Local Authorities are funded, these cuts will happen.
One last point, being Ex-Forces, I would like to ask you to spare a thought to all service personnel who are currently deployed. I know from experience being deployed away from family is hard, but during this time it is made worse. Stay safe.
If you are at a loose end, HERE are all the blogs from 2013!
And so that brings me to the end of blogging for 2013. I would like to wish everyone a safe and happy New Year. I will look forward to keeping you entertained with my blogs in 2014. Until then, see you on the other-side!