2013 and all that

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!

 

Young People from Bosnia-Herzegovina visit Cornwall

Last week, 12 young people from the towns of Mostar and Stolac in Bosnia-Herzegovina visited Cornwall to learn more about Cornwall’s culture and exchange experiences with the young people from Cornwall. The exchange has been organised by the Nansen Dialogue Centar in Mostar, and Cornwall Youth Forum.

I had the privilege of meeting the Bosnian-Herzegovian young people when they came to New County Hall for a  presentation on Saturday. I was asked many questions both in my role as the Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People and that of the governance of Cornwall Council; and how it impacts on young people in Cornwall. Their English was excellent, as were their questions. It showed these 12 young people were really engaged in not only the issues in Bosnia, but now having an understanding of issues in Cornwall.

As a final part of the day, I was given a presentation on the weeks visit. From that presentation, you could see the strong links which been formed between the young people of Cornwall and those of Mostar and Stolac. I hope the young people from Cornwall will be able to experience the culture of Mostar and Stolac in the near future.

Huge credit should go to the organisers in both countries for an excellent exchange programme.

20131223-105334.jpg

The young people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cornwall give their presentation

Cornwall Council gets £6m for Two Year Olds Funding

On top of the £32m and £850k for Basic Need funding and provision of new kitchen facilities, the third good news story Cornwall Council has received is on two-year olds funding. 

The Council has been allocated £6m by the Government to provide free childcare for two years olds in Cornwall.

The Government announced earlier this year that they were extending the funding for providing free childcare places for two-year olds to 40% of all eligible 2 year olds.  Currently all three and four year-olds in England are currently entitled to 15 hours of free early education each week for 38 weeks of the year.  

The Government has previously provided funding for a small number of free places for two years old.

Cornwall Council currently fund over 1,200 eligible two-year olds and in 2014/15 this will increase to over 2,300 children.  All councils have been asked to provide the additional places by September 2014. However,  the Council will be implementing this early from January, much earlier than required.

Under the new scheme 2-year-olds who meet any one of the following criteria will be eligible:

  •  if they meet the eligibility criteria also used for free school meals
  • if families are receiving Working Tax Credits or Universal Credit and have annual gross earnings of no more than £16,190 per year
  • if they have a current statement of special educational needs (or in future an education, health and care plan)
  • if the 2-year-old attracts Disability Living Allowance
  • if the 2-year-old has left care through special guardianship or through an adoption or residence order
  • Cornwall’s local criteria where children will be automatically eligible regardless of income:
  • if they are looked after by their local authority
  • children supported through social work (child protection, child in care or child in need)
  • families within the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Community

 If there are any funds remaining when the Government’s criteria has been met, the Council will allocate additional free places based on additional local criteria. This will be monitored monthly by the Early Years Panel:

  • children who have English as an additional language
  • a child whose main carer has left care
  • a child whose main carer is a teenage parent
  • a child whose family is supported by the Together for Families programme

I am extremely pleased with this and the other two good news stories. As it has been a tough year for the Council in funding terms. Which we all know is going to get a lot tougher. Credit where credit is due should also be paid to the Government and the DFE for this funding.

 

 

How Safe is your Electric Blanket?

How safe is your electric blanket? It is a very interesting question; as if you own one like me, you think they are fine due to the modern technology that goes into making them nowadays. However, this is not always the case, as during a recent campaign by Cornwall Council’s Community Protection and Safety Team and Trading Standards.

How safe is your electric blanket?

During a county-wide electrical blanket testing that took place between September and October revealed that 46.7% of all blankets tested (90 in total) failed to meet the required safety standard, 15.6% of those failures produced sparks whilst being tested. These blankets were on beds and being used by elderly residents. It has certainly made me think about my own blanket, and have remove it until I get it tested.

Credit should go to the Community Safety Team for their campaign and swift their actions which have prevented serious injury to those involved and potentially eliminated the risk of a fire in their property.

Now, please get your blanket checked.

 

Funding for New Kitchen Facilities for Free School Meals

In the Government’s Autumn Statement it announced capital funding would be made available to Local Authorities to help fund new and/or updating school kitchen facilities. This is part of the Governments plan to provide free school meals for under-eights (KS1).

The Government has put aside £150m to help fund the required kitchen facilities. 

I am pleased to say Cornwall has now been given details on its share of that capital funding. This is for the provision of kitchen facilities in LA maintained and Voluntary Aided (VA) schools. There was a worry that funding details had been totally lacking. This was becoming a greater concern as the provision of free school meals was to be in place for September 2014.

Thankfully details have now been released and for Cornwall, its share of the fund totals £847,259. This is split for LA maintained Schools – £757,646 and VA schools – £89,614.

This is excellent news which I welcome this settlement as it is good news for the Council and the provision of free school meals in our schools. Now we can get on with the planning to make sure everything is ready for September.

And this is the second  good news story the Council has received today.

Cornwall Council to be given £32 million to provide more school places

Cornwall Council has been awarded £32,299m as part of the national Basic Need Capital allocations to provide new school places between 2015 and 2017.  The amount allocated for 2015-17 is significantly higher than the amount we have received in previous years (£1.2M per year in 2013 and 2014).

This is very good news for Cornwall, as this funding means that we can now plan effectively to provide much-needed school places to meet the increasing number of children requiring school places in Cornwall.

Cornwall Council will now be formulating plans for expansion of some schools and consider potential creation of news schools where evidence indicates that are needed most, with Cornwall Council working with schools and partners to identify how these places can be created.

This is just one of today’s three good news story for children and young people in Cornwall.

The Government’s Local Government Finance Settlement and its impact on Cornwall Council

The Government has just released its Local Government Settlement. The first thing Local Authorities have to do after the announcement is to decipher the Governments spin annoucement into reality of pounds, shillings and pence. That is not always easy, as the true details often come out in the following weeks and months. And by going by last years settlement, the Government announced its settlement, then promptly change it.

For Cornwall, the early indications are this what the Council expected. This means the Council’s Budget  for 2014/15 there will – hopefully – not  require much change. In other words, the cuts and reductions during this period will happen. If you haven’t yet realised this amounts to £196m  of reduced funding for the next fve years.

Now lets look at the ‘good’ news in this settlement. The settlement has allocated additional funding of £462k;  as the Government has finally smelt the coffee and realised providing services in rural area is more expensive.  This extra funding will be included within our Revenue Support Grant from (2014/15). Also there is an additional £467k New Homes Bonus monies as a result of Cornwall’s performance in bringing empty homes back into use.  

Now for the bad news. The Business Rates Top Up Grant will be £264k lower than the Council anticipated. The Council believes this is due to the increase in this grant also being linked to the cap on business rates at 2%.  The Council will await clarification on this matter. The Council tax base growth was 0.68% rather than the estimated 0.75%. This will result in £0.171K less income from Council Tax.

However, the real worry is the Governments intention to re-look at the Council Tax cap . Currently this cap is set at 2%, and if a Council wishes to raise Council Tax above this cap, then a costly referendum has to be held. Now there are hints comings from Government which could mean this cap being lowered. And in future this cap could include larger town and city council’s. This is very worrying, as whilst no-one want to raise Council Tax unnecessary, but sometimes it has to be done to continue to provide services. The Government is set to announce its decision early new year.

More details to follow, or a completely different settlement once the Government changes its mind like last year. But I hope this gives you an insight to the Governments announcement.

 

The Mo-merger into Decembeard

Many people will know that during November, I grow a tache in aid of Movember. This year I wanted to do something a little different by means of tache growing,  and thankfully, I managed to do just that. However – and this happens every year – I get quite attached to the tache and I am always reluctant to shave it off. So this year, I have decided to keep it and rebel against popular culture of men being clean-shaven. Plus I have loads of moustache wax to use!

20131218-121745.jpg

Going for the Edwardian look

On deciding this course of action, and by luck, I came across Decembeard. This is the campaign specifically aimed at beating bowel cancer. And runs during December – if you had not already guessed…

In all seriousness, the more I read on the subject, the more concerned I became. As the figures and mortality rates  for bowel cancer are quite frankly, frightening.

According to data from Cancer Research UK, Bowel cancer rates for men have risen by 29% since in the last 35 years. Compared to women, their rate is 6%.

Bowel cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death in the UK, after lung cancer with 44 people dying from the disease each day. One in 17 people will develop bowel cancer at some point in their life.

Rates of bowel cancer have risen from 45 cases per 100,000 men in 1975-77 to 58 cases in 2008-10. However, in women cases have increased only slightly from 35 to 37 per 100,000 in the same timescale.

So what has turned from a light-hearted ‘I am keeping the tache’ into something very worthwhile; as raising awareness into Bowel cancer is just so damn important.

Campaigns like Decembeard really do help raise awareness and help beat Bowel cancer.

Thanks to Beards for Bowels for borrowing their catchy Mo-merger title!

Good news for Cornwall and Children’s Mental Health

I am very pleased to say Cornwall has been chosen as one of 12 partnerships across the country to develop a project that will help equip young people aged between 10 and 14 years to deal better with difficult circumstances in their lives to help prevent them experiencing common mental health.

Research carried out by the Big Lottery Fund using a panel of young people to help find out what projects they would like to see National Lottery good causes money spent on highlighted mental health issues as one of the key concerns of this age group.

The survey carried out by the panel revealed the top issues affecting young people are exams and tests (57 per cent) and family problems such as parents losing their job, splitting up or arguing (31 per cent).

A YouGov survey of over 700 children, also aged between 10-14, also discovered that:

  • More than one-in-five (21 per cent) have avoided socialising with friends because they were stressed or worried.
  • 75 per cent of children aged 10-14 think that a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
  • A quarter are already worrying about choosing a future career.

The Big Lottery programme will enable Cornwall to bid for £500,000 to develop a partnership approach to improving the resilience and lives of young people by working in four key areas:

  • childs time and experiences at school
  • their ability to access the community services they need
  • their home life and relationship with family members
  • their interaction with digital technology.

This is fantastic news for Cornwall, as good mental health & emotional wellbeing is something Cornwall Children’s Trust Board has already recognised as a priority for improving outcomes for children & young people. This additional funding from the Big Lottery will enable us to develop preventative approaches that will build resilience in our young people. It will help them to build self-esteem, a positive self-image & develop the confidence to deal with knocks & set backs in life we sometimes take for granted.

Charges to be implemented for traffic management at community events

Today, I received an email informing me of changes to traffic management support to community events. There is no easy way to say this, but from the 1st January 2014, there will be changes to how community events are charged for certain aspects of traffic management. Up to now, the services Cornwall Council has provided supporting traffic management have been free (events pre 1st Jan will not be charged).

road closure1

The cost of providing this service amounts to £175,000 per year. This includes pre-application advice, assessing and approving traffic management plans, processing temporary traffic regulation orders, providing signs, barriers and no-waiting cones.  Unfortunately now, the cost of providing this support for free is difficult due to the huge budget pressures the Council is dealing with now, and for the next few years.

Earlier this year a public consultation took place with many event organisers telling the Council that such charges would affect the quality and sustainability of their events. I know the Council has understood these concerns and have made efforts to keep the charges as low as possible. Even saying this I no doubt recognise there will be a negative effect, but  hope that event organisers will be able to find resources to cover these new charges.

  For example a couple of the changes are as follows

  • Small community events (those with less than 5,000 people attending) the charge will be £40 when requesting a road closure and £90 for large events (over 5,000 people attending). Local community street parties and Remembrance Day events will not be subject to charge. Fees for considering commercially promoted events will be at cost. 
  • The Council will continue to provide no-waiting cones when required and identified as part of an agreed traffic management plan. A charge will be made for this service which is £30 for small events and £70 for large events. Provision of signage and other traffic management equipment Signs, cones and barriers will no longer be provided by the Council. If this equipment is requested from the Council, it can be provided by Cormac but the full cost will be charged.

More details on the charging policy can be found HERE.

Not all community events will be charged. As a formal road closures may not be required for this sort of event if they are:

  • non-static
  • often short in duration, and
  • are managed safely with appropriate marshalling.

I know this will not be welcomed news, and if things were different financially, I would be saying hang on a minute. However, things are getting tough, services are stopping and/or  being reduced. With the next few years will be very tough. The Council may end up with only providing statutory services due to these budget pressures and reductions in funding.

I wish it was different, but I am having to make some difficult decisions like this in my own portfolio for which I have responsibility for. However, unless there is a change of course in how Council’s are funded from Government, things like this will happen.

1 2