Council sets a very difficult budget

Today, Councillors of Cornwall Council set a four-year budget. It is a difficult budget and no-one would like to have to set this budget. This budget will result in reductions of services and job losses. However, were the Council can, we have protected services to the most vulnerable and highways.  I like many other people in local government never got into this game to have to do these horrible cuts.

Since the formation of Cornwall Council, the Council has had endless budget reductions. Of course, the Council cannot just blame someone else. It had to look at itself to make sure services are as streamlined as possible. I believe the Council has done this. You only got to look at the number of staff reductions and service harmonisation to realise the Council has (and continues) to make sure services are delivered in the best possible way. However, even with the Council examining itself, these latest reductions are firmly due to the draconian cuts to funding imposed by the Government.

During the six-hour debate with four amendments to the budget, Councillors gave their views on the merits of the budget and how their political party knows best. Once you take out the political posturing, Members raised the point why the cuts have had to happen. I also do not believe utopia will be found post the General Election in 2015. It has been made clear by various political parties there will not be a sudden rush of ‘new’ money post this election. From my experience, it is never new money, it is recycled money and something somewhere else has to stop to pay for the ‘new’ money.

The Cabinet and now today the Council have set a budget that will hopefully give some stability to deliver the services people require. This budget will not be easy to deliver, and it will be down to the dedication of the staff to deliver. They will be asked to deliver this budget with fewer resources.  I wish we did not have to set a budget like this, but there is little choice. As you cannot lose one-third of your budget and still be able to deliver the same level of service. The delivery of service is made more difficult because they is also an increased demand on those services.

At the end of the emotive debate, Councillors voted in favour of the budget by 69 for, 21 against and 19 abstention.

Local Plan approved by Cabinet

At the recent Extraordinary Cabinet, the Local Plan  or to give it its full title The Cornwall Local Plan – Strategic Policies (formerly known as the Core Strategy), which will guide planning for the next 15 years in Cornwall was debated and approved by the Cabinet. This plan has been a long time coming due to the complexities surrounding a planning document of this nature. It has not been an easy ride, as many people have a view on the actual number of housing required in the next 15 years. However, without a plan, it would be difficult to have a say where developer should build and have some sort of balance on the numbers of housing that can be built.

The full range of suggested housing targets is from 29,000 to 74,500. These suggested figures is in part from 44 representations on housing numbers from three rounds of consultation since 2011. The final figure which has been agreed on is 47,500, and this is the number which will be submitted as part of the plan. The 47,500 is not all new builds as it takes into consideration housing that already has been given  planning permission. The actual figure of ‘new’ builds will be 18,662. How these new builds will be split is on the image at the bottom of the page.

I have often heard this Local Plan will ‘concrete’ over Cornwall. However, this is far from true, as currently roughly 1% of Cornwall has development and if all the planned dwellings are built, this percentage will raise to 1.5%. That is hardly a concreting over Cornwall.

I also welcome the approval of this plan as without the approval, those town and parishes who are in the process of formulating their neighbourhood plan could not progress with out the Local Plan. These neighborhood plans are key to town and parishes deciding what happens to their communities for the next 15 years.

Now the Cabinet has approved the plan, it will be the turn of the full membership of the Council to give the final seal of approval in December before it then goes through the formal process of the inspectors etc before hopefully being adopted. With no Local Plan, Cornwall would find itself in a difficult position and open to unrestircted development.

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Newquay Airport offers flights to Dublin.

Newquay Airport has recently secured another airline to fly to and from the airport. It is great news that Aer Lingus (Regional) will begin a new service to Dublin from May 2015 operating up to five-times weekly.  The new service brings a new Airline brand and destination to the Airport and signifies the dawn of a new commercial relationship with Aer Lingus.  Aer Lingus Regional, operated by Stobart Air, is targeting 20,000 passengers in the first year.

Passengers will depart Newquay Cornwall Airport arriving in Dublin. Initially, there will be four flights per week – Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday – increasing to five flights per week – Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday – in the peak summer months, from 27 June to 5 September 2015.

This is indeed excellent news and builds on the success of securing flights to and from London Gatwick and the much-needed Passenger Service Obligation.

 

 

A further Cornwall Council statement on Alex Folkes

Cornwall Council has released a further statement in reference to Alex Folkes it is as follows:

The Council has an overriding responsibility to safeguard the welfare of children and young people in Cornwall.  After receiving the initial information raising serious child protection concerns relating to Councillor Folkes on 16 October, we launched an immediate investigation into the circumstances.  As part of the investigation we were given information by the police which was assessed by the Local Authority’s Designated Officer (LADO) as part of the Council’s formal safeguarding process.  Based on the information supplied by the police at this stage, the LADO process concluded that Councillor Folkes represented a ‘serious and enduring risk to children.’  This decision was later confirmed by additional information supplied by the police. This led to the Director for Education, Health and Social Care writing to schools and children’s settings in the Launceston area.

We took legal advice on all aspects of this matter in order to make certain that the process was conducted fairly and properly and in the interests of ensuring the maximum safety of children in Cornwall.  We are confident that the investigation, which was aided by the police, has been dealt with appropriately and all proportional steps have been taken to ensure children in Cornwall are protected to the maximum possible degree.

The Council also took legal advice on when it could share details of the evidence which had been provided to the LADO with Councillor Folkes and provided him with the information as soon as it was legally able to do so.

An internal investigation is currently underway into the way the matter was dealt with in 2009.

Celebrating the success of our Children in Care

On Tuesday night, the Children In Care Education Support Service celebrated the success of our Children in Care for the 2013-2014 academic year . The celebration event was kindly hosted by the two universities at Tremough Campus, Penryn with the campus’ Student Ambassadors helping the event run smoothly. The event had a pirate theme and everyone was encouraged to dress up as pirates. Like last year, and before the presentations took place, the excellent Swamp Circus entertained everyone with sea-shanties, tricks and stunts.

In total, 333 children were awarded certificates.  Although not all the children could attended they will still receive their certificates in the post. The age range for the certificates is year 1 to year 13. The certificates are awarded for any achievement: good school attendance, good progress in learning, attitudes to learning and each other, resilience in trying times. Being brave and trying new things, outdoor pursuits, creative arts etc.

I had the honour to present the certificates to the children, along with Tim (the virtual head teacher of the school) who read out the reasons for the award. I was very proud of the achievement of all the children. As were all who gathered to celebrate their success. Standing on the stage, you can see many of the audience reach for something to wipe their eyes with as Tim read out the achievements of the children and young people.

It was also great to see so many people connected with Children in Care attend the event. This included social workers, the voluntary sector, the Chair and Vice-chair of the Children’s PAC, the Head of Learning and Achievement, the Head of Children’s Social Care who all got into the spirit of the event by dressing as pirates! My sincere thanks go to the staff in the Children in Care Education Support Service who make this celebration such a special event. Furthermore, they make pretty good pirates too!

Swamp Circus entertain the crowd

Swamp Circus entertain the crowd

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A motley crew of pirates

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Lead Member for Pirates??

Bite the Ballot and getting young people engaged in democracy

I spend Monday morning with a group of students (aged 15 to 17 years old) from Newquay’s Treviglas School discussing democracy and why voting is important. This discussion was part of Bite the Ballot’s campaign to get young people involved in democracy.

Bite the Ballot, is a not-for-profit organisation that empowers young people to speak up, act, and make their votes and opinions count. For four years, Bite The Ballot (BTB) has been running interactive democracy workshops with young people up and down the country, demonstrating the power they hold as individuals and as a collective voice. BTB aims to inspire young people to be counted and make informed decisions at the ballot box, encouraging them to #TakePower and become the champions that will change the face of British politics.

In the 2010 elections, over 75% of people aged 65+ voted. This group received free bus travel, free TV license, free prescriptions, winter fuel allowance to name but a few. Compare this to only 44% of young people voted. They had EMA taken away, tuition frees tripled and youth services are under huge pressures and reductions. Is this related? Yes, it is. If young people were more engaged and had the ability to vote, then maybe the services young people value would be on a more even footing.

During the visit, there was a series of group activities. This first one was deciding where you would spend a ‘government budget’ of £100. The choices were education, health, defence, welfare and benefits, housing and environment, transport, public order and safety, culture and sport and international aid.

It wouldn’t surprise you to see education and health coming out on top. Defence came seconded to bottom and that did not really surprise me. However, international aid came bottom, and when I asked why, the student group said we should make sure our services are sorted first. It was very interesting to hear their logic on the other areas too. The students really had good points to make.

I am very keen to support Bite the Ballot’s campaign to encourage young people to get involved and make sure their voice is heard. Winston Churchill once said “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.” We should also remember those who gave their lives to ensure that we are free to vote as we wish, it is important that we take on that responsibility and encourage others to make sure their voice is heard.

Young people can register to vote from the age of 16. My view is if you can register to vote at 16, then you should be able to vote at 16. The Scottish Referendum has shown how well the 16/17 old vote works, and I hope the Government brings in legislation to lower the voting age.

IMG_4616.JPGTo find out more about BTB online presence go to HERE

BTB also wants to hear from schools, colleges, youth clubs or universities who are interested in getting BTB to come along and run a session on “The Basics”. If you are interested, email BTB at cornwall@bitetheballot.co.uk and help us in the fight to create a better democracy.

Registering to vote has never been easier. All you need is your address and your National Insurance number and go to HERE

Devon and Cornwall Police to increase the use ofAutomatic Number Plate Recognition cameras in Cornwall.

Devon and Cornwall Police are working with Cornwall Council in a joint initiative to increase the use of Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) cameras in Cornwall. The reason for this is to help meet the aims of both organisations in a period of budgetary pressures. The plan is to extend the existing camera network with another 27 cameras in locations across the county. These cameras will be fully funded by Devon & Cornwall Police

Before the increased expansion of ANPR cameras, Devon & Cornwall Police are holding a series of roadshows combining police ANPR vehicles and police motorcycles to demonstrate the system with representatives from both themselves and Cornwall Council’s Transport and Technology team.

Dates and venues for the roadshows are:

Monday 24 November 10.00 – 16.00 Lemon Quay, Truro
Tuesday 25 November 10.00 – 14.00 Asda, St Austell
Wednesday 26 November 10.00 – 14.00 Sainsbury’s, Newquay
Thursday 27 November 10.00 – 14.00 Morrison’s, Bodmin
Friday 28 November 10.00 – 14.00 Tesco, Callington

It is a shame there are no demonstrations West of Truro. As I am sure citizens West of Truro would be interested in seeing how this technology works. Though, you might say the demonstrations are not taking place in the West because the ANPR cameras are being installed East of Truro…..

Should Cornwall Council raise Council Tax above 2%?

The Cabinet and the wider membership of the Council are currently in the process of deciding the budget for 2015/16 and up to 2018. I have said before, this budget is going to be very difficult. As having to find savings of £196m or losing one take one-third of your budget will mean services will be affected.

Setting the budget is made more difficult by the government imposing a 2% cap on the maximum a primary local authority can raise Council Tax. I have never been supportive of an ad-hoc raise, as any raise has to be justified, but when you are faced with such draconian cuts in the face of increased demand, it would be helpful if a Council had the ability to raise income that helps supports services.

The Government talks of devolution and handing powers down to Councils, but when it comes to setting a budget the Government hog-ties a local authority on setting its budget. It should not be up to Westminster in settling the a Council Tax figure, but the local authority.

The current legislation is if a local authority wants to go above the 2% cap, then it needs to hold a public referendum. 

One of the issues of holding a referendum is the sheer costs of running one. In Cornwall’s case we would not get much change out of £1.2m if Cornwall Council held a stand-alone referendum. Raising Council Tax by 1% would bring in an income of roughly £2.2m. So going 1% above would not really stop so many of the service reductions. If you want to help mitigate the impact of the reduced funding, the Council would need to look at a larger increase. For arguments sake, a 6% rise would net you £9.086m.

Even if the local authority wanted to raise it above the 2% it would have to convince the public to agree and vote yes. If you held a stand-alone referendum and lost, you would have to find additional savings to cover the cost of the referendum.

I will point out that if you want to stop the full impact of the £196m a few percentages added on is not going to have much impact. You will need to look at percentages above 25%/30%.

However, a stand-alone election might not have to happen, as the referendum could also take place at the same time as the general election. If this referendum took place at the same time as the general election you would still be looking at a running cost of around £700k.

A further difficulty in holding the referendum is this vote would be after Council Tax bills have gone out. So if a referendum was carried, there would be a need to re-sent Council Tax bills with the new Council Tax figure.

The question is, should the Council look into rasing Council Tax about the cap of 2%.

Councillors will hopefully be able to discuss this at full council, but what do the people of Cornwall think? Feel free to send me your views on this? I have added a poll, please give you views there too.

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Tory’s win Mevagissey by-election

Voters in the Cornwall Council electoral division of Mevagissey took to the polls Thursday 6th November to elect a new Cornwall Councillor due to the sad departure of Michael Bunny who had to stand down because he became an employee of the Local Authority. The rules are you cannot be in the employment of the LA and be a Cornwall Councillor.

The results of the by election were:

  •  James Michael Mustoe (The Conservative Party Candidate) – 348
  • Michael Williams (UK Independence Party UKIP) – 281
  • Charmain Louise Nicholas (Labour Party Candidate) – 204
  • Christopher Stewart Maynard (Liberal Democrat)  – 197
  • Katherine Elizabeth Moseley (The Green Party) – 50
  • Therefore voters have elected James Michael Mustoe as the Cornwall Councillor for the Mevagissey electoral division. The turn out for this election was 32.53%

    This seat was held by Labour since the election in 2014 and from 2009 till 2014 by the Conservative Party.

    Congratulations to Councillor James Mustoe and welcome to Cornwall Council.

    Cornwall Council’s Cabinet decides its budget for the next four-years

    The November meeting of Cornwall Council’s Cabinet met to discuss the Council’s budget for not only next year, but for the next four years too. As I have said before, you cannot lose one-third of the Council’s budget – £196m – and it not affect services. The budget for the next four-years has taken around 5 months to put together and has been a very difficult task due to the sheer scale of having to deal with such a huge reduction.

    Before I go on let’s be clear on the reason Cornwall Council – like so many other council’s across the land – are having to set budgets like we are is because of the brutality of the Government’s cuts to council funding. As I said before, how would you deal with having to lose one-third of you household or business income?

    It has been a very difficult task with a lot of difficult choices, some too difficult and have not been included. No-one in the Cabinet or the Directors wants to set this difficult budget. But we have to. As to delay or not tackle the issue of less money will result in more money having to be found later. That would result in more service cuts. Even though the Cabinet had to find massive savings, we still wanted to protect certain areas. These areas are services to the vulnerable, roads and the bus network. Even though these areas have been protected, they have not escaped reductions or cuts.

    The Cabinet have put together this budget, but all councillors have had the ability to give their views on the budget by means of the PAC process, or put in simpler terms a series of committee meetings. The public too have had their chance to have a say by a series of public consultations. The report on the budget and the business plan is available HERE.

    During yesterday’s debate, each Cabinet Member talked about their individual portfolios and the impact this budget will have on their portfolio. Children’s Services will have a 23% reduction in cash terms. This will result in a whole host of reductions or changes to how services are provided. It is hard to list them all in this blog post, but clicking on this LINK and scrolling down to CSF will show you the impact this budget will have on Children’s Services.

    After each Cabinet Member had their say, it was the turn of the backbenchers to give their views. These views ranged from against the budget to what choice do we have and but support.  After those who wanted to say something did,  a vote was taken by the Cabinet who unanimously approved the budget. This is not the end of the process, as even though the Cabinet approved the budget, it is the full membership of the Council who have the final say. This debate will take place on the 25th November. It is only at this meeting and vote will we know if we have a four-year budget.

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