Bulwark car park fines cancelled and enforcement stopped

Following on from my Blog on Monday and in a breakthrough on the saga of the Bulwark car park, I am really pleased that the enforcement of the car park at Bulwark has stopped, and all the fines issued to date have been cancelled. I was informed of this by the enforcement company today by email. Credit should go to the enforcement company who have acted quickly and have cancelled all parking tickets. They also have informed me that they have reimbursed those fines that had been paid. Thank you.

This is good news, as the implementation of this car parking regime has not gone down with the majority of residents. It is disappointing Sanctuary Housing failed to understand the impact of turning this car park in to a permit only car park without taking into consideration of how it would have on the surrounding streets and all the residents of the area. The irony of it all, the car park remained rather empty as residents feared getting a ticket.

Leader of Cornwall Council rebuffs the Prime Minister

The Prime Minster has recently made inaccurate statements in reference to Cornwall Council’s reserves. In an interview the Prime Minister said Cornwall Council has £200m worth of reserves that it could use to fund services. If Cornwall Council had this amount just lying around in reserves, it would be using the money to fund services. However, we do not.

The Leader of Cornwall Council, John Pollard has issued a statement ‘rebuffing’ the Prime Ministers statements. In this statement, the Leader spells out clearly the money Cornwall Council has and how it assigned.

“The Prime Minister obviously has a different view of the use of reserves than we do! I am keen to state the facts:

We are curious as to where the PM’s gained his figures because our financial accounts are audited by independent external auditors and as such our reserve balances have been validated and checked by them each year.  The movement since 2011 has been an increase of around £18m.  The majority of this increase is set aside for specific projects and capital investment. Once again the list is:

  • £17m held on behalf of others e.g. reserves held for schools, Tamar Bridge, Port of Penryn, Port of Truro
  • £64m held to meet long-term commitments e.g. repayment costs for assets like school buildings, PFI projects.
  • £37m held to deliver specific projects funded by government,
  • £9m held for the one-off costs of cutting the budget by £196m
  • £5m held for insurance purposes.(In some cases we self-insure.)

Reserves are our safety net for unexpected items and emergencies like bad weather, while the cuts in government funding are ongoing and happen each year. Reserves are only usable once. This should be contrasted with the £196m reduction in Government funding which sees the level of money given every year to the Council to spend on services, reduced by £196m.

So, this means that even if we were to spend all of our reserves next year to prevent services being reduced then the following year we would still have to reduce the services but we would also have no money to cover emergencies such as reacting to bad weather events. We have to reduce our running costs in line with our income in order to have a sustainable basis to run our services in the future. To put simply, it’s a bit like your mortgage at home, if you use all your savings to pay the bank one month, next month you are still in the same situation but have no savings to pay for the boiler if its breaks down. So you are in an even worse situation.

Cornwall Council has a proud record of careful and prudent budget management. Our finances have remained strong and  secure at a time of great turmoil. We are fortunate to be able to use this position to cushion some of  the impact on services and to plan for the future. The P.M may regard this as having lots of money available, I see it as good housekeeping and budget management.”

I am really pleased the Leader has issued a statement like this, as incorrect information needs to be addressed no matter if it is the Prime Minister or not. They very fact Cornwall Council is having to make swinging cuts to services is due to the Government cutting funding to many local authorities including Cornwall Council.

Maybe the Government should take the honest approach and say “yes we have cut funding to local authorities” I would personally have more respect, and it would stop Cornwall Council being blamed for everything….

Cornwall’s Library Visits and Issues

When there is talk of libraries and the hours they open, especially if there is a suggestion of reduction of hours or dare I say it, a closure; people tend to get very protective over the service, even though they may not have used the service often. However, in the current financial situation the Council faces, the library service provision will have to change. I have said it before; you cannot take near £196m in funding cuts and not have it affect services.

Cornwall Council is now six months on from its decision to reduce library opening hours. I thought it would be interesting to understand if these reductions of opening times have had an impact on the library service both in number of visits and the number of books issued. Let’s start with the number of visits over the last three years. For the period of 2011/12 there were 2,656,885 visits; 2012/13 – 2,471,442 visits and for 2013/14 – 2,415,350 visits. As you can see, there has been a steady reduction of visits over the last three years.

Looking at the six months before the opening hours reductions there were 1,054,819 issues and 1,042,111 visits. This period is:

Dec – 164,832 issues / 154,039 visits; Jan 195,268 issues / 187,756 visits; Feb 182,487 issues / 173,782 visits; March 173,640 issues / 182,962 visits; April 169,749 issues / 167,386 visits; May 168,843 issues / 176,186 visits

Let’s now look at six months after the opening hour’s reduction and the same period the previous year:

June 159,238 issues / 154,039 visits; July 193,143 issues / 181,414 visits; Aug 190,671 issues / 185,734 visits; Sept 164,703 issues / 164,066 visits; Oct 166,857 issues / 164,066 visits; Nov 149,655 issues / 154,460 visits. This is a total of 1,024,267 issues and 854,142 visits.

Same period previous year:

June 193,472 issues / 190,698 visits; July 232,279 issues / 226,999 visits; Aug 246,075 issues / 235,063 visits; Sept 210,698 issues / 204,725 visits; Oct 170,570 issues / 208,280 visits; Nov 189,351 issues / 192,345 visits. A total of 1,242,445 issues and 1,258,110.

Now as you can see, there has been a 21% reduction of issues for the same period, but a 47% reduction of visits. If you look at the previous and post six month period the number of issues has dropped by 2.8% and the visits by 18% The evidence from the staff say customers are coming to the library and borrowing more. It is interesting to also note, Cornwall Council is in line with the national trend in reduction of visits and book issues.

As technology moves on, the library service has also seen a shift from traditional hardcopy issues to E-books and online resources. The number registered E-book users ‘live’ since April 2014 stands at 3764 and E-audio book (since April 2014) 1091. As for online resources (searches) the figure stood at 117,488 in 2012/13; 277,110 in 2013/14. I believe this type of useage will increase as devices become more affordable and the next generation sees using E-readers and the like as the norm and part of every day use.

No-one saying the reduction of hours has not had an effect on the number of visits, or the number of issues. However, I feel it is far better to have reduced opening hours, rather than closing libraries. Which the Council has so far avoided. Furthermore, and this is my personal view, I think we will see more of a ‘channel shift’ to electronic means of accessing data and books and Council must also move with the times and user demand. This might result in the current provision changing further.

Of course all this could have been avoided if the Council was not having to deal with huge financial pressures due to reduced Government funding. The whole Council is having to adapt, and I don’t think there is one department at the Council not having to change how it provides a service. Take for example Children’s Service which I have responsibility for. This service is having a 23% reduction in cash terms on its budget with increasing demands.

Governments planning policy harms affordable housing

At the end of 2014, the Government made a change to the housing policy framework. The aim of the change was to support small developers in bringing forward developments. The changes have a impact to financial payments to infrastructure and affordable housing.  Currently, under Cornwall’s draft Local Plan, the Council seeks either a financial contribution or element of affordable housing on schemes of two or more new units.

The kicker in this change of policy is no contributions either financially or by means of a percentage of affordable housing will be sought from developments of 10 or less.  This is not good for community that wish to support small scale development that have an element of affordable housing. However, the new guidance does – and its a small saving grace to the change – allow Cornwall Council in AONB’s, National Parks and areas designated under the Housing Act can choose to reduce the threshold to five – something I believe Cornwall Council should do.  So in those areas developers would be asked to make a financial contribution between six and ten. So those areas are not hit as bad.

It is not just future developments that will be affected, but those who have had planning already granted.  At the time of writing Cornwall Council has around £2.2m worth of contributions towards affordable housing with schemes fewer than ten units. If a developer came back to renegotiate or even submit an amended plan, then these contributions could be at risk. It is hard to tell the extent of the impact, but in Cornwall there are 4000 units with planning permission on sites fewer than ten units and of the 4000, 3,200 are on sites with fewer than five units.

Unless the Government rows-back on this change, or is forced to change by means of a Judicial Review, this new policy will have a huge impact on affordable housing in Cornwall. And we already know the cost of housing is high, and without an affordable element, could make the housing crisis in Cornwall a lot worse.

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