Cornwall’s under 18 conception rate falls to a record low

Cornwall’s under 18 conception rate has continued to fall and, according to data released today by the Office for National Statistics, is now, for the first time, less than half the baseline set in 1998 when the National Teenage Pregnancy Strategy began.

The data released today shows Cornwall’s annual conception rate to be 18.2 conceptions per 1000 women aged 5-17, a whopping 54.3% decrease from the 1998 baseline of 39.8 per 1000. This means Cornwall has not only exceeded the national target of a 50% reduction in pregnancy rates, but has also outperformed the average reduction achieved across England and Wales of 40%.

The data released also brings Cornwall’s under 18 conception rate below 20 conceptions per 1000 for the first time and see’s Cornwall performing better than the South West average. The full data can be found HERE

Cornwall Council remains committed to reducing the rate of under-18 conceptions and improving outcomes for young parents and their children through the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy and Action plan. Teenage pregnancy is often associated with negative health outcomes for the mother and child and increased likelihood of them both living in long-term poverty. In addition to this, many teenage conceptions are unintended. Around half result in a termination, an avoidable burden for the young women affected.

Evidence shows that the two factors that have the biggest impact on rates are access to young people friendly sexual health services and both formal and informal relationship and sex education, ensuring young people have the skills, knowledge and confidence to make positive choices about their sexual health now and in the future.

In Cornwall young people can access information and support from a wide range of services including the C-Card condom distribution scheme, pharmacies, their GP, Contraceptive and Sexual Health clinics such as Brook or the Sexual Health Hub in Truro. You can find out about all of these services by visiting the Cornwall SHAC website.”

We want to do more to ensure we are effectively sharing key messages around relationships and sexual health with the people of Cornwall. Because of this Cornwall Council are currently working with partners throughout sexual health to launch a new initiative entitled TALK Relationships and Sexual Health (RSH).

The aim of the initiative is to encourage people across Cornwall to TALK about relationships and Sexual Health and access the support and services they need to do this confidently.

You may want to know more about improving your own sexual health, or want support in talking to your own children and young people about relationships, growing up and sexual health, either way TALK relationships is here to help.

To make sure we communicate with you in the best possible way, we need your help. TALK RSH has two surveys, one for young people, one for parents and carers. Both surveys are asking for your views around the best way to offer support and communicate with you. The initiative and surveys will be formally launched in the coming weeks and will be available at www.cornwall.gov.uk/TALKRSH.

This is really fantastic news and shows how organisation working together for a common goal does produce results and shows what can be achieved. You cannot achieve a 50% conception rate reduction without this cooperation and I would like to thank all those individuals and organisations who have made this possible.  It is imperative to all people no matter what age or gender to have a positive understanding of sexual health, their bodies and the choices they can make. That is why supporting and enabling good quality, comprehensive relationships and sex education at home and in our schools is a key priority for Cornwall.

A huge thanks goes to all who have worked together to make this happen. You should be very proud.

 

 

 

 

 

The Queen’s Speech 2015 and what it means for us.

The first Queen’s Speech of the new Conservative government was delivered on 27 May 2015. The speech proposes a total of 25 Bills and 1 Draft Bill, which outline the legislative program for the government.

With all the political PR surrounding any Queen’s Speech, it is hard to work out what it means, not only for citizens, but how it will impact on local government, like Cornwall Council. The key announcements relevant to local government within the Queen’s Speech are summarised below. However, there is so much of it, it will take a while for it to be clear on what it means for you and I

Enterprise Bill

The main item of interest in this Bill is the government commitment to improve the business rates system ahead of the 2017 revaluation. In addition to aiming to removing regulation for Small Businesses, the Bill also covers:

  • A cap on the redundancy payments made to public sector workers to six figures for the highest earners.
  • Business Rates appeals reform, including modifying the Valuation Tribunal powers to consider rate payer appeals and allowing the Valuation Office Agency to share information with local government.

The latter proposal should give local authorities a more formal role in the valuation and appeals process.

Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill

The Bill is designed to achieve full employment. The aim is for two million more jobs and three million new apprenticeships to be created, with Ministers being required to report annually to Parliament on their progress in these areas.

The legislation will also implement a planned reduction on the welfare cap for non-working families – from £26,000 to £23,000, and a freeze on working-age benefits, tax credit and child benefit for two years. Pensioners are protected, as are benefits relating to the additional costs of disability. Statutory payments, such as Statutory Maternity, Paternity and Adoption Pay are exempt.

As part of the welfare reforms, young people will be required to “earn or learn”, with automatic entitlement to housing benefit for 18-21 year olds removed.

The Secretary of State is also to report annually on progress of the Troubled Families programme. In order that this duty is fulfilled, public bodies will be required to provide the necessary information. For more information on how Cornwall did on the first phase of Troubled Families click HERE.

Personal Allowance

There is a commitment to raise the personal allowance to £12,500 before 2020, with an additional guarantee that those working 30 hours per week at the national minimum wage will pay no income tax. My worry with this ‘announcement’ is it could be long-time before it is implemented.

National Insurance Contributions and Finance Bill

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure that:

  • There are no rises in income tax rates, VAT rates or National Insurance Contributions (NICs) rates for individuals, employees or employers before 2020.
  • There is no extension to the scope of VAT.
  • The National Insurance Contributions upper earnings limit is no higher than the income tax higher rate threshold.

Housing Bill

This Bill aims to help improve home ownership and housing supply through:

  • Extending the Right to Buy levels of discount to 1.3 million housing association tenants in England.
  • Requiring local authorities to dispose of high value vacant council houses (with the government’s intention being that the proceeds would help fund the right to buy extension discounts and the building of more affordable homes within authorities).
  • Making 200,000 starter homes available to the under 40s at a 20% discount.
  • To take forward the “Right to Build” scheme that will require local planning authorities to support custom and self-builders registered in their area in identifying suitable plots of land to build or commission their own home.
  • To introduce a statutory register for brownfield land (with the intention of getting Local Development Orders in place on 90% of suitable brownfield sites by 2020).
  • To simplify and speed up the neighbourhood planning system.

Energy Bill

Measures will be introduced to “increase energy security” and ensure there will be “affordable and reliable energy for businesses and families”.

In addition to forming an Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) (that will take over some of the existing powers from the Secretary of State), this Bill proposes that large onshore wind farms (over 50MW) will no longer require the consent of the Secretary of State. This would mean that the local planning authority would now have these powers.

Trade Unions Bill

In order to “protect essential public services against strikes”, the government proposes:

  • The introduction of a 50% voting threshold for union ballot turnouts.
  • For certain public services (health, education, fire, transport), an additional requirement that 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour of industrial action.

Extremism Bill

In addition to granting additional powers to the Secretary of State (to ban extremist groups) and law enforcement (to stop individuals engaging in extremist behaviour), the Bill also provides a new power for law enforcement and local authorities to close down premises used to support extremism.

Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill

The Bill provides the legislative framework necessary to deliver the Greater Manchester deal and other future deals, both in large cities which choose to have elected mayors and in other places.

The provisions in the Bill would be generic (to be applied by order to specified combined authorities and their areas) and would enable:

  • An elected mayor for the combined authority’s area who would exercise specified functions and chair the authority.
  • The mayor to undertake the functions of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for the area.
  • Remove the current statutory limitation on its functions (currently these are limited to those on economic development, regeneration, and transport).
  • Enable local authority governance to be streamlined as agreed by councils.

Buses Bill

This Bill would provide the option for combined authority areas with directly elected mayors to be responsible for the running of their local bus services.

Policing Criminal Justice Bill

In addition to a number of Police related reforms, the Bill will also, subject to public consultation, look to improve protection for children, either through amending current duties, introducing a criminal offence of ‘wilful neglect’ or introducing a mandatory reporting scheme.

Psychoactive Substance Bill

The Bill will prohibit and disrupt the production, distribution, sale and supply of new psychoactive substances (NPS) in the UK. The new legislative powers of the Bill include the provision for civil sanctions – prohibition notices and prohibition orders– to enable the police and local authorities to adopt a proportionate response to the supply of NPS in appropriate cases.

Education and Adoption Bill

The education parts of this Bill will:

  • Give Regional Schools Commissioners powers to bring in leadership support from other excellent schools and heads and speed up the process of turning schools into academies.
  • Remove barriers to schools, with inadequate Ofsted judgements becoming academies.
  • Create a new “coasting” definition for schools, having “shown a prolonged period of mediocre performance and insufficient pupil progress”, eligible for academisation.

The parts of the Bill relevant to Adoption will allow the Secretary of State to direct one or more named local authorities to make arrangements for any or all of their adoption functions to be carried out on their behalf by one of the local authorities named or by another agency. The government has explained this to mean that the Secretary of State can direct a number of local authorities to have certain adoption functions carried out on their behalf in order to create regional adoption agencies.

The functions that could be transferred relate to recruitment, assessment and approval of prospective adopters; decisions about which prospective adopters a child should be matched with; and the provision of adoption support services.

Childcare Bill

This Bill proposes to increase free childcare for three and four-year olds from the existing 15 hours per week (over 38 weeks) to 30 hours.

Local authorities will also have a new requirement to publish information about the provision of childcare in their area, and other services or facilities which might be of benefit to parents or prospective parents, or children or young persons in their area.

Public Service Ombudsman Bill (Draft)

This Bill creates an overarching Public Service Ombudsman organisation, which would include the functions of the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman, the Local Government Ombudsman and, potentially, the Housing Ombudsman. The new Ombudsman will be an independent body and directly accountable to Parliament.

The policy development and future legislation of this draft Bill are subject to the responses from the current consultation on the proposal to create a single Public Service Ombudsman (launched 25th March 2015 / closes on 16th June).

European Referendum Bill

The British people will be given their first chance since 1975 to decide on Britain’s membership of the EU under the terms of the European Referendum Bill. This will pave the way for an in/out referendum on Britain’s EU membership that will have to be held by the end of 2017. Such a change, especially if the UK decides to leave, will have profound social, political and economic effects on the UK public sector. For meI really welcome this Bill. It is a long-time coming and it is right the people of the UK have a say on this. The EU has changed almost beyond recognition from 1975, so it is right we have a say.

The complete list of Bills is provided below:

  • EU Referendum Bill
  • Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill
  • Enterprise Bill
  • National Insurance Contributions and Finance Bill
  • Childcare Bill
  • Housing Bill
  • Energy Bill
  • Immigration Bill
  • Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill
  • HS2 Bill
  • Scotland Bill
  • Wales Bill
  • Northern Ireland Bill
  • Psychoactive Substance Bill
  • Extremism Bill
  • Investigatory Powers Bill
  • Policing and Criminal Justice Bill
  • Trade Unions Bill
  • Education and Adoption Bill
  • Armed Forces Bill
  • Bank of England Bill
  • Charities (Protection and Social Investment Bill)
  • Votes for Life Bill
  • European Union (Finance) Bill
  • Buses Bill
  • Public Service Ombudsman Bill

The next big event will be the Emergency Budget on 8th July. The political reasoning for the second budget is fairly clear as there is pressure for the Government to explain how it will achieve the £12bn in welfare savings (to date around only £2bn of the welfare savings has been announced) and a further £5bn in tax avoidance. Whilst the chancellor has given a broad outline of his plans for the budget, he has not yet provided any further details – although some of the proposals within the Queen’s Speech give an indication of the likely direction.

This is the real worrying part of the speech, and one that is likely to impact on Cornwall Council and the services it provides.

Thanks go to the finance dept at CC for making sense of the Queen’s Speech and providing the information.

Foster Care Fortnight (1st – 14th June)

This Foster Care Fortnight which takes place between 1st and 14th June, the Fostering Service at Cornwall Council is urging people to come forward as potential foster carers with a drop in event being held at New County Hall, Truro between 6pm and 8pm on Thursday, 11 June.

Foster carers look after children who are unable to live with their families.  This can be due to a number of reasons, including the illness of a parent or other member of the family, family relationships problems or because they have been the victim of abuse or neglect.

While most fostered children go back to their own families after a short period with someone who understands their background, some are unable to return home and need long-term care or, when they are older, help to move on to independent accommodation.

At present, there is a real need for foster carers to care for older children, teenagers, siblings and also a need for people who can care for a child or young person permanently, until they reach independence.

In Cornwall there are 276 families who foster, but more are urgently needed.   Foster carers help some of the most vulnerable children and young people by providing guidance, stability and love.

Many people have misconceptions about fostering, and don’t realise that some of the most rewarding experiences can be when caring for a teenager, or offering a child a permanent home. Many of our children and young people live with the same foster family throughout their childhood, and this gives them great security and emotional permanence.

It is important to highlight all of our foster carers get comprehensive training and support and there is a continual development programme that covers a wide range of subjects.

Foster carers have a vital role in giving children in care the best possible start in life. I would like to say our foster carers are doing a great job in making a truly positive difference to the lives of hundreds of children in Cornwall every year but we need more people to come forward.

You don’t have to have a set income, own your own home or be married to be a foster carer. What’s important is you are able to help a child.  You can help change a child’s life by becoming a foster carer so please take the time to think about how you can become  involved.

Can you help? If so, you can find out more about becoming a foster carer, you can attend the informal drop-in evening from 6pm-8pm on Thursday 11 June, at New County Hall in Truro, or call the Fostering Team on 01872 323 638. www.cornwall.gov.uk/fostering.

If you cannot make this meeting, please get in touch with the service who will be only too willing to help with any questions you have.

 

Cornwall Council’s AGM

In what may seem as late news, but Cornwall Council held its AGM on Tuesday. Amongst the business at the AGM, a vote was held on who will be the chairman and vice-chairman of the council for the following civic year. Furthermore, the position of the Leader of the Council was voted on.

The new Chairman of Cornwall Council is Cllr Ann Kerridge after Cllr John Wood’s two-year term of office came to an end. Ann has been for the last two years been the Vice-Chairman. The vice-chairman is Cllr Mary May. This is the first time in the history of the authority and its predecessor Cornwall County Council that two women have held the post simultaneously. It is good to see this happening.

Before I move on, I want to pay tribute to the former chairman, John Wood. In his two-year term John has made this office his own and has represented the office with to the highest degree. He has during his term raised the profile of not only the chairman’s office, but also the good work of the Council.

The Leader of Cornwall Council, John Pollard, was returned to office with support from all parties. In fact from where I sit I only saw one councillor abstain, with the rest supporting John in his re-election. This is high praise indeed. There is also a new Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council with Adam Paynter taking over the reins from Jeremy Rowe.

The subject of the CEO leaving Cornwall Council also came up with Andrew Kerr explaining why he leaving. His answer to those questions included, as a Scotsman, Edinburgh is his capital city and it is his dream to be its CEO. Andrew also explained his parents are elderly and being in Scotland, he would be only 20 minutes away; and his family are there too.

Of course, Andrew has not technically resigned, as he has given his intentions to resign. He will formally resign once he has received and signed the contracts with Edinburgh City Council. This seems logical as you do not quit one job unless you are 100% you have the other. Furthermore, just for clarity, Andrew will not receive any pay off because he has resigned.

Also tabled at the meeting was the process to hire another CEO. Sadly this is not a quick process, but I am hopeful Cornwall Council will be able to choose from a large number of candidates. For the process and details on how this will work can be found HERE.

I guess time will tell if we get any applications! Want the job?

Campaign to bring mainline gas to Porthleven

For some reason when gas was originally installed in Helston two centuries ago, Porthleven was missed. I have heard many tales as to why, but no doubt the true reason has been lost. However over 20 years ago there was a plan to bring mainline gas to Porthleven.  This did not happen, and therefore, Porthleven has been at a disadvantage since then.

Mainline gas is one of the cheaper forms of energy, but as Porthleven does not have access to this form of energy, therefore, residents have to rely on other forms of heating and energy products. In the 21st Century this is not good enough.

Huge credit should go to a local resident, Penny Davies who has started a petition to bring mainline gas to Porthleven. I am fully supportive of this, and have as the local member asked Cornwall Council for its support in bringing mainline gas to Porthleven. I have also asked Porthleven Town Council to place this subject on its monthly agenda so they can lend their support too.

I will also be writing to the gas company asking for the full costs for bring gas to Porthleven, but also more importantly, the cost to individual households who want to get connected.

The facts are 23%* of households in Porthleven are in fuel poverty, which is one of the largest in Cornwall. If we can bring mainline gas to Porthleven we might help address the fuel poverty in Porthleven. 19% of households are currently estimated as being in fuel poverty in Cornwall, compared to an England average of 16%**.

A household is said to be fuel poor if it needs to spend more than 10 per cent of its income on fuel to maintain an adequate standard of warmth. This is usually defined as 21 degrees for the main living room and 18 degrees for other occupied rooms.

To bring mainline gas to Porthleven will come down to the gas company funding the work needed to bring the infrastructure to Porthleven. I am told the nearest – will confirm –  infrastructure is just over a mile away from Porthleven. Furthermore, residents, including both private and social housing will need to sign up for connection. For this to happen the costs will need to be reasonable for people to sign up.

The link to the Petition can be found HERE. So please sign and share. Only one person per household to sign

Again, well done to Penny.

*‘old’ pre-census LSOAs. ** Cornwall Council 17th July 2012 Fuel Poverty briefing

Cornwall Council, its reserves and why it needs them

When it comes to setting a budget the issue of reserves comes up. It is used as a political football between the political groups at Cornwall Council and even the PM entered the foray by saying Cornwall Council is sitting on £200m worth of reserves, yet is cutting services.

A face value, it does seem an awful lot of money sitting in the bank. However, face value is not the full story as I will explain.

Cornwall Council currently spend over £1bn each year delivering services for people in Cornwall.  The range of services provided by the Council is staggering and includes: caring for vulnerable adults and children, maintaining Cornwall’s schools, repairing our roads, providing fire and rescue services and supporting the local economy to create jobs.

The Council receives funding for these activities through a mixture of government grants, business rates, council tax and, where appropriate, from fees and charges.

It is no secret that Cornwall Council has since 2010 faced considerable financial challenges as a result of Government’s programme of austerity. From to 2010 to 2013 the Council has to save a staggering £170m. This was painful, but then the Government hit the Council (and other LA’s throughout the land) a further £196m worth of cuts. This is on top of increased demand.

The Council has, and rightly so set aside money in reserves.  Reserves are an essential part of good financial management, enabling the Council to cope with unforeseen circumstances and spread the cost of paying our bills.

Around £40m of our reserves are actually held on behalf of partners and schools, which means the Council is not allowed to use them.  Others are “earmarked” for specific purposes.  These include paying for future building projects, such as new schools or roads, settling outstanding insurance claims or meeting redundancy costs for any further restructuring of the authority.

These are all costs the Council knows we will need to meet in the future and setting money aside now means we will not need to find it all at once when we need to pay it.  This is particularly the case with our Private Finance Initiatives (PFI), where the Council puts money away to fund the long-term costs of maintaining and refurbishing our PFI schools and fire stations. We currently hold £118m in earmarked reserves, £74m of which is for PFI.

This means we hold just £41m of un-allocated money within our General Fund reserve – less than 5% of our annual spend.  These are the only usable reserves which the Council can call on in a sudden and unforeseen emergency such as flooding. Of course, all the money we hold in reserves originally came from you, the taxpayer and it is important that we maintain the right level of reserves: too little and we will not be able to manage financial shocks and sustained financial challenges; too much and we will fail to make best use of our resources in the delivery of key services.

How much a Council should hold in reserves, there is no set formula for deciding what level of reserves is appropriate. Councillors are responsible for ensuring we have a sensible level of reserves.  It is clear that there are still some tough times ahead, but because of the money we have set aside in reserves, the Council is well positioned to face the financial challenges.

I hope this makes sense?

Andrew Kerr CEO of Cornwall Council set to leave

The big news of the week is Andrew Kerr, CEO of Cornwall Council has submitted completely out-of-the-blue his resignation from Cornwall. From the details I have, he is set to become the CEO of Edinburgh Council.As to the reasons why he is leaving, your guess is as good as mine….Andrew Kerr

The Leader of Cornwall Council has sent a message to all Councillors informing them:

“Today I have been informed by the Chief Executive Andrew Kerr that he will be leaving the authority to take up a new role as the Chief Executive of Edinburgh City Council.

I wish Andrew well in his new role and would like to thank him for what he has done for Cornwall.  He leaves behind a strong and committed team of officers and Members who will work together to take the Council and Cornwall forward.

Andrew Kerr will be issuing the following statement to staff :  “This was a difficult decision to make as I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Cornwall but it is the right move for me at this time.  I am very proud of what the Council has achieved over the past 18 months and am confident that both the Council and Cornwall are in a strong position to move forward”.

I will now be working with Members and the leadership team to make the necessary arrangements for the transition.”

 

 

Porthleven’s Mayor and Deputy Major re-elected

At the Porthleven Town Council AGM, the current Mayor, Councillor Daniel Williams and Deputy Mayor, Councillor Barbara Powell were unanimously re-elected for the following civic year.

I would like to offer my congratulations to both, who have for the past year been a great ambassadors for Porthleven in carrying our their duties.

The Mayor and Deputy Major of Porthleven for the civic year

The Mayor and Deputy Major of Porthleven for the civic year

 

 

BT Cornwall deal makes it into Private Eye

Is it fame, or infamy, but the latest concerns surrounding the BT Cornwall joint-venture deal has made it into Private Eye….

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School Admission and the appeal process

Each Cabinet Member takes in it turns to write an article for the West Briton group of papers. This month it is my turn, and I decided to write about school admissions.

As a parent, I know how nerve-wracking the process of applying for a reception place for your child can be. However, it is the long wait from submitting the application to hearing the decision that really has you biting your nails. Luckily, in the vast majority of cases in Cornwall, the Council gives parents and children one of their preferred three choices.

This year we received 5,782 applications for new reception places for September.  Of these 5242 or 90.7 % have been offered a place at their first preference school, with 96.3% of children allocated am place at one of their three preferred schools.

Whilst it is obviously good news for the 5242 families which have been given their first choice, there are others that will be disappointed that they did not get their first, second or event third choice. I completely understand their feelings which is why I wanted to explain the appeals process as part of this article.

School Admission Appeals Panels are established to hear appeals from parents and guardians relating to a decision made by either Cornwall Council, or the Governing Body of academy or voluntary aided schools, to refuse a place for a child at a local authority maintained or academy primary and secondary schools in Cornwall.

These Panels operate completely independently of Cornwall Council and are an impartial and informal forum for parents and the admission authority/academy concerned to present their respective cases and be confident that they are given a fair hearing.

All Appeal Panels must consist of lay members and people who have experience in education.  Lay members are people without personal experience in the management of any school or the provision of education in any school (except as a school governor or in another voluntary capacity). Currently we have 15 members who are experienced in education and 16 lay members.

It is important to say Panel members must not have any connection with either the Council or the school/academy which is the subject of the appeal to avoid concerns being raised over an individual’s ability to act impartially.In some areas schools are full or near capacity which is why we cannot always ensure parents have their first choices.

As the Portfolio Holder I want to get to a position where 100% of parents in Cornwall receive one of their first three choices. To help achieve this we are looking at where we need to put extra places either by adding another classroom on to the school, or building a completely new school. We are able to do this because last year the Council was awarded £32m to help fund new places. This will not be enough, as we will have to use educational part of Section 106’s to make sure we have enough school places.

I do want to thank staff in the admissions team, Democratic Services and members of the appeals panel for all the work they do in trying to give parents their preferred choices. I have seen first-hand how hard they work to achieve this.

If a parent would like any advice on the appeal process they are encouraged to contact the Appeals Team within Democratic Services (01872) 322376.

 

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