Cornwall Council and the LEP delivers on Cornwall Expo 2015

Over the last two days, Cornwall Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP) have jointly staged Cornwall Expo 2015 at the Aero Hub, Newquay Airport. This showcase event has highlighted some of the key projects which are currently being delivered and to outline plans for the future.

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The fact is Cornwall will see up to a billion pounds due to be invested in growing the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly over the next five years

The two-day event has been split into the economy on the first day and tourism on the second. I attended the first day and was mighty impressed with the set-up. There was a real buzz that Cornwall is going places.

Transport in Cornwall was one of the key themes on display, whether that was road, rail, plane or sea. With this key theme is was welcoming to see Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport stay for most of the day, which gave key players from the transport industry that are operating in Cornwall the chance to talk.

The Chief Executive of FirstGroup, Tim O’Toole talked about improvements to his companies rail franchise like offering free WiFi at all train stations in Cornwall within 6 months; solving the WiFi connection on the trains; and building new lounge facilities at the following three stations of Penzance, Truro and Paddington which will offer shower and changing facilities. On display at the event was Great Western Railways (formally First Great Western) new Night Riviera Sleeper Carriage which included carriage improvements to both first and standard class.

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The was a strong message about Cornwall’s Devolution Deal and the £8m of Growth Deal funding awarded to the Council in March 2014. This money will help will help deliver new and refurbished vehicles and a network of smaller, more appropriately sized vehicles in Cornwall.

There is also plans for better Infrastructure with high quality and accessible interchange and waiting facilities improve the waiting experience and connections between services and Smart ticketing with contactless/cashless ticketing across bus, rail and ferry with a flexible range of projects better suited to the way we travel.

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One of the new buses in operation (free Wifi too)

Other themes included:

Culture Zone: Cornwall’s creative industries employ 12,000 people and are worth £500 million to the local economy.

Cycling Zone: The case for investing in cycling is clear. For every pound invested in cycling in the UK in 2010 there was an economic benefit of £19.

A 10% increase in people cycling to work could save the Cornish economy £16.9m a year in Cornwall from NHS savings and reduced mortality. It could also save £4.7m from reduced traffic congestion and lower pollution levels.

Digital and Superfast Broadband Zone: This included the pioneering £132m superfast broadband partnership, funded by the EU, BT and Cornwall Council, and managed by Cornwall Development Company, has built a fibre based network that now covers 95% of premises, with nearly 90% able to connect with superfast speeds of over 24Mbps – making Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly some of the best connected places in the world.

Electric Vehicle Zone: Cornwall Council received £1 million in Government funding in 2013 to provide electric vehicle charging points across Cornwall.

The aim is to create a reliable charging network to allow drivers of electric vehicles to travel throughout Cornwall and encourage more people to consider owning an electric vehicle; helping to reduce vehicle noise and combat air pollution.

Employment and Skills Zone: This area included the LEP Employment and Skills strategy and sets out the priorities for developing the employment opportunities and the skills of our people, bringing together the needs of businesses across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. One of the key principles is to provide great careers here by nurturing and developing the talents of our young people to gain the right skills and ensuring they have access to great career opportunities

Environment Zone: This zone encompassed Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership and Cornwall Sustainability Awards (CSA) with the overall focus being on Environmental Growth. Key facts include 80% of Cornwall’s land is in agricultural use – with just 5% of Cornwall’s land developed. There are 48,000 km of Cornish hedges. The South West Coast Path contributes £177m to the economy of Cornwall each year. And Surfing contributes around £153m to the Cornish economy each year.

Highways Zone: As well as working in partnership with Highways England and the Department of Transport to deliver strategic transport schemes, including improvements to the A30 and A38.

In the evening guest were treated to an excellent presentation by Richard Noble, the genius behind the UK’s attempt at breaking the land speed record (which we currently hold) and his teams plan to reach a speed of 1000 mph. The presentation was not just about the marvelous engineering feat that is Bloodhound, but how we must have more engineers, especially female, in the UK if we are going to be able to compete in the word of engineering and technology.

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The Bloodhound

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For me, it was a great event and you not only got to listen to some excellent speakers during the day, talk to those who are delivering improvements in Cornwall, and see what sort of investment Cornwall will see over the next five-years.

Huge credit must go to those who organised the two-day event. I certainly got a lot out of the event from my day there.

 

Porthleven delivers a fantastic benefit concert in aid of Syrian refugees

In a short space of time, a benefit concert in aid of the Syrian crisis was thought of, organised and delivered. Residents of both Porthleven and Cornwall, businesses and organisations, including the town council, rallied to make this event happen.

However, two people should be singled out for the most credit in getting this from an idea to reality. The two are, Alec Short and Kelvin Batt. For those who do not know, they are also the people behind the Masked Ball events. These two individuals were the driving force behind the event, and without them, this event really would not have happened.

The refugee benefit concert was held on Saturday on the Moors, Porthleven It all kicked off at midday and finished promptly at 11pm. The event was a sell-out and was very much family event. For £10, you got to see and listen to 14 bands, with entertainment provided by Swamp Circus for the younger audience.

The entrance to the event

The entrance to the event

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The feedback from the event was all positive, and there are even calls for more events like this in Porthleven. Even the weather Gods delivered too, with an almost clear and sunny day and warm evening.

This event was not about having a good time, as the event was about raising money for those in need in Syria. Porthleven has a good record for helping those in need. Not only on its own doorstep, like in the case of the storms of two years ago, but for other causes too.

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So it was again to see Porthleven rise to the challenge and raise nearly £7000 (final total not confirmed) in 11 hours. A truly staggering achievement and amount in anyones book. This money will be donated to Save the Children Syrian appeal. A very worthy cause.

As I said in the opening paragraph, on thanking both Al and Kelvin, a huge thank you should go to all who helped by giving up their time to help during the event, those who donated equipment and services, the bands and entertainers, and lastly, everyone who turned up to make this a day to remember.

Porthleven can be proud it has done its bit in helping those caught-up with the crisis in Syria.

Cornwall Council’s Scrutiny Committee recommends not to refer the ADF decision back to Cabinet

Yesterday, the Council’s Scrutiny Committee discussed a 11 point call-in submitted by Cllr Fiona Ferguson and supported by nine other councillors on the recent decision by Cabinet to remove the Airport Development Fee (ADF). The removal would only happen If and only if certain conditions were met.

This call-in was discussed in closed session due to the commercial sensitivity of the original Cabinet item . Though, most of the detail has been reported by the printed media.

What I can say – without breaking any rule – is there was a debate on each of the 11 points, followed by a response on each point from the Portfolio Holder, and various officers.

After everyone who wanted to have a say on this matter did, the chairman called for a vote by members of the committee. The choices, do not refer it back to Cabinet, or refer it back to Cabinet. Simple.

The members of the committee voted and reported in open session, they would not refer it back to Cabinet. Therefore, the original Cabinet decision stands.

 

Porthleven doing its bit to help with the Refugee Crisis in Syria

Porthleven has a great community and is a great place to live and visit. Porthleven has many community led events and includes the Porthleven Food and Music Festival – which attracted 20,000 visitors to the event this year. Torchlight Procession, that had over a 1000 people taking part this year, and then there is the old favourite of Porthleven RNLI Day. I should also mention events like the pram and raft races.

In times of need, Porthleven rallies. As was shown when Porthleven was battered by at least 13 storms back in 2013. The storms breached the inner harbour, boats were sunk and damaged. From this devastation various events fund raising event were held resulting in a short space of time the community raised over £10,000 for the fishing community.

With the media coverage it would be hard not to be aware of the current Refugee Crisis that is engulfing so much of Europe. However, the real crisis is not those who have made the difficult journey to Europe, but those millions still stuck on the borders of Syria in make-shift camps and others trapped with little chance of escape from worn-torn Syria.

Porthleven with its great community spirit is the ideal place to hold a fundraiser for those affected. From this, the organisers behind the Masked Ball are putting on a Refugee Benefit Concert this Saturday on 26th September from 12-noon on the Moors playing field (bottom park).

The events official website say:

The Long Road benefit concert is to raise funds for the refugee crisis stemming from Syria. The money raised will go to Save the Children to help the crisis at source.

The idea was brought to life by a local concert promoter after witnessing the harrowing images spread across the global media these last few weeks. We decided to pool our own resources and contacts with the best event contractors in the South West to stage this fantastic concert at very short notice. Tickets are limited and expect to sell out very quick…

Many organisation have rallied to give support, including the town council who gave permission for the Moors to be used. Nearly all the ticket have been sold. However, there are still  a few tickets available and can be accessed HERE on the Longroad website. The cost is £10 with a £1.25 handling/payment fee.

As you can see from the official poster below, the line-up for the day is impressive, and I am told all the bands and Cornish comedian Kernow King are giving their time for free.

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I would urge people to come along, listen to some great bands and do their bit for a great cause all for £11.25.

Getting rid of Newquay Airport ADF is the right decision

Newquay Airport. The very name tends to get a response of those who think it is an asset to Cornwall, and others think it is just one big liability. My view is it is an asset to Cornwall, and one that should be maintained. As I pointed out in: Newquay Airport – what has it done for us?

NewquayHowever, the airport should one day be able to stand on its own financial feet; and the Council should be all it can to get the airport to that point. Gettin to this has been made more difficult due to the turbulent nature of the airline industry.

Currently, Newquay Airport flights to 11 different destination. Mostly via one airline. The airport has recently been awarded PSO status by the Government for flights to and from London Gatwick. This is good news, but there is a danger the airport is over-reliant on one carrier. With this danger in mind, the airport board, and the Council should look to manage that risk by looking for alterative routes and airlines to operate to and from Newquay Airport. But for this to happen, the Council needs to address the Airport Development Fee.

The Airport Development Fee (ADF), or what has been nicknamed ‘the Mitchell Tax’ has been a moot point for many people. This £5 charge was introduced by the then Cornwall County Council to help fund the development of Newquay Airport. It was never meant to be a permanent tax, but once you get used to collecting a tax, it is difficult to make the decision to stop.

My view is this is just a tax, and like many others (most complained about issue when passengers were surveyed). The ADF is also disliked by the airlines, with one or two airlines being more vocal on this issue and refusing to operate out of airports that operate this type of charge. In case you are wondering, there are two other airports in the UK that operate a ‘ADF’. There was fourth, but this airport has now closed.

In recent months there has been discussion in the council of either increasing the ADF, or getting rid of it completely. The ADF collects about £400,000 per year. This is on top of the subsidy the airport receives from the Council, which is around £2m, and has been reduced from £3m.

For the subsidy to be reduced further to the goal of zero, you need to grow the route offer. As more routes means more passengers and more money from passenger spend, landing/take off fees, and handling fees. Sounds easy enough, but is impossible when a number of airlines refuse to operate out of an airport that operates an ADF/fee. The is also a danger if you removed the ADF without these extra routes would result in the subsidy having to increase. That is something I do not want.

As a member of the Cabinet, I was part of that discussion, but could not talk publicly about this due to the restrictions. However, much of the detail is now out and published by the media and my Cabinet colleague has spoken to BBC Cornwall about this issue (though there are still many details that are not, and which I will not cover here). So I feel I can explain on how I see it.

The ADF was discussed by the Cabinet as its last meeting. This part of the meeting was held in confidential session due to the commercial sensitivity of the information and the options. If it was just on whether to keep or remove the ADF, then this would have been in open session.

I will address this issue of this decision was made at a  ‘secret meeting’. I love how the words secret meeting is said in a way that something dodgy is going on. It is hardly secret when we actually advertise the meeting, and the meeting is open to all Members.

I have been a long-time opponent of the – over – use of Part 2 items, but I recognised in this case it was in the best interest of the Council to be able to do a commercial deal. And therefore, this item was held in confidential session not because there is anything to hide, but it was commercially sensitive. After all, when making a decision you are not going to tell the world a figure. As this could harm your chances of a deal in any negotiations. Once these negotiations are over, then the world will know. It is that simple.

Now back on subject of the ADF. The Cabinet recommended the removal of the ADF if certain conditions were met (I really cannot talk about these as explained in the previous paragraph). I voted in favour of the removal, as did five of my Cabinet colleagues. Three voted against (6-3 in favour).

However, this decision has now been called in to the Scrutiny Committee by 10 Members of the Council for various reason like not enough information etc. Scrutiny plays an important part in any decision making process. But scrutiny should not be used for purely political purposes.  Ironically, seven out of the ten signatories of the call-in were not even at the Cabinet meeting where the decision was made. How can you say a decision was flawed due to the information, when you were not even at the meeting! There is also a danger that by trying to score political points, you could jeopardise the deal. That is not in the best interest of the Council, or more importantly, Cornwall’s residents.

As for this Call-in, it will be held on the 22nd Sept at 2pm at County Hall. The Agenda when publish will be HERE. Depending on the outcome of that meeting, the Cabinet may need to reconvene to discuss the call-in outcome. However, if the Scrutiny Committee makes no recommendations, then the original Cabinet decision stands.  I wonder how many of those who have called it in will actually turn up at the meeting…

 

The Refugee Crisis, Cornwall Council, and the role of the Local Authority.

The media has shown us the tragic plight of so many people who are fleeing several war-torn countries; not for economic reasons, but because they fear for their lives. There has been an outcry from so many people that we as a nation should do more to help those in need.

However, there is so much misinformation circulating about refugees and asylum seekers in the media that it is sometimes hard to work out what is reality and what is myth. Hopefully, this blog and the links contained will help see what is fact or fiction.

The Governments official position is the Prime Minister announced on the 7th September that Britain should resettle up to 20,000 Syrian refugees over the rest of the Parliament. These refugees will be taken from the camps in the countries neighbouring Syria using the established UNHCR process for identifying and resettling refugees. The Prime Minister also announced that the criteria for the existing Syrian Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme will be expanded. The latter was expanded from the 1st August 2015.

At present, there are no further details or plans on how the Government is going to implement their aims to resettle the small number of Syrian refugees it has committed to. However, there is a scheme already in place. The current scheme called the Gateway Protection Programme  and offers a legal route for up to 750 refugees to settle in the UK each year, and is completely separate from the standard procedure for claiming asylum in the UK.

Refugees will be granted a five-year humanitarian protection visa. This will entitle them to access to public funds, access to the labour market and the possibility of a family reunion. The Government has also said the cost of supporting a refugee will be met from the Governments foreign aid budget for the first year. No other details have been made public on funding for future years.

The role of a Local Authority will be key in any resettlement. Members of Cornwall Council, and the public want Cornwall to do its bit. I agree, we should do our bit, but I agree with the Leader of Cornwall Council when we should only offer help that we can actually deliver.

So what is Cornwall Council doing? The Council is keeping in close contact with the Local Government Association (LGA). Furthermore, the Council is pressing Government officials for the details of any refugees who will seek respite here in the far South West.

The Council is also coordinating its departments like Adult and Children’s Services, support services and housing in case they are called upon by the Government.

A dedicated webpage has been created who people can find more information on this crisis, which will also signpost the work being undertaken by national and local organisations. This will avoid duplication. This can be found HERE

The Council has been approached by residents offering accommodation like spare rooms. This is a kind gesture, but, why can’t this same offer be made to the homeless?? I am sorry I have to say this, but it does need to be highlighted. Saying that, if someone wants to offer accommodation to refugees, they can register their offer on the new webpage or email: refugeehelp@cornwall.gov.uk

In summary, the Council, like so many other local authorities, are waiting on the Government to act. And the Government needs to act before it is too late.

 

Green fingered Children in Care help ‘Boot-up’ win a national gardening award

An inspirational project in Cornwall which has seen green fingered children in care transform an outdated outdoor space into a no dig organic garden has won first place in a national gardening competition staged by ITV’s This Morning programme and the Sunday People newspaper.

The idea for the award-winning project, which saw traditional raised bed allotments transformed into the ‘no dig organic garden’ came from the young people following a review of garden activities.

The project is run by BootUp (which is led by Jane Atkinson) which is an independent Community Interest Company supported by Cornwall Council’s Virtual School for Children in Care. The  programme was awarded joint first place in the Inspiration Street category of the national Cultivation Street competition, receiving £500 worth of National Garden Vouchers for its members.

This project which was set up six years ago, offers young people aged 11 to 14 from mainstream schools, Acorn Academies and Special Schools across Cornwall the opportunity to take part in hands-on gardening, horticultural and construction projects to help build their skills and confidence.

The transformation began with the young people scraping and reforming the allotments, and then mulching the mounds with manure and seaweed. While they waited for the spring to arrive so they could plant seeds they landscaped the outer area and created a wild flower garden, surrounded by saplings donated by the woodland trust, to provide shade and a location for wildlife. A bug-house was also created using junk gathered on site and pallets.

Once the beginning of the Spring term arrived the youngsters planted a range of seeds donated by the local Wilkinson’s store, including beans, cabbages, leeks, onions, carrots, beetroot, sunflowers, Calendula, chamomile, salads, mint and chard.  Then followed months of work nurturing and watering the seeds, pricking them out and potting them on, putting them out under cloches to acclimatise, before planting them out into the garden.  The young gardeners also erected a fence to help prevent rabbits from eating their crops and used hazel and willow weaving to create removable gates.

The young people involved in this project should be very proud of the work and effort they all put into this project to turn it from an unused and unloved area to this wonderful organic garden. This hard work has been recognised by jointly winning the national Cultivation Street competition. A fantastic accolade for all who took part.

Digigirlz event at Eden

It was a great pleasure to be invited to the Digigirlz event at Eden this week. This event is one of two events being held in the UK, so it was excellent for this to be held in Cornwall. Well done to Eden and the team for putting on this event.

DigiGirlz, is part of the Microsoft YouthSpark program which gives secondary school girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology. More importantly, it allows the students to participate in hands-on computer and technology workshops supported by Microsoft employees.

The event challenged girls from 10 different Cornish schools to create a pitch for a new game or app. It was also good to hear from high-ranking Skype and Microsoft employees about a career in this industry. During the event, a film was shown which highlighted how far, in such a short space of time, this industry has evolved, and is continuing to evolve at unprecedented levels.

The worthy winners were students from Bodmin College who will receive design and engineering resources from Skype to get at least as far as working prototype of their application. From this, I hope this app will make it to one of the app stores.

Congratulations should go to all the students, supported by teachers who took part in the event. It was good to see students from Helston College taking part in the event. Sadly, they did not win (slightly biased as it is my local school).

The winning Digigirlz team from Bodmin College

The winning Digigirlz team from Bodmin College

Again, thanks to Eden, and those who gave their time to show secondary school girls that a career in technology is something that is achievable, and rewarding.

Votes at 16 hits the buffers at Cornwall Council’s Young People Committee

Following on from Cornwall Council’s full meeting where I with cross-party support presented a motion that would ask the Council to lobby Government to lower the age of voting to at least 16.

To refresh, the motion was as follows:

“Cornwall Council should lobby the Government to lower the voting age to at least 16 in time for the Cornwall Council Unitary Elections in 2017, or at least Cornwall to be a pilot authority.”

This motion was refered to the Children’s PAC (Policy Advisory Committee) for further debate with a recommendation back to full council.

Today was the day when the committee supported – in writing – by the MYP’s would discuss the merits of lowering the voting age. I believed – as this issue is in all – but the Tory’s – the major political parties manifestos, there was wide-spread support for a change in the law. However, I was to be proved wrong and left disappointed with the outcome.

Many argue which is backed up with The Institute for Public Policy Research who in 2013 said that compelling young people to vote would help kick-start voting as a habit of a life-time. It would also send a clear message that by lowering the voting age it would be a significant step forward in recognising the important role in society these young people play.

In 2014 there were 12,846 young people aged 16 and 17 years old in Cornwall. This is split down further by: 6304 sixteen year olds and 6542 seventeen year olds. This represents addition of 3% to the electorate if they were allowed to vote.  Furthermore, the Scottish Indy Referendum proved lowering the voting age worked.

In the debate and the vote at today’s commitee those against seems to come from the ‘cannot be trusted with the vote’ to “if we allow 16/17 year olds to vote, then they will want to stand for election too.” In the latter point, I have no problem with 16/17 year olds standing for office. However, that would need a change in different legislation and it is something that is not included in this motion, or indeed the Cities Bill, were in paragraph 20 of the Bill provides:

“Governance arrangements for local government: entitlement to vote

In section 2 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 (local government electors), in subsection (1)(d) for “18” substitute “16”.”

With 10 councillors on the committee a vote was taken, the outcome of that vote was six councillors voted against:

That the Committee recommends that Cabinet lobby the Government to lower the voting age for all elections to at least 16 in time for the May 2017 local elections, suggesting that Cornwall is used as a pilot area.

The councillors who were against were: Cllrs – Burden (Indi), Batters (LD), Bastin (Con), Evans (Con), Dyer (Con) and Heyward (Indi).  Those for and in support of lowering the voting age were: Cllrs – Rogerson (LD), Frank (LD), Hawken (Indi) and Toms (Labour). (as portfolio holder I do not get a vote).

Lowering the vote at 16 is something young people want and this committee should help represent the views of young people as best it can. Today this did not happen. It is no surprise that young people feel disaffected when they have no say in those who represent them.

There is however, one saving grace. As this was a motion to full council, this motion will return to full council were the full membership can take a view on this subject. I hope there will be a better outcome in November.

Leader of Cornwall Council issues a statement on the refugee crisis

You cannot watch the news, read the printed, or online media not to see the human tragedy that is the refugee crisis which includes several – war-torn – countries. The Leader of Cornwall Council, Cllr John Pollard has issued a statement as follows:

No-one can fail to have been affected by the scenes we have all witnessed as the refugee crisis has developed over recent days.

Cornwall has a proud record of being welcoming and inclusive and we will play our part in doing whatever we can to help these vulnerable people.  I have asked officers to investigate exactly what support can be available and how we can best work with the government.”

I am not sure what support can be given, but it is good that the Council is investigating its options. Though much will depend on what action the Government takes; including the numbers the Government decides to accommodate.

 

 

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