Cornwall Council’s Cabinet recommends to Full Council a 3.97% raise in Council Tax for 2016/17

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet has today recommended the amount each household will pay in Council Tax for the 2016/17 period. The final approval for the Council’s budget rests with all 123 Cornwall Councillors at a Full Council meeting.

Any reader of this blog will know the austerity imposed on local authorities like Cornwall Council has resulted in services being reduced or stopped. Even with the latest Spending Review, the Government in a rather underhanded way reduced Cornwall Council’s grant by a further £6m.

A slight positive in that Spending Review is local authorities can opt for a four-year funding settlement rather than a yearly one. This gives the Council scope to plan better rather than waiting each year to play the guessing game on how much funding the Council will lose. We will be accepting the Governments offer of a four-year settlement.

Also in that review, the Chancellor introduced a new levy of a 2% increase in Council Tax to be spent on Adult Social Care. My annoyance with this is there is more to social care than adults. Children’s Services pay a large and important part too. Yet, the Government has again forgotten about this very important element in this levy.

As I said the 2% can only be spent on Adult Social Care services. At face value this is good, as more funding will go towards Adult Social Care. However, the £21m this will raise over the next four-years, £16m will go towards implementing the Governments living wage in this sector. I am a firm believer in the minimum wage, but this should be funded correctly by the Government, and not left to local taxation. This also means you end up with a postcode lottery on the amount of money it raises due to the Council Tax base rates which differ between each local authority.

Yet, this will improve this service area not only in wages, but it will protect some of the services. If the social care precept was not added, then these services would be at risk because of the cuts to the Government’s grant.

In the Council’s four-year budget plan, Cornwall Council’s Council Tax rate will raise by 1.97%. This is not because we want to, but because many millions have been taken away by the Government by means of the grant.

The next step, subject to Full Council approval in February, Cornwall Council’s element of the Council Tax (CT is made up of Cornwall Council, Town/Parish Precept and Police) will rise by 3.97%. The true percentage will be higher once you add in the police and town/parish precepts.

The current level of Council Tax for a Band D property is £1,293.92 and will rise to £1,345.29 in 2016/17. This equates to a £51.37 per year, or £4.20 per month, or 98p per week rise on a Band D property if you just include Cornwall Council’s element.

As I said previously, raising taxes is not something we want to do. However, the very fact Cornwall Council has had its budget cut slashed by Government so much, there is little other option but to raise Council Tax.

 

If you see something, say something – Safeguarding is everyone’s business.

Cornwall Council has commissioned a short film highlighting the importance of Safeguarding for both children and adults. The title of the film is simple. If you see something, say something.

Possible new sculpture for Porthleven to commemorate the storms of 2014

The owner of Porthleven’s Harbour, Trevor Osborne, wants to commemorate the storms of 2014 with a sculpture by using one of the broken wooden baulks that are used to protect the inner-harbour and the moored boats. Two of these baulks shattered by the immense power of the those storms, which led to the sea to reign havoc in the inner-harbour.

The sculpture is being designed by Lucinda Burgess. Subject to planning, the position of the sculpture is set to be on the Quay over near Black Sands, in front of  The Ship Inn.

At present, there is no formal planning application submission, but a pre-planning application has been submitted that would advise if this type of structure is in-principle supported by planning policy. From this advice, the applicant can submit a formal planning application, taking on board any suggestions by amending the design, or not submitting at all. So at present, I am just sharing this for information.

Here is the design that is currently subject to the pre-app process.

FullSizeRender

The prefered location of the sculpture

The prefered location of the sculpture

Now the concept is that a seat will be placed against the wall and as you sit a look out towards the Institute, the box that is formed by the metal and wood ‘frames’ and puts the most iconic building in Porthleven in a picture against the broken baulk. I will say I am no art expert, but I would say this is very contemporary in its design.

So what do you think of the concept? Like, hate or left a little confused on the message?

For me, if there was something to remember the storms, this isn’t what I would have imagined. It does not tell the story of the community. Then again, I am no artist.

 

Devonwall is still an option in the Government’s Boundary review that starts in Spring 2016.

All the hubbub on the possibility of a boundary reviews has been on whether the number of Cornwall Councillors should be reduced or kept at the existing levels, but tucked away on the Boundary Commission’s website and which it seems most people have missed, is fact the Boundary Commission for England and its three other counter parts will be starting a review of parliamentary seats this Spring

The aim of the review – as laid down in legislation – is to reduce the number of MP’s from 650 to 600. Most people though the review was killed off in 2013 when the Lib Dems and Tory’s fell out over the Lords reform. However, reducing the number of MP’s was in the Tory manifesto policy, and the review is enshrined in legislation, which means it still counts unless you repealed it. Which it was not, just suspended.

The reasoning behind the review is firstly to save money. The estimated savings could be as much as £12m. And secondly, the aim is to have parliamentary seats that are roughly equal in electoral size. Currently, there is no equal size for parliamentary seats which results in parliamentary seats having as few electors as 22,000 to over 110,000.

Under the boundary proposals, no parliamentary seat will be smaller no smaller than 72,810 and no larger than 80,473 electors per Parliamentary seat. Though there will be at least four  parliamentary seats which will be exempt this requirement due to their geographical nature – like the Isle of Wight.

The boundary review is set to start in spring 2016 and needs to be completed by October 2018. Then after a series of public consultations on the recommendations, the new boundaries will be approved in time for the next General Election in 2020, subject to parliamentary approval.

Using the max/min electors per seat numbers measure, the South West is set to lose at least two seats. This very much brings back the likelihood of a Parliamentary seat that crosses the borders of Cornwall and Devon. How or where this cross-border seat will be set is anyone’s guess at the moment. But one thing is for sure, there will be two sitting Tory MP’s fighting for one seat.

This boundary review will needs to address the proverbial Elephant in the room in that the new seat will again open the Devonwall debate on the historic border between Cornwall and Devon again.

More details on the review can be found HERE and HERE.

 

 

Andrew

 

Sanctuary Housing attempts again to turn car park at Albion Road into private car park

Sanctuary Housing have formally requested Cornwall Council for a Stopping Up Order under the Highways Act 1980 – Section 116. You can learn more about this order HERE. The simple aim of this request is to turn this car park from a public car park, to a private one.

Readers of this blog will remember the last time this was (illegally) attempted and how a private car park enforcement company was hired to enforce the restrictions. This cause a lot of distress to people. Luckily as the actions by Sanctuary Housing were illegal, I got all the tickets cancelled and the car park reverted by to a public one.

As part of the process for stopping up orders, I have been asked for my views. However, I want to hear Bulwark and Albion Road residents views. Like last time, I have objected to the proposed changes because losing such a public large car park will add to the parking issues in this area. I would also be very concerned with the use of a private car park enforcement company to make sure the rules are enforced.

Therefore, I am asking residents to contact me at: awallis@cornwall.gov.uk to give their views. If there is a limited response, then it might be harder to resist the changes. We have till the 22nd February to express those views.

The proposed changes to the public car park

The proposed changes to the public car park

Proposed changes to Porthleven Post Office is not a consultation, but a communication

Following on from my previous blog about the changes to the Porthleven Post Office, I have a further update after further correspondence with officials at the Post Office.

The good news is the Head of External Relations at the Post Office will travel to Cornwall to meet me. I welcome this as this gives me the chance to put my and the communities views across.

However, my request for the consultation period to be extended has as yet – still lobbying for it – not been accepted. The reasoning behind why the Post office is unwilling to extend the period is because the Post Office say they have had limited correspondence in objection to the changes. I have said you will need to re-check as I can assure you in the last few days there has been many such correspondence.

Porthleven's Post Office

Porthleven’s Post Office

My worry is the Post Office is not receiving the volume we need to stop these changes. Therefore can we re-double our efforts in contacting the Post Office lodging our objections? I would ask if you do email, can you copy me into the email (awallis@cornwall.gov.uk) so I can count and if needs be, audit the emails to make sure they have been received by the Post Office.

Furthermore, if you do not have access to email, please write a letter. You don’t have to post it as you can leave it at the Post Office here in Porthleven, the Town Council office, or post it through my letter box and I will make sure the powers-to-be at the Post Office receive it.

I have been contacted by businesses in Porthleven who use the Post Office for banking facilities. Those who have contact me are concerned about the security when banking cash without the dedicated Post Office booth. Not only for themselves, but for the staff who will have to handle the cash at a single counter.

There is also the concern about privacy when using the facilities. People have told me they would feel uncomfortable using a single counter when discussing personal business.

Residents have raised concerns about the so-called consultation – or should I say lack of it. You might like to hear the definition of consultation the Post Office is undertaking in these changes. As when I challenged the length and actual information given to residents in this consultation, I was informed that this was not a consultation, but a communication about the changes.

Amazingly, the Post Office only has to do a consultation if it moves or closes a facility. If it is only makes changes to the facility, they only have to do a communication! Hence why I and the town council only got a letter. I checked the Post Office’s code of practice and they can. I was almost lost for words this is allowed to happen.

The real danger is we as a community do not have long to act. Therefore, please email or write a letter giving your views. If there is more than one adult person in your household, then all write/email. Business who use the Post Office must write too. As if we do not, it might be too late.

The email details are: comments@postoffice.co.uk

Our Post Office needs your support Porthleven. Please help.

 

Porthleven Post Office set to change without thought to the community

Recently, I received a letter from the Post Office explaining the ‘exciting’ changes to Porthleven Post Office. On first glance it looked like good news, but having been involved before when there was a threat to Porthleven Office several years ago, these letters tend to skirt over some (or rather a lot) of the detail.

Talking to the sub-postmaster, it was soon apparent the letter I received missed out quite a bits of information. The first is the salary the Postmaster receives to run the Post Office is set to stop. The current dedicated counter – which also offers security – will be removed. This will be replaced by a single use counter for the whole of the shop. Furthermore, the cost of this change is to be met by the owners of the shop, Paul and Sharon, apart from a grant of up to £1,400.

Porthleven's Post Office

Porthleven’s Post Office

The loss of the salary is a huge blow to Paul and Sharon, as this pays the staff that operate the Post Office. For a small business like theirs, it will be very difficult to keep the current staff levels, operate the Post Office and other parts of the shop. The business will have to make this loss of a salary up from the general running costs of the store. Losing circa £14k is not a small amount to absorb.

Speaking to Paul and Sharon it is clear they are gutted with the changes. They have worked hard to run this successful shop, and have built up a loyal customer base. It is also clear that the shop has to accept the changes, or the alternative will be to lose the Post Office facility.

I have written to the Post Office objecting most strongly to the changes. I asked for a meeting to see if we could find a way forward. Yet, the reply I received on Monday from the Head of External Relations at the Post Office was basically re-enforcing the original letter. However, my offer to meet and discuss a way forward has been accepted. I am in the process of setting up that meeting.

I have further requested that no changes are made to the provision in Porthleven until there has been a meeting, and more importantly, there is a proper consultation period. As the current ‘consultation’ is not good enough to hear the views of Porthleven’s residents.

Officially, there is a consultation period till the 2nd February, and the letter said no changes will be made till that has finished. Yet, the Post Office officials have been in the shop to ‘measure up’ the changes. It is clear to me, that the Post Office are railroading these changes without one thought to the community. This is an outrageous slap in the face to the residents of Porthleven.

Porthleven Town Council has also met to discuss this issue, from that meeting they will be writing to the Post Office to ask for a meeting. I have also contacted the local MP asking for support.

My fear is with the changes and the loss of the salary to help run the Post Office will put a huge pressure on the other parts of the shop. Resulting in the Post Office not being a viable option. If no other premises in Porthleven wished to take on the Post Office facility, we in Porthleven could be in grave danger of losing our Post Office forever. I am not saying this would definitely happen, but it is a concern.

There is a petition in the Post Office, but that is only one way to object. I am urging readers of this blog to help me in objecting to the changes.

One way to do this is to get everyone to write an email asking for a period of grace before any changes are implemented for the Post Office to hold a proper period of consultation to hear the views of residents. From those views, to work with the Post Office and the sub-postmaster to find a way forward.

The email details are: comments@postoffice.co.uk

Please take five-minutes and send an email. If you do not, it might be too late.

The Original letter from the PO:

Postoffice1

Postoffice2

Boundary Commission extends Cornwall’s electoral review till March 2017

The Leader of Cornwall Council, along with all the political group leaders at Cornwall, and with support from some of Cornwall’s MP’s wrote to the Boundary Commission to highlight the boundary review was not feasible in the period outlined by the Commission when they visited Cornwall in the latter part of 2015.

In exceptional circumstances, the Boundary Commission, have decided in light of the evidence submitted, have extended the review till March 2017. This means there will be no changes to Cornwall’s Boundaries, or the number of elected councillors for the election in 2017. This has been confirmed in writing by the Boundary Commission today.

The review will take place – and rightly so – but it will be on a timeline that is achievable and will be able to take into consideration the right evidence. If this extension was not granted, then Cornwall’s election in 2017 would have been a rushed job.

Furthermore, the Boundary Commission has made it clear a review will happen, and just because the deadline has been extended, the work must start now. The new boundaries will need to be in place in time for the 2021 Cornwall Council elections, unless the Council seeks permission to hold an out-of-turn election.

My view is this extension is welcomed. However, it is right that Cornwall Council looks at its number of elected officials on what is right for Cornwall, and not some arbitrary figure decided by a body from out Cornwall. Pre 2010, Cornwall had 346 councillors on primary authorities (district and county). Now it has 123.

Now we have to get on with the work by having the right number of councillors that will reflect Cornwall’s need for the future. This is not Turkey’s voting for Xmas.

 

BT Cornwall contract is today, officially no more.

Today marks the official end of the deal between BT Cornwall and Cornwall Council after the High Court granted judgement in favour of Cornwall Council and BT Cornwall did not appeal against that decision.

The contract has been terminated and services will  as of today – 18th January 2016 -transfer back to the Council. This will involve approximately 270 employees in HR Transactional Services – including Payroll, HR Employment Support, First Point Helpdesk and Financial Processing, ICT, Despatch, Printing and Telecare.

Both Cornwall Council and BT Cornwall have been working together to ensure that this process takes place as smoothly as possible and all services will be maintained.

The Council is continuing to hold discussions with BT Cornwall over the payment of costs and the level of damages we will receive, which as I said before, could run into many millions.

With this outsourcing journey now finally at an end, it is time to move on, learn lessons, and do not repeat such a project again.

Cornwall Council is right with its policy on fines for school term time unauthorised absence

Yesterday, BBC Spotlight and BBC News Online ran a story about fines for unauthorised absence during school term time. One headline was Cornwall ‘has gone soft’ in how Cornwall Council deals with this issue. My reply to that is there are better ways of making children go to school, rather than using the sledge-hammer approach of fines. We in Cornwall are certainly not letting anyone get away with not attending school.

As I posted on Facebook, we have not gone soft in Cornwall, but unlike other local authorities, we take a more pragmatic view on how we deal with this subject. According to recent FOI’s, Devon has issued over 1600 fixed penalty notices (FPN) and Torbay near 1000 (998) FPN since 2013. The latter local authority has 39 (primary and secondary) schools. To be clear, I am not knocking other local authorities, as they are responsible for their own policies.

I will also be clear; a child should attend school as this will give that child the best education, which will be vital for life’s journey.

In Cornwall we have issued 16 FPN since 2013 (as of Dec 2015). For information, we have 272 schools. Why is Cornwall so different? My view, as the Cabinet Member who has the ultimate responsibility for the policy, is we want to work with head teachers and parents. It is about having a realistic view on the pressures for both parties.

Our policy allows the head teacher of a school the option of granting absence during term time for exceptional circumstances. As to what is exceptional circumstances is left to the head teacher as they know their children and the families. It would be completely wrong to have a one size fits all criteria for exceptional circumstances. If a head teacher wants to issue a fine, and the criteria for such action is met, then Cornwall Council will issue the fine on behalf of the school. We do this for all schools in Cornwall.

However, our policy also listens to head teachers on their concerns about unauthorised absences. They highlighted a concern about the number of unauthorised absence sessions. A review took place and it was felt appropriate to amend a part of the policy.

The old Code of Conduct required at least 20 unauthorised session absences (10 days) within one academic year, providing the parent has been warned within that year or had prior offence.

The new Code now states 10 unauthorised session absences (5 days) within 100 sessions (10 weeks), but the warning / prior offence should be within a calendar year. This allows schools to address cases where a parent may take the child out in the summer term and then again in the Autumn term.

If there is long-term absence, then the Council has other powers to address this. Our Education Welfare Officers (EWO) play a crucial part in understanding the reason behind why a child is no attending school. From this understanding the EWO work with families and schools to make sure that child attends. However, if that fails, then we as a local authority can and will take a parent(s) or guardian to Court.

Furthermore, and this is an important point, our overall absence for term-time holidays has fallen in Cornwall over the last few years as a proportion of all absences.

The figures are taken from, School Census (17/01/13) for Autumn 2012 and School Census (15/01/15) for Autumn 2014 (latest published figures)

Holidays taken in Primary

By % (2012) – 18.8%. Number of sessions missed 36,099

By % (2014) – 7.6%. Number of sessions missed 17,309

Holidays taken in secondary

(2012) – 10.5%. Number of sessions missed 14142

(2014) – 4.7%. Number of sessions missed 8326

These figures show that absences due to term-time holidays has fallen as a proportion of all absences, while we are also seeing a general fall in overall absences from schools in Cornwall.

The overall absences for Cornwall schools has remained low and below the national average for secondary schools and slightly above for primary schools. Taking all schools into account, the total percentage for the January 2015 census was 4%, while the national average has been above 5%.

Which sort of proves using a sledge-hammer approach by fining parents for unauthorised absence is flawed.

My view is rather than picking on parents, the Government should do something about the massive hikes for holidays during school holidays. These hikes make family holidays unaffordable for many. Though, the tourism industry will (and I am not disputing this) say they are struggling financially due to the changes, and therefore, they have no other option to increase prices during the school holiday period.

If you are interested, previous Blogs on this subject can be found HERE.

I also did an interview for the BBC programme (which the news bulletins was taken from) BBC Inside Out South West, which will be shown on Wednesday at 7:30pm.

 

 

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