A review of the Council’s mobile library service has been undertaken. The review was two parts; the usage and reducing costs due to the huge budget pressures the Council now faces. The last major review of the stops / service was seven years ago in 2006/7.

The cost of the current service is £220,000 per year and stops at 655 locations. The average number of visits per stop is 3.65 over the last year. For Porthleven the total number of visits in the five stops Porthleven currently has is 27.53. This is further broken-down of users for Porthleven:

  • Porthleven School – 3.24
  • Atlantic Inn – 2.83
  • Sunset Drive – 8.17
  • Torleven Road – 2.45
  • Porthleven Harbour -10.83

mobile LibAs you can see, the total usage in Porthleven is above the average if you combine all the stops together. However, only two stops have usage that makes the stops viable.

Today at the Council’s Cabinet, there were three options put forward. The most drastic was to stop the service completely. This is not an option I support. During the debate both within the Cabinet and the non-Cabinet members valid points were put forward on the merits of be mobile library service and elements should be retained.

The Cabinet decided that Option Three would be supported by a vote of 9 to 1. I supported this as it gives savings put also allows a mobile library service in Cornwall.

Option Three is 1 countywide mobile library van, the following criteria has been used in order to reduce the number of stops to a manageable level:-

  • Removal of stops where the average number of visits per stop over the last financial year is less than 3;
  • Where an existing stop is within 3 miles of a branch library or within 2 miles of another mobile library stop or micro library, the stops have been combined or removed;
  • Where stops have been combined, the new stop has been situated at the previous busiest stop in a locality although this would require local consultation to determine whether another local venue would be more mutually acceptable;
  • Frequency of visits to stops is monthly and duration 20 minutes per stop.

Applying this criteria reduces the number of stops to 172 across the county. Porthleven will see under Option 3 a mobile library service visit the Harbour Head. I need to point out that this service would stop if there is a community hub library. However, I believe having a community hub-library could result in a better provision for Porthleven – which I will cover next.

In Option 3, there is also funding up to £1,000 for communities to form a hub style library. I have blogged about this before and the idea has been supported by Porthleven Town Council. I have registered Porthleven’s interest in this scheme. I am now looking at suitable locations in Porthleven. This includes town council owned facilities; community facilities and churches, chapels and places of worship.

The decision today will not be popular to some, but the mobile library service like many other service are going to change and / or stop. You cannot find £196m and think services will continue at the same level. In the next few years, decisions like the one today will be made.

On the 6th August, there will be a fundamental way a Council deals with those who wish to film, tweeting and record in all meetings that are open to the public. Until now, only primary authorities like Cornwall Council had to allow – blog HERE - the use of social media and filming at meetings. Cornwall Council has already embraced this – as blogged HERE - and if it suits you, you can film / record any of our public meetings. Cornwall Council also webcasts its Full Council, Cabinet and Strategic Planning meetings.

From the 6th August, the amendment of the Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 will come into force where all ‘relevant local government bodies’ which includes town and parish council will have to allow filming, the use of social media and recording in all their meetings. The legislation includes any communication method, including the internet, to publish, post or otherwise share the results of the person’s reporting activities. The reporting  and dissemination may take place at the time of the meeting or occur after the meeting. 

The reason for the change is because of the Sec of State, Eric Pickles has the power under the:

Section 40 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014 gives the Secretary of State power, by regulations, to make provision for allowing persons to film, photograph or make sound recordings of proceedings of meetings of certain local government bodies; for allowing those not present at meetings to see and hear the proceedings; and for allowing reporting and commentating on the proceedings

I really welcome this and believe Mr Pickles has made the right decision in this matter. It is a shame filming, recording and social media had to be made secondary legislation because council’s would not allow this. There have been many cases of people being ejected and even arrested because they wanted to record a meeting. This should never have happen in the first place, but now thankfully from the 6th August this will not happen again.

Further detail and the actual legal wording can be found HERE and HERE

So here’s a pat on-the-back for Mr Pickles for bring in this sensible and long-overdue change in the Law.

 

Chacewater Parish Council have sent a round-robin letter to all town and parish councils in Cornwall. In that letter (which you will read in a sec) the parish council makes allegations, which need to be clarified, and corrected. For me, it is not about the a parish or town council raising an issue with Cornwall Council, but the way they have gone about it. Especially as it contains inaccurate information.

So lets start with the letter and the response from John Pollard, Leader of Cornwall Council.

Dear ……… Parish Council,

 We are writing to you to seek support and comment on the performance of Cornwall Council. Ever since the district councils were amalgamated this Parish Council has seen a reduction in services and a blatant lack of communication and support from “One Cornwall”.

We are also very concerned with what appears to be a lack of cost savings that should have occurred when the amalgamation took place. In the business world if 6 so similarly aligned companies were merged one would expect to see savings of at least 33%, if not 66% in administration costs. Instead Cornwall Council saw fit to employ some really senior managers to oversee the whole business and pay exorbitant salaries to those new officers. Certainly some salaries far exceed the present Prime Minister!! From our perspective there have been no visible signs of savings being made. Most Parish Councils have suffered the indignity of public convenience closures in order to save money and yet every new house built in Cornwall will earn them at least an additional £1,000 in rates. The maths simply do not add up.

A second major issue for us is the planning decisions that have been taken without any regard for localism and local public concerns. Most planning applications we are asked to comment on come back with a reverse decision. Further, very large planning applications have been passed within the Truro area with little or no regard for public view and no regard to infrastructure issues such as road congestion, sewage disposal and hospital capacity. Royal Cornwall Hospital already lacks bed numbers with the ageing population growing and is also, quite rightly, flagging the issues of grid locked roads which are already causing severe access problems. Again these decisions appear to be made against the wishes of the local parish councils and therefore the general public who live in and around these communities. Wind and solar farms are springing up everywhere taking up valuable agricultural land and resources that are irreplaceable. Added to this the enforcement team are overstretched and very inefficient. Planning decisions should be free of politics, reflect the wishes of the communities and NOT be used as a carrot!

Our third area of concern is the use of Cormac for almost every engineering job undertaken within the county and the inefficient way that company appears to be run. How often do you see Cormac vehicles at rest? Should the Council put some if not all of these jobs out to competitive tender? That alone might lead to better hedge trimming and pot hole fixing regimes. I know that hedge trimming is performed by private contractor but Cornwall Council manage it, in our view, not very well.

The fourth issue we would like to discuss is the role of some of the Officers in the “Business Arm” of the Council which deals with concerns such as Newquay Airport as it seems these officers again attract significant salaries and perform more than one function within the Council which must, at times, surely incur a conflict of interest. In this area there should be more clarity as to where the public purse is being spent.

To conclude we feel that Cornwall Council is emerging as a dictatorship rather than a democratic governed body. We have no voice except that of our elected members, many of whom are becoming increasingly demoralised and weaker in terms of voting strength. The Strategic Planning Committee is badly out of balance as there are only two members who are able to represent the views of the Truro area with very little representation further west and so most decisions usually reflect a political position but are NOT true local votes unless, of course, one considers Bodmin local to Penzance. We cannot elect officers within the Council, they employ who they wish. We have no DEMOCRATIC recourse. Cornwall Council is rather like the very old children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and everyone is afraid to be the small boy.

We, as a Parish Council, wish to be that small boy but on our own we know we will not be listened to. Therefore we are sending you this letter to ascertain your views, thoughts and comments. If there is a positive response we would then like to hold a meeting of all those willing to be involved and endeavour to come up with a way that we can get a more democratic Council looking after the best interests of Cornwall , the county we love and are all proud to be part of.

If possible we would like a response by the end of July so that we can plan for a meeting in September. Please let us know if you prefer a weekday, weekend or evening meeting. We cannot leave this situation to continue for much longer as more damage is being sustained on a daily basis. If we SHOUT loud enough we might be heard!

And here is the response from the Leader:

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As you can read, the Leader has countered many of the points made by Chacewater Parish Council’s letter. However, this letter needn’t have been written if the parish council had talked to the Leader or the Deputy Leader of their concerns. That way, the right information could have been provided and would have addressed the issues contained in the letter. In fact, any town or parish council can talk to John and Jeremy as they both have been clear in willing to meet and listen to concerns.

I will add it is true town and parish council have been asked to take over public toilets, and will be asked to take over other services. This is due to the huge reduction in budgets and with a increased call on services. Like John has pointed out as over the last four-years, Cornwall Council has had to make saving of £170m and the Council will have to make further saving of £196m over the next four-years. That means services will change. We might not like it, but the Government has reduced the Council’s funding and furthermore, has imposed a cap on the amount of Council Tax an authority can set without having to hold an expensive referendum. So the Council has little option.

On the point of many officers having a salary more than the Prime Minister, this point is not true. Only one officer, the former CEO, Kevin Lavery was on anything like the Prime Minister. This salary was agreed before Cornwall Council was formed. Furthermore John has pointed out, the actual Council staff numbers have been heavily reduced. The staffing number will be further reduced not only for senior managers, but across the Council due to having to find the eye-watering amount of £196 million of savings. So in four years times we could see Cornwall Council having  less than 5,000 employees.

For anyone who has experience of planning, the whole subject is emotive and can turn very personal. I was a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for four years and know first hand some of the big decision that had to be made. I will also point out the very name of the committee gives away its purpose and you cannot have 123 members on a committee. Those members who sit on that committee do so with a strategic hat on; not as local members. However local members can speak at length on any application and they are not disbarred from doing so. From the context of the letter, it feels like the parish council is more miffed that it, or the areas local Cornwall Councillor does not have a seat on the committee.

The parish council fails to understand that seats on committees are politically balanced to reflect the make up of the Council. So the local member for Chacewater could sit on the committee but that would be up to their Group Leader and depend on the number of seats allocated due to the political balance of the Council. People may not like this, but these are the rules on how committees are set up nationally.

One comment in the whole parish council letter has concerned me the most this is:

To conclude we feel that Cornwall Council is emerging as a dictatorship rather than a democratic governed body

Cornwall Council is democratic.  Decision are made by Councillors. However it would be impossible and quite wrong for Councillors make all the decision due to legal and operational reasons. I can say this as having the experience of being a back-bencher and Portfolio Holder.

Planning is democratic; Councillors get advice from officers, but they make the final decision. Cabinet votes democratically. People may not always agree with a decision –  and I know I have not always – but the decision was taken democratically. Just because you did not win the vote or disagree with the decision, does not make the decision wrong or undemocratic.

I have to point out that the Cornwall Councillor for an area plays an important link between the local authority and the town / parish council. If this function is not working or has broken down, then this could lead to an added friction between the two authorities.

Furthermore, Cornwall Council has contested elections every four years. So if a local community does not think their Cornwall Councillor is fighting their corner well enough, they can vote for someone else. You only got to look at last years election to see Councillors who sought re-election failed to do so. I feel it a little rich for Chacewater Parish Council to talk about democracy, when they have not had a contested election for over 20 years.

On Wednesday, I was invited along with the Chairman of Cornwall Council, to spend the day with the Cornwall Army Cadet Force at their summer camp. This year the camp is taking place at RAF St Mawgan over a two-week period. The Army Cadet Force is a youth service who wears uniform, much like other uniformed youth services like the Police Cadets, St John Ambulance, Air Training Corp and Sea Cadets.

During the day I got to see first-hand the work the cadets do and the skills they learn. Just because the name is military sounding, it is not about marching around with people shouting at you. Nor is it an Army recruiting ground; as less than 20% of Cadets actually go into the military. The skills they learn by being a Cadet are life-long skills which include leadership, team work, personal admin (parents often feedback what the ACF have done to their child, as they keep their room tidy and make their beds!) and being able to adapt to different circumstances. These are important skills which will help any young person into adulthood. The Cadets also do practical skills which includes many outdoor pursuits.

During the day, the invited guests were able to take part in many of the activities with the Cadets. This included archery and also allowed to shoot at the firing range. It was good to see the Chairman of the Council, and the Head of Treviglas School shoot it out at the range. I also tested my skills, and considering I have not fired a gun in 15 odd years, and the weapon was not zeroed-in to me, I was rather impressed with the grouping of the 5 rounds we had.

I really enjoyed the day (and was able to take the Boy too) as it showed me first-hand the good work the Army Cadet Force do for young people in Cornwall. The ACF along with the other uniformed youth services are excellent organisations. It is good to see the MOD / Army fund the ACF as it allows the organisation to do things that would often be too expensive for many families. 

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*Sings the Robin Hood song*

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Not a bad grouping after not firing a rifle for over 15 years

The Council has today submitted a bid / expression of interest for six schools to the Government’s Priority Schools Building Programme (PSBP). The PSBP is a large stream of money that totals £2 billion. The aim of the PSBP programme is to fund major rebuilding and refurbishment projects to address the needs of schools in the very worst condition. This is a national programme which runs from 2015 to 2021.

As you would expect, the Government has set very strict criteria for applying for the PSBP programme, with funding only available for schools which need to be either completely rebuilt or where a building needs major refurbishment works.

The Council commissioned surveys to identify whether or not the schools met the criteria. Following consideration of these reports and previous information on schools’ condition held by the Council, six schools were identified as meeting the criteria for submissions for funding. Schemes at a further seven schools were initially considered but did not meet the Government’s criteria for funding. It might seem unfair, but these are the rules that have been set.

The six schools which have been submitted are:

Helston – three schemes have been proposed.

  • Replacing C Block
  • replacing C block and E Block
  • and a whole school replacement

Humphrey Davey School –

  • replacement of Block 2, general teaching

Hayle Community College –

  • Block 1, main block / general teaching
  • Block 6 – general teaching and Sports Hall

Budehaven -

  • Science, DT and Art Block

Treviglas

  • replacement of 6 x double Elliot buildings to permanent accommodation.

Biscovey Infants –

  • main block roof replacement

As the Portfolio Holder I am really pleased these schools have been submitted. The total amount of funding the Council is seeking £40m  for these six schools. However, any final value of schemes will be decided by the Education Funding Agency (EFA).

For Helston, I am not only pleased as the Portfolio Holder, but also as one of the local Councillors to see three schemes being put forward to the PSBP programme. I like many others, was extremely disappointed that previous plans to replace Helston College C-Block could not be taken forward because there was no funding. I did say I would do everything with my powers for Helston College. Though, in my role as Portfolio Holder, it cannot just be about Helston, but other schools who are in a similar to that of Helston.

I am as well as the Council is hopeful that the Education Funding Agency and the Government will consider all the schemes put forward by Cornwall Council. The decision on the submission is expected sometime in December. Let’s hope all six schools get this much-needed funding.

Thursday night, Porthleven was treated to a lightning spectacular. I have not seen such a show since I was at sea. Though my first my sight of this was when I saw a small but worrying bolt of lightning hit one of the large metal silver vent pipes along Peverell Terrace as I was walking home from a meeting. I did quicken the pace after this.

Here are a few pictures taken during the storm.

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Lightning over Porthleven

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I very much welcome the news announced today by the DfE that schools in Cornwall will receive £4.9m out of £390m extra pupil funding. Cornwall will be one of the 64 local authorities nationally see an increase in funding.

Before today’s announcement, schools in Cornwall were underfunded by roughly £154 per pupil against the national average (see previous blog on the subject HERE) Today’s extra funding will see an increase of £75 per pupil to £4,472. This rise will be from 2015/16. There is a slight caveat on this, as this amount is subject to final approval in October when the 2014 school census is finalised.

The Council, my colleagues and myself have long argued for better funding for our schools, and todays announcement is a huge step in the right direction on farer funding.

So thank you DfE for listening and giving the schools in Cornwall this much needed extra funding.