Prayers Are Back On The Agenda At Cornwall Council

It has been a turbulent few months for the subject of prayers being part of the formal agenda at council meetings. The High Court ruled against prayers being included in an agenda under the Local Government Act 1972. Then, The Localism Act trumped that ruling by allowing council’s if they wish to have prayers included on the council agenda.

This point of should prayers be or not part of the agenda for the full meeting of Cornwall Council. Over 29 Councillors spoke during this debate, with the majority of those speakers supportive of prayer’s being part of the council agenda.

I have blogged before about being apathetic towards religion and can see both sides viewpoint. The one point I disagreed with in the original motion was prayers should be only Christian. I feel if we should have prayers they should be fully inclusive of the people we represent. I therefore, put in an amendment seconded by John Pollard and is as follows (option 3 in the agenda):

“Commence a practice of saying prayers of different religions on a rotational basis as part of the formal agenda for Council meetings.”

I felt this was a sensible solution to allow other faiths to have the ability if they wanted to be able to take part in prayers. My motion was narrowly defeated, and the vote was carried for Christian (only) prayers to be part of the formal agenda.

This resolution will no doubt have an impact on many other local authorities throughout England and Wales. As many will now follow Cornwall Council’s lead and re-introduce prayers post the High Court Bideford judgement.

It will be interesting to see if any legal challenge will come post the decision at todays Cornwall Council meeting.

Prayers Back On The Agenda

Tuesdays meeting of the full membership of Cornwall Council has included on the agenda a recommendation to bring back the practice of having prayers said at the start of a council meeting, or continue the current practice post the Bideford Council High Court case. That recommendation is as follows:

(1) That it be determined whether or not to revert to the practice of holding prayers during Full Council meetings following consideration of the options set out at paragraph 3.8 of this report; and

(2) If Members decide to include prayers as part of the formal Council agenda of future meetings, it be agreed that both elected Members and officers be free to remain but not to participate in or to leave the Council Chamber for the duration of the agenda item on prayers.

Now you might be wondering way the council is discussing this after all the High Court has given judgement (subject to any appeal). The simple reason is since February 18th The Localism Act became law. This piece of legislation gives councils the power to do this under Section 1 of the Localism Act, provides in general terms, a local authority has the power to do anything an individual may do. This considerably broadens the power of Council beyond the powers contained in the 1972 Act which were the subject of the Bideford judgment.

My view is if, and I suspect there will be some resistance to prayers being part of council business, I would like to see prayers from different faiths. After all, not everyone at the council, or in Cornwall is a Anglican. However, nothing is ever simple, especially at Cornwall Council.


No Prayers on Council Agenda

Prayers being on the official agenda of any council meeting was not seen as hotly contested issue. Those who disagreed with them stood outside until they were completed. While this for some was not desirable, it was accepted as a compromise. However, the recent High Court case concerning Bideford Town Council and the National Secular Society has certainly put the fox in the hen-house. The ruling, subject to the full legal explanation, makes it unlawful for prayers to be part of the official agenda.

The Chairman of the Council, Pat Harvey with great diplomacy, has temporally removed prayers from the official agenda for the forthcoming council meeting on the 21st February and the following meeting in March. This will allow the council to understand fully the impact of the ruling and to make sure the council is not acting in an unlawful way.  My understanding is the Judge presiding over the case has given Bideford TC the right to appeal. So, all could change again if this appeal is upheld.

As you would expect, this news of prayers being removed has not gone down well with many Cornwall Councillors. Some have called for the ruling to be ignored, others have claimed a minority have dictated to a majority. Of course there is a one or ten who have welcomed the removal of prayers.

For the last few days I have thought about this ruling and I can to a point, see both sides views on this emotive subject. My view is it has never concerned me to see prayers on the council agenda, likewise it will not worry me not to see them on the agenda. The is because my indifference to religion. For many years I have struggled to understand some of the actions people of faith/religion do in the name of that certain religion. This is not just recent events, but also historical events too. Being well-travelled, I have been luckily to have visited not only many holy sites of Christianity, but also those of other faiths. One recurring theme at all these sites is war and suffering.

From these experiences I would now class myself as apathetic when it comes to religion. I neither fully believe, nor can completely dismiss God; or some sort of other deity. Many of my friends take similar viewpoints to me or take a more established view of being in the atheist camp or in the religious camp. Either viewpoint is not wrong. What is wrong is not respecting those different thoughts and trying to dictate what is the right viewpoint.

Lastly, could this ruling could lead onto an even bigger debate of Church and State being so closely connected? Maybe that is a debate no-one wants to start, especially in a court of law.


Prayers and the future of them on Council Agenda’s

For the last few months there has been a Judicial Review going through the High Court on prayers being part of the official council agenda. This case concerns Bideford Town Council with the case being brought before the High Court by the National Secular Society (NSS) after a compromise solution could not be agreed upon . The judgement today of prayers being ‘unlawful’ as official business will have a far-reaching impact on various Local Authorities.

In the judgement:

Mr Justice Ouseley, directed: “I do not think the 1972 Act […] should be interpreted as permitting the religious views of one group of councillors, however sincere or large in number, to exclude, or even to a modest extent, to impose burdens on or even to mark out those who do not share their views and do not wish to participate in their expression of them. They are all equally elected councillors”.

It will be interesting to see what action Cornwall Council take in-light of this ruling. From within the Council there has been a concern from a growing number of Councillors who leave the chamber when prayers take place. Staff in principle can also leave the room, but many who I have spoken to feel they cannot. For the record I stay in the room out of respect, not by any firm religious conviction. The compromise could be prayers take place before the official meeting takes starts.

This ruling will also affect Town and Parish Council’s. Not all have prayers as the two town council’s I attend (being a member of Porthleven’s) only Helston Town Council has prayers, where as Porthleven does not.

No doubt there will be many e-mails, letters and phone calls for ‘guidance’ on this matter to council legal officers and organisations like the Local Government Association and Cornwall Association of Local Government (CALC). I think it will be a busy(er) few weeks for them!



2012, when we became proud to be British

As 2012 draws to a close, and we look to start 2013 after the Mayan end-of-the-world prophecy non-event, I will if I can without boring you, look back on 2012. Not just from a council prospective, but as a nation, too. Let’s start off with Cornwall Council and my role within that organisation.

Looking back on the 229 blog posts I have written over the last 12 months, it is hard to know where to start without just repeated all the previous posts, but there have been many important and far-reaching events will impact on 2013 as well. The obvious one is the JV, and how back-bench Councillors took back (if they ever had) control of the council in a feat many would have said was impossible, or could not be done. This has resulted in a council that is more cooperative between the different faction, and the Cabinet, the once bane of many, is now very aware that they are not immune to their actions. The JV is not the dead-duck it should be, but the casualty of not taking the whole elected membership along with the proposals has cost one Leader and now a CEO. That is surely a lesson for all councils to heed.

You may not believe this, but Cornwall Council is seen by many other councils as a leader in Social Media. Again like in 2011, the staff and Councillors have shown how Social Media can be used to engage with the public. Often this hard-work goes unnoticed as something just appears, or there is a tweak, but there is a lot of clever stuff happening, and more is set for 2013. I am certainly impressed, and look forward to more during the following year.

It has not all gone the Councils way, as the implementation of the new waste contract was a large black mark against the council’s reputation. Again lesson have to be learnt, because if a council cannot do the basics right, then it does not bear thinking about on more complex issues.  The Incinerator issue still rumbles on, and is looking likely to be an issue for the next council to deal with. Again the council reputation has, and is still taking a battering on this issue. I hope it is resolved one way or another and soon.

As for other issues, who would have thought prayers would have been an issue, not just at Cornwall Council, but in all councils. Thankfully, it resolved itself, but could have been a lot worse; however we did spend far too much time on this issue. Sadly, Cornwall is still without a County stadium, it deserves one, and I hope something can be achieved in 2013.

For Britain we hosted the Olympics. I have to admit, I was negative to the whole concept and the sheer expense of it all. I also failed to see the importance of the Olympic Torch and its impact on Cornwall’s communities. Seeing the plane land at RNAS Culdrose and the many thousands of people lining the streets in Helston together as a whole community was a sight to behold. It was simply magic, and I am glad I made the effort to be there witnessing a great event.

As for the Olympics themselves, I was addicted to it. The opening ceremony of ‘Good Evening Mr Bond’ right up to the closing ceremony was totally amazing. The whole nation got right behind it, even though the country was (and still is) in a difficult economic situation. In fact the nation as a whole became proud to be British again and showed the world just how quirky and resilient we as a nation are. I believe Britain has struggled with itself in the post-empire world, and many nations looked upon us with pity, as we were struggling to find ourselves in the world. The Olympics have changed that, and it is a great feeling to be British and proud. As it showed we can still pull off something despite the odds.

And then there was the Queens Jubilee Celebration. It was great to see so many communities organising and holding events despite the awful weather. Like the Olympics a bit of jingoistic celebrations of  flag waving brought cheer to the country. I know not everyone is a fan of the Royals, but even some of the die-hard republicans I know could not help but join in with some of the community events being held. Like the Olympics, it was a pause from the negativity and economic hardship.

As for 2013, it is going to be a tough year financially for the council. The less than favourable settlement from Central Government of the formula grant is going to hurt. We are also in an election year. I will be standing, and I hope I am successful. But in the meantime, there is still a job to do and January will be all about budgets and the Council Tax for 2013/14.

As for my readers, thank you, keep reading and commenting. Taking the time to read what I write is really appreciated and I hope it continues in 2013. So this is my last post for 2012 and I will see you on the other-side.

Happy New Year, and spare a thought for those who are in foreign lands serving their Country. Many are my former colleagues and friends.

Porthleven Remembers Two Brothers Who Perished on the Titanic

On Saturday 14th 2012, Porthleven remembered two brothers who perished when the unsinkable White Star liner, Titanic foundered; by unveiling a plaque in their honour. These two brothers, Fred and Edgar Giles were set for new lives in America when disaster stuck.

The ceremony was opened by the Mayor of Porthleven, Mark Berryman who welcomed everyone and said a few words before the niece of the brothers, Elise Balme gave a wonderful speech. Elsie talked about the two brothers lives in Porthleven, and how the family were left devastated by their deaths. Elise went on to say how sad it was that so much money was being made out of the tragedy, including the recent cruise retracing Titanic’s route and the Hollywood blockbuster film, Titanic.

The plaque was then unveiled by Elsie Balme and Dennis Giles, nephew of the brothers. Then, the Vicar of St. Bartholomew’s church (and Town Councillor), Harry Pugh said prayers and a few words after the unveiling.

The ceremony was nicely finished by the hymn; Eternal father strong to save.

Below are some of the pictures from the ceremony –

The Mayor of Porthleven, Mark Berryman - Elsie Balme - Father Harry Pugh

The Unveiling by Dennis Giles and Elsie Balme

The Plaque


Singing at Council

Today was a first. Singing after Prayers (not everyone agrees with Prayers at the meeting). What did we sing? Trelawnay’s Army. Was it a good idea or not? (you can answer that).

I am no way, in any form, a singer. I would not even make the worst singer category on X-factor because I am so bad. It seemed from looking around the Chambers today others felt slightly odd to be singing this song. I think, as one Councillor pointed out from the back, that it was his first time ever to sing this song without a pint in his hand.

Maybe if we sing it at every Full Council people will feel slightly less ‘odd’ singing this song in a formal meeting.

It is a great song, but maybe only has true meaning if you are Cornish. Or maybe this song should always be sung with a pint in your hand. Let me know.