Cornwall’s Devolution Deal boosted by Chancellor’s Budget announcements

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In the budget today Chancellor George Osborne made two announcements which will boost the delivery of Cornwall’s Devolution Deal.

As part of today’s Budget, it has been announced that Cornwall will receive a transport capital allocation of £26.1m for each of the next five years to plan the programme of infrastructure investment required to support the move to a One Public Transport System for Cornwall in December 2018.  The One Public Transport System will help deliver an integrated public transport system with smart ticketing and fares and timetables for combined travel between bus, rail and ferry services.

This will see the integration of routes, timetabling and ticketing for all local bus, ferry and rail services under one identifiable brand which, combined with infrastructure improvements, will provide a consistent level of service based on the needs of the customers.  By significantly improving the service to both existing passengers and non-users we will improve the appeal of public transport, drive up patronage on bus and rail and bring about an upturn in revenue to make the network as a whole more financially viable in the future.

Under the deal, Cornwall Council will also have new bus franchising powers which will enable the Council to specify what services we want to have and when they will run.

Furthermore, the Council are working with the Department for Transport, Network Rail and Great Western Railway on the planned improvements to the rail network.  These include an upgraded sleeper service, enhanced signalling which will allow a new half hourly service on the mainline and improved rolling stock.  The aim is to combine the improvements to rail and bus services to achieve One Public Transport System for Cornwall in December 2018.

As part of the Cornwall Devolution Deal, a priority for Cornwall Council and the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership is to develop and grow the marine energy sector in Cornwall and today the government has agreed to provide a £15 million funding package to drive work to develop a Hayle, Falmouth and Tolvaddon MarineHub Enterprise Zone.

The Wave Hub, the world’s largest wave energy testing facility, will also be transferred to Cornwall Council to develop the facility as part of this low-carbon MarineHub Enterprise Zone. The package of support includes additional investment, the Enterprise Zone and transfer of ownership of Wave Hub to Cornwall Council to further develop this key asset.

For those who do not know anything about the Wave Hub, it is a wave energy testing facility off the coast of Hayle, in Cornwall.  It was constructed in 2010 to support the testing of wave energy technologies by providing an offshore electricity connection to the national grid, thus enabling developers to test their technology and export power in offshore conditions.

The Cornwall Marine Renewables Enterprise Zone, called MarineHub, part of the Cornwall Devolution Deal and the first low-carbon enterprise zone in England.

MarineHub will include the new Marine Renewables Business Park at Hayle, plus two adjoining sites; two sites within Falmouth Docks and land at Tolvaddon Energy Park that is already consented for industrial and office development. It will add to the region’s existing marine energy assets which include the Wave Hub offshore energy test site 10 miles from Hayle, the FabTest nursery test site in Falmouth Bay, and extensive research and supply chain capabilities.

MarineHub will be managed by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership, which also manages the Aerohub Enterprise Zone at Cornwall Airport Newquay and Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station.

Good news, makes a change from funding cuts….

Further information on the Cornwall Devolution Deal http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/devolution

Information on Enterprise zones http://www.cornwall.gov.uk/business/economic-development/enterprise-zones/

 

French Government honours veterans in Cornwall for helping with the Liberation of France

On Thursday the 3rd March, the Chairman of Cornwall Council, Ann Kerridge hosted on behalf of the French Government and the Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall an award ceremony in recognition of the gallantry and bravery shown in the liberation of France in 1944-1945.

The veterans with the Consul, Lord Lt and Chairman of Cornwall Council

The veterans with the Consul, Lord Lt and Chairman of Cornwall Council

The French Honorary Consul presented the 21 veterans with the Legion d’honneur in the Council Chamber. In reading out the citations you heard how ordinary men did extraordinary actions in France.

The veterans where from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Army, including the Parachute Regiment and a whole host of other regiments, and the RAF. All had served in Normandy. Many people will have seen ‘Saving Private Ryan’ or ‘Band of Brothers’ but many of these veterans had actually hit the breaches or parachuted into France on D-Day.

Veterans and their families gather for the ceremony

Veterans and their families gather for the ceremony

One veteran a coxswain of a landing craft made landings on Sword, Juno, Gold and Omaha beaches all under fire. Before that he took part in the Dieppe Raid. Another had parachuted into Normandy. Talking to one veteran who had been injured fighting near Caen, he showed me his wartime glasses case which had stopped a bullet from killing him. Each one of the veterans had a story to tell and each one was extraordinary.

There were speeches by the Honorary Consul and the Lord Lieutenant, which was followed by the National Anthem and the Marseillaise. The Consul said he was humbled to be standing in front of these veterans who had helped liberate his country.

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The French Honorary Consul address the veterans and guests

One of the veterans being presented with his Legion d'honnour

One of the veterans being presented with his Legion d’honneur

I had the privilege to help out during the ceremony as a ex-serviceman. Other former servicemen helped out included Cllrs Armand Toms, Steve Chamberland, John Keeling and Tom French. We were there to help the veterans and serve the post ceremony tea and cakes. Also on hand to help with the tea was the Leader of Cornwall Council, John Pollard and the Vice-Chairman of Cornwall Council Mary May.

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The Long Gallery

All those who made this happen deserve our thanks. The French Government also deserves our thanks in recognising these veterans by awarding them France’s highest honour. I salute you.

Cornwall Council shortlisted for council of the year award by the Local Government Chronicle

Cornwall Council has been shortlisted for the Local Government Chronicle (LGC) Council of the Year award.

Cornwall Council is one of five councils which has been short listed for the award.  The other four councils are Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council, Leeds City Council, Norwich City Council and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council.Cornwall Council

Before anyone jumps up and says is this a joke, it is not. In fact this is an excellent achievement by the Council who in difficult financial circumstances, continue to deliver services for the benefit of Cornwall.

Yes, the Council does not always get everything right (and I have been one of its critics or I would say holding it to account), but no organisation does. We can always do better, and we do try.

However, the number of services the Council delivers is staggering, and I as one of the Cornwall Councillors is proud of the work the Council does over all.

This short-listing is a significant achievement which reflects the hard work and commitment of officers, Members, and our partners over the past twelve months.

For me, this award is really for the staff, who have continued to work hard for the authority and the people it serves. Staff often do huge overtime, yet they are not paid for this extra work. They do it because they believe in the work the Council does. Huge numbers of staff have had to re-apply for their jobs. This is because of the difficult financial pressure the Council faces with its reduced budget, but increased demand. Despite this turmoil and challenging times, staff have continued to deliver.

Thank you Cornwall Council staff (past and present).

From this short-listing, a team of judges will now visit the Council early in February to talk to Members and officers, with a final presentation being made to the full judging panel on the afternoon of the LGC awards ceremony taking place in London on 16 March. The winner will then be announced during the evening ceremony.

The LGC has also recognised the leadership of its Leader, Cllr John Pollard. John has been named as one of the most influential people in local government. John Pollard is placed 24th in the Local Government Chronicle’s LGC 100 list for 2016.

The list, which includes national and regional politicians, government ministers, civil servants and think tank representatives, looks ahead to who the panel of judges believe will exercise most influence in 2016. Judges are instructed to consider who will have the greatest influence, rather than who they would like to see holding power.  Candidates are assessed on the strength of their leadership, the breadth and depth of their influence, and the extent to which there is evidence their work is leading to change elsewhere.

John Pollard is the only person from a southern council to make the top 25 on the list, with the judges highlighting his role in successfully negotiating the country’s first non-metropolitan devolution deal for Cornwall.

Well done John.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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?

Chacewater Parish Council’s Letter to Cornwall Council

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.

The Cabinet at The Royal Cornwall Show

It was decided for the Cabinet and Cornwall Council to have a very small stand at this years Royal Cornwall Show; where the public could meet the various members of the Cabinet during the shows three days. Fear not, the stand was a table and a couple of chairs, surrounded by two corporate banners. It was important to have a presence, rather than a flashy display.

I volunteered to do the Saturday stint, and was on hand to answer questions and if required, take details for the inquiries to be followed up. It was also good to hear people congratulate the council for jobs well done. It is always good to hear positive feedback as well as the areas we don’t meet the publics expectations.

As a bonus, the weather was good, and there was no requirement for wellies!

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Minority Status for the Cornish

After a long campaign and with three previous unsuccessful bids, the Cornish have been granted Minority Status under the EU Framework Convention of National Minorities. This is fantastic news, and credit should go to all those – it is a long list – who lobbied and never gave up. This is especially to my fellow Cabinet Member, Bert Biscoe who has been a leading part of the campaign for the last 20 years.

St Pirans

Under the status, the Cornish will be afforded the same protections as the Welsh, Scottish and the Irish.  This means that Government departments and public bodies will be required to take Cornwall’s views into account when making decisions. The convention ensures that the rights of national minorities are respected by combating discrimination, promoting equality and preserving and developing the culture and identity of national minorities. 

inclusion in the convention will mean:

  • Recognise the distinctiveness of the Cornish and enhance the United Kingdom’s reputation as a country that celebrates and supports the diversity of its inhabitants.
  • Further the economic interests, not just of Cornwall, but of the United Kingdom as a whole.
  • Help strengthen the confidence of our young people that they are encouraged to identify with their cultural identity, and that this is valued by the rest of the country.
  • Help strengthen the ‘Cornish’ brand and provide a mechanism whereby the Cornish can establish and strengthen links with other groups accorded similar status across Europe and around the world.  
  • Create stronger links between communities and a greater understanding of shared values to help create more vibrant communities than can shape their own future.

Cornwall Council has stated its support for the Cornish as an ethnic minority in its Equality and Diversity Framework which can be found here.  This was strengthened in 2011 when the then Group Leaders endorsed the framework. More recently, a working group led by Cllr Bert Biscoe and Cllr Julian German and including Cllr Malcolm Brown, Cllr Dick Cole, Will Coleman, Maureen Fuller, Ed Rowe, Ian Saltern and Cllr Douglas Scrafton. Cornwall’s MP’s have also played their part in achieving this status. And therefore should be congratulated for their work.

Sadly, Minority Status does not attract – at the moment –  extra funding, but this excellent news should be celebrated for all those who have Cornwall’s best interest at heart.

The confirmation on Minority Status was set for the 24th with a Government Minister visiting Cornwall (surely not politicking so close to European and National Elections!) to deliver the message and was therefore embargoed till then – hence the timing of this blog and playing by the rules of honouring the embargo.

However in the age of social media, this story was first broke by a national; which sort of let the cat out of the bag and the embargo became nothing more than a word.

It is however, rather ironic the news of Cornish Minority Status broke on St George’s Day……

I will leave you with one further though and a question that attracts a different answer depending on who you ask the question to. What makes you Cornish? Birthright, or how you feel?

Prime Minister’s ‘money is no object’ announcement is nothing more than a ruse

During the height of the storms and floods, the Prime Minister told the country and indeed the world, that money is no object to help communities recover from the unprecedented weather front Cornwall – and other areas – were subjected to.

Now the weather has abated, and we are in a more settled period of weather, the Council and other partners can fully assess the damage inflicted upon the communities. It is bleak, and the full costs are still unknown, but the costs is looking like topping £21m. For Cornwall Council this is made up of £4m revenue, and £17m in capital costs. This can be further broken down by:

  • Highways £5m: revenue £2m and £3m capital
  • Coastal Defence £15m: revenue £1.8m and capital £13.2m
  • Coast Paths/other £1m: £500k for both revenue and capital

    So, what ‘money is no object’ funding streams are available to the Council? In truth, very little. Yes, we have the Bellwin Scheme, but apart from the dates to claim have been extended, the criteria to claim has not changed. The scheme can only be used to:

  • only to prevent loss of life/damage to property
  • prevent suffering or severe inconvenience
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    Futhermore, the Council will have to pay the first £887k excess. The potential claim by the Council is still be assessed, but early indications are approx £2m eligible spend. So in pounds, shillings and pence will mean out of the £2m, the Bellwin Scheme will only pay out £1.23m.

    The critical point is that the criteria have not changed and therefore the majority of the estimated £21m worth of damage will remain unfunded by Central Government. So much for ‘money is no object.’ This means the repair bill will have to be found from elsewhere and/or from within the Council’s own budget.

    It gets worse, as the promised £130m EA money will have little impact in Cornwall. It is good news for Somerset, as they will get £10m. A further £30m will be for EA assests. Priority is based on assets in the EA asset database. Which for Cornwall is only one, the rock-armour off Newlyn. The £130m will also not cover Coastal Assets just flood (fluvial) defence. To put it bluntly, Cornwall will not be at the top of the funding, or actually get any help.

    Our roads in Cornwall have also been badly affected by the weather. Credit must go to Cormac who have worked to address the many issues. However, the Governments announcement of £140m for Highways will be allocated on a formula basis to all Local Authorities. And as yet, those allocations are unknown, though I am told should be known shortly.

    The Leader of the Council, John Pollard has written to the Prime Minister highlighting the concern and extra financial pressures the Council now faces. The Leader has also written to the Secretary of State for Farming, Food and Rural Affairs to again highlight the European Fisheries Fund’s storm damage gear replacement scheme as over bureaucratic, with claim forms running to 21 pages. Plus having to submit business cases and three quotes. However, the real kick in the teeth on this funding is you cannot purchase lost gear until you have receive a letter from the MMO saying you can purchase it. I highlighted this in a previous blog HERE

    The position Cornwall Council is difficult, it is looking at a huge bill of repair and recovery which it can little afford without changes and severe impact on the budget. It is all well and good for the Government to roll out a series of measures to help and think they have done their jobs, but those measures have to actually mean something, and more importantly have real funding attached to them.

    So my message to the Prime Minister and Government is help is needed in Cornwall to recover from the weather. Without help, things are going to get very difficult for Cornwall Council.

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    All Change at the top of Cornwall Council

    Since the new CEO has joined, there has been a rather large change in the Corporate Leadership Team with the CEO reducing his leadership team (ie Directors) from six to three. This process has taken a few months to complete and was finally decided with a series of interviews for the positions. The interview panels were undertaken by Councillors drawn from across the political parties and groups of the Council. 

    The three new Directors are from left to right are:

    Paul Masters who is the Corporate Director for Community Development and Organisational Support; Trevor Doughty – Corporate Director for Education, Care and Health and Michael Crich – Corporate Director of Economy, Enterprise & Environment. They will take up their official post from the 8th April

     

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    I would like to offer my congratulations to the successful candidates and will look forward to working with them over the coming months in what will be a challenging time financially.

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