The Prime Minister visits Cornwall to see the damage of the weather

The Prime Minister visited Cornwall to see for himself just some of the damage the storms and flooding has had in Cornwall. The damage bill to date is £21 million, and could easily rise if the adverse weather continues. However, and this is important, the message being sent out is ‘Cornwall is still open for business.’

During the visit, the Prime Minister has ‘offered’ help with the repair bill.  One way is via the Bellwin Scheme. The current threshold for claims will be lowered, and in Cornwall’s case, instead of the 85% maximum payout, it will be 100%. This I very much welcome as without the help to carry out the repairs, the money would have to be found via Cornwall Council’s own budget. And we all know that is under real pressure.

Though my understanding of the ‘offer’ is the only for the emergency repairs and not the full repairs. That means Cornwall Council could still have to find at least £17m to repair the damage fully. As always, the devil is in the detail.

With no mainline rail to link Cornwall and the rest of the UK, flights out of Newquay will be reduced by £5 for two weeks. This will start on Wednesday 12th February. Also reduced are rail fares by I believe 20%. Less hope the rail line at Dawlish is repaired quickly, but I think it will take a while longer than the six-weeks currently being said. Especially if the sea decides to have another go at this stretch of coastline.

Now Cornwall Council has had a respite from the weather, it has given the Council time to look at the damage. The Council has come up with some estimated repair costs for the worse hit areas.

For Porthleven where there has been damage to coastal defences, with up to 40 properties at risk from coastal flooding, a breach of the river defences and significant damage to the fishing fleet. The cost of damage is

  • Interim repairs to coastal and river defences – current estimated costs £105k
  • Capital repairs to harbour (privately owned) to be estimated. I am seeking clarification if any money from the Bellwin Scheme can be used for the Harbour due to it being in private ownership.

For the rest of Cornwall and those affected areas, the cost of repairs is:

Portreath Harbour where there has been severe damage to the pier. 

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £51k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £800k

St Ives where two piers have been damaged.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £22k
  • Permanent repairs – current estimated costs £22k

Newlyn to Marazion where damage includes a breach of coastal defences at Eastern Green and Long Rock threatening the Paddington/Penzance railway line, residential and commercial property, South West Coastal Path; damage to South Quay, Penzance, threatening the link to the Isles of Scilly and damage also to Penzance promenade, Jubilee Pool, Newlyn Green.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £0.68k
  • Permanent repairs -current estimated costs £5.6m

Newquay Fistral  –where there has been damage to coastal defences and undermining of the Fistral Surf Centre; the removal of sand led to undermining of the Fistral RNLI training base and damage to the sand dunes led to damage to several accesses to the beach.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £15k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £500k

Mullion Harbour  – (National Trust  Property) where there has been structural damage to Eastern Breakwater.

Cost of damage

  • Estimate awaited from National Trust 

Newquay Towan and Harbour where there has been damage to the road access to Blue Reef Aquarium, damage to the Towan Promenade and beach huts and damage to harbour assets and harbour masters office.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £22k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £335k

St Mawes  where there has been damage to highway, damage to coastal defences at Summers Beach and damage to privately owned quay.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £108k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £12k
  • Estimates for damage to private pier being prepared

Bude  where interim repairs to Bude Canal and coastal defences have now been completed.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £59k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £130k
  • Further damage to be estimated

Calstock where the failure of a highway wall resulted in the collapse of the road.

Cost of damage

  • Initial response – current estimated costs £0.1m
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £0.5m 

Looe where there has been damage to harbour assets and to the coastal defences at Hannafore.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs  – current estimated costs  £80k
  • Capital repairs – CC – current estimated costs – £20k
  • Looe Harbour Commissioners are preparing estimates

Kingsand / Cawsand where there has been significant damage to coastal defences and residential properties and to the structural integrity of the institute and the clock tower.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £20k
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £585k

Seaton  where there has been significant damage to beach profile and local businesses and the loss of wall at the rear of the beach.

Cost of damage

  • Interim repairs – current estimated costs £70
  • Capital repairs – current estimated costs £575k

As you can see, the list is long. Lets just hope the Government actually comes through and actually pays the full bill and not just the emergency repairs

All Change for Cornwall Council’s Directors

You would have to had lived on Mars to not know the Council is facing a huge pressure on its budget. £196m is a real game changer, and by 2018 the Council you currently know will change.

The first change is to the Corporate Leadership and Directors. This means that the number of corporate directors (including the role of assistant chief executive) will be reduced from six to three.

Detailed role profiles are under development and will be a matter for formal consultation, but the broad areas of accountability for the three corporate director roles are:

Economy and the environment
Localism, business management, organisational development, community safety and protection
Education, social care and health

The new structure has been discussed with and is supported by the Cabinet. The new CEO has acted swiftly and I fully support this.

Once the appointments to the new roles are made, there will be a review of the shape and structure of services within the new directorates. This will be done in consultation with employees and their representatives.

This is the first step in a process of moving to a new shape of organisation that will be able to deliver services with less money.

Council Tax set to rise by 1.97%

Yesterday, Cornwall Council’s Cabinet approved the budget for 2014/15. This is subject to the final approval of Full Council, who have the final say on the budget.  Contained within the overall budget, is a recommendation for a rise in Council Tax of 1.97%. This however, is only one possible increase in the Council Tax bill.  As the Council Tax bill is made up of three parts: Cornwall Council, the parish/town council precept and Devon and Cornwall Police. This will more than likely result in a higher increase in bills than 1.97%.

No-one likes to raise tax unnecessary, but in Cornwall Council’s case, it has little option. This is due to the stinging cuts to the Councils grant, and with the added restraint of a cap on the limit Council Tax can go up without a referendum. It is a bleak picture, as the Council is having to find £196m in savings on top of the £170m reduction in the last four years.

The big question is how do we deal with the cuts and at the same time deal with a greater demand on our services? And for that question to be answered, we need the public to engage – and vice-versa – with the Council on how best we do that. This process of better engagement started this year, with more public consultation events than ever before, and by using different ways of engaging with people. Like You Choose. It is paramount we as a Cabinet and Council must build on this for the following years budget setting.

 

 

The Chairman of Cornwall Council Charity Cricket Match

Last Friday saw the reinstatement – after a hiatus of five years – of the Chairman of Cornwall Council Members versus officers cricket match.

The Councillors team were ‘pressed’ from the various political groups at Cornwall Council. Many of which had not held a cricket bat since they were at school.

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The match was kindly hosted by Truro CC who allowed their wicket to be abused by many of the batsmen.

As for the match, it was a light-hearted event with a lot of good natured sledging. However, most of the sledging came from the Councillors highlighting the lack of skill within their own team.

After 20 overs, much of it in the rain, the officers took the honours by 12 runs. Of course the ‘political spin’ to this win was the Councillors allowed the win as part of an officer moral boosting exercise. However from anyone watching the game would have quickly realised the Councillors team – apart from four members – lacked any skill. To highlight this, the Councillors got more Ducks than is found on the average duck pond.

The good news to the match is it raised £900 for the Chairmans Charity. Which is a fantastic achievement. A huge congratulations to all those who organised this successful event.

Cornwall Council issues a further statement on Councillor Brewer

This afternoon, Cornwall Council has issued a further statement in reference to the recent comments made by Cllr Brewer. It is as follows:

The Council has received numerous complaints from members of the public over the recent comments made by Councillor Collin Brewer.

In recognition of the concerns which have been expressed, the Council’s Monitoring Officer requested that the complaints be assessed as a matter of urgency in accordance with the Council’s ethical standards regime.

It has now been formally determined that the case merits a full investigation to decide whether there has been a breach of the Members Code of Conduct and, if so, the nature and extent of that breach. That investigation, which will be carried out by a senior lawyer from within the Council’s Corporate Governance Team, will be expedited.

Earlier this week the leaders of the main political parties on the Council issued a joint statement to clarify the position of the authority: “The recently published comments which are attributed to Councillor Brewer are completely unacceptable and are contrary to the Council’s policy of supporting all people with disabilities. Such views have no place in local government. These remarks represent the personal views of Councillor Brewer who does not speak for the Council or the people of Cornwall.”

It is anticipated that Councillor Brewer will not be allocated any seats on Council committees.

The authority does not have the legal power to sack a Councillor and following the Government’s abolition of Standards for England in 2012 and changes to the Code of Conduct regime the Council no longer has the ability to suspend Councillors.

Horsetrading and Group Meetings

Tomorrow, after the Bank Holiday weekend, the Council and its new Councillors start this term of office. All those who did not get re-elected, or did not stand officially stop being members of Cornwall Council. The authority will change, not only because there are 53 new Councillors, but the administration is very likely to be different from what people have been used to these last four years.

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The question on many people’s lips will be who will form the administration as no one group has the overall majority to form an administration including electing a Leader of the Cabinet. And before people think it will be all sorted tomorrow it is best to put you out of your misery by saying the new administration will not be sorted tomorrow. In fact, it might not be sorted this week owning to the fact a lot has to be discussed before the new administration knows which way it is heading. The election results tell you it is not business as usual.

So what are the options? I think there are two options available. The first one is one of/the largest groups tries to form a minority administration. Though to be fair I would be very surprised if one group tried to form a minority administration, due to the complications of tying to get your preferred Leader of the Cabinet elected, and without a Leader you cannot form an administration. The other and more likely scenario is there will be another coalition. If it is a coalition who would be part of it? it could be two, three or four groups!

Lets look at how the groups fared since the last election in 2009:

  • Conservative Group: went to the largest group, to the third largest. As the 2009 election gave them 50 Councillors. Now they have 31. A massive drop.
  • Lib Dem: Now is the largest group on the council by one, having 36 Councillors (That’s of the majority of Independents form a group). This is two down from 38 in 2009
  • Independents: technically could have 35 (32 in 2009). but that’s only if they all belong to one group.
  • Labour: Have eight, and have seen the largest gain of eight from the 2009 results (they did win a by-election in 2011)
  • Mebyon Kernow: Four officially, a slight improvement of one from 2009
  • UKIP: A result of six puts them as the 5th largest group at the Council. They are the real unknown as no one has had any experience of working with this party before.

A lot will depend on how certain groups act, as in 2009 the Lib Dems put themselves straight into opposition. I very much doubt they will do this again. Meaning they are more than likely to be part of the new administration just on numbers alone. The next question if this happens is who with? Conservatives? Yes, they are both in a coalition Government, but this is local politics and I really cannot see this happening. If it did, I would expect to see mass defections from both groups. They might get along in Westminster, but this is not Westminster and things are very different at the local level.

How about Lib Dems, Labour and MK joining together and forming an administration? Again I doubt this it will happen, as I cannot see Labour and the Lib Dems working together in a formal way with a General Election only two years away. More to the point, it will not give them the numbers guaranteed of getting a Leader elected.

That leaves the possibility of a LD/Indi or a Indi/Con coalition. This will also be an interesting marriage as the Independents are a mixed bag. Some, like myself have never been in a political group, others have been members of political parties, and have been elected as such.

I should say there is one other option, with that being a rainbow administration with the Cabinet being made up of all parties and groups. Though can you really see this happening? I cannot. That is why I have left it to the very end. Though it is politics and history will tell you anything can happen!

One thing is for sure, it will be an interesting few weeks of offer and counter offers until an administration is formed. Only once this is done, the new Council can find its feet, and get on with its job of serving the people by delivering services. And do not forget the council will be run on a new structure than no one has ever worked under!

 

One Conservative Fired and Two Quit

The fallout from Tuesday’s Budget meeting continues at Cornwall Council, and if I was a betting man I would bet more is to come. Today, Carolyn Rule, one of the Conservative Members on the Cabinet quit the Conservative Group and became an Independent. The simple reason was on how her own party had acted and voted on Tuesday.

Then later, about an hour ago Lance Kennedy another Conservative Cabinet Member also quit the Conservative Group citing the same reason as Carolyn. He has also become an Independent, but I am unsure he has joined the Indi Group unlike Carolyn who joins their ranks today.

This has not ended, as Steven Rushworth has been fired from the Cabinet by the Leader Jim Currie. I do not know the full details, but I am told it is over the Budget and how he voted against the Cabinet. Though technically he just voted for the 0%.

As it stands, those who have quit the Conservative Group have so far kept their current positions in the Cabinet. I also believe at least one more Conservative will resign, but that has not happened and should only be treated as a rumour.

The atmosphere at County Hall is fraught, especially for many of the staff who are seething on being badly let down by so many Councillors. And next week I feel it will be getting worse once the full detail and impacts the 0% Budget will have on services and staffing.

Kevin Lavery: should I stay, or should I go?

Well it is now official, Kevin Lavery has been offered the job as CEO of Wellington City Council in New Zealand. Though as yet, he has not accepted that position. So that clears up the point of whether the story being true. In a statement from Cornwall Council the CEO say’s:

“I have enjoyed my time as the Chief Executive of Cornwall Council and will be sorry to leave the authority and Cornwall” he said. “I now need to consider the terms of the offer very carefully and discuss this with my family before making a final decision”.

“I will be spending the next few days considering this offer and hope to make an announcement early next week.

So what now? That is a difficult question to answer for a few reasons. The first one is if he goes, how much time would he have (or need) to serve out before he is released from his contract as the new job starts in March 2013. There are calls for him to serve out his full notice period and no golden goodbyes. Though for the latter, I would think there would be none, as he is leaving on his terms.

However, if he does not take the job how what then? Well for me, and I am sorry to say this, but I think his position is now untenable due to him seeking employment elsewhere and that being public.  Having the most senior council officer actively seeking employment elsewhere is not good for the stability of the council. Having confidence in the CEO is a must, but more so when 2013 is likely to be a difficult period what with the harsh grant cuts from central Government. If that officer is looking elsewhere, how can we be sure we are not going to be left in the lurch if that perfect job comes along?

At least with the upcoming Christmas period people have time to reflect on what to do next. For the council it needs to decide if it wants to be replaced the CEO, as under new rules a council does not have to have one, or it could share one. After all the Isles of Scilly could soon have a vacant position as well.

I will say, Kevin is a good officer, I might not have always agreed with some of his views, like outsourcing, but he has managed to turn seven authorities into one. That is no mean feat, and that should be recognised.

 

Is Cornwall Council’s CEO Kevin Lavery Leaving?

The internet is great, it really makes the world smaller, as just look at the startling news from New Zealand via the Dominion Post. In the article, it says Kevin Lavery is taking up the role of Wellington City Council. You might think it is a different Kevin, but it also lists in the article Cornwall Council (yes there is another Cornwall Council in Canada).

Now if this is true (which I believe it is) who knew at Cornwall Council and when were Councillors going to be told? I expect a few email/phone calls will be received in the next few hours/days. I for one will be looking forward to the answers.

The other question that needs answering is why is he leaving? Is it because he did not get the full-JV? or something else, like the leadership change? Maybe the council will look at point 24 from Mr Pickles’ (not) helpful guide

Update: Looks like the press office at Cornwall Council did not know either, as they are trying to clarify if this is actually true from the man himself.

Mr Pickles is the pot calling the kettle black

The recent decision by Cornwall Council’s Cabinet to introduce a policy for those in receipt of the Council Tax benefit, or as it is known under its new name Localised Council Tax Support,  might (final decision in Jan) find themselves being required to pay 30% of the Council Tax, as the maximum support given will be 70%.

This has not gone down well with people who are very worried on how to find this extra money. It does seem rather strange that the Cabinet is hitting those more in need. However, I will not be going into detail on the Cabinets recommendations, as I will get the chance to have my say and more importantly, vote in January when the full council will vote on this, and the budget in full.

What I will be talking about is the hypocrisy of the Secretary of State for Local Government, the Rt Hon Mr Pickles MP, who criticises councils in the Western Morning News that have or are thinking of going down this path.

For councils like Cornwall Council, the devolution of this function comes with a 12.5% reduction in budget. That is £6 million that Cornwall Council has to find.   If it was not for his Government, and the off-loading of this down to local councils, with less money, councils would not have to make these difficult decisions.

You cannot have it both ways Mr Pickles as at least give councils fair funding when you hand down functions to Local Authorities. Though for Cornwall Council to have greater sympathy, it also needs to hand down a fair budget with the services it is off-loading to town and parish councils. I am not seeing a lot of this actually happening.

I also blogged about this back in July and October.

 

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