Cornwall Council has (not) got Talent – Children in Need 2012

The annual lets look even more silly than normal took place on Tuesday in guise of Cornwall Council has (NOT) Talent competition that helps raise a little money for the worth cause of  Children in Need. This was going to take place on November 15th, but it was rescheduled due to clashing with the Police Commissioner Election.

As normal, Councillors and Democratic Services put in an act. This is the fourth year we have, and last year (and quite rightly so) we won, yes really we won! This year, as it was close to Christmas, we decided to do a ‘School Nativity’.  Yes, I know you are probably thinkings please do not put up any pictures, as I cannot afford that much therapy.

The stage was set, and it was Lights, Camera and Action!

Councillor and Democratic Services do the Nativity for Children in Need

Councillor and Democratic Services do the Nativity for Children in Need

The deputy leader of MK threads the boards

The deputy leader of MK, Cllr Andrew Long threads the boards as The Donkey

The leaders of Cornwall Council's Lib Dems, MK and Indi Group show off their acting skills

The leaders of Cornwall Council’s Lib Dems, MK and Indi Group show off their acting skills as the three wise men
left to right: Cllrs John Wood, Dick Cole and Jeremy Rowe

 

Mary (Cllr Duffin) and Joseph

Mary (Cllr Duffin) and Joseph

The cast look on in amazement on my dancing!

The cast look on in amazement at my dancing!

And lastly, me as Gabriel the Narrator!

Me as Gabriel the Narrator

Me as Gabriel the Narrator

 

I have to say well done to all the people who took part that could sing or tell jokes. It was great to see so many people enter into the spirit of things giving up their own time to either take part or watch. I do have other pictures, but I am going going to publish them as they are more use as bargaining chips and ransoms!

Finally, I am please to say no animals or Councillors were harmed in this or any other performance.

If you are brave and want reminding, here are previous years: 2011  and 2010 and 2009

 

Report it and My Area

Those clever bods in the website design team at Cornwall Council have excelled themselves with making it easier to contact the council and report something, or find out something like the doctors surgery number, recycling collection and a whole host of other useful information now no more than a few clicks of a mouse.

The first one is Report itwhich I have blogged about before HERE and now has its own sidebar widget on my blog. The second link and new widget is called My Area. Basically you just enter your postcode,  then select your address and for your reward your are supplied with useful information for your area. Like Report it, My Area has its own widget on my blog.

A hearty congratulations should be given to the whole team for this, and the other stuff those goes mostly unnoticed on the councils website.

My Area

Report it

The End of Second Home Council Tax Discount in Cornwall

Cornwall Council’s Cabinet is set to introduce large-scale changes (if fully approved) to certain areas of Council Tax discount. It is recommended to stop the second home discount, currently set at 10%; change the discount on an empty property, and introduce a premium charge for those dwelling that have been left vacant for long periods.

I am sure the first change of ending the second home discount will be welcomed. It is a bone of contention with permanent residents that this discount is still available.  It used to be up to 50%, but this was changed a few years ago to 10%. Now from 2013, there will be no discount. With the removal of this discount, Cornwall Council will receive an extra £1.6 million in Council Tax revenue. I very much welcome this change, though, I have one small concern. This concern is how does the council keep a simple track on the number of second homes in an area? The discount was a good way of knowing this. With the removal of the discount, it will be a lot harder to track the number of second homes in an area.

Another big change is on the Council Tax discount for an empty dwelling. It is proposed that if the dwelling is undergoing major repair/renovation, the owner will get a Council Tax discount of 50% for the first year only. They will then have to pay the full amount. This is a change from an exemption for one year, and then the full amount. If a house if not undergoing repairs, and is just empty, a discount of 100% will be given for the first month only, thereafter the full council tax will be applied.

With so many long-term empty dwellings in Cornwall, the council is set to introduce a levy, or premium for those dwelling that are left long-term empty. This will be an extra 50% change. So if a dwelling is vacant for over 2 years, the owner will be required to pay 150% of the Council Tax. It is hoped this will encourage owners of these long-term empty dwellings to bring them back into use.

I believe the council is taking the right steps in these proposals and I hope the Cabinet will adopt them this Wednesday. These changes will be in effect from 2013/14 tax year. The full report is HERE. The meeting is webcast from 10am via the Cornwall Council website.

Cornwall Council’s FOI Request Answered

Cornwall Council have very nicely listed on its website many, if not all of the FOI requests received this year. It is great the council has done this, as hopefully by reading some (or all if you like) it might save time and money in people not asking the same questions over  and over again.

So if you want to know how many cats Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service has rescued you can. Or how many Chauffeurs employs/uses; the number of mobile phones and the cost (I am not provided with one before anyone asks). Also listed is the CEO’s pay; how many Councillors are Freemasons and a whole host other information people might be interested in.

Before you get too excited, there is nothing earth-shattering listed, but does make interesting reading and the full list is HERE. It even lists how many FOI requests have not been answered within the required 20 days. So feel free over your coffee, or lunch break to have a look. Who knows, you might find the question you were about to submit might have already been answered, and that will save the council £150 (average cost of a FOI).

Visit to Active 8

Yesterday, I and a Cornwall Council officer (Chris), visited the Cornish charity Active 8. The charity is based in Falmouth, but reaches the whole of Cornwall. The reason for the visit is Cornwall Council Children’s Schools and Families OSC is looking at how to improve communication, and involvement between young people projects, and see how they can take an active part in policy and the decisions that are made.

For those who may not know, Active 8 is a small Cornish charity, providing two years of fun and challenging experiences for young people with a physical disability, followed by opportunities for young adults (the After Eights) to stay in touch with each other as they start their adult lives. Their website is HERE and is definitely worth a look.

During the visit I met Mike and Richard, along with Active 8’s youth worker Matt. After the introductions, Matt asked each of us which new super-hero would we be as an ice-breaker. I won’t tell you who we would be, or the names, but it was very funny.

As I said, the aim of the visit was to see how these young people felt about Cornwall Council. It was nice to hear that Cornwall Council was good, and it really did try to do its best, though not always getting it right. This was good to hear from people who have had first hand experience of Cornwall Council. I also explained my role as a Councillor, and how that can work as a link between various organisations; plus be there to  help when needed.

It was good to hear how they felt things at Cornwall Council could be improved, their frustrations and solutions to problems. They felt they would like more information about Cornwall Council and services it provides, with regular updates from the council. They felt it was often hard to find out information, or it was not that user-friendly. Issues they raised were taxis, access to beaches, drop kerb, information on services and housing.

The real important message is they wanted to engage with the council and help the council with finding solutions that those with a physical disability faced . This I very much welcome, as with better communication and understanding, we might just overcome the issues.

Huge credit should go to the people behind Active 8 who run a really inspiring program. It was great to meet Mike, Richard and Matt and I look forward to them visiting County Hall in the New Year.

Cornwall’s Shared Services and the Not Forthcoming Information

The recent battle within the Council on the Strategic Partnership for Support Services has attracted a lot of attention from around the country in both online and the more traditional paper methods. It has been interesting to read many of the various articles and many throw an interesting spotlight on the subject.

Two are from Computer Weekly, with the first: HERE

It certainly throws up various points like the way BT is going around saying Cornwall Council and BT are already in a partnership:

 “We are already in three competitive bid situations for Telehealth/care with Australia Telehealth, Northumbria Telehealth and Hampshire Telecare; where we have named Cornwall as our partner,”

I think it is a little premature of BT to be going around the country and the world saying Cornwall is our partner, when that very partner, Cornwall Council and its elected membership has said, we are not interested in your outsourcing plan. Even at the so-called confidential briefing to Councillors, one of the BT Execs made this comment. It so startled me, that I wrote it down thinking ‘cheeky so and so’s saying that when you don’t have the contract.’

The second article from Computer Weekly: HERE talks about other providers being in competition with Cornwall’s JV. It is a point I raised in the full council meeting in September. I made the point with so many sellers out there, who is a buyer?  It is not hard to find details from around the country of JV’s being set up to try to take over other Council services. Talk about a crowded market. That’s until the big boys buy up all the contracts. Then there will not be much competition for the best deal.

The disaster that Southwest One has turned into (with different partners) originally started out thinking it could take on the services of the whole of the South West, when that  failed; it looked elsewhere in the country. The Southwest One venture is still not going well, and has headed to the courts to be settled.

The Computer Weekly article also points out that if Southwest One sorts itself out, it could actually be more competitive than Cornwall Inc. Just Imagine Cornwall Inc finding itself being sold on to another provider, or taken over? It is a real possibility. This highlights the danger of losing direct control of services and then finding out you are owned by some company on the other-side of the world because of a company balance sheet.

Going back to the Councillor briefing and all the pretty slides which made a great play on savings. In all of the documentation I have been allowed to see, there is no business plan, forecast, or details on how the x-amount will be saved. Just a headline figure, which looks nice, but means little.

Furthermore, the Single Issue Panel whose hard-work highlighted so many issues with the proposals has requested details on the forecasts/savings. It has yet to receive them. Even more worryingly, and I have recently received confirmation to the fact,  the business plan will not be received until the Council has received an invitation to tender. On both counts, the forecast and business plan are critical to investigating if a deal is creditable beyond pretty headline figures. And both of these are not available.

I really believe if this deal was so sweet, those in favour of it would be only more than willing to show these details to prove they are right. Or has it not been shown to the wider council membership because it could contain controversial elements.  Even the past Council director, Ms Stewart talked about a J-curve (job losses first, and then jobs). You cannot help wondering what else is being hidden if the information is less than forthcoming.

You cannot help but think BT thought they were home and dry before the first motion, the no-confidence motion, and the petition firmly threw a box full of spanners into the machinery. It also adds to the suspicion that CSC was merely there to make up the numbers. This rumour had been doing the rounds for a while at County Hall.

More concerning, senior managers are still going about selling BT. My real fear is the ‘alternative’ options will be hurriedly put together, without the time needed to fully investigate them. Then it will be sold that BT is the only option. And we have a fait accompli deal for BT

This whole deal is starting to stink worse than a three-day old fish left out in the sun. But at least the Council via it elected has made it very clear, any contract will only be given if the majority of the Council agrees to it. Convincing ten Councillors is a walk in the park compared to trying to convince 123 (yes, yes I know, you only need 62 for a majority).

BBC Radio 4 covered outsourcing of public services to private providers today with Public, Private, Profitable

 

The Day Before Tomorrow

Everything is heading for one almighty collision tomorrow (16th October) when the entire council meets to either support the no-confidence motion, and remove the current leader, or stick with him. The motion has not just come about from the Shared Services (JV) dealings, but for many the JV was the final straw for back bencher’s.

It will not surprise people, but the current Cabinet have been sending e-mails to all Councillors in what looks to be an orchestrated plan to ‘re-assure’ back bencher’s.  So far I have received emails from Councillor’s Ridgers, Rule, Hicks and German. They are all stating the same that the JV is the best thing since sliced bread, but if the council chooses to vote against the JV on the 23rd, they will respect that vote. Funny how they have changed their minds from the last Council meeting!

This massive change of heart from the previous stance is nothing more than a delaying tactic to save their and the current Cabinet Leaders position. As if the vote on the Leader’s position is carried, their jobs are in no way guaranteed. Though, no one is saying the other Cabinet Members will be removed. This seems to come from the Cabinet Members themselves, and not those who have signed the motion, or who will vote to remove the Leader. It is more like another scare tactic.

I am sure there will be lots of arm twisting  going on tonight to make sure the Leader has support. Though I am hearing the support list is rapidly thinning. Threats rarely work, and just shows how desperate people are.

The meeting will be webcast as well. The link for the webcast is HERE

Jim Currie Resigns from Cornwall Council Cabinet

It is Tuesday, and I did say it was going to get interesting in the lead up to the no-confidence vote. The latest development is Jim Currie has resigned from the Cabinet. This is really a huge development as Jim is also the Deputy Leader of Cornwall Council.

In his letter to Alec Robertson:

I am resigning from the Cabinet today as I feel that I have pushed the cause of retaining Council control over Joint Ventures as far as I can with the Cabinet.

The financial risks involved with the rush into the new Joint Venture proposals are unacceptable. The JV is basically too large to control. We have wasted £42m+ on the Unitary, £42m+ on the Incinerator and we are now proposing to risk a great deal more on the Joint Venture.

I welcome your somewhat ambiguous offer to respect Full Council decisions on the 23rd October but I know you will never let go.

I could not leave local government with billions of pounds of Cornish Taxpayers money at risk and on my conscience.

Alec, this matter has never been personal.

Yours aye

Jim

The third paragraph in Jim’s letter is really damaging, as it strengthens the case after the announcement on Monday is nothing more than a ruse to survive the 16th, then still press on with the JV. You can not forget Jim has been in the inter-circle of the Cabinet, and was the Portfolio Holder for Finance so would know more than most.

Jumped before pushed? I do not think so, as I think the resignation is perfectly timed for the no-confidence vote on the 16th. I think now, there is only one possible replacement candidate for the no-confidence vote.

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