Tory Group Leader, Councillor Ferguson Gets It Wrong

Earlier in the week, the Tory Group Leader at Cornwall Council Councillor Ferguson publicly via twitter made certain remarks, one of which is totally unacceptable and unwarranted.

The original Tweet from Cllr Ferguson mentioned a ‘story’ in The Daily Mirror on Swindon Borough Council ‘thinking’ of sending its Looked after Children to Cornwall. As you can see from my response, I do not know what other Councils are thinking. I do use social media extensively, but I certainly do not follow every council on what they are doing. Nor had I actually seen or could find this ‘article.’ *I have now found the original article, it is not pleasant and HERE it is.

20131112-202133.jpg

Of course, I wanted to know what the tweet was about, so the following morning (original tweet was sent late the night). I contacted my Head of Service which Looked after Children comes under, asking if any contact has been made. The response was we have had no inquiries or contact from Swindon Council. Other officers within the service were also asked, with time spent making sure no-one had been contacted

The Cllr Ferguson, followed the original Tweet with this outrageous comment and without any further correspondence early the following afternoon:

20131112-203514.jpg

On seeing this outrageous tweet, I asked Cllr Ferguson to remove it, or I will report it to the Monitoring Officer. As the contents were beyond fair political boundaries. Sadly, this tweet has not been removed. And therefore I am leaving it within the hands of the Monitoring Officer for investigation.

Putting the tweet aside I still wanted to find out the contents of the papers article. More officer time was spent, including those from the comms dept to find the article and contact Swindon Council for clarification. As by the Guidance, any LA who sends Looked after Children to another LA should inform that LA for various reasons including Safeguarding. I also contacted my counter-part at Swindon for clarification. And this is where I got to the bottom of it all.

The Lead Member for Swindon Council kindly and swiftly replied to my email. And here is where Cllr Ferguson comes unstuck and gets it totally wrong.

You see this article dates back to 2005! Yes 2005. I was not even a Councillor then let alone a Cornwall Councillor. The comment which Cllr Ferguson refers to was made at a committee meeting by the then Deputy Mayor, who subsequently resigned as the Deputy Mayor and Councillor. This has been clarified by the Lead Member for Swindon Council. No wonder I could not find the article from 2005!

This has made the original tweet and the outrageous follow-up more damaging. As Cllr Ferguson made these comments on a very out of date story, that had no relevance to my current role, or Cornwall Council.

As Cllr Ferguson made the comments publicly, I will be seeking a public apology, and the removal of the tweets.

Furthermore, as Cllr Ferguson is a senior politician at Cornwall Council and Group Leader for the Tory Group and should check her facts before she so publicly criticises me and my position as Lead Member for Children and Young People.

With this public response, I can put the record straight.

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.

20130909-074413.jpg

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.

Cornwall Council issues a statement on the comments made by Councillor Brewer

The party group leaders at Cornwall Council have released a joint statement in response to the recent comments (click here for them) made by Councillor Collin Brewer, as follows:

“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.”

Signed :
Jeremy Rowe, Leader of the Liberal Democrat group, John Wood, Leader of the Independent group, Fiona Ferguson, Leader of the Conservative group, Malcolm Moyle, Leader of the Labour group, Stephanie McWilliam , Leader of UKIP group, Dick Cole, Leader of Mebyon Kernow

The Council further clarified:

Following the Government’s abolition of Standards for England in 2012 and changes to the Code of Conduct regime the options available to the Council when a breach of the Code of Conduct is found have been limited. There is no longer the ability to suspend Councillors. The Council has never been able to disqualify Councillors in response to Code of Conduct complaints. In this case the Monitoring Officer found that there had been a breach of the Code of Conduct and determined that the only appropriate and proportionate sanction he could impose was to require Councillor Brewer to issue a formal apology. Mr Brewer was notified of this in November 2012 and subsequently wrote to the complainant apologising unreservedly for his remarks.

The Council does not have the power to stop anyone standing for election. Both the qualifications for candidates and the reasons why an individual could be disqualified from standing for election are clearly set out in legislation. The reasons for disqualification include being employed by the Council or holding a politically restricted post, being declared bankrupt or being sentenced to at least 3 months imprisonment during the previous 5 years. As none of the criteria for disqualification apply to Mr Brewer he was entitled to stand for election to Cornwall Council and was subsequently chosen by local voters to represent the Wadebridge East electoral division.

The Council is committed to ensuring that all staff and Members receive appropriate training in equality and diversity issues. Equality and diversity training is mandatory for all paid staff and we staged specific workshops for all Members during the first week of their induction programme. Further training, on-going workshops and awareness sessions will also be available throughout the four year life of this Council.

Mike jumps from the Cons

The second week of Cornwall Council has started with a surprise. As a arch-conservative has left the party they stood under at the election and has become an independent Councillor. The person in question is Mike Eathorne-Gibbon.

Not only has Mike left the Conservatives, but he has joined the Independent Group. This has been met with a few raised eye brows within the Indi Group.

Of course the rumour mill is in overdrive at Cornwall Council with the presses saying more Conservatives could jump.

From all this manoeuvring we might find the make-up of the political groups at Cornwall Council very different to the election results by the Council’s first full meeting on the 21st.

Council Budget: who voted which way

Things at Cornwall Council have not quietened down post the Budget decision last week. The Members room is an awkward place to be depending on which side of the fence you voted. Morale for the staff is low, with some still trying to comprehend what happened and many are thinking do they have a future at the authority. It is not good, and I doubt will improve anytime soon. The most searched keyword on council’s website is jobs.

A question that I have been asked by the public and staff is who voted which way on the Budget. So I have decided to publish the list (it was a recorded vote) and includes which party the Councillor represents.

For the Lib Dem Motion (0%)

Conservatives Councillors: Barlett, Biggs, Double, Eathorne-Gibbons, Ellis, Evans, Ferguson, Fitter, Harding, Hatton, Lambshead, Maddern, Mann, D Parsons, L Pascoe, Pearn, Penhaligon, Rushworth, Sheppard, Stewart, Stoneman, Tanner, Tucker, M Williams.

Lib Dem Councillors: G Brown, Glenton Brown, Bull, Dolphin, Duffin, Edwards, Folkes, Fonk, Gillard-Loft, Hannaford, Hobbs, Hughes, Kenny, Kerridge, Lewarne, Nolan, D, Parsons Paynter, Pearce, Polmounter, Powell, Preston, Rogerson, C Rowe, J Rowe, Schofield, Taylor, Watson

Against the Motion

Independent Councillors: Biscoe, Burden, Callan, Chappel, Coombe, Curnow, Dolley, Eva, German, Goninan, Greenslade, Haycock, Heywood, Kaczmarek, Keeling, Lugg, May, C Pascoe, Pass, Pollard, Saunby, Varney, Walker, Wallis, Wood

MK Councillors: Cole, Jenkin, Plummer

Labour Councillor: J Robinson

Conservative Councillors: Clark, Currie, Dyer, Eddowes, Gisbourne, Goodenough, Kennedy, T Martin, Mutton, Pugh, Ridgers, Robertson, Rule, Shakerely, Symons, Toms

Lib Dem Councillors: Austin, Donnithorne, Oxenham, Turner,

Abstentions: Harvey (Chairman), Sanger (Con), Riches (LD)

Not present for the vote*

Councillors: Bain, Brewer, Cullimore, Egerton, Eggleston, Flashman, George, Hicks, Holley, Long, M Martin, Nicholas, Teverson, T Williams, Willoughby, Wilkins

That’s it, feel free to share the list for all to see

*Not present for various reasons which could include being on other council business, illness, or some other excuse.

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.

Cuts to council services over the price of a chocolate bar

Tuesday’s Budget meeting was always going to be long and heated. As I have said previously, it was the battle of the 0% budgets and the Cabinet preferred option of the 1.97% increase, or to put it into monetary terms the increase to the Council Tax bill would be 42 pence per week on a Band D property, or 10p on a Band A.

Let’s be clear, no-one likes to raise Council Tax unnecessary. That is a fact. But for the last two years Cornish residents have had a 0% increase in the Cornwall Council part of the Council Tax bill. However, the £170 million and counting cuts to the grant settlements from Government can only be absorbed so far. In the end you run out of areas to streamline, or the favourite in local government circles, restructuring. That means Council Tax has to be raised if people want services to remain.

What actually happened shocked even me for the blatant disregard for setting a Budget that will protect deliverable services. Instead we got headline catching bullet points. That if you look behind them will result in service provision being reduced, and in some cased stopped. No spin, that’s the harsh reality. That is the bases of both amendments.

In a turn of events that no-one expected, least of all the Lib Dems, a great majority of the Conservatives instead of voting against the Lib Dem amendment, voted for it. This was carried and that made it the substantive motion. The Cons, then withdrew their amendment (after lunch officially). This left only one option on the table.

You cannot help but think the Lib Dems were out-manoeuvred by the Cons in the vote. Especially as the Con amendment had the unworkable tag from the S151 officer. So it had little if any chance of getting approved. And as it is so close to an election, the two big parties could not be seen to lose the advantage to each other. Furthermore, and confirmed by two of the four group leaders, there was common ground to support the 1.97% Budget but one group leader would not. Guess who? Yes, the Cons group leader.

Before the final vote on the substantive motion (the amendment, now formally adopted.) was taken, the interim CEO, Paul Masters also spelt out the impact on staffing levels and therefore service provision this substantive motion would have. This will be at least (I would say more) 135 jobs lost, which will be made up of full, part, agency and temporary staff. With no staff, there will be no service to provide. There is also the redundancy costs which unsurprisingly have not been factored in, and now will have to be found from somewhere. Yes, you’ve guessed it, more cuts.

The S151 Officer made it perfectly clear to all those present that a pro-rata cut would be applied to all Directorates if the amendment was carried. These details and impact was also read out before the vote, just to make sure everyone knew what they were about to vote on. You’ll be surprised how often people do not understand, or get confused on what they are voting for. You only got to watch the webcast to see. (Well you could have, but that will be gone under the cuts!).

These are:

LD2mk

As you can see, £0.8 million from Adult Social Care, £0.7 million for Children’s, £0.3 million from Shared Services which includes call centres and libraries and £0.4 million from Localism, Strategy and Communications. For the latter, this cut would completely stop certain functions.

The vote was finally taken and 52 Councillors voted for, with 49 against the substantive motion. There were also 3 abstentions. For the record, I voted against the substantive motion.

What the residents of Cornwall ended up with from the decision, is pretty looking headlines for the forthcoming elections. It looks very nice Lib Dem/Conservatives gave you a 0% increase, so vote for us. But get beyond the election, these very same people will be wondering how their pretty headlines will actually deliver services. The truth is they will not.

It is well recorded that I have never been a fan of the JV, but this budget has almost certainly killed off that process and if the reduced figures are actually true on the savings, including the ‘created’ jobs, these have now all but gone. So much so, the Cabinet meeting set for today, which included the final decision on the JV, and the issuing of the Invite to Tender has now been postponed until a later date.

For less than a price of a (weekly) chocolate bar, these services and functions could have been saved. But I guess having a good election leaflet is better than doing what’s right for Cornwall.

Staff who work so hard delivering services must feel so undervalued. I spoke to many staff who all wondered if they had a job after today’s vote. Some were in tears. Others just could not believe what had happened. It may have been forgotten by some Councillors, but staff are also residents, who can vote and their families vote will no doubt be very tempted to put an X in a different box in May. Especially after Tuesday and setting a Budget on political grounds, rather than what is good for Cornwall.

However, the most unsettling part of the day, was when Councillors were gleefully smiling that the motion they supported was carried. It was sickening to watch and I was ashamed to be in the council chamber with them.

Furthermore, and more bizarrely, the very same people who were saying we must protect the council tax payers, and without any irony, were proposing a £2.30 odd increase per week in council house rents. You really could not make it up

And later today, the Corporate Leadership Team will be having an emergency meeting to discuss the massive impacts this Budget will have on services. This is on top of an email sent this morning by Cllr Toms, the Portfolio Holder for Adult Social Care on the dire consequences that will have to be actioned with almost immediate effect just to balance the books.

The Tory 0% Budget Amendment that does not add up

I blogged about the battle of the 0% budgets and how the two largest political parties at Cornwall Council are trying to out do each other on producing the best headline grabbing Budget. Now the details have been released on both and reading them makes my blood boil. However, it is the chief financial officers professional view which has to be read.

The chief finance officer, is also known in local government circles as the S151 officer. They have given their professional view on the Tory (group – though I should say element of it) Budget amendment, which is different to the Tory-lead Cabinet Budget. The amendment proposals are by the former Cabinet Member for Finance, Fiona Ferguson and Scott Mann.

If this amendment is implemented by means of a majority vote the actual outcome will lead to job loses, but worse, the actual services the council provides will be reduced, or stopped completely. You cannot help but think (and I would agree) this amendment to the Budget is nothing more than electioneering of the worst kind. It seems they are more interested in having a good headline on an election leaflet, than actually looking after Cornwall and its people.

The details to the Tory amendment is HERE. However, it is the S151 response to the amendment that is so damaging. More so,  as the S151 position is politically restricted so the advice given would be neutral. I have worked with this officer at length and can say they put the council’s well-being  and services provided first.

This is the S151 response to the amendment. However, the most damaging blow to this amendment is the first sentence:

“this proposal does not satisfy for an essential amendment to the budget in that it fails to deliver a medium term sustainable budget strategy”

The rest of the S151 officers view is as follows:

Tory1Tory2Tory3Tory 4

Everyone wants low Council Tax bills and good services. And in an ideal world, the council should be able to set a 0% budget. But it is not an ideal world, the financial pressures are massive, which have been made worse by the very party in Government this amendment comes from. Even worse, MPs are putting pressure on people to have a 0% budget, so they and their party look good too. I say to them, concentrate on your own house, before you tell Cornwall Council what to do.

For me, I do not mind paying an extra £25 or so per year because services will be protected if an increase of 1.97% is implemented. We have had two-years of no increase. So it has not all been doom and gloom.

The very same party behind this amendment has made the poorest (with little sympathy) and most in need pay 25% or over £300 extra per year. But seem happy to push for a 0% increase even though it will make services worse.

Tomorrow, the details and views on the other 0% amendment. It is only slightly better than this Tory amendment.

Another Tory Goes at Cornwall Council

It has been a tough-time being a Tory at Cornwall Council. They lost a Council Leader (14 of them in voted in favour to remove), and a couple of Cabinet Members quit after that decision. Replacements stepped in, but last week a further two quit. One over the use of via a third-party of using what could be considered a lie detector test to see if they are not trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the council in claiming the Single Person Discount for Council Tax.

Now, it seems the Tory group has four groups within it. The former Leaders Shadow-Shadow Cabinet, Jim’s Courageous, Fiona’s Faithful, and the rest.

However, the latest resignation from both the Cabinet and Cornwall Council is the saddest news. George Trubody, the Councillor representing Rame, has stood down in both roles. The one of the reasons he has stood down is he has been offered a job that is impossible to turn down. Even though he really wanted to continue being a Councillor.

Credit where credit is due, George is a hard-working Councillor, especially at the local level. If rumours the are true, George would have been returned post May without putting out a leaflet because of all the hard-work he does. However, there is a real sadness to his resignation.

That sadness is because he could no longer afford to be a committed Councillor as he told many of his fellow Councillors in the Members room on the day he stood down. The reality of a hard-working Councillor having to step down in this way is tragic. George is also one of the few (I count six) who is under forty, and one of a dozen(ish) who is under forty-five. I wish George the best of luck, and maybe he will return to politics when he can afford to.

People have to ask themselves if they want committed, hard-working Councillors by paying them something to live on whilst carrying out their duties? Yes I know the recent rise has angered many of the public, but do we really want a Council full of people who have independent means to support their role? Surely an allowance should reflect the living wage of the area, but nothing more? I feel to do the role justice, you have to give it your full attention.

For anyone wishing to stand, they need to know the current allowance set for post-May is being challenged by a small group at Cornwall Council, who are attempting to overturn the full council’s decision. More on that later…

1 2 3