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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leader of Cornwall Council rebuffs the Prime Minister

The Prime Minster has recently made inaccurate statements in reference to Cornwall Council’s reserves. In an interview the Prime Minister said Cornwall Council has £200m worth of reserves that it could use to fund services. If Cornwall Council had this amount just lying around in reserves, it would be using the money to fund services. However, we do not.

The Leader of Cornwall Council, John Pollard has issued a statement ‘rebuffing’ the Prime Ministers statements. In this statement, the Leader spells out clearly the money Cornwall Council has and how it assigned.

“The Prime Minister obviously has a different view of the use of reserves than we do! I am keen to state the facts:

We are curious as to where the PM’s gained his figures because our financial accounts are audited by independent external auditors and as such our reserve balances have been validated and checked by them each year.  The movement since 2011 has been an increase of around £18m.  The majority of this increase is set aside for specific projects and capital investment. Once again the list is:

  • £17m held on behalf of others e.g. reserves held for schools, Tamar Bridge, Port of Penryn, Port of Truro
  • £64m held to meet long-term commitments e.g. repayment costs for assets like school buildings, PFI projects.
  • £37m held to deliver specific projects funded by government,
  • £9m held for the one-off costs of cutting the budget by £196m
  • £5m held for insurance purposes.(In some cases we self-insure.)

Reserves are our safety net for unexpected items and emergencies like bad weather, while the cuts in government funding are ongoing and happen each year. Reserves are only usable once. This should be contrasted with the £196m reduction in Government funding which sees the level of money given every year to the Council to spend on services, reduced by £196m.

So, this means that even if we were to spend all of our reserves next year to prevent services being reduced then the following year we would still have to reduce the services but we would also have no money to cover emergencies such as reacting to bad weather events. We have to reduce our running costs in line with our income in order to have a sustainable basis to run our services in the future. To put simply, it’s a bit like your mortgage at home, if you use all your savings to pay the bank one month, next month you are still in the same situation but have no savings to pay for the boiler if its breaks down. So you are in an even worse situation.

Cornwall Council has a proud record of careful and prudent budget management. Our finances have remained strong and  secure at a time of great turmoil. We are fortunate to be able to use this position to cushion some of  the impact on services and to plan for the future. The P.M may regard this as having lots of money available, I see it as good housekeeping and budget management.”

I am really pleased the Leader has issued a statement like this, as incorrect information needs to be addressed no matter if it is the Prime Minister or not. They very fact Cornwall Council is having to make swinging cuts to services is due to the Government cutting funding to many local authorities including Cornwall Council.

Maybe the Government should take the honest approach and say “yes we have cut funding to local authorities” I would personally have more respect, and it would stop Cornwall Council being blamed for everything….

The Most Surreal Day at Cornwall Council

I have to say, the 16th October 2012; will be one of those days you long remember.  A no-confidence vote to remove the Cabinet Leader was debated. It had all the hallmarks of being explosive, full of twists and turns with some strange outcomes. And it did not disappoint!

A no-confidence motion is not common and it is less common for one to be successful. Firstly for it to be accepted it needs 41 signatures. So there has to be a lot of common ground for one to meet this threshold. Even if it meets this threshold, it rarely is successful.

I was hoping the debate today was going to be short, and to the point. I even stood up and said this, as I felt a long and drawn-out debate was not the best course of action for the Council. That was not supported and during the next two and a bit hours various Councillors stood up to give their view on the motion. At one stage security had to be called because one Councillor who wanted to make a certain point refused to sit down when the Chairman told them to, after it went beyond ‘good debate’. In the end order was restored and apologies given.

Finally a vote was indeed taken by way of a ballot. It was always going to be close, but it was not as close as imagined. The vote was 63 for and 49 against the no-confidence motion, a majority of 14. No one enjoys doings this, but the lesson that has to be learnt from this is listen and respect the greater membership of the Council. Ignoring that view, you do so at your peril.

The next job for the Council was to elect a new Cabinet Leader and the Council was adjourned to allow the various groups to put forward a candidate, or an individual to stake their claim. After a few requests for extra time to carry on with the discussion the Council reconvened for the final showdown. A boy it was a showdown!

At first Armand Toms was the preferred candidate for the Conservatives and the majority of Independents. Then instead of Armand, Neil Burden was put up. This then lead to Jim Currie (Con) being nominated by Bob Egerton (Ind) and Ruth Lewarne (LD). That was one hell of an unholy alliance. Each candidate was then given five minutes to outline why they should be Leader. It was on those speeches the Leadership was really decided.

This time the vote was really close. Jim Currie won it by three votes (49/46) and was duly elected the new Cabinet Leader. Then four of the current Cabinet Councillors made public announcements they would with immediate effect stand down. They were Councillors Double, Ridgers, German and Hicks. I am not sure who will replace them, as they will have to be discussed and decided in the coming days.

Who would have thought a Leader ousted, a new Conservative Cabinet Leader voted in power by Lib Dems, Meybon Kernow and a handful of Indi’s with an Indi, supported by Conservatives and Indi’s. That has to be a first in local government!

Lastly, for those with a liking for Social Media, the webcast attracted 4466 viewers at the peak and in the Twitter world, the debate was trending (most talked about) number three in the UK. That’s democracy to your front room.

 

Cornwall Council Parody – Update

In my email inbox this morning there was a new link to the series of ‘Downfall’ clips that have been doing the rounds last week. Whoever is behind them (and I have my suspicions) has put all the clips into a film. It is very funny and well worth watching.

 

 

Cornwall Council Leader does a U-turn on Shared Services

Wow, talk about starting Monday morning with a bang. I knew it was going to get interesting in and around County Hall, but this morning massive U-turn on the privatisation plan is quite a surprise. Though I hear it has come from not being able to guarantee his own groups full support on the 16th.

The announcement by the Leader on Radio Cornwall that if the majority of the Council are still against Shared Services on the 23rd, then it will be dropped. That is one hell of a U-turn. I am though disappointed the Leader announced this on live radio before informing Cornwall Councillors first. But good for Radio Cornwall for getting the scoop on this.

So what now? Is the offer from the Leader just a ruse to stay in power post the 16th? Is he hoping that he can then persuade enough Councillors to support the Shared Services proposals, and therefore still sell-off great swaths of the council to a private company? As the last time the council had a say, though it was then ignored, the council voted not to support shared services. So what has changed? Or has the Leader realised Councillors and the public do not support the idea of shared services.

The change of heart is at odds with one of the Leader’s messages on this subject on the 25th Sept:

In this case the Cabinet believes we have made the right decision. Nothing has been raised, either during the Council debate, or since, that alters that belief.

with no new information forthcoming on either why we shouldn’t progress with the plan to form a strategic partnership or a realistic alternative that enables the Council to preserve jobs and services is not a legally valid reason to alter a properly made Cabinet decision – even if we wanted to.

What has happened to change the Leaders mind? After all he said they made the “right decision” and could not change that decision “even if we wanted to”.

Furthermore, in today’s interview on Radio Cornwall, the Leader did say the U-turn was also because of the Petition. I welcome this because the public have spoken, and should be listen to. However, it raises questions on this statement by the Leader on the 17th September:

“and then employing tactics such as the petition, actually undermines democracy”

Is being in power and the baubles that come with the position more important? I am sure people will come to their own conclusions on this matter. As it does seem very strange with a no-confidence motion looming there is a sudden, nay massive, change of heart direction.

And it is only Monday!

 

Cornwall Council: The last days of a Leader?

With just over a week till the no-confidence motion on the Leader is debated; things a County Hall are likely to get interesting with many talks in the corridors on which side a Councillor is likely to choose. The stakes are high depending on the outcome, either Shared Services (JV as some like to call it) is killed-off, or carries on despite the majority of Councillors voting against, and nearly 6000 petition signatures backing up the view the JV is not in the best interest of Cornwall.

The numbers on the no-confidence will be critical to both sides. To make it worse for the Leadership, they do not command an overwhelming majority. You see, the Council is made up of 123 Councillors split as: 48 Conservatives, 37 Liberal Democrats, 29 Independents, 6 Mebyon Kernow, 1 Labour and 2 Councillors who have no specified political affiliation. That means the Conservatives only make up 39% of the Council. Not a good position to defend a no-confidence motion from.

Now there are also 29 Independents at the Council who are in a very loose group. Out of that, there are four Councillors in the Cabinet, and I would say another 10 are either in support of the Leader, the JV, or not interested in the no-confidence motion. That leaves 15, who either have supported the no-confidence motion (11) and four who could go either-way in the vote.

So even if every Conservative Councillor turns up, and half the Independents (15) vote in support of the leader, that gives the Leadership 63. The winning side needs 62 if every councillor is present and votes. That is a very close margin to rely on for the Leadership, especially as there are already apologies for not being able to attend from Conservatives. Furthermore, you would have to be delusional if you thought all the Conservatives would support the Leader. The question is how many will not?

Let’s say the Leader is disposed, who will be the replacement? Well, I think there is only one, who has shown the courage, and I am hearing has cross-party support for the role. I think the word of cross-party support will not be words the 4th floor wants to hear, especially with the numbers to stay in power so tight.

So it will be an understatement to say next week at County Hall will be very interesting.

 

A NO to stadium funding from Cornwall Council’s Leader

A few hours ago, the Leader of Cornwall Council sent all Councillors a letter that he has sent to the partnership behind the Stadium for Cornwall venture.  Honestly, I am surprised it has been sent, as I would have at least expected the Cabinet to discuss this issue at their next meeting. I guess not. Though the Cabinet might have discussed this at one of their ‘informal meetings that is not open to the public, or most Councillors.

However, in the letter, it makes reference to the leaders personal view, but say’s given the full councils vote a few days ago, it would be inappropriate for the Cabinet to ignore that view. Personally, I have no idea where this now leaves the stadium project, but my fear is it will remain on the drawing board as one of those ‘it could have been great‘.

The response on the Pirates Rugby site HERE

Here is the letter:

 

 

Spinning Political Cohesion

A document has been sent to the Government on behalf of the people of Cornwall and Cornwall Council, but not seen by the majority of the same council, let alone the people. Then again after two years, this hardly comes much of a surprise as letters and documents have been sent to the Government without knowledge of the whole council.

I am grateful to Jude Robinson for putting it online, when I only had an acquired old fashioned paper copy, which I got on Friday. You can read it for yourself  HERE. It is called ‘Can do Cornwall’. A rather catchy title, but what is the document about?

Well, lets start with the foreword:

“What is so special about Cornwall?  We have solid partnerships and political cohesion”.

Are you having a laugh? Are we talking about the same Cornwall Council as in this document? Granted, Cornwall Council is no near like the carry-ons at Helston Town Council, but still it was only a few months ago that the leader of the Conservatives, who is also the Leader of Cornwall Council, just survived a coup d’etat from within his own party.

One of Cornwall Council’s political parties, that of MK, and it’s leader Dick Cole has already made a public statement on this document HERE. The Independent Group has not discussed it, or as far as I know seen the document before it was sent. The lone Labour Cornwall Councillor makes comment HERE. I am told the Leader of the Liberal Democrats refused to sign it after he was shown it the day before it was sent. That only leaves one group, the Conservatives; surely they must have had input into it? The simple answer is no, they did not.

The contents, and its plethora of local authority key-words is bad enough, but the fact this document and its contents was not discussed by the majority of the council is of real concern. If something like this is sent to Government which will affect Cornwall, then surely it must be discussed by those elected to that position? Or am I wrong to think that…

The only  ‘Political cohesion’  this document  has now achieved is cross-party anger at this document being sent in the name of Cornwall Council.

A Letter to the Editor

The Leader of Cornwall Council has decided to send another letter. This time it is to the Editor of the Daily Telegraph, and it is in reference to their article on Credit Card spending. It seems the Leader is still miffed about this article and feels Cornwall Council got slated wrongly, even though the Council supplied the information in the first place. 

Here is the very letter that has been sent to the Daily Telegraph:

When did FOI become Freedom of Misinformation?
20 June 2011
Dear Sir
An article in your paper criticised Cornwall Council for using “credit” cards and for spending council taxpayers’ money on inappropriate items.  Both statements are wrong.
The Council does not use credit cards.  These are purchase cards which save an average £33 per transaction.  Over the past two years we have saved £2.8 million of taxpayers money – the equivalent of employing 70 children’s social workers, running two primary schools, eight leisure centres or 24 average sized Cornish libraries for a year or maintaining our rural road network in Cornwall.  Far from being criticised for being the highest spender, Cornwall deserves praise for being the best in this area.
Your article suggested that Council staff had wasted money eating in Rick Stein’s Seafood restaurant and on lavish Council trips abroad – wrong again.  The payment to Rick Stein was not for a meal – but was part of the Future Jobs Fund project, a Department for Work and Pensions European funded scheme to provide jobs for people in Cornwall.  The much criticised foreign travel related to educational visits involving teachers from schools in Cornwall which were fully funded by the British Council. 
I am also extremely disappointed that you chose to use information you knew to be wrong.  We informed the journalist the day before you published the article that the costs of foreign travel and meals were expressed in local currency and not sterling but you still chose to publish inaccurate information. 
I have been a loyal reader of your paper for more than 30 years and am disappointed you decided to publish misleading information which unfairly  damaged the reputation of local government in general and Cornwall in particular.  Such action does not meet your normal high standards.
I am also concerned that having championed open and transparent government in Cornwall and provided you with our data without trying to hide anything, this has been abused.  Dealing with FOI applications has cost the Council £339,000 over the past two years – money which would be better spent on essential services for the public.  Your action means that we will now have to put additional resources into this process to ensure that the public are protected from such Freedom of Misinformation.
I hope you will now take this opportunity to put the record straight by printing this letter.
Yours sincerely
Alec Robertson
Leader
Cornwall Council 

There is however a word of caution and a quote by Mark Twain sums it up: Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel

Why Oh Why?

They say a week is a long time in politics, and for the Leader of Cornwall Council this week must seem like an eternity. Tuesday’s defeat of the recommendation of looking into allowances for the newly created Cabinet Support Members must have hurt. Aside from the loss of face, the leader now has to contend with two ex-cabinet members who now will be asked to do a Cabinet job, but for zero allowance.

Yesterday, another bombshell exploded in the face of the leader. It turns out that the leader has written to the Sec of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP asking for the incinerator at St Dennis is approved. This is despite the fact that Cornwall Council’s own planners and legal team mounted a defence of a decision of refusal that was made by the former County Council. The cost of mounting the appeal is in seven figures, so hardly small change.

This has upset many (if they could be any more upset) backbenchers on this course of action. Especially as this letter would not have come to light unless Dick Cole had found out about it and asked (before a FOI request was made) for the letter. Of course the spin will be all about costs and how much more money Cornwall Council will have to pay in terminating the contract if the decision is upheld.

I believe it is wholly unacceptable for the Leader to behind the scenes write a letter that asks for planning to be approved. Especially when the public stance is to mount a defence which includes substantial costs that defends a democratic decision. The action of sending this letter has a great bearing on the credibility of the Council by saying one thing in public, but carrying out the complete opposite behind the scenes.

I now sit on Strategic Planning, and would hate to think any decision we the committee make is being undermined behind the scenes. For me, it is an affront to democracy, and furthermore undermines the planning process.

Finally, I checked the minutes of the original decision taken by CCC, it lists amongst others, the now Leader of Cornwall Council voting against permission when he was a County Councillor.

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