Porthleven Town Council Honours Noel Perry

Last night, Porthleven Town Council honoured the long serving West Briton journalist Noel Perry. Noel has written about the community for the last 30 years. He has seen it, done it, and wrote about it. He is an outstanding journalist, who always wrote a story fairly and factually.

The town council in collusion with Noel’s wife got Noel to the Atlantic Inn in Porthleven. He had no idea and was shocked when he saw the majority of the council there waiting. The members of the town council put on a small buffet (paid out of their own pockets) for Noel to say thank you.

The highest honour the town council can give, is one of its town plaques. And last night the Mayor of Porthleven, Mark Berryman presented Noel with one, along with the town council’s sincere thanks for all the work Noel has carried out for the last 30 years. Noel was very humbled by this, and said a few words of thanks.

He will be missed, and whoever replaces Noel at the West Briton, has very big boots to fill. Thank you Noel.

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The Mayor presents the Porthleven Town Council plaque to Noel Perry

A Grilling by Student Journalist

University College Falmouth’s Student Journalists invited Jeremy Rowe, Dick Cole and me to take part in a question and answer session on our roles at Cornwall Council. The topics varied, but included the Cornwall Stadium, Council Tax, allowances, attendance at meetings and politics. The grilling lasted near two hours.

I hope the students got a better understanding on the role a Cornwall Councillor undertakes and the person behind that role. I don’t think any questions were ducked, or any political spin answers given. I rather enjoyed the whole process as hopefully when these students qualify and doing their jobs they will remember when they are writing stories about MP’s and Councillors there is a person behind all the politics and title.

I wonder if we will be invited back again?!

 

Flying from Newquay to Norwich

Good news for Newquay Airport is new flight routes will be available from Newquay to Norwich airport (and back) from March 2012. I know Norwich might not seem the most glamourous destination, but any new flight route for Newquay Airport is good news.
Special thanks should go to BBC Norfolk for breaking the news. Shame, Cornwall Council, owners of Newquay Airport did not get the jump on the BBC.
HERE is the link from BBC Norfolk

Now lets just get rid of the £5 airport tax!

Transparency and the Freedom of Information Act

I was kindly sent a document is called ‘Town Hall Transparency’ by @DEdward5 on Twitter. This document is on the impact of freedom of information (FOI) on national and local government in England. It has been written by UCL’s Department of Political Science and has just been published. I would like to congratulate the document writers for a well written paper.

The whole document can be viewed HERE.

For Cornwall Council, it has had its fair share of FOI requests from various professional media bodies, businesses and the public. The council even gets a mention in this report. It is not uncommon for people to asked for the number of FOI and the subjects of  a FOI by means of a FOI.

Maybe the reason why FOI’s are now more commonly used is because any information requested has to be dealt with in a defined time, or as highlighted in the report, people are more aware of how a FOI works. It also makes sure that any information requested has less chance of being misplaced, and therefore forgotten about.

There is a costs for every FOI dealt with, and this for Cornwall Council is £150. Cornwall Council has over the last few years received the following numbers of FOI:

  • 2009/10 – 1100
  • 2010/11 – 1300
  • 2011/March 12 – 1600 (projected)
It is when you add up the numbers of FOI you get the cost of near £435,000. That is a huge amount of money in any one’s book. In fact FOI requests to local authorities (LA) and central government have been rising steadily since the introduction of the legislation. 
In 2005 there were 60,000 requests to LA’s and 25,000 to the government. By 2009 this had risen to 165,000 for LA’s, and 40,000 for the government. Using the £150 per FOI this totals £74,250,000 over four years. 
You might think the press are to blame for the massive increase in numbers of FOI’s, but they are not. As in the report it clearly states:  Some authorities have had a great deal of interest from the local press and some virtually none. It does not appear to have had an impact on FOI request numbers. Yes, the press do submit many of the FOI’s, but not one can point the finger and say it’s your fault.
The four main areas of requests and requesters are:
  • There is heavy use of FOI by a wide range of businesses at local level 
  •  Rising request levels appear to be driven by increased awareness of FOI and media stories in the national press (especially MPs’ expenses) but also local stories. Requests can also come in waves around a particular issue
  • Requests from the public are often niche and of private interest to the person, which makes proactive disclosure ineffective as a means of reducing the number of FOI requests. 
  • Finally, high profile cases aside, FOI rarely obtains a ‘smoking gun’ and requests are often used as part of a wider information gathering campaign, like a jigsaw, or as a lever to obtain influence in a campaign.

    The former Prime Minister Tony Blair who’s party introduced the FOI is quoted as saying: The truth is that the FOI Act isn’t used, for the most part, by ‘the people’. It’s used by journalists. For political leaders, it’s like saying to someone who is hitting you over the head with a stick, ‘Hey, try this instead’, and handing them a mallet (Blair 2010). He may have a point, but then maybe his government should have thought it through a little better before it was introduced.

    I am a firm believer that FOI if used right are good, especially when a LA, or the government is being ‘difficult’ in supplying information. However, FOI asking how many Jedi Knights, or other niche enquiries a LA has is a complete waste of money, and time.
    Of course with any FOI there is a chance it maybe used against the government department, or LA, but this goes with the territory, especially if the wrong, or not fully correct information is sent out. We all know how Cornwall Council has fallen foul of this mistake once or twice. 
    At the end of the day if a FOI request is in the public interest it will be find it’s way into the various media outlets. It is how you handed the story once it breaks is the key. Throwing toys out of the pram by saying the council’s being seen in a bad light because of the media is pure fiction. In fact, the press and a council work well together in many areas.

    The press and both local and national government have different roles, but Freedom of the press, democracy and the right to free speech are principles that all hold dear and each has to play its part to uphold those principles.