Chacewater Parish Council have sent a round-robin letter to all town and parish councils in Cornwall. In that letter (which you will read in a sec) the parish council makes allegations, which need to be clarified, and corrected. For me, it is not about the a parish or town council raising an issue with Cornwall Council, but the way they have gone about it. Especially as it contains inaccurate information.
So lets start with the letter and the response from John Pollard, Leader of Cornwall Council.
Dear ……… Parish Council,
We are writing to you to seek support and comment on the performance of Cornwall Council. Ever since the district councils were amalgamated this Parish Council has seen a reduction in services and a blatant lack of communication and support from “One Cornwall”.
We are also very concerned with what appears to be a lack of cost savings that should have occurred when the amalgamation took place. In the business world if 6 so similarly aligned companies were merged one would expect to see savings of at least 33%, if not 66% in administration costs. Instead Cornwall Council saw fit to employ some really senior managers to oversee the whole business and pay exorbitant salaries to those new officers. Certainly some salaries far exceed the present Prime Minister!! From our perspective there have been no visible signs of savings being made. Most Parish Councils have suffered the indignity of public convenience closures in order to save money and yet every new house built in Cornwall will earn them at least an additional £1,000 in rates. The maths simply do not add up.
A second major issue for us is the planning decisions that have been taken without any regard for localism and local public concerns. Most planning applications we are asked to comment on come back with a reverse decision. Further, very large planning applications have been passed within the Truro area with little or no regard for public view and no regard to infrastructure issues such as road congestion, sewage disposal and hospital capacity. Royal Cornwall Hospital already lacks bed numbers with the ageing population growing and is also, quite rightly, flagging the issues of grid locked roads which are already causing severe access problems. Again these decisions appear to be made against the wishes of the local parish councils and therefore the general public who live in and around these communities. Wind and solar farms are springing up everywhere taking up valuable agricultural land and resources that are irreplaceable. Added to this the enforcement team are overstretched and very inefficient. Planning decisions should be free of politics, reflect the wishes of the communities and NOT be used as a carrot!
Our third area of concern is the use of Cormac for almost every engineering job undertaken within the county and the inefficient way that company appears to be run. How often do you see Cormac vehicles at rest? Should the Council put some if not all of these jobs out to competitive tender? That alone might lead to better hedge trimming and pot hole fixing regimes. I know that hedge trimming is performed by private contractor but Cornwall Council manage it, in our view, not very well.
The fourth issue we would like to discuss is the role of some of the Officers in the “Business Arm” of the Council which deals with concerns such as Newquay Airport as it seems these officers again attract significant salaries and perform more than one function within the Council which must, at times, surely incur a conflict of interest. In this area there should be more clarity as to where the public purse is being spent.
To conclude we feel that Cornwall Council is emerging as a dictatorship rather than a democratic governed body. We have no voice except that of our elected members, many of whom are becoming increasingly demoralised and weaker in terms of voting strength. The Strategic Planning Committee is badly out of balance as there are only two members who are able to represent the views of the Truro area with very little representation further west and so most decisions usually reflect a political position but are NOT true local votes unless, of course, one considers Bodmin local to Penzance. We cannot elect officers within the Council, they employ who they wish. We have no DEMOCRATIC recourse. Cornwall Council is rather like the very old children’s story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and everyone is afraid to be the small boy.
We, as a Parish Council, wish to be that small boy but on our own we know we will not be listened to. Therefore we are sending you this letter to ascertain your views, thoughts and comments. If there is a positive response we would then like to hold a meeting of all those willing to be involved and endeavour to come up with a way that we can get a more democratic Council looking after the best interests of Cornwall , the county we love and are all proud to be part of.
If possible we would like a response by the end of July so that we can plan for a meeting in September. Please let us know if you prefer a weekday, weekend or evening meeting. We cannot leave this situation to continue for much longer as more damage is being sustained on a daily basis. If we SHOUT loud enough we might be heard!
And here is the response from the Leader:
As you can read, the Leader has countered many of the points made by Chacewater Parish Council’s letter. However, this letter needn’t have been written if the parish council had talked to the Leader or the Deputy Leader of their concerns. That way, the right information could have been provided and would have addressed the issues contained in the letter. In fact, any town or parish council can talk to John and Jeremy as they both have been clear in willing to meet and listen to concerns.
I will add it is true town and parish council have been asked to take over public toilets, and will be asked to take over other services. This is due to the huge reduction in budgets and with a increased call on services. Like John has pointed out as over the last four-years, Cornwall Council has had to make saving of £170m and the Council will have to make further saving of £196m over the next four-years. That means services will change. We might not like it, but the Government has reduced the Council’s funding and furthermore, has imposed a cap on the amount of Council Tax an authority can set without having to hold an expensive referendum. So the Council has little option.
On the point of many officers having a salary more than the Prime Minister, this point is not true. Only one officer, the former CEO, Kevin Lavery was on anything like the Prime Minister. This salary was agreed before Cornwall Council was formed. Furthermore John has pointed out, the actual Council staff numbers have been heavily reduced. The staffing number will be further reduced not only for senior managers, but across the Council due to having to find the eye-watering amount of £196 million of savings. So in four years times we could see Cornwall Council having less than 5,000 employees.
For anyone who has experience of planning, the whole subject is emotive and can turn very personal. I was a member of the Strategic Planning Committee for four years and know first hand some of the big decision that had to be made. I will also point out the very name of the committee gives away its purpose and you cannot have 123 members on a committee. Those members who sit on that committee do so with a strategic hat on; not as local members. However local members can speak at length on any application and they are not disbarred from doing so. From the context of the letter, it feels like the parish council is more miffed that it, or the areas local Cornwall Councillor does not have a seat on the committee.
The parish council fails to understand that seats on committees are politically balanced to reflect the make up of the Council. So the local member for Chacewater could sit on the committee but that would be up to their Group Leader and depend on the number of seats allocated due to the political balance of the Council. People may not like this, but these are the rules on how committees are set up nationally.
One comment in the whole parish council letter has concerned me the most this is:
To conclude we feel that Cornwall Council is emerging as a dictatorship rather than a democratic governed body
Cornwall Council is democratic. Decision are made by Councillors. However it would be impossible and quite wrong for Councillors make all the decision due to legal and operational reasons. I can say this as having the experience of being a back-bencher and Portfolio Holder.
Planning is democratic; Councillors get advice from officers, but they make the final decision. Cabinet votes democratically. People may not always agree with a decision – and I know I have not always – but the decision was taken democratically. Just because you did not win the vote or disagree with the decision, does not make the decision wrong or undemocratic.
I have to point out that the Cornwall Councillor for an area plays an important link between the local authority and the town / parish council. If this function is not working or has broken down, then this could lead to an added friction between the two authorities.
Furthermore, Cornwall Council has contested elections every four years. So if a local community does not think their Cornwall Councillor is fighting their corner well enough, they can vote for someone else. You only got to look at last years election to see Councillors who sought re-election failed to do so. I feel it a little rich for Chacewater Parish Council to talk about democracy, when they have not had a contested election for over 20 years.