Welcome to the blog. All the opinion on this blog is my own or as attributed. Thank you for reading - I hope you enjoy.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Illogan Parish Hub, the Problem with Tory Ideology - a Case Study

Before the Christmas break Illogan Parish Council set its budget and precept for 2012.

This was only achieved after a long and sometimes hotly contested debate. The underlying budget was basically flat compared with the previous year, which meant a saving in real terms. However, the final budget was increased considerably over previous years (+28.9%) because the Council decided to make allowance for the cost of the Illogan Hub project, should it go ahead.

The main thrust of the arguments (for and against the Hub project and therefore the 28.9% increase) were as follows:


a) The Hub project will deliver a much improved Village Hall faclity which will benefit the community as a whole and reflects the thrust of the research undertaken when the Parish Plan was created.

b) The project will provide new office facilities for the Illogan Parish Council (the first time the council has ever had its own premises). This will result in long term savings for the people of Illogan as there will be no need to rent office space.

c) The project, as a whole, will hopefully attract funding, thereby reducing the final cost.


a) In the current economic climate any increase in the precept is a lot to expect people to pay.

b) If we were to continue to rent an office then there would be no increase in the precept.

In the end a recorded vote was requested. I voted in favour of allowing for the project to continue and the overall result was 5 - 4 in favour.

The reason that I voted for the project and, therefore, increase in precept was that I believe that the project will be a big boost for the community when it is completed and will also deliver long term savings to the expenses sheet.

One of the things that we considered was postponing budgeting for the project until we were absolutely convinced that the technical and legal problems that face the project had been surmounted. We might also have made a smaller allowance now and looked to increase further in subsequent years.

For me these last two alternatives would have been preferable. What made me decide against was basically Tory ideology.

The problem that all Local Councils face is that in the future they may well face a cap on their expenditure by a Tory led coalition which believes that cutting all public expenditure is the only way to organise public finance. If we had decided to wait until better economic times or gone with a staggered increase then we may have found that we were unable to proceed with the project at all as we would have been prevented from doing this because of capping.

I believe that there is far too much 'short-termism' going on at the moment. If we want a society that looks after itself then we need to invest real capital expenditure in it. PFIs and all the other ways of keeping expenditure away from the balance sheet simply end up in a long term deficit in the profit and loss account. In other words a short term saving now results in a long term loss to our children.

I believe that we should try to do what we can now in order to help our children and grand-children - rather than saddle them with our debts.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

The Cost of Transparency

Cllr Andrew Wallis has written a blog entry looking at Freedom of Information requests.

He discusses a research document "Town Hall Transparency" .

In general, both the original document and Cllr Wallis's comments are informative, balanced and well presented.

The report concludes:

" .... the survey showed that FOI was viewed as overwhelmingly positive not only in terms of impact on the public but also on the organisation in terms of improving record keeping and the provision of a framework for access decisions with some limited evidence of improvements in decision-making. "

So it seems that FOI has been a good thing.

However at what cost? This is where my views begin to diverge from the accepted wisdom and that presented by Cllr Wallis.

Although I may be wrong (and I would welcome clarification of this if I am) it looks like the cost of answering FOI requests is calculated in a very simplistic way.

The calculation looks at how many FOI requests are made and how many officers hours are spent in dealing with those requests. From this a mathematical calculation gives you the average cost of FOI requests. Cornwall Council calculate this at £150 and, using Cllr Wallis's figures this would mean that there has been an annual average cost to the Cost Cornish tax payers £180,000 over the last two financial years (with requests and therefore costs rising all the time.)

Now I said that this is a very simplistic way of measuring the cost. The problem with this calculatuion is that it doesn't take into account the fact that, surely, the council should have already been dealing with requests for information anyway. Cllr Wallis was kind enough to explain that if you sell a portion of chips the cost of that sale includes all of the food, wrapping, labour etc. That is certainly true, but the cost doesn't vary if I call my bag of chips a 'bag of chips' or 'a portion of chips'. Whatever I call the product it costs exactly the same to produce.

If I ask the council for information, but don't ask for it as a FOI request, does that mean it doesn't cost anything? Surely the true 'cost' of FOI requests should take into account why answering a FOI request would cost more than answering any other request for information. If there are legitimate reasons why a FOI requests costs more to answer then it would be good to know them.

Of course you could apply the normal standard of Lys Kernow spin and argue that actually FOI reduces the cost of supplying information to the public.

This is because there is a dedicated team that acts efficiently and productively in turning around requests from the public and so there are associated savings related to gains in efficiency.

Although, given the horrendous mess that the Council often makes in answering requests accurately, I think that savings gained through effiicency might be hard to argue - even by Messrs Robertson and Lavery.

I believe that this official extrapoltion of 'cost' of openess and transparency is an economically spurious way of discouraging FOI requests.

I recently made two FOI requests. The Council claims that all FOI requests should be answered within 20 days - neither of mine were.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Inappropriate Development - Fightback?

As you may have gathered, if you have read some of my recent posts (here , here and here for example) I get quite riled by the way Westminster uses words. The London parties use definitions of everyday words and phrases to make what they are doing appear to be what normal people would think was a good idea. In fact the very reverse is always closer to the truth.

Nothing provides a better example of this than the ConDem approach to 'Localism', 'Affordable Housing' and development in general.

I have decided to see if there are any like-minded people in and around Illogan who feel the same way.

Westminster pretty much has things sewn up - but perhaps, with support, we could fight back a little.

here is the text of a letter that I have sent to Illogan residents.

Dear Friend,

Westminster politicians¸ of all hues, are guilty of cynically misleading us!

They use terms such as ‘Localism’ and ‘Affordable Housing’ in order to appear as if they know and understand the problems that we face in Cornwall related to housing and development. The truth is that when you look closely at the small print and official definitions of these terms they are actually ways of encouraging development, creating profits for developers on the back of houses which local people can’t even begin to hope to afford to buy.

I would like to do something to stop this travesty. It is probably a near impossible job but somebody has to try! If you would like to support my campaign to uncover the Westminster development lies then please join me at The Meeting Room, Melting Pot Café, Krowji on Wednesday 14th December 2012 at 7:00pm.

I will be chairing a meeting to discuss the issues surrounding development and what Mebyon Kernow stands for please come along and help me to make a difference for Illogan and to put Cornwall first!

Of course, if anyone from outside of Illogan wants to come along to the Melting Pot Cafe, Krowji, Redruth on Wednesday 14th December at 7:00pm, you would be very welcome.