Saturday, 28 January 2012
Rehearsals for this year's St Pran Play are underway and being held at The Seiners, Perranporth on Mondays at 7.30 p.m. Anyone who is interested in taking part is welcome to come along to a rehearsal.
The Play istself will take place on Sunday 4th March. Anyone who wants to come and watch should arrive at 1.30 p.m. for 2 p.m. start at Gear Sands. There is free parking at Perran Sands Holiday Centre and the car park and play will be signposted from the entrance on Perranporth to Goonhavern road.
A well as the Play, pilgrims can look forward to seeing various Cornish bands/groups - Kowethas, White Noise, Perraners, Robin Holmes (piper).
Haven have kindly agreed to open one of their leisure bars will be open for refreshments, entertainment and film show.
Wednesday, 25 January 2012
It is being claimed that the leader of Cornwall Council, Cllr Alec Robertson is looking pretty foolish tonight after 'banning' tweeting from a cabinet meeting.
The Broadcasting Code of Practice sets out the procedures and conduct required by Cornwall Council of any person or organisation to enable them to be permitted to film, record or broadcast any Cornwall Council meeting. - from the Proposed Broadcasting Code of Practice, Cornwall Council. (Thanks to Cllr Jeremy Rowe for this reference.)
The code goes on:
For the purposes of this Code, any reference to: “broadcast” includes references to filming, recording and any other form of electronic retention or transmission of information and references to “broadcasting” and “broadcaster” shall be similarly construed.
Nowhere in the code is Twitter, tweeting, Facebook or any other social media mentioned.
It is extremely doubtful that 'information' could ever be construed to include tweets given the context established by the code.
The natural construction of 'broadcast' in the context of this code clearly revolves around TV and radio and relaying pictures and sounds of actual events - whether live, or recorded to be 'brodcast' at a later time.
Twitter, Facebook and blogging are not 'broadcasts' of events they are clearly comment and critical analysis. As such the only difference between tweeting from a meeting and writing a report for publication in a newspaper is the absence of any time delay.
It seems that Cllr Robertson was annoyed at the satirical comments coming from the Lib Dem tweeters in particular and waded in with a kneejerk over-reaction. I think there will be a lot more satire to follow following the ban and then the immediate climbdown afterwards.
Apparently Cllr Robertson was concerned about the 'inappropriate' nature of some tweets and the impact they would have on the council.
The tweets that seemed to cause Cllr Robertson concern were making the point that Cllr Robertson was not in attendance at the cabinet meeting but was perhaps attending an awards ceremony instead.
Were some of the tweets less than academic - certainly. Did they make a relevant serious point - almost certainly.
In my opinion, if it is true that Cllr Robertson was collecting an award (rather than attending his own cabinet meeting) then this shows disdain for elected councillors and demonstrates, yet again, that Tories simply want to put CV building ahead of Cornwall.
Ok some of the tweets were rather silly - but they would have had nowhere near the negative impact on either Cornwall Council or Cllr Robertson as his subsequent action has had.
PS According to the code all requests for 'broadcasting' should be made 48 hrs in advance - I wonder if anyone has ever requested to tweet 48hrs in advance and whether this has ever been mentioned before a meeting?
Friday, 20 January 2012
Back in September my son, who is studying media journalism at Staffs Uni, told me how he had approached Stoke on Trent Unitary Council and asked them for details of the councillors' community grants. Stoke Council provided the information immediately and even went on to put this information on the internet for all of Stoke's people to view.
In Cornwall we have a similar system, called the Community Chest. Cllr Alex Folkes has recently blogged about this here. Alex mentions a recent FOI about this subject which, I guess is mine.
All Cornwall Councillors have £2195 available to them to spend on grants for community organisations within their electoral district. I believe that this is a great scheme and a great way to allow councillors, who obviously know their local communities well, a chance to make a positive difference in their locality.
Back in September I asked Cornwall Council the same question that my son had asked in Stoke. Two FOI requests later (both of which have taken longer than the time that they are supposed to be dealt with) and I have been promised the information on Monday.
I have asked for this information to be posted on the Cornwall Council web site because I think it is a brilliant scheme that could do with some publicity. I guess we have to wait and see about that.
Posting the details of the kind of things that councillors and the council have been able to do to help local groups can only be a positive thing - can't it?
In Stoke no FOIs were needed to get the information, the request was dealt with speedily and efficiently and the information was made available to the public in general very quickly. I despair that, in Cornwall, where we have a council that purports to be open and transparent, things take so much longer and are so much more difficult.
Thursday, 19 January 2012
Yesterday I visited the
One of my concerns about this whole process is the nature of this whole 'consultation' exercise.
The fact is that there is no consultation on the main concepts of the strategy (such as whether we need a minimum [see the PS below] of 48,000 new houses). This was quite openly admitted by the planning officer that I spoke to when I asked whether there was any real point to the consultation.
Then again, what is the point of consultation if it is ignored? During last year's round of consultation, CoSERG submitted detailed proposals with a strategy that indicates that much less housing is needed (14,000 houses at the time). This had apparently been ignored because it 'was not backed up with evidence'.
I asked what weight would my opinion carry if the council weren't prepared to listen to the advisory panel specifically set up to advise the council and who used the 'evidence' that planning officers themselves had provided. The reply was that the councillors on the panel had not acted in line with the evidence presented to them and that the figure of 48,000 was the correct one from the evidence base.
However, when I questioned whether the 'evidence' of the last few years of low numbers of new house building warranted 48,0000 houses I was told that this evidence wasn't accurate because the planners expected demand to pick up in the long term. It all seems a bit selective to me?
We should also remember that last year one of the options that we were 'consulted' on was a growth figure of some 30,000 odd houses. What 'evidence' were the planners using when they thought that this was a viable figure to use in the core strategy and why isn't it applicable now?
Another problem that I have with the current consultation is that the documents provided are couched in planning jargon and full of meaningless or ubsubstantiated assumptions. For example, I had to ask what 'Transformational Regeneration" was. As far as I could follow (even the planner had difficulty in providing an explanation) it is regeneration focussed on providing regeneration rather than simply as part of other aims and objectives - a kind of regeneration plus - or, to a cynic llike me, development max.
The document is also littered with vacuous phrases such as 'We are part of it, not apart from it.' Most worrying is the totally uninspiring and vapid 'achieve a leading position in sustainable living' - most worrying because this is the Council's 'vision' that is supposed to be the bedrock on which the whole strategy is based. Apart from this gobbledygook much of the document is simply a long wish list of nice things - it might be a perfect portfolio for a contestant in a beauty show (who wished for world peace and an end to hunger everywhere) but it doesn't really cut the mustard as a document which is supposed to tackle issues of deprivation and social injustice and shape the way that Cornwall will meet the future.
If you ignore the question of whether there is a point to this consultation or if any evidence that is provided will be the 'right kind of evidence' there is still the problem of indoctrination rather than consultation.
The current round of roadshows are happening across Cornwall. At each roadshow are great looking display boards with bright colourful graphics depicting 'key facts'. There are several professional planners available to answer questions and assure the public that the council knows best.
But where is the alternative view?
Now I'm no expert on planning technicalities but I have been learning to question some (or most) of the information and 'facts' that the council puts into the public domain. Most of the 'key facts' that were being presented were simply opinion or not as important or relevent as they were being made out to be - they just sounded impressive.
What is needed for this to be a true exercise in consultation (as opposed to indoctrination) is for an alternative point of view to be available alongside the council's slick propaganda. Opposition groups should be given the opportunity (and funded) to attend alongside the professional planners (who are paid for their time as part of their job). This would give ordinary people who attend the roadshows, and know nothing of planning or local government, a chance to have a balanced picture of what they are being consulted on - instead of the loaded messages and selectively presented facts that are being used to encourage the particular synthesis that is the Core Strategy.
Finally, the planning process should be about policy shaping the future rather than the past shaping policy. We need politicians who will put Cornwall first and are prepared to put the interests of the people of Cornwall ahead of being seen to be getting something done.
What I mean by this (my very own bit of vacuous gobbledygook) is that politicians need to be brave enough to say that Cornwall should be planning to meet the needs of the people of Cornwall rather than those elsewhere. We need to end the situation where public funding is dependent on gleaning the scraps falling from the developers' banquet. Instead of encouraging hyper-development so that politicians in the council cabinet can be remembered for getting things done, we need to have faith in, and listen to, our communities who are screaming out for a respite from growth and a chance to recover.
PS the word 'minimum' has appeared in the core strategy document as a direct result of the gung-ho, 'presumption-in-favour-of-development' Tory led (with Lib Dem whipping boys trailing behind) coalition's Loclism Act. You see it is no longer possible for the council to plan for 'just' 48,0000 houses because the Cornish public could always call for more if they so wished!
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
It was clear that, across the board, there was frustration with the whole planning process which will not allow the people in Illogan to decide how Illogan is to be developed or more importantly if it should be developed at all.
We voted unanimously to constitute a body to take the neighbourhood planning process forward.
What was particularly heartening was the desire of the whole parish council to involve the community in the way the plan will be completed.
We want to engage in real consultation and not the indoctrination being carried out by Cornwall Council in relation to the Core Strategy (but more of that in another blog).
Of course we won't be able to produce the plan that residents have already indicated they want when the Parish Plan was finalised - but we hope to ensure that the door is not left open to developers to move in and push for more development than even Cornwall Counil's agenda for growth demands.
Tuesday, 17 January 2012
The Core Strategy: Time for a breathing space
Over the last 50 years Cornwall’s population grew by 208,000 (the equivalent of 19 Truros). The number of houses doubled from 132,000 to 255,000.
Back in 1989 CoSERG called for a breathing space so that Cornwall and its communities could cope with this unprecedented growth, safeguard the environment and retain what makes our place special, its Cornishness.
Sadly, the juggernaut of housing and population growth rolled on.
Cornwall Council’s Core Strategy now proposes pushing the current growth rate even higher. They are planning for between 48,000 and 54,500 houses plus a number of ‘eco-communities’. This means the built-up area of Cornwall will grows by over a fifth. In just two decades.
Population will grow by between 105,000 and 125,000 (or by 10-11 more Truros). In just two decades.
This level of growth will mean
the loss of significant areas of countryside
the urbanisation of our towns and villages
much more traffic and congestion
irresponsible depletion of our natural resources
It will not solve our housing crisis.
And it is certainly not sustainable. Extrapolating this growth rate means that our children and grandchildren will be living in a Cornwall of more than a million people, twice the current numbers.
Is this what we want? When did we ever vote for this?
The Core Strategy is crucial as the higher the housing target the easier it is for developers to get planning permission for more houses in your community. This is why developers and the big construction companies are frantically lobbying the planners.
The Core Strategy asks us to give our views on this level of growth.
CoSERG intends to call for stable population planning that meets local needs and allows for 80% of current gross in-migration. We calculate this requires building 12,500 houses.
We have only seven weeks left to make our views known. It is essential that we organise. As many of us as possible need to tell them we do not accept this unsustainable growth.
Visit the new Facebook page here.
Today we had Radio Cornwall, courtesy of Graham Smith, spending several hours discussing the rights and wrongs of Cllr Alex Folkes, the Deputy Leader of the Lib Dem group on Cornwall Council, not paying council tax until he was summonsed by a magistrate.
Cllr Folkes' apologised. He stated that he believed a person's tax affairs were private and should remain so. He also said that he had been finding that he depended on his councillor's allowance and that he had found it hard to manage his personal finances on that allowance leading to the non-payment of his council tax bill.
Unlike many, trying to score party political points, I have sympathy for Alex Folkes. For what it is worth to him, I would like to offer my public support for him on this issue. I probably disgree with more of his Lib Dem views than I agree with, but I have to recognise that he passionately believes that he is trying to do his best for the people of Launceston. He works extremely hard and I would imagine that in return, if you worked out his hourly rate (from his allowance) it would be way below minimum wage levels. I think it is wrong not to pay your tax but for me the question is whether there was an attempt to avoid paying it altogether or just being unable to pay it on time.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of not paying your tax bills, I think that this highlights the need to find ways to encourage a diversity of people into local government and that allowances are one way to do this as long as they are connected to robust performance criteria.
Alex, himself, has touched on this last point here. Of course Alec Robertson would be opposed to increasing the diversity of social background of councillors - his Tory chums are probably the ones who most fit the retired, or 'of independent means' bracket.
.... and this brings me to the point of this blog.
Alec Robertson, in his radio interview, was quite unforgiving, gleeful and categoric in calling for Cllr Folkes' resignation. He stated that if a member of the Tory group had failed to pay their tax then they would be dealt with by the Conservatives (or words to that effect).
There are a few reasons why I am concerned with this performance from Cllr Robertson.
First, it seems very hypocritical of a person who voted against the incinerator and then wrote secret letters in support of it to be pronouncing on this sort of issue.
Secondly, this whole issue is being brought down into the Westminster party political gutter by the way that the Tories seem to be as one in their condemnation.
As a final thought - Graham Smith has been unable to obtain information from Cornwall Council relating to the 17 councillors who have had unpaid council tax arrears. Surely, as leader of the Council, Alec Robertson would have access to this information? If he does have access then it begs the question whether there are any Tories in the infamous 17. If there are then, given his categoric stand on the future of Alex Folkes, why isn't Alec Robertson doing anything about it - as he vehemently declared he would on Radio Cornwall. If there aren't any Tories on the list then no wonder that he can so glibly call for Alex Folkes' resignation.
If he does have access to this information, is that information now being used for party political purposes? Of course, I'm not suggesting that this is the case - but it would be interesting to know if Cllr Robertson does indeed know who the 17 are.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this whole sorry affair, it does show that in Cornwall we need politicians who will put Cornwall first - even above their political party.
Monday, 16 January 2012
At the full council meeting tomorrow (Tuesday 17th Jan) councillors will be asked to approve the convening of the Independent Remuneration Panel (IRP).
It will also be proposed that the council adopts the position of calling for a legally binding statutory independent review system to be created.
This current council has a record of voting against awarding themselves pay rises and as a consequence councillors have seen an effective decrease in their allowance of some 24% compared to what it might have been if previous independent recommendations had been accepted.
Of course the matter of how much politicians are paid is an issue which can become very emotive and it is easy to see why councillors would vote against giving themselves a pay rise.
One of the reasons given for convening the IRP is to asses the remuneration of councillors following the 2013 elections - thereby removing the need for them to have to do it for themselves and be put in the same position that the current council has been. This would also provide up to date information for potential candidates in the 2013 elections.
I believe that a completely independent review process is essential for good governance.
One problem that adds to controversy surrounding how much councillors are paid (and who decides it) is the dichotemy between councillors doing the job as a public service and the need to attract people capable of performing what can be a very technically demanding role which can have a massive impact on personal quality of life.
Although it may be very commendable for the current councillors to vote themselves an effective substantial pay decrease over the term of the council's life is this actually good for Cornwall?
Look at the make up of the council and (without any intention to be rude) you will see a lot of middle aged and retired people. This is because people who are retired, or have reached a position in their career that they can afford to take time off from work, are more likely to be the sort of person that has the financial security and time that this brings to be able to put something back into the community.
If we want a council that is more in touch with real life in Cornwall isn't it about time we made it possible for a wider diversity of people to consider standing for election? We need to encourage people to stand who want to contribute to public life but are not able to because of financial reasons.
As I understand it (and in very simplistic terms), when allowances are reviewed the review is based on looking at what councillors are required to do at a basic level to perform their role satisfactorily. This is converted in hours which can be translated into a monetry remuneration.
As I see it there is one big problem with this approach. Not every councillor is 'average'. Some councillors do a massive amount of work above and beyond what has been calculated that they need to be doing. A few councillors seem to do a lot less and are able to claim exactly the same allowances for simply turning up to a few meetings every year. This situation can't be right and is surely not good for Cornwall.
As well as an independent review of remuneration we need an independent review of exactly what councillors should be doing and how councillors perform their role. We should expect to pay for a good job but then have a mechanism (besides the ballot box) for ensuring that councillors are performing their responsibilities and, by so doing, justifying the payment of their allowances.
We need to pay councillors more for performing a very demanding role in society - but we should expect to scrutinise whether the people we have elected, and entrusted with that role, are actually doing what they were elected to do.
Saturday, 14 January 2012
The mischievous Cllr Ridgers has been on Twitter today, urging us not to rejoice at France's loss (presumably a bit of Tory 'yah-boo' politics following the announcement of the downgrading of the French credit rating) but to celebrate Cornwall's success instead.
Cllr Ridgers provides this link.
As you can see the link is to the eGov site and features a propaganda press release from Cornwall Council which claims that the deeper and earlier than necessary Tory ideological cuts have resulted in a triple A rating for Cornwall Council.
An AAA rating is important because "The rating means that the Council will find it easier and cheaper to raise funds from the money markets if it needs to finance big capital projects. "
My question is this:
What big capital projects are Cornwall Council planning and how will these benefit the poverty-stricken people of Pengegon?
People who are probably a bit more concerned about the impact that the Tory cuts are having on their ability to feed their children than the CV's of the Conservative cabinet members.
Lets all join Chris and celebrate the abandonment of the least well off people in the UK.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
This devolution delerium has even reached that remote, outlying corner of Britain, Cornwall. The idea of Cornish autonomy, normally ignored (or reserved as a light-hearted '... and finally' type story) by the mainstream media is suddenly hitting the chat shows and editorial columns - albeit it is usually to be rubbished as nonsense by the ignorant presenter who seems to have been coached in pro-union rhetoric.
A recurring theme that seems habitually to be trotted out on these occasions is the old chestnut of 'How can Cornwall afford autonomy?'
We listen in great detail to how Cornwall is too poor, Cornwall is too small and Cornwall is too incapable. It would be impossible for the Duchy to be trusted with its own governance.
Often we are told that if Cornwall wants to run its own affairs then it should be cut off without a penny from the bosom of the Union, like a recalcitrant child. Or, alternatively, the commentator will pronounce, in sarcastic tones, that Cornwall wants autonomy but also wants Westminster to pick up the tab.
The truth is that Cornwall is not too small - there are several independent European countries with a similar population to Cornwall that function very effectively. Why shouldn't Cornwall function just as well with a devolved assembly? Why shouldn't Cornwall be able to govern itself and balance its own books?
To those who say that Cornwall would never make it without being bailed out by UK tax-payers I would say that we could hardly do a worse job than Westminster is doing right now! I believe that, given the opportunity, the people of Cornwall - who live here, work here and play here - would provide more than enough talent to out-perform the Westminster career politicians who have proved that they are incapable of regarding Cornwall as anything but the theme park of the UK.
There are interesting and exciting times ahead for Cornish nationalists - and there is a truly great opportunity for the people of Cornwall to gain control of their own destiny - just believe.
Wednesday, 4 January 2012
I have been doing some research into tourism recently. Most recently I have been looking at the way the economic benefit to an economy from tourism is calculated and how various statistical ratios and percentages and measures are calculated and what they all mean. It's a bit of a nightmare really!
One of many reports and papers that I have been looking at is the 'Sub-Regional Value of Tourism in the UK - 2008' produced by the Office for National Statistics.
GVA - or Gross Value Added is a measure of economic activity related to GDP. (Dick Cole recently blogged about the drop in Cornwall's GVA here.) Cornwall's GVA was £7.2 billion in 2008.
The ONS report provides a TD-GVA figure of £0.79 billion for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.
TD-GVA, or Tourism Direct GVA is that which can be directly attributed to tourism. From this we can calculate that tourism, in 2008, was less than 11% of the Cornish economy - surprising considering that we are always being told that Cornwall relies on tourism so heavily and that we aren't capable of doing much else!
There was one indicator where Cornwall & IoS came top of the leader-board in the report. This was the 'Tourism Ratio'. Cornwall & IoS has a TR of (also) 11%. A median TR would be around 3% - 4%.
The report states:
"The Tourism Ratio itself represents a good measure of the economic importance of the tourism
sector within regions, as it shows the relationship between tourism demand and supply, in other
words the importance of tourism expenditure in driving output in these areas."
Now, at first glance, this seems to provide succour to those who say that we are dependent on tourism (given that Cornwall & IoS has the highest TR in the UK).
In fact this would not be correct as you need to understand the technical terms being used.
The key to understanding what the TR tells us is in understanding that tourism supply does not always cater for tourism demand (?).
Tourism demand is measured by looking at the spending by groups of consumers classed together as 'tourists'. Tourism supply is the output of businesses classified as being in a tourist category e.g food and drink, accomodation and sports and recreation etc.
The fact is that many tourism products and services are acutually consumed by locals 'at leisure' rather than visitors.
Thus the high Cornish TR demonstrates that, in Cornwall, the tourism businesses are more dependent on actual tourists than anywhere else in the UK. To put it another way - less recreational (tourist) goods and services are consumed by locals at leisure than anywhere else in the UK.
A bit of a kick of the teeth for those that preach that living inCornwall is all about 'lifestyle choice'.
Yesterday Alex Folkes blogged about the apparent lack of a robust business case for the stadium.
I am a member of a re-enacting society which is in turn a member of an association of societies, run as a company limited by guarantee. The Association has had considerable difficulty recently because its Articles of association weren't really suitable for a re-enacting association. The problem was that, when the Articles were created, the lawyers knew little about re-enacting and the re-enactors knew little about the law.
I think that Cllr Folkes has hit upon the result of a similar problem that we face in Cornwall with the cabinet led Unitary authority.
Alex Folkes had asked Cllr Ridgers, Cornwall Council's Cabinet Member for the Economy and Regeneration, several times on what he based his seemingly extremely optimistic claims for the economic benefits and business case for the stadium - particularly the projected new spending and jobs that a stadium would bring.
Finally, Cllr Ridgers provided the report, carried out by consultants, that provided the figures that Cllr Ridgers was working from. However, it seems that not only does Cllr Ridgers quote incorrectly from the report, but some of the assumptions in the report are simply plain daft.
I suppose that this is what happens when you have an insurance salesman who seems to know little about economic assessments overseeing a global consultant company that knows little about Cornwall.
There is much divided opinion about the proposed stadium project.
On the one hand we have Tory cabinet members and high ranking council officers who may simply want to have a stadium built in order to 'enhance' their CVs. These people argue the Conservative ideology of profit and business and are, perhaps, interested in showing that the stadium can be profitable simply to justify the improvement of their CV.
On the other hand there are those that simply aren't interested in sport and believe that building a couple of thousand houses on green fields is far too high a price to pay to indulge the sports fans.
There are also questions about the proposed location of the stadium - 10,000 capacity and nowhere near a rail link is one question that doesn't seem to have been answered effectively.
Personally I believe that if a 10,000 seater stadium could be justified on a purely economic basis then someone with real business sense would have already built it and be banking profit right now.
For me a stadium on the proposed scale is a national aspiration rather than a vehicle for profit. I believe that if the people of Cornwall have the confidence and desire to stage local, national and international events then they should have that opportunity - but they should also have the opportunity to make the choice rather than have it foisted upon them.
We need leaders who will put Cornwall first. Leaders who will consider building a stadium for the right reasons and who will approach the project from the aspirational point of view rather than because it looks good on their CV.
What about the cost?
Well the all singing, all dancing £24m stadium could be paid for by the people of Cornwall for around £2 per month increase in band D council tax over five years.
What if I don't want a stadium, think it's not good for Cornwall and don't want to pay for it?
Let's take advantage of the provisons of the Localism Act. Or if these aren't appropriate then lets take Kevin Lavery up on his idea!
Iconic projects such as a national stadium should be about Cornwall's place in Europe and the world and not reduced to creative balance sheet exercises and furthering careers.