Monday, 5 October 2015

Penzance Town Council issue statement on Golowan

Coming hot on the heels of a widespread social media campaign to keep Golowan public, the front page of the Cornishman and a lot more going behind the scenes. The Chair of the Finance and Property Committe Dick Cliffe has issued a statement approved by the Mayor David Nebesnuick on behalf of the town council about the decision made 3 weeks ago today.

I've had no input into the content of this letter and I was sent it after it was finished. I do not agree with many of the points and would like to see a lot more clear facts to back up some of the sweeping statements.

Here's some brief comments.

There is a statement that: "Indeed the Council would prefer the event (Golowan) to be independent of the Council." This is not the policy of the town council, it may well be the views of some councillors but it has never been discussed let alone decided upon by the council. I certainly do not agree with it.

It continues: "Should an organization come forward at some point in the future, and expect significant Town Council grant funding to deliver Golowan, then we would want to see an established track record of delivery of large public events to a budget." Again never been discussed quite who 'we' is therefore is unclear. Again the town council has not discussed other options only to put it out to private management, let alone set parameters for another organisation to run it. It is only the town council in a meeting that can make such decisions. Again I do not agree with the statement, it's specifically and carefully written to preclude any community group or organisation within Penzance having anything to do with the running of Golowan and leaves only the private sector available.

On another tack my previous blog, I criticised the taking of this issue in private. The reasons given was because it was confidential. I've asked the question why if this statement is public and a varied argument made for the future management of Golowan, could the meeting itself not also have been public? I await an answer from the authors of this statement. I suspect the answer is because public pressure is telling and that many people feel that this is not an issue for the town council alone and there is a huge public interest, keep up the good work folks...

The open letter is here
The poll asking for a public meeting is here

Full Penzance Town Council statement is here:

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Golowan no longer a community festival after a Penzance Town Council meeting behind closed doors

With some of us still pondering our way through the Penzance 400 report and trying to discover what to read between the lines, we all have a fresh cause for consternation, another festival involving Penzance Town Council; Golowan. Now I will be clear at the beginning that this was discussed in private session by councillors, that I am hamstrung to say much more on the subject.

I can however talk around it, a motion was brought before the town council on monday 21st September after the press and public had been excluded from the meeting. The public face of it is these words, as taken from the public agenda: "(b) Future Management of the Golowan Festival 2016 (see attached)". The attachment is of course private. I can confirm that this was the first and only time this matter was considered by the town council, since I was elected. I like other members had only 3 days from receiving the agenda to consider the item. Obviously due to the fact that it was considered private, councillors had no opportunity to speak to people involved and consider the arguments from those on the ground nor have a chance to canvass the opinion of the people that voted us into office. 

The last full council meeting, was a packed agenda and the usual rule for a 3 hour meeting maximum had to be suspended for the last items to be considered. As you can see for yourselves from the agenda it had 18 reports for decision that doesn't even include minutes or reports for information, including a future home for the town council, a proposal to reduce the number of town councillors, devolution priorities year on year for the next few years, CCTV, Morrab Gardens, Isles of Scilly parking, Poltair hospital and so the list goes on. Matters vital to the future of the council and the town itself, incurring budgets of millions and affecting a huge swathe of public services. As there was such a great rush, members were written to and asked to read papers carefully to facilitate less questions and more speedy voting at the meeting. It is in this context that we have to realise that the Golowan decision was made at the end of a very very long meeting with a packed agenda. 

Add to this the abject lack of consultation by the council itself to members of the public, interested parties and even councillors themselves. Is it any wonder that we now have an open letter signed by over 300 people, calling on the council to rescind that hastily made decision?  

Here's a link to the open letter which provides some insight to what the decision was: 

For what it's worth, I do not agree that the motion should have been discussed in this manner. The future of a such a pivotal community festival is most definitely a matter of public interest and not to be packaged up with sensitive matter and hidden behind the veil of commercial sensitivity. Or in other words the decision to put Golowan out to commercial management, should be a matter of public debate, careful consideration and have been put before councillors as a simple question in the interests of openness and transparency. In the current climate this would seem to radical!

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Penzance 400 over spend report

After much mud slinging, hand wringing, press coverage and the like. The report into the over spend for the Penzance 400 celebrations has been published and placed in the public domain. Here I want to draw attention to some of the points but as it is 35 pages long and available online for those willing to go through it, I won't here. Although of course I have been through it and am willing to talk about either in the comments section below or via email

As a short summary of what happened. The council had agreed to hold events to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the town receiving a charter last year. Although a number of events including a charter fair, a beating the bounds ceremony, theatrical performances, a Penlee exhibition were organised the big event was the 'Pirates on the Prom' Guiness World Record Attempt. To cover the costs of running these events the town council budgeted for £22,850 (which came from £12,000 sponsorship and £10,850 from council budgets. There was a HLF bid to pay for the rest. Unfortunately and what was a rather embarrassing mistake picked up in the report, there was another bid being entered for Penlee House, the problem being one organisation can not apply for 2 grants simultaneously. Therefore the PZ 400 bid was withdrawn, the rest of the narrative is picked up in the report:

"When the clash of bids was finally realised (late February 2014), the bid from PZ400 was withdrawn, with less than three months before the event. By then a substantial number of contracts had been issued and considerable advance publicity arranged – not least the event was being featured in First Great Western’s onboard magazine. 

It is clear cancelling the event at such short notice was not a practicable option available to the Council or the Director of the event, without causing serious damage both to the reputation and financial standing of the Town and the wider area. 

Finally, with only days to go before the event, both Cornwall Council and Devon & Cornwall Police raised their requirements for Health & Safety and Policing the event. There had apparently been insufficient advance dialogue with these parties to plan for these eventualities. 

The day itself, although it did not break the Guinness Book of Records figure, was by all accounts a success and went off without a hitch. The event brought a large number of people to Penzance – who spent a considerable amount of money in the town." Page 17 

This is where procedures went out the window. The council remained committed to the total spend which had rocketed to £63,622.75, therefore £55,846.81 over the agreed budget. This money was duly spent and recorded through the Finance and Property Committee. However there was no official decision to spend this extra money (as demanded by the Council's Standing Orders and Financial Regulations). The report unfortunately did not apparently uncover record of who made these decisions although the money was spent. It neither reveals what council and other members of the Penzance 400 Organising Committee had to say when it was reported to them that the HLF bid would not be submitted. Certainly staff and members of the council were aware of this problem and surely aware of the increasing potential financial liability for the council.

There are a number of recommendations and conclusions in the report, they are well worth a read (as is the whole report). For me, my culpability and the reason I should apologise is for not paying better attention and asking more questions. The Good Councillor Guide is clear in the following statement: "As a councillor, you share collective responsibility for financial management of the council." (page 3) The report notes that the Penzance 400 spend went over budget it also notes that only 1 councillor picked this up, this is clearly not good enough with any amount of money let alone £55,000+. This is even though clearly in black and white to 3 committee meetings it was in the papers the difference between the budgeted and actual expenditure. It's with little surprise that one of the report's recommendations is this:

"Councillors in Penzance Town Council have, on this issue, abdicated their responsibility to scrutiny. This is a fundamental duty and should be carried out regularly and within the public domain. If scrutiny had been regularly exercised this issue would never have arisen." Page 31

Draw your own conclusions from the report available online here, There is various levels of blame levelled at people in authority and those more involved in the day to day matters of this. But for myself even though I was not in a position of authority within the council relevant to this over spend, I have to be aware that the major role of councillors is to ask questions, to not show complacency to always be listening, reading and scrutinising and acting accordingly.

I hope this report will be ultimately a good thing for the council and councillors will consider what is asked of them more readily, I also hope that the Report's recommendation of healing differences between members is listened to. We have this huge devolution agenda coming up and Penzance Town Council seems eager to have more powers, responsibilities and bigger budgets, I feel for this to happen we need to show the people of this town that was can deal with what we do now, in a professional and competent manner.