Friday, 17 May 2013
Looking back to December the "Terms of reference" of the review are as follows:
To review the ways in which fire and rescue authorities may deliver further efficiencies and operational improvements without reducing the quality of front-line services to the public. The review will examine options for savings both within and beyond the current Spending Review period, including through:
It is clear that this is a very slanted way of conducting a review, if we were really to investigate the fire and rescue service or anything for that matter we need to start with an open mind. Shared services, sharing of senior staff, locally led mergers and operational collaborations 3 of the 12 things to investigate are intrinsically centralist. The review itself was part of the Spending Review, the idea that this is independent completely ignores the fact that austerity and centralisation not service and safety are the main drivers behind the review. Perhaps if the terms of the review were different we'd question why central government feels the need to interfere and that money could be saved by letting local fire authorities run their own affairs, localism? Perhaps we could cut costs by not having a Director of Fire, Resilience and Emergencies on £84,499 and a former Director Chief Fire and Rescue Adviser (author of this review) on £99,999 in Whitehall. The now chief adviser has a 'substantial' but unnamed 6 figure salary. Surprisingly difficult to find the budget of the CFRA.
As all top down reviews, lots of time was obviously spent looking at paperwork and finding figures to fit into preconceived ideas not a great deal talking to firefighters and the front line. In the review 10 fire authorities were visited across the whole of England out of a total of 46. As such the evidence was obviously catch all and failed to take into account conditions across the wide ranges of areas and challenges facing fire authorities. I very much doubt many actual firefighters were talked to and asked their opinions about what could be done better.
Browsing through the review, I was intrigued to see how the Fire and Rescue and Service could be changed to cope with the number of flooding incidents in Cornwall, recently a major challenge, of this there is no doubt. The document mentions floods and flooding 4 times and even cites figures that flooding incidents have decreased by 8%. Maybe true elsewhere but not everywhere is the same here I'd very much doubt Cornwall is anywhere near that trend. Here we are told that numbers of firefighters need reducing, yet some of the largest incidents faced here not even mentioned. Consider mines and cliffs the fire and rescue service deals with incidents underground and around the coast in Cornwall not mentioned in the review once.
The logic that merging authorities saves money is again trotted out. Much like Cornwall was told before unitary, the reality here in Penwith is that council tax went up as a result of this cost cutting measure and parking charges too. We have decisions made from afar with little or no regard for what people here think. Services haven't got better, savings are mythical and not based on clear evidence. We can't let this happen to Cornwall Fire and Rescue Services. Does it need to change? probably it does but let Cornwall decide itself, let the people that do this day to day have their say and free us from 'Whitehall interference' (to quote Nick Clegg).
Additionally I really hope the government doesn't use this review to centralise another public service out of Cornwall. We have an ambulance service and police force externally administered on Cornwall, with headquarters and jobs lost to the Cornish economy further undermining us and increasing the brain drain.
Wednesday, 15 May 2013
The process is known as Bona Vacantia "ownerless goods", but in Cornwall the money is not taken by the treasury but administered by the Duchy. I blogged a while back on this Bona Vacantia, the Duchy of Cornwall, the case of the missing money and found that lots of the money collected around half was unaccounted for. Further that the main beneficiaries of the fund were charities headed up by Prince Charles. The Guardian story ran with recent news of the fund sitting on large funds of money (£3.3 million) and controversial donations, to quote:
The biggest grant was £19,300 to Charles's charity Business in the Community, whose supporters include some of the biggest companies in Britain. Another £1,000 went to his London-based Prince's Foundation for Building Communities, which champions the prince's controversial ideas about architecture and planning.
In response to this I set up a petition here: Duchy: money collected from Cornwall's dead should stay here. I'm not completely sure I like the title my criticism of the current set up is not only is it another way of taking money out of the Cornish economy but the nature of the donations. There are many worthy causes and charities that need funding, I cited in the Guardian article foodbanks in Cornwall. My primary concern is that there is no accountability for this money and that it is used to fund the Prince's pet projects rather than genuine worthy causes. It seems to me that the money could be better managed with more accountability and openness, hopefully keeping a great deal of the money from whence it came too. This is my aim with the petition and I hope you'll sign it, please.
Tuesday, 14 May 2013
Last night was the 34th annual meeting of Penzance Town Council and the mayor making ceremony. It was my first real taste of the pomp and ceremony of local government. I was pleased to see my fellow Mebyon Kernow councilor Phil Rendle to be officially re-elected as mayor of the town. I learnt a great deal about the process of local government and had ample opportunity later to have a good chat with some of the councilors and get a feel for where people are coming from and hope to achieve in the next 4 years.
I overcame my scepticism of the pomp when a good friend of mine, and former mayor of the town, Jerry Drew pointed out that this is the history of the town. The ceremonial and dramatically named "sword of justice" the maces, the key, seals and the ancient charter are mere symbols albeit extremely valuable. But they are relics of the past the continuity of this town council through the old borough council and the a demonstration of the history of this proud town. I ended up enjoying the parading, as it were, of these pieces. It impressed upon me the civic pride and the importance of tradition and history.
I also have spent some time reflecting on the nature of administration and political wrangling for power. Here in Penzance we have a Mebyon Kernow mayor again, not because MK are the ruling group but because Cllr Rendle has done a good job so far as civic leader and chairman. As Phil said to me about this time last year after his election, he saw the role as mayor to try to reach consensus and to allow debate not to lead. As coordinator not as generalissimo.
Here on Penzance Town Council as Cornwall Council as well there is no clear consensus from the electorate, there is no mandate for one party or even a coalition of 2 parties to rule. I think Cornwall Council could do well to learn from Penzance Town Council and others to not pursue a ruling clique and cabinet but to have committees where cross party consensus and a diversity of opinion is required. Whichever 2 groups try to form a coalition on Cornwall Council (Lib Dem-Independence or Tory-Indy) they will lack the support collectively of 50% of those that voted.
The democratic thing for the groups on Cornwall Council to do would be a rainbow coalition (as proposed by the Lib Dems and MK). And/ or a leadership arrangement whereby the role is of chair to oversee and direct debate not legislate unilaterally. The great mistake of the previous administration was for a handful of councilors to make all the decisions with little input from the majority of councilors. Which directly led to the grassroots rebellion over privatisation and the former leader losing a vote of no confidence. Individuals and parties that wish to rule from a small number of decisive people with a clear direction would do well to refer back to the election results which gave no one party that mandate.