Thursday, 21 October 2010

Scrapping Coastguard Tugs, is the Government oblivious to maritime safety?

The Anglian Princess taken from http://www.mcga.gov.uk/
Amidst the large amount of cuts announced during the Conservative/ Liberal Democrat spending review yesterday,there was one great cut that will effect the high seas aound Cornwall, unnoticed by many, save the eagle eyed reporters at BBC Cornwall. (and the MP for Shetland.) Despite the claim in the article that it is a Falmouth tug, the Anglian Princess has become something of a landmark in Mount's Bay it's usual station.

The vessel is classed as an Emergency Tow Vessel, designed for the towing of stricken vessels in the Western Approaches and Channel but it also has a firefighting capability, (in conjunction with Cornwall Fire and Rescue Service.) The Anglian Princess is one of four HM Coastguard ETVs that stand ready to assist vessels in distress. The Cornish based vessel has an important job, the seas around Cornwall are very busy with shipping coming to and from the UK and Ireland as well the continental ports of the Channel. The reason that the ETV system was introduced was threefold, to prevent loss of life at sea that could be avoided, to prevent loss of shipping and cargoes and to try to avoid environmental disasters, e.g. Torrey Canyon.

The service record of the Anglian Princess is long and eventful, the most notable being the assistance given to the Napoli -and along with the French ETV Abeille Bourbon- the eventual beaching of that vessel in Devon, follow this link for more of the story and some great pictures like this:


There follows a long list of vessels that the Anglian Princess has aided:

Sabre of Newquay 14/3/2004 fishing vessel overdue in Newlyn, assisted in search, link.
Sea Fox 11/1/2004 fire in engine room, off Land's End, towed into Falmouth, link.
Galina 3/11/2005 vessel drifting off Dodman Point, towed into Falmouth, link.
Goliath 8/3/2006 tow parted from barge, towed to Mount's Bay, link.
Spar Garnet 7/12/2006 disabled in heavy seas off Berry Head, towed to Torbay, link.
MV Petra 13/12/2006 navigation problem off Land's End, towed to Falmouth, link.
RFA Largs Bay 6/5/2007 vessel lost ability to steer off Eddystone Rock, escorted to Plymouth, link.
Antigoni 23/11/2009 gas tanker suffering machinery failure off Lizard Point, tasked to assist, link.
Oscar Wilde 4/2/2010 fire aboard passenger ferry, sent to assist, link.
Swanland 20/8/2010 engine failure off Lizard Point, towed to Famouth, link.

(It must also be noted that in nearly all of these cases the brave men of the RNLI's lifeboats have also played their parts.In addition to the equally brave Search and Rescue 771 Squadron from RNAS Culdrose)

I am sure this is not an exhaustive list of missions by the Anglian Princess but it gives a great idea over the number of incidents that happen around our coast and the number of tragedys that have been potentially avoided, in terms of lives, cargoes and pollution. It is dreadful to ponder what could possibly happen without this vital service. I am completely at a loss how this government plans to protect shipping, ferries and fishermen at sea. I have no doubt that the cost of the Anglian Princess and her sister ships throughout the UK is high, but so are the risks...

Postscript:

There seems to be somewhat more of a stir in Scotland than Cornwall about this with Charles Kennedy MP and John Farquhar Munro MSP both Liberal Democrat, calling on the government to rethink the scrapping of the Coastguard tugs. Also has some details of the Anglian Princesses twin the Anglian Prince's missions.

Further BBC Cornwall have updated their story with a statement from the MCA:
"The government believes state provision of emergency towing vessels does not represent a correct use of taxpayers' money, and that ship salvage should be a commercial matter between a ship's operator and the salvor."
Although it appears as a fair point, it does not seem to take into account the fact that once a vessel is adrift at sea that time is of the essence. The time between a vessel being in trouble and smashing against the shore could potentially be very short. Therefore it seems in the interests of saving money the government is gambling that either: a tanker filled with oil or a passenger ship would not immediate assistance. And if so that a private company could fill this need very quickly.

It also lists the potential savings apparently 32.5 million over four years, (if all four of the rescue tugs are scrapped). Whether an environmental disaster -from an oil tanker for example- anywhere around the UK would cost more than this is anyones guess. Not to mention the untangible costs of the potential loss of life. I greatly fear that if there was a disaster off Cornwall or Scotland or South East England the government would regret this saving. The second BBC story.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Duchy of Cornwall, time to pay it's own way?

As we all know every ones belts are being tightened in this age of austerity. Cornwall Council has already identified the largest chunk of saving but now wants public input and indeed ideas for the rest of the £10 million short fall in funding from Westminster. These cuts will be severe, lets not make fools of ourselves and imagines that they will not effect front line services.

This situation prompted me to look into the financial transactions between the Duchy of Cornwall and Cornwall Council. The Duchy of Cornwall is a massive landowner in Cornwall, owning among other things in Cornwall the: "Tamar, Looe, Helford and Camel estuaries and coastal foreshore around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly." (taken from the official Duchy of Cornwall website: http://www.duchyofcornwall.org/aroundthe) So this prompted me to try to investigate the financial dealings between HRH the Duke of Cornwall and Cornwall Council. Now the Duchy is very hard to investigate, it is immune from Freedom of Information requests and not a limited company so nothing to be found through Companies House. Interestingly Duchy of Cornwall accounts are audited and scrutinized by the Treasury. However public institutions dealings with the Duchy are not immune from FOI requests.

So, I filled out a Freedom of Information Request, asking Cornwall Council whether the Duchy paid for upkeep of it's own waterways and whether profits from ports and harbours were given to the Duchy. After a while of asking the answer was:
"The Council does not pay for the upkeep of any Duchy owned
ports/harbours/waterways and no profits are paid to the local authority
owned harbours to the Duchy. There may be some privately owned or Trust
ports which pay the Duchy a rental for the use of their seabed but I do
not know which ones."
That was the official answer and the only one forthcoming, so we shall leave at that. It did however transpire that in terms of beaches there are financial transactions between the Duchy and the council. Parts of the beaches of Porthtowan, Crantock, Trevone and Porthcothnan (perhaps others) are leased by the council from the Duchy. Now I am at a complete loss as to why this is (it also turns out that the council owns a number of beaches in Cornwall), what interest does the council have in owning beaches let alone renting them? What purpose does it serve? Hopefully Cornwall Council, will reassess the need to lease beaches from the Duchy, we have lots of beaches already but what we need now is money.

It also transpires that the council are currently reviewing some of their arrangements regarding lifeguard cover. Cornwall Council is quite unique amongst councils that it actually pays the RNLI to provide lifeguard cover. This is despite whether they own them or not, the beaches of Porthtowan, Crantock, Trevone and Porthcothnan for example are part owned by the Duchy but Cornish taxpayers money funds the lifeguard cover. There are other examples of beaches owned privately others by the National Trust and others by Parish Councils, that are in a similar situation.

I am not for a minute arguing that RNLI cover should be waived because Cornwall Council doesn't own or lease the land, but neither do I think its fair that our taxpayer money should be used in lieu of Duchy or private money. Hopefully the very rich Duchy will see the light and pay it's fair share and help save essential public services. After all, would the Duke even notice:

"Its record profits follow strong financial results from the Duchy of Cornwall, the property estate of the Prince of Wales, which saw profits up seven per cent to £16.3 million. The Duchy's overall value rose eight per cent to £647 million." 09 Jul 2008 Daily Telegraph

The full correspondence of my FOI request.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Undemocratic, disengaging, insulting,
stupid and unsympathetic,
five reasons why Devonwall is a bad idea

There are many reasons why a Devonwall constituency is a bad idea. It’s tempting to list 1074 for this is the number of years since the Cornish border was established (in 936AD) , this would certainly be possible. However for the sake of your sanity and mine the number of objections to Devonwall can be summed up in five reasons. I know there are many more and I haven’t included for example the historical and cultural significance of the Tamar, Cornwall’s constitutional position and the fact that the Cornish like the Welsh, Scottish and English deserve equal political respect under law. I feel these subjects have been ably covered by other writers on their blogs. Anyway my five are perhaps a little procedural and dry but here they are.

1. Firstly and most importantly, the decision to create a Parliamentary Cross- Tamar constituency is wholly undemocratic. The move is opposed by Cornwall’s six Members of Parliament (both the 3 Liberal Democrat and the 3 Conservative), Cornwall Council has voted unanimously against and in addition a large proportion of town and parish councils are opposed. Democratically elected officials from across the Duchy and from all of the political parties do not want a Cross-Tamar MP at the next parliament. There is no desire for a Devonwall constituency in Cornwall.

2. There has been no public consultation about this move, even as the bill is passing through parliament, the public have still not been told if the proposed Devonwall constituency will join West Devon to North Cornwall or Plymouth to South East Cornwall. Before the coalition government came to power all boundary changes were open to public consultation, not anymore. The public simply have no avenue of official interaction with the government over this matter, thus a public rally has been organised.

3. The plans for a Devonwall constituency are part of the plans for reducing the number of MPs which in turn is part of the reform of the electoral system (the AV referendum). So Cornwall stands to lose its political integrity and millennia old border as a footnote to another issue. However insulting this is, it also means that Liberal Democrat MPs in Cornwall will be whipped into voting for electoral reform and forsaking their own beliefs and those of their constituents. 

4. The most prescient practical reason for opposing the Cross-Tamar is the extra unnecessary work for both the MP and local authorities. Again before the Coalition came to power, great attempts were made to keep constituencies within administrative divisions, not anymore. Say for example if the constituency straddles Plymouth and South East Cornwall, the MP will have to liaise with Cornwall Council, Devon County Council and Plymouth City Council, as well as town and parish councils. This would lead to a lot of unnecessary work for both the MP and the Councils, making everyone’s job harder, much more inefficient and reduce the effectiveness of all involved.

5. Although there are historical, cultural and political arguments to be made for keeping ‘Cornwall Whole’ these have so far been ignored by Nick Clegg and the coaliton government.. This is a great shame for there have been special dispensations made to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on similar grounds. In the case of our Celtic cousins the strict new rules on constituency size have been waived in favour of common sense. So if there can be exceptions elsewhere in the Celtic nations, why not Celtic Cornwall?

I have listed below some links for those of you that might be interested in reading more/ getting involved:
Keep Cornwall Whole site, including details of the rallies on the 8th, 9th and 10th October.
This campaign is being considered by 38 degrees, please vote for it here.
The Cornish Republican's blog which provides an overview of the subject.