Saturday, 20 November 2010

Will the Cornish LEP learn from the mistakes of the RDA?

The government plans to scrap the South West Regional Development Agency and create a Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Economic Partnership presents a great opportunity to rethink economic policy in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly and to take charge of our own destinies. The RDA was geographically distant and democratically not accountable to the people of Cornwall, this resulted in the body being out of touch with public opinion. Economic solutions were delivered from above with little or no meaningful public consultation and regard for the communities involved. This approach must be resisted in creeping into the new LEP. Which hopefully will have a more bottom up approach to policy and planning and seek to foster stronger relations with the public and business communities.

There are many criticisms to be made of the RDA, bad investment decisions such as the Border Books distribution center in St Columb, which had attracted a 3.5 million investment to open. The folding of the South West Film Studios at St Agnes, which resulted in the director being imprisoned on fraud charges, for the 1.87 million of RDA funding.  Also the failed Gaia Energy Center at Delabole, a tourist attraction which had attracted 5 million in RDA funding. The Helston Business Park rounds off the failed ventures of Cornish Objective One money, attracting 2.6 million in RDA investment and has laid empty for three years. Whether the fault in these cases lies with the RDA, economic realities or other factors is beside the point. They are symptomatic of the RDA's insistence in bringing new business into Cornwall and the ignorance shown toward existing businesses and industry. Of course new business should always be sought, but there are often reasons why some businesses have grown organically and others have not. It should never have been the job of the RDA to invest Cornish Objective Money in such a reckless way. There were some successes of the RDA such as the Eden Project and the National Maritime Museum which both tapped into the existing industry of tourism. The University Campus at Tremough in Penryn which had tapped into a long term tangible need for degree level education in Cornwall. (We'll skip over the subsidy given to the Department of Transport for the A30 improvements).

It should be the job of the LEP not only to look to the new but also to foster and support the old. It is no good letting the perpetual Cornish industries of farming and fishing and mining fall by the wayside while bureaucrats experiment with introducing new business and industry. My point is that the RDA sought to impose solutions from above, this resulted in patchy performance and did little to support existing industry and business. Politically too the same approach prevailed in the RDA, far off in Bristol, Exeter and Plymouth, unelected bureaucrats (and a handful of token councillors) and the seemingly obligatory consultants envisaged grand schemes of redevelopment with no regard for the local area or existing tried and tested business and industry.
The prime example of this was South Crofty, closed in 1998 due to costs and regulation, rather than mineral exhaustion. Many hoped that the advent of Objective One money could be used to reopen the mine, to utilise the natural resources of Cornwall and the skills and ingenuity of the Cornish people to create decent jobs and bring money into the area. However this was not to be even when a new concern bought the mine the RDA for years and years spent what must have been a great deal of time and money, drafting plans to bulldoze the surface structures and to redevelop the land. Time and again Compulsory Purchase Orders, were threatened a multitude of plans were put forward including shops, houses a new road and even a leisure center all oblivious to attempts to rework the mine or even the danger and cost of building over mine workings and their associated shafts. After the best part of a decade and High Court Challenges by South Crofty's owners, the RDA finally reluctantly gave in and 'allowed' the old tin mine to be. The implications of acting like lord and master were completely out of tune with the idea of public sector bodies serving the people and encouraging business. It does occur that the fortune spent fighting this protracted battle could have been spent better by both the mine owners on reopening and the RDA on other regeneration projects. (For those interested in the long and winding battle between the mine owners and the RDA here's the Falmouth Packet archive.)

South Crofty Mine Pool, the graffiti reads the words of a folk song by Chris Bryant:
A lament at the loss of the industry but also indicative of the despair felt at the RDAs solutions and methods.
Photo taken from:
 The real challenge for the new LEP is to learn from these mistakes. To not sit in offices and draw up good schemes on paper without any regard for anything else, but to develop organic schemes that work with not against communities. Perhaps this is a little idealistic and that any plan has the possibility of running into opposition, but it is imperative that this opposition is dealt with properly. The bulldozer approach of the RDA seen at South Crofty was not good in terms of public relations, public service or business relations. The people that work in the RDA never seemed to realise that in life problems are best resolved by negotiation and reasoning not threats and ultimatums. Most importantly of all the RDA never seemed to grasp the idea that in a democracy state workers are public servants, employed to work with the people not against them, to promote consensus not conflict. Further the new LEP needs to look at what Cornwall is strong at and nurture existing industries into bigger ones. Hopefully the new LEP will not gamble with Cornish public money in the way the RDA did and invest in strong cases not outside chances.
I sincerely hope that the approach taken by members of Cornwall Council toward the Route Partnership scheme in Penzance is not indicative of what we can expect from the LEP. For the activities there ranked alongside the RDA in terms of bulldozer diplomacy....

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Who voted to Keep Cornwall Whole? and who didn't?

I have been chewing the fat of the amendment that would have protected Cornwall's political integrity and I find some of it quite difficult to chew through, and some of it hard to swallow. There are some surprises senior Tories (D, Cameron and L, Fox) and Senior Labour MPs (Miliband (both) G, Brown) that didn't vote and a shortfall in Labour votes. Looking at the figures of who voted which way there are two things that occour, firstly the amendment could have mathematically been voted through and secondly that there are some surprises over who did vote who and didn't vote. To quickly illustrate the first point the amendment was defeated by 315 to 257, a government majority of 58 in simple terms this means that 80 Members of Parliaments did not bother to vote. Mathematically at least these 80 MPs could have forced through the bill that protected not only Cornwall's integrity but Anglesey, the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and the Isle of Wight too. I know it is simplistic to guess the votes of absentee parliamentarians but bear with me while I illustrate my second point.

In terms of broad strokes, the Coaliton Government -give or take a few- voted against the amendment, whilst the opposition voted for it. Voting against the bill was every notable Liberal Democrat from Clegg, Cable, Alexander, Campbell et al through to the back benches. Voting for the bill Cornwall's Lib Dem trio, joined by Charles Kennedy and John Thurso and Adrian Sanders MP for Torbay (unlike his fellow Devonian Lib Dem Nick Harvey who voted against.)

Cornwall's 3 Tories voted for the amendment as did the Isle of Wight MP, but the picture across Conservative party is slightly different, David Cameron did not vote either way, whether in a way of an apology for the Amazon comment or on behalf of his Cornish born daughter we will never know. The much vaunted Shadow Minister for Cornwall Mark Prisk voted for Devonwall as did most senior Tories. Devon Tories; Morris, Parish, Stride, Cox, Colville and Wollaston all voted against the amendment.  However 2 Devon Tories did not vote either way (Swire and Streeter) the same was true of Liam Fox.

Moving on to Labour, no doubt the majority of votes came from this party -including Devon MPs Seabeck and Bradshaw- but the fact that Labour has 258 MPs, and MPs voting for the amendment totalled 243 here there is a shortfall. We've already named 10 from the coaliton and 11 from small parties that voted against and at least 6 who (see below) considering I may have missed a few coaliton MPs at least 44 Labour MPs did not vote either way. I do not have a full list but the party leader Ed Miliband, his brother David Miliband, ex PM Gordon Brown were amongst the Labour MPs who did not vote.

Moving on to the small parties the 3 Plaid Cymru, 5 of the SNPs 6,  2 of the  DUPs 6 and 1 of the SDLPs 3 all voted in favour. The MP for the Northern Ireland Alliance Party, an Independent and the Green MP all did not vote. In other words from the small parties none voted against the amendment, with 11 for and 12 abstaining. To round up some of the information, all Cornwall's MPs voted for the amendment, Devon's MP were divided 7 against, 3 for, 2 abstaining. I must apologise for throughout this blog I have not specified exact details of how Labour, Lib Dem and Tory voted, unfortunately Hansard does not list MPs by party on voting results and not myself being burdened with knowing which party 600 odd MPs are in, I can not be more specific.

Support for the amendment in the Coaliton was extremely thin on the ground, but to return to my first  point, could the oppositon have voted the amendment into the bill? I believe so, if all Labour members had voted (from the Leader down), small parties had been persuaded and Devon MPs brought alongside the Cornish 6 and their allies may well have won. That's as maybe I suppose, but there are some hard questions to be posed by the Cornish members of the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens over how they were not able to persuade their fellow party members to support this amendment.

Anyway perhaps as a fitting epitaph to the loss of the Tamar I leave you with the parliamentary exchange between Andrew George LD and Angus Macneil SNP:

 Mr MacNeil: The hon. Gentleman has mentioned history and culture, and there is of course the Gaelic proverb:
    "S fhearr caraid sa chuirt na crun san sporran"-
it is better to have a friend in court-and, indeed, Parliament -than money in the purse. With that in mind, I say to my Celtic cousins from Cornwall that Karl Marx in one of his madder moments said that the fate of the Celtic races was to be ruled by the Nordic races. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the treatment of Cornwall could thus be construed as Marxist? Did he ever imagine that when this coalition Government set out their aims, they would end up with Marxism in Cornwall?

Andrew George: Let me quote someone else. It was Matthew Arnold who said that it was the desire of a centralised state

    "to render its dominions... homogenous".

The quote is from Column 680 and the voting record deduced from column 696 which also details the defeated amendment, both from the same -November the second- Hansard entry. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Saving money? the Lords and constitutional reform

As the Cornish border prepares to take on no more political significance to London than the Amazon, news about the creation of more peers in the Lords has me truly perplexed. The argument for the reduction in numbers of MPs is justified as saving money, part of the Governments obsession with cutting public spending. It is argued that 50 less MPs will save money and at the same time constituencies can be made roughly the same size in population. Which results in at least one cross Tamar constituency and communities everywhere in the UK being ignored for the sake of cold hard mathematics.

This reduction in MPs will save the public purse an estimated £12 million pounds a year. That's all well and good but in the same stroke the government is creating 300 new peers to the House of Lords, a cost that one peer estimates at £60 million pounds a year.  So it would seem that Cornwall stands to lose its border and democratic representation will be reduced throughout the UK, yet the unelected unaccountable Lords will be increased by 300. Which will either increase the House of Lords to over a thousand peers or prompt golden handshakes for retirees.

So, what kind of democracy is this that favour unpopular traditions like the Lords over popular traditional borders?
That favours electoral reform of the elected house whilst bolstering the unelected house?
That has more unelected representatives than elected?
Surely a fortune could be saved by trimming the Lords down to size leaving the Commons be and thus keeping Cornwall's border intact?

Monday, 1 November 2010

Keep Cornwall Whole amendment defeated

Not long ago the amendment proposed by Andrew George and carrying the name of all of the Cornish MPs was defeated by a government majority of 58. Now it is not clear who voted which way at this stage, but it seems very much like those that voted for the Keep Cornwall Whole amendment were from the opposition benches, bar say a dozen Conservative and Liberal Democrats.

Really thats by the by as we have moved one step closer to losing our historic territorial integrity.

I don't really know what to say at this stage but I would suggest something like this would be nice:

" give local people far more control over how their local area is run..."

So we could have Cornwall being:

"... heard at the heart of the Shadow Cabinet and the heart of the Conservative party..."

To try to avoid a situation where Cornwall is:

"... almost completely ignored by the government..."

These words of course come from the now Prime Minister, spoken upon the announcement of a Shadow Minister for Cornwall and meant to be an attack on the Labour Party. Now whats that saying about stones and glass houses?