Saturday, 27 October 2012

Hardly a surprise I know but George Eustice doesn't get it

Today the MP for Camborne, Redruth and Hayle George Eustice has a piece in the Packet, calling for reform of Cornwall Council. Despite the fact the ex-leader Conservative Alec Robertson lost a vote of no confidence for acting in a unilateral way withholding all decision making to the 10 strong cabinet. George Eustice thinks that the decision making at Cornwall Council should be made by even less people. Calling for a mayor to replace the current cabinet system, leaving the 'day to day' running to the council. So despite the Leader and cabinet acting all by themselves with the Joint Venture, against the wishes of the full chamber and the public doesn't seem to get why this was bad for democracy! Suggesting that the cabinet system and leader system should be replaced with one person a mayor for Cornwall to make all of the decisions to hell with what everyone else thinks.

Eustice's dream of single all powerful Cornish leader

The real lesson for the Joint Venture for Shared Services was that a minority can not make all the decisions, that the full council needs to have a say in the decision making, so that every councillors gets to express the view of their electorate to the council. In effect with Eustice's reforms a mayor such as Alec Robertson would have been able to push through the failed Shared Services scheme on his own with no councillor able to hold him to account. Perhaps this is what the MP would have liked? is this really a question of institutions and arrangements and what is best for democracy. Or is George Eustice lamenting a system that did not privatise all and sundry? Is this about a new system of rule by a select elite whereby the Thatcherite dream of outsourcing to the benefit of private profit would be more easily realised?




Monday, 22 October 2012

Second home voters time for action, what about the 22,000

Further than my last post about the astronomical number of second home owners in Cornwall Second homes time for action, it occurs to me that not only are there 23,000 people taking up Cornish homes for the odd weekend and summer holidays but all of these people are entitled to vote and they might well do so. Safe to say any of them that read my last post won't be voting Mebyon Kernow!

After a sustained campaign by members of MK, Lib Dems and Independents notably Angus Lamond, for democracy to be restored and the principle of one person one vote to apply in Cornwall, the council did act. Early last year they struck off 947 second home owners from the electoral register who hitherto had the option to vote where they lived and in Cornwall. But the question now arises after the release of the official figures from the 2011 census when will the other 22,000 people be struck off? The possible impact of this many votes is huge, in all levels of election in Cornwall. It is obvious that MPs, councillors and MEPs hold their seats by small fractions of this number. It is scary how democracy can be undermined in such a way and it is imperative upon the electoral returns officer and CEO of Cornwall Council Kevin Lavery to investigate this matter again with more vigour and strike off all of those not legally eligible to vote in Cornwall.

Second homes time for action!

Today the ONS released details from last years census of the number of people who own a second home in Cornwall but reside elsewhere. I was truly astonished at the scale of non residential holiday homes here in Kernow, nearly 23,000 people have one here, more than any local authority in England and Wales.  As a comparison that's more people than live in Bodmin (14,700), Hayle (9,500), Helston (11,500), Newquay (20,600), Penzance, (including Heamoor, Newlyn, Gulval, Long Rock and Ludgvan)  (21,500) and slightly less than the combined population  of Truro and Threemilestone (23,600) source. So the entire population of Penzance -and the surrounding area- could leave their houses and find new accommodation and the majority of those second home owners wouldn't be any the wiser until next summer.

This is staggering and at a time when nearly 20,000 people are on Cornwall Council's waiting list (plus more not on the list). Cornwall Council keeps insisting to fill these demands to find people homes we will have to have large scale developments on green field land. Or indeed using play parks, green spaces and large gardens on housing estates to build more houses/ ghettos. It is obvious that this is not the case we need not sacrifice large amounts of green spaces and prime agricultural land we need not build huge conurbations to meet the needs of Cornwall's resident population. There is adequate housing in Cornwall.

I wrote about this subject over 12 months ago, Cornwall and the blight of second homes, and there are options to limit second homes, there are ways to ensure houses are not treated as a commodity or status symbol for London's elites, but are homes for families to live in all year around. There are incentives that can be made to encourage people to stay in hotels rather than under using residential properties. If people are not willing it is within the realms of the compulsory purchase act to buy these second homes with or without the consent of the owners. The time has come for politicians to actually do something out of these many options, to finally put the people of Cornwall first.

What really winds me up from 2010 till now is that Mebyon Kernow had in our 2010 manifesto that second homes needed to be dealt with and one of the ways to do this was to make it a legal requirement that planning permission was needed to change the houses use from residential to second home. As sure as a cat chases a mouse the Liberal Democrats copied the idea and incorporated it into their campaign. I'm not completely partisan if they had done something about it, I would be happy but alas nothing. Despite promises to the electorate not even a peep, despite being in government and all the powers and privileges that entails they have not even mentioned it in the corridors of power. In much the same way as they did nothing about it for the four years they controlled both the old Cornwall County Council and all 5 of Cornwall's MPs were yellow.

The arguments for second homes are neatly summed up in this BBC Cornwall article from Plymouth Second Homes a Double Edged Sword in Rock, very disappointingly arguments for second homes are not contested and dominate the piece. One trader explains that second home owners are everything for their trade. This oft repeated line is that second home owners far from being a drain on communities actually use local shops and pubs. They employ local workmen to work on their homes providing a valuable economic boost. Without second homes (perhaps this is just obvious to me) full time residents would use shops, pubs and get their homes worked on all year. Leaving the second home owners to stay in hotels and B&Bs, shop in the same shops, drink in the same pubs and the workmen would have work with the extra wear and tear on where they are staying.

The time for talk on second homes is over, the authorities in Truro and in London need to accept that this is a problem and that something needs to be done.


Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Cornwall Council: The old privatisation King is Dead Long Live the new privatisation King

Yesterday saw a turbulent meeting at Cornwall Council, which saw an increasingly hot tempered debate and ultimately the sacking of Alec Robertson as Council leader (63 votes to 49) and the widespread proclamation that the Joint Venture for Shared Services was dead in the water. And that the election of the Conservative Jim Currie spelt the end for this privatisation scheme. But is it the end of it?

The left was triumphant yesterday after the dethronement of Alec, people including myself hailed the end of this great gamble. Encouraged by Jim Curries words in his bid for the leadership, seeing off the contender Neil Burden with a speech decrying the privatisation scheme, whereas Burden now the deputy leader spoke for a slimmed down version of the scheme. The morning after the night before I have some doubts about the level of victory, no doubt the Guardian article by Patrick Butler had it right (if details a bit sketchy, Cornwall County Council apparently and no mention of the NHS and health partners being part of the scheme) with the title Thatcher's pro-outsourcing fantasy fails in reality. A popular protest evident in the petition, the cross party support for it, the protest outside Lys Kernow yesterday by members of the Unions, Cornwall ant-cuts Alliance, Penwith anti-cuts Alliance and members of Mebyon Kernow and the Labour party. Not to mention of course councillors voting with the public against the interests of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat dogma of neo-liberal privatisation emanating from Westminster. This was a victory both for common sense and the interests of the public in keeping public services run by the democratic and accountable authorities.

However we must be wise to the fact that Jim Currie is still a Conservative and the right leaning Conservative-Independent coalition  is still in power at Cornwall Council (after an alternative coalition involving the Lib Dems was not reached). We must also acknowledge that Jim Currie was until recently deputy member of the Tory group and cabinet member in charge of finances and corporate support. Under his tenure in this office plans were drawn up to turn the council into a commissioning body, precisely the kind of move that led to the Joint Venture/ Shared Services plan. Read more about that here from back in April this year CC press release "Commissioning Council". Add to this the fact that the same councillors that have devised this scheme are still in office and the same officers and particularly Kevin Lavery are in power. As Tony Collins of the Campaign 4 Change warned yesterday:


"The new leader  Jim Currie won the vote in favour of his appointment by a margin of only three.  Though he is against an outsourcing deal, he will find himself up against opposition from some colleagues and particularly some senior officials.
The strength of feeling in some parts of the council for a deal to be signed is remarkable. Could that strength of feeling overcome opposition to the signing of a deal, even with Currie as the new leader"

A very good point, Tony also discusses to the fact that Jim despite his words yesterday in garnering support from councillors, has not ruled out reviving the scheme. An interview with Jim Currie on This is Cornwall contains the passage:


Mr Currie had been elected to the top job with the implicit backing of non-party members who supported his stance against the council’s joint venture with a private sector firm. However, he said that his concerns were with the massive scale of the venture that had been pursued and that he might have been happy with a substantially smaller deal.
He said the bid – which would have seen Cornwall Council and a private firm form a partnership to run key services – was not dead in the water.
“Never say never,” he said. “It might be an option of last resort.”
But he added: “We are not galloping forward with it at any great haste.”

Jim Currie ready for council business

So not ruling it out entirely?
Have members of the council that supported the claim of being anti-privatisation (including Mebyon Kernow and an assortment of Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Independents) been hoodwinked?
Was the Independent Bob Egerton and the Liberal Democrat Ruth Lewarne right to propose and second Jim Currie's leadership bid?

As ever whilst the Tories (and their Indy chums at CC and Lib Dems up the road) are in power the fight to keep public services public, to put people before profit goes on. The debate next tuesday in response to the public petition calling for the original motion, will be the first test of the leadership of Jim Currie, will he come clean then as an outsourcer? will we face yet another no confidence vote as yet another Tory defies the will of the people and ordinary councillors?

Please join me in doing the following and help to hold these people to account and keep their word.

Sign the petition to shelve Shared Services here.
Contact your Cornwall Councillor here.
Contact the new Cornwall Council leader jcurrie@cornwall.gov.uk



Monday, 15 October 2012

Some thoughts on the Society Cornwall survey...

Tomorrow the 16th of October the leader of Cornwall Council faces his vote of no confidence. Brought about from his unwavering support for a Joint Venture on Shared Services (see my thoughts on that here and here) despite the vote of councillors against the scheme and the hugely popular petition against the scheme. Before tomorrows protest on the issue outside Lys Kernow starting at 9:30 and this fateful day the leadership can take little comfort in a survey conducted by Society Cornwall on attitudes toward local government in Cornwall. Here's a picture of their results:

http://www.societycornwall.co.uk/news/how-you-feel-about-local-government-in-cornwall/
Now there are caveats to the survey, it was only a sample of 129 Cornish residents over 5 days. But despite the small number of respondents there are clear conclusions. The cabinet system is widely condemned 47%  against it as the best form of governance with only 10% agreeing  and thus 43% presumably I don't know. Or in other words 61 don't like the present cabinet system, 13 do like it and 55 I don't know. Small numbers clearly but nonetheless a clearly identifiable trend.

Now as always with types of governance we have to evaluate that the actions of particular body have to be separated from the style of organisation. That is to say, have the decisions of the 10 strong cabinet made people dislike the cabinet or is it the organisational structure itself? Personally I strongly dislike the Cabinet model and don't think it's suitable for Cornwall Council, the Joint Venture for Shared Services is an excellent example of how this system is undemocratic despite the entirety of Cornwall Councillors voting against this privatisation partnership the cabinet remains resolute in supporting the scheme. In a more democratic system then the majority clearly expressing their will would have meant the plan was axed and it begs the question what is the point of having 123 councillors if only 10 have a say in s major change in policy like this?

I think it could be suggested that the fact 48% of people think that their community is not well represented clearly demonstrates that people feel the council to not be democratic and or responsive to the views Cornish public. Again is this a result of the rule of the Tory-Independent regime? or a result of the strangely exclusive and unrepresentative cabinet system? Either way this is bad news for Alec Robertson's besieged leadership and although only a snap shot, a clear indication that people aren't happy with his administration. Suggesting that him being removed from power tomorrow would be supported by the people of Cornwall.

All of the questions and answers are intriguing but I am perplexed what to make of the last question. 53% of respondents agreed that party politics should have no place in local government with 22% disagreeing. Obviously has a long history of electing independent councillors and this is reflected, yet it does not take into account that all but 2 of Cornwall's Independent councillors are in a group in coalition with the Tories, this group is in all but name a political party and keeps the Tories in power. I am deeply confused as to the point of voting Independent if by proxy you are voting for Tories or any other party for that matter. With this in mind I do wonder if those 53% of respondents think voting for Independents in any way equates to keeping party politics out of Cornwall, or if this is a sign of frustration with Cornwall's quasi-independent councillors?

Personally I really like this survey conducted by Society Cornwall, the study of the views of the Cornish public towards government is long overdue and can only add to the democratic process. I implore my readers to look at their website and join if they so wish. http://www.societycornwall.co.uk/join-society-cornwall/

Monday, 8 October 2012

Cornwall Council's possible u turn on Shared Services, don't be fooled.

Today it has been announced that Alec Robertson has signalled a possible u turn on Shared Services. Possible because Alec has changed his posture from one of, my mind won't be changed to it might be changed, now placing it in the hands of councillors to decide. Which appears to suggest that the motion to kick out the Joint Venture on Shared Services will be ignored and the issue will yet again be debated in full council. A clear indication that the embattled regime are still seeking to push ahead with the scheme and are willing to ignore the clear vote of councillors. Great work by everyone who signed the petition and got us to this stage but the fight must go on.

Last friday there was a meeting of the Conservative group on Cornwall Council and no doubt this was high on the agenda, especially considering the threat it poses to the beleaguered leader's position in the upcoming no confidence vote. I would imagine that the crux of that meeting was to ensure that Tory councillors ignore the popular petition signed by thousands of Cornwall's residents, the vote in full council and the examples of Somerset County Council's, Liverpool City Council among other failing partnership schemes and only listen to the leadership. There are also rumours that Conservative councillors face deselection in next years local elections if they continue to defy Alec Robertson and Kevin Laverys' privatisation scheme. 

I have little doubt in my mind that all the Tories that want a future in the party, will line up behind their leader, support him in the no confidence vote and rail road through this Shared Services plan afterward. Party politics at it's worst with the individual councillors views and votes subordinated to the demands of the Conservative party. There are of course ways in which the council will not be able to force through Shared Services, first and foremost continuing to get people to sign the petition, link here and demonstrating the widespread anxiety about the over optimistic promises of the pro privatisation leadership. Of course putting pressure on Tory councillors to vote with their conscience and represent the people that they represent, this point remains true of all councillors. As I blogged before the Liberal Democrats despite being in opposition have mixed views on the subject. The Independents too need to think and act independently and not blindly follow the Conservative party into supporting this unpopular privatisation. 

The fight for the right for Cornish public services from both the council and the health service to remain run by accountable public institutions for the benefit of the public not profit is not over. As we have seen recently with the pasty tax, the Conservatives are very adept at announcing a u turn thus quelling opposition and being able to carry on regardless, lets not be fooled again. Please sign and share the petition, again link here. Also write to your councillor find their details here.

Unless of course you want these kind of headlines for Cornwall and Cornish ratepayers to pay for their mistakes: 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Bona Vacantia, the Duchy of Cornwall, the case of the missing money

The Telegraph ran with a story about the income of the Duke of Cornwall from bona vacantia yesterday. This is when people die in Cornwall without a will or a next of kin then their possessions are deemed to be ownerless goods (the meaning of bona vacantia in Latin) and are appropriated by the Duchy of Cornwall. In England these 'goods' land, property, belongings, money and so on are appropriated by the Crown and passed over to the Treasury (i.e. the government) but in Cornwall now and since 1337 these unclaimed possessions pass to the Duchy. For centuries these assets merely became part of the heir to the English thrones fortune, but since the 1970s they have been passed to the Duchy of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund or at least that's the story. So upon reading the story I thought I'd have a quick look on the internet and see where this money went and the story of the money is very curious...

Clarence House London headquarters of the Duchy of Cornwall
Firstly the Telegraph reports that the income to the Duchy from Cornwall's dead equals £1,019,000 since 2006 (presumbly up to the end of the Duchy's accounting year, probably last year). So where does this small fortune end up? the Duchy's website was my first port of call and reveals that:

Over the last seven years, The Duke of Cornwall’s Benevolent Fund has donated nearly £800,000 to a wide range of organisations and much of the funding goes towards charitable projects which help the environment, conservation, wildlife, community projects and the advancement of art, religion and education. 

Duchy of Cornwall: Bona Vacantia and the Duke of Cornwall's benevolent fund

Now I am completely confused at this, the period that the Telegraph reported was from 2006 to some point in 2011 was 5 years in this time the Duchy received over 1 million pounds from Bona Vacantia. It is noted that some money is held back in case of claims by rightful heirs to the money/ assets. But still if the Duchy claims £1,000,000 in 5 years then what does it claim in 7? We might presume on average that it earns £200,000 per year therefore over 7 years it ought to claim £1,400,000 which doesn't seem to tally with the £800,000 mentioned as donations on the Duchy's own website and reveals a potential discrepancy of £600,000 of undonated and unaccounted for money. I can't explain where this money goes and the Duchy is such a tight lipped outfit and has always shunned transparency in it's affairs so it is nigh on impossible to delve further.

However charities are perfectly clear and have to publish accounts, so I accessed the Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund on the Charity Commission's website, it reveals the accounts and outlines the spending of the benevolent fund over the last 5 years. The first filed are for the year end June 2011. This table is taken directly from the government's Charity Commission site:

Financial year end (FYE)IncomeSpendingAccounts receivedAnnual Return/Annual Update receivedView
30 Jun 2011£84,996£150,17806 Feb 201206 Feb 2012Accounts
30 Jun 2010£70,928£119,06710 Feb 201110 Feb 2011Accounts
30 Jun 2009£113,252£112,97310 Feb 201010 Feb 2010Accounts
30 Jun 2008£139,316£200,83212 Feb 200912 Feb 2009Accounts
30 Jun 2007£122,252£188,41714 Mar 200814 Mar 2008Accounts


Now again we return to the figure quoted in the Telegraph £1,019,000 for the income of the Duchy from Bona Vacantia over the last 5 years. Adding up the figures in the income column above we get to £530,774, leaving a glaring gap between the 1 million and the published figures of roughly half or exactly £529,725. So where is half of the money going? The picture looks bleaker and that question gets more prescient when we delve into the accounts themselves which reveal that the Benevolent fund gains income from investments and other sources as well as Bona Vacantia. So establishing quite what the black hole is becomes much more difficult and troubling. Where exactly does the money from Cornwall's dead under medieval Bona Vacantia laws go?

Charles Windsor and his bling

As a side note it is very telling that the main beneficiary of donations from the 'benevolent Duke' is charities in his name as Prince of Wales. Topping the donations table in terms of amounts given (see the account pdfs here) every year:

2011 The Prince's Countryside Fund £50,000,
2010 The Prince's Foundation £15,000,
2009  High Moorland Action Group £15,000 and The Prince's Foundation 15,000,
2008 The Prince's Regeneration Trust 105,000,
2007 High Moorland Action Group £100,000

Cornish causes and charities are very much further down the list in terms of sums donated.

A breath of fresh air at Penzance Town Council

The election has certainly rung a great many changes at Penzance Town Council. There are now 12 brand new councillors (although Simon Reed...