Wednesday, 17 April 2013
My thoughts to the Penzance Chamber of Commerce
Last night the Penzance Chamber of Commerce invited candidates from across the spectrum to speak to them. Credit to them it's good to see a lot of interest in this election I learnt a great deal about business in the town and the thoughts and concerns of businesses. All of the political parties and 2 independents were invited to give their thoughts on policies and priorities if elected. Phil Rendle was busy on town council business so I represented Mebyon Kernow and spoke on my thoughts and what the parties manifesto offers business and trade in Penzance. The question put to candidates was this:
“What will you/your party do to help the economy of Penzance and what will your priorities be.”
I didn't actually write anything to read out, I've not spoken much in public before, but I have learnt after speaking to a politics conference in Redruth that reading things from bits of paper is not the best approach. Also I was a bit concerned that if I wrote something, I'd simply be repeating what others had already said. There was a lot of agreement among the speakers about the need to protect jobs in the town, see our fair share of investment, to work together as politicians and as representatives of Penzance Town Council and/ or Cornwall Council. I decided to not make empty hollow promises about attracting investment, providing jobs. I want to be elected on May the second and I want to be reelected in four years time, empty promises won't help me at this stage.
So I spoke about devolution and picked some points from Mebyon Kernow's manifesto and how they applied to Penzance. Here's the gist of what I said with some of the points expanded upon.. The party believes in devolution to Cornwall and within Cornwall. We lost a lot of jobs and influence with the unitary process. We now have a council up in Truro that holds sway, decisions there are made by a handful of people and officers. We've seen with 'localism' toilets and cctv passed down to the town with a reduced budget. We need to turn this on it's head, we should be approaching Cornwall Council and asking for things, preempting this process. Take for example car parks, currently run from Truro and badly so. Some do really well and others are empty most of the time. We need to be deciding here in Penzance the pricing plans to fill all of the car parks, to decide fares that will bring people to the town. It's just one example, there are others parks etc, decisions that need to be decided here by people elected, accountable and crucially listening to the people of Penzance.
I was a bit disappointed that at of all the people that spoke last night, I was the only one to mention the LEP (Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Enterprise Partnership). I think there's a lot of people that don't understand what the LEP is and lots that don't actually knows what it does. It should be a key part of policy it ought to be driving the economy of Cornwall and I think in this it is failing. It ought to be an election issue in my opinion, I struggle to understand why it's not. Anyway I spoke about Mebyon Kernow's manifesto idea to make the body accountable to the people of Cornwall by changing the leadership to democratically elected politicians. I said that someone needed to grab the LEP by the scruff of the neck and make it realise that the economy of Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly doesn't begin and end at Newquay airport. They should be looking to stimulate all of the Cornish economy, especially here in the west.
The LEP and Cornwall Council should be looking to not only bring in new business but also to champion what we do have. Penzance ought to be the shopping hub of Penwith, we need to stop people going to Truro and elsewhere to shop and encourage them back here. Despite claims we are a retail graveyard we have great assets in Penzance and a great town center. There are great places to eat and drink in the town you can buy fresh veg, fruit, fish and meat, the finest produce. We need to champion these things, we need to be positive about the town and encourage a positive image of it. I didn't say but I ought to have said last night. That it's all well and good talking about bringing jobs and investment to Penzance and making promises without plans to set these things in motion. One of the reasons Penzance town center is fading and we struggle to fill shops is because people don't shop here anymore, yes high business rates and rents play their part. But it's not just about costs it's about a lack of shoppers and money to bring shops to the town. We need to turn things around, what we need people to read in papers is that Penzance is a great place to shop loads of great independent shops, not that it's a retail graveyard or that it's on the tipping point. (I was happy when some of the shopkeepers spoke to me afterwards and expressed the same opinions and despair at the effect on their livelihoods of negative attitudes.)
I also spoke very briefly about tendering. At the moment Penzance skate park is being rebuilt which is great. But the company who is doing the work -much like the ones demolishing the heliport ;(- have come down from up country to do the work. We are literally exporting jobs, all of the parties have spoken this election about protecting Cornish jobs, sourcing more locally from council funds, but how? is my question. We live in a world dictated by public tenders whereby the lowest/ highest bidder usually wins My solution is that we need to be educating Cornish firms about the tendering process, pointing out how to win tenders. It won't be easy to change the system but if we really want to protect Cornish jobs and support Cornish tradesman we need to give them a helping hand to win tenders.
That was the gist of it, people clapped and other candidates looked a bit surprised that I had spoken so strongly and so honestly. Some of the other parties have written me off as a non-contender, I continue to prove them wrong and I do believe I offer something different to the people of Penzance East. I won't sell false promises but I and Mebyon Kernow offer clear ideas to how we can make fundamental changes in local government and make Cornwall Council and the LEP work harder for the Cornish economy.
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