Thursday, 28 November 2013

A great milestone for my blog

Today my blog reached 100, 000 page views. Which I'm more than chuffed with. I've no doubt this figure is dwarfed by other blogs and news/ views outlets in Cornwall and beyond. But I'm pleased that so many people read my views. I've tried to use it to lobby for positive change and to defend things I think important.

Since I've started this blog,  I've joined Mebyon Kernow and become very active in the party. In May I was elected to Penzance Town Council. I have tried to use my blog to provide insight into my party, the council I serve on and my views on these and other subjects. I passionately believe in encouraging engagement in politics and having frank debates with the public and I hope my blog is helping me achieve this and helping people better understand my party and my role as councilor.

Anyway thanks to my readers and I'm sure with the increasing readers month on month I'll soon be at another milestone.

The Cornish Assembly Petition

This week the online variant of the assembly petition was launched. 2 days in and it's already over 550 signatures, which is fantastic news and a clear sign that many people want Cornwall to have a greater say in our own affairs.

I really hope people do get behind the petition and sign it. Personally I did have fears that Mebyon Kernow launching a petition would put off people from other political persuasions. Thankfully this hasn't been the case and although politicians from other parties are a bit thin on the ground, I have already noticed the Lib Dem Cornwall Councilor Jade Farrington share the petition online. Hopefully this will be the first of many and people will put aside their differences and recognise that a Cornish assembly will benefit One and All. I hope they resist the urge to snub the petition -despite their views- because it was started by a political party.

It's heartening to see the fabulous comedian Kernow King supporting it online:
I hope more people come to the fore in the coming months and speak out for devolution and a proper public debate is had. I do plan to write more about a Cornish Assembly through the length of the campaign, but for now I've already made strong arguments a while ago here: The Case for a Cornish Assembly.

Sign the petition here http://www.change.org/en-GB/petitions/the-uk-prime-minister-and-cabinet-create-a-cornish-assembly

Friday, 22 November 2013

Free Christmas parking for Penzance

Great news, Cornwall Council car parks will be free all day on December saturdays and thursday evenings for late night shopping. This is a real boost for the town centre in this important period and great news for shoppers and is paid for out of the Section 106 money from Sainsburys.

Free parking for the switch on too! pic taken from
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Penzance-Christmas-Lights-Market/207093749424006
This is something I have lobbied for as vice chair of the town council's general purposes committee and lobbied councilors in the town to get behind. Along with others including Penzance Chamber of Commerce and other town councilors. Credit and thanks to the town clerk (Simon Glasson) for meeting with Cornwall Council officers and getting the 106 process sped up and getting this parking money used for the festive period. And finally credit to Sally Bodinar of the shop Anella's on Chapel Street, who has doggedly campaigned for there to be free parking for the festive period, thanks Sally.

Also the town council had already found money out of it's own budget to lay on free parking for the December saturday's and thursday evenings for late night shopping. In the town council car park on Alverton Street, so ample choice for shoppers to come to Penzance and do their xmas shopping.


Friday, 15 November 2013

Cornish language nursery needs your help

I've just pledged to support Cornwall's -indeed the world's- only Cornish language nursery. A few years back I used to attend with my daughter Elsie, my wife Kristin and when Mazey was born she came too. Back then it was just saturday mornings and we adults would learn some Kernewek whilst the little ones learnt and of course played. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

Now Skol Veythrin Karensa has grown, expanded and thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the support of Cornwall College is ready to step up a level and become full time.  To do this and to make the vital Cornish language resource have a secure future they need your help.  If you can please please pledge here through the Crowdfunder website.

More details here on the Nursery World website

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A comparison of how shoddy Cornwall's rail network is

The government has a flagship project High Speed 2, I can't criticise the thought, investment in the rail network is long overdue. Not sure that investing all that money in one place is the right thing. I'm glad Mebyon Kernow has called for money instead to be spent in Cornwall and on the rail link through South West England.

I thought I'd like at a quick comparison at how our train line stacks up in terms of times and cost, using the journey planner on the National Rail website. It is quite shocking.

Penzance-Paddington about 5 hours 30 minutes at the cost of £58.

London-Paris about 2 hours 20 cost varies from just over £100 to £200.

Penzance-Birmingham about 6 hours costs around £140.

London-Birmingham about hour and a half cost between £40 and £70.

Penzance-Edinburgh enough to lose the will to live in time 11 hours + and money £210+.

London-Edinburgh between 4 and 5 hours cost around £150.

Being realistic London and these other cities have more people than Cornwall and more travelling between them. But with the gaps between travel here and elsewhere so large it discourages train travel to and from Cornwall. I accept these aren't direct comparisons in terms of distance either.

The reality is though the 11 hours to Edinburgh by train is 555 miles by road, even if on those motorways you only average 55 mph, you'll be there an hour quicker from Penzance. It must be said the 300 odd miles to London is about the same rail or road. Travel the 270 miles to Birmingham and it's hard to imagine you could take longer than the 6 hour rail journey. Cardiff is the same from Penzance 6 hours by rail,  220 miles by road. The trouble is for a single passenger, rail will be cheaper for a family or travelling together but it would be more expensive. 

If rail is to be a serious travel option and the government is investing fairly everywhere as Cameron claimed today on the phone to the  Cornish media, then it needs to be much better. After all, the history of road improvements in this part of the world is woeful, decades have been spent lobbying for dualling at Temple. The Prime Minister indicated today that A30 upgrades was Cornwall getting it's fair share of infrastructure spending. So it looks like improving road and rail travel within Cornwall and with the rest of the UK is far from the Tories agenda. Whilst they push forward with 21st century rail improvements elsewhere, we're still relying on a train line that has changed little since the days of Brunel. Cornwall deserves better.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Living wage week and the approach of Cornwall Council and Ed Miliband

As many of my long term readers are aware, I am a big supporter of the Living Wage, because I don't think pay is fair and the minimum wage isn't enough to get by on. However I'm not blind to the fact that there is a cost to raising wages, in any organisation the wage bill is always one of the biggest costs. So I'm interested to explore the options, the other week my suggestion that Penzance Town Council become a Living Wage employer was thankfully passed (blog here). In this case the cost didn't have a severe impact upon the budget of the council, but for bigger authorities and organisations how can it be done?

In the last week Ed Miliband has come out and announced the Living Wage as a key stone policy for the Labour party, congratulations to him I think one of the great mistakes of the Labour government was not keeping minimum wage in line with inflation. Throughout the period of the minimum wage, the gap between the lowest earners and the highest earners has dramatically increased as is well documented. The Liberal Conspiracy blog last year picked up research and stated: "According to calculations by think tank One Society, if NMW had kept pace with rises in top pay, it would already be £18.89 per hour."
I don't know the exact accuracy of the figures, but it's clear that there is trend from Labour's introduction of the minimum wage to this day, pay increases haven't been evenly spread and part of the reason the gap between rich and poor is widening. It's a good to see a u turn from Labour on taking responsibility for pay, I'm unclear as to why they're aren't committing to increasing the minimum wage instead but anyhow.

I'm not quite clear how their proposals will work and how the tax incentives to Living Wage employers will be paid for, presumably tax increases, but that's another matter. Today Cornwall Council are considering or at least debating whether the authority should be come a Living Wage employer. Rather depressingly last year (to the day) when I blogged Trim the top earners and pay a living wage, (now Mebyon Kernow policy) there were over 1500 people employed by Cornwall Council on less than the Living Wage, today apparently that numbers doubled to 3,131. Whether this is due to the fact the Living Wage has increased with inflation and council pay has stagnated or the Council are now employing cheaper staff is not clear. Anyway the cost reported in the Western Morning News is a minimum of £1,045,000. Notwithstanding that they accept my previous suggestion that the top earners (those above £100k pa) all take a pay cut, how do you pay for this? A million pound pays for a lot of services, close libraries, put up parking charges, perhaps here in Penzance pull out of Jubilee Pool? It's a real dilemna for those not willing to tackle the issue of high pay in Cornwall Council.

Out of interest there was an interesting piece in the Guardian about Islington Council, who did cut the top earners to pay for it a year ago, a must read also for their endeavours in tackling poverty in the community, an example I hope Cornwall Councillors and officers will look at: One year on, Islington's commitment to the living wage has not faltered.

Which brings me to Ed Miliband, if companies are to be offered tax breaks in order for the state to subsidise the Living Wage, what does he expect local authorities and government departments to do? It's really not clear from what I've seen that this has been given any thought by Labour. In fact it's hard to pin down any of Labour's policies or thoughts on local government funding. If in the eventuality that Labour wins the next general election, will they reverse this government's cuts? will they stump up over a million pounds to Cornwall Council on top to pay the Living Wage, as well as all the other local authorities, towns, parishes etc?

Monday, 4 November 2013

UPDATED Cornwall Council might not be pulling out of Pengarth

Below is the post I wrote about Pengarth and the loss of grant funding from Cornwall Council.  I have since been contacted by Alex Folkes who informs me that this is not necessarily the case. To quote: "I'm afraid that the blog you have posted about Pengarth is not true. The amount that CC has provided to the centre has been cut (I don't have the precise figures, but have no reason to doubt those you have used). However, no decision has been taken to cut funding altogether."

I'm still wary that funding might still be cut, I hope not as this is a vital service to the old people of Penzance and one that saves the wider health and care services money. Definitely one to watch.

Below is my original post.

At this evenings Penzance Town Council meeting we were unexpectedly met with the news that Cornwall Council has pulled the grant funding from Pengarth. According to the figures they supplied Cornwall Council took over the grant funding from Penwith in 2009 and gave £15, 300 a year up until this financial year when it dropped to £12, 300. They've now decided to pull this out completely. The centre has made up the shortfall in recent years from reserves but is now in a precarious financial position.

For this of you that don't know Pengarth is based in Morrab Gardens and provides day care to elderly people, meals on wheels to 420-440 people per week. As the gentlemen (I forgot to note his name) from the Penzance and West Penwith Old Peoples Welfare Trust explained this care alleviates pressure on other care services.  In particular, bed blocking a major issue that has come to the fore in Cornwall in recent weeks has being on the verge of crisis. Yet an existing solution is being dropped!?!

It was rather disappointing that the Cornwall Councilor for the area in which the centre is Cornelius Olivier had no idea that Cornwall Council was pulling out funding.  I had this niave idea that Cornwall Councilors were abrest of all council run and funded services in their division. Whether this was never the case or due to poor communications at Cornwall Council I can only speculate. Ruth Lewarne to her credit pointed out that this move is "doubly mean" on Penzance after a few years ago similar funding was pulled out of St Mary's Haven. Yet again austerity hits the most vulnerable hardest.

I enjoy bring a town councilor, I really do but every meeting is dominated by Cornwall Council pulling out of funding something in the town. I do think we should find the £10,000 they are requesting to keep the centre open. But I wonder where the breaking point is for Penzance Town Council? CCTV, public tiolets, day care centre and the list will no doubt get longer, how much can we put up our council tax to support this and will the people of this town accept paying more tax for the same services?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Sainsbury's million pound 106 money, where is it?

I'm sure many of us remember back in May, that our new Cornwall Councillors, Tim Dwelly, Cornelius Olivier and Jim McKenna fought to change the 106 agreement with Sainsburys. Rather than spending the £1.2 million, gained to Cornwall Council from the supermarket, on a park and ride they felt the money would be better spent in the town centre.

As Cllr Dwelly told the Cornishman:

"I don't think a park-and-ride is the best way to spend the money," he said.

"We know that it's possible for Cornwall Council to spend it in a different way than what's in the agreement.

"What we're now exploring with them, and hopefully with Penzance Town Council and the Town Team, is a better way of spending the money.

"Penzance is in crisis and needs some urgent help, not just long-term improvement."

With the supermarket opening it's petrol station tomorrow and the store on a week wednesday (13th of November). Where will the money be spent? The simple answer is no one in Penzance knows.  I asked the town clerk and mayor months ago, what was happening with the 106 money. Little did I know that they were already chasing it up with Cornwall Council. 

With a full town council meeting tomorrow and the agenda already set, it's depressing that not once in these last 6 months have we as a body been consulted on a new way of spending the money or even told how this money will be redirected. Unfortunately requests by the town clerk to find out more have not been responded to. Even sadder is the fact the people of Penzance, whether residents or businesses have also had no say and remain in the dark. With completion so near and the 106 money to be handed over with it, was the talk of more money for the town centre just for headlines. Will we still end up with a park and ride and effectively subsidising the build of a car park for the store? I'm sure we'll soon find out.

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...