Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Happy New Year/ Blydhen Nowydh Da



So that was 2013, barring anything interesting or life changing in the next few hours, the year is done and dusted. We can all look forward to 2014 and a new year of challenges and opportunities, I certainly am. Many years I've reached this time of year with more of a desire to see in the new year and say good riddance to the old one. Thankfully this time around, I'm looking forward to 2014 and looking fondly back at 2013. I hope my readers feel the same. 

In a lot of senses a great deal of my life and certainly my blog this year have been dominated first by the elections themselves and my election to Penzance Town Council. (And of course my unsuccessful Cornwall Council election bid for Penzance East as well.) I hope this is a welcome development for readers, certainly a lot more people have read my blog this year than other years. But I do feel sometimes that I should be focusing on politics and society elsewhere. 

Not that I would have the time to blog on everything but still. There are a lot of injustices in politics at the moment, cuts to front line services, attacks on public sector pensions (firefighters most recently), the bedroom tax and so on. That's before we consider specifics of the social darwinism of modern politics. Take for example the inexcusable letter sent to council tenants shamefully here in Cornwall, reminding people to prioritise rent payments over enjoying Christmas.  See on Josiah Mortimer's blog. Or anything on every single one of Cornwall's MPs voting loyally with the government to not take action on foodbanks. The list of things goes on and I haven't even got onto subjects like the disparity in public spending for Cornwall, the lack of infrastructure spend, centralisation. There's a great deal going on in politics at the moment and sadly not a lot of it is good. 

I guess the lesson for me here is to concentrate my efforts into areas. I can't unfortunately blog about everything and campaign on every issue. Besides even if I tried who would read multiple posts a day on multiple subjects? and what good would it do? I guess what I am getting it, is that I have to think carefully in the new year about how I approach things, not just on my blog but in politics more generally. Not only how can we shed light on bad decision but also how Mebyon Kernow can promote positive ideas and ultimately effect change. 

Ramblings aside, 2014 will be a busier year for myself politically, I will continue to promote Mebyon Kernow, campaign for a Cornish Assembly explain my work as a Penzance Town Councilor and much much more besides. I guess you'll have to stay tuned to see what exactly that entails. 

Enough about me, I hope you all enjoy the New Year's celebrations looking back or forward. I trust you've all had a good Christmas and as always if you want to get in contact please do. 

Friday, 20 December 2013

The unfair funding of Cornwall continues with renewed vigour

The further cuts to local authorities has been announced, it's unfair across the board. Although the job of local authorities is the front line of public service they have faced cuts of 8.2% whereas the average across government is a 1% cut. I don't think it's of a great surprise that government has chosen to protect it's own budgets for it's own departments and palmed off the cuts to others.

But in the case of Cornwall specifically we know we are hugely underfunded, unfortunately these cuts have increased this situation. Cornish residents and Cornwall itself now face a situation where council tax will rise next year and yet even statutory services are at risk of not being delivered, specifically care for the most vulnerable. Alongside the level of services, such as public toilets and libraries are reducing, welfare benefits are being slashed. Due to cuts in local government finance and the Tories and Liberal Democrats choosing to offload the harshest cuts and the hardest decisions downward to councils like here in Cornwall, we will pay more and we will get considerably less and this situation will grow worse in the coming years.

Andrew George MP expressed his frustration at the 'chickenfeed' increase to Cornwall and other rural authorities funding, as the Western Morning News title so aptly puts it: No Sign of Fair Funding for Cornwall.

Again someone in the know, again from an unusual quarter, backs this up:

"We must also point out to Government in the strongest of terms that there are enormous 
inequalities in public funding for Cornwall at the moment. I am told that Cornwall has 50% less 
per head of population to spend on Council services that the average urban council. Is that fair? 

Per person, per year, Cornish people get £78 less grant funding, pay £73 more council tax and 
earn on average £6,300 less than city dwellers! 

Officers at Lys Kernow estimate that closing the gap between rural and urban funding would 
provide Cornwall with an extra £16 million after 5 years."

This quote is from John Pollard, politicial leader of Cornwall Council and an Independent.

I'll end with this picture from the organisation SIGOMA (Special Interest Group of Municipal Authorities). They have created a map illustrating, how the cuts effect local authorities:

Is it any wonder we are one of the poorest parts of the UK?


 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Do as I say not as I do, Eric Pickles wants to stop councils criticising central government

Eric Pickles far from being the champion of localism as per his rhetoric is increasing central government's control over local government. After 3 years of trying to micro manage council policies, controlling what services they provide by slashing funding, he now wants to control what they say too. Enforcing rules onto local government that he himself flouts again and again. Enforcing standards that take from local government the right to criticism or even have anything but the most sterile of opinions on central government policy.


Tucked into the Local Audit and Accountability Bill is a new Code of Practice on Local Authority Publicity, which vests in him the right to monitor and veto Council's press releases. In particular it allows him and his successors the right to enforce the following:

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/5670/1878324.pdf
And the following:


Consider section 16 above and the points about objectivity and influencing public opinion and section 15 above and the last sentence in particular:

"...should avoid anything likely to be perceived by readers as constituting a political statement, or being a commentary on contentious areas of public policy."

So sterile statements, can't make a political point. The following are contained in press releases from Eric Pickles:

"councils are hoarding billions in their piggy banks some are pleading poverty and raising Council Tax."

Councils amassing secret stockpiles of taxpayer money says Local Government Secretary


"This £635 million municipal parking profit shows why we need to review and rein in unfair town hall parking rules... But councils aren’t listening, and local shops and hard-working families are suffering as a result... parking is not a tax or cash cow for town hall officers."


Note the web address for both, despite the subjective, childish and tabloid-esque terms this is not a blog or a Conservative website but gov.uk, offical government website, constituting a clear political opinion destined to sway public opinion. If a local authority did this, it would be against the code and if the bill passes Eric Pickles would be within his rights to censure this. The hypocrisy is astounding.

Are council parking charges fair? are large reserves necessary? Perhaps, perhaps not, these are debates we should be having, like everything in a democracy public scrutiny and accountability is essential. But strict rules about publicity can't just apply to one area of government it needs to apply across the board. If Eric Pickles can take time off from actually doing his job to criticise local authorities, to make political points using taxpayer funded channels, then so local authorities should have the same right. It has to apply across the board.

Interestingly I looked and couldn't find a code for central government publicity, they appear to have no regulation and red tape censuring what they can and can't publish and lack anybody above them to enforce transgressions. For localism to flourish Pickles needs to butt out of local affairs, he needs to stop trying to micro manage areas outside of his control. If he's looking for work to do, how about formulating a code for central government publicity and a truly independent monitor to ensure both central government and local authorities.  

Monday, 16 December 2013

Cornish success! Waitrose yield to flag pressure

Tis a bright day in Kernow, after the saga of Waitrose flying English flags on Cornish sardines they have relented and will fly the correct flag. A real step forward for Cornish identity in general and Cornish food identity in particular.  Hopefully (although at this stage it's unclear) Cornwall's produce will be identified as such. After dozens of facebook posts on Waitrose's page, dozens of tweets to them and no doubt a similar amount of emails.  They replied yesterday to the Kernow branch of the Celtic League with an email, copied on to their website http://kernowcelticleague.weebly.com/1/post/2013/12/waitrose-withdraw-english-flag-from-cornish-pilchards.html 

Well done everyone! If only politicians were so willing to change in the face of public pressure! 

Friday, 13 December 2013

Should Cornwall impose a supermarket levy

The organisation Local Works are lobbying for councils to impose the so called 'Supermarket Levy'. This is already done in Northern Ireland, Scotland and recently Oxford. But recently other councils have rejected the idea such as Bristol. I want to know people's views on the matter, there are real advantages and disadvantages to the idea, I'll explain some of it below, provide some links and encourage you to vote in the poll on the right.

Basically the levy applies to large retailers, so it's dubbed the supermarket levy but does apply to all retailers with a rateable of £500,000 a year, this is a tiny proportion of retailers. After a quick search on the VOA website, the shops with the highest rates in Penzance town centre are New Look (£158,000) Poundland (£116,000) and Poundstretcher (£121,000) with the others being considerably less. Sainsbury's isn't listed, nor Morrison's, but Tesco's is and is valued at £730,000. This gives some indication of how large a retailer has to be and indicates a very small number of Cornish town center retailers would be included.

The levy rate is a maximum of 8.5% and then the authority in our case Cornwall Council receives this money. It's then up to the authority to decide how to spend the money. The obvious argument would be to use that money to level the playing field for town centers, investing in transport, lowering parking and increasing other amenities to attract people into town. But obviously the money could just be thrown in the pot and pay for other services, a debate that would need to be had. You can see I've got this far without mentioning how much it would be, the simple answer is I don't know, it would take considerable research to work it out for a lowly blogger like myself. I understand that Cornwall Council are currently considering the idea, but unsure over whether the 8.5% levy would be desirable or in fact whether to do implement a levy at all.

From a personal perspective I agree with the various points Local Works make: Supermarkets lead to shops closing, they take money out of the local economy, leads to fewer jobs they expand on these arguments very well here. But the proposal does need careful consideration, it's a pretty easy proposal in Penzance no town center shops would be effected but elsewhere in Cornwall it might effect some of the larger in town retailers. This proposal can only brought by Cornwall Council so it needs to be a Cornwall wide decision. I want to know what people think, please vote in the poll on the top right whether you agree or not. Contact me through the usual channels with questions or comments. Alternatively if you like the idea Local Works has a page for contacting your Cornwall Councilor (or your councilor elsewhere) to lobby them for this change, click here.



Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Finally some progress on Wavehub


Well not six months (more like over 3 years), in ten days time will be the second anniversary of the government centralising control of Wavehub. Well not the term they used, proving they have a sense of humour they announced: "The future of Wave Hub is secure", 2 years later we draw nearer to some progress. Whether this is due to the fact the government have lots of plates to spin (Iain Duncan Smith is busy sweeping up his dropped ones as we speak), or the fact they care little for development in Cornwall or perhaps that the "Greenest government ever" rhetorical fad has ended, is anyone's guess.

As I have written before here and here, the centralisation of this project has been to it's detriment, it should have always been controlled in Cornwall with a dedicated team. On the subject, Vince Cable never replied to my email back in February and the question I posed to him "Can you provide justification that having the management of Wave Hub centralised in London, is to the benefit of the project and the taxpayer? " went unanswered.

Anyway an exciting new concept is being trialled next year, read about it on the BBC website here. Best of luck to Seatricity I hope we can soon see the innovative potential of  the multi-million pound Wavehub put to use.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Waitrose management think it's "correct" to use an English flag for Cornish fish

There's been image circulating social media for a few weeks now, of Cornish sardines (pilchards) displayed with an English flag, along with the caption "spot the mistake". It's something I'd not noticed until this week, so I asked them on twitter why it wasn't a Cornish flag (as did many others on their facebook page and twitter). The same stock answer came back for ease of identification an English flag is used, any questioning of this was answered with a stony silence. I even asked their twitter operator if they knew what a Cornish flag looked like, no reply. 

The customer is always right unless their Cornish?

So I sought a more considered response and some dialogue, so I emailed their ceo. Explaining Cornish pride in our flag and our food. I also pointed out the significance of the quality of Cornish produce and that Waitrose should take pride in that.  I pointed out the trend toward labelling the origin of food and it's food miles.  All good arguments,  I believe for displaying Cornish food as Cornish.

Anyway here's the reply I received to my email a  few days ago,  it's a very token response and didn't address any of my points. Any thoughts to what my response should be?

Dear Mr Simmons

Thank you for your patience while I looked into this matter.

I’ve contacted Jeremy Langley, our fish buyer with your enquiry. He’s advised that the use of national flags was introduced to help our customers to quickly identify UK produced fish and shellfish. We decided to use national rather than the regional flags as these are more easily recognised by our Customers.  Cornwall is recognised as a county of England within the United Kingdom and therefore the use of the English flag to denote Cornish sourced product is correct.

We appreciate your thoughts on this matter but I’m afraid at this stage we haven’t got any plans to change our current labelling of our fish.  We do hope despite this, we can look forward to seeing you in our stores again soon.

Yours sincerely

D Lamont (Miss)
Case Manager, Executive Office

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

A passionate plea for a Cornish assembly

I don't usually post other people's opinions on my blog, I have far too much to say for myself. But a great and passionate argument from Penryn Town Councilor Dave Garwood for a Cornish assembly deserves a share here: