Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Saturday, 21 June 2014
In the last few days there's been something of a whirlwind campaign against government plans to seize control of Cornwall's European funding. Quite why this has come out now is not abundantly clear. But it did. After a flurry of Conservative and Liberal Democrat press releases condemning (rightly) this centralisation there's now been a u turn. But the real scandal no one wants to talk about is why the delay in the next round of 'cohesion' funding.
Well not quite a u turn, depending on your view of a u turn. If I drive in my car to London get to Stonehenge and turn around that's a u turn. If I plan to drive to London and get talked out of it and never drive there is that a u turn? It's much the same with this. Apparently the 'government was considering a proposal', quite who in the government this came from isn't abundantly clear. But I guess someone somewhere thought government should take control of all of the ERDF funding centrally, hardly surprising considering the government's patronising approach to decentralisation. Now it seems the government line has softened. Compare and contrast this with a statement by Vince Cable last June, outlining a done deal on local control on ERDF funding.
But not softened completely the car's still destined to drive some of the way to London. The announcement is that central government will let Cornwall decide to spend it's own money, once Westminster has signed it off as ok. Don't get me wrong this is infinitely preferable to losing the hundreds of jobs widely quoted in administering this money in Cornwall but why should London know best?
The real scandal of course is why the Convergence period ran from 1st of January 2007 to 31st of December 2013. Now rather than being part of the way through the 2014-2020 ERDF funding and actually spending money, government has yet to decide how it is managed and how much they want to centrally control. Which raises the question why 6 months into 2014 am I writing this? And when will the 2014-2020 funding period actually start?
I can't believe I'm even writing this because it's so obvious and patronising. Cornwall needs investment, latest figures show our economy is faring badly. The problems of seasonal work, low wages, high house prices and high living costs are as evident as they have ever been. What we need is action from the government and Cornish politicians yet all we get is silly public arguments on details. Whilst the bigger picture remains the same and largely ignored. Cornwall can ill afford a gap in this funding whilst the coalition gets it's house in order.
The 'u turn' or change in proposals is a good thing. Local control ought to be the default position of government not central control. So we can decide and the jobs the come with deciding and administering this money should be here in Cornwall, not taken away. The government needs to find fresh impetus to getting new European funding online and stop squabbling about the details and then perhaps the 2014 funding period might start in this year!
Saturday, 14 June 2014
On monday I blogged about Penzance and the lackadaisical response to the flood damage from central government. I expressed disappointment that the letter sent to the Prime Minister from the then mayor Phil Rendle had gone weeks and weeks without a response. Just now 5 days after I posted my blog, the post came, including a letter from Dan Rogerson providing a partial response to some of the points raised by the town council.
Dan writing here in his capacity as Parliamentary Under Secretary in DEFRA. Apoligises for the lateness in the reply citing high volumes of correspondence about the winter storms. (Perhaps it's not just the passport office running a record back log?)
The following paragraphs are pretty generic. I'm sure everyone's had ample time over the last 3 months to read and hear government ministers repeat these messages. Here they're no doubt copied and pasted from elsewhere. 1.4 million homes saved from flooding across the UK, capital investment programme across the UK blah blah blah.
Things change to the subject of Mount's Bay and the £95,000 allocated to Cornwall Council to draw up a coastal management strategy. Big sums maybe. Enough to do that job maybe. The letters also has a briefing note attached from the Environment Agency (dated May 2014), which explains a little more about this strategy and the important fact this project started in summer 2013. We can only trust those original allocated funds are enough to cover the task and that the strategy will take lessons from the 2014 storms...
The letter explains any options of a break water to protect the seafront will need to be considered in that strategy. Again will due weight be given to more recent storms in this regard?
Apparently Defra and Cornwall Council have been working on a business case to repair the Eastern Green- Penzance harbour-Penzance prom, sea defences. That £2.98 million has been secured to repair these sea defences. Welcome news, I have no idea how far that goes to putting good the damage or what they're even proposing. Sounds like early days for that one, fingers crossed work is done before next winters storms...
As for Newlyn Green apparently little will be done as according to the Environment Agency there's: "little risk of flooding or erosion resulting in a loss of residential property." Quite what works are going there at the moment are obviously unknown to government. Presumably Cornwall Council is picking up that tab...
There's a similar approach to Jubilee Pool to quote the Environment Agency report: "the damage and potential further loss of the Jubilee Pool has limited impact on risk to the property adjacent to the area, so would not eligible for funding from this allocation." Like their view on Newlyn Green I think's it's a contestable point and both ignore the fact there are buildings not to mention a vital road protected to some degree by these structures.
I'm still disappointed all this talk of "money is no object" and "I'll pick up the tab" from David Cameron is now muddled with a raft of ifs, buts and maybes. Not only that but a straight answer is so very difficult. Here we are months after the storms and we're still no nearer to our sea front being fixed and we don't even know when it will be done and what it will end up looking like. On the plus side at least Westminster is replying to letters on the issue now....
Monday, 9 June 2014
Here in Penzance millions of pounds worth of damage was caused, the prom was a mess, Newlyn Green was like a demolition site, the harbour wall had blocks missing, the rail line was flooded. As this video from the day after amply demonstrates (just some) of that destruction:
Credit to the emergency services, Cormac and Cornwall Council I often criticise the latter in their approach to Penzance. But they did a really good job of getting the road back open and making the area safe. Unfortunately precious little has happened since, despite government promises at the time that money was no object, Cameron's promise has had little effect on the ground. Despite the fact I wrote to the Prime Minister on the 23rd of February asking when storm money would be spent in Penzance I never received a reply from David Cameron. I wasn't reallly expecting anything to come of it, but I was surprised when Penzance Town Council wrote to the government asking when promised storm damage monies and urging government to work with other bodies to build a breakwater but also received no answer.
Thursday, 5 June 2014
The shadow cabinet have been told to design policies within the overall spending limits that the Coalition will announce later this month. He said Labour must prepare to operate within “very tough spending plans from this year's spending review”, adding: “They will be our starting point.”
This comes as no great surprise to many, the big three (+the small one UKIP), believe in the neoliberalism dogma. Debates over the fundamentals of economics, socialism, capitalism, Keynesian, industrialisation and even privatisation versus nationalisation are not ones heard in Westminster, they are largely now the concern of economic historians and activists outside of the mainstream of UK politics. No doubt there are nuanced arguments within neo-liberalism between Labour, Conservative and the Lib Dems, like how much deregulation is enough? How much should private business dictate working conditions? Should it be Serco or G4S that take over this or that public service? But much like Labour's rather weak opposition of 'the cuts are too far too fast' it's a minor criticism. It approaches the subject from the same angle, the general thrust is agreed and the debate is on minor tweaks. This neo-liberal consensus continues with similar policies on austerity.
This is now a situation we find ourselves in and it is a situation that will continue for the foreseeable future. Local government has been at the forefront of cuts as it is at the forefront of delivering services and this has had a real effect. But it will continue to do so, no one from the major parties has ever campaigned for the cuts to councils to be abated. Sure individual decisions have been questioned, but there's been no uproar at Westminster for cuts to local government to be stopped or for money to be found for specific services.
I don't quite know what to do about this situation and what activists and others can do. Whether they be on the left, in an anti cuts movement or just people that want decent 21st century public services. There's some interesting thoughts from Mike Sagar-Fenton on the subject in a column titled: Close Cornwall down and defeat government greed. A must read which advocates local Councillors telling government politely to stop. Which in a roundabout way echoes Mebyon Kernow's earlier call for Coalition Councillors to resign over cuts. Send a message to the governing parties that they will not be members of parties that are destroying the fundamental services of Cornwall Council. But the fundamental problem in both cases, in my opinion, is that these councillors are signed up to their respective party's policies. That they either don't want to criticise their parties or they are fearful to do so. As we saw with the case of Deborah Hopkin's summary dismissal from the Labour party that critique of the economic order will not be tolerated, I know her's is a special case as the tweets were intemperate and in some cases offensive, but not really wrong in matter of fact and principle. But still it goes to show that local representatives are there to tow the party line and stay 'on message' and for the moment that line is tied firmly to austerity.
Wednesday, 4 June 2014
15 mins to lkick off pic.twitter.com/xPVgH1JF4k
— Stephen Richardson (@CllrSRichardson) June 1, 2014
This was the second year that I traveled up to Twickenham with friends including Stephen Richardson pictured above. It certainly was a great occasion, thousands of 'Trelawny's army' marching on (or should that be driving to) London. I don't know the exact number of Cornwall fans dotted around the colossal stadium but it certainly seemed like more people than at your average rugby game in Cornwall itself. To all intents and purposes this fixture has always been more like a home game for the Cornish side whoever their opponents. As an example we just got there in time to see the Cornish squad arrive by coach, to a boisterous Black and Gold crowd:
The team arrives at Twickenham to a lively crowd #Cornwall #BlackandGold pic.twitter.com/NYKGyVRpNEAs a sharp contradiction a few minutes later the Lancashire side arrived:
— Rob Simmons (@cernyw) June 1, 2014
In contrast a rather dour reception for Lancashire #BBcup pic.twitter.com/aWVBpLBJlPPerhaps the Northerners preferred the calm and not being mobbed for signatures by a crowd yelling Oggy Oggy Oggy, or perhaps not...
— Rob Simmons (@cernyw) June 1, 2014
I really enjoyed the game, the atmosphere and the Cornish fans in good spirit and song was superb. I'm no sports pundit, why we didn't win (or why we lost) is a subject you can already read a great deal on, I don't really have anything to add to the debate of ifs, buts and maybes. For me the final was absolutely fantastic it was a great game of rugby and I would suggest one of the finer examples of the game. Despite the nerves that must have gripped the players on both sides, playing in such a huge and iconic stadium and the prize at stake for the winners, the game was played in the best of spirits. If memory serves, only one player was issued a yellow card, ignoring the squirrel for a moment. Tempers and discipline were kept in check. Better still there was a great mix of playing styles by Cornwall, one of the most impressive rolling mauls I've seen in a while, some excellent scrummaging. But also some great incisive running from the backs (and of course Jamal!). A welcome break from the 'kick tennis' that marks the modern game and a lot of running rugby. In a sharp contradiction to the following England XV v Barbarians game, punctuated by gaps in play, there was barely a minute to take a breath throughout the whole final. Set pieces were taken relatively quickly and the game was played at a ferocious pace, unusual these days!
To sum I really enjoyed the day, it was a great game of rugby and I think the Cornish boys did themselves proud and certainly had the heart and determination to have won the coveted cup. I have nothing but praise for them. This championship comes at the end of long bruising seasons for all the players at their clubs. To come together in such a short time frame with a new coach and come this far is a great achievement in itself. It's a similar situation for the fans, organising in the space of a week to make that huge journey and get tickets is a task in itself. Credit to one and all, the fans made for a really great atmosphere and our boys played some really good rugby, one of my more enjoyable sundays in a long time, thanks everyone.