Wednesday, 30 November 2011

My experience on the Politics Show and why Stephen Gilbert needs to read government press releases.

During the last week I was interviewed by BBC Spotlight about my own experiences trying to get on the 'housing ladder'. Parts of my interview were repeated on the Politics Show South West on sunday morning. I was talking about my own sense of frustration, I am one of the many people in Cornwall who want to simply live in a decent house they can afford. For the record (and if you're my landlord reading this) I have no problem with renting in itself. We pay a fair rent for our property and we are lucky to live somewhere that we can afford to pay the rent every month. The trade off however is that we live in a house without such things as central heating, double glazing, a garden, an allocated parking space and there is a limit to what we can do with the property. So with council houses being rarer than rocking horse dung buying is our only option to finding a suitable property.

The link for the show is here the section on affordable housing is about 34 minutes in, but will only be available until this sunday, the fourth of December. The section in which I feature focuses upon the government's new plan to introduce 95% mortgages. So to help first time buyers only a 5% deposit will be needed, a great step forward can't dispute that, but it won't help ordinary Cornish families. As I said on the Politics Show of my family's situation:

"We lack the substantial money needed for a mortgage and to save for a deposit, we don't have money at the end of the month to put forward for a deposit. I don't think we'd meet any criteria for buying a house that was much over a hundred thousand pounds, which is pretty much, every house in Cornwall."  

Even if somehow we found a deposit (and were eligible for the new government scheme), generic mortgage calculators indicate that an income of thirty thousand pounds per year is required to borrow a maximum of one hundred and twenty thousand pounds. With the average wage in Cornwall being about seventeen thousand pounds per year it is easy to see where my own situation and no doubt thousands of other Cornish people's situations are being failed by this new government scheme. The presenter Martyn Oates put this dilemma to the Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Gilbert:

"we've also heard from someone in Penzance desperate to buy his own home, he says because of the high average house prices in Cornwall even with the help of a mortgage indemnity scheme he still wouldn't be able to afford a house in Cornwall."

To which Stephen Gilbert replied: "There's no doubt that for many people it's still going to be challenging." He rightly said that the indemnity scheme will help people and goes on to say that the scheme "is going to help about ninety thousand people all across the country." (presumably meaning the UK and not Kernow). Puzzling enough the government's department in charge of the scheme: the Homes and Communities Agency website states and I quote "Helping nearly 10,500 struggling first time buyers own their own home." I am puzzled about this gigantic discrepancy between the government's figures and Gilbert's proud boasts. Ten thousand throughout the UK, that won't make a dent here or anywhere else. It's also worth noting that this new 'First Buy' scheme only applies to new builds, see my earlier criticisms of other schemes based on this model.

The other part of the government's housing policy is the resurrection of Thatcher's right to buy scheme. Offering council tenants their own properties at 50% of the value. As I blogged before this makes no economic sense, sell a house for half it's worth and you have to sell at least two to replace with one. Right to buy only truly works if a massive building plan is in place to replace stock privatised to tenants. According to Gilbert this is what the government is planning:

"The governments really clear on this Martyn where there is a home sold under right to buy it will be replaced on a one for one basis.... If we are selling one council house we are replacing it with another council house."

I would dispute the fact that the government is being clear on this subject I have seen no such promises as of yet. I sincerely doubt that with this spendthrift (except Trident) government that they will be investing the millions needed to replace housing stock. I can not find any link that promises the government is even replacing sold housing stock let alone doing it like for like. Even if replacing like for like -comes from anything but Gilbert's over active imagination- it's not enough, there aren't enough council houses now, plus the population is growing the government should be building more stock not keeping current inadequate levels.

Gilbert's final boast was:

"This will be the first government in thirty three years, to leave office in four years time with more social homes than we entered office with."

Can someone please remind me to fact check this before the next general election?

Friday, 25 November 2011

LEP Cornwall needs to learn from the Black Country

I have posted a few times recently about the Cornish and Scillonian LEP and it's lack of obvious work. In the last couple of weeks they have announced public consultations (again please do go to them and have your say see here for details) and a website I did get to thinking am I being a bit unfair on the LEP perhaps? for whatever reason maybe it does take over a year to set up a website and start the public consultation process, perhaps I am being a little impatient. So whilst waiting for the good news of Mebyon Kernow's electoral success in Wendron last night, I had a look on the internet to see what other LEP's were doing. To be fair, a number have done very little and Cornwall and Scilly is certainly not alone in announcing a board without a clear idea of what they are to do. However, I did stumble across the Black Country LEP website and I was shocked to see the level of work they have done. It would take a long time to list everything they have on the site but it's bright it's colourful it is the first result on google, they have an optimistic 5 year strategy, they have contact details. There are lists of development opportunities, there are lists of current investments, there is a message from the chairman, it's a really positive message on the whole website. See for yourself here.

I don't know if looking through the website all the opportunities are to everyone's taste, big Tesco's extensions, housing estates going up everywhere, new roads being built etc. But the point remains in the year that has passed work could have been done here in Cornwall that has been done there in the Black Country. Following on from Stephen Richardson's blog about Mebyon Kernow offering positive ideas, I would like to suggest a few things. Firstly it must be said that I am still none the wiser as to what the LEP can do, what resources they have extra. So two of my ideas are really quite simple and could be relatively cheap to implement, my third idea will take more work but still worth considering.

1. Wavehub there are still no companies trialling this innovative technology, the LEP should take it upon itself to get customers. They need to publicise the facility and it's potential more and to try to make the Wavehub more attractive whether that be through tax relief or just by answering interested parties concerns. Things like attending trade shows speaking to foreign governments. Generally getting the message out there that this world class piece of equipment is there and ready to use.

2. The internet, it occurs to me that Superfast Broadband is an opportunity for Cornish companies to compete with anywhere on this globe. As Spider Eye productions in St Just proves, location is no obstacle to working internationally (Spider Eye makes the kid's program Jungle Junction for the Disney Channel and my children love it). How can the LEP attract companies too Cornwall with this promise of world class speed internet. Also how can they help existing Cornish businesses reach bigger audiences? One simple way in my opinion would be to offer free or subsidised workshops open to all businesses to teach them how to make a bigger impact online. For example things like designing websites and how to get noticed on search engines (SEO), using social media better, efficient ways of sending big files and so on.

3.This is a much bigger one, but I would like to see the LEP thinking about how Cornish goods could be sent to wider markets. How can we take advantage of our geography? we are a peninsula with a long and winding road up to England, so rather than relying on the A30, A38 and M5, can't we look to using our ports and airport to get goods direct to the continent and the wider world. Kickstarting Cornish exports overseas would be a great way to boost our economy and to work with the great exports we already have. Lets use our ports and airports to attract business here, to more efficently reach bigger markets, to better connect us with the world.

So let's learn from the Black Country LEP, lets get out there and tell the big wide world that we have an LEP that we want to do business that we want economic growth, we want a better economy and we want better wages in Cornwall. We are starting from behind, the regions of England have got a headstart on us, lets not fall behind, get the website sorted now. Get some ideas going and build on Cornwall's considerable, assets and expertise to make this thing work and get a better economy for the people of Cornwall. There's great opportunities with the LEP and I hope this is recognised and we get the LEP off the back burner and on to the boil ASAP.

A great end to November for Mebyon Kernow & Loveday Jenkin

Mebyon Kernow councillor Dr. Loveday Jenkin

Barely a month ago I wrote about the defection of Derek Collin's from the Lib Dems to MK and how this was a great end to October for Mebyon Kernow. I was optimistically writing that this should set the tone for November and I hoped we could look forward to a successful month both at the party conference and in the Wendron by election. After a lot of hard work and dedication by our growing number of party activists it was successful and I am holding firmly on to my optimistic frame of mind from now on.

Firstly congratulations to Cornwall Councillor Loveday Jenkin she fought a really hard campaign. Loveday successfully built upon her hard work and long service both on Crowan parish council and -the now lamentably defunct- Kerrier district council to win the election. The dedication shown by Loveday and the reputation she built over the years as a hard working councillor was a great part of her electoral victory. It was great to see the party really coming together to help her in her campaign and I for one enjoyed my time with others knocking doors in Praze-an-Beeble,Wendron itself, Trenear, Crowntown, Nancegollan, Porkellis, Trewannack and lots of other places. We all worked really hard and no farm lane, muddy track, or isolated home was out of bounds for the campaign team we went the extra mile and in some cases extra miles. This is the attitude of Mebyon Kernow no amount of work is too much for the people of Cornwall.

One of the great things I learnt campaigning with Loveday was that she is an extremely positive person, nowhere in her leaflets did it decry the other parties, we did not focus on dumbing down the other candidates. We certainly could have picked holes in other parties and their record in governance, we could have told everyone that Loveday was the only candidate that lived in the Wendron division. We could have printed bar graphs or pie charts showing how we were the only alternative, it's us or them etc. But we did not do these things, we are a principled party we know what we believe in, we know what we want to fight for. We don't want people to vote for us to keep another party out or because they think we're less worse than another party, we want people to vote MK because they like our policies and they like our candidates, because they want Mebyon Kernow representation. Besides which we have far too many policies of our own to waste time concentrating on the opposition.

People on the doorstep responded really well to Loveday Jenkin as a candidate and to Mebyon Kernow as a party. We offer clear policy alternatives, I think our record on local councils and on Cornwall Council itself speaks for itself and people recognise this. I am very proud to be a member of positive forward looking party, there is a great future in MK, it will take lots of hard work and dedication but it will be worth it. As councillor Dick Cole said at the party conference: "No one joins MK for an easy life...we aren't guaranteed influence, we aren't guaranteed any prestige, we join MK, people like you and I because we are passionate about Cornwall and we're passionate about doing what's right for Cornwall." (see that speech on youtube here.) So if anyone fancies the challenge of hard work and dedication, email myself and I will get you sent out an application form to join the party, or if you want more information let me know. Thanks for reading and I am off to optimistically look forward to December and the New Year...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Cornwall and the government must do more for Scilly

I lament the fact that the ancient links between Penzance and Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly look in jeopardy. There is still little resolution and a firm plan on the sea link, I welcome the fact that people in Penwith are getting together to try to rescue the mess caused by the Conservative-Independent Cornwall Council (the Penzance Seafront Forum). The helicopter link too looks in doubt short sightedly Cornwall Council granted Sainsburys planning permission to turn the existing heliport site into yet another out of town supermarket for Penzance, despite the fact the heliport had not found a new home. Once again big business has taken precedence and blinded the council to the bigger picture. Whoever we blame for the mess we are in, the very real business, tourism and community links between Penzance and Scilly are in grave doubt, we need to take action.

The undynamic Cornwall Council does not look to be doing anything about these links, they seem more than content to attract the helicopter to boost the revenues of their loss making airport at Newquay. Whether flying twice as far and using twice as much fuel is a long term solution to the helicopter remains to be seen, I am very sceptical as many in Penzance are. Cornwall Council's shameful lack of commitment to the Isles of Scilly is more than made up for by their own council which is thinking differently about how to secure links and how to secure a better deals for the people of the islands. They have announced today that they are looking into having link re-designated as a "Public Service Obligation Route", this would mean that the government would take responsibility for the links between the Isles of Scilly and the mainland. Yesterday I blogged about how Cornwall only need look to Scotland for how devolved administration and thinking differently to the Westminster village could make politics work better for the people. Scillonians have realised this truth too, they have investigated sealinks between island communities and the mainland. To their shock and horror, the Scottish do this very well. The example they have given is the Isle of Islay, a similar distance from the mainland as Scilly but whereas the Scillonian III costs £95 return journey, they pay £12 return. They pay £70 to fly to Glasgow and back, currently it is £175 to fly to Newquay and back to St Mary's.

As I said yesterday if it is good enough for Scotland it should be good enough for Cornwall and Scilly. The government needs to step in and subsidise the essential links between Penzance and Scilly. I hope that Cornwall Council does something good for us for once and lobbies government to make this happen and I hope they are joined by our coalition MPs. The link to the Scilly Today story is here. I wish Scillonians and Islanders alike the best of luck with this, I hope for the good of my town and the islands that Westminster sees sense.

a sincere apology to my readers about my housing blog

I must apologise to you all, on monday I blogged on how the new government policy and existing governments policies for housing were failing the people of Cornwall. In it I had written in response to the BBC article titled Get Britain Building, I had wrongly assumed that this was based upon fact and research in this assumption I was wrong, it is little more than a copied and pasted government press release. At that point the actual firm details of the coalitions plans had not been released and I feel I have let myself and my readers down by taking the government and the BBC at their word. I should have waited for the actual figures to be released and analysed and criticised them properly. Research by Channel Four news -and no doubt others-0re01veals that affordable housing is actually down a staggering 97% on work done by the Labour government. Here is the Channel four article the astonishing numbers the housing strategy failed to mention the pdf file of the actual figures proposed is here from the Homes and Communities website. Unfortunately due to the centralisation/ regionalisation of administration the figure available are from the South and South West of England, I can not begin to imagine how Cornish figures could be extracted from this 'region'. It can only be concluded that the affordable housing situation is set to get even worse and with the stagnating economy, stagnating wage levels and price increases due to inflation and the weak pound this blow to affordable housing could not come at a worse time.

I do not feel I have to apologise to Mebyon Kernow, I believe my criticisms of existing government policy whether it be Labour or the Tory-Lib Dem alliance are still valid. MK's position on selling off social housing is now even more prescient, selling them off without replacing like for like will beset our children with the same problems this generation faces. A new injection of cash into building social housing will as a response to the government's short sightedness become more of a priority for MK and for me (in terms of what I write about and personally without such action my family will stay in expensive and unsuitable rental accommodation). MK's other criticism that looking to developers to solve the housing crisis is also still valid, these companies exist to make money. They are not interested in selling houses at a discounted rate if they can make more profit they will. I am at a loss to imagine how Labour's disastrous housing policies could be bested in failing the Cornish people but the coalition somehow have managed it. We need radical action on housing and Cornish solutions to our very unique problems, we owe it to the young people of Cornwall, we owe it to our economy and we owe it to the well being of Cornish society. Again I apologise if I misled my readers into thinking the government was doing something about affordable housing they are not. The cabinet of millionaires have used the rhetoric of affordable housing to mask the fact that the banks and big developers have been handed a gift with this new policy and the people have been sold short again.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

There is an alternative & Mebyon Kernow is fighting for it

Listening to the speeches of the Plaid Cymru MP Jonathan Edwards and SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson at the MK conference it was clear to me there is a better way of doing politics and only Mebyon Kernow can offer it to the people of Cornwall. Plaid and the SNP have forged a path not just of devolution but also better governance and  fairer deal for the people of Wales and Scotland this is an example that MK must follow. There are three messages I heard from the two speakers and I heard them clearly and we must fight, strive and shout to offer to Cornwall the better way of politics other Celtic nationalist parties offer. In my opinion the three messages were: 1. there is an alternative we can dare to dream, the public sector can do more to help people. 2. devolution works it provides better governance and better decisions for the people. 3. The SNP and Plaid are proud of their achievements and are proud to be members of parties fighting for a better deal for their respective nations. Here's how I think those three things apply to Cornwall and the only party to put Cornwall and Cornish interests first.

We have had decades of being bombarded with Thatchers's recycled words 'there is no alternative' from the three London-centric parties. South Crofty has to close 'there is no alternative'. We have to accept Europe's fishing quotas 'there is no alternative'. Cornwall has to be part of the South West region 'there is no alternative'. Devolution is not possible for Cornwall 'there is no alternative'. We have to accept the cuts 'there is no alternative'. We can't upgrade the A30 'there is no alternative'. We have to raise tuition fees 'there is no alternative'. We have to accept Devonwall 'there is no alternative'. It really makes me sick, these cynical, patronising and unambitious words, there is always an alternative, without alternatives we would not have democratic politics there would be no point. There is a very real alternative and we must follow the path forged by Wales and Scotland and free ourselves from the unambition and stagnation of London-centric parties and London-centric rule. Whether it's tuition fees, free prescription charges, free eye tests, building council houses, more police on the streets or free parking at NHS hospitals there is an alternative and it is achievable. We need only look to our better off compatriots in Wales and Scotland. The SNP's Kenneth Gibson remarked in his speech 'that the genie was out of the bottle' regarding the Scottish independence referendum, but for me the genie has also come out of the bottle regarding better politics. We need to show to the people of Cornwall that alternatives are only restricted by ambitions, Mebyon Kernow is an ambitious party and we need to show the people that there are very real and very credible alternatives to Westminster's parties and their tired old unambitious refrain 'there is no alternative'.

It is my committed belief that devolution would be good for Cornwall. As the decades have rolled on we have had more and more centralisation, we have been stripped of decision making to London to Bristol to Exeter and to Plymouth. With this ability to make decisions where they matter lost, jobs have gone with it. Rather than people in Cornwall deciding how many police we need and where, it is done in Exeter. Rather than people in Cornwall deciding when and where to upgrade the A30 it is done in London and my friends it is the same story for health, taxation, heritage, the environment, agriculture and fishing. Here alone there are thousands of jobs and millions of pounds lost to the Cornish economy, our taxes funding jobs elsewhere. Devolution in Wales and Scotland has brought both countries thousands of jobs just due to the devolution of administration, the impact in jobs alone devolution would bring the Cornish economy would be one of the most significant boosts in over a decade. Before we even speculate how Cornish decision making would provide better solutions to our unique problems and nurture our unique Cornish talents and expertise.

There is an argument that 'there is no alternative' Cornwall is too small for devolution, this is frankly a very poor argument, Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man have smaller populations than we do and a great amount of independence. Malta, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein are all smaller than us but yet they cope as full members of the European Union. If these small places can cope with great degrees of independence, I am sure that Cornwall could easily cope with devolution within the UK. If these places can have foreign policies, defence policies and membership of the United Nations I am sure Cornwall could run a health service, roads, policing and have a greater say in running our economy. Time and again the Cornish people have proved their intelligence, ingenuity and adaptability with feats far greater than administration and decision making. There is an argument that big is better but this runs contrary to the lessons of history, the number of states created since World War Two is phenomenal as people have realised that making decisions nearer to home is better, that controlling your own destiny is the only path to a better future. Even the states that have remained large tend to be federal where local decisions are made locally, if it's good enough for Wales and Scotland and most of the world it is good enough for us.

The other 'there is no alternative' argument is that the Cornish economy is too weak that we could not survive as a devolved authority. Frankly this is a strong argument there is sense in it, but and it's a big but having a weak economy is no reason to sit on our laurels and be content with the status quo. I contend that the weakness of the Cornish economy is an argument for devolution, it shows we need to start thinking differently we need to do things differently, London's centralised rule has led us into this mess, an abject refusal to bale out our tin mines, an abject refusal to invest in transport infrastructure, an abject refusal to gain a better deal for Cornish fishermen in Europe, an abject refusal to get a better deal for Cornish farmers in Europe and a complete insistence on centralising Cornish jobs out of Cornwall have been major factors in our now poor economy. Westminster has had it's chance with the Cornish economy and they have failed us at every hurdle, they have ignored us and it is only due to the intervention of the European Union and European money that we are not in a worse off state. Our decision making has been gradually centralised out of Cornwall and with it our ability to have a greater say in our affairs which is why we are a neglected little relatively poor corner of this isle.

The other pro status quo argument is that Cornwall Council makes a hash of running Cornwall at the moment, this is true. Because it is far too big to be a local authority and far too small to be an assembly. This is why localism, (that is the devolution of responsibility to Cornwall Council proposed by the government) will not work without a Cornish assembly. We need two tiers of government in Cornwall, we need a small authorities to run local affairs, everything being run from Truro proves the travesty that is centralisation. If something needs deciding in Penzance (or Helston or Bodmin or Callington or St Dennis or Camelford or Bude) it ought to be decided in that community by people living there not looking through bland pieces of paper deciding from afar. Cornwall Council is not fit for purpose as it is, giving it more powers will make this problem worse, it can not cope with what it has to do at the moment. Devolution to Cornwall of a proper legislative assembly upon the lines of the Scottish parliament would provide a great opportunity to right the wrongs of the Lib Dems centralising experiment known as Cornwall Council. We could redesign the council with the people of Cornwall rather than against them as before. The performance of Cornwall Council is a weak argument for the status quo, it should provide us the impetus to change to provide an alternative to provide better government and a better deal for the people of Cornwall. Cornwall deserves better than the current rule by the Conservative-Independent regime in Truro, we deserve better than this unambitious, over grown parish council.

My third point was that MK needs to be proud of what it believes in it needs to explain it's principles with pride and conviction. The party is at the moment, but we need to continue to offer hope and the promise of a better Cornwall and find new and innovative ways of getting this message across. We need to tell people that there is an alternative, that Cornwall need no longer be the poor man of Britain, we can have decent jobs we can have decent housing but in order for this to happen we need an assembly, to make these changes. We need to tell London that we have alternatives, we have dreams and aspirations, we want a better future for Cornwall and Scilly and their tired old rhetoric of 'there is no alternative' can not hold back Mebyon Kernow and we can not let it hold Cornwall back to the present status quo whereby politics does not work for the everyday man, woman and child on Cornish streets today. Change is needed in Cornwall, a better economy is needed, better housing is needed, better wages are needed, better administration is needed, Mebyon Kernow is committed to continuing to make these arguments and fighting to put Cornwall first.

p.s. If you live in the Wendron division, please vote for an alternative, vote for a better deal for Cornwall and vote for Loveday Jenkin tomorrow (24th November) and get her elected to Cornwall Council.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Government housing policy is failing the people of Cornwall

Today the Coalition government has announced it's own policies to solve the housing crisis, the BBC news site leads the story with the title Affordable Home Shortage: Government to reveal plans. First of all we must congratulate the cabinet of millionaires, for realising that housing is problem and restarting the debate over what can and ought to be done. Unfortunately the government has announced plans that offer the same old broken Thatcherite policies that have caused this generation, my generation, most of the problems. Typically for this right wing government it involves free market solutions and is more about bumping up developers profits than the genuine needs of the people and solving the housing crisis.

Yesterday at the Mebyon Kernow conference hours were spent formulating MK's policy toward housing. We recognise as a party that the people of Cornwall are being failed by housing, that the state whether it be in London or Truro are not doing enough to confront the housing crisis. We recognise as a party that decent affordable housing is something that Cornwall needs, it is our collective belief that the other political parties have failed to grasp the problems and in most cases are making the problems worse. We recognise collectively as a party that we need to lobby, work and hopefully in office, after the 2013 Cornwall Council elections, implement policy that will serve to rectify the housing problem, that will put the people of Cornwall first.

The new government scheme is titled the "Get Britain Building Fund" and will involve £400 million of taxpayers money. It must be noted that this is not a great deal of money for the whole UK, as such don't expect a great deal to be done here in Cornwall but nevertheless this is the money available. The plans are to inject this money into the construction industry to 'kickstart building', in other words to give money to private enterprise and big developers to build houses and continue existing stalled schemes. As a small sop to the actual problems and to gain favourable headlines there will be (as the BBC quotes) "a commitment to affordable homes", it goes on to state:
It is hoped that about 450,000 mainly affordable homes will be built by 2015, many of them on publicly-owned brownfield sites.
Will this be enough? no and here's why. Look around Cornwall today nearly every part of our fair land has had developer led new estates built, the number of affordable units are not nearly enough as the long Cornwall Council waiting list (17,500) shows. The number of young people and young families (and indeed not so young families like my own) that desperately want to own their own homes and are priced out of the market at the moment is staggering and goes to show that letting developers build everywhere does not solve the problem. Developers want to make profit, affordable (cheap) homes are not as profitable as 'unaffordable homes', there's no money in it for them. Thus the majority of newly built estates are 85-95% unaffordable, with the small minority of houses actually cheap enough to help with the housing problem. Time and again we see a new estate built a major impact made upon a community and it's infrastructure and dozens unsuccessfully applying for the handful of affordable homes.

A strong message from the MK conference from both leadership and the floor, was that councils here in Cornwall should be given the funding and borrowing powers to build social housing to directly address the problems here in Kernow. That this housing should be built for local people who need to be housed and at the moment are being failed by the expensive free market solution. The council would then rent out this properties and reinvest any revenue raised into creating more housing stock. That is to say that the state, the public sector, takes responsibility for housing and it is no longer in the hands and whims of developers who want only to make profits. That the poorest, the most vulnerable and the most needy are helped not for profit but because it is the right thing to be done.

Alongside the government policy of writing cheques for private developers they have resurrected the very problem that has beset this generation, the Thatcherite right to buy policy. Again people in publicly owned social housing will be offered the right to buy their home at as little as half the market value. We are told this money will be reinvested in more social housing as usual the governments mathematics here is off and I might suggest to them that policy formulation should leave out the Thatcherism rhetoric and instead include a calculator. For even if we leave aside the rising cost of building, selling one home at half the market value will result in the money to build half a home, halving the housing stock and leaving a poisoned legacy for the next generation. The government fails to grasp such basic things in it's quest to sell things off and absolve itself of any responsibility for the common good. This policy in the eighties has already resulted in the social housing stock in Britain shrinking, it was the start of the unaffordable housing crisis in the first place!

I am sure after long debating about housing yesterday I can sum up the mood of Mebyon Kernow members and what our advice to the government is. This government needs to abandon the old privatisation policies of the past, selling off publicly owned housing is a short sighted solution, developers can not be relied upon to build houses for the common good. The only way to build houses to deal with the problems of affordability is be building them and renting them out on a not for profit basis. Existing housing stock needs to be added too not sold off. This money available should be given to local authorities (in the vein of localism) to build social housing designed specifically to deal with problems in local areas. It ought to be used to build decent housing to provide people with well insulated, green homes, it ought to offer them solar panels and other measures to help with fuel poverty. Cornwall needs a proper solution to the housing crisis, the people need better homes, Mebyon Kernow is fighting for this.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Cornwall and Scilly LEP gets a website

It is my great pleasure to announce that our LEP finally has a website, well done. It's simple, only one page but it's a website and designed by a Cornish company too. Hopefully it will soon have more information and we can all get to grasps with this mysterious organisation and what it is going to do. Here's the website they've yet to work on their search engine presence as a quick Google search reveals. But I am not complaining too much about that as my blog and others (Alex Folkes & Cornish Zetetics) feature on google and let's face it between us we've done more thinking and writing about the LEP than the organisation has done, at least as far as is obvious to ordinary people.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Cornwall LEP announces public consultations (at last)

So here we are 12 months and 17 days since the LEP bid was announced as successful by the coalition government and the LEP has announced public consultations. Only a day after I blogged criticising the LEP for a lack of discernible action such as consultations. So I was pleased to read of the roadshows being announced on the Business Cornwall newsite, as much as I have criticisms of the LEP particularly their lack of action, I do believe people should turn up listen to what they have to say and give feedback, criticisms and forward their own ideas (list of venues copied below). As much as the MK member in me wants to make party political points about the coalition and their poor economic record in Cornwall, we need the LEP to work for the sake of the Cornish economy and it is imperative upon both the businesses of Cornwall and the public to engage with the LEP and influence it. In particular here the public, despite being funded by taxpayers we have had no say in who should be on the board, I would have liked to see the elected officials come from political parties and Independents from across the spectrum not merely 2 Conservatives councillors (Alec Robertson, Chris Ridgers) and a Liberal Democrat councillor (Lord Teverson). Also it would have been nice for the "private sector" members to include at least one person from a trade union to speak for the working class of Cornwall especially seeing as political parties of the left, Mebyon Kernow among them, have been excluded from the board.

It is regrettable that the LEP roadshow will only come to Penzance once and that it is held on a tuesday afternoon, I am not sure of the logic to hold such events during office hours. Other than that, the only time the LEP roadshow will grace Penwith with it's presence is St Ives (on the same day at 9:30am). I hope people from the west will be able to make these dates and put forward strongly the case that West Cornwall is in desperate need of investment and solutions to resuscitate our flagging economy. Especially at a time when Cornwall Council is looking to attract our heliport to Newquay airport and in the aftermath of the council making a complete fudge out of Penzance harbour resulting in funding being withdrawn. I think the powers that be in Truro owe us one, or quite a few actually.

November 25
  • 2.30pm: The Eden Project
December 6
  • 9.30am: Town Hall, Truro
  • 2.30pm: Pool Innovation Centre
 December 8
  • 10am: Guildhall, Saltash
  • 2.30pm: Town Hall, Launceston
  • 6pm: Public Hall, Liskeard
 December 13
  • 9.30am: Tate, St Ives
  • 2.30pm: Astro Centre, Penzance
  • 6pm: Wesley Hall, Helston
December 16
  • 9.30am: Shire House Suite, Bodmin
  • 2.30pm: Bay Hotel, Newquay
 January 6
  • 2.30pm: St Austell Brewery, St Austell
 January 11
  • 10.30am: Town Hall, Isles of Scilly
 January 13
  • 9.30am: Parkhouse Centre, Bude

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Cornwall and Scilly LEP, some thoughts a year in.

Ages ago I blogged about the new Cornwall LEP, arguing that it should learn from the mistakes of the RDA. That it should be more receptive to existing business and try not to solely focus on bringing business to Cornwall, instead building upon what we have already. However, I ought to have argued that the LEP should learn from the successes of the RDA. As much as there were bad investments and hostility to South Crofty mine from the RDA it did have a semblance of strategy and direction. I do not think it was the right strategy and direction but they had a plan and they implemented it. This is in complete contrast to the LEP, take for example their website, here we might expect to find who the LEP is, what they do, what they want to do and how they will achieve it. But alas no, it offers:

"It is anticipated that the Partnership will operate as a company limited by guarantee, with responsibility for understanding and articulating the requirements of business for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, and commissioning the delivery of world class economic development projects and programmes which will support sustainable economic growth."

(I think the site has not been updated since the bid was successful if anyone knows if this is the case and why, please comment below)
I have no problem with these laudable aims, everyone recognises the need for Cornwall and Scilly to have economic growth. But words are meaningless without a plan and a way to achieve that plan. Delving further into the website:

"with improved transport links such as Newquay airport and internationally renowned developments including the Eden Project in St Austell, the Tate Art Gallery in St Ives and the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, the challenge is to further use these opportunities to diversify and transform the economy."

A real focus there on tourism, nothing about the retail, manufacturing, agriculture, food production, fishing, quarrying, construction and engineering. Don't get me wrong we need tourism but we must accept the fact that ONS figures demonstrate that 11% of spending in Cornwall is due to tourism, see here. Tourism is not a big sector either for employment or the Cornish economy, significant yes but it should not be the sole focus of our attention. Besides which the vast majority of the UK and Western Europe are aware that Kernow is a great place to come on holiday, attractions like the Eden Project are already well known. What I am trying to say is that people know of Cornwall's attraction, they know we have a great coastline, great surf, great food, great attractions and great people. Try as we might but "the Cornish riveira" could not have a greater profile. It is hard to imagine how tourism could grow in Cornwall, it is therefore hard to imagine how tourism could be used as a foundation in which to "diversify and transform the economy". Besides which there is the obvious logic that we have a great tourist sector at the moment, yet nowhere in England receives European Convergence Funding but Cornwall does, surely time to start thinking differently.

The website continues:

The private sector will lead the Partnership and, by working in partnership with the public sector, will harness the entrepreneurial spirit of the business community which has a world renowned history and reputation for innovation to lead a new ‘knowledge based’ and ‘green’ economic revolution, as it once led the first industrial revolution. This transformational agenda should focus on Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly becoming a dynamic leader in new technologies, and while building on existing strengths is important, there are huge opportunities for a step change in the profile of our economy. 

Again great buzzwords, great sentiment but an abject lack of substance and tangible plans. We all know that Cornwall led the Industrial Revolution, we all know Cornwall was the birthplace of high pressure steam and the steam engine/ train thanks to Trevithick. We know that Davy was the brilliant mind behind the Miner's Safety Lamp, Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) and a huge amount of modern chemistry. We know of all these things and so much more. We know that the Cornish people are innovative, intelligent and adaptable, but what I want to know is how will the LEP tap into this potential.

Andrew Wallis did blog (a while ago) about the plans for the LEP see here, (as always well worth a read), if you look through the briefing note it has lots of buzzwords and waffle and no actual substance. Again and again we are told about rebranding, changing our image and thus being more competitive as the conclusion states:

Cornwall has changed considerably over the last two decades and is still changing, but this is not fully understood by external audiences. The adoption of a “competitive identity approach” will enable a focused and coherent series of mutually reinforcing, cost effective communications and promotions to be undertaken. This will raise the profile and build on the excellent reputation of the existing successful sectors to drive greater awareness and recognition of the emerging/hidden growth industries and thereby assist in its economic development and building on the real pride and self determination of those that live and work in Cornwall

Is rebranding the right approach for Cornwall? I do not think so, firstly it's an unimaginative and flimsy idea, secondly why is it needed? and what good will rebranding do? To my mind we have a good image, Cornwall's natural beauty is no secret, our food both prepared (clotted cream, pasties etc) and fresh (meat, fish & vegetables) is well known, our ales and ciders (St Austell Brewery, Sharps, Skinners, Healey's) also have a reputation for high quality. I am not saying we should neglect these things far from it, they should be supported, the LEP and Cornwall Council should look to help these businesses. But they don't need marketing, Cornwall has a great reputation for high quality fresh produce, we have a "competitive identity". We will make no leaps and bounds economically by rebranding Cornwall, we do not need marketing to solve our problems. We are happy with who we are and what we do, and our formidable export industry proves we do not need to improve our image.

Marketing is a great asset, it is a useful tool to promote a company and increase sales, but it is not a strategy alone. It is doubtful whether a sole focus on marketing ("rebranding" "competitive identity") would do Cornwall any good. Further more I have no idea how any of these ideas proposed above would provide a "transformation" in the Cornish economy, maybe the Coalition and Cornwall Council haven't realised but many Cornish companies already have effective marketing strategies. This is a symptom of the wishy washiness of the LEP and it's plans . Frankly I do not know what to suggest to the LEP, they have a website that hasn't been updated in months, I have no idea what their organisation is, what expertise and capability they have or what they want to do. I can not say any more of their plans, as far as I am concerned they have none. It's over 12 months since the government announced Cornwall and Scilly's successful LEP bid and so far they have no strategy, no public consultation and not even a working website, let alone actually doing anything, Cornwall deserves far better than this.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Save West Cornwall Hospital

I meant to write a long and well thought out blog about reasons not to close West Cornwall Hospital, but the excellent blogger An Helghyer has beaten me to it, please do read it here

We have suffered in Penzance from centralisation and there is a familiar pattern to how it occurs, firstly the amount of services are reduced and then the argument is made that the site is no longer viable and not used as much and that people are making do without the services in Penzance. This has happened with the County Court & Revenue and Customs it could happen with our hospital....

Newquay airport, time we had a good chat about it

A few years ago the last Liberal Democrat administration on Cornwall County Council decided to take over what was RAF St Mawgan as a commercial airport. At the time I had mixed feelings about it, obviously as a nationalist I want Cornwall to have assets like airports (and a stadium and a whole host of other things), but on the other hand I was a little concerned about the council running the venture.

The argument for the airport was that it would be a good thing for the Duchy that people coming to and from Cornwall would no longer have to fly to Plymouth, Exeter, Bristol or Cardiff, Birmingham and London. I understand the logic of this, there is a potential for tourists from the rest of this island and overseas to fly direct to here making Cornwall more accessible. The same works in reverse, if Cornish people want to go somewhere why face driving for hundreds of miles before even going near an airport. I am sure I am not the only one to have flown to Ireland and spent a long car journey wondering why we were travelling hundreds of miles to the north east (to Birmingham) to go north. Of course, tourism is just one of the attractions of having a Cornish airport. It could be argued that businesses rely on the service too. Flying in a few hours to Gatwick, Glasgow, Manchester, East Midlands, Dusseldorf, (and from there to other locations) significantly reduces the travelling time, making long distance meetings and returning home possible in a day.

The possibility of Newquay airport is there above, the dream of Cornwall having it's own airport has not translated well into reality. This is for a number of reasons, firstly taking over the facility happened at exactly the wrong time, 2008 to today has been a time of a long recession, people haven't the money for holidays. Secondly it is hard for a small airport to compete with bigger airports, especially ones that serve more routes. Thirdly passenger numbers indicate that Newquay airport is of less and less use to people, 2008 431,100. 2009 359,578. 2010 285,000. 2011 an estimate of 195,000. This has been reflected with airlines no longer operating from Cornwall (Monarch and Ryanair for example). The business case for Newquay airport is non-existent, no one would buy the airport as it has no history of turning a profit. The real headline of the airport is the cost, the taxpayer has to massively subsidise the airport with Cornwall Council and European money. The latter European money also means that the airport can not be sold due to contractual constraints that state that money would have to be returned to Europe.

Effectively we have been saddled with a very expensive airport used by very few but paid for by many. Now is the time that the people of Cornwall thought long and hard about the airport. Is it worth the cost? Is there a sound case that the airport is worthwhile? Does it add anything to the Cornish economy?

A soon to be Algerian Navy Merlin operating from Newquay
The Conservative led Cornwall Council and British Government is intent on supporting the airport but in a very peculiar way. Utilising the non civilian (ex-USAF/ RAF) aspects of the airport they have attracted Agusta Westland there. London announced that the airport would be a Enterprise Zone, bringing attractive subsidies and tax discounts and hoping to increase the non-flight potential of the site. I understand this and respect it, diversification of business seems essential these days. However I don't understand the strategy, if the airport can not make money as an airport what is the point? Also what happens when the Enterprise zones finish? There is every chance that companies there will leave, that is the key flaw to enterprise zones everywhere.

For Newquay Cornwall airport to survive it needs to at least pay for itself and it needs to do so providing flights. Other ventures there are all well and good but can only supplement the income. It is imperative upon Cornwall Council to sort out this mess. I would love to be wrong -for the good of the taxpayer and of Cornwall- but I fear that an organisation that can't make harbour improvements in Penzance has no chance of this much more complicated task. The airport is not a sustainable venture, it soaks up a huge amount of money. Whether Cornwall needs or wants an airport is actually immaterial whilst the airport relies on huge taxpayer subsidies. We have to face the fact that the government's economic plans are not working the deficit is nowhere near being touched and and the punitive taxes and duties on fuel and vat are harming the fragile economy. Further the Eurozone crisis indicates that things may well get much worse before they get better. We need to be thinking ahead, the amount of money available to spend by authorities is bound to continue to reduce, the amount of money people have to spend is also going to reduce. This will have a great effect on the airport. The time to act is now, if we want an airport here in Cornwall we need to find a way to make it profitable....

Monday, 7 November 2011

fair funding for Cornish schools an exercise in rhetoric?

I happened across a news story earlier about Cornish schools losing out on millions of government funding for routine maintenance repairs. The Cornish school system now faces a £38 million pound bill. The government system for allocating funding appears to be more postcode lottery than based upon the facts. Accordingly Devon, Torbay, Plymouth and the Isles of Scilly got funding. Be that as it may, I don't begrudge the other areas, you have to take what you can out of an administration that has an Ebenezer Scrooge approach to spending.

I think this is a sad day for Cornwall, we need our schools to be well funded, we pay tax and one of the things we expect in return is decent schooling. Everyone accepts this, as a quick search for fair funding for Cornish schools reveals on google. The first link is to Dan Rogerson's (Liberal Democrat MP for North Cornwall) site, he argues for fair funding:

"The Liberal Democrats have consistently campaigned for fair funding for Cornwall.  Under the previous Labour government, each Cornish pupil received more than £300 less than the national average.  Fair schools funding was part of the Cornish Liberal Democrat Manifesto launched by Lord Paddy Ashdown last year."

Andrew George (Lib Dem MP St.Ives)  is next up, his site offers this:

Funding formula review Fair funding for Cornish public services: for Cornish schools and Council under the Government’s review of Local Government Finance; accelerate achievement of health funding target (currently £56 million per annum under target)."

Stephen Gilbert (Lib Dem MP St Austell & Newquay) completes the trio to make it all of Cornwall's Liberal Democrat MPs.


How do these things stack up? It's a simplistic logic but if all of our neighbouring councils get government grants and we don't that's not fair. There seems to be a pattern emerging among the Conservative- Liberal Democrat Alliance a commonality that has perhaps been overlooked. Both parties are more than willing to bark out headlines about arguing for fair funding for Cornwall but when it comes to it, they roll over and Clegg and Cameron give them a belly rub. The Conservative led Cornwall Council (and Cornwall's Conservative led MPs) have done nothing about the Full Council decision to lobby government on fair funding. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives at Westminster now stand idly by while Cornwall is obviously losing out.