Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Some reflections on the Mebyon Kernow conference and the future

Me at the #MKconf

First and foremost I really enjoyed the day and I think it was a great event. This is only my third party conference and I definitely think it was the best yet. I much preferred the venue and the main chamber of Lys Kernow it obviously has a lot more significance especially looking forward to next years Cornwall Council (and town and parish council) elections. This is an exciting time for the party, feelings are running high and there is a real sense of positivism for a number of good reasons. But there are also a number of great challenges and a lot of hard work facing the party, in next years Cornwall Council and town and parish elections, the European elections the year after and the general election the year after that.

There is lots of coverage by party members of the conference speeches etc rather than post loads of links it's probably easier to have a browse on the Mebyon Kernow facebook page. I did suffice to say enjoy all of the speeches and it is easy to see why all of the MK spokespeople that day have been elected, they speak with confidence, passion and I found them all insightful and inspiring. That's exactly what the party needed to be inspired and as a party we need to be inspirational.

The challenges facing the party in next years elections are great but also so are the opportunities. I think there is a good reason that there is a growing confidence in the party, we have a bigger profile than we've ever had, we've got more councillors than we've ever had. But to really make a difference in Cornish politics to really get our policies on the agenda we need to do better than we have done before. Of all the speeches I think Loveday's spoke to me most, as she explained there is a growing awareness of Cornish identity, people are thinking about it and talking about it more but a she rightly pointed out those conversations need to be had in the corridors of power not just in the pubs and living rooms of Kernow. In short it needs to be Mebyon Kernow's duty to reach out to these people, to get people that want change involved in politics.

It's not just a growing sense of Cornish identity and a growing pride in Cornwall that this applies to, its fundamentally policy too. I find myself time and time again talking to people and finding myself agreeing with them about the state of the housing market about the scandal of second homes, about the state of the economy and employment in Cornwall, about the need to move up country to find decent work and a whole host of other things. There are a lot of people that feel disillusioned with politics and aspects of society in Cornwall and I feel the same, like many others I grew up without a bright future the industry of our forebears gone (the factories my grandparents worked in have either been skat down and are now houses or lie derelict, my fathers fishing boat sold on) I felt that sense of despair the grim thought that the future held minimum wage jobs and dingy bedsits.

We need to show to people that we offer a solution to this problem, we need to engage with young people like I was, in fact -not so young- people like I am. To show that people like me joined Mebyon Kernow and got involved in politics because they want change, because they want a better Cornwall. We need as a party to demonstrate that we alone present a challenge to the status quo, that we have fresh ideas to inject into the stale policies we've seen over successive council administrations in Cornwall. The other great challenge is of course voter apathy, lots of people that feel the way we do have disengaged with politics, they don't see the point in voting. This is the great challenge for parties like MK that believe in democracy. If we can demonstrate to the electorate that we offer something different that its not the same old Westminster consensus of centralisation and neo liberal economics, then perhaps we can turn around MK's fortunes.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

St Ives Conservatives unwilling to defend their own administrations record.

A Conservative leaflet in West Cornwall reveals how the Tories do not want people to view them on their own Council's record. Normally political leaflets highlight the work of the party, how they have made an area better and ultimately why they should be voted back again. Unable to find justifications for the Tory led administration on Cornwall Council the St Ives Conservatives have instead disowned their own parties policies and neglected to mention failures. Now we are supposed to believe that they are for lower parking charges, that they want housing developments only where necessary, that infrastructure spending in West Cornwall has a proud record and that they are the champions of small business. 

In a leaflet for the Police Commissioner elections, the local branch of the Conservatives have used some of the back to highlight some of their Councillors, no doubt in an attempt to raise their profiles. On the one hand they are for low parking and development, in sharp contradiction to Tory policy running the council, these Councillors are on the side of the public on both issues. 

The Tories argue for lower parking charges, yet Tory policy on Cornwall Council has been to make money out of parking and this part of Cornwall disproportionally. I am unaware of Councillor Harding's campaigning and successes on the issue of parking, this really is news to me. Certainly if I was advising the Conservatives I would do anything but mention parking and do my utmost to distract people from the Tories poor record in this area.

They are also on the side of small businesses as well, no justification for this, thus none given on the leaflet. Despite the massive importance to the Cornish economy of small businesses Cornwall Council lacks any kind of small business policy or incentives or pretty much anything specific.

Apparently Cornwall Council has "created outstanding opportunities for major building and infrastructure developments" the examples given are Helston, (presumably Sainsbury's and the Tesco extension not a great deal to do with Cornwall Council) and Hayle, which is not part of this constituency.  This is presumably highlighting the building works around the North Quay, which were part of the Wavehub project (which still lies woefully unused on the seabed thanks to the Tory led government's inaction). Quizzically this section ends "Many of these resulting in much needed long term employment" many here meaning jobs in 2 new supermarkets. They neglect to mention of course the failures of this council administration to find consensus to get harbour improvements in Penzance and see the scheme through before the Conservative led government pulled the funding. So infrastructure and major building in the St Ives constituency is simply allowing supermarkets to build in Helston, hardly an aspiring record of action by Cornwall Council. Which again highlights the administration's poor record in the St Ives constituency and how disinterested this centralised Tory led council is of the far west.

The last point about housing development is rather bizarre considering the vote last week (see Dick Cole's blog) where the Conservative led administration's cabinet voted for the high amount of development. The other claims made (see below) seem to contradict schemes supported by the council such as Truro East, Coyte Farm among others which are on green fields and are in no way in fill. 

I really question the thoughts of the St Ives Conservative party, if they are going to disagree so fundamentally with the policies and actions of their own party in power, then they need to explain the electorate that they are not happy with their party. They also need to explain how supporting them will change things, we have these people in power already. There are already Conservative Councillors in this part of Cornwall and by voting them in the people have got a lack of infrastructure investment, record high car parking prices, a lack of support for small businesses and a free rein for developers to build where they like. Do they think the people of West Cornwall are stupid?

Monday, 5 November 2012

Cornwall Council, trim the top earners and pay a Living Wage

This week is Living Wage week, a campaign I have always admired. The long and short of it is that the Minimum Wage is not enough to live on and the Living Wage campaign instead champions employers to pay an amount that can ensure a decent standard of living, more on that here on the campaign website. It is a well known fact that the top earners at Lys Kernow earn a great deal of money yet at the other end of the scale many do not earn a living wage, this is not fair nor justified. 

It's a deplorable state of affairs that well over fifteen hundred staff employed by Cornwall Council earn wages well short of the level needed for a basic standard of living. I also find it deplorable that at the other end of the scale the bosses and executives earn huge salaries some in excess of £200,000 year. There is a way to right these two wrongs, by reviewing pay to council staff and redistributing money downward to the lowest paid. Putting fairness and common sense at the forefront of pay on Cornwall Council.

Unfortunately New Labour's flagship policy -National Minimum Wage- does not provide enough income to maintain a basic standard of living.Work should pay for everyone, the lowest earners in society deserve their fair share of wages too. At this time of rising living costs and stagnating wage levels, I welcome the Living Wage initiative to help the hardest working in society to a better quality of life. Cornwall Council employs well over 1500 staff at a level below the Living Wage of seven pounds forty five pence per hour see pdf 'Employees paid less than £7.20', the lowest pay grade employees are in fact one pound twenty short of a living wage, this is  not acceptable as a practice and I believe this does not adequately reflect the hard work and dedication of those on the front line of public services in Cornwall. 

These pay grade levels were set by the last Labour government and frozen by the current Conservative Liberal Democrat Coalition. For the pay of the lowest rewarded staff to increase would require Westminster to change their policy, either on the minimum wage and/ or on public sector pay grades, not something Mebyon Kernow is able to do at this stage. But next year, in six months time, there will be elections for Cornwall Council if Mebyon Kernow find itself in power, we are pledging to remedy this wrong to give the common hard working folk more money in their pockets. The Extended Leadership Team of Cornwall Council, just 30 individuals see pdf at bottom, collectively earn over £2.7 million pounds per year, on minimum pay grades and salaries between seventy thousand and two hundred thousand pounds per year. The Leadership are not the only council officials on super high salaries, figures released in 2010 revealed thirty employees are on over one hundred thousand pounds per year and a further one hundred and fifty people on over fifty thousand pounds per year, these figures combing to a staggering ten and a half million pounds. Cornwall Council has grown to be a top heavy organisation in terms of pay, Mebyon Kernow finds it deeply unacceptable that those on the front line working the hardest earn a paltry wage not enough to live modestly yet the richest paid live more than handsomely.

Not only is rebalancing pay the right thing to do it also makes economic sense. Research by the Living Wage Foundation has shown that employees paid the living wage are happier workers, they are more productive they have a lower level of absence.  The benefits to Cornwall Council and the taxpayer are obvious, we will have a more efficient workers happier workers, just by introducing fairness to the pay philosophy of Cornwall Council. Successive council administrations have told the people of Cornwall that the top staff must be paid top money to stay in their jobs or we won't have the best, I accept the logic that paying decent money gets decent personnel but this extended to all staff from the lowest paid up in a much fairer manner. Just one of the things Mebyon Kernow pledge to remedy in our 2013 Cornwall Council manifesto. 

If you are interested in joining MK or learning more our conference is on the 24th of November see here for details

Friday, 2 November 2012

No to nuclear weapons in Cornwall!

With the prospect of Scotland leaving the United Kingdom a very real possibility, the government are fretting about where to put the nuclear weapons based in Coulport Scotland. Their eyes have moved to the area around Falmouth, raising the daunting prospect of weapons of mass destruction being stored in extremely close proximity to some of Cornwall's major settlements. Even more troubling that the villages of Mylor and Flushing would no longer be villages inhabited by people, but cleared for the storage of nuclear warheads. Leaving formerly peaceful villages and riverbanks a veritable fortress of barbed wire and security guards. Placing restrictions on locals, tourists, pleasure craft and fishing boats and undermining the economy. Trident here would greatly increasing the risk of terrorist attack in Cornwall and of course attack by a more conventional enemy in a war.

As Dick Cole blogged, echoing the CND campaign to cut Trident:

"It is well-known that I am also opposed to the scale and depth of the Coalition’s cuts to the public sector, but there is one area of government spending that should be cut and that is nuclear weapons."

You have to question what kind of soceity we live in when we keep mutli billion pounds weapons of mass destruction yet cut disability benefit and sack police officers, teachers and health workers. Surely society would be better served and indeed defended by prioritising jobs and services over Trident?

Even the ex Conservative defence secretary has recently questioned the point of having nuclear weapons. Michael Portillo slammed the Trident replacement as a matter of prestige and a waste of money. With the last dip of recession keen in the memory, the government's number one priority should be what is best for the economy, what is morally right, not some silly show-piece. There are much better things for this government to be spending their money upon, blighting parts of Cornwall with weapons of mass destruction shouldn't even be an option.