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:

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 
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:

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A great milestone for my blog

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

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

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

The Cornish Assembly Petition

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

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

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

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

Friday, 22 November 2013

Free Christmas parking for Penzance

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

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

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

Friday, 15 November 2013

Cornish language nursery needs your help

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

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

More details here on the Nursery World website

Thursday, 7 November 2013

A comparison of how shoddy Cornwall's rail network is

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

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

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

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

Penzance-Birmingham about 6 hours costs around £140.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 4 November 2013

UPDATED Cornwall Council might not be pulling out of Pengarth

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

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

Below is my original post.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 3 November 2013

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

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

As Cllr Dwelly told the Cornishman:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

The Scottish Independence debate and how campaigns beat political parties on social media

Just now I cam across a staggering statistic from Yes Scotland, they over 100,000 'likes' on their facebook page. Understandably they are quite happy about this, as this photo lifted from the page demonstrates. 

Congratulations to them this is a huge feat, as they themselves are keen to note "We have now reached 100,000 likes on Facebook. Thank you very much for engaging in discussion with us - whether you agree with Yes Scotland or not." So likes on facebook and followers on twitter is not a completely accurate barometer of support, you may 'like' but that might be to actually disagree, as they concede. Although I dare say the fact that the rival Better Together campaign's facebook following of 91,000 is a lower is encouraging for the pro independence movement. On twitter the split is 14,544 to Better Together and 24,380 to Yes Scotland. Again the Yes campaign has a greater following and reach, again cause for concern for unionists. It's a well talked about fact that social media is becoming bigger in politics and not just for parties, for campaigns and campaigning too.

There is an interesting power struggle going on at the moment (or should I say to the fore as it is perennial) between the Unions and the Labour party and on the other hand Government's controversial 'gagging bill' which is opposed by all sorts of charities, campaigning groups, trade unions. Politicians jealously guarding their influence and prominence in political discourse against outside rivals. Years and years ago, there was a lot of debate about the role of the state in international politics and whether governments would in a sense be second place actors behind the United Nations, the EU, multinationals, religions and that globalisation rendered states impotent.  There is the same dynamic in domestic politics going on and now and definitely coming to the fore, political parties are losing influence to the vast myriad of campaigning groups. I'd argue much like the role of the state in international politics, parties can govern, legislate and do things groups can not, in much the same way the US can dominate politics in a way companies, the UN or EU never can. But it is nonetheless of concern and questions the democratic legitimacy of the traditional political parties and questions how politicians engage with the public. 

Consider for example the fact Yes Scotland has 100,000 facebook likes, many doubt the 'independence' of the campaign that it's a SNP front, which stands in stark contrast to the 28,595 likes of The SNP itself. We might assess the counter claim that Better Together is a Labour front, but it's hard to make a direct facebook comparison, the UK Labour party (there isn't a seperate Scottish Labour page I could find) has 152,956 likes which doesn't compare favourably with Better Together's 91,000. If social media is anything to go by there isn't a direct link between online support and yes voters being SNP and no voters being Labour. (I know a slightly obvious point.) But if we flit back to the point about campaigns outstripping parties, it is a significant gulf.

The blog UK General Election 2015 does lots of interesting analysis of polling and voting intentions, if you like that kind of thing well worth a look. They also do a monthly round up of Political Cyber Warriors, it's worth looking at their screenshots of facebook and twitter followings and making some comparisons:

Consider Yes Scotland's 100k facebook likes, more than the Liberal Democrats, twice as many as UKIP as well as 3 times that of The SNP. But also consider Amnesty International UK who have 116k on facebook and 89k on twitter38 Degrees who have 77k and 20k on twitterGreenpeace UK who have 141k and 73k on twitter, these are all by definition political organisations. Even more interesting is when you consider the stats facebook give, the Conservatives boast 160k likes but yet 2,761 are 'talking about this' Labour fares slightly better with 153k likes and 12,964 'talking about this', whereas Yes Scotland have 100k likes and 11,204 'talking about this', Amnesty have less likes than both but 27,296 'talking about this' (the Lib Dems have 91K likes and 1,209 'talking about this') So it would seem, not only are smaller organisations like charities and campaigning groups better at attracting social media followings and in terms of quantity holding their own but they are also winning the quality battle and engaging more people too. 

The real question for politicians and political parties is why are people more inclined to join campaigning groups? and engage with them on social media? Why are people more inclined to talk about Amnesty International than the parties that govern us? Why do political parties that dominate political news, operate with multi-million pounds budgets, and have hundreds of paid full time staff, as well as MPs and councilors, fail to attract as much social media support? People are obviously interested in politics, so what are political parties doing wrong? It's something that needs to be looked at, theories or ideas please share them below.

To return to the original point, I don't know what the Yes Scotland campaign is doing right, but to have that many people engaged on social media and to be outstripping parties and indeed other campaigns that are so well established is an impressive feat. 

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Penzance Town Council votes to be a Living Wage employer

Great news, a while back I suggested to the town clerk that the town council that we become a Living Wage employer. This came to committee last week and was thankfully voted through, with only one opposing which is fantastic. Although it was my idea, I can't take too much credit as I don't sit on the Finance and Property Committee, so I wasn't there to speak on behalf of the recommendation nor to vote on it. Thanks are due therefore to the town clerk and the other office staff for drawing up the proposal and the committee members for voting it through.

The wording of the recommendation was as follows: "that the principle of the Penzance Town Council being a Living Wage Employer is supported and that we work with the Living Wage Foundation in achieving Accreditation." More on what the Living Wage is from the Foundations website here.

I think this is an important step in recognising that decent wage is the right thing to do. For the town council the implications are (again to quote from the report): "There are currently 3 part-time staff whose pay is below the Living Wage although it must be noted that their pay is considerably above the minimum wage. The financial implications, therefore are minimal and will be reported as part of the budget setting if supported." So there's not a great cost to the ratepayer and it doesn't mean slashing other services.

As it's only a few members of staff, the real significance is symbolic (although for those 3, it's hopefully a great help) rather than a sea change in the way the council treats it's employees. I hope as more and more employers take up the Living Wage that others follow suit and that this government notices that lots of people and organisations don't think that the minimum wage is adequate. I know lots of smaller businesses may find it hard to stump up for the Living Wage for their employees, but it should also be considered the Living Wage Foundation's research of the benefits to employers:


I always supported and indeed pushed for the inclusion of the Living Wage in the Mebyon Kernow manifesto. It's something I greatly believe in, I think pay should be fair and I hope for a day when headlines in papers about civil servants pay, are about a fair deal for the poorest paid not how senior staff are earning astronomical sums.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

2150 houses for Penzance in the next 20 years

Following on from my earlier post and ny confusion to the numbers Labour's Tim Dwelly and Cornelieus Olivier wanted. I've had some clarification from Tim.  Also, the total for the Community Network Area was voted on today at committee, so what they wanted and what we'll get is a step closer.

The total for the West Penwith CNA will be 3850 houses over the next 20 years up from 2500 planned previously. The total for the Penzance are will be 2150 up from the 1400 previous figure. The 350 Tim Dwelly had written on his fb page is the difference between what they wanted (2500) for PZ and what they got (2150).

So to work it out in housebuilds a year, as per the Labour fashion, we will get on average 107 houses built. So Tim's figure was how many on top of that an extra 350 would be.

I recognise the need for housing but I do fear these figures are too high. The argument that affordable housing will come with mass house building. Is not one I think proves itself.  Look around Cornwall and places with much higher rates of building than PZ still have the same problem. The problem is developers if and when they keep to agreements, affordable ratios are typically 10% of all builds. I don't think the free market is the solution to the affordable housing crisis, developers want to make money not subdise affordable houses.  So I don't think a higher number will fix this problem, it will help in a small way though.

I don't either recognise the validity of the housing led growth argument.  Historically jobs have been created and new industries opened up and housing has followed. I don't see how the cart will push the horse on this one. 

Then there's infrastructure, losing green fields, need I go on?

I just really wished that authorities put as much time and effort into planning growth,  fostering business and industry as they do for developers. The ultimate choice of how many houses Cornwall, Penwith and Penzance is yet to be decided by Cornwall Council. 

What housing numbers do Labour want for Penzance??

There is a lot of talk at the moment about Penzance and the Cornwall Local Plan. It is being decided up in Truro how many houses Penzance and the wider West Penwith Community Network Area should have in the next 20 years.  So what exactly are our Labour duo Cornelius Olivier and Tim Dwelly scheming behind closed doors? I'm asking because I have no idea at all.

Cornelius Olivier is quoted in the Cornishman seeking to dramatically increase the number for the Penwith Community Network area by 54% from the original 2,500 to 3,850. You have to question the mathematical research of this housing number, when in the same article Cllr Olivier is quoted as saying:

"This (extra 1,350 new homes) would only result in around 50 extra new homes a year being built in the area over the course of the plan."

Unless I'm missing something, 1350 (number of new homes (on top of the 2500)) divided by 20 (years of the local plan) equals 67.5. The original number of 2500 would equal 125 a year. The new proposed number would equal 192.5 a year. Unless of course the councilor for Penzance Central means an extra 50 homes for Penzance and an extra 17.4 for the rest of West Penwith...

To muddle things further here's a screenshot of Cllr Dwelly's facebook page, who claims an extra 21 houses a year:

Please if I'm being stupid here, someone point it out. But it seems to me that either my maths or Labour's is shoddy to say the least. If the Penwith Community Network Area number is to increase by 1350 are the extra 1000 houses assigned for places like St Just, Sennen, Pendeen, Marazion? And 350 for extra for Penzance? Somehow I don't think so.

I had researched other things to try to scrutinise their plans and try to work out what methodology they were using to justify the increase and how they'd reached the number, but sadly I'm not actually confident what their number is, a lot less so on their methodology and research... 

Monday, 7 October 2013

Should Penzance create a Neighbourhood Development Plan?

Last week I attended a training session hosted jointly by Cornwall Council and the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) about the subject of Neighbourhood Development Plans (NDP). Here I want to outline objectively what this process is and whether this part of the world ought to set to this task or indeed not.

The main thrust of NDPs is localism they were introduced as part of the localism bill, with the view to
handing local authorities and local communities more power and say in planning the future of their area. Something I greatly agree in, I think the future of Penzance should be more powers and services devolved to the local level and less reliance on distant decision makers. So at the outset the whole process is very attractive to me and my view of politics.

So what is a Neighbourhood Development Plan? It's a bit of a slippery eel when it comes to definition. It's ultimately up to those who work through it, consulted on it and ultimately who vote on it, what it is.  In broad terms it is a plan to direct development, the NDP when (and if) adopted, becomes part of planning law. The area that it applies to has to be decided it could be part of a parish, a number of parishes and everywhere in between. So it's a very important document when finished with potentially wide ranging implications for the future development of an area so quite rightly it's a long and stringent process of careful consideration, consultation, inspection and culminates in a public referendum. This process takes at least 12 months. The flip side of that is that it is a very long and expensive process and there is a very real risk that if public consultation is not robust or that local politicians or the media aren't behind the proposed NDP it will fail at referendum. (The referendum is won or lost on a simple majority of those that go to the polls).

The process of NDP, taken from Wivenhoe Neighbourhood Plan website

The scope of a NDP is vast, even the length that it should apply is open ended, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years. An NDP can be used in a number of different ways, it can be used in a 'positive' manner for example sites could be identified for housing or it could be used 'negatively' to safeguard sites from development. My understanding is that it doesn't have to be restricted to housing it can be used to guide and limit all development. So we could earmark sites for retail use or for industrial use, either to safeguard them in their present guise or to encourage developers to build such units in designated areas.

It strikes me that safeguarding or negatively outlining the limits of development is simpler (i.e. cheaper) than positively encouraging sites. For the simple reason that stating this field/ play park/ green/ allotment should not be built upon is self explanatory the only thing needed is to get consensus that this is off limits. Whereas positively identifying sites (hopefully not play parks, allotments or greens) becomes a lot more convoluted and expensive. It's not quite as simple as saying build on this land, it would have to be checked that this was lawful, that the landowner was agreeable, that there were adequate surveys. It would be no use stating we want 500 houses (for example) on these fields and nowhere else and then finding out those sites turned out to be an important habitat for protected animals or riddled with mine shafts or in some other way unsuitable for development.

So part of the scope is identifying or limiting sites for development but there are also potential design clauses for buildings and even the size of developments sites. It must be noted that a Neighbourhood Development Plan is as long or short as the community wishes, there is no limit on the number of policies. So for example the entirety of a plan could be all new builds need the highest levels of insulation. Or all new builds need solar panels on the roof. Or new houses have to use local granite. Or new developments can only be in clusters of 50 houses or 20 or 10 whichever. Or we don't want an out of town retail here and here. Also usefully the NDP can be used to set the number or ratio of affordable homes in future developments.

Now to the good bits, as well as giving local people a real say in development. One of the sweeteners for towns and parish councils and their communities is that the amount of the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL: the renamed section 106) spend locally is greatly increased. (As a slight aside, the DCLG presentation had the figure of a 25% CIL for towns and parishes with a NDP and the planning officer was eager to note that Cornwall Council hadn't decided that ratio....). The NDP can have written into it, the priorities for such spending, which again lets us decide locally and democratically.

Finally the limits of NDP, it can not be used as a tool to limit development. It is local control but it does require to be 'in general agreement' with both the National Planning Policy Framework and the Cornwall Local Plan. The big issue here is that a NDP would have to be in line with the 'presumption in favour of sustainable development', it can't be used as a tool to say no to development generally and it has to accept the housing numbers that Cornwall Council wants. Which Penzance's Labour councilor Cornelius Olivier are currently trying to greatly increase (Call for extra 1,350 homes to be built in Penzance). This in a nutshell is localism, the big picture the number of houses, can be swayed by a few elected officials and officers yet to decide where they go requires a referendum, it's bonkers it really is.

I hope that summarises the scope of the Neighbourhood Development Plan scheme. It is an exciting opportunity for Penzance Town Council to step up and have a great say in the future direction of development. This alone I think is enough for us to seriously consider it. But there are serious considerations for us to consider, not only what scope we choose, whether Penzance develops it's own plan or works with neighbouring parishes and a whole host of questions and options. Whichever route we do choose if we do choose to do so, it is definite that this is a long and costly process. Do we want to concentrate a large part of our time in the next 12 months probably longer? Could councilors, the town clerk and staff do something more productive for the community instead in this time? Then there's the costs, Porthleven has announced they are to pursue a NDP with an estimated cost of 10 to 15 thousand pound. Depending on the scope of our plan and how we manage it, perhaps we'd be looking at double that budget perhaps even a lot more. Obviously we have a duty as councilors to make sure public money is well spent. Money in itself is a separate issue, should we cut services or perhaps raise the precept and thus council tax next year? I like the idea of a Neighborhood Development Plan I really do, but there's certainly a great deal to consider.

Any thoughts or comments let me know.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The future home of Penzance Town Council

The main subject of the last full town council meeting was spent deliberating the options for the siting of the town council's office. Cornwall Council have offered PZTC space in St John's Hall when it is refurbished.  I was wondering what people thought to this? As there will be another meeting hopefully with more information soon, it would be good to get input now.

The debate raged (no literally raged), over three options put to the council. Take up the offer and be a small part of the building.  Maintain the status quo and stay in the same building (rented from Cornwall Council). Alternatively look to purchase the present offices. There are various pros and cons presented to the council, quite fairly and impartially by the town clerk it must be added.

The pros of moving across the road to John's are that local government would then be centralised in one place. The town council would effectively be placed in the nearest thing Penzance has to a town hall. The town council would join the One Stop Shop, the library and the remaining CC staff in Penzance. This was seen as a downside also, that we would get confused with CC, there is already considerable confusion between the function and responsibility of PZTC and CC. They are seperate bodies, not beholden to each other in constitution. There is a real danger that there would seem to be an incorporation of PZTC into CC and further reinforce the perception that both bodies do the same thing.

Principles aside,  there are also practical downsides. The Town Council would lack a dedicated entrance and would effectively be tucked away deep in the midsts of Cornwall Council's building. There would be limited space in the building and the present staff of the town council would only just fit. This would mean that no new members of staff could be taken on without rehoming the office again. With the prospect of expansion of our role and responsibility this could be short sighted. Besides this, there is a corporate duty for councilors over the council's staff, we have a duty of care. It does concern me that new office space would lack dedicated tiolet and kitchen facilities, which they currently have. So it would be a step backward for staff and visitors although there would of course be these facilities somewhere else in the building.

This alone is a massive debate, muddled further by the lack of detailed plans as to the space offered and what rent would be charged. Combined with the very real fear that planning applications are due to be submitted soon, a decision was needed. So to take the offer or not was a complicated argument with lots of reasons to agree or not.

Added to this was other option(s); to reject CC's offer and stay in the current premises or to seek to purchase that site from CC. Fear not this would be purchased with a loan rather than from council tax.  The council can borrow with extremely good interest rates and according to the calculations presented to the meeting would end up paying less than the current rent and gaining a permanent asset. For me this is an entirely seperate issue and I'm not sure how helpful to the decision making process it was, adding this in. The debate about taking up Cornwall Council's offer or not should have been a standalone meeting.  However there are rumours circulating around town that Cornwall Council is in talks to sell the present Town Council offices.  PZTC is not master of its own destiny in this. Perhaps that's why some cllrs believe we should buy our own building and start to be.

At the moment I do think we should consider seriously purchasing our own building and shouldn't shy away from taking such bold steps. I await the upcoming special meeting with more details of CC's offer, as it's taking place I'll have to consider it on its merits.  After all if it's a great office for free or very cheap, surely it's a no brainer.

Thoughts and comments as ever welcome by email, twitter or below. Particularly whether one idea is better than another or whether people really care about such things...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Western Greyhound bus services pull out of Penwith

Earlier today I had a conversation with someone concerned about rural bus services in Penwith. Rumours were abounding that as a result of Cornwall Council's cuts bus routes in West Penwith would be severely effected. Now the story has broken and Western Greyhound are due to pull out of Penwith and are closing their Penzance depot. (See here for statements from Cornwall Council and Western Greyhound on the ITV website). It remains to be seen what Cornwall Council will do to make up for this abandonment of the west by the bus company. Whether they will continue the short sighted policy of not funding bus routes, which must have played a big part in Western Greyhound's decision.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Some thoughts on local government, Penzance Town Council and next years budget

Five months ago! going into the elections I prepared a great deal, I spent a good amount of time preparing how I would canvass, what I would say to electors and what I wanted to do in office. I thought at the time that I had a good grasp of what local government does and the roles, responsibilities and indeed limitations of being a councilor. I had the benefit of being friendly with a number of town councilors and Cornwall councilors some Mebyon Kernow and some not. Despite this, becoming a councilor, attending meetings, the phone calls, chats, emails, not to mention meetings has been an eye opener.

One of the things that concerned me about Penzance Town council was that not a lot of people knows what it does and I am sure this is true of all local government not peculiar to here. It's something I'd like to change (or more modestly play a part in changing on this blog.) There are misconceptions, about what the council can do and can't do and which decisions stem from here. I've recently been reading the National Association of Local Council's Good Councillor Guide (here's the pdf link if you're so inclined). It provides a useful definition of the duties of 'first tier authorities' (Town and parish councils):

Depending on your viewpoint a local council does not have to do a great deal or has a lot of flexibility to be creative. In other words a council is free to set up its own priorities. There a lot of misconceptions about what Penzance Town Council and other first tier authorities do. Unfortunately lots of things are things people would like to see change in the town, but are provided or decided by other bodies. The high cost of parking, the high cost of business rates are two prime examples, but not in the remit of PZTC. Although it must be noted that the cheapest car park in Penzance is the town council's with a rate of £1.90 per day (see here for that car park off Alverton road). 

I digress there are lots of important things that happen in the town, that are outside the jurisdiction of the town council. Highways, waste collections and litter picking, to name but three, important things not decided by the town council. Despite the rhetoric of 'localism' and the reforms of local government, first tier authorities lack the power, influence and crucially budgets to heavily influence their areas. So I think in a sense what I have learnt about being a Penzance town councilor is that there is a lot of flexibility for the council to be creative and to provide services. Obviously within the limits of a relatively small budget and not a great deal of power and influence.

At the moment the council is currently going into the budget setting stage and debates are starting and arguments are being formed, in the coming months it will be decided what the council spends money on next year, what services we choose to provide and to what level,  what things perhaps might be cut or reduced etc etc. Over arching this the massive variables over what Cornwall Council will pull out of funding as they beat their steady retreat eastwards and what we as a council will choose -and can afford- to take over. 

At the moment the town council operates under the budget of the last council and within the constraints of that budget and its priorities. It remains to be seen what the new council wants as its priorities. In May when I was elected there were also 7 other new councilors elected, leaving 12 from the last administration. In terms of composition there are 2 Mebyon Kernow, 2 Green, 2 Labour, 2 Liberal Democrat, 2 Future for Penzance and the remaining 10 Independent (well officially). There is no clear majority group, a lot of new councilors, so will there be consensus? Underpinning this is the precept, currently the town council gets about 5% of a resident's council tax bill. The bottom line is and perhaps ones of the most important decisions is do we raise our income through council tax? or do we freeze it? How much will providing good quality services take precedence over political point scoring. 

I appreciate this blogpost rambles a lot, so credit for sticking with it, or scrolling through this far ; ). The point I was trying to make is that there is a lot Penzance Town Council can't do, we can't unfortunately reduce parking rates or the town centre's business rates there are a lot of constraints. Looking on the positive side there is a a lot of room to be flexible, this means the council can fund all sorts of things. But it also means these things can be cut at the whim of councilors. What I am not clear at the moment is what will happen in the future but I will keep this blog posted with what occours and why I voted one way or another. To outline my position, I do think we should provide public services, subsidised by the tax payer for the good of the area. I don't think we should force austerity on to the council for the sake of it. I anticipate I will be at loggerheads with some other councilors for holding these views... 

Any thoughts or comments on the town council, the budget and what the town council spends money on, don't hesitate to get into contact with me, all details here

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Government gives the go ahead to Penzance and St Mary's harbour.

The first steps to securing the maritime link with the Isles of Scilly look to be underway. The governments press release (https://www.gov.uk/government/news/green-light-for-harbour-project) is triumphant in it's tone, but sadly lacking in any detail. The Penzance side only has dredging named,  the suspicious part of my mind wonders why Cornwall Council's plan finalised with Penzance Town Council is not named. Neither is rock armour... Perhaps parts of the plan will be left out? Time will tell. It does appear works on St Mary's harbour will finally go ahead, thankfully.

The town needs this to be the first step in the regeneration of our harbour. Dredging and traffic improvements (if they are included) is a start to the kind of harbour and Scilly sea link we deserve. There needs to be better facilities for cargo and passengers to name but a few things.  There needs to be a better deal for harbour users. That's certainly my view and that of the town council and thankfully of Cornwall Council cabinet member Bert Biscoe, from this small start announced today we must be pleased and look to it as the first step in a brighter future.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Is the Alexandra Trawler saved thanks to the National Citizen Service?

Over the last few weeks the Alexandra Play Park has taken a turn for the better with thanks to the volunteers at NCS Cornwall. A while ago I started a petition after it was revealed Cornwall Council planned to take away the wooden trawler,which is the centerpiece of Alexandra Play Park. When NCS Cornwall got wind of it, in a phenomenal whirlwind, got permission from Cornwall Council, raised some funds, rounded up some volunteers and refurbished the trawler and the other wooden play equipment. Well done to them and the businesses and pubs listed as donating to the refurbishment: The Dolphin Tavern, Mermaid Boat Trips, The Navy Inn, The Lugger Hotel, The Yacht Inn and the Bath Inn.

Here's some photos I took on friday, unfortunately if you don't know it it's hard to get a feel for how much better it all looks now.

As a small example here's what the trawler did look like:

And what it looks like now:

The trawler from the front:

So I guess the Trawler is saved, I wish I had taken a bigger role in doing this. I must admit to being on holiday when it was 'saved' and definitely caught on the hop by the speed in which NCS work. They've also been busy doing up the Tuckingmill skate park.

As a slight downside to this, I can't help but feel Cornwall Council have ducked their responsibility in the upkeep of this. I wonder whether the mindset of taking away equipment is still prevailing over upkeep. The climbing net that was fixed to the rear of the trawler is still gone. Also when I was there on friday other parts of the park where in a poor state, with one of the benches falling to pieces, the ladies toilets were closed and the gents have now had the water fountain removed. Is this the future of local government? funding cut to the bare bones and the only thing not falling apart paid for and fixed by kind and generous volunteers?

To end on a lighter note the park is looking fantastic, it looks much much better than it did and the kids loved it. What you can't appreciate from the photos is how long it took me to take photos without loads of happy children and parents climbing over every thing and thoroughly enjoying the summer holidays. Without the National Citizen's Service and the work of their young people, perhaps now the park would be closed for a time whilst they demolished that old faithful favourite of Alexandra, the trawler. It definitely is the best of a bad situation. I'll end with a question ought I cancel the petition? or should I leave it as a statement of how importantly Penzance takes our play parks?

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Saturday night with Penzance Street Pastors my view

Last night I spent a good part of the evening with the Penzance Street Pastors team. For me this was very illuminating, firstly because I was intrigued to see what they do and what drives them and secondly to see PZ after dark on a saturday night. The former I knew little of and the latter i haven't experienced for quite a while. I very much enjoyed my evening and learnt a great deal about the Pastors, Christians, faith, duty and service as well of course as about drunkeness and debauchery.

I am the town councils representative for the Street Pastors which means I sit on their Management Committee and report back to the council their work. The Street Pastors -in Penzance at least- is a relatively new thing and receives financial support from the town council. There are many groups and organisations (all not for profit) who receive grants and other assistance from the council. So it was important for me to see first hand what they do, although I must confess to sloping off about half 2 and not staying the whole night. The biggest night club in town, Sound closed last night/ this morning at 4 and next week I understand at 5! Which as the patrol starts at 10 and finishes some time between half 4 and 6 is certainly not a shift for the faint hearted.

Who are the Street Pastors and what do they do? Well it's probably fair to start with what they don't do and some of the misconceptions around their work. Although they are dyed in the wool Christians, they don't volunteer their saturday nights to preach the good book to the drunken masses. They will certainly explain their faith if asked, I witnessed a few  people challenging their faith and the role of religion. I should say at this point I am not a religious man and fall into the agnostic pigeon hole, so watching these kind of debates was interesting for me. The Pastors don't preach the evils of drink, or moralise or judge, they aren't there to convert people to a healthier or more sobre saturday night. Simply the Street Pastors are there because they care, to assist people, to help them and to provide essentially a friendly face, it's fair to say a public service to the late night revellers.

The 3 staples of the Pastors are bottles of water, flip flops and sweets. Last night, we encountered half a dozen people being sick, to them the bottle of water given was no doubt most welcome. It was by no means just people vomiting that were given a bottle of water. The flip flops are given to mostly women who have either lost their shoes (which I didn't see any of last night) or those that are carrying their shoes. Their feet tired and drunken balance challenged by their unfeasibly large heels, to them solid basic (and most of all flat) footwear was most welcome. Sweets is actually very ingenious, not just because people like them but because they are given to loud and shouting people because a mouth full of sugar tends to make them quieter.  Although it must be said that although last night was very busy, there wasn't a great deal of trouble or shouting and was very much a good atmosphere.

One of the other roles of the Pastors to watch over people's welfare.  They are by no means bouncers or agents of the law. But armed with a radio they can talk with the people who man the cctv who in turn can contact the police.  Who can call in police officers to break up fights.

I set out with a fair amount of trepidation about the Street Pastors and being in town sobre on a saturday night. It wasn't something I could really understand doing myself. Why give up a sizeable part of a weekend to seek out the most drunk, the vomiting and the rowdy, for no personal gain? I think differently about it now, don't get me wrong I always admired the Street Pastors and their selfless determination, but I really couldn't understand why anyone sane would do it. They all told me of how their faith in God guided them.  It's not something I completely understand, my world, my thinking morality and drivers in life aren't framed in such a way.

I guess what I learnt last night was not the utility of flip flops or bottles of water or how friendly people are to the Pastors. But that even for a non believer like myself that the sacrifice of time and energy for no personal gain or obvious reward is a great asset to the community. That it's such a great relief to think that people are helped, that might otherwise find themselves in a worse state.

Do the people deserve to be helped? you might ask, does someone that drinks themselves until the point of oblivion, really deserve help? Maybe the answer is yes perhaps no. But the ethos of the Street Pastors, doesn't consider such things.the important thing is that someone NEEDS helping and they are there to do it.

If you want to know more or get involved the  Penzance Street Pastors have a website here penzance.streetpastors.org.uk and go and like their facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/PenzanceStreetPastors

Many thanks to the team who took me out, one of the better saturday nights I've had in town :-)

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Business attitudes towards Golowan and Mazey day, my survey

Following a number of comments on my blog and twitter about Golowan and it's effect on the town, it's funding and the effect on business, I thought I would investigate some of these claims for myself. I spoke to 20 business in Penzance East and asked them some questions about Golowan. Politicians of all varieties,
spend a great deal of time justifying their views, opinions and policies on what people think, or more precisely what they say people think. Phrases like 'the majority of people in my constituency', 'the people of...', 'people I speak to', 'ordinary decent people' and the like abound. In truth without talking to thousands of people, which in itself would be a full time job, we can't for certain say one thing or another. It became clear to me that the comments about Golowan were originating from a small number of sources. Myself my opinions were formed from what I knew or what I thought I knew, so in effect I was just as bad. All parties were guilty of making assumptions without proper research. I neither have the time or energy to speak to thousands of people so I spent a few mornings talking to a random selection of shops and traders on Causeway Head and Bread Street*, to try to get a better idea of what traders think.

About the questions:

To make things simple I thought I'd only ask 4 questions, to not unduly take up people's time and to make the results easier to understand. In hindsight, all 4 of the questions required 1 of 3 answers: yes, no and don't know/ not sure/ on the fence, this was a mistake. Only fundamentalists live in a world of black and white, there is lots of grey areas and perhaps my questions and received answers, could better reflect this.

I choose not to sugarcoat the questions, I wanted to know what businesses (managers, owners and shopkeepers) thought without any preconceptions about things. So for example the estimates for the millions brought into Penzance, I did not prompt people with. I gave the figure of the town council contribution to Golowan as it was in the question, I could have explained it costs the average Penzance ratepayer slightly more than the cost of a pint of beer a year, but I didn't. I tried to ask the questions without tainting the answers with my own preconceived ideas about the wonderful benefits (; of Golowan, although after the questions I wasn't shy about what I thought.

The first question was: "Do you like Golowan and Mazey Day?" I wanted to get a sense of attitudes toward the festival separately to figures and spending and see if there was a correlation between attitude and effect on business. I think some took the question as does your business like it and others as do you like it personally.

The second question was "Is Golowan/ Mazey Day good for your business?" Most seemed to take this question as referring to Mazey Day. This question provoked some definite yes and definite no answers, but also some grey area answers. Many of the yeses were very positive about it, recording record takings and explaining that Mazey Day the best day of the year.  5 respondents of the 11 nos (25%) explained that Mazey Day was a washout but either Golowan saw an increase in trade, or that customers choose to shop on days other than Mazey Day, so was far from bad for takings. We could easily move those 25% into the yes column or the don't know column. So the blanket yes or no question doesn't quite accurately cover it. All respondents bar one considered Mazey Day good for the town and welcomed events that brought people into Penzance. I didn't find any traders that don't open for Mazey Day, 2 were considering closing next year and 2 I didn't speak to, don't open for the day.

(A special mention to Kool Kutz the hair and beauty place on Bread Street, who knowing Mazey Day would not be great for business choose instead to bake cakes and sell them to raise money for Marie Curie Cancer Care, well done.)

The next question: "Penzance Town Council contributes about 5% of the budget; £26,120 per year to Golowan is this a good spend?" Again there were some definite opinions for and against, as with any public spending. Some questioned why it cost so much, 2 were unsure without knowing (all the don't knows), one thought it was a complete waste. 2 thought it was great and would be happy to spend more on it. The majority view was that it was good for the town, the school kids loved it and it was good to see people brought into the town, thus positive.

The last question was: "If the town council stopped contributing would you pay in?" This was by far provoked the most interesting responses for me. By far the majority view was that costs are high enough for traders as it is, a most definite no! 3 respondents explained that they would contribute something, all keen to explain not a large amount, it's worth mentioning that none of them do well at all on Mazey Day but would put in for the good of the town and businesses other than there own. The don't know/ not sures were all when I spoke to a member of staff, rather than the owner/ manager (2 instances) and the rest a chain store who didn't have the power to make that decision alone.

There are limits to this research it is by no means a comprehensive survey of town center businesses let alone all kinds of business. It was focused primarily on Bread Street and Causeway Head, missing out Chapel street, Market Jew street and Alverton street. However, I am confident that there is a majority answer to all of the questions and that I did speak to a sufficient variety of town center businesses to get a good feel for attitudes toward Golowan. I am confident that there is a positive attitude toward Golowan generally and in terms of business and that businesses are happy that the town council invests in it. 

*The full list of business surveyed is, many thanks to them for the time in speaking to me:
Mount's Bay Wine Company, Kool Kutz, Meeks Soft Furnishings, Exchange and Mart, Lou's Shoes, London Inn, Cancer Research, Rowe's Bakers, Thomson's Travel Agents, Blue Fur Ball, Mimi's Boutique, Spiegelhalter's Jewellers, Woot's News, Causeway Head Furnishings, Fur, Feather & Flowers, Jim's Cash & Carry, Supercards, St Justin, Malins pet foods,