Sunday, 30 June 2013

Another great Mazey Day

Great Mazey day and Golowan festival this year as always.  It's one of my favourite days of the year and whether you see it as a festival to St John the Baptist, mid summer or like me a good excuse to have a party, there's a lot to like. Credit to the organisers and particularly the police, volunteers, schools and local organisations who spend a great deal of time organising lots of things, to make it all fantastic.
There are obvious economic benefits to the whole Golowan week, but for me it's the celebration.  The origins of Golowan or Gool Jowan (the feast of John) obviously predate Penzance's patron saint St John and are linked to the seasons, as with many Cornish festivals. That's my view of it, it's a celebration of summer, of Penzance of Cornwall. As such all of Penzance is represented our diverse traders, their foods and goods, music, art, boats, the harbour and of course drink ;-). I really enjoyed it and a great thank you to all those behind the scenes, that organised one of the best community festivals around. Makes me proud to live in Penzance with my family and to serve on the town council.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

A different model to the present Duke of Cornwall's benevolent fund?

Money for students or the Prince of Wales's pet charities?
A while back I started a petition, calling for the money from bona vacantia (money from people who die in Cornwall without a will inherited by the Duchy). To be better spent and managed, it came out of a frustration on where the money currently goes, more on that in this previous post explaining curiously missing money and the preference given to Charles Windsor's own charities. The majority of money leaves Cornwall and I think this is a great shame. We have a centralised political state and centralised business in the UK, no end of money is raised, earnt and spent in Cornwall that quickly flows over the Tamar. This constantly undermines the Cornish economy and although the bona vacantia that goes into the Duke of Cornwall's Benevolent Fund is tiny in comparison to taxes and profits it is something, and we need to fight for every penny these days.

Some criticism of my petition was what exactly was I proposing? My answer was understandably vague, it may come as a surprise but I have never handled a multi million pound investment fund! From my perspective I think it needs to change and it needs to keep more if not all of that money here in Cornwall where it is raised. It also concerns me that there us no accountability at the moment, the money is claimed by the Duchy in the manner of a public authority but spent as if a personal play thing. I don't think we should standardise like East of the Tamar and feed the money from bona vacantia into the treasury. For 2 reasons, 1 Cornwall will never see the money and it would be a shame to take money from a laudable cause like donating to charities and good causes and sticking it in the pot. Something akin to a situation I find myself in a lot where I get money for my birthday and it disappears and when I'm asked what it was spent on and what I bought for myself I literally have no idea. This is money that there is a chance to do great things with. There are many great causes and charities in Cornwall and although they do get some money form the benevolent fund this should be increased, the charities in Cornwall should get more money and it should go to more charities.

Anyway so I had an idea of what I'd like to achieve, the aims of changing it (like it would be up to me!). But I didn't have a model of how this would work the full ins and outs of the structure and administration of the fund. Little did I know until someone rang me and told me (thanks to Barrie Osborne) that there is a model. The Duchy of Lancaster benevolent fund there the money is spent well here's their policy read for yourself:

  Looking at their accounts (see here) 2011/2012 they have more categories than the Duke's fund here's the top 5 from each category. (see the link for the full lists for each category):

and the list goes on, compare to how Cornwall's money was spent in the last financial year:

The top result Business in the Community has none other than the Duke of Cornwall as president. Sure enough money does get spent in Cornwall. But year in year out this happens. Below the figures for the last 6 years, every time the top beneficiary of the Duke's Benevolent Fund is one of his own charities.

2011 The Prince's Countryside Fund £50,000,
2010 The Prince's Foundation £15,000,
2009  High Moorland Action Group £15,000 and The Prince's Foundation 15,000,
2008 The Prince's Regeneration Trust 105,000,
2007 High Moorland Action Group £100,000

My frustration is the money from Cornwall's dead is not better managed, we deserve a set up like the Duchy of Lancaster's Benevolent Fund with money spent primarily in a stricter geographical area. Where there's obviously some independence and fairness in the allocation of money rather than a predisposition to fund Prince Charles's charities regardless of the time and attention they spend to Cornwall. I look enviously at the figures, university bursaries imagine that for Falmouth university? Imagine the investment in Cornwall's most vulnerable in the charity and voluntary sector? Surely there's a better way and it's to follow this example.

Sign the petition here.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Should we reestablish the districts or bolster the parishes of Cornwall?

As many of you, -or at least of you that read Stephen Richardson's blog- know, Mebyon Kernow is currently running a consultation on a Cornish assembly (link here). Although the main thrust of the consultation document and assembly policy has to be what powers a Cornish assembly should have and how the body should be funded and other questions, I am interested in the layer of local government beneath it. There is a misconception that devolution as proposed by Mebyon Kernow and others would result in Cornwall Council having more powers, although this is possible I do not think, as does MK, that this is desirable. Devolution to Cornwall from Westminster and Whitehall must also mean devolution within Cornwall and fixing the mess of the overly centralised unitary authority.

Cornwall Council is a local government authority, a Cornish assembly would be a legislative authority or if you prefer a national government, there is a crucial difference. There should be a separation between these two things. One of the great problems of Cornwall Council as it is, is that it is stuck in limbo, too large to bring effective 'local' governance and too small to be a regional or national body. This was one of the great mistakes of the unitary process, it amalgamated local government into one large body but it failed to gain more powers from central government and more of a budget than it's predecessors. As a result everything that was done by the six districts and the old county council is now done by one council. This is why Cornwall Council seems distant and remote and there is a disconnect between the people and town and parish councils of the land and the centre. It seems a simple thing to say but it was ignored at the time, less councilors covering bigger areas equal less representation.

So if we had a Cornish assembly what should local government be like? The way I see it there are a number of options, which all for me include abolishing Cornwall Council and moving power down:

a. Reinstate the districts as they were geographically, with more powers.
b. Create regional bodies within Cornwall.
c. Bolster the parish and town councils.

My problem with A. is that I'm not sure the old districts were particularly good and representative of the whole area. Take Kerrier as a prime example there was very much a feeling south of Carn Brea that it concentrated too much to the north (Camborne and Redruth). I'm sure it was said that Penwith was too focused on Penzance, Carrick too much on Truro etc etc. I don't believe the old districts should be the primary form of local government under an assembly.

B. is also problematic for the same reasons, how would you draw the lines? Bigger regional bodies would exasperate the problem of the districts. It was Mebyon Kernow policy for a long time that there would be unspecified regional authorities or perhaps the old districts and I must say that I never liked the vagueness of the policy.

Which leaves C, towns and parishes are an obvious choice, they are as local as practical and probably have better boundaries than any of the above (probably being the operative word). It is also the easiest and cheapest option giving existing bodies more powers is simpler than creating or recreating local government authorities. Obviously they would need to work together in what we now call the community network areas, for issues facing wider areas.

Devolution should be about decentralisation. Mebyon Kernow should be aiming to make powers, decision making and jobs from London to Cornwall and from Truro across Cornwall and lobbying for it. Issues like planning, parks, local roads, parking and infrastructure should be decided at the most local level where there effect is felt most and elected officials are most in touch with the public. It would also allow different areas to set different priorities, in much the same way as whats good for central London isn't necessarily good for Cornwall, what's good for Truro not necessarily so in Penzance and the more extreme examples of whats good for St Austell/ Camborne/ St Ives not so much in Pendeen/ St Breward/ Wendron etc.

What do others think, how should/ could or would local government look in Cornwall with a Cornish assembly?

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Compare and contrast the Lib Dem budget and adult care

Here is the nub of the Liberal Democrat tax freezing budget. It was all things to all men a council tax freeze for Cornwall's ratepayers and no services lost. This made great headlines at the time and the accolades of the taxpayer alliance types. But as any half sensible person can work out, the massive cuts from the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government are bound to result in loss of services, without action such as raising council tax. Therefore its no surprise sadly to see the new Cornwall Council administration release a statement to the press, given the title: "Adult care services at Cornwall Council will be reduced under new regime." link

Penzance Town council and Cornwall Council's harbour scheme

Tonight was my first full town council meeting, well the first proper one, the first Mayor Making meeting was largely ceremonial. Amongst the approval of minutes and plans for the Penzance 400 celebrations (which look very good at this preliminary stage) and other largely procedural stuff. There was a glimmer of excitement, argument and for me head scratching over the harbour.
Cllr Cliffe proposed that the council hold a public meeting over Cornwall Council's business case for harbour improvements recently forwarded to the Department of Transport (DFT). That document is here on the Penzance Town Council website. This caused some controversy among the members and a lively and passionate debate. On the one hand some thought that the previous position of the council be reiterated by writing again to the minister. Stating that the council wishes for improvements to the St Mary's harbour on Scilly be undertaken. Dredging of Penzance harbour is supported by PZTC. That proposed rock armour placement to South Pier and Lighthouse pier needed more engineering evidence. It's my opinion and other councilors that the Royal Haskoning study (also on the link above) was unconvincing in it's arguments and conclusions for rock armouring. Here essentially was the debate, should Penzance Town Council hold a public debate or stick to it's previous position held by the last town council.
The plan by Cornwall Council

I was decidedly on the fence through the debate. There was a convincing argument that we need not take a new position, this was a scheme wholly drawn up by Cornwall Council, the town council had no input on it. Why should we take a position considering this? Also this is a divisive issue in the town why should the council draw flak from both sides for and against, when realistically this is a scheme drawn up in Truro and rubber stamped (or not) in London. Although the minister promises to give weight to the view of the town council, whether there will be a consensus and whether this means anything to the minister remains to be seen. Further if the town council chooses to not support the scheme this puts us firmly back to square one.
On the other hand this is an important scheme for Penzance the Isles of Scilly link, and the harbour itself is hugely important to the town. It ought to be the duty of the town council to influence where we can these decisions, however trying this may be. Personally I find it very frustrating that the views of the town council have not been taken into account by Cornwall Council in drawing up these plans. I know members of the last council and the staff no doubt feel frustrated that the harbour plans drawn up by themselves was disregarded by Cornwall Council. In the end I decided to vote for the motion to hold a meeting to quiz representatives of the DFT and Cornwall Council on the planned scheme. I also spoke about the need to have people such as the Penzance Harbour Users Association and the Isles of Scilly Steamship Company at this meeting to hear their views, particularly on the subject of overtopping. That is when waves during storms and/or high tides come over the top of the Lighthouse and South Piers. In Cornwall Council's proposed scheme they plan to use rock armour to limit the effect of this. It will be interesting to learn the justification for this and the views of harbour users on the problem of overtopping itself  and other solutions such as a breakwater. 
The meeting will be held in the next few weeks...