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 and go and like their facebook page here

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,

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Penzance town council and what it costs you and Golowan

I thought I'd highlight some of the funding of the town council. Party due to the fact that I want to open up local government and try to explain it as I learn of it. Partly, sadly because some people don't seem to like the Golowan festival and the funding it receives from the council. Each to his and her own I suppose. It should be noted a couple of things, firstly the budget was set in April before the elections (quite why they do it this way and not by the new administration/ councillors is puzzling). Town and parish councilors are not paid for their work and their time. Generally there is a commonly held view that the more local the level and the smaller and the more efficient it is. Certainly when you consider what tax you pay, council tax, income tax, national insurance, VAT, fuel duty, alcohol and tobacco duty etc etc it's easier to trace where it's spend on the local authorities, than it is on the apparent money pit of Whitehall.

pic from

The split of council tax is 84% to Cornwall Council, 11% to Devon and Cornwall police and 5% to the town or parish council. The bulk of the money goes to Cornwall Council, the police are next up then in our case Penzance town council. So the average council tax is around £1500 pa, £1260 goes to Cornwall £75 of this goes to Penzance and £165 to pay for the police. So where does Penzance's share of this money go? Well here's a picture of the form sent out with every council tax bill at the start of the financial year:

The net cost therefore of Golowan is £26,120 for this financial year down from £32,550 last year. To put that in real terms, about 5% of the precept of Penzance town council is spent on the festival. So of the £1500 pa average that people pay in council tax, as above, £75 goes to Penzance town council and £3.75 of that goes to Golowan, 31p per month about 7 or 8p a week. As this report states the festival brings in £4.5 million to the economy. Some have doubted that figure, but from talking to shopowners and traders and from hearing stories. I know that many businesses have better days and even weeks for Mazey day and Golowan than they do for the rest of the year. Certainly there are businesses that don't capitalise on it. But from a business point of view, if the town council can invest a relatively small amount of money for a large number of visitors benefiting a large amount of businesses, then it's worth it. Unfortunately there will always be winners and losers.

Many have suggested to me on twitter and in the comments on this post here, that Golowan should be 100% self financing. Unfortunately nobody has suggested how this would work. There are staff that work year round organising the week long events over dozens of venues and hundreds of acts and performers. Road closures cost £600 for each one, not to mention of course the numerous risk assessments, public liability insurance, marketing and promotion. Let's not forget most of the work is done by volunteers, who selflessly give their time.

So, what other funding options?

Unfortunately the naysayers don't seem to have a credible, let alone costed plan, for how we might pay for the festival. From my perspective and the previous Town Council who set the budget, the money given to Golowan is a sound investment. It's not a statutory duty of the town council to support community events (although we do support a great number) neither is it a statutory duty to attract people into Penzance to spend money although it is something we do do, supporting events for example, the farmer's market, the christmas market etc.

It has been suggested that businesses pay for the festival, although this isn't a bad idea. When Cornwall Council stopped funding Golowan there wasn't a great deal of take up. I can't imagine that many businesses would be forthcoming. Unfortunately our town centre is struggling there are empty shops and many businesses are hard pressed to keep going. I believe it would be unfair and unrealistic to add to their burden further. Interestingly many of the detractors run businesses and not a single one offered to help fund the festival which is telling of the situation.

We could of course set up toll booths charging people to come into town on Mazey Day, I don't think this would be particularly productive. At the moment scores of volunteers man the road closures for nothing, surely they would want paying if they were responsible for taking money. Overlooking for a moment how logistically you could possibly collect money from the estimated 30,000 that come to Penzance for Mazey day.

To conclude the expenditure is budgeted for, it is not taken from existing services. It costs the taxpayer less money per year than down the back of the average sofa. It brings exceptional value to the community, it draws visitors to the town, it is a boost for the town center. There's a comments section below, if you can find an alternative way of funding Golowan please do. If you can think of a way for the town council to spend this money that will bring thousands of people and millions of pounds into the local economy, I'm all ears. Until then I will be happy next year to propose that the funding is kept in place in the knowledge it is a small investment for a huge event.

Leanne Wood on England's north- south divide and Cornwall

Or Plaid Cymru lays out it's stall in Manchester.

Last night, the energetic leader of the Party of Wales gave a speech to the IPPR North. I think this is significant for a varied number of reasons. Perhaps first and foremost the issue of centralisation was at the fore and Cornwall and Mebyon Kernow was mentioned. Secondly it shows the dearth in English politics on the question of centralisation.  It is significant that the leader of a solely Welsh party gave a keynote speech in the North of England, this is because there is a clamouring for an alternative to the Westminster consensus. In terms of the role of the state and governance as well as of course a difference to the consensus of privatisation, the service economy and neo-liberalism. 

photo from
Titled 'Cross-border concerns: a new agenda for rebalancing Britain'. As the Institute for Public Police Research website outlines the point of the speech:

"Rebalancing the economy away from an overdependence on London and the South East is vital for local and regional growth. Speaking at this event, Leanne Wood will draw comparisons between post industrial Wales and the post industrial areas of the north of England. She will explore how the current economic set up of the UK has let these areas down and will offer ideas for how this can be addressed." link

This was firmly the direction of it and I'll discuss some of the points of it later on. But it's symptomatic of the obsession of political journalism with parties and the toing and froing of the political classes. That the Guardian led with the title: 'England needs a new party of the left, says Plaid Cymru leader'. Certainly Leanne did express this and said things like people wished Plaid stood in England, that people wanted a genuine credible left wing alternative. But I think the earticl somewhat missed the point of Leanne's speech and I suspect the reason she was invited to speak: centralisation. The critique of Labour was not just that they were barely progressive and left wing, but that they were centralists politically and that this had an economic effect. That attempts to regionalise were at best half hearted and ultimately as Ms Wood said: 

"If we look at the cold evidence, we will see that Labour out of office will always obsess about winning back the south east of England, when in office it has never addressed the core issue. 

They never rejected of the pre-eminence of the City of London as the only worthwhile bedrock of the UK economy.  

They never really tackled the concentration of wealth."

Here Plaid and  many decentralists like Mebyon Kernow and myself, agree that centralisation of power leads to centralisation of wealth. Leanne continues, (she certainly explains the phrase the London parties and it's justification better than I do): 

"The de-concentration of wealth first requires the de-concentration of power.

In Plaid Cymru, we often refer to the London Parties.

This piece of political short-hand is of course, by no means a political attack on Londoners.

Many of them are victims of the same centripetal politics as we are in Wales.

Reference to the London parties is an attack on a political system that has enshrined the City of London and spiralling, make-believe property prices at the core of economic policy.

For over a century the City of London has given priority to international trade over local lending and investment.

This has been reflected in the mindset of our politicians, and in their policies...

... in investment flows and the allocation of resources.

Even where the City of London has supported infrastructure investment it has focused on the needs of London and the South East of England.

Transport spending, for example, in the south East of England is double what it is in the north.

Another example is that 60% of all of Britain's tower cranes are located in Greater London, which shows where the bulk of capital investment is taking place. (H&SE).

This exacerbates an over-heating southern property market, compounding the growing wealth gap."

What I was especially pleased about, was mention of Mebyon Kernow by the Plaid leader. Although we are in some sense allies, mention of MK outside of Cornwall is about as rare as Welsh nationalists giving keynote addresses in England. The reason for it is not just Celtic solidarity or because Wales and Cornwall want or need the same policies but because we face the same problems of a London dominated government and economy. 

"We are less vocal on how England’s governance should be arranged, with the exception of supporting Cornwall's right to self-determination..."

"My party - The Party of Wales - would love to work with an Alliance of progressive forces from all parts of England, as well as those in Cornwall with whom we already have a loose alliance.

A  broad network in England, united behind a core set of progressive values could well include the Greens and other environmentalists.

It could include the trade union movement, many in the churches and other faith organisations, the new People’s Assembly movement, our sister party Mebyon Kernow in Cornwall, refugees from Labour and the Lib Dems and, yes, refugees from Respect and the SWP, too."

So should their be a joint approach to seizing power from the center and redistributing it? Should the focus of parties like Plaid Cymru and Mebyon Kernow, shift a little to cooperation with English parties and movements, thoughts below...