Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The St Ives constituency low pay capital of Cornwall

One of the positive steps forward among councillors in Penzance at the moment is the push to have a greater say in the economy. To looks at ways we can secure European funding and investment in the area. There is a great desire to use the Neighbourhood Plan process to facilitate this. As a starting point it was decided to look at existing plans. I have been looking over the strategic document Penzance Futures, the Community Strategic Plan for Penzance Area, which was developed under the Market and Coastal Town Initiative and is available here.

The document covers a number of areas and is ground breaking in its scope. Especially considering that it involved a credible and impressive amount of consultation and was worked up in the local area.  It's a shining example of how things should be done, unfortunately though it never got implemented and has largely sat gathering dust. So it's great personally to look over it and draw inspiration from it. Generally there is a great deal that hasn't changed since it was finished although it was started in 2004 and finished a few years later. It does show some signs of age.

Here I want to look at some of the economic statistics used and compare them with the most recent figures researched and collated by Cornwall Council's Economic Development and Culture Service. Bring some of the statistics up to date and review how this impacts upon the key messages and recommendations of Penzance Futures (PZF). The economy chapter alone runs to 11 pages so, here I want to look at employment and the suggestions and data available from the documents I have discussed. Employment and particularly wages has recently been in the news, with the saddening statistic that this constituency (St Ives and Isles of Scilly) is one of the lowest earners. It is the 14th worst constituency for low pay with 38% of workers earning below the 'Living Wage'. Making it the worst in Cornwall and Devon as the Cornishman explains:

In North Cornwall, 33.6% of employees earn below the living wage, while this affects 33.3 % of employees in South East Cornwall, 31.6% in St Austell and Newquay, 31.5% in Central Devon, 30.1% in Totnes, 29.7% in Newton Abbot, 28.4% in Camborne and Redruth and 28.4% in Torbay.

This is a real issue policy makers need to grab by the scruff of the neck and actually change. Working how we are so much worse off than neighbouring constituencies and how this can be changed.

One of the key priorities identified in the community survey of Penzance Future's economy was "Quality long-term jobs with decent wages" which is hard to argue with and I'm sure still a high priority. PZF lists a Penwith overview, which states:
Average earnings are well below national average at £318 average full-time weekly wage compared to £433
It's hard to get statistics to match exact areas, CC's figures from the ONS Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings 2013 gives 2 sets of data but both for the St Ives constituency. The annual averages for all employees, with weekly figures in brackets:

UK:           £21,905 (£421.25)                100%
Cornwall:   £18,346 (£352.81)                  84% of UK avg
St Ives:      £16,397 (£315.33)                   75%

Male earnings:
UK:          £27,169 (£522.48)                  100%
Cornwall:  £21,639 (£416.13)                    80%
St Ives:     £17,593 (£338.33)                     65%

Female earnings:
UK:         £17,000 (£326.92)                   100%
Cornwall: £14,766 (£284.15)                     87%
St Ives:    £14,666 (£282.04)                     86%

Full time:
UK:         £27,017 (£519.56)                   100%
Cornwall: £22,246 (£427.81)                     82%
St Ives:    £21,381 (£411.17)                      81%

Part time:
UK:         £8,901  (£171.17)                     100%
Cornwall: £8,690  (£167.12)                       98%
St Ives:    £8,464  (£162.77)                        95%

I'm not a statistician but it's clear that it is hard to draw uniform messages from these figures. Part time workers don't have the same disparities that full time workers do. Women seem to fare better than men and although they earn less as a % of the average there is a smaller gap than other groups. But like the UK average earn significantly less than men with the average being below the Living Wage.

Men seem to be the worst off in terms of earning regional disparity, with Cornish men earning 80% of the UK average, and men in West Cornwall earn only 65% of the UK average a £10,000 shortfall and 77% of the Cornish average a £4,000 shortfall.

Over all and the biggest thing to take from it is that the St Ives constituency has lower earnings than either the UK or Cornish average. That the percentage column on the right serves to hide the disparity within Cornwall, take for example the top (All) heading Cornish workers earn 84% of the UK average and St Ives workers earn 75% of the UK average and 88% of the Cornish average.

So to revise the Penzance Futures statements:

Average earnings are well below national average at £411 average full-time weekly wage compared to £519. Useful to add, workers in the St Ives constituency earn 75% of the UK average and 89% of the Cornish average.

This is a very useful base to consider both the employment conditions of Penzance and the St Ives constituency. There are massive disparities in earnings across the UK and indeed within Cornwall. We do suffer from being part of the periphery of Cornwall and being a periphery of it too. Both distant government and distant Cornwall Council are doing little to address low pay here. It's distressing the lack of investment in this area when we are clearly slipping behind everywhere else. It's a brutal indictment of both the present system and the past and present representatives that this situation has been allowed to deteriorate. The time has come to question the apathetic status quo and call for investment and work to improve our economy.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Some pictures and thoughts from the Gulval West presentation

Yesterday I attended the presentation of the proposed Gulval West development. I thought after seeing the community meeting the week before (firmly opposed to doubling the size of the village), I'd see what the developer's (Terrace Hill) PR firm had to offer (Creatix PR).

I went in the evening shunning the Councillor invite only session, for three reasons, 1 it was more convenient for me, 2 I don't like the idea of behind closed doors meetings, 3 I was interested in what people had to say.

When I went along about 5:45 there was approximately 20 people there. Which was good to see people interested, lots of filling in forms, talking to PR people and conversely talking against the development. Whether the 150 or so that packed the hall the week before attended is hard to tell as the public event was from 3-7.

Some thoughts: It's clear from the boards with resident's priorities marked with spots that affordable housing is wanted and needed, it's also clear transport issues are a problem and there is an abject lack of public space in Gulval (fields while they're still there aside). It's hard to get a true picture as the PR firm quite ably as we'd expect channeled people's thoughts, fears and desires into pigeon holes their choosing. There wasn't for example priority boxes for no development, high quality farmland, landscape or easing traffic congestion.

If you fancy the boards from the exhibition are online search:  Gulval West There is as intial comment, a lack of improvement to roads which are frankly substandard at the moment. Confusing plans for Ponsadane field, which often floods and I doubt is suitable for allotments and a playground. Or as 1 resident said to me perhaps more suited to rice paddies. Little or no regard for the flooding issues of building on a hillside which already has significant water run off on one side (Trythogga hill) and flooding the other (Chyandour). I think this story will run and run...

The community group do have a facebook and twitter and I believe a website soon: @GulvalVillage. Also a fair amount of press coverage already...

Sunday, 23 February 2014

An open letter to the PM, on the help we need for our rail line and Jubilee Pool

Dear Prime Minister, 

I am writing to highlight the damage done by the recent storms in West Cornwall. I urge your government to do more to help and prove that we are Open For Business.
As well as the significant damage at Dawlish, there has also been damage to the Penzance - St Erth part of the train line resulting in a temporary closure. There has been no compensation offered to travellers and no sign that government is aware of the problem nor signs it is working to increase future resilience.

Penzance’s iconic Jubilee Pool, has also suffered damage from the storms. Unfortunately there are fears that this will not be reopened in the summer season. Having such a prominent seafront feature closed will no doubt be detrimental to both the life of the town and tourism.

If government will indeed ‘pick up the tab’ can the government:
  •          Include West Cornwall in this?
  •        Keep our train line secure from flooding?
  •         Fast track money promised to repair things     like the Jubilee Pool?
Yours faithfully

Councillor Robert Simmons

Saturday, 22 February 2014

The fallacy of the Lib Dems tax cuts

There are various Lib Dem leaflets and bold website pronouncements going around, for example: Liberal Democrats deliver £700 tax cut for working people. Referring to the raising of the income tax threshold. The inference is that the Lib Dems are a low tax party. That their support of the Conservative dream of a small state means they are saving you money. As we come to expect this is nothing but spin and bluster and taxes are in fact going up, when we consider regressive vat rises and council tax 'hikes'.

Elsewhere in the Cornishman I see that Marazion Town Council are doubling their precept to pay for public toilets. After Cornwall Council (ruled partly by Liberal Democrats) is not funding that facility any more.  Similarly Penzance Town Council is raising council tax, partly due to Cornwall Council passing cctv to the town without funding a pattern due to continue for all towns and parishes. Helston ratepayers are facing a 17% rise again to pay for services such as toilets, cctv and play groundd. dropped by Cornwall and passed to the town. This all due to the fact central government have cut the funding to Cornwall Council. When your council tax bill hits the door mat just remember that you're now paying more for the same or less services partly due to the Liberal Democrats.

Council tax rises at Cornwall Council (nearly 2%) and local councils is chicken feed in comparison to the VAT hike voted through by Lib Dems. Despite warnings from the this would hit the poorest hardest both Tory and Lib Dem lined up to push it through.

The raising of the tax threshold is welcome,  although pitiful in comparison to tax cuts for high speed earners and corporation tax cuts. It is clear that tax cuts benefit the richest most as per Conservative doctrine (supported as always by the Lib Dems). It is clear for working people that the government is robbing Peter to pay Paul, cutting one tax whilst raising others and cutting services which results in other authorities raising tax. Are people better off than they were before the Lib Dems took office? A question we should all ask ourselves when we go shopping and pay extra, buy petrol, pay our bills.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

The public meeting about the developments at Gulval and the disregarding of planning policy

On monday just gone I attended a packed community meeting in Gulval to discuss, and indeed oppose, plans being drawn up by Cornwall Council to massively increase the size of the village. Here's a picture of the land allocated for development in the Strategic Land Assessment, the parts in red are proposed development.

There's a great feeling of anxiety among villagers about this and I was frankly a little surprised that there seemed to be no voices of objection against the dominant theme that Gulval couldn't support this much housing. Speakers concerns and residents questions/ comments revolved around a number of issues, the poor and narrow road network in and around Gulval, the lack of pavements on these routes. The loss of grade 1 and 2 farmland. The lack of opportunities, public services, major hospital in West Cornwall, the list does go on!

There were also 2 major themes that occour time and time again throughout Cornwall in regards to development. The big one of course is the need for affordable housing, how development does not address this situation. How developers time and again manage to squirm out of providing the affordable housing in the original plans. I've often said that we need to look to alternative ways of providing affordable housing, we currently rely upon developers who have a duty you could call it to make profit. Providing low cost housing runs counter to this.

The other major theme is the lack of democracy in developments. No one is asked before these things happen where developments should go. Cornwall Council speaks to landowners and developers finds sites for developments and then as an afterthought the public are informed. For as much as the Conservative and Liberal Democrat government talk of localism and giving local people a greater say, in this key facet they are summarily ignored. Both by central government and Cornwall Council. This needs to change.

As a side thought, I can't figure it out and I've spoken to senior planning officers about it and senior councilors. How this development can run counter to current planning policy. That is the Penwith Local Plan, (link to pdf) which continues in force until the Cornwall Local Plan is finished. The policies in that are unequivocal in their defence of the character of Gulval and the desire to maintain the green wedge between Gulval and Penzance. To quote:


As an explanation of how this applies:

This predominantly agricultural landscape provides a strong contrast between the
urban edge of Penzance and the countryside and effectively retains the break in
development between the town and Gulval, safeguarding their separate identities.
To the north of the Distributor road the land rises steeply providing a prominent
local landmark, from a wide area especially the eastern approach to the town. To
the south of the Distributor Road is Chyandour Coombe which forms part of the
green wedge which separates Penzance from built development to the east.
Lescudjack Hill rises steeply above the Coombe and provides an important local
landmark from both within the town and beyond."

From Penzance how the green fields currently look

This open, undeveloped gap forms important breaks in development between
Gulval Churchtown and the commercial development at Eastern Green,
maintaining the distinct identity of Gulval Churchtown, and forms a green finger
which extends into the Trevarrack area of Gulval."

Quite why these are not being regarded is a big question for me. The official position is that they will be extinguished soon, quite what the Penzance Neighbourhood Development Plan will impact on this seems to be little considered. The plan could of course with public backing reaffirm these policies...

It was interesting to not which politicians turned up at the meeting, both the Liberal Democrat for St Ives MP Andrew George and Cornwall Councillor for Gulval and Heamoor Mario Fonk spoke. They both expressed their sympathies with Gulval and the unfair practices of the government and Cornwall Council. With no mention of the fact their parties are a ruling element in both. Unfortunately no one asked the killer question of what these representatives could do to help Gulval in the corridors of power. The Penzance's mayor Phil Rendle (also like me Mebyon Kernow) was there. As was Roy Mann the Conservative councillor for Ludgvan and the Independent Penzance Town Councillor for Gulval. I also spotted Lib Dems Ruth Lewarne and Jack Dixon and the Independent Fiona Thomas- Lambourn both from the Town Council. As far as I was aware these were the only town councillors. But the most obvious absence was Cornelius Olivier and Tim Dwelly the major proponents of building in the area and who tried to increase the house building which no doubt would have decreased the green space around Gulval. It would have been interesting to see what they had to say to the community about these developments.

Next week is the presentation by the PR Creatix at the same venue Gulval Village Hall from 3-7. I'm planning on going and keen to hear what the developers Terrace Hill have to say about the villages concerns. Also very keen to see which politicians turn up.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Me on Channel 4 news, Cornwall Council's sandbag u turn and government help for fishermen

Following on from a series of blogs by myself about the storms and the lacklustre government response here in Cornwall (and elsewhere). I was interviewed yesterday by Channel 4 news in Newlyn. They were keen to hear my views about the response here and the hardship caused by this extreme weather. Understandably a lot of my interview was cut to make way to talk to fishermen and Nick Clegg.

Watch it here if you're interested:

I'm really glad that Channel Four took the time to come to Cornwall and highlight the damages by the storm. It certainly helps us to put pressure on government to take storm damage as seriously here as they do elsewhere. It must also be welcomed that Cornwall Council has done a u turn and rather than offering no sand bags at all will now offer them to residents for free, great news.

I also welcome Nick Clegg's half promise (interviewed after me) that fishermen will get or could get hardship payments. This would only be fair and I'm slightly puzzled why this hasn't already been raised and promised at the same time as farmer's hardship payments by Cornwall's MPs, especially Dan Rogerson and George Eustice who are now junior ministers in DEFRA who deal with fisheries.

Anyway I sincerely hope the government does take this case seriously and from reading Andrew Wallis's blog. That a strong case was made to Nick Clegg by fisherman, residents and Julian Waring from Newlyn Fishermen's Mission at Porthleven. As with promises that government will pay for damages in the storm we will wait and see what happens with hardship payments to the fishing industry.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The small print of Cameron's I'll pick up the tab comments

Here's a leaked email of what David Cameron actually means. Seems like a climb down from the blank cheque policy. The small print now is emerging and it looks like Cameron meant the existing Bellwin scheme not actually anything new, more political spin from the pr man.
The key factor for us here in West Cornwall is the long term, it looks like after significant expenditure by Cornwall Council the relief effort will be reimbursed for most of that cost (assuming that the money is found).  Here things like the promenade at Newlyn Green, Penzance harbour's South Pier. The damages to the baulks at Mousehole harbour, complete replacement baulks at Porthleven among other things look in doubt. 
This is before we consider flood defences that are needed, for example the problems at Loe Bar with the overflow not clearing water and risking backing up the Cober to Helston. Or the amount of damage to the road surfaces with the recent bad weather. I've already reported the large pothole in Treneere, which has the intermediate and unsatisfactory fix of a ramp sign. The estimates of costs to Cornwall of the recent storms are over £20 million. I sincerely hope the cynicism and backtracking suggested from this email is a false impression. That this money will be paid as promised by the PM. Or Cornwall Council is going to have to cut yet more front line services to pay for this all. 

Monday, 10 February 2014

New statistics on Culdrose Search and Rescue raise doubts over privatisation

Ivan Ellen with Rescue 193
The Ministry of Defence has just released statistics on the Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopters maintained by the military, they detail the call outs for 2013. They confirm that Cornwall and the surrounding area is a hotspot for SAR activities and re-impresses the vital work the current Royal Navy crews at RNAS Culdrose and Royal Air Force crews at RMB Chivenor do. Again they raise cause for concern and the introduction of the privatised SAR provision which will soon be provided by just 2 aircraft by Bristow from Newquay airport.

The latest MOD/ data release reveals that Culdrose is the third busiest SAR station in terms of call outs in the last year. Totalling 257, this includes searchs and rescues on both land and sea, as well 'medtransfers' mostly from the Isles of Scilly. Close behind Culdrose was the North Devon base of Chivenor with 238 call outs which covers much of Cornwall (as well as South West England, Wales, the Channel and the Celtic Sea).

There's a great article on the Western Morning News website about Culdrose SAR recently: Bad weather means record call-outs for West rescue crews , well worth a read. It aptly demonstrates the diversity of search and rescue, including being called to a stricken vessel 200 miles from the Isles of Scilly, a medtransfer of a burns victim from Perranuthnoe to Bristol, another rescue 150 miles from Scilly. It is clear that there are times when helicopters are required to travel great distances, again as I wrote back in March last year: Good bye to the Sea King and commonsense (or is 2 helos in Cornwall enough?) In reaction to the news both Culdrose's and Chivenor's patches would be covered by just 2 helicopters. Although I'm not a fan of privatisation, I don't question the ability of Bristow to provide this services, not their crews who will be ex military and Coastguard SAR crews. But it seems a gamble to be this far stretched. It's easy to imagine a situation whereby 1 helicopter is transferring a casualty from the Isles of Scilly and another aiding a vessel in the Celtic Sea and a third call out happening.

It seems very much to my mind that the government is basing the need for 2 helicopters on the average call out and duration, whereby 2 are sufficient. Ironic in a way this was the government who spent most of their time in opposition (quite rightly) lambasting Labour for the lack of helicopters in Afghanistan.  As we saw with the London riots where police had to be called in from across the UK or the more recent floods where manpower again had to be drafted in, driving down numbers of personnel and assets puts public safety at risk. I'm sure a government response to this critique would be that Culdrose had 257 call outs last year, less than 1 a day, even including Chivenor's 238 this equals 495 less than 2 a day, maybe they've got a point, but I've never been a gambling man myself.

Both maps taken from the MOD's defence statistics website, where there's lots of other statistics about SAR across the UK, Cyprus and the Falklands Search and Rescue Annual 2014.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Time to think hard about Penzance's sea defences

The news has been rife with damage and flooding to Penzance and other areaa in Mount's Bay, particularly NewlynPorthleven and other areas of West Cornwall.  Although it must be said that this is an extreme weather event, we need to consider the effect this is having on homes, businesses and people's lives. There is a great cost to this all and I think we need to weigh up how spending money on sea defences would save money in the long run.

In particular there is damage to Penzance Harbour and I think for the long term the time has come to seriously consider the benefits of an off shore breakwater. Preferable to rock armour as it would dissipate the force of the sea further out. The problem with rock armour is that it could only be built so high and then waves above that height still impact with full force into the quay (or more properly quays). Is it significant that sections of the South Pier damaged in the storms are already dressed with rock armour?...

As the Royal Haskoning identified even full rock armour doesn't allow for continuous operation of the harbour unlike a breakwater which would. Further to quote:

"It is not, therefore, considered that the structural integrity of the harbour wall will be significantly improved by the construction of rock armour." 

 Although the costs of this would be considerable, what would the cost be of the pieces of the harbour being smashed off like happened in Lamorna over night. The cheaper option of rock armour has been proposed a few times for Penzance, but in the long term it doesn't seem cost effective. Especially when we consider the limited protection it offers and the fact it makes maintenance of the existing structures, shall we say difficult? Or is the right word expensive?

In the short term, the Royal Haskoning report identified significant works that needed to be done in the harbour. Despite this being from a survey in January last year and their report being published in March 2013 this as far as I am aware has not happened. The findings were that urgent work was needed. Masonry was missing, areas needed repointing, staples holding blocks together were rusted and needed replacing and worryingly that there were voids. Also that there was evidence Lighthouse Pier was subsiding and moving away from the adjoining South Pier. These are all the kinds of things that need to be kept on top of. It is troubling that it takes an external consultants to come to a harbour owned by Cornwall Council to point out the need for this work.

The vital harbour aside, perhaps we need to consider also protection of the wider seafront. There is major damage to sections of the prom from the recent storm. It is clear large sections will have to be rebuilt. Again what is the cost? Also the wider costs of houses flooding at the bottom of Morrab Road and the disruption of the road along the prom closing and not for the first time this month. Perhaps in the future it might be better to construct the surface of the promenade with more durable materials, particularly the tiles near the Wherrytown end.  Unfortunately there are not studies and various pushes in the past to protect the prom area from the sea. Work is needed in this regard.

I know it's a tough call in these times when the government is reining in spending. But we need to look to the future and what the cost of our actions will be to the next generation. The time has come to think big, to realise that in the long terms spending now will save money in the future and will protect us.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Penzance's high street is not dead, whatever the 'experts' say

A prominent Labour adviser has declared the high street dead. On a mission to give judgement on the high street, Bill Grimsey has now cast his weary gaze to Penzance town center for a BBC Inside Out special. Such talk of high street death is dangerous, perception and confidence are key to selling. This is something that should be taken on board, we need to address the real problems of the high street don't get me wrong but turning people off town centers with such negative talk is counter productive. 

There are challenges to the high street. High business rates, high rents, the negative impact of out of the way and expensive parking, poor public transport and of course out of town retail. These things do need addressing and I welcome Grimsey's call that government ought to freeze business rates and review them. Unfortunately they're raising them by 2% (democracy dodging anyone?), a real step in the wrong direction.

I don't agree however that the high street needs to adapt and look past retail. There are fundamental changes in retail habits in the last few years, people do shop more online. (Although the closing of various tax loopholes for companies like Amazon and Play might indicate that sectors had it's heyday). But there has also been something of a recession. As Cornwall's GVA figures recently revealed, we're far from being out of the woods and despite growth throughout the UK that hasn't been the case in the Duchy. Perhaps we ought to wait until the storm has passed before we convert retail space into other uses?

That said there were reports from the ONS that high street spend 'surged' last Christmas throughout the UK. There are many encouraging stories of town center businesses in Penzance having a good festive season and a good summer last year to boot. Although there are still empty shops. There are a number of success stories, Lou's shoes moving to a bigger property that was empty, Sorcha Corbitt also filling an empty premises. The refurbishment and investment of Lloyds bank in the Market House. In the near future, rumours are of Burger King taking the old Curry's store and Edinburgh Woollen Mill coming to town. If that's the definition of dead I think we need to start putting bells back on graves!

I'm happy to say that Penzance Town Council is playing it's part. As part of the Neighbourhood Development Plan we are putting an emphasis on economic development. As something in the Mebyon Kernow manifesto and something I spoke to people about on the doorstep, I was delighted to support this. We need a plan, for too long government and local authorities have sat idly by and not thought deeply about the High Street. Something which the Grimsley review highlights and I agree with.

We do need work on our town center, I hope Cornwall Council and the government recognise the work the town council is doing to plan an economic future. But we shouldn't be quick to dismiss the high street as dead, it's far from it.

We need to attract people into the town center, we need to build confidence in Penzance as a retail center. It's not dead far from it, we are lucky to have town center where you can still buy the finest and freshest fish, vegetables, fruit and meat. Clothes shops galore, furniture, art works, diy, flowers as well as the staples of mobile phones, banks and travel agents. Not many towns these days can offer that, something we should be positive about.

We have to recognise there has been a recession and we are still feeling the effects of it. It would be wrong to use the last few years to draw conclusions about the high street without considering the economic downturn. Sure the town center isn't what it was 5 or 6 years ago,  but what business sector is? Let's promote what we do have rather than doing it down.

My nomination as Mebyon Kernow's General Election candidate for St Ives

Hopefully with the agreement of MK's National Executive Committee I will be the party's candidate in the 2015 General Election for the St Ives Constituency. It's taken a while to sink in and I've taken the weekend off to consider it (and to enjoy the 6 Nations of course). It's something I have thought about for a long while, thanks to the support of the constituency branch and I must say my family, I have taken this step.
enjoying the rare blue skies at Geevor yesterday
Assuming the NEC does ratify my candidacy, I have a lot of work ahead of me. I've had many offers from people within the branch and hoping to get more from friends and family (get in contact if you can help

Stay tuned for more, regular readers will have an inside track of what I can offer the people of West Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, the kind of things I believe in. In the near future I will be outlining, the kind of changes I think we need from politicians and government. But for now, I'll just say we need change, there are lots of things wrong with politics, Cornwall doesn't get a fair deal from central government, we need to take control of our own destiny. Housing is a mess, with too many second homes and not enough affordable housing. Our economy needs investment, we need new jobs here and we need to protect the industries we have left. Transport links are woeful within Cornwall, between here and Scilly and with the wider world. 

I also think it's time for a better kind of politics, morality and reform are far removed from the current set up. Politicians ought to be better known for the struggles to make things better not their abilities to claim expenses and bemoan those they don't like in society. The boat needs some serious rocking.

Thanks for reading and welcome to the start of my next political journey...

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Flooding: Does the government realise they're in charge?

I've been watching with increasing incredulity the lacklustre Downing Street response to the flooding. As homes, businesses, roads and railtracks are swamped in water and people's lives are ruined, why does the government twiddle it's thumbs?
We have a really peculiar centralised state in the United Kingdom whereby the majority of taxation and decision making is withheld by central government. Local authorities and emergency services have had higher levels of cuts than government departments. Local authorities are criticised and bemoaned for raising council tax by Westminster. Thus the real arbiters of power, decision making,  borrowing and funding are still where they've always been 10 and 11 Downing Street. Yet there are floods everywhere and who do we see time and again dealing with them? local authorities and emergency services, not the powerful and well funded Whitehall offices.
The government's response in general has been shoddy.  Lots of talk of meetings by the excitingly named COBRA. But what has resulted from Cabinet Office Briefing Room A? Obviously an abundance of melodrama and a sense of self importance that could easily rival The West Wing. But like that great series it's meaningless when the cameras go off everyone goes home.  Well that's not entirely fair, both David Cameron and Owen Paterson have donned wellies in an attempt to be seen to do something. Bringing the spiel and platitudes of a briefing room to our tv sets.
Floods are a long term problem, clearing gullies and dredging may work here and there but the problem is much deeper. The obvious point to make is to reverse cuts to the Environment Agency and realise the environment is actually important. But there also needs to be a fundamental shift, government in London is about PR, meetings and keeping up appearances. It's inflexible, prone to inaction and makes Ed Miliband look positively decisive.  The sharp end of public services is local government and the emergency services. Government needs to readdress their priorities and put funding where it makes a difference to people's homes, businesses, communities and lives. Let's put the front line of public services first for once!