Friday, 31 December 2010

Shiny happy people

Anyone concerned what might result from the current enthusiasm among land owners for solar-powered electricity generation could do worse than pay attention to next week's Strategic Planning Committee meeting at County Hall, which is being advised to approve a 36.5-acre solar farm at North Petherwin, near Launceston.

The generous (ie tax-funded) feed-in tariffs for photo-voltaic (PV) energy mean landowners can't lose. Solar farm developers, in this case German-owned Kronos Solar, are in line for huge profits. As the company's own website advises potential investors:
"The risk-return relationship of PV is unrivaled (sic). With the Government's backing of the Feed-In-Tariff, revenues and hence returns for investors come state guaranteed."
Yet in terms of "green" energy, the forecast 5MW generated at North Petherwin is only slightly more than half that generated by the wind farm at Delabole.

In the coming months we will see how Cornwall Council's approach to solar energy develops. While welcoming the "potential billion pounds investment" some councillors are nervous about the planning issues implicit in such a land-hungry technology.

Up at Winsdon Farm, North Petherwin, the local parish council is leading objections to the Kronos application. Wildlife groups want studies into the effects of the development on bats and badgers. The Council for the Protection of Rural England (Cornwall) is concerned about the impact on landscape.

Despite this, council planning officials recommend approval at Thursday's meeting. The previous day, members of the Environment & Economy Overview & Scutiny Committee will be encouraged to get a grip of the whole "green energy" agenda. Officials say:
"There has never been a strategically approved mechanism / delivery plan to underpin the achievement of the Council's carbon reduction and energy self-sufficiency targets. Similarly there is no renewable energy delivery plan for the whole of Cornwall. The Council is opening itself up to criticism if it does not have a robust strategic delivery plan for its own well publicised programme."

For a reminder of the more general issues involved in the solar energy gold rush, my earlier blog post is here.

Best behaviour, please

Fingernails clean? Shoes polished? Stand up straight! Sorry, too much Dickens over Christmas. The way that Cornwall Council cares for children is to be the subject of another Ofsted inspection next month, with fieldwork due 10th-21st January and the final report expected around the end of February. Let's hope enough social workers have managed to shake off their winter 'flu. As we say in Hackland, it's a story either way.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Why your road wasn't gritted

Listeners to BBC Radio Cornwall will be familiar with complaints that during the recent cold weather Cornwall Council did not do enough to grit minor roads to rural communities. The council's response was that with more than 4,500 miles of road in Cornwall it is simply not possible to grit every square inch, and so priority is given to the 20% of roads which carry 80% of the traffic.

Some listeners, particularly those whose villages are just yards from a (gritted) main trunk road, were still not happy. Others thought that the council should also grit unadopted estate roads, and even pavements.

The framework which establishes the gritting priorities is to be found here - a national policy document in the form of a Code of Practice, which runs to 316 pages and which has its roots at the Department of Transport's research centre at Weybridge in Surrey.

There are lots of words in this document (gritting priorities are on page 174) and most of the advice can be summarised in just two: "common sense." Councils are told to weigh up lots of conflicting interests, including value for taxpayers' money, and make their own judgements about how to cope.

Now that daytime temperatures have returned to double figures I suspect the fuss will also melt away. But there are issues to be explored - such as local town and parish councils taking more responsibility (and raising their taxes?) - and lessons learned. Including the one about how good government is not always popular with all of the people all of the time.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Those awkward Christmas Day moments

Readers with sharp memories might recall that a few months ago I used this blog to shamelessly appeal to family and friends for a copy of Keith Richards biography as a November birthday present. No luck in November, but yesterday, as the trail of wrapping paper spread throughout the house, it soon became obvious that I had been given two copies. Oops. Still, it's the thoughts that count. And I wonder what Newquay & St Austell MP Stephen Gilbert was thinking when he posted this Christmas Day Tweet: "Stephen Gilbert MP is the proud owner of an actual studded whip."

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

News from the gallops

Bookmakers William Hill are offering odds of 4/1 that cracks in the coalition will lead to a General Election during 2011.



George Eustice gets his man

Cornwall Council has announced that Sir John Banham is to be the chairman of the new Local Enterprise Partnership, the new quango set up to spend taxpayers' money once the Regional Development Agency finally turns up its toes in 2012.

According the council's press release:
"Sir John's name was originally suggested at a meeting of private sector representatives convened by Camborne and Redruth MP George Eustice in November, and was then subsequently endorsed by the board of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Economic Forum."
I've asked the council for more details. Such as whether any other names were considered by the Economic Forum. The council statement also says:
"Given the intensive nature of the work required, Johnson Matthey, the company that Sir John currently chairs, has been recompensed for the time that he has committed to addressing the areas such as low cost green energy for Cornwall, connectivity, creating vibrant rural communities and affordable housing."
Naturally, given its enthusiasm for openness and transparency, the council will be keen to tell us how much compensation is being paid to Johnson Matthey...

STOP PRESS: The council just phoned to tell me that the amount of compensation paid to Johnson Matthey "is under discussion." Sir John's name was "the only name put forward by the private sector." The council is currently providing the secretariat to the the LEP.

Hmmm. The more I think about this, the more questions spring to mind. Were any names put forward by the public sector? What are the rules governing the appointment of a chairman - where does the authority come from to make such an appointment? Lest we forget, the man with the Midas touch who approved the Cornwall & Isles of Scilly LEP was.....Vince Cable.

The latest email exchange:

Were any "public sector" names considered to chair the LEP, and if so, who? I would be surprised if the council leader was not considered - are you able to confirm whether he was or was not?
No public names were considered - the Government made quite clear that LEPs should be private sector led (and chaired).
And as per my original email, who has appointed Sir John Banham? On what authority? Who made the rules? John was quoted in the WMN saying he had been asked "by the council" to chair the LEP - really? Who in the council has such power to make the appointment?
Sir John is the founding chair for the LEP. The Council will be working with him, the Chamber of Commerce, FSB and other partners to ensure a transparent 'Nolan' process for LEP Board members and thus, in turn, a formally appointed Chairman. He was put forward as a name by a number of representatives from the private sector as well as Chamber of Commerce. The Council has facilitated this to happen in lieu of the LEP being established (it is not yet a formally constituted body) and his appointment was endorsed by the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Economic Forum.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Camborne North runners and riders

Here is the statement as to persons nominated for the Cornwall Council by-election to be held on 13th January:

Mike Champion (Mebyon Kernow)
Paul Holmes (Liberal Party)
Jacqueline Merrick (Green Party)
Anna Pascoe (Liberal Democrats)
Denise Pascoe (Conservative Party)
Jude Robinson (Labour & Co-operative Party)

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Promises, promises

Stephen Gilbert & Laurence Reed from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

Newquay & St Austell's Stephen Gilbert was the only one of Cornwall's six MPs to break a pre-election promise when he voted to raise university tuitition fees last week. The Conservatives had never claimed they would do anything else; Stephen's Lib Dem colleagues Dan Rogerson and Andrew George kept their pre-election pledge and voted against the fees increase. Which matters more - the policy or the promise? On Friday, my BBC Radio Cornwall colleague Laurence Reed came as close as anyone to finding out. In my opinion, this is one of the best radio interviews of the year.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Some thoughts from a think tank

Those thought-provoking people at Democratic Audit have sent me a very interesting pamphlet about the Parliamentary Voting Systems & Constituencies Bill. Here's an extract:
The DEVONWALL problem: territory and identity
The 'Devonwall' problem is where the arithmetic and geography demand the violation of a boundary that has a very strong basis in community identity. The difference between Cornwall and Devon is long-established and clear, but the Bill's boundary rules will involve a constituency that straddles this frontier. The two parts of the constituency will never gel properly. As David Cameron observed, the Tamar is not the Amazon, but representation is about the communities that people feel and live in, and local identities are important. It seems oddly centralist and non-conservative to disrespect these feelings.
There have been protests already, supported by all the Cornish MPs and the local authority, that Cornwall should be kept whole. While it is an extreme case, the Bill risks similar unpopularity in other areas, rather like the rationalist imposition of the Heath-Walker local government reforms in 1972-74 - anyone proposing a 'Luton West & Dunstable' seat would be well advised to stay away from Dunstable, for instance.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Dear John

A very unusual letter from Jane Henderson, chief exec of the South West Regional Development Agency, to businesses who thought they had investment deals:
"I sincerely hope, but cannot completely guarantee, that we will be able to manage things by agreement without unilaterally breaking contractual arrangements."
Lawyers on standby.

Dan Rogerson voted against government on tuition fees

North Cornwall's Lib Dem MP Dan Rogerson tells me he has just voted against the increase in university tuition fees. The government majority was 21.

Localism Bill on Monday

Eric Pickles Tweets to say "Localism Bill will be introduced on Monday. Lots of power to councils."

A new group on the horizon at County Hall?

I hate stories like this because no-one will go on the record. But I have to ask - how independent is the 31-strong Independent group of Cornwall councillors? Too independent by half, according to those who try to fathom the group's approach to policy-making - "like trying to herd cats," one Indie Cabinet member tells me.

After leading the Independent group for 18 months, Stoke Climsland councillor Neil Burden has decided not to run when the group is asked to chose a new leader early next month. He will however remain the Cabinet member responsible for Children, Schools and Families, and it's far too early to start writing his political obituary.

Some of the Indies are now twisting the arm of Roche councillor John Wood, asking him to lead them into the brave new post-budget world. But some other Indie group members say they were quite content with Neil's stewardship and wonder if a rival candidate will emerge.

Will the election be contested? Could the group split? Could it eventually cost the Conservatives their leadership of the council? What with the Camborne North by-election on 13th, January promises to be an extremely interesting month.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Barbarians at the gate (2)

A few months ago I expressed my fears for the long-term future of Cornwall's university at Falmouth. Yesterday the University College Union published this report, including Falmouth as one of 49 "at risk" as a result of the government's proposals for higher education. Indeed, the UCU identifies Falmouth as one of the 27 most at risk. The University tells me I shouldn't worry, claiming the UCU has failed to properly appreciate the popularity of arts, media, design and performance degrees. Let's hope so.

Plenty of time to sort out those pesky peers

My thanks to the Electoral Commission for clarifying that Monday's government defeat in the House of Lords need not be too much of a calamity for those who want the Alternative Vote referendum on 5th May.

The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act of 2000 sets the statutory framework for such things, and requires a minimum of 10 weeks before polling. This means the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill must gain Royal Assent before 24th February for a 5th May AV poll.

Stephen Gilbert says tuition fees hike "progressive"

Stephen Gilbert has just posted his weekly local newspaper column, revealing his thoughts on the university tuition fees issue ahead of tomorrow's vote.

Andrew George's statement on tuition fees

Andrew George says he'll vote against the government tomorrow.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

"Poll Tax and Iraq" moment approaches for Lib Dems

Congratulations to St Austell & Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert for passing another career milestone - turning down the opportunity to be interviewed on BBC Radio Cornwall. As far as we know this has never happened before.

The occasion was an invitation to discuss his approach to Thursday's vote on university tuition fees. My colleague Tamsin Melville tells me she is still waiting to hear back from North Cornwall's Dan Rogerson and St Ives's Andrew George, who have been strangely silent all day.

As I write this (Tuesday evening) the Lib Dem Parliamentary Party is in a huddle trying to work out what to do when push comes to shove. Some have suggested the issue will do for the Liberal Democrats what the Poll Tax did for the Conservatives in the late 1980s and the Iraq war did for Labour in 2003.

Rest assured that once the votes are in and Hansard duly published, the Lib Dems' opponents will make sure the record is fully reported, repeatedly, all the way to the next general election.

The new target: an extra sickie

Not sure you'd get away with this in the private sector. Cornwall Council is increasing its "target" number of annual sick days per employee from 8.5 to 9.5. Here's the official explanation:
"The target has been revised to reflect last year's actual absence levels. This should better take into account the impact on the workforce of the financial issues the Council is facing this year. Whilst performance against this new target now looks good, for the year up to the end of October, it should be remembered that we are now approaching the winter months, when sickness trends are higher, and that a great deal of organisational upheaval is expected to occur over the coming months as a result of the emergency budget."

Cornwall Council workforce 15% below strength

An interesting detail from the latest performance management statistics:

"- The 19,504 employees (size of workforce) is a head count of the number of people employed by the Council, not the number of positions.
- In addition there are 1,506 vacancies on our establishment (15.50% of all
posts, excluding Schools).
- Of those vacancies, 99 are "live" (being advertised).
- Of the employees on the redeployment list (a mechanism to reduce redundancy
by filling existing vacancies), 2 of those are already in job trials.
- To date, 16 employees have been successfully redeployed to other
neccessary, vacant posts rather than being made redundant."

A spanner in the works for Devonwall Bill?

Labour peers inflicted a four-vote defeat on the Devonwall Bill last night, over the timing of the proposed referendum on the Alternative Vote system. The amendment carried in the Lords means the referendum could be held as late as October 2011, rather than 5th May as the government wants. The Bill must now return to the House of Commons where a whipped government vote will send it back to the Lords again: classic ping-pong. Conservative and Lib Dem peers see this as irritating and inconvenient, rather than fatal - the prospect looms of some very late night Parliamentary sittings in the run-up to Christmas.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Absence makes the heart grow fonder

A total of 23 councillors - 18.6% of the total - did not vote in Friday's emergency budget debate at County Hall.

Four failed to send apologies: Irene Bailey (Independent), Brian Hobbs (Liberal Democrat), Denise Mutton (Conservative,) and Neil Plummer (Mebyon Kernow).

Apologies were received from Lisa Dolley, Mike Eddowes, Geoffrey Evans, Derek Holley, Ann Kerridge, Mary May, Sue Nicholas, Jan Powell, Chris Ridgers, Roy Taylor, George Trubody and Terry Wilkins.

Seven others had to leave before the end of the meeting, which had been re-scheduled at short notice because of poor weather.

Friday, 3 December 2010

A long day for texters and Tweeters in the council chamber

They started the council budget meeting five hours ago....and still the substantive votes have yet to appear on the horizon. Thanks to the texts and Tweets - and occasional views of the council's excellent webcasting service - I gather that so far councillors have voted 54 - 48 (with one abstention) against an ammendment which would have required any library closures to come before the full council; and by 63 - 39 (with one abstention) not to put extra money into Adult Social Care should the government come up with any additional cash. Another amendment designed to allow more time for leisure centres and swimming pools went down by 55 votes to 46. The libraries vote was closer than I expected and I'll be interested to see the attendance list - but that can wait til Monday!

How Sheryll topped the class

Sheryll Murray's expenses from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

Sheryll Murray bravely came out to play on BBC Radio Cornwall yesterday afternoon and defended her £15K+ expenses claims. I'll upload Martin Bailie's interview with her in a day or two. (Should be there now)

There is no suggestion that Sheryll claimed improperly for anything. But the new way of publishing details of MPs' expenses raises as many questions as it answers. For example, we cannot see the original receipt - so a claim for "office furniture" might or might not turn out to be a luxury rocking chair; we just don't know.

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) gives us only a brief description of what an MP has claimed for. So Sheryll's claim of £12.50 for "repair to a borrowed computer" is no doubt entirely legitimate - but wouldn't it be fun to know how it got broken?

As a new MP Sheryll will have had several one-off start-up costs to get her office up and running. Expenses here include £303.43 for "reception chairs" and £79.31 for a carpet. There's a claim of £13.50 for keys, £3.45 for plates (for the office), £1.65 for a "starter for light fitting" and £4.04 for a light bulb. There are several even less detailed claims for "DIY" with the helpful suggestion to "see note" - which isn't available on-line. Sheryll also made multiple claims for the use of her own car. I repeat, all of these claims are within the rules.

I think IPSA appreciates that, at the moment, it is the watchdog which is at least as much on trial as the MPs. The website is very clunky and crashes repeatedly. The information is less complete than that which Parliament was eventually forced to disclose a few years ago.

On the plus side, the expenses claims will be published, routinely, three months in arrears. The next batch will be due out in February.

Newquay Airport update

Some interesting stuff going to the Newquay Airport Development Panel next week - not least news of attempts to attract another airline to use the airport from November 2011. Good luck with that one.

Passenger numbers are down 7.7% on the 2010/11 budget forecast, mainly due to the loss of Air South West routes. Income is nevertheless up 9%. New car parking equipment will be installed next month.

The crucial Southern Access Route - a new road, potentially opening up vast tracts of land for development - has been delayed until the first quarter of 2011 because of European Union rules on competitive tendering.

The 2011 Cornwall Council subsidy will be £3.4 million, compared with nearly £3.5 million today. There'll be a new business plan by February.

Council shortlisted for prize

Cornwall Council has been shortlisted for "most improved council of the year" award in Local Government Chronicle scheme. Hearty congratulations - but as I recall from my own school reports, "improved" was a word sometimes used to disguise true feelings.

Camelford Leisure Centre saved (for now)

Here's the gist of the deal worked out between County Hall and Camelford and which I expect to be endorsed at today's budget meeting in Truro:
Discussions with the senior representative for the management team at Camelford Leisure Centre and the allocation of £50,000 from the Leaders contingency have resulted in a plan which allows the Council to make a firm commitment to sustain the delivery of the leisure facility until 1st April 2012. This will give a period of 16 months to work with the management, school and the community to develop alternative delivery options.

So County Hall is giving Camelford sixteen months to make it work. The message seems to be: use it or lose it. This is a significant change from where we were two months ago and shows that community campaigns such as Camelford's clearly make a difference.

Incinerator, Plan B - £140,000 just to get started

Cornwall Council's Waste Development Advisory Panel has just been told that the planning inquiry to determine "yes or no" to the proposed St Dennis incinerator is unlikely to report before 21st April 2011 at the earliest, and more likely sometime in May. If the council's decision to refuse planning permission is upheld, only then will work start on thinking up an alternative waste strategy. The cost of researching and producing such a strategy - £140,000 (and please don't mention the incinerator's contractual issues.)

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Sorry, Sheryll

Several months ago I blogged that Sheryll Murray, South East Cornwall MP, had tweeted that she was in a standard class railway carriage while her St Austell and Newquay colleague Stephen Gilbert was in first class. I am very happy to accept Sheryll's assurance that it was not her who tweeted this (correct) information, and that I must have mis-read the identity of the original Eye Spy MP tweeter.

The variable cost of Cornwall's MPs

As you might expect, today's publication of MPs' expenses claims provides hacks like me with endless opportunities for harmless fun. Here are the headlines:
Sheryll Murray - £15,755.12
Stephen Gilbert - £7,619.93
Dan Rogerson - £5,095.07
Andrew George - £4,339.27
Sarah Newton - £3,877.50
George Eustice - £498.86

So why was Sheryll 32 times as expensive as George? Good question. No doubt more details in due course.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Devonwall Bill update

The government last night won two votes in the House of Lords concerning the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. There were two divisions, with the government winning majorities of 76 and 27. The line-by-line committee stage continues on Monday.

Council constitution to be reviewed

This week's re-scheduling of Cornwall Council's emergency budget meeting raised questions (on this blog, if nowhere else) of the political propriety of vesting so much power in the hands of the chairman. I am not for a minute suggesting that there was any impropriety - political group leaders were consulted and did not object to the re-scheduling - but the question remains, what if there had been objections? What if 31 councillors had turned up on Tuesday and as a quorate group demanded to hold a meeting and fix the budget?

Richard Williams, who is also the council's monitoring officer, accepts that the constitution does not explicity give authority to the chairman to re-schedule a meeting once it has been called. He told me it was a "common sense" solution to concerns over public safety. But he also accepts that the constitution as currently framed might be open to abuse in future, with meetings re-scheduled at short notice simply for political convenience. So he is to review the document, possibly with a view to adding words such as "after consultation with political group leaders" to bring the chairman's powers more in line with those of the Speaker of the House of Commons.

Congratulations to correspondent John Macloud for advancing the democratic process through this blog.

The "important and urgent" letter that took five months to write

Cornwall Council has finally written to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg about the issue of second home voter registration. The council's Electoral Review Panel asked for the letter to be written at a meeting on 2nd July. It was finally signed off and sent by email on 23rd November.

Yesterday evening I had a chat with the council's top legal eagle, Richard Williams, and asked him why it had taken so long. "Mea culpa," he said, accepting full responsibility and outlining a sequence of unfortunate events which he describes as belonging to the "cock-up" theory of history.

The very first line of the four-paragraph letter tells Clegg "I want to bring an important and urgent issue to your attention" - Richard tells me that no irony was intended. The letter describes the issue of second home voters as "a particularly acute problem in Cornwall" and in a three-page appendix recommends a 1998 suggestion from a constitutional law academic that people with more than one home should nominate a "prinicipal" place of residence for voting purposes - and vote only once. Richard says this principle should apply also to local council elections.

Richard said the research and typing required to produce this letter probably took half a day. He accepts fully that it should not have taken four months and 21 days for it to reach Nick Clegg. I think you can hear my interview with Richard about this on BBC Radio Cornwall tomorrow morning.

Letters from the editors

30th November 2010

Dear Graham

You can, of course, advance the argument 'that almost every word of most local newspapers in Cornwall is published by just three men', but I'm not sure it would stand up to much scrutiny. Wouldn't that be like attributing everything broadcast by the BBC to the Director General and ignoring the input of every one of the highly professional and talented journalist that works for the corporation?

I can only speak for Northcliffe titles but, having worked for the group for 15 years in several different companies and having been an editor of three of its newspapers, I can honestly say I have never received any directives regarding editorial content from anybody in Northcliffe, let alone the wider reaches of DMGT. Northcliffe's philosophy has always been to appoint local editors and to allow them to edit locally, and that is what it does.

The matter of the ownership of the media - and its concentration in the hands of a few individuals - is of course a valid topic for debate and I would be the first to agree that in terms of both free speech and commercial competition the ideal would be to have many owners. The practicalities of that are of course complex, and never more so than in a recession-gripped, free-market economy. I'm not defending or advancing that position, but if one was to be critical of your apparent take on 'us' it would appear rather easy to make lofty judgements about 'The Press we deserve' from the comfort of an ivory tower supported by the licence fee...

And there, of course, lies another debate.

A point of information: the Western Morning News belongs to South West Media Group - a Northcliffe company, yes, but separate from Cornwall and Devon Media.

Also, we have stopped publishing Brides In Cornwall, but there is the independent publication Wed which last time I looked was doing a grand job of catering to that specialist market.

Finally, dare I suggest it might be worth getting over your aversion to glossy mags and taking a look at Cornwall Today? I enjoy it. I'll even send you a copy if you like.


Richard Best

Editor, The West Briton; deputy editor, Cornwall & Devon Media Ltd.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Don't mess with Pat

I'm grateful to the Parliamentary authorities for confirming the limits to the powers of the Speaker of the House of Commons. The Speaker may suspend a sitting (usually due to rowdy behaviour) or might allow an unscheduled emergency debate. But the Speaker does not have the authority to re-schedule a debate which has already been timetabled.

So in that respect, if Cornwall Council's interpretation of its own constitution is correct, council chairman Pat Harvey is more powerful than the Speaker of the House of Commons. I somehow doubt that this is what Cornwall's wise elders had in mind when they wrote the constitution, so despite the clear absence of any skull-duggery I'm continuing to make a nuisance of myself by seeking clarification. Apologies to all concerned.

Monday, 29 November 2010

So nothing to do with getting the votes out, obviously

This press release from Cornwall Council:
"The Chairman of Cornwall Council Mrs Pat Harvey has made the decision to postpone the meeting of the full Council due to take place tomorrow, Tuesday 30 November, as a result of the weather conditions.

The meeting was due to set the Council's emergency budget and Mrs Harvey made the decision to postpone the meeting in the interests of safety of those who would be attending the meeting and, in particular, following consideration of the distance that both Members and interested members of the public will have to travel, in some cases from some parts of Cornwall that have been the hardest hit by the adverse weather.

The meeting will now be held on Friday 3 December 2010 at 10:30am in the Council Chamber at County Hall in Truro.

The agenda will be the same as that already published by the Council and no additional agenda items will be added.

As the Agenda and public reports pack for the meeting have already been published in advance of the postponed meeting the Council is able to rely on the provisions in section 106A of the Local Government Act 1972 that allow a meeting to be called at less than five clear days notice. These provisions are reflected in Council Procedure Rule 6 in the Council's Constitution. By publishing this notice today, 29 November 2010, the Council is still giving three clear days notice of the holding of the postponed meeting.

"There has considerable public interest in the emergency budget and I am aware that there are many people and groups who wanted to attend the meeting in person" said Mrs Harvey.

"It is always difficult to make the decision to postpone such an important meeting at the last moment but I think it is vital that both councillors and members of the public are not prevented from attending because of the weather conditions".

Cornwall Council scraps tomorrow's budget meeting

and promises a new date in due course. When it's not so cold. How about July?

Cold weather council

Some interesting chatter from the Twitter gang about today's West Cornwall snow and it's potential to disrupt tomorrow's full council budget meeting in Truro. They raise the following questions: will the meeting be quorate? Will the "wrong kind" of councillors attend (ie those minded to vote down the budget?) Might the meeting be re-located to that (majority) part of Cornwall where there is no snow? And so on. Hours of harmless fun. I think the sun is coming out now...

STOP PRESS: Cornwall Council itself is now tweeting about the possibility of scrapping tomorrow's budget meeting. A decision due this afternoon. I'm sure this isn't a case of phoning around to make sure that enough "right kind" of councillors can attend...

Winter wonderland

Two thirds of Cornwall has not yet seen one single snowflake today. Just thought I'd mention it.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Reality AV

What if X-Factor and Strictly were decided on the Alternative Vote system? Just a thought...

The Press we deserve

Some time ago I promised to blog about Cornwall's media. I have to confess I have been putting it off, somewhat daunted by the scale of the project. I reckon the thing to do is split it up into printed publications, radio, television and new media - although the word "new" in relation to blogs and web-sites these days seems a bit strange.

First up then, printed publications, daily and weekly. I reckon we have at least 16 local newspaper titles to chose from.

It can be argued that almost every word of most local newspapers in Cornwall is published by just three men. To say that "it can be argued" does not mean that this is a view I hold myself, but stick with it because it gets more interesting...

The Western Morning News, the Cornish Guardian, The West Briton and The Cornishman are all published by Cornwall & Devon Media, owned by Northcliffe Media, owned in turn by the Daily Mail & General Trust in London. The chairman of DMGT is, at it seems it has always been, Viscount Rothermere. Jonathan Harmsworth now controls a media empire launched by his ancestor, Lord Northcliffe, in 1896.

The Cornish Times, the Cornish & Devon Post and the Sunday Independent are all owned by the Surrey-based Tindle Newspapers, whose chairman is Sir Ray Tindle. In 2003 Tindle told his reporters they should no longer cover protestors demonstrating against the Iraq war.

The Packet and Gazette titles also have their parent company HQ in Surrey, although Newsquest is particularly interesting as its ultimate parent company is the US-based Gannett media group. The President and chief executive of Gannett is Texas-educated Craig A. Dubow, whose annual salary package last year was worth $2.4 million.

The St Ives Times & Echo, and the Newquay and St Austell Voice newspapers, as far as I can tell, remain relatively small, independent publications. Some will say I have neglected the glossy mags market, and they are right, but I've never read Cornwall Today or even Brides In Cornwall (also both DMGT) and have no plans to start now. If I have missed any titles, please feel free to correct me.

Still to come - radio, newspapers and new media. But does this apparent concentration of media ownership matter? Over to you.

Camelford Leisure Centre update

It looks as if the 1991 contract between Cornwall county council, North Cornwall district council and the governors of Sir James Smith school won't, after all, save the Camelford leisure centre. While there are some robustly-held and diametrically-opposed opinions (my thanks to Cornwall Council lawyer Matt Stokes for copying me in on the various emails) I gather the latest view from Camelford is that it would simply cost too much to challenge the council's interpretation in the courts. Hopes that the leisure centre can be saved appear now to rest on working out a detailed business plan which doesn't require more council subsidy than that already promised. I forecast a busy next 24 hours in the County Hall leisure services department.

At last - snow meets politics (sort of)

My thanks to St Austell & Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert for tweeting that he was unable to dispense flood-advice at his constituency surgery yesterday - because of snow.

Please don't let it snow on Tuesday

From my diary for next week - Tuesday 30th November: Cornwall Council finally sets its budget, with long-term life-changing implications for almost everyone in Cornwall. And at Westminster, the final roll of the dice for peers hoping to amend the Devonwall Bill - with implications for Cornwall's political boundary. These are stories which readers of this blog are able to influence. If it snows - well, wrap up warm and listen to the radio.

Autopilot journalism

Clearly this is a sign of ageing, but it seems funny how the past couple of weeks have rushed by even more quickly than usual, and yet I struggle to remember what I've been doing. My diary's not much help, as many pages for the last two weeks in November are completely blank - yet I presumably did something on those days.

Fortunately my body responds to industrial quantities of hot, strong coffee and slowly the cogs start to turn. The diary's blank pages are flood stories. Remember the floods? If you live in the affected areas, I'm sure you do. But if you don't live in or near Mevagissey, Lostwithiel or St Blazey, you could be forgiven for asking "which floods?" - not to deny that they happened, but because heavy rain and consequential flooding are becoming routine elements of the Cornish seasons.

As an easily-bored short-attention-span reporter, I struggle with "routine" - although of course there is nothing routine about the threat to life or damage to property. Threat to life and damage to property are definitely news and demand to be reported. There are also genuine new angles to explore, such as planning and insurance issues.

I guess it's all about proportionality: my antennae is tuned more finely to the implications of biblical-scale mega-death flooding in Pakistan or China than soggy-but-insured bridal gowns in Lostwithiel, which in any event were for display purposes only.

Last weekend. What was I doing last weekend? Again, my diary is no help. Got it! I was reporting on the St Austell Carnival! The one that wasn't cancelled because it wasn't affected too badly by the flooding. Actually, no carnivals in Cornwall were cancelled because of the flooding. "Triumph over tragedy" is a well-established journalistic formula - but usually the formula does actually require a tragedy.

I think my difficulty is that with weather stories, once you move beyond reporting what has actually happened, you need every ounce of imagination and creativity to keep the story going. I have a further difficulty: there are lots of other stories which need no such life-support, but which do need space in the bulletin.

And now I suppose I'm in for a week of snow stories. Or maybe a week of "it's not snowing but we're still jolly excited" stories. Groan.

Snow can disrupt travel. It is news, for a while. But life goes on. If it snows it will no doubt bring inconvenience and irritation - and that's just for me.

Don't get me wrong - when the weather disrupts normal life, local radio excels as a genuine public service. Everyone works extremely long hours to broadcast information which most listeners find very useful. And I know that it has to be done. It's just that I find it hard to be genuinely interested and a week later I've forgotten all about it.

I dare say my BBC bosses will read this and despair. There's probably a correctional training course to re-adjust my editorial antennae.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Camelford Leisure Centre - here comes the Judge

M'learned friends are dusting off their contract law textbooks in response to the discovery of an ancient-looking document found in a file at Camelford's Sir James Smith school. It appears to be an agreement imposing upon Cornwall Council a requirement to give a minimum of two years notice of any proposals to alter various administrative and funding obligations which have been in force since 31st July 1991. One effect would be to scupper the "Camelford Leisure Centre" budget line agreed by the council's Cabinet last week, and which is due to be considered by the full council next week. I've sent the document off to Cornwall Council and await the response...

STOP PRESS: Council statement says there was no need to consult the local school governors as, in its view, they are not parties to the agreement about termination. The council says this was to be determined exclusively between the former county and district councils (ie itself.) But in Camelford, the response is "look at Clause 11" - which does indeed state that notice must be served "to the School Governors at Sir James Smith's School, Camelford, Cornwall." Clause 13 says that "any claims, dispute or thing whatsover" - between the governors and the council(s) about any of the other clauses must be resolved by arbitration. This story has legs.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Cornwall's Lib Dems lose their first council seat since general election

As usual, all the political parties are claiming "victory" after last night's Camborne Town Council by-election. All, that is, except the Liberal Democrats who failed to find a candidate to defend the seat they had previously held. So the result is a Conservative gain from the Lib Dems. For Labour and Mebyon Kernow, this was a scrap to see which of them would mop up the former Lib Dem "anti-Conservative" vote - not surprisingly, both parties saw dramatic increases in their share, which divided neatly to produce a Conservative victory. Conservatives: 478, Labour 318, Mebyon Kernow 279.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

A message from Prezza

Former deputy Prime Minister John Prescott tweets: "And why isn't a minister down in Cornwall for the floods? I went straight to Boscastle, Too busy briefing non-stories." The answer, I can reveal, is because the minister is taking part in today's "how to cope with floods" training exercise. As with Prezza's visit to Boscastle, a phrase involving bolted horses and stable doors springs to mind...
STOP PRESS: Just heard that Defra Secretary Caroline Spelman has cut short her participation in the flood training exercise in Surrey and is now on her way to Mevagissey.

What do we think of K8?

As a reward for (usually) not breaking the House Rules, "youngcornwall" gets a thread on the forthcoming Royal wedding. Catherine Elizabeth Middleton is now front-runner to be the next Duchess of Cornwall. I think I know where this is going, but please try to stay on topic and make it interesting.

Number crunching

Funding shortfall needed to save Camelford Leisure Centre: £42,000
Annual cost to Cornwall Council of hospitality tent at Royal Cornwall Show: £46,000

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Swap shop

The deadline for the submission of alternative Cornwall Council budgets is next Tuesday. So if you know how to save leisure centres, swimming pools, libraries and a host of other services, post your comments now. I'm sure councillors would be grateful for your suggestions. The final decision will be taken at the full council meeting on 30th November.

I am not making this up

The government and the Environment Agency are holding a training exercise tomorrow to test their response to flooding. It's called "Exercise Watermark" and starts at 12 noon.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


Cornwall's border with Devon is where it is. How did it get there? Does it matter? And if so, why? No excuse for going off-topic. Fill your boots.

From the vicar

Sometime after 11pm last night the Rev Jim Benton-Evans, vicar of Camelford, sent me this email. He's clearly not happy:
There was considerable anger tonight at the meeting between representatives of Cornwall Council, including Joan Symons, Portfolio Holder for Leisure and the Camelford community, when it became clear that the much-vaunted "full funding for twelve months" for Camelford Leisure Centre promised by Cllr Symons and the Leader of the Council to head off certain defeat in last Thursday's Scrutiny Committee was in fact less than 45% of the sum needed. All three ward members - along with representatives from local schools, the town council and community groups expressed their disappointment and reaffirmed their commitment to
fight both financially and politically to save the Leisure Centre. Members of the campaign have worked extremely hard to put together a realistic and considered process that could deliver a sustainable and transformed facility. All that is required of Cornwall Council is the reciprocal level of commitment to enabling a transition to a genuinely localist solution and community ownership. It is extremely disappointing that the Council seem to be promising one thing in the Committee Room and another thing entirely when we get down to brass tacks. It is hard to think of another organisation who understands "substantial" to mean "less than 45%".
I have asked County Hall for a response and will post what I get back.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The question is...

These are the words of the 5th May 2011 referendum question:
"Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?"
A 10-year-old asked me this morning what AV would have meant in Cornwall if it had been used for the general election earlier this year. Perhaps foolishly, I replied that it was impossible to know, but theoretically, following re-distributed votes, it might have increased the chances of the party which had come second. Quick as a flash the child, who I suspect had been put up to it by his parents, said "So instead of Conservative and Liberal Democrats, we could have had Liberal Democrats and Conservatives!"

Meanwhile a Labour bid to split into two parts the AV referendum and the constituency boundaries proposals in the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill was defeated earlier today by just 14 votes in the House of Lords.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Definitions of Cornwall

First of all very many thanks to everyone who thought this worthy of a reply - 122 comments so far, even if ten of them did break the House Rules. And despite the fact that more than half the comments seemed designed to prosecute the various nats vs anti-nats disputes, there were some very good entries.

I know that by ranking them in order of my personal preference I am inviting a good (virtual) kicking. My criteria was, as I made clear, for 30 words describing Cornwall in much the same way that Orwell tried to describe England in The Lion & The Unicorn. Some of you might need to check the word-count feature on your computers, although where I think you've actually tried to enter into the spirit of the game I've simply selected the first 30 words.

Here goes:

1. At 08:35am on 08 Nov 2010, Dave the rave wrote:

Pasties, beaches, Eden, sea, sun, cliff tops, happy people, long summers, Truro cathedral, Fish & Chips, moors, farms, tin mines, Humphrey Davey, Lands End, merry maidens, Minack, Tamar bridge.

2. At 02:39am on 07 Nov 2010, Rialobran wrote:

Cornwall: A Picasso, beautifully framed (the coast/ Tamar) with a canvass full of colour and vibrance, that you can't quite make out, or put into words that give credit.

3. At 09:18am on 12 Nov 2010, Andrew Jacks wrote:

Within the boulders in a sun-baked rock pool a grand-dad can be seen standing up to his knees, lifting the net to an eager grand-daughter who awaits the next haul.

4. At 13:22pm on 10 Nov 2010, youngcornwall wrote:

The tourist trade the life blood
pumping through Cornish vein
seed sown on departure of the
Paddington to Penzance train.

5. At 10:12am on 07 Nov 2010, Mike Chappell wrote:

To my beloved Kernow

As solid as rocky Carn it is
As deep as Dozmary Pool
As plain as the surf on the sea it is
The love I have for you

6. At 10:42am on 08 Nov 2010, AccurateChronometer wrote:

The Celtic Nation and Duchy Of Cornwall - a land next to England, like Scotland and Wales, whose language is redacted and denied expression by the BBC.

7. At 08:37am on 10 Nov 2010, Peter Tregantle wrote:

I look around the Cornwall I love
A joyful society
On the internet
I see radicals with nothing better to do
To Emmet's everywhere
Cornwall is a serene English Shire

8. At 15:54pm on 13 Nov 2010, Rialobran wrote:

On a rock strewn shore, on a storm filled night,
a ship is led by the wreckers light.
with wealth to spread, throughout the land,
and nothing for the Duke, and his greedy hand.
In this land of giants, saints and sinners,
For once the English, aren't amongst the winners.

9. At 12:20pm on 07 Nov 2010, Slimslad wrote:

"Next to Devon.Like Somerset"

And finally this one, despite being way over 30 words, if only for the image of firm hands fondling...

10. At 14:31pm on 12 Nov 2010, CJenkin wrote:

This a view that epitomises Cornwall for me:
Pro-Cornish but not anti anyone else ...

"Hail to the Homeland "
Hail to the Homeland,
Great bastion of the free,
Hear now thy children
Proclaim their love for thee.
Ageless thy splendour,
Undimmed the Celtic flame.
Proudly our souls reflect
The glory of thy name.
Sense now the beauty,
The peace of Bodmin Moor,
Ride with the breaker
Towards the Sennen shore.
Let firm hands fondle
The boulders of Trencrom,
Sing with all fervour, then
The great Trelawny song.
Hail to the Homeland,
Of Thee we are a part.
Great pulse of freedom
In every Cornish heart,
Prompt us and guide us,
Endow us with thy power,
Lace us with liberty
To face this changing hour.

Sorry there are no prizes, but you know how it is...and thanks again for taking part. If you want to keep it going, feel free to do so on this thread.

Shouting loudest

My techno-skills are probably not too bad for someone of my generation (think heavy manual typewriters and carbon papers) but I'm puzzled by the difference between "liking" something on Facebook and being a "member" of various campaign groups. For example, the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign this morning has 1,588 Facebook members. The Facebook campaign to save the Bude Sea Pool is currently "liked" by 3,072. Should politicians be worried by numbers like these?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Bill Jenkin quits

Bill Jenkin has resigned as the Cornwall councillor for Cambone North. He won the seat as a Conservative in 2009. The by-election is unlikely to be held until the New Year.

MK conference

It's not every day that Bodmin hosts a party conference and the 50+ Mebyon Kernow members who made it to their AGM this afternoon seemed as cheerful as could be expected for a party which six months earlier had lost every single one of its general election deposits. As forecast, the conference agreed to contest at least 50 Cornwall Council seats in 2013, to field a full slate of candidates for the European Parliamentary elections in 2014 and to again contest every Cornish constituency at the general election in 2015. Much passion in the MK debate over Devonwall and the Keep Cornwall Whole Campaign, with words like "treachery" and " betrayal" heard more often than usual. The Devonwall issue has its second reading in the House of Lords on Monday.

Some are more equal than others

After hearing from several Cornwall councillors about how they see their role as effectively a full-time job, and work so many hours per week (at a rate below the minimum wage), I thought I'd try to analyse the performance of some of those seen less often at County Hall, based on meetings they were expected to attend over the past six months. Five of the ten are Lib Dems.
1. Bill Jenkin (unspecified) Camborne North - 33.3% 4 out of an expected 12
2. Michael Callan (Ind) Perranporth - 46.1% 6 out of an expected 13
3. John Oxenham (Lib Dem) St Austell Bay - 50% 2 out of an expected 4
3. Robin Teverson (Lib Dem) St Mewan - 50% 4 out of an expected 8
5. Paula Dolphin (Lib Dem) Flexbury & Poughill 54.5% 6 out of an expected 11
6. Nathan Bale (Lib Dem) Bude & Stratton 62.5% 5 out an expected 8
7. Neil Plummer (MK) Stithians - 66.6% 4 out of an expected 6
8. Bryan Preston (Lib Dem) Saltash Burraton - 80% 4 out of an expected 5
9. Lance Kennedy (Con) Bodmin East - 85.7% 6 out of an expected 7
10. Dave Saunby (Ind) Falmouth Trescobeas - 100% 6 out of an expected 6
The data presented above is taken from the council's official attendance register and does not take into account appointments to outside bodies. Neither is it a definitive guide to whether a councillor is hard-working or not - Lance Kennedy, for example, as a Cabinet member, almost certainly attends many more meetings than the six recorded. Similarly Falmouth's Dave Saunby features despite scoring 100% attendance for the meetings at which he was expected - it's just that he was expected to attend only six.
The data must also be read in the context of this explanation from the council:
Total expected attendances
The number of meetings that the councillor was expected to attend in their capacity as member of that committee. This only includes meetings for which the councillor's actual attendance status is known.
Present as expected
The number of meetings that the councillor attended in their capacity as member of that committee.
Some councillors are members of more committees than others. And I'm sure some councillors will protest that they work 24/7 on behalf of their constituents without needing to attend meetings. A table which looked at the other end of the scale, though, would almost certainly feature Lib Dem Chris Pascoe (Threemilestone & Gloweth) whose 97% attendance record is based on turning up for 35 out of an expected 36 meetings. That's nine times as many meetings as Bill Jenkin.

The poverty yardstick

Journos are always on a quest to find "real people" and case studies to illustrate complex stories, so I'm grateful to the generally excellent Cornwall Council website for directing my attention to the Redruth North ward, where (last year) 66% of children lived in households wholly dependent on benefits. The government's shake-up of the welfare system will clearly have a major impact on this part of Cornwall.

Anti-racist Cornish blog to close

It seems the One Kernow blog, formerly Cornish Against Racism, has only a week to go unless someone volunteers to take it over. Only a handful of posts in its brief life, but some of them very interesting.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Bude sea pool "a burden" - Cabinet member

Cornwall councillor and Cabinet member Mark Kaczmarek has upset the citizens of Bude with this email to a council colleague:
"There are many difficult decisions we as councillors will need to take regarding the proposed budget cuts, this pool has been a burden on the council tax payer for many years and is not a statutory council service. Regards Mark"
Can't fault Mark for his honesty - no one could accuse him of trying to face both ways. And as an independent councillor for St Day & Lanner, he probably doesn't use the Bude sea pool that much. But not surprisingly, the question they're asking in Bude is if the council's leadership found a pot of extra cash to bail out Camelford's leisure centre, why can't they do the same for Bude?

MK considers its future

Bodmin's the place to be tomorrow for Mebyon Kernow's annual conference. Recommendations from the top table include a plan to contest at least 50 seats in the 2013 Cornwall Council elections, to contest the 2014 Euro elections (deposit currently £5,000) and every Cornish constituency at the 2015 General election (deposit currently £500 each.) Before anyone scoffs, I should point out that despite the huge cost of campaigning, most political parties, MK included, actually make a profit out of elections thanks to the increased opportunities for raising political awareness and fundraising.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Unison to propose alternative council budget

The Unison Cornwall local government newsletter contains an interesting article by branch chairman Nick Olgard, reporting details of discussions with Cornwall Council senior management. Although nothing is yet finally decided, Nick notes with concern the following ideas: a pay freeze, reduced sick pay, reduced mileage allowances and the introduction of parking charges for staff who bring their cars to work. There is also talk of further reductions in severance payments and a "nuclear option" of wholesale staff dismissals, with some then being offered re-employment on inferior terms and conditions.
"Our strategy therefore is to seek to reduce the impact on members," writes Nick. "We will propose an alternative `Trade Union' budget. We will be campaigning publically and lobbying councillors and Cornish MPs."
The article ends with talk of a ballot. Sounds like the talks are going to be tough going - and the "alternative budget" is going to be very interesting.

Words fail me

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Just making sure the kids are all right

I think I might need to apologise to the young man from Cornwall College who was responsible for taking about 70 students from Cornwall up to London for yesterday's demo. On reflection, the rising note of incredulity in my voice when I spoke to him on the phone was misplaced. He's not a member of the National Union of Students, he's not a member of any union, he's not even a student, he's a full-time member of college staff. There was a prior risk assessment. It was his job to organise the coach trip and make sure everyone got to London and back without any problems. And thanks to the wonders of modern communications, the Cornish students were steered safely away from the pitched battle outside Conservative Party HQ. Everyone got home after an exciting day in town. I'm relieved that no-one from Cornwall was hurt. But it does sound a bit more like a Duke of Edinburgh Awards trip than a political protest.

This morning's Bude sea pool protest

Bude sea pool protest from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

For those who missed it - here's this morning's report on BBC Radio Cornwall.

Just like the old days...

As I write this, a busload of students from Cornwall is on its way to London to protest at planned increases in tuition fees. St Austell & Newquay MP Stephen Gilbert, who was one of three Cornish Lib Dem MPs to sign a pre-election pledge vowing not to raise the fees (but who now finds himself in one of the most spectacular post-election U-turns of modern times) has just Tweeted that he hopes to meet the students later today. It's sometimes said (possibly by Grumpy Old Men like me) that today's students are apathetic and not interested in politics, failing to burn down their campuses and riot in protest at far-away wars. I'm quite prepared to be wrong, and look forward to hearing from the new generation of recently-radicalised young people any day now.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Old & Sad, AV and the view from the ERS

I sent the same question to the Electoral Reform Society and got this reply:

Dear Graham,

Thanks for your email.

The Phil Woolas case was rather unusual, and seems to me to be more a legal matter than a voting systems issue. I can't see that the choice of voting system affects the way we deal legally with political campaigning. The scenario you envisage certainly hasn't materialised in Australia, where the alternative vote has been used for over a century.

If it were the case that a third-placed candidate was found to have campaigned illegally, then I expect the judge would make a decision about the extent to which this invalidated the result of the count. If it did, then of course a re-run of the election would be the obvious solution, but this could equally happen under the present system - the prevalence of tactical voting and 'vote splitting' in FPTP elections means that third- and fourth- place candidates already have 'spoiler' effects as it is. The US Presidential election of 2000, where Ralph Nader split the left-leaning vote is a perfect example of the phenomenon.

Overall, then, I very much doubt that the introduction of AV would bring with it such a blatantly underhand style of campaigning - and decent campaign legislation ought to prevent it from emerging.

Kind regards,

Andy White
Senior Research Analyst
Electoral Reform Society

Have the Old and Sad judges just mucked up AV?

To: Andrew George, George Eustice, Sarah Newton, Dan Rogerson, Sheryll Murray and Stephen Gilbert

Dear all,

I'm trying to fathom the implications of the Oldham & Saddleworth election court ruling for any new voting system, such as the Alternative Vote, which might replace First-Past-The-Post next year.

I understand how AV works if there are no post-count challenges - but what if the candidate who comes third is challenged by a candidate who comes fourth (and the first-round candidate is still short of 50%)? Won't that make the re-distribution of losing votes almost impossible until after the courts have ruled? And, therefore, the temptation to field "spoiling" candidates whose intention is merely to disrupt the election by publishing false leaflets about each other may prove irresistible.

I appreciate the slogan "make every vote count" has a certain appeal - but perhaps Oldham & Saddleworth has provided a reason why not every vote should count!

I know you recently sat through days of debate on the Bill so I'm hoping you'll have the answer.

Many thanks



Monday, 8 November 2010

Number crunching

Amount Cornwall Council is cutting this year from speech therapy, as a result of government reductions in Area Based Grant: £10,000.
Amount Cornwall Council is spending this year on the Cornish Language Partnership: £20,000.
"As the Council hosts the Partnership, there is an additional in-kind contribution which
is not identified in the budgets." - Cornish Language Partnership business plan 2009 -11

A wheel falls off

Cornwall Labour Party has quit the "Keep Cornwall Whole" campaign.
"It is very obvious to us that the idea that this is a cross party campaign is dead in the water," says the press release.
"In the Labour Party, we feel very strongly that we can achieve more by holding Cornwall's MPs to account than by providing a smokescreen behind which they vote with their parties and against Cornwall. Political responsibility for the 'Dornwall' seat when it comes will lie squarely with the Tory/Lib Dem coalition and it is our role as the opposition to expose this, not collude in excusing it.
"Given the coalition's majority in the House of Commons and in the unelected House of Lords, it is going to be very difficult for Labour to amend or defeat the Bill but we will not give up. We wish the Lib Dem and Tory supporters in Cornwall, who are genuinely opposed to the Bill the best of luck in trying to persuade their MPs and peers to vote against the party line. Cornwall Labour Party continues to work with our colleagues at Westminster and our fight now moves to the Lords. People from all parties are welcome to join us."

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Irony is dead

Steve Gilbert MP, having voted in favour of the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill, Tweets to the Keep Cornwall Whole campaign: "If you haven't written (to the House of Lords,) write now. If you've already written, write again. Don't leave it to someone else."

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Competition: a definition of Cornwall

There is no prize for this competition but in a shameless attempt to give the usual suspects something to comment on, I wonder if any can suggest a 21st century and Cornish version of some of George Orwell's imagery from The Lion and the Unicorn (I did warn you I was about to read it again.)

I wonder if the "nationalists" and "anti-nationalists" (I fear I've been unable to think up better labels) will find anything to agree about. Please accept that as part of the challenge.

No more than 30 words each, but you can of course submit as many comments as you like. For example, Orwell thought that England was (partly) defined by "the old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning." He also thought England was a family, with the wrong people in charge. A country of pubs, and people with bad teeth. He was rude about the ruling classes, who he thought were stupid, but not wicked like Hitler or Mussolini. I won't quote the whole essay but if you're really keen it won't hurt to read it.

Let's give it a week, then I'll put my neck on the block and rank my favourites. You can be political, poetic, romantic, geographical, historical - whatever you want. I might be able to persuade my superiors that the best entries should be read out on air. No prizes - far too much BBC paperwork for that (and no money) - but of course, it's the taking part that counts.

Got any dodgy election leaflets?

I wonder if anyone has kept any general election leaflets which might fall foul of Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act (1983)? I imagine that this morning there will be some very nervous election agents in almost every constituency in the land.

The High Court ruling which expels from Parliament the Labour Party's Oldham East candidate, who told lies about his Lib Dem opponent, is arguably 99 years overdue. The last similar ruling was in 1911.

Two thoughts: the Oldham East by-election is going to be fascinating - will the Conservatives field a candidate or give their Lib Dem coalition partners a free run? And wouldn't a similar by-election in Cornwall be even greater fun?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The value of politics

A few days ago Launceston councillor Alex Folkes posted on his blog details of 27 rural bus routes which were under consideration for having the plug pulled on their off-peak subsidies.

BBC Radio Cornwall noticed the post and investigated further - it was a really strong story which lead the breakfast programme this morning, prompting dozens of phone calls from listeners. It seems a fair number of councillors were also keen to know more, because at the scrutiny committee meeting today the proposal was scrapped in favour of an alternative way to save the money, which left the bus routes intact.

The list of threatened bus routes had not been among the official council background papers released to members of the press, public or councillors and I was curious to know where Alex had obtained his information. "I asked for a briefing," he told me. Simples, but only Alex thought of doing it.

I wonder if the bus routes would have been saved if Alex had not taken the initiative and made his inquiries. I wonder if the bus routes would have been saved if Alex had not blogged about it and other media, including other bloggers, not then piled in. I rather suspect that it would have been much easier for councillors to vote through a package of transport cuts if the details had not been in the public domain.

I know that some councillors feel they are sometimes ignored by the media and that some of their colleagues get more than their fair share of coverage. The simple fact is that those councillors who work hard to dig up important stories, and then make them known, will inevitably get more attention than those that don't bother.

Hearty congratulations to Alex on his scoop.

Andrew voted both ways

I have to confess this is a new one on me - Andrew George voted in both lobbies last night, both for and against the Devonwall Bill. Apparently this is the only way MPs can record a "principled abstention" and should not be taken as evidence of confusion.

Devonwall - the final score

The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill got its third and final reading in the House of Commons last night with a government majority of 57. Ayes 321, Noes 264. All six of Cornwall's MPs voted in favour of the measure which will abolish Cornwall's political border with Devon.

Apart from the potential for embarrassing the MPs, does it matter? I think the answer is that potentially, yes it does, and the MPs themselves recognised this in their failed attempts to amend the Bill. The reasons have nothing (or very little) to do with nationalist sentiment but are rooted in hard-nosed economics.

For more than a decade now, Cornwall has been able to draw upon a huge treasury of European economic aid. A pre-condition for securing this aid had been Cornwall's "divorce" from Devon, for statistical purposes, to present a greater contrast between rich and poor parts of the Cornwall and Devon economic areas. As a result, Cornwall's Members of Parliament had been able to make a much more coherent case.

Similarly, Business Secretary Vince Cable has just approved a new Local Enterprise Partnership for Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly to take over the economic regeneration responsibilities held formerly by the South West Regional Development Agency. The new LEP may well find that in the months and years ahead it is competing for funds with similar organisations in Plymouth and the rest of Devon. Any MPs with a foot each side of the Tamar will consequently find their jobs much more difficult and constituents in both Cornwall and Devon risk losing out.

A final thought on Devonwall, which has consumed far too much of this blog since I first wrote about it on 2nd June - hardly a word has been heard about the thing which was supposed to be really important, the referendum on the Alternative Vote system. Polling day is only six months away.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

How to be Cornish

I know of few better ways to wind up some of my BBC colleagues than to start a discussion about what it is that makes them Cornish. Birthplace? Ancestry? A five-year-residential qualification? Suggestions, within House Rules, please.

On the topic of being off-topic

Some blog comments stray signficantly off the subject of the original post. The House Rules are clear and designed to promote discussion and debate - not censorship.

MPs lose their virginity

Four of Cornwall's MPs did something they'd never done before last - they voted against their own political parties. To be fair, Sheryll Murray, George Eustice, Sarah Newton and Stephen Gilbert have been Members of Parliament for only six months and it takes a while to pluck up courage...but when the moment is right, you just know, and I'm sure none will have cause for regret.

Andrew George and Dan Rogerson have been MPs rather longer and have both managed to rebel on various issues before. Last night, of course, was Devonwall and the MPs found themselves in the same lobby as (mostly) Labour MPs, nationalists, and Charles Kennedy.

The reason I say the MPs will have no cause for regret is that come the time of the next election, they now have some Parliamentary evidence they can point to to defend themselves against the allegation that they connived to abolish Cornwall's political border with Devon. This could prove extremely useful, as it seems inevitable that such allegations will still be made, and to some extent, those allegations might yet stick.

It was Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who pushed through the coalition government's case last night and I'm sure opposition party candidates will be keen to remind us of this fact at the next election. Ultimately, it still comes down to a choice between a referendum on the Alternative Vote system and Keeping Cornwall Whole. Nye Bevan would no doubt have talked about the language of priorities.

Tonight is the Third Reading in the House of Commons and the last opportunity MPs have to vote on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill. I expect Cornwall's MPs to have put last night's indescretion behind them and to troop loyally as directed by their party whips. So tomorrow's Hansard will record that Cornwall's MPs actually voted in favour of the law which shares Cornish constituencies with Devon.

This will leave Cornwall's MPs vulnerable to the same "flip-flop" line of attack which harmed US Democrat candidate John Kerry when he said (of the decision to invade Iraq): "I voted in favour of it before I voted against it." At best, his supporters were confused.

Andrew George tells me he still has hopes of working some magic in the House of Lords. Possibly, although personally I doubt it - the timetable is so tight (to meet the deadline of a May 2011 referendum) that the chance of building a campaign in the Lord is vanishingly small.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Cornwall's MPs defy government but lose by 58

The Devonwall Bill prompted the first serious rebellion by Cornwall's coalition MPs last night - all six of them voted against the government on the key pro-Cornwall amendment, but were defeated 315 votes to 257. The Bill has its Third Reading tonight. Will the MPs defy the government again?

A message from Alec Robertson

My thanks to Alec for releasing to me the message he sent to Cornwall councillors on Friday:

"Dear Colleagues

You have probably heard of recent media coverage around one of our interim employees, Clare Metcalf, interim head of customer services, who was employed during the One Cornwall process, previous to Cornwall Council being formed. A number of you have asked questions and raised concerns around the subject, and I would like to address these with you.

First, to explain our position on temporary, interim and contract employees it is important to understand the difference.

At the inception of the new Council, there were a number of management consultants employed across the organisation carrying out different projects. We have now removed all of these management consultant groups from the organisation, and saved over £6 million this year.

We have, at any one time, around 1,000 temporary staff who fill roles where there is a short term need due to staff shortages. This might be in areas such as libraries, contact centres and other roles where the work must be carried out to deliver services efficiently.

We also employ senior management interims, who serve one of two purposes. They will either have been employed to fill a vacant post, and will be with the organisation until that post is filled, or they will be carrying out a role that is not deemed to be permanent but may not have a fixed term. In the latter instance, this means we have more flexibility on when we choose to remove the post from the organisation, without the associated costs and difficulties of a permanent member of staff. We currently have nine staff employed under this arrangement.

Finally, we use senior project staff to cover specialist roles during fixed term projects. We currently have seven contracted project staff carrying out this type of role. These staff are carrying out roles specific to the change programme and have been employed for the level of expertise they have in their particular field. In addition to these 16 employees (the total number of interim and contract staff), there is one person who fulfils half an interim post, for electoral services, while the electoral services manager is off sick and half a project role in the shared services area.

It is crucial to the success of the change programme that we use these kinds of experts to ensure we drive through the efficiencies needed to achieve the 90% savings as outlined in the emergency budget - which is £90 million of the £110 million savings required. As you are all aware, if we don't make those savings this will mean future cuts to services and jobs for permanent members of staff. High day rates can be justified in the short term to gain the necessary expertise and to get the job done, but clearly to sustain this over a long period of time is unacceptable and it is regrettable that this has happened.

There has been understandable concern that Members were not aware of the costs of senior interim and project staff. I would point out that elected Members would not ordinarily be involved in employing staff other than Directors and the Chief Executive. This is a management responsibility. However, in the interest of openness and transparency, please see the table below with full details of current interim and project management arrangements.

I would like to reassure you that, in line with the rest of the organisation, our interim and project employees will be having their contracts examined and where necessary renegotiated to ensure value for money for the organisation, and a fixed end date in line with whichever project or role they are fulfilling.

I hope this has answered your questions and please be assured that this is not an approach that we take without due consideration to the best outcome and value for the organisation."
Alec's message then details the day rates paid to various temporary staff as per Andrew Wallis's blog.

Who knew what, and when?

In response to my question about the £1,000/day temp, Cornwall Council has issued this statement:
"Clare Metcalf was appointed by the One Cornwall management team under the authority of the Implementation Executive, prior to Kevin Lavery being appointed. Elected Members are only involved in the recruitment of the Chief Executive and Directors."
Not sure that this really answers my question - or if it does, if it's good news or bad news! Meanwhile Indy councillor Andrew Wallis has posted a very interesting entry on his blog, detailing several other highly paid council temps.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

An opportunty for the Lib Dems

For six months now many of Cornwall's Lib Dems have been grinding their teeth about their national coalition with the Conservatives. Yet the end of this month offers a remarkable opportunity for them to re-invent themselves as a distinct anti-Conservative political party.

Under normal circumstances the Conservative-Independent administration at Cornwall Council would get a majority of about 30 on any really crucial vote, with the chamber dividing roughly 75-45 (assuming most councillors actually turn up.)

At first that majority looks impregnable - but actually it will take only 15 members to swap sides and then things suddenly look very tight. It's only three days since the Cabinet approved the budget and already I know of four members of the Con/Ind groups who say they currently plan to vote against it. "I will be a renegade," one Tory tells me.

One of the proposals in the budget is to reduce the number of libraries to single figures - so about 20 would have to close. Most councillors are also looking at reductions in local leisure facilities, bus services and social care. The temptation for some councillors, particularly those elected as "Independent," to portray themselves as local heroes could prove irresistible.

Vince Cable approves Cornwall's Local Enterprise Partnership

Cornwall LEP on BBC Spotlight from Graham Smith on Vimeo.

BBC Spotlight Thursday 28th October 2010

Devonwall's dates with destiny

A big day tomorrow as the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill hits the Report Stage in the House of Commons.

For Cornwall's MPs, this is their last chance to introduce pro-Cornwall amendments to save the existing political border with Devon. Should they fail, Tuesday is the Third Reading and the day they have to decide if their enthusiasm for an early referendum on the Alternative Vote system matters more than their opposition to the idea of a Devonwall constituency (or constituencies.)

After that, it's game over - although no doubt some MPs will continue to pretend that the Boundary Commission might yet save the day (it won't.)

Some of our MPs have suggested that the reason they were unable to debate pro-Cornwall amendments at the committee stage was because of boring and long-winded speeches from the Labour and nationalist benches, some of which, they allege, were close to organised filibustering.

Well, I listened to the committee stage and in my opinion there were plenty of very boring speeches from both sides of the chamber, with all sorts of contributions from the Isle of Wight and faraway places in Scotland. Perhaps the real reason the pro-Cornwall amendments were not debated was because the Bill needed more time for consideration (this was the view of the Select Committee.)

One of the very first votes on this Bill was on its Parliamentary timetable. And all of Cornwall's MPs voted in favour of it.

More than just sympathy for the old devil

Anyone know if the Rolling Stones ever played Cornwall? I know the old Bodmin Jail sometimes attracted 1960s' performers (they still talk about Kathy Kirby!) but I suspect Cornwall may be one place the Stones never rolled into.

I've just made time to watch Thursday's BBC2 Culture Show, which profiled Keith Richards - the former choirboy who once sang for the Queen, ultimate rock'n'roll survivor, historian and thoughtful, articulate elder statesman of his industry.

It's nearly seven years since Mick Jagger accepted a knighthood - and at the time Keith dismissed it as a "paltry honour" saying he didn't want to tour with "someone wearing a coronet and sporting the old ermine." Keith said he hadn't forgotten about the "establishment" which tried to put him in jail for drugs offences and he made it pretty clear he thought Sir Mick (these days also a member of the MCC) had sold out.

And yet still the Rolling Stones, like Bob Dylan, continue to tour well beyond the conventional retirement age, spokesmen for a generation whether they like it or not. I'm sure he wouldn't want to go, and I'm equally sure there are BBC rules which prevent me from starting a campaign about it, but I have to say the red leather benches of the Upper House would be far more interesting and entertaining were they to be graced one day by Lord Keith.

Ah, happy days. Can't wait to get my hands on a copy of Keith's biography, "Life," (hint to family and friends - my birthday soon.)

Saturday, 30 October 2010

The usual suspects

Congratulations to the West Briton for digging up the story about the temporary Cornwall Council worker who takes home £1,000/day - which is even more than the chief executive.

The inevitable questions follow - who knew what, and when?

I've spoken to about 20 individual back-bench councillors from all of the political groups and not one of them knew anything about it until Thursday's story. And yet this has been going on for nearly 18 months.

So who signed the contract, when was it signed, and which elected members of the council approved it? Crucially, did they approve it before or after it was signed?

Cornwall council leader Alec Robertson is quite correct to point out that the council today relies far less on "consultants" than it used to - but these are questions which won't go away.

Devil in the detail

One of the potential long-term benefits of the Cornwall Council spending review is that it's encouraged officials and councillors to think very hard about what they do, why they do it and how much it costs.

For example I have yet to find one single back-bench councillor who thinks it's a good idea to keep the £46,000 presence at the Royal Cornwall Show rather than make a similar size cut in rural bus subsidies - and yet this is precisely the choice recommended by the 10-member council Cabinet.

Councillors next week get down to the nitty-gritty of each service portfolio amid some confusion over the "alternative suggestions" they are allowed to make. Council leader Alec Robertson told the Cabinet meeting that councillors campaigning to save libraries, for example, could not suggest taking cash from the Adult Care budget instead - nor vice versa. As several Cabinet members put it, "the bottom line is the bottom line" - suggesting that alternative savings would have to come from within the relevant portfolio.

This means that any fundamental political choices will have to come in the form of an amendment to the budget at the full council meeting on 30th November.

Incidentally I appear to have irritated some members by asking why the Star Chambers did not consider reducing the size of the council, saving more than £12,000 for each member dropped. The price of saving the Camelford leisure centre, for example, is equivalent to cutting the size of the council by only eight councillors, from 123 to 115. Would the council really run any differently with "only" 115 members?

I wonder if the eight councillors with the poorest attendance records would volunteer their positions for the sake of the Camelford community? I know of at least one member (not from Camelford!) who has not turned up for any meetings at all in recent months.

The shrinking council

My thanks to Cornwall Council for the latest quarterly headcount statistics.
Total headcount June 30 2010: 19,970
Total headcount September 30 2010: 19,620
Headline fall: 350

Compared with the end of September last year, this is a fall of 1,427 employees, or roughly 119 jobs lost per month.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Coalition creaks

Another Twitter spat between South East Cornwall Conservative MP Sheryll Murray and one of her Cornish Lib Dem coalition partners over first class train tickets. Sheryll makes a prolier-than-thou virtue of her standard class rail journeys (which is now all the taxpayer needs to meet.)

She had previously had a pop at St Ives's Andrew George for travelling first class. This time it's Newquay & St Austell's Stephen Gilbert she identifies as a custodian of the posh seats. MPs who travel first class now have to pay the difference themselves.

Sorry, sorry, sorry...

Several Cornwall councillors have teased me over my ejection from the council chamber yesterday during the Cabinet cuts meeting. Contrary to perception, I do not spend my waking hours simply thinking up new ways to annoy the council's press officers and it was all entirely innocent. This is what happened.

I was trying to organise a troop of councillors to take part in a live BBC Radio Cornwall broadcast about the proposed council budget. During meetings, officials and councillors come and go the whole time and as long as they don't make too much noise or distract whoever is speaking no-one minds.

One councillor, who was sitting close to the periphery of the meeting, was within easy reach. So I tiptoed up and whispered in his ear that if he wanted, a grateful Cornwall could hear his thoughts at about 1pm.

No sooner had the invitation been extended than I was (very politely and charmingly) escorted from the chamber. Apparently it is absolutely forbidden for reporters to speak to councillors during meetings. I have to say this is a new one on me - I had never before been aware that there's a law against talking to councillors (can anyone tell me which Act of Parliament provides such a law?) - but I don't think any harm was done.

The funny thing is that I could have communicated with the councillor by phone, text, email or Twitter and that would not have been against the rules. Anyway, all's well that ends well, and the councillor was one of five who were able to get their views on the budget on the wireless yesterday.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Was there a Cornish Brigade?

This is an appeal for information.

Nearly 30 years ago I heard a story about a group of socialists from Cornwall who in the 1930s packed themselves off to Spain to fight for the Republican cause in the civil war. I tried to get details but my informant was vague; he had heard the information himself only second-hand etc etc.

About 15 years ago I heard a very similar story from another source, but again failed to get enough concrete facts to persuade any commissioning editor that there was a great documentary to be made - if the story stood up.

But now we have the internet, I have this blog, the blog has a few readers and who knows...

This is the story: round about 1936 about a dozen young men, from either Padstow or Port Isaac, were sufficiently concerned about Franco's assault on democracy in Spain to volunteer themselves as soldiers in a foreign war. With no training or preparation, they kissed their wives and girlfriends goodbye and set sail. Within days of their arrival they were killed - and neither of my informants was clear about which side had shot them.

The story is instantly gripping. Were they all so passionate about humanity and justice that they really believed this was the right way to make the world a better place? Had they any idea what they were getting into - including the fractured nature of the anti-Franco forces? Or were they just so drunk that they didn't realise they'd got on the wrong boat?

I did manage to find out that in the 1930s Padstow was (believe it or don't!) something of a hot-bed of Marxism - at least, there seems to have been about a dozen card-carrying Communist Party members there (In truth, in the 1930s, there were probably card-carrying Communist Party members in most towns in Cornwall, just like everywhere else.) But the International Brigade Association - whose membership, by the 1980s and 90s, was dwindling fast - had no knowledge of any contingent from Cornwall making it to Spain.

The working title of this project, in so far as there was a project at all 30 years ago, was "Innocence of Youth" and was about the declining interest in political activity among young people in the late 20th century; and the vanishing concepts of social class solidarity and internationalism.

If it did indeed happen, my guess is that the men who ended up dead in Spain were too young to have had children or other responsibilities at home. So I'm looking for nephews and neices, distant cousins etc; anyone who might be able to tell me if any of this is true.

I do hope it is true. In the far reaches of my imagination I actually hope that a Cornish Brigade not only made it to Spain but actually survived, and settled there, and their descendents now thrive in a democratic Europe unrecognisable to those who fought a war about it 80 years ago.

But I've been around long enough to know that people sometimes tell stories which they fervently wish to have been true. Whatever the answers, I won't be disappointed.

Above reproach?

Cornwall Council tells me the shopping vouchers which allow councillors (and all council staff) to get a discount at Asda and Sainsbury's are no different to any loyalty card scheme, and that is why officials advise there is no need to regard them as declarable interests.

Sorry, but I still don't understand. These discount vouchers are being made available through the council and are therefore not available to ordinary citizens, who are either not employed by the council or who are not elected members. I don't have a problem with council staff getting the chance to use discount vouchers, as long as those staff are not in a position to influence planning permissions for supermarkets.

But what I can't get my head round is the idea that people will not perceive a conflict of interest. Councillor X enjoys a benefit ("5% off weekly shopping bills") which is not available to citizen Y. Isn't that the point?

The Newquay Airport gamble

An interesting snippet from yesterday's media briefing on Cornwall Council's cuts - if the council stopped paying the £5m/year Newquay Airport subsidy, the European Union would "claw back" £28 million in grants. This was one of the main reasons the council has decided to continue funding the project. But the arithmetic is pretty straightforward. I look forward to asking the question again in 2016.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Time running out for anti-Devonwall MPs

David Cameron today told Cornwall's six MPs he would discuss their concerns over the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill with ministerial colleagues. No doubt the MPs see this as an historic victory.

The MPs' next chance to make their own mark on this legislation is the Report stage in the House of Commons next Monday, followed by the Third and final reading a week tomorrow.

So unless the government agrees to changes by next Monday, Tuesday 2nd November will be the day on which the MPs have to decide if they are for or against this Bill - whether a referendum on the Alternative Vote system matters more than Cornwall's political border with Devon.

Time to study the smallprint of their previous statements on this matter.....

Neil's burden

How many Cornwall councillors will it take to defeat the proposed cuts budget? Not as many as you might think, but be prepared for a number of assumptions.

Assuming the Liberal Democrat and Mebyon Kernow groups join together in opposing the budget, they have about 43 seats in the council chamber between them. A motion needs 62 to be sure of success.

So the Lib Dem/MK groups would be 19 votes short - but again, I have to make an assumption that every single member of the 123-strong council attends and votes (which on past form is highly unlikely.) I am also assuming that council chairman Pat Harvey does not normally vote.

Councillor Neil Burden's job, as a senior member of the Cabinet and leader of the Independent political group, is to persuade enough of his 31 members (at least 13) to vote with the Conservatives. Given that nearly all of Neil's group are now getting drafted into local campaigns to save libraries and leisure centres this might not be so easy. Indeed, without the carrots and sticks (career prospects and whips) that go with a conventional political party I'd say Neil has quite a task on his hands.

For the Liberal Democrats and Mebyon Kernow, the mission is to find a clever form of words for some sort of budget amendment which, by 30th November, will command the support of at least 19 dissident Independent councillors.

Incidentally I'm often asked how councillors who are elected as "independent" suddenly find themselves members of a political group called "Independents." The answer is to be found in the financial rewards councillors get in return for sitting on several committees, working parties and other official bodies where appointment is within the gift of a political group leader.

Councillors elected as "independent" who stay outside of a political group risk isolation, with possibly only one full council meeting to attend each month. So it pays, literally, for independent councillors to join a political group and appoint each other to various committees where they can earn attendance allowance for the approved duty.

This is why some members of Cornwall Council's Cabinet describe themselves as "independent" and really believe it when they say they are not politicians. It's a question worth asking next time an "independent" council candidate asks for your vote.