Friday, 30 April 2010

Tory poster boys let off

Sarah Newton, Conservative candidate in Truro & Falmouth, had a meeting with police yesterday to discuss "restorative justice" for two young men responsible for vandalising Tory posters. Sarah tells me all 30 Conservative posters in Falmouth had been damaged or destroyed at a cost of several hundred pounds.

The perpetrators, apparently caught in the act by local bobbies, will not face criminal charges. Instead they've seen the error of their ways, said sorry and promised not to do it again.

"These are young people and I didn't want them to have a criminal record," says Sarah. "They've made a full apology. They're really sorry and I accept that apology. Although it's a very serious offence, personally I do not want to blight a young person's career by pressing charges. I don't think I'm being soft on crime at all I think it's about the punishment fitting the crime."

The two men, in their early 20s, are not members of any political party.

St Tudy school update

Hands Off Our Schools
Having failed to reach a meeting of minds in time for last month's Cabinet, St Tudy school campaigners and Cornwall Council education officials are now struggling to find sufficient common ground to present an agreed paper for May. The love-in which followed the March Scrutiny & Oversight Committee meeting seems to be thawing as the two sides continue to dispute the costs of building a new school. St Tudy campaigners and school governors are planning a public meeting for Thursday (anything else happening that day?) and have until Friday to submit their definitive views to the council.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

News from the gallops - watch St Austell & Newquay

Bookmakers William Hill are offering odds on every constituency in Cornwall. Of interest is how UKIP seems to be drifting into fifth and Mebyon Kernow closing on - sometimes overtaking - Labour.

Bookmakers are not generally known for letting their hearts rule their heads - they just follow the money - and so William Hill's response to the St Austell & Newquay constituency is particularly interesting. Mebyon Kernow's Dick Cole started at 100-1. Then it was 50-1. Then 33-1. Today he's 12-1. Ladbroke's, however, are still offering 6-4 against MK saving any deposits.

Here are the latest William Hill's odds for each Cornish constituency:

St Austell & Newquay

Lib Dem 4-9
Conservative 13-8
MK 12-1
Labour 125-1
UKIP 150-1

Camborne & Redruth
Lib Dem 1-5
Conservative 10-3
Labour 66-1
MK 100-1
UKIP 125-1

Truro & Falmouth
Lib Dem 1-4
Conservative 11-4
MK 100-1
Labour 125-1
UKIP 125-1

North Cornwall
Lib Dem 2-5
Conservative 2-1
Labour 100-1
MK 100-1
UKIP 100-1

South East Cornwall
Lib Dem 1-3
Conservative 9-4
Labour 100-1
MK 100-1
UKIP 125-1

St Ives
Lib Dem 1-25
Conservative 9-1
MK 100-1
Labour 125-1
UKIP 150-1
As far as I can see William Hill is not offering prices on any of the other parties. Ladbrokes is also doing constituency odds, with generally similar prices.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

BBC TV News Channel debate

Watching the BBC TV News Channel debate, live from Newquay, with candidates Stephen Gilbert, Caroline Righton, Clive Medway and Dick Cole - if Laurence Reed was there it would be an exact re-run of the BBC Radio Cornwall gig at the Eden Project last night.

Strange to see the candidates with lots of make-up, although the effect was lost when the lights failed five minutes in. Then the lights came back and Dick got the first round of applause with a call to tax the rich.

To me, the audience seems rather more docile than those we've encountered at the radio events - but make a point of listening this week and judge for yourself. Tomorrow we transmit the St Austell & Newquay debate, on Thursday it's Truro & Falmouth and Friday it's Camborne & Redruth - all at 12 noon.

Second home voters: only one challenge

Cornwall's political activists clearly have some way to go to match their United States counterparts, where challenging the legitimacy of the electoral roll is all part of the daily grind. In 2000, for example, in Florida and Missouri, about 100,000 voters were incorrectly removed from the register by over-enthusiastic "voter purges" - widely seen as organised campaigns to weight the register for partisan reasons.

I'm grateful to Cornwall's Electoral Services team for confirming that in relation to fears that some second-home owners are voting in the "wrong" place, since 2009, there has been just one challenge to the accuracy of the register.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Second home voters: how the lists are made

In pursuit of issues raised by my earlier post, I today put three questions to Cornwall Council's Electoral Services department. The questions were, since 2009: How many complaints or challenges have there been to the accuracy of the Cornwall voters' register? How many have been investigated and how many would-be voters removed from the list?

Here's the answer, a bit short of relevant numbers but still interesting:
"Electoral Services have carried out in excess of eighteen registration reviews over the last twelve months. This involves requesting documentary evidence from electors as to their degree of residence and checking our Council Tax records. In addition to this, a data-matching exercise was carried out last September comparing information held on the Council Tax data-base against the Electoral Services data-base to produce a report of those properties classed as empty or second homes on the Council Tax records to establish any discrepancies. This is an on-going exercise with periodic reviews taking place as and when time is available."

It would appear that if you have evidence of a specific abuse, you should report it to County Hall.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The mystery of room 439

On Thursday 13th May, at 1pm, a small group of Cornwall councillors, and a senior official from the planning department, will make their way to the fourth floor of County Hall and assemble in room 439.

Their meeting is not advertised in the public calendar of official council business and yet it could have a profound influence on one of the most explosive issues the council has to deal with - its statutory obligation to provide residential and transit sites for gypsies and travellers.

The Gypsies & Travellers Working Group (GTWG) is an informal "sub committee" of the Planning Policy Advisory Panel. Meetings of the GTWG are not normally open to the press and public, but I have nevertheless asked to be allowed in and to report on its proceedings. Watch this space.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Second home voters

Some listeners to Laurence Reed's programme have emailed to disagree with my explanation of the rules relating to voters who register at their "second" home address in Cornwall.

The most important point is that it's an offence to try to vote more than once in any particular election - risking a £5,000 fine.

The second most important point is:
"It is for the local Electoral Registration Officer to decide in the light of an individual voter's circumstances whether they may be said to be resident at an address, and therefore eligible for registration. Electoral Registration Officers are required to consider each case on its own merits."

I'm aware of considerable anecdotal evidence that some second-home owners, whose primary residence is in a "safe" constituency, are actually encouraged by their political parties to register in marginal seats where their votes will make most difference.

The authority on this is the Electoral Commission. Here's another quote from the rules:
"Being resident does not, however, require actual occupation..."

The law is clear about the number of votes a person can have (one) - but less clear about where that vote can be cast.

Another Labour no-show

Harriet Harman pulled out of her planned interview with James Churchfield on BBC Radio Cornwall's Breakfast Show this morning. Nothing personal, I'm assured, she had planned to do a series of local radio interviews and cancelled them all. There was a similar disappointment with Ed Balls on the first day of the election campaign.

But following visits to Cornwall by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, and with apologies to a couple of junior ministers who are not yet household names, the absence of a Labour Big Hitter is starting to look obvious.

Only at number nine?

Mebyon Kernow launches its campaign priorities tomorrow. There are ten key messages, including, at nine, "a more just and peaceful world." I suppose it's better than the alternative. George Orwell would have loved it.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Strange Days

A moment I thought I would never see: the leader of the Liberal Democrats, accompanied by half a dozen close protection officers. Apparently it's now routine for the three main party leaders to get this level of police protection during an election. Two weeks ago Nick Clegg turned up at BBC Radio Cornwall accompanied by only his driver.

Secrets travel fast

On Friday Cornwall councillor Andrew Wallis posted a very interesting blog about gypsy and traveller camps.

Andrew has got hold of some notes from the working group which was set up to examine "issues and options" for eventual inclusion in a Travelling Communities Development Plan. When complete, this document is due to go to Cabinet in July, after further refinement at meetings on 13th May and 10th June.

Three months ago I asked the council for details about how this working group was to go about its business and I'm still waiting for an answer. But according to the notes which Andrew has, there are some very specific sites likely to figure at these forthcoming meetings - including land near Wheal Jewell, near Truro, and Davidstow in North Cornwall.

The council's official response was to dismiss Andrew's notes as "old news" coming from a document written in 2006.

But it should not surprise anyone if sites on a 2006 list should again come under consideration in 2010. Nor should it come as a surprise that a council working group is trying to deal with a sensitive issue before a statutory deadline at the end of the year.

What is surprising is any idea that the Travelling Communities Development Plan can reach Cabinet without attracting some attention. It's also surprising, and a little worrying, that it should fall to an Independent, back-bench councillor to do the "Roman" thing and tell us what's going on.

What chance that the agenda and supporting documents for the 13th May meeting will be published, in advance, and that the meeting will be held in public? Neither the 13th May nor 10th June meetings appear in the council's published calendar. Yet.

Cameron egged in Cornwall

My BBC Radio Cornwall colleague James Churchfield Tweets to say that David Cameron has just been hit by an egg while campaigning in Saltash. You can hear James interviewing the Tory leader, and Nick Clegg, and Labour's deputy leader Harriet Harman, on the Breakfast Show tomorrow morning. Don't miss it.

Thatcher falls to Earth

The Royal Observatory writes to say that if we look to the East tonight we stand a good chance of seeing the Comet Thatcher dumping debris into the upper atmosphere at the rate of 50 kilometres per second. The Lyrids meteor shower is an annual event. Anyone know how comets get their names? Is there a committee for this?

A late entry at Camborne & Redruth

Robert Hawkins, from the Socialist Labour Party (leader Arthur Scargill), has thrown his hat into the ring. The Liberal Democrats, enjoying their "Clegg Bounce," seem even more cheerful. Apart from that yesterday's deadline for nominations brought no surprises, unless you count the failure of Veritas to put up in Truro & Falmouth.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

How to make council meetings interesting

lap dancing
Those Cornwall councillors who toil away unnoticed on the Miscellaneous Licensing Committee might find this Friday's meeting attracts more attention than usual. For this meeting will shape Cornwall's approach to "Sexual Entertainment Venues" - specifically, lap-dancing clubs.

For debate are such issues as whether the council should limit the number of Sexual Entertainment Venues and the cost of licences. It looks like £3,200/year is the sort of price you'll need to pay if you're seeking to open such a venue.

It's usually fascinating to watch whenever the State seeks to regulate moral judgements and businesses inevitably try to find ways round the rules. As they scroll through the small print, the councillors will need to consider government-recommended definitions of "nudity" and the number of people needed to constitute an audience.

Time to put up or shut up

Nominations for anyone wanting to be a general election candidate close today and I suspect that for one or two it might be a close-run thing. Michael Sparling's campaign to become the first-ever Labour MP for South East Cornwall only just made it to the starting line yesterday, as he sent his consent signature by fax from Hong Kong.

Michael is one of the thousands stranded overseas by Iceland's volcano and so will miss tonight's recording of BBC Radio Cornwall's "Any Questions." We are now three programmes in to this six-constituency series and have yet to meet a Labour candidate.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

An idea whose time has come?

smart contracting
Thumbing through Cornwall Council's four-year strategic plan the other day I was struck by the clarity and vision running through the sections on how to "purchase" services rather than simply provide them. They seemed strangely familiar. Had I read this somewhere before?

Probably not, but if you spend too long in second-hand book shops you risk coming across "Smart Contracting For Local Government Services." Published in 1999, it's a 232-page appreciation of all that privatisation can do for busy executives who just don't have time to run things themselves. If it's not yet top of the reading list at County Hall, I forecast it soon will be. £86.95 hardback.

The author? A chap called Kevin Lavery. Probably just a coincidence.

BBC Radio Cornwall "Any Questions?"

Don't forget to tune in at 12 noon (Monday) to listen to Laurence Reed's programme, from St Petroc's church, Bodmin, as the runners and riders in the North Cornwall constituency face their tormentors in the audience.

On Wednesday it's the turn of the St Ives constituency and on Friday we do South East Cornwall. The following week it's St Austell & Newquay, Truro & Falmouth and Camborne & Redruth. Very lively radio.

Chaos in theory and practice

On Friday evening the volcano in Iceland stopped me playing tennis in Bodmin. My plans had to change because the ash cloud over Europe meant by family was stuck in Spain and I had to retrieve the car from Bristol airport.

A trivial matter compared with several heads of State left unable to attend the funeral of the Polish president, or the cancellation of umpteen European Union meetings next week. But I know of at least one Parliamentary candidate seeking election in Cornwall who took an Easter holiday abroad and whose campaign is now facing disruption as he struggles to get home.

So I'm particularly grateful to my old friend Greg Neale for pointing out that we have been here before. On 8th June 1783 a volcano erupted in Iceland and sent a huge cloud of ash over northern Europe. The volcano carried on erupting for eight months and caused widespread crop failures, famine and death. It is generally accepted that these conditions helped bring about the French Revolution and changed the political face of Europe forever.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cornish Liberals quit and say "Vote UKIP"

The Cornish Liberal Party is quitting the general election and throwing its limited weight behind UKIP.

The Cornish Liberal Party - which is absolutely not to be confused with the Liberal Democrats - had been considering contesting four constituencies, with Truro & Falmouth the most likely.

Now party spokesman Chris Tankard writes to say the Liberals
"have agreed to stand down from the election and will work with UKIP to try to show the nation how seriously we in Cornwall take the threat to our nation and our historic freedoms of continuing membership of the EU."

The Cornish Liberals have their roots in the old pre-1988 Liberal Party, before its merger with Dr David Owen's Social Democratic Party and the birth of today's Lib Dems.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Will Prescott visit Cornwall?

Former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott is due to campaign in Plymouth at the weekend. What will it tell us about how Labour High Command views its prospects should he fail to visit the Camborne & Redruth constituency where - officially at least - Labour entered the election in a close second place?

New boss at children's services

For the first time in my life I am reproducing, in full, a council press release. Readers of previous blog posts will understand why:

Cornwall Council has appointed a new Director to lead services for Children, Schools and Families in Cornwall.

Trevor Doughty, who will take up his new role on 12 May, has a wealth of experience in social care services. A former social worker, he worked for both East Sussex and West Sussex County Councils before becoming Director of Social Services at South Tyneside Council in 2000 where he helped transform the service from a 'poor rating' to one assessed as serving most people well.

He joined Northumberland County Council as its Director of Children's Services in 2004. The authority had failed its Ofsted inspection the previous year and Trevor successfully amalgamated services to create the one of the first Children's Trust in the country. He also developed and implemented a comprehensive post Ofsted improvement plan which led to children's services being assessed as "good" in 2007, and played a key role in helping the Council to achieve an "excellent" rating in its CPA inspection. .

When Northumberland became a unitary council in 2008, he became the authority's Director of Children's Services and his role was expanded to include all of child community health on behalf of the NHS, as well as additional responsibilities for Fire and Rescue, Community Safety and Emergency Planning. This involved managing a gross budget of £350million and approximately 8,000 staff, including schools. Northumberland's children's services were highly rated in that year's annual performance assessment, with safeguarding services receiving an "outstanding" score.

Welcoming the appointment, Alec Robertson, the Leader of Cornwall Council and Neil Burden, the Council's Cabinet for Children, said "This is undoubtedly one of the most important jobs in Cornwall at this time.

"Cornwall Council is committed to providing a high quality service which meets the needs of all children, young people and families in Cornwall. We have made significant progress in addressing the issues identified in the Ofsted report over the past few months and are currently waiting for our improvement plan to be finally signed off by the Minister. We would like to thank Richard Hubbard and Kevin Peers who have led this vital piece of work in partnership with Lucy de Groot, the independent Chair of our Children's Improvement Board.

"We now need to implement the improvement plan and build on the progress which has already been made. Trevor's background in social care and his impressive track record in working with partners to create high quality and effective children's services make him an ideal person for this job.

"This appointment means that there is now a very strong team in place to lead children's services in Cornwall and we will now be working together to create an excellent service for our children, young people and families".

Trevor Doughty said "I am delighted to be joining Cornwall. There is already excellent work going on to improve Children's Services and I look forward to playing my part in ensuring that Cornwall has the best possible services for its children and young people and their families."

Labour late-sub in North Cornwall

Labour's North Cornwall candidate, Peter Watson, is quitting after a long illness. He will be replaced by local party member Janet Hulme, who now has little over three weeks to get her campaign in gear.

In 2005 the Labour vote was worth 11.9% of the total. I spy a huge grin on the face of Liberal Democrat Dan Rogerson.

North Cornwall seems to be rather accident prone. UKIP was also forced to make a late candidate change there, and the BNP threw in the towel completely.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Recruitment freeze thawing out?

Notwithstanding Cornwall Council's recruitment freeze, introduced in October, or the leadership's desire to shed 500-600 jobs, the council's website today advertises 115 vacancies.

News from the gallops

Bookmakers Ladbrokes have published odds which might be of interest:

To win most seats in Cornwall:

Liberal Democrats 4/5

Conservatives 3/1

Tie 2/1

Mebyon Kernow to save at least one deposit 6/4

Mebyon Kernow to lose all deposits 1/2

There's seems to have been quite a bit of movement on these odds during the day, particularly on MK's prospects, which suggests Ladbrokes are not completely confident of the form.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Quarterly headcount statistics

Thanks again to Cornwall Council for supplying this data:

December 31, 2009: 20,994 employees

March 31, 2010: 20,963 employees

Headline fall: 31

Still too early to detect a clear trend, but we're now nearly six months into the recruitment freeze. So far, no evidence that it will achieve the desired effect.

Calculating risk

Experienced politicians know the value of a well-timed calculated risk. Neil Burden showed a nice touch this morning on BBC Radio Cornwall when he forecast a new Director of Children's Services would be in place by the end of May.

Obviously Neil cannot know this for certain - the interview has been conducted but the deal has yet to be finalised - but he calculates that the need to make reassuring noises outweighs the risk of appearing to let things drift.

I'm sure Neil's comments will have raised a few eyebrows at County Hall. Let's hope there is indeed some good news before too long.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

All over bar the counting?

I have considerable respect for the Electoral Reform Society, but I suspect it might have poked a hornets' nest with its announcement of a "Safe Parliament" with MPs who are invulnerable to any change in the voters' mood.

The society has listed those constituencies in which it thinks it knows the names of the winners because their seats are so safe. In Cornwall, these include Camborne & Redruth and St Ives.

The ERS says Liberal Democrats Julia Goldsworthy and Andrew George
"form a class of MPs that are, quite simply, elected for life."
This might come as a pleasant surprise to Ms Goldsworthy and Mr George, who are probably not yet inclined to pack away their campaign posters and rosettes.

The ERS goes on to list Cornwall's four remaining constituencies as "Liberal Democrat marginals" - despite the fact that three of them are new seats created by major boundary changes.

You can download the ERS spreadsheet here [200KB Excel file].

The society does not detail its methodology and, of course, the whole story is designed to promote the ERS flagship policy of proportional representation.

Play it like Elvis

Jim Currie Cornwall Council has an Audit Committee which provides a regular stream of data to the Audit Commission. It's a notoriously unglamorous area - but it's a bean-counters' paradise, cross-referencing ledger entries and chasing down receipts. Without it we'd have no idea if the council was providing value for money.

So I'm sure the cabinet member for Corporate Support, Jim Currie, will be grateful to the Audit Committee for drawing the following information to our attention:

After more than 45 audit days, we now know that the financial information management systems in his department, in respect of cash, receipts and banking, are officially "poor." What this means is that there are
"no effective internal controls and there is serious exposure to risk."

Much of this is due to the transition period which oversaw the creation of the new unitary council as the old district councils were abolished. Staff are to receive special training to combat money laundering, tracing transactions before April 2009 and in the recording of discrepancies.

Corporate Support is a hugely important council directorate, responsible for hiring and firing the 21,000 staff and managing (currently, "selling") the property portfolio. A variation of just one per cent in the accuracy of the audit could cost taxpayers millions of pounds. There is no evidence that money has gone astray. A "poor" audit means there is not much evidence of anything.

As Elvis Presley used to say: "I have no use for bodyguards, but I have very specific use for two highly trained certified public accountants."

Friday, 9 April 2010

A clear and present danger

Lucy de GrootGovernment-appointed troubleshooter Lucy de Groot's first report on Cornwall's children's social services is now in the public domain. As I have reported previously, applications for anyone wanting the job as the new director of that troubled department closed (initially) in January. This is what Lucy says:
"Some of the immediate risks relate to the leadership of children's services, with the transition from the current interim Director who leaves at the end of May to what now seems likely to be another interim Director. This poses a significant and the most immediate risk. Securing a permanent DCS appointment remains an absolute priority for the council. The job has been advertised since January and there is a very active search programme going on to find a suitable candidate. Clearly this is not ideal and the uncertainties for both CS staff and key external partners in the Children's Trust cannot be under estimated."

On balance, Lucy's report is a story of a glass half-full:
"The quick action taken by the council following the OFSTED inspection to bring in new credible leadership to children's services has been widely welcomed inside and outside the council. The interim Director Richard Hubbard and the Interim Head of Improvement and Safeguarding, Kevin Peers have made a tremendous contribution to stabilising the services and are now starting to drive some of the essential fundamental changes in leadership, culture, performance and management. It is also worth putting on record that the new political administration elected for the new unitary council in May 2009 has, under Alec Robertson's leadership provided a clear focus on the need to urgently improve services to the most disadvantaged children in Cornwall. There is a major improvement agenda across Cornwall council, with a corporate improvement board chaired by the Chief Executive, involving senior members and staff as well as key external stakeholders on it (health, police, GOSW and the Audit Commission)."

The report is all about targets, deadlines and (inevitably) outside consultants. But this is a department urgently in need of a permanent boss. And the clock is ticking.

Down memory lane

The boundary changes which have resulted in Cornwall gaining a sixth constituency have reminded me that the new Truro and Falmouth seat is in some ways a throwback to the early days of our Parliamentary democracy. From 1832 until 1950 it was known as Penryn and Falmouth, but included Truro and followed similar boundaries to today.

In 1945 the constituency elected Cornwall's first ever Labour MP, Evelyn Mansfield King. Unfortunately for Labour, the Boundary Commission abolished the constituency in 1950 and King promptly defected to the Conservatives. He was re-elected in South Dorset as a Tory in 1964. He continued his journey to the Right, eventually becoming a vice president of the Monday Club.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Joined up government

Just got off the phone to Graeme Hicks, Cornwall Council Cabinet member for highways and transport, who tells me that I should not read anything into the transfer of his planning responsibilities to his Cabinet colleague Mark Kaczmarek.

"To be honest I had too much to do," he says, "and all this does is to line up the council's staff directorships with the Cabinet portfolios. It's someting we've been thinking about for a while. It makes perfect sense to put planning with housing and I'm sure Mark will do an excellent job."

Graeme assures me that his calling in the IDeA to help train planning councillors is not controversial within the Cabinet and will go ahead as previously reported on this blog.

Reshuffle update

It looks as if Cornwall Council Cabinet member Graeme Hicks has lost his responsibilities for planning. Surely this can't be related to his decision to call in outside help in the face of criticism? I will investigate further. Graeme's cabinet colleague Mark Kaczmarek now adds planning to his housing portfolio.

Sick Note Council

Nearly one in five staff illnesses at Cornwall Council during the past year has been due to depression, anxiety and stress. On average, each of the 21,000 workers was off sick for nearly seven days during the most recent quarter. Good job they weren't all sick at the same time, but that's still a lot of days lost due to illness.

The monthly performance monitoring report going to Cabinet next week should cause councillors considerable concern. Not just the headline status ("much worse than target") but also the trend ("worsened.")

The report says:
"Trend graph clearly shows performance started falling after July, although it only became worse than target in November (and has continued to worsen since")

Comparison with other local authorities shows Cornwall is actually mid-table and when you drill down in to the detail you find:
"When compared with the former county council performance data the council again compares favourably until Quarter 3."

The statistics alone cannot tell the story, as the report acknowledges:
"It is notable that this year the increase in sickness absence in Quarter 3 is much more pronounced, and potentially cannot entirely be explained by normal seasonal variations. It may be due to a number of factors such as the swine flu pandemic and stressors such as the current financial climate and the impact of transition and transformation on employees."

Long term sickness accounts for 59% of all working days lost. Resolving these cases would be the single most effective way to improve the statistics. Or move the goalposts. As as the report says:
"It may therefore be necessary to review existing targets."

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

BNP quits in North Cornwall

I'm reliably informed by a member of the British National Party that their candidate who had planned to contest North Cornwall has withdrawn.

Movers & Shakers

Joan Symons, the Conservative councillor for St Ives South, is the new Cornwall Council Cabinet member with responsibility for museums, libraries and leisure centres. My thanks to councillor Andrew Wallis who Tweeted first. The portfolio is now called "Customer First and Culture." Congratulations to Joan.

On minor parties

Gus Honeybun
As the three big political parties will inevitably dominate the mainstream media during this general election campaign, I thought it would be a good idea to use this blog to alert voters to some of the smaller alternatives.

They don't come much smaller than The Cornish Democrats whose policy objectives appear to include the return of ITV's Gus Honeybun to our television screens and dubbing
"versions of iconicTV series ranging from Postman Pat to Thunderbirds in Cornish."

There are other policies, including:
"We maintain that the Cornish people should be recognised for their unique identity amongst the peoples of Britain and that Cornwall should therefore be accorded a special status within Great Britain."

Party leader is Jonathan Rogers. The Cornish Democrats were registered as a political party with the Electoral Commission in December. Jonathan's website says he plans to contest the St Ives constituency but I'm not aware of any other candidates anywhere else at this stage.

I'll try to include as many "minor" parties as possible as and when I get time.

BBC guidelines applied to Cornwall, define a "minor" party as a registered political party whose demonstrable level of political support, averaged over the 2009 council and European elections, and the 2005 general election, is less than two per cent. UKIP, The Green Party and Mebyon Kernow score more highly than this and are therefore being included as contributors to the BBC Radio Cornwall "Any Questions" programmes later this month which will each have an audience of 50.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Anyone seen Prescott's battle bus?

I've just asked the former Deputy Prime Minister if he's planning to bring his election campaign battle bus to Cornwall any time soon. The bus has been a feature of previous Labour campaigns since 1997. John Prescott's own blog this afternoon announced that he'll be visiting Plymouth and Exeter - but makes no mention of Cornwall. I understand that "tour dates are still being added," and that if the bus crosses the Tamar, the weekend of 17/18 April is the most likely.

Fast food

Thanks to the latest Research & Monitoring Report for Cornwall's Sea Fisheries Committee, we now know that tagged lobsters released off the North Cornwall coast can travel 700 metres in one day. I've known some reporters who don't travel that far.

"The lobster demonstrating the greatest movement was released off the north coast and was recaptured approximately 14Km north‐west of Cape Cornwall 148 days later having covered a distance of 104.3Km. In Mount's Bay, the furthest distance travelled was by one released near Mullion Cove, which rounded Lizard Point and was recaptured 50 days later having travelled approximately 14km. Another found its way from the middle of Mount's Bay to Lamorna Cove, having moved a similar distance but in the opposite direction."

It's stuff like this which shows why science should be firmly in the driving seat when it comes to determining fisheries policy. It's also fun.

Monday, 5 April 2010

A penny for their thoughts

My thanks to Cornwall councillor Ruth Lewarne for this information, which she posted as a comment:

"The cost of the Chief Executive and Corporate Director salaries for the forthcoming financial year is £1,288,950 including normal on costs; no pay award is due for 2010/11."

Only seven months to go

Good to know that there is someone within County Hall beavering away to deliver this project by 17th November:
"To establish the Council's position regarding the use of Cornish within the council and in connection with council business. It covers bilingual signage, encourages departments to use Cornish as and when appropriate /possible and ensures that council outlets will include material on Cornish for distribution."

The use of Cornish within the council and in connection with council business? It should be a fascinating document.

On your marks, get set...

Lots of phone calls from various spin doctors wanting to know if I'd be interested in interviewing government ministers and their shadows tomorrow. I'm not usually this popular with the Westminster mafia. Most of them seem to be available from lunchtime.

One aspect of the general election that we've not heard much about so far is the possible impact of internet-organised tactical voting campaigns. The basic idea is that you pair with someone from another political party in another constituency and "swap" your vote. It works on trust (if it works at all) and is of course a negative approach to politics, as its primary purpose is to secure the election of someone you don't like in order to prevent the election of someone you really don't like.

We saw some of this in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 campaigns when it was essentially an anti-Tory tactic, with Labour and Lib Dem supporters joining forces. With better technology, and greater access to the internet, the "vote-swap" strategy is now potentially quite important.

Six months ago the BBC commissioned a ComRes survey of Lib Dem councillors which found they were twice as likely to back Labour than the Conservatives in the event of a hung Parliament.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

What a tangled web we weave...

Kevin Lavery letter to incinerator planning inspector
Well, I guess that clears that up....except that it doesn't. A question you hear a lot in St Dennis is who, precisely, asked David Owens to write to the planning inspector in the first place? It certainly wasn't the Cabinet waste portfolio holder, councillor Julian German.

Another question concerns the very strong pro-incinerator views expressed in the letter, quite specific to the Sita planning application under consideration at the inquiry, and the official council policy - which simply asks for a revised waste disposal scheme somewhere in mid-Cornwall.

Costs of losing the Sita contract? Estimated by the council at £200million.
Costs of losing the planning inquiry? Depends how long it takes but probably about £1million, for which there is almost certainly insurance (I have asked the council to clarify the insurance position.)

Just hold that thought.

And Dick says...

Just done an interview with Mebyon Kernow leader Dick Cole:
"I'm very very disappointed by the negative and quite nasty response from Nick Clegg. I've always respected Tim Jones a great amount as a councillor and for the work he's done in his local community. I'm very grateful and humbled by his support for my campaign......the election of an MK MP would actually send shock waves through the political system and really put Cornwall on the map."

Nick Clegg responds to "Lib Dem backs MK" rumpus

My colleague Tamsin Melville interviewed Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg on a variety of issues yesterday and asked him about the latest political advice of Tim Jones, the former Lib Dem leader on Restormel Borough Council. As every Conservative delights in reminding us, Tim Jones is now urging voters in the St Austell & Newquay constituency to support Mebyon Kernow's Dick Cole.
This is what Nick Clegg had to say:
"You know, if people want to make their own individual choices in favour of MK they're free to do so but I think that everybody knows MK hasn't got a hope of getting any MPs here and certainly hasn't got a hope of wielding any influence in Westminster. So talk about wasted votes - that is a wasted vote on a spectacular scale. I think the decision is quite different - do you support a party, the Liberal Democrats, which has Cornwall sort of coursing through its veins or do you vote for a party, the Conservatives, that is basically a party of the home counties? That's the choice."

I'm meeting up with Dick Cole in a hour or two and will invite him to reply.

St Tudy school update

It's going to be a busy fortnight ahead of the next Cornwall Council Cabinet meeting on 14th April, as education officials and St Tudy school governors and community activists try to thrash out a form of words on which they can agree. Both sides say the first face-to-face meeting was a success - but more meetings will be needed to find a recommendation with mutual support.

In St Tudy they want a new school. County Hall fears this could add to Cornwall's 5,000 surplus primary school places. The policy differences are quite fundamental and squaring this circle won't be easy.

An accident waiting to happen

It's hard not to sympathise with Carn Brea South councillor Kym Willoughby, whose attempt to improve the road at Penhallick, near Pool, was rebuffed on Tuesday. There have been three serious accidents in the past six months and 19 accidents in the past decade. Not dangerous enough, came the reply: it's a question of resources. I remember a similar argument about the A30 at Kennard's House on Bodmin Moor, where it took several deaths before the money could be found.

The best laid plans and a good IDeA

Graeme Hicks
The Improvement and Development Agency is on its way to sort out Cornwall's planners. Some planning councillors were clearly a bit miffed at being told they needed extra training.

But Cabinet planning supremo Graeme Hicks tells me there have been too many decisions contrary to official advice, too many refusals (that's interesting - it's usually the other way round) and that he's had complaints from members of the public, developers and some councillors.

Planning is always controversial - even more so, now that the old district councils have gone and decision-making is less parochial.

Cornwall's planning councillors have been in the job only nine months and it's as well to trouble-shoot any problems sooner rather than later. Some of the old district councils had appalling reputations as planning authorities. The Local Government Ombudsman was routinely publishing critical reports and it was not unusual to see the police getting involved with long protracted investigations into alleged corruption.

I would be really interested to hear of any specific examples of the sorts of decisions which have brought in the IDeA.

UKIP late sub in North Cornwall

The UKIP prospective Parliamentary candidate, Ivor Masters, has withdrawn from the forthcoming general election contest in North Cornwall and is being replaced by Miriel Damerell-O'Connor. In the 2005 election the combined UKIP/Veritas vote (3,387) was greater than the Liberal Democrat majority (3,076) over the Conservatives.